Archive for the ‘germany’ Category

History Boy

the dawn of time universe sun big bang

I’ve been coming to DocFest (formerly the Sheffield International Documentary Festival) since the dawn of time. I’m sitting cross-legged on the hill of Howard Street, on a black marble seaty-thing, as I write this, buddha-like. The hill runs up from the station towards the city centre and is one of the best bits of urban regeneration I’ve seen in this country. Overlooking this spot is an Andrew Motion poem written on the side of a Sheffield Hallam University tower block addressing travellers arriving in the city (Andrew Motion in part inspired Simple Pleasures part 4). After my many years coming to the festival I came up with a good strategy involving this hill yesterday. Instead of relentless regular blocks of formalised meetings crowding out the day I arranged no meetings – just sat on one of these black marble blocks and waited for people I knew and wanted to see pass by me. It worked very well – I got to chat with more people and the chats were the lengths they needed to be.

howard street sheffield docfest 2014

I am now on the train pulling out of Sheffield. I leave behind a very satisfying couple of days’ experience. It began as I got off the other train the other way on Sunday evening. I dumped my stuff at the hotel and went out for dinner just out of town with Colm O’Callaghan, a colleague from RTE in Dublin. We chatted about all manner of stuff, centred on Ireland and music, and most excitingly discussed the possibility of doing a collaborative historical project next year. We headed back to town to meet  at a bar the speakers in the session I was to chair the next day. We did a judicious amount of preparation (mainly a quick chat to reassure them we’d be talking about stuff they know well and don’t have to think much about and ascertaining what video material they’d brought with) then oiled the getting-to-know-you wheels with alcohol.

robert capa d-day landings

The session the next morning entitled ‘Interacting with the Past’ focused on interactive and multiplatform TV in the History genre. Joe Myerscough, Producer/Director from the excellent Windfall Films, represented the superb D-Day: As It Happens project from Channel 4 in 2013. The delightful Elizabeth Klinck, a super-expert Canadian visual/archive researcher, added an interesting perspective. And my Channel 4 colleague, Online Producer Marie James, focused on The Mill, a historically accurate drama set in 1831. We managed to range across a lot of territory around what interactivity brings to History TV and from a lot of perspectives (indy producer, broadcaster, support services, commissioner), driven by questions from the audience, so it felt free-flowing, flexible and practically useful. Went down well, felt good.

Andre Singer

Andre Singer

At the other end of the day I went to see a new history documentary, Night Will Fall, directed by Andre Singer. I can’t write about it yet beyond what’s already in the public domain but suffice it to say it’s a very impactful film about the filming of the Holocaust. It will be showing on Channel 4 in January coming. One unexpected aspect of the story is that Alfred Hitchcock was involved in this filmic recording of the Holocaust by Allied troops. I chatted with Andre and his wife Lynette, who wrote the commentary for the film, on the way out. Also the producer Sally Angel, who I first met last year through an online project via my friend Steve Moore. We had a lively discussion about what age is best to first introduce young people to the imagery of the Holocaust. I believe it should be 16+. The person from the BFI thought younger was OK on the basis that kids get to see horror films (not an argument I buy – the documentary footage in Night Will Fall is another world from scripted drama).  I first crossed paths with Andre and Lynette when I was starting out on my career and they ran an outfit in Covent Garden called Cafe Productions (that name’s just come back to me after all these years). I went on a bus ride with Andre last May (2013) to Yad Vashem when he first told me about the film. It’s been nestling in the back of my mind since then.

So a day steeped in History.

Brilliant creatures rebels of oz documentary howard jacobson germaine greer

And today started out in similar vein. I went to see Brilliant Creatures: Rebels of Oz, a 2-part BBC/ABC documentary about 4 Australians who made good in London in the 60s, bringing a fresh perspective to a country only just emerging from the War. The Creatures in question are Germaine Greer, writer Clive James, art critic Robert Hughes and comedian Barry Humphreys. Jacobson considers Germaine Greer the most rebellious and radical of these. It’s a fabulous story – woven together by novelist Howard Jacobson (who himself wrote startlingly about the Holocaust in the brilliant Kalooki Nights, which sits on my Shelf of Honour).  I had a brief chat with him after, mainly congratulating him on pulling together such an illuminating story. He said he was in search of the secret to the Oz “zest for life”.

Howard Jacobson, Greg Sanderson (BBC), Germaine Greer

Howard Jacobson, Greg Sanderson (BBC), Germaine Greer

I got close to having a chat with Germaine Greer but it didn’t quite happen. I wanted to talk Frank Zappa with her as the BBC recently released a wonderful radio documentary she made about him. There was a great clip in the film of her hanging with Robert Plant and Led Zep.

germaine_greer 60s

Over breakfast this morning I had a great plan-hatching session with a couple of documentary makers (one from Leipzig where my dad was born) which was also a kick.

So it’s been a couple of days with a heartbeat of History. I had to give it up as a subject in formal education after O Level (apart from a small burst of it as part of my German/Modern Languages degree) but at heart I’m still a History Boy.

evolution denied ape to man

 

Stormtrooper: Goodbye to Berlin (Day 39)

Goodbye to Berlin Christopher Isherwood book cover

Started the day in Leipzig, boarding the train early at the Hauptbahnhof (the biggest in Europe, reminiscent of Grand Central, New York in its grandeur). Arrived at Berlin Hbf and taxied over to Tegel airport. The local placenames of Berlin are resonant from literature in particular (Moabit, Kopenick, etc.) The city looks good in its autumn colours but not as good as Leipzig where the colour of the brick and stone is light and complements the autumn palette. Meanwhile, back in Blighty a storm was coming…

My younger son sent me a text last night from the NFL 49ers game in Wembley – “don’t get on the plane it is too dangerous and u will probs die the wind could go as fast as 80 mph have fun hope u get back back safe love form (sic) all”

My flight was cancelled which gave me time to plough back through a key Ginsberg/Beat book which I read just before deciding to write this book, in fact it was part of the inspiration. It was interesting to revisit it with a particular focus on openness and generosity. A number of the people I met at Leipzig Networking Days/DOK Leipzig found the subject interesting and were keen to get a copy of the book when it appears which was encouraging.

Yesterday one young film-maker from Chicago/Berlin gave me a copy of his last documentary film which was on William Burroughs, who of course features in the opening scene of my book. [William S. Burroughs: A Man Within (2010) by Yony Leyser] I’ll have a watch as a reward some time this week. He is about to embark on a documentary about gay punk which features an interview with Laurie Anderson whom I’m thinking of pairing with Jeremy Deller in the Art chapter. That meant we were talking about Lou Reed at lunchtime, only to find out a couple of hours later that he had gone to the Great Gig in the sky on the very day. He had agreed to be interviewed for Yony’s film too. Echoes of my Carolyn Cassady set-back.

I was only ever a moderate admirer of Lou Reed. The Ginsberg chapter has a little diversion into that scene via its film-makers, in particular Barbara Rubin. Lou and the Velvets played live in front of her film Cocks and Cunts. The Velvet Underground & Nico speaks to me most but he is always a challenging listen. The work he did with Bowie, including in South London, was also ground-breaking and bold.

So I ploughed through the Beat book only to notice from my annotations that I had been reading it the very same day last year in Leipzig (near the St Elisabeth Krankenhaus). These kind of skeins of coincidence and connection seem to weave through creative enterprise. As I was reading Harry Thompson’s biog of Peter Cook whilst researching the Comedy chapter over the weekend I rewarded myself with a peak at the photo section in the middle of the book. As I came to a picture of him at his daughter’s wedding I spotted a woman I knew yonks ago (went to her for the occasional aromatherapy massage when my back was sore from child-lifting) – I had no idea she was one of those Cooks, hadn’t made the connection, though looking at the photo the resemblance is obvious, she is clearly a chip off the old block in looks at least.

Managed to get myself on a Lufthansa home so disruption minimal and a reasonable amount of reading and research got through.

Goodbye to Berlin Christopher Isherwood book cover

Goodbye to Berlin Christopher Isherwood book cover

Leipzigzaging (Day 38)

(c.1954)

(c.1954)

On something of a pilgrimage today. Read up about Peter Cook and The Establishment club in the square in front of where my grandfather lived when he came to livd in Leipzig as a young man in the home of his favourite sister and her husband. The smart apartment building gives on to Nordplatz, centred on an old church and made up of simple but attractive grassed gardens. I get a certain pleasure of continuity and return from standing on its stone threshold.

I am writing this post sitting in the gardens of the St. Elisabeth Krankenhaus in the Connewitz area in the south of the city, the hospital where my father was born in 1937, two years after it opened.

From Nordplatz I walked through the adjacent autumnal woods round the zoological gardens. I stopped for a bit to do my daily German revision with the Duolingo app (keeping in touch with my linguistic roots) then headed on to Kathe Kollwitz Strasse where my grandfather and his young bride moved in. Where their flat was has been blank ground for a long while (a car park with trees) but by the time I get back here it will have been built on, laying to rest the vestiges of their home here.

I read some more Cook book on the back chair of this resonant memorial which feels like the hub of my Leipzig.

Before I left for my trek I had reviewed my master document to get a feel for what progress I’ve been making on the book and had a pass at the nascent Theatre chapter which needs a number of interviews transferred into it. That’s looking like a laborious transcription task though I will see if it can be automated at all.

Once back at the hotel after a dinner out at Leipzig Media City, about two clicks from my father’s birthplace, I did some more online research about Jeremy Deller, making me even more reassured that he is a good subject for the Art part. In particular I was reading about his work Procession for the Manchester International Festival. I’ll think of my pilgrimage around the city as a fusion of that and Richard Long’s work with some spirit of Picasso in its triangularity since today is his birthday.

Return to the Fatherland (Day 37)

Emil and the detectives Erich Kastner book cover uk

I’ve just boarded a train at the Berlin Hauptbahnhof heading for Leipzig, the city in which my father was born. It’s a modern glass-doored version of one of those old-fashioned railway compartments. The only other occupant is a rotund German, balding, pot-bellied, bespectacled, avoiding eye contact, ignored my Guten Abend. So straight out of Emil and the Detectives (albeit travelling in the wrong direction) which is as it should be. Alles in Ordnung.

This will be my third time in Leipzig. The first time was a great adventure with my own gang of urchins which you can catch up on here and here [written 3 years ago to the very day]. And here’s a poem inspired by that trip.

What with the packing and generally getting my shit together, not that much accomplished book-wise before hitting the trail. My focus today has been on the Comedy chapter – sussing out whether Peter Cook is a potential candidate for the protagonist of the case study. I consulted comedian Gordon Kennedy of Absolutely Productions (with whom I once shared a train carriage to St Helens on a research trip) and he was uncommitted regarding Cook as he hadn’t really encountered him much. My friend author Doug Miller who is really good on the Ingrams/Cook/Private Eye circles felt there was real potential so I’m following his guidance and embarking on Harry Thompson’s quite fat biog of Cook. From memory he was Daisy Goodwin’s business partner who I’ve been working with recently on a TV project to do with Facebook. I liked his biography of Herge and this one seems an entertaining and informing read.

Apart from that I set up a meeting with entrepreneur James Laycock (mentioned yesterday) and a call with Mark Brown, writer on Creativity, with whom I made The Blue Movie in 1994, winner of the Grand Award at the New York International Film and TV Festival, a large chunk of silver I was holding when I first met Peter Fincham [story here], now one of the grand fromages of ITV, who is one of a panopoly of UK comedy movers&shakers interviewed by Thompson for the Cook book. (Thompson and Goodwin worked at Talkback before setting up on their own.) I’m meeting another one, an actress, next week to talk about Joan Littlewood. [I just noticed in that post which tells the New York award story that Allen Ginsberg was already entering my consciousness, six years ago -  how these things brew...]

I’m rather tickled with the idea of writing part of this book in my grandfather’s city, hence this trip now.

in memoriam Nat & Dora Gewurtz

in memoriam Nat & Dora Gewurtz

Leipzig Hauptbahnhof - the biggest station in Europe

Leipzig Hauptbahnhof (today) – the biggest station in Europe

Back to the Fatherland 2

…so I headed down to the city museum – nothing from the 20th century covered, they pointed me to the Zeitgeschichtliches Forum Leipzig (Forum of Contemporary History) – that covers from 1945 onwards focusing on the GDR. So by any standards a big gap in their city history, the 30s and 40s an official blank. But I had a break through. In the back of the museum shop I found a facsimile map of the city from 1938 – the year my grand-parents got the helloutta here and arrived in London. Promenadenstrasse wasn’t renamed after a Soviet leader but after an artist socialist by nature, Käthe Kollwitz, her inherent empathy for the less fortunate evident throughout her life’s work. As soon as I’d figured out how the old map mapped onto the new I headed over. The route took me from the old town hall past the famous Thomaskirche, last resting place of JS Bach, and then past the site of the Community Synagogue of Leipzig, burnt down on Kristallnacht in November 1938. They burnt the place down and then charged the Jews for the demolition costs. The lost 14,000 (not including never-to-be descendants) are commemorated by the empty chairs of the congregation in dull bronze set out on a flat blank concrete base. When I got to 16 Promenadenstrasse where my paternal grandparents lived from (I think) 1935 to 1938 that too was flat, blank, empty. A carpark, albeit a tranquil one shaded by trees and bathed in dappled autumnal light on my special visit. I can see from no. 14 the kind of building it probably was, a typically elegant Leipziger apartment in a tasteful neighbourhood. My grandfather was always a snappy dresser – like my youngest brother and my older son (that gene skipped me for better or worse) – so I can picture him easily in these streets.

The view from No. 1 Nordplatz

Next stop was Nordplatz, slightly further out from the centre, where he lived as a bachelor with his older sister’s family. No. 1 proved to be all present and correct, with a beautiful view over St. Michaelis church, a Gothicky affair built between 1901 and 1905, and the green beside it. Another smart apartment building where I stood on the threshold trodden by Nat Gewurtz (later Gee, 1938 was a good year for dumping German surnames) and his sister Else Wolf, peering in to the interior which has evidently been revamped in recent times. I was glad to see he’d enjoyed such a beautiful and calm home. From there to Promenadenstrasse – then next stop 5 Highbury Grove.

My next stop was the address on the Nazi birth certificate, 84 Biedermannstrasse, Sankt Elisabeth Krankenhaus, the Catholic hospital where my father was born. It was only a few blocks south of MDR (Mittel Deutsch Rundfunk), the main broadcaster in the region where I spoke yesterday on Crossmedia and Broadcaster Online Strategy to an audience primarily of factual film-makers which also included a State Minister of Saxony and the President of German/French broadcaster Arte. I spoke among other things about Surgery Live, which I reckon many of them thought had come from another planet. Seven Days was from another galaxy. From the feedback I received afterward it seems my passion for the possibilities of interactive, networked media and the boldness of our ambition at the very least landed home even if the out-thereness of Channel 4’s approach and the freedoms of British culture were somewhat alien to some of the Euros. I should have mentioned another of my projects which I also spoke about in my presentation, One Born Every Minute, because that would have given me an easier segue back to the maternity unit at Sankt Elisabeth Hospital. On arrival it was clear it has been recently refurbished so fear of disappearance returned. I found the maternity unit now in a clean modern block. A chat with the receptionist soon established that the original maternity block still stood and as I roamed the corridors of the art deco building I stumbled across the original foundation stone dated 1930. That meant when my father was born there it was an equally state of the art set-up. An irony of course was that he never got to see the place himself again after his blurry-eyed first days. He died a few years after the uprising that started in Leipzig and ended with the Fall of the Wall, never getting/taking the opportunity to come back.

I’ve enjoyed a couple of days with the presence of my grand-father and father around me. I see a tiny sticker on the wall of the hospital saying “I will wait for you” (in English). I spot a sparrow (my favourite bird, rather thin on the ground these days in England) hanging around. A warm autumn sunshine shines down from a perfect azure sky the whole weekend, contrary to the usually reliable information on my WeatherPro iPhone app, created by German-based MeteoGroup with a Teutonic regard for precision.

{2nd photo courtesy of Leipzigpost}

Back to the Fatherland

I’ve just arrived for the first time in Leipzig in Saxony in East Germany in Europe in the World in the Solar System (I remember doing those very long addresses looking up out of my bedroom window aged six or seven at 2A Selvage Lane, Mill Hill, London, England, UK, Europe, etc.) for Dok Leipzig, the 53rd of this documentary film festival making it (one of?) the oldest film fest(s) in Deutschland. I’m speaking tomorrow about multiplatform factual TV with some folk from Arte (one of the few Eurobroadcasters consistently exploring the space) and Finland’s YLE, as well as hooking up with various documentary-makers with eyes on the interactive and networked. There’s a few fellow Brits around like Andy Glynne of DFG and Mark Atkin of Documentary Campus. But that’s getting towards the point of my post. These memories of childhood, the home I shared with my father before The Big Split, reflections on Germany and especially Leipzig. Because in some ways I’m not a fellow Brit. My dad was born in this city. In 1937. His birth certificate says Biedermanstrasse 84 – thought that was his home, Google-mapped it last night, turned out to be the Catholic hospital where he was born. The certificate which I have at the back of my filing cabinet in a file called Odds & Sods has a little swastika on it. So I’m back in the Vaterland.

My plan – I’ve managed to track down the address where my grandparents lived until they hightailed it outta here in ’38. Got it from a cousin in Hamburg who was 13 at the time. Also got the address where my grandfather lived before he was married, with his older sister. The former doesn’t show up on Google maps – hoping the Commies changed the name to Leninstrasse or something, then it got changed back to a different name after the Fall of the Wall. Will investigate tomorrow at the city museum or find someone old enough to remember where Promenadenstrasse was. The latter I haven’t had a chance to check out yet online – I’m saving it up for later, delayed gratification of the old school.

So I’ll report back and continue later/tomorrow with how I’ve gotten on…

Good ol' Facebook

Global Warming

Q. Why did the Belgian chicken cross the road? A. Because there's fuck-all else to do in Bruges

Q. Why did the Belgian chicken cross the road? A. Because there's fuck-all else to do in Bruges

What an incredible year my colleagues at Film4 have had since Last King of Scotland picked up an Oscar (and two BAFTAs). Last night at the Golden Globes of the 14 movie awards 6 went to Film4 productions:

  • BEST MOTION PICTURE – DRAMA 
Slumdog Millionaire
  • BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE – MUSICAL OR COMEDY
 Colin Farrell, In Bruges
  • BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE – MUSICAL OR COMEDY
 Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky
  • BEST DIRECTOR – MOTION PICTURE
 Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
  • BEST SCREENPLAY – MOTION PICTURE 
Slumdog Millionaire
  • BEST ORIGINAL SCORE – MOTION PICTURE 
Slumdog Millionaire

Add to that movies like Hunger which already has picked up a shedload of silverware (20 so far including the Camera d’Or at Cannes, which I acknowledge is not technically silverware) and Garage, a landmark in Irish cinema. Irish and Waiting Around has been something of a theme this year (Garage, Hunger, In Bruges). And let’s not forget A Complete History of My Sexual Failures made by Chris Waitt, an alumnus of 4Talent.

Film4 may not be huge but they’re perfectly formed, add a great deal to the UK film industry and – like Channel 4 as a whole – punch well above their weight. “Our organization is small, but we have a lot of opportunities for aggressive expansion.”

…which brings us neatly from a great night to a Dark Knight: I have to agree with Maggie Gyllenhall’s analysis of Heath Ledger’s win in the Best Supporting Actor category: “Our movie I think is great, but I think he elevated it to a completely different place.” Without a doubt, performance of the year.

Why so serious?

Why so serious?

UPDATE 15.i.09 08:15

BAFTA nominations just announced. Film4 picked up 3 of the 5 nominations for Outstanding British Film (In Bruges, Slumdog Millionaire, Hunger); Slumdog got most nominations (equal with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button); and, of course, Slumdog is up there for Best Film and Best Director.

Good to see Kate Winslet pitted against herself in Best Actress category – you can see the speech already: “I’m so sorry, Anne, Meryl, Kristin, …oh god, who’s the other one? Me!”

Now THAT speech, it bears some anaylsis… “I’m so sorry [unconvincing (for such an experienced actress) self-deprecation] Anne, Meryl, Kristin, …oh god, who’s the other one? [what a bitch, eh? sub-text: I know full well who the other sexiest one is] Angelina! this is… ok… now, forgive me …gather [sub-text: I've been to drama school]. Is this really happening? OK, erm… I’m going to try and do this on the cuff, ok [so OFF the cuff I get the phrase wrong] – Thank you so much. Thank you so much! [sub-text: I really do need a good script-writer, I've nothing substantial to say myself] Oh god! {applause} Please wrap up, you have no idea how I’m not wrapping up! [sub-text: stop clapping, I need to wrestle control back, I'm not fucking finished!] Ok, gather…”

UPDATE 17.i.09

I’ve just gotten round to watching the end of The Reader. Having given Kate Winslet a hard time above, I have to confess it is an excellent performance, well worthy of awards. But the film itself has left me with nagging doubts, two in particular. Most of the UK critics praised it highly but I noticed two exceptions, strangely enough by two people I went to school with. Pete Bradshaw of The Guardian expressed strong doubts (from memory, the review I read on the way back from Ireland after the new year gave it one star). Mark Kermode subsequently spoke of his reservations on the weekly film review show he does with Simon Mayo on BBC Radio 5.

The implication of the film – in the trial of Hanna Schmidz – is that she left Siemens to join the SS because she had been offered a promotion which would have exposed her illiteracy. The same happened to her at the tram company after the war – she runs away when a promotion to office work is offered. What is this saying? The film comes to (and this is no easy feat) create a degree of sympathy for Hanna, a guard at Auschwitz for the SS. Is it saying because she was illiterate, disadvantaged, perhaps a touch simple it explains her role in the war? That reminds me of an experience I had in Austria in the 80s.

I was on a scholarship studying the artist Egon Schiele (to whom my attention had first been drawn by David Bowie on the radio). I went to the small village on the outskirts of Vienna to find his studio. I knew it had been up a small lane but had difficulty finding it. I asked an old man I met on the street and first he hushed me, indicating that the name Egon Schiele was still a dirty word in the village 70 odd years after his ‘artistic’ behaviour had scandalised the place. Then he brought me into a bar, bought me a white wine and launched into an apology (in the sense of ‘explanation’) for Austria’s take up of Nazism. We were poor, hungry, illiterate…

It didn’t wash then and it doesn’t in the film either. The other thing I didn’t buy was that the daughter who had been in Auschwitz as a child with her mother would keep a memento (Hanna’s tin) of a concentration camp guard, least of all by a photo of her murdered family. There’s something being underestimated there.

Now I’m not sure what comes from the David Hare screenplay and what from Bernard Schlink’s source novel (Der Vorleser) but the tin and the flight to the SS from the Siemens promotion both give me the impression that Schlink (or Hare, but I suspect the former) was letting Germany off the hook too easily – ignorance is no excuse and forgiveness doesn’t come that easy.

For all that, it’s still a very well made and compelling movie. Ralph Fiennes’ performance is on a par with Kate Winslet. Ironically the one time I met and spoke to him, in the bar at the Almeida in Islington, he had just played the fiendish Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List. David Kross who plays Fiennes’ character, Michael Berg, when young is also excellent. The film was part-shot by my old boss Roger Deakins (who shared the gig with fellow Brit Chris Menges) and it certainly looks great too. Well worth watching but there’s something dubious to be read between the lines.

Update 22.i.09:

This lunchtime this year’s Oscar nominations have been announced and Channel 4’s Film4 has received 12 (yes, 12!) nominations:

Slumdog Millionaire

· Cinematography

· Directing

· Film editing

· Original score

· Original song – “Jai Ho”

· Original song – “O Saya”

· Best picture

· Sound editing

· Sound mixing

· Adapted screenplay

In Bruges

· Original screenplay

Happy-Go-Lucky

· Original screenplay

What is it worth?

Buffalo Springfield with Stephen Stills

Holding Hands: Buffalo Springfield with Stephen Stills & Neil Young

We parked up by Goldhawk Road tube (always echoes of Jimmy the Mod for me) and walked back past the Pie, Mash, Liquor and Eel shop to my most unloved venue in London, the Empire in Shepherd’s Bush. Stephen Still’s blast from the past included his underground classic ‘51.5076 0.134352′ and concluded with ‘For What It’s Worth’ which resonated in a particular way after another week of global economic disintegration. What is it worth?

There’s something happening here
[the day before yesterday rounds off a 20% FTSE fall]

What it is ain’t exactly clear
[although I think we’ve all got a good sense of broadly what territory we’re in – how we got there is a bit more confounding]

There’s a man with a gun over there
[currently a cold-hearted woman, life-long member of the NRA: “our leaders, our national leaders, are sending soldiers out on a task that is from God. That’s what we have to make sure that we’re praying for, that there is a plan and that that plan is God’s plan.”]

Telling me I got to beware
[are they really going to elect a man who keeps calling the electorate “my friends” in a manner devoid of warmth or friendship?]

I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound?

Everybody look what’s going down

There’s battle lines being drawn

Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
[there’s a real opportunity here, with the merry-go-round ground to a halt, to get off the ride that goes nowhere]

Paranoia strikes deep

Into your life it will creep
[anxiety is seeping out of every opening crack]

It starts when you’re always afraid

[yet fear is what holds us back individually and collectively]

You step out of line, the man come and take you away

We better stop, hey, what’s that sound?

Everybody look what’s going down

Stop, hey, what’s that sound?

Everybody look what’s going down

What’s that sound? It’s mud falling on a coffin lid. It’s ancient song shot through with deepest pain. It’s the sound of a single man burying 20,000 bodies one by one. On Tuesday Rev. Leslie Hardman MBE died. He featured as a key character  in a docudrama, The Relief of Belsen, commissioned by Channel 4 which was shown almost a year ago to the day (15.X.07).  He was one of the first Allied soldiers (an army chaplain) in to the Bergen-Belsen death camp in North-West Germany when it was liberated in May 1945. Auschwitz had been liberated by the Russians a couple of months of months earlier but it was Belsen that gave us in Britain our first terrifying view of what was going down. This was Richard Dimbleby’s report from the camp…

“Here over an acre of ground lay dead and dying people. You could not see which was which … The living lay with their heads against the corpses and around them moved the awful, ghostly procession of emaciated, aimless people, with nothing to do and with no hope of life, unable to move out of your way, unable to look at the terrible sights around them … Babies had been born here, tiny wizened things that could not live … A mother, driven mad, screamed at a British sentry to give her milk for her child, and thrust the tiny mite into his arms, then ran off, crying terribly. He opened the bundle and found the baby had been dead for days.

This day at Belsen was the most horrible of my life.”

Leslie Hardman was a man who knew what’s worth what. He insisted on burying each of the 20,000 corpses that confronted him as an individual with an individual ceremony (no question of mass burial). He restored in death the dignity they had been denied in life.

In a tribute to him on Radio 4 this morning, a resonant phrase from Kierkegaard (via psychiatrist Viktor Frankl) was cited to capture the man he was : The door to happiness opens outwards. 

Leslie Hardman dealt with the chaos he experienced in the front-line by dedicating himself to the well-being of others.

As Jonathan Sacks (the Chief Rabbi of the UK) put it on the same radio programme: He Chose Life. Now I always thought  – and this was reinforced by the Glasgow office of Channel 4 which has the words engraved on the glass of the entrance – that “Choose Life” comes from FilmFour’s Trainspotting. But apparently it comes from Moses in the Old Testament: ” I place before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. … Choose life that you and your descendants shall live”

  (which echoes what his predecessor and my namesake was told:  “You may choose for yourself, for it is given to you.”)

Now Jim (the God, not the Mod), much though I respect him, summarised his approach as being to “get his kicks before the whole shithouse goes up”. As things fall apart, I’d say the rock-striking prophet is a better bet than the pose-striking rock god: Choose Life. Choose sustainable living. Choose actually creating something instead of gambling nothing. Choose holding hands not holding hostages. Choose what’s going up. Choose what’s of real worth.

There’s snow business like show business

Floating in the sky

Took the Enfants Terribles last night to the 25th anniversary celebration of The Snowman, one of Channel 4’s first commissions, originally TXing in November 1982, the month the Channel took to the air. It had been commissioned that February from John Coates (who also produced Yellow Submarine for The Beatles) – he was at the event yesterday evening at the Peacock Theatre near Lincoln’s Inn. Camilla Deakin, former Channel 4 Commissioning Editor for Animation, introduced me to John, a stalwart champion of British animation.

I’m currently working with Camilla and her business partner at Lupus Films, Ruth Fielding, and the comfortable creatures at Aardman in Bristol to explore where the next 25 years of Channel 4 animation may go in the networked, on demand world we now inhabit.

I bumped into David Baddiel for the first time in a long while and his charming Mrs, Morwena Banks of Absolutely Productions. In the wake of his recent BBC1 documentary on the question of restitution for property stolen from Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators in Germany, Poland and Eastern Europe, he is keen to move beyond Jewish and football themes to explore lively approaches to documentary in other areas, more allied to his novel writing themes.

Fellow comedian Rowland Rivron, as dapper as ever in a pinstripe reminiscent of that other groovy fella Jools Holland, seemed to be an afficianado of The Snowman stage show, highlighting variations of scenes and costumes from the previous times he has sat through it over the child-rearing years. Since returning purified from Extreme Celebrity Detox, he seems to have lapsed a bit from the strict regime of vomit-inducing fluids he bravely tested out on behalf of Channel 4 and is comfortable again sipping a drop of wine and downing a petite mince pie.

Don’t think Tamara Beckwith downed even one of the mini mince pies – there wasn’t room in her spray-on jeans. Other glam in the place included Natasha Kaplinsky and two this-generation female Blue Peter presenters who I don’t know the names of but of whom the older Enfant Terrible asked me: are they lesbians? Not sure what prompted the question but brought to light what a different world we’re in compared to the innocent days of Valerie Singleton.

Said Enfant was delighted to chat with Duncan Ballantine of Dragon’s Den – “I wouldn’t have invested in those smiley stickers – there are loads of things like that in schools” he confidently pronounced to the tanned tycoon, evidence of the real educative value of the Den.

Meanwhile the Mrs was altogether more interested in John Simm of Life on Mars and Human Traffic fame (which was produced by my one-time flatmate and old friend of the Mrs, Emer McCourt – check out her first novel Elvis, Jesus and Me).

Reflecting back on that first month of Channel 4 chimed in perfectly with the evening before – the first annual 4Talent Awards, at which I had the honour of presenting the New Media award to Mark Bowness, the fella behind the brilliant TribeWanted. The warm, intimate event at C4 HQ in Horseferry Road was perfectly MCed by comedian Paul Tonkinson, light but respectful of the young talent in the room. And the winners – 20 selected from art forms ranging from sit-com writing to architecture, from documentary photography to fashion design – were buzzing with fresh talent. Bastards.

No, it was fabulous – and very C4. Had me floating in the moonlit sky. You can peruse them all here on 4Talent / Ten4. The recognition clearly meant a lot to the bearers of the illuminated, chameleon-colour-changing awards (from Matmos, the lavalamp supremos) and was a clear motivational boost. As Channel 4 moves into the fully digital age and its next quarter century, the kind of energy and fresh talent in the Drum (the round room in the basement of the Channel where the post-awards drinkies took place) will be central to the evolving organisation and the beat to which it marches.

Two Sevens Clash

bob marley

Exodus: Movement of Jah people

1977
Bob Marley recorded Exodus in punk London (he referred to London as his “second home”). He took refuge in the city after having been hit by a bullet the previous year in a politically motivated assassination attempt. The record was released on 3rd June 1977.

1947
The ship Exodus 1947 sailed from the small port of Site near Marseilles on 11th July 1947. On board were 4,515 immigrants from post-war Europe, including 655 children. It was heading to British Mandate Palestine.

As soon as it left French territorial waters British destroyers shadowed it. In the wake of the Second World War, the British had severely restricted immigration to Palestine and eventually decided to stop illegal immigration by sending ships running the gauntlet of the British patrols back to their port of embarkation in Europe. The first ship to which this policy was applied was the Exodus 1947.

We know where we’re going
We know where we’re from
We’re leaving Babylon
We’re going to our Father’s land

On 18th July 1947, nearing the coast of Palestine but outside territorial waters, the British rammed the ship and illegally boarded it. Two immigrants and a member of the crew were killed defending the vessel, bludgeoned to death, and 30 were wounded. The ship was towed to Haifa and the immigrants were deported on prison ships back to France at the suggestion of Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin (better known for his role in establishing the NHS).

Men and people will fight you down

1977
The Exodus recording sessions, produced by Island Records founder Chris Blackwell, took place in two west London studios: a converted Victorian laundry at the back of Island’s headquarters in St Peter’s Square, Chiswick, and the Basing Street studio, a former church in Notting Hill.

The nightly recording sessions were attended by a sizable rotating posse including the young members of Aswad and their manager, Mikey Dread (who I saw perform with The Clash at the Electric Ballroom in Camden Town); Delroy Washington; and Lucky Gordon (of Profumo Scandal notoriety). Journalist Vivien Goldman remembers the sessions as being recorded “in a mood of exuberant creativity”.

1947
At Port-de-Bouc in southern France the Exodus passengers refused to disembark and remained in the ships’ holds for 24 days during a heatwave – this despite a shortage of food, the overcrowding and dreadful sanitary conditions. The French government refused to co-operate with British attempts at forced disembarkation. Eventually, the British decided to return the would-be immigrants to Germany. These people were mostly survivors of the concentration camps and Nazi German persecution.

So we gonna walk – all right! – through the roads of creation
We the generation
Trod through great tribulation

They were shipped to Hamburg, then forcibly disembarked and transported to two camps near the German port of Lubeck on the Baltic Sea.

World public opinion was outraged by the callousness of the British behaviour and the British were forced to change their policy. Illegal immigrants were no longer sent back to Europe, but instead transported to detention camps in Cyprus.

Open your eyes and look within…
Are you satisfied with the life you’re living?

The escorting British soldiers never returned to their units in Palestine. The ordeal had such an impact on them that a near mutiny erupted among them. The British army decided not to press charges and closed the matter quietly.

The events convinced the US government that the British mandate of Palestine was incapable of handling the issue of post-war Jewish refugees and that a United Nations-brokered solution needed to be found. The US government intensified pressure on the British government to return its mandate to the UN.

1977
Throughout the recording sessions, Bob continued writing songs – Exodus itself emerged quite late and, as Vivien Goldman recounts, “there was a fizzing excitement around that track from the moment it was first laid down.”

Many of the musicians were exiles. Beyond their Jamaican roots was the urge to return to Africa, a desire central to Rastafarian belief. Bob and the Twelve Tribes (a Rasta organisation to which he belonged) were actively exploring the possibilities of land made available by Haile Selassie in Shashamane, Ethiopia.

Goldman recalls: “When the night came to finish the Exodus track, the Basing Street studio was alive with excitement. From the start, the song had its own impetus … at four o’clock in the morning a moment hit when the whole room knew that this one was it.”

1947
Within a year, over half of the original Exodus 1947 passengers had made another attempt at emigrating to Palestine – most found themselves detained in camps in Cyprus. One witness describes the DP (Displaced Persons) Camps on Cyprus thus: “a hot hell of desert sand and wind blowing against tents and tin Nissen huts, a hell circumscribed by two walls of barbed wire whose architecture had come out of Dachau and Treblinka”.

Eventually, after the events around May 1948, the majority of the Exodus exiles made it back to Israel.

Exodus, all right! Movement of Jah people!

2007

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 139 other followers

%d bloggers like this: