Archive for the ‘london’ Category

The Factory Factor

Intensity - with glasses

Intensity – with glasses

Early on in my career I directed a shoot in a plastics factory in the depths of South London. It was that morning, as I watched the mundane, repetitive jobs people had to do, that I recognised how privileged my work was, above all in its variety and creative fulfilment. Now it’s the end of a long day, thirteen hours without a break, quite intense activity,  which I look back over with that same perspective – that was a really satisfying one.

The first bit at home on rising was just tying up some loose ends of the week, a bit adminy. Then the rest of the day rolled out along the Northern Line.

First stop Borough – a meeting involving a Countdown personality to develop a project focused on words and language. The project seemed to go up a gear or three during the conversation and I’m really excited about it.

Next stop Angel – another creative development meeting for a series about the future, which again made significant headway through a lively and illuminating conversation with the presenter and two producers.

Back to East Finchley for some tough wrangling on a Music education project, really difficult to pull off but really satisfying in its objectives.

Then to round off the week the main person I’m hoping to interview for the Business chapter of my book came back with a positive response.

Popped back to Islington in the evening for some R&R in the form of Nick Lowe at the Union Chapel, which culminated in a rousing rendition of  (What’s So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding?

Jesus of Cool

Intensity – before glasses

 

Vive La France en Angleterre

On Sunday I went to a charming French bistro in Brick Lane (No. 45), Chez Elles, run by two charming French women who have been in Londres for 18 months. The Normandy cider is cloudy and strong – it frappes l’endroit. Round the corner is Princelet Street where a former wave of French immigrants settled in the 17th century, the Huguenots. The other end of Brick Lane has two bagel shops, one now just making up the numbers, the other the real thing. Round another corner (Hanbury St) is the clothes factory where my grandfather used to work and take me as a boy (now All Saints). Round yet another corner is the market where my step-dad had a shop (Wentworth Street, where the bagel places (Mossy Marks’s and Kossoff’s) are now gone or a shadow of its former self respectively). Such are the waves of the human tide… As Sartre said: “You’ve got to be philosophical about it.”

london_calling

London is now the 6th biggest French city with a population of 400,000+

french_flag_bow_tie

Blue and Brassy

Edison plaque

American overstatement

On a hunt for NFL gear in NYC this morning for one of the Enfants Terribles, I walked past Macy’s and noticed this brass plaque. The exact wording it turns out is crucial. You leave with the impression that this is where the first movie was projected – “Here the motion picture began” is what misleads. But the truth is actually precisely (and narrowly) what it says below: it’s where Edison first projected a movie. It was put up by “The American Motion Picture Industry” where truth is not always at a premium.

Movies were first publicly projected 8 months earlier in Chicago at the Model Variety Theater. And they were first projected to a paying audience 5 months before in Paris at the Grand Café. In fact they’d already been publicly projected in New York before this date. I haven’t done much research but I dare say there are some other European claims to challenge these dates.

Edison had already charged members of the public to watch movies prior to this date but on peephole machines, not projected. On the date marked by this bold and brassy plaque the film was part of a vaudeville show and was simply three of his peephole films spliced together. So over-stated, over-charged and over here.

Meanwhile back at home in London, I was thinking the other day about blue plaques because a newspaper story has been doing the rounds about how English Heritage, who now administer the blue plaque scheme, established in 1866 and believed to be the oldest of its kind in the world, are about to kill the blue plaque. The scheme was set up under the auspices of the Society of Arts (later the Royal Society of the Arts, of which at one time I was a Fellow). The baton then passed to the London County Council and in due course to the Greater London Council. In 1986, English Heritage took up the responsibility. So the press stories recently suggested that the scheme was about to end but I suspect this was actually cack-handed PR on the part of English Heritage, crying wolf in the face of tight times and cuts. They have subsequently said they are just pausing the scheme to deal with a back-log and slow things down in these cash-starved times. What they have done in the process is drawn attention to the cost of what should at heart be a simple operation with expenditure limited to making a robust piece of blue ceramic, but no doubt there is some immense bureaucracy accreted around a simple idea designed to make a plain link between notable characters from the past and the buildings in which they lived, worked and died. As English Heritage summarises the 147 year old scheme with which it has been entrusted: “It is a uniquely successful means of connecting people and place.” I suspect if EH did pull the plug, we the public could do it for ourselves at a fraction of the cost and bring back a long tradition of public subscription in our country with the help of some open, sharing digital technology.

Any way, enough kvetching as they say around here (I’m writing this at 3rd Avenue and 24th Street), I’d like to draw attention to my favourite blue plaque. It’s high up on the wall of 22 Frith Street in London, above the Bar Italia, directly opposite Ronnie Scott’s jazz club – and it’s a model of British understatement:

British understatement

British understatement

So basically “Here Television began”.

If you go to Bletchley Park, or certainly this was the case about five to ten years ago, you could see the concrete base of the hut where the world’s first programmable computer was created by Alan Turing. The hut was knocked down some years ago. The spot is (or was) not specifically marked. I remember standing there and thinking if this was in the USA there would be something pretty significant to mark this stupendous happening. “Here Computing began.” Or at least “Here programmable Computing began.”

It was minus 13 the night I arrived here. As an Englishman in New York I might have said: “It’s a bit nippy”. But there’s a time for sang froid and a time for being big, bold and brassy…

The Northern Line Game

‘The Northern Line Game’ was one of three street games I played with my friends in my 20s. ‘Secret & Obvious’ involved sitting at a cafe table with Stuart and first saying what was obvious about any selected passer-by and then revealing a secret of theirs (perhaps derived from clues in their appearance, perhaps belying how they project themselves). ‘The Name Game’ involved sitting on some steps with Katherine, usually in The City, and guessing the names of passers-by i.e. formulating rather fanciful handles inspired by their appearance. ‘The Northern Line Game’ was also played with Katherine, a fellow Northern Line native with a similar sensibility, now moved on from the shadow of Edgware Castle to Aspen, Colorado. You get on the black line in town and travel out to the suburbs, guessing exactly where each person will get off. The distinction between say a Hendon Central and a Colindale is a fine one but she was masterful in her judgments. Here’s a first stab at mapping out who is where on the Northern line these days. If you can help refine or improve the station names please feel free to add your thoughts below and I’ll amend the map. Also if you can help with the southern stretch which is out of my range…

Heddonism

copyright: Brian Ward, courtesy of Des Shaw

It’s 08:45. I’m dripping wet, just out the shower, drying off by Whitey (our trusty old iMac) with Twitter open. I notice a tweet flow by: ‘Ziggy Stardust plaque being unveiled at 9:45 just off Regent St, if you’re in West End come by’. I’d heard about the plaque earlier in the week from Des Shaw at Ten Alps, the TV indie set up by Bob Geldof. He’s making a radio programme about Bowie and we’re working together on a couple of multiplatform developments – one to do with music, the other about waste – so we’d been chatting on the phone a few days before about Bowie and he mentioned the impending event. 60 minutes – just doable if I didn’t mind venturing forth a bit moist. I took off, kept up a decent pace, the Northern Line behaved and I walked into Heddon Street, powered by Ziggy on the iPhone, with a minute to spare. I positioned myself behind a TV crew and texted Des to check he was there. The ceremonies were opened bang on time by a fella from the Crown Estate who gave us a brief history of this backwater behind Regent Street, personalised by his own memories of the record. He handed over to Gary Kemp, formerly of Spandau Ballet, who was the prime mover behind the project, much inspired in his music career by the album. He spoke with great enthusiasm about the record and tipped the hat to the two Spiders from Mars who were among the small but perfectly formed crowd, bass player Trevor Bolder and drummer Mick Woodmansey. Then the little curtain was drawn back to reveal the elegant black plaque – one of only two in London to a fictional person (the other being Sherlock Holmes at 221b Baker Street). It reads: Ziggy Stardust 1972 This marks the location of the cover photograph for the iconic David Bowie album ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’.

40 years before, outside the office of Bowie’s management which was located for a while at that time on Heddon Street W1, Brian Ward took the iconic photo of the newly created Ziggy character outside the warehouse-looking entrance of K. West. It was a black and white shot subsequently hand coloured by Terry Pastor, who switched on the light and pulled out that resonant name. So Brian Ward’s original photograph was black and white, one of twelve 10 x 8s submitted to Bowie’s artist pal, George Underwood. George passed the one selected for the front cover to his colleague Terry Pastor. It was Terry who airbrushed the cover – he decided on the colouring of Ziggy’s hair, his costume, the lights and so on – very much a joint effort taking it to icon status. Des Shaw has a print of one of the other original 10x8s [above] which gives a good insight into the shoot and what the street looked like back then. Des brought me in to the special reception area where a six foot square print of the cover hung [below]. At 12″ x 12″ its magic and mystery are even more powerful through concentration.

The doorway in question has changed over the years and the whole street is far more salubrious and tamed through pedestrianisation. Less clean cut and tamed than when I first saw him perform To Cut A Long Story Short on telly when I was still immersed in punk and new wave was Gary Kemp who Des introduced me to – he was all a-flutter with the event and went off after a few moments to do another radio interview.

I think the original record was recorded at Trident Studios across Regent Street in Soho (certainly some of Bowie’s 70s classics were recorded there) – I recorded a voice-over a few years ago at Trident and was suitably impressed with the trophy album covers on their wall. Des told me a really interesting story he’d uncovered in the making of his radio programme: at one point around this time Bowie was rehearsing in an innocuous basement in Greenwich with his Spiders from Mars and was joined by Iggy Pop and Lou Reed. The basement studio space was called Underhill and was chosen because it was within walking distance of Haddon Hall where Bowie was living in Bromley, his old manor. After Bowie met Iggy Pop and Lou Reed in the States he invited them to England where he then produced Iggy’s Raw Power album (after he’d produced Lou’s Transformer). So at one point in the tiny basement rehearsal space there were David Bowie and The Spiders from Mars, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, and Lou Reed and his post-Velvets band, three of the most influential groups of the early 70s – all playing in a tiny subterranean space under what is now a pharmacist on the corner of Lewisham Road and Blackheath Road. This city, beneath the surface, behind out back, has a music goldmine rich like no other.

Ziggy Stardust impressed me when I first heard it but was never an absolute favourite. Although I remember Starman in the pop background as a little kid – and V2 Schneider (B-side of Heroes) entered my life briefly on board the SS Uganda on an educational cruise to the Baltic sharing a dorm with a bunch of skinheads from Romford – Stage was the first Bowie album that crossed my path in full consciousness.

Probably the three most significant Bowie records for me were:

* Aladdin Sane – I got totally bored by the monotony of school in the 6th Form and retired to a room at my dad’s house for a few months with Aladdin Sane and a pile of Jane Austens – it just chimed in perfectly with that most fucked up of teenage times

* Lodger – Bowie did a radio programme/interview about it during which he mentioned the Austrian painter Egon Schiele, who I’d never heard of and who was much less well known at that time – within a couple of years I found myself in Neulengbach on the outskirts of Vienna on the trail of Schiele (thanks to the Morrison Travel Scholarship from Girton College, fair play to them, it was one of the things at university I probably learnt most from)

* Let’s Dance – the soundtrack for my year living in France, culminating in seeing a very smooth Mediterranean Bowie (he’d been at the Cannes Film Festival that year with Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence – the tanned, light suits, dyed blonde floppy English hair era) at Grenoble, from the front of the auditorium with all the energy of a young man who had just cut the umbilical chord from home.

The other records over the years have pretty much all come to win their places in my heart and life, and one of the key endearing aspects of them is that resolute voicing of the Anthony Newley style London accent. You can take the boy out of London but you can’t take London out of the boy, however much you swing him.

Fanboy Gary Kemp showing off his Ziggy badge

9/11 is My Day

Terrorists and killers, this is what babies have to say to you

John Martyn. Herbert Lom. DH Lawrence. Mick Talbot. Pierre de Ronsard. And me. We all share one thing – a birthday on 9/11, that date now with a resonance all of its own. Each year I wait for some low-life to blacken it again. This year I’m a little more worried than usual on account of the round number.

10 years ago today I was out for my birthday lunch with colleagues/friends from Redbus CPD, the internet start-up whose production department I was running for the couple of years before I came to Channel 4. They gave me two lovely presents which have a certain emblematic quality for me looking back. One was a book about London, Peter Ackroyd’s biography of the city. The other was the brand new record by Bob Dylan, Love and Theft, released on that very day. So Literature and Music, two of my greatest loves and essentially the opposite of 9/11. Creative. Fueled by Love. What makes life worth living. One of my sons is called Dylan so I take the latter as a reflection also of Family. And I’m a real Londonphile, born&bred here (I’d bear a London passport if they’d let me), so the former also captures the notion of Home. Music and Literature, Home and Family, Work and Friendship – I was basking in it all as we headed back down the appropriately named Arcadia Avenue back to the office. It was around 2pm.

As we settled back to work one of my business partners called us all into the boardroom to watch something incredible playing out on the big TV. A plane had crashed into the World Trade Centre. I knew the building from when I spent a semester at high school in Montclair, New Jersey and visited the iconic twin towers for the first time. As we were trying to absorb the images a second plane appeared and the rest is history.

I went out for my planned birthday dinner that evening in Camden Town with my wife, brother, sister-in-law and my oldest friend (we’ve known each other since we were six). The pall of the day’s events hung over our meal and I imagine everyone around the table was as numb as I felt. My stomach was in bits.

Over the years since I’ve felt a degree of outrage at having my birth date appropriated by such a dark and soulless act. And I’m not giving it over. This side of the water it’s 11/9 and this year’s a special palindromic one 11-9-11. 11/9 is about Music, Literature, Home, Family, Creativity and Friendship. It’s about New York and London. It’s about Soul (John Martyn), Laughter (Herbert Lom), Passion (DH Lawrence), Groove (Mick Talbot), and Poetry (Pierre de Ronsard). It’s about Birth and Life and what makes life worth living.

Seven Days in the press

Here’s a couple of articles about Seven Days from this week – one from Broadcast, the other from New Media Age…

C4 to use ‘Chat Nav’ on Seven Days doc {courtesy of Broadcast}

9 September, 2010 | By Robin Parker

Channel 4 is to launch a ‘ChatNav’ website for upcoming documentary series Seven Days, which will collate social media conversations about the show and help determine which of the on-screen characters the producers prioritise.

The initiative aims to influence the show, which is filmed in Notting Hill in the week prior to transmission, by illustrating which of its characters the viewers are engaging with. The site will represent this by giving the people who generate the most buzz the biggest image.

Contributors, who remain under wraps until its launch on 22 September, could be scaled back or even dropped during the series’ eight-week run if audiences do not seem to be engaging with them.

As well as feeding in comments from Twitter and Facebook, the site will encourage users to help the characters make personal, social and work decisions, with their involvement ranging from yes/no answers to direct advice.

C4 new media factual commissioning editor Adam Gee said that rather than applying a ruthless “Truman Show approach”, the aim was to establish a “collective wisdom”.

“For the first time, it will enable the audience to have an influence in a documentary context, not by giving them editorial control, but by establishing a constructive exchange with contributors,” he said.

Viewers will also be able to ask a team of reporters based in Notting Hill to go deeper into stories.

The show’s site will also offer unedited rushes and cut sequences. Digital agency Holler is producing the web content with series producer Studio Lambert.

* * *

Mock-up of ChatNav screen

Mock-up of Seven Days ChatNav screen

Channel 4 gives viewers a say in how new reality show develops {courtesy of New Media Age}

Wed, 8 Sep 2010 | By Jessica Davies

Channel 4 is launching a major cross-platform initiative for new reality show Seven Days, with the storyline influenced by its online audience.

The show will follow the lives of around two dozen people living in Notting Hill, and will be shot and edited in the week of transmission.

Adam Gee, commissioning editor of cross-platform at Channel 4, said the show’s format indicates the kind of projects Channel 4 is likely to develop post-Big Brother, and represents a new approach for documentary and reality programming.

“That gap left by Big Brother gives Channel 4 the opportunity to rethink its whole approach and try out new things,” he said, adding that the show is “in the spirit of experimentation”.

The show’s format supports the broadcaster’s strategy of rewarding its audience for engaging.

“As a broadcaster, one of the main things you can give your audience as a payoff that no one else can is an impact on editorial,” said Gee.

A site, channel4.com/sevendays, will go live on 22 September to coincide with the TV broadcast. It will feature a function called Seven Days ChatNav, which lets viewers interact directly with the cast members, giving them advice and answering questions posed by the latter.

Channel 4 will monitor which characters prompt the most interest and discussion online, and this will influence which stories will be focused on in the subsequent episode.

People can use the site to catch up with what’s happening with the characters who aren’t featured in the TV show, along with videos of the show’s rushes. The site will also include full scenes which may have been dropped from the linear broadcast at the last minute.

A team of three called Eyes on the Ground will be on site and will post videos and blogs. Gee said, “They’re available for the online audience, who can ask them to fill in the gaps between shows, following up storylines that aren’t covered on TV.”

He also said the show and site have been designed for sponsorship, and Channel 4 is in advanced talks with brands over sponsorship tie-ups.

It worked with agency Holler on the cross-platform format, and Studio Lambert on the TV production.

London inspirations

John Logie Baird plaque

(picture courtesy of Malcolm Edwards http://www.flickr.com/photos/malcnhg/)

Last week I was asked to commit a dozen of the places that most inspire me in my native city, London, to video for a ‘Design Inspiration’ event at the old Truman Brewery in Brick Lane next week. Of course I laboured over my list and tried out various permutations. Alfie Dennen kindly bought me a copy of Ed Glinert’s London Compendium to help, which by coincidence I first spied in a bookshop window in Brick Lane a couple of years ago but didn’t nab. In the end I pretty much went with my gut-instinct first list. I was driven around in a Nissan Cube (which basically looks like Postman Pat’s van done all in white – think I may go on holiday in one to Greendale some time)  and rabbited away on camera – good fun (for me at least). Here’s where the Cube was headed…

1. My house

I love the view from home because it is just 5 miles from Charing X-marks-the-spot at the centre of London and yet it looks like this – capturing the surprises brought to you by the quirkiness of urban development in the city, and the diversity of the place as my allotment-side neighbours are Portuguese, Greek, Eastern European, Hollowayish and from all manner of origins.

2. St Pancras & Islington Cemetery

It’s where I go jogging (a memento mori, jog or you’ll end up in here with us) so I’m a bit of an expert on London’s biggest cemetery, established in 1854. It’s got a few famous people in it like the Pre-Raphaelite painter Ford Madox Brown (and Alfie’s gran) but it’s not one of those kind of graveyards, it’s punctuated with quirky stuff and I picked out the beribonned dog grave for some dumb Edwardian schmuck who died saving a canine companion from drowning in Highgate Ponds.

3. The Phoenix Cinema, East Finchley

We filmed in the auditorium which captures my love of both cinema and art deco. It’s the oldest purpose-built cinema in the UK, opened in 1910, called The Rex when my mum lived round the corner as a young girl. I do a little pro bono work there (currently trying to set up a fund-raiser screening of Film4’s Nowhere Boy to help raise the last £92,000 to enable the restoration project to mark its centenary next year). You can give a few shekels here if the urge takes you – really a good cause, especially if you love Cinema.

4. Whitestone Pond / Hampstead Heath

A great view over all of London, painted by the likes of Constable and the aforementioned Ford Maddox Brown. You look out over the Heath and the sheltered island of Victorian dwellings known as the Vale of Health. DH Lawrence among other blue plaquers lived down there – we share a birthday (with Herbert Lom and John Martyn too) and by Whitestone Pond is where I was born. The maternity hospital has since closed and become an old age home so I’m doing my best to get back there and complete the full circle.

5. The Electric Ballroom, Camden Town

Representing my love of Music – it’s where I first saw The Clash, one of the most exciting musical experiences of my life. Down the other end of Camden High Street I saw Siouxsie and the Banshees play at the Music Machine (now Koko or whatever its called these duller days), so this was the locus of my middle-class punk days.

6. St Pancras Church, Euston

A different kind of example of London’s quirkiness. The four caryatids holding up the roof – look at them carefully [below]… a bit on the squat side no? That’s because they were delivered the wrong size and they had to cut a bit out of their Grecian bellies.

7. The newsagent’s in Dean Street, Soho

As a small child I got out the car under the distinctive scrolled sign on my way to De Lane Lea sound studios to watch Eastern European animations being dubbed into English. Years later I noticed it again walking through Soho to my first job in the film/TV industry in Marshall Street. So it symbolises a lifetime’s passion for moving pictures.

8. Bar Italia

I love the blue plaque above the cafe which says something along the lines of TV was invented in this room. Typical British understatement…

9. Cutlers’ Hall

This year I became a Liveryman at the Cutlers’ Company. It’s a long story but it started by getting an educational scholarship from them when I was at school to study in France the year before I went to uni. I’m now involved in helping spread the love and cash to schools, fencers, surgeons and other worthwhile beneficiaries. I was standing at an event in the Mansion House in 2005 when I was first embarking on Lost Generation and the stuff on the walls reminded me how much I loved London and prompted me to become part of the fabric of the City of London.

10. A view of St Paul’s Cathedral and the  OXO Tower

I proposed in the Whispering Gallery at the base of the dome from 35 yards away. My other half gave me my wedding ring in the top O of the OXO Tower when it was a building site during renovation. Between the two runs the sweet River, lifeblood of the city.

11. The Festival Hall

I love the design and interior. My mum’s brilliant art teacher, Abram Games, designed the Festival of Britain logo. We picked up the BAFTA there this year for Embarrassing Bodies. Loads of lovely associations.

12. Tate Britain

Represents my passion for Art, though most of the Modernism I particularly adore has moved downstream to Bankside. I love the streets behind and the bomb damage to the side wall (a lucky escape, the place must be blessed).

Feel free to leave your own London inspirations below…

St Pancras Church, Euston

It all went belly up

The skinny on Skinny-dipping

Rupert Brooke in Granchester (with soft collar)

Rupert Brooke in Granchester (with soft collar)

On Thursday evening I joined Channel 4 colleagues at The Courthouse Hotel [formerly the Marylebone Magistrates Court, was glad to see cells have been imaginatively retained] opposite Carnaby Street (a resonant area for me as just round the corner from my very first workplace, Solus in Marshall Street, Soho, whose attic contained hidden gems like footage of Jimi Hendrix at the Isle of Wight and James Baldwin in Paris) to view as it was broadcast a programme I had (deliberately) only seen as raw footage – Alone in the Wild. Since the beginning of July we have been publishing online the rushes of the show as they came out of the wilderness of the Yukon, where cameraman/film-maker Ed Wardle was living and recording his experiences himself, completely alone in the wild. My part of the cross-platform commission also involved publishing daily out-going only short messages from the wild via Twitter, which were subsequently used to punctuate the three films in the series. [Next one is this Thursday at 9pm on C4]

One scene in Episode 1 saw Ed delighting in a skinny-dip in the lake where he had made camp, frolicking like a child, immersing himself with joy in the place he shared with a stately moose and grayling destined for his frying pan.

I’ve been equally struck recently by accounts of poet Rupert Brooke’s skinny-dipping activities in Granchester, a place made magical for me after a lone moonlit cycle-ride to there in the middle of one Romantic night. In particular, accounts of ‘The Midnight Swim’ when this proto-hippy young poet shared the waters of Byron’s Pool with the unstable, radical woman of letters Virginia Stephens, later Woolf, who finished her life alone in the underwater wild of a Sussex river.

It was 1911. They were both single. Rupert was 24, Virginia was 29. It was the year Poems 1911 was published (clue in the title), Brooke’s one and only volume of poems to appear during his actual lifetime. (Woolf’s first novel appeared four years later.)

Christopher Hassall describes the incident in his biography of Brooke (Rupert Brooke: a Biography 1964):

“It was the end of August. Virginia Stephen arrived at the Old Vicarage and occupied Ka’s bed on the other side of the house. The garden room was strewn with scraps of Strindberg, pages of Bland Vassen and fragments of verse. Probably the guest had brought with her an early chapter of The Voyage Out to revise while Brooke was reading or writing stretched out on the grass. One warm night there was a clear sky and a moon and they walked out to the shadowy waters of Byron’s Pool. “Let’s go swimming, quite naked,” Brooke said, and they did.”

Brooke mentions in his well known poem The Old Vicarage, Granchester this pool where his poetic forebear Byron swam when no-one was about:

Still in the dawn waters cool
His ghostly Lordship swims his pool

The painter Augustus John, who lived nearby with a caravan load of hot women and brown children, was also a naked frequenter of the pool, as was the philosopher Wittgenstein.

The Midnight Swim is also fictionalised and extrapolated upon in Jill Dawson’s recent novel The Great Lover which I read on holiday this August (exactly 98 years after the skinny-dip in question), kindly given to me by Aysha Rafaele (a fellow C4 Commissioning Editor from Documentaries) who spotted it in the Richard & Judy Book Club pile.

So any action between the two of them, both swingers-both-ways? Rupert, I get the impression, was more inclined to the hetero. Virginia must be well documented but I’m not sure exactly how her bi was balanced. Lytton Strachey had proposed to her two years earlier but they both realised, in the cool light of day the next morning, it wouldn’t work out. I don’t think any one knows or ever said quite what occurred, which leaves it as a lovely little mystery…

The Midnight Swim wasn’t their first watery encounter. In April 1899 (Rupert was 11, Virginia was 17) the Brookes went to St. Ives on holiday, where Leslie Stephen was also vacationing with his family. The two of them played together by the sea.

Yeats called Brooke “the handsomest young man in England”. By the year of The Midnight Swim, Brooke was secretly engaged or attached in some fashion to Noel Olivier, a fascinating character in her own right (Rupert was 24, Noel was 19) here’s her Wikipedia entry.

I had a go recently at drafting a Wikipedia entry for her sister Brynhild who seemed a promising character, the most beautiful of the Olivier sisters, but there’s very little to go on. This is what I have so far:

”’Brynhild Olivier”’ (1886 – 13th January 1935) was a member of [[Rupert Brooke]]‘s circle before the First World War and associated with the [[Bloomsbury Group]]. She was the fourth daughter of [[Sydney Haldane Olivier]], 1st Baron Olivier, and Margaret Cox; she was sister of Margery, Daphne and [[Noel Olivier|Noel]].

She married art historian [[A. E. Popham]] (Arthur Ewart Hugh Popham, known as Hugh) in 1912 (becoming Brynhild Popham). Hugh Popham was a friend of Rupert Brooke. They were divorced in 1924. She married [[F. R. N. Sherrard]] in 1924 (becoming Brynhild Sherrard).

She was the mother of [[Anne Olivier Popham]], who became the wife of art historian and writer [[Quentin Bell]]. She was also the mother of the poet, translator and theologian [[Philip Sherrard|Philip Owen Arnould Sherrard]] (born 23 September 1922, Oxford).

Brynhild was the first of the four Olivier sisters the poet Rupert Brooke met. Although she was reputedly the most beautiful, it was her sister Noel Olivier for whom Brooke fell.

She was first cousin of the actor [[Laurence Olivier]].

If there’s anyone out there in internetland who knows anything more about Brynhild (Bryn) Olivier, please do let me know via comments or however so I can get enough substance in the article to make it acceptable for Wikipedia – i.e. more information on what she achieved in her adult life.

Rupert and Noel met in 1908 when he was 20 and she a 15-year-old schoolgirl at the then fashionable, progressive Bedales in Petersfield. Noel’s father was Lord Sydney Olivier (uncle of dear, dear Larry), a prominent Fabian and high-ranking civil servant, serving in his time as Governor of Jamaica and Secretary of State for India.

Bedales was something of a centre for getting your kit off. Various members of Brooke’s circle had been there, the first co-ed public school, which encouraged a passion for the open air and healthy outdoor games. Nude swimming and sunbathing (segregated) made it on to the curriculum (hoorah!). The Sun Bathing Society’s Annual Summer Conference was held there in 1931 and naturists used the Bedales grounds out of term in the wake of their starting to organise in Britain during the previous decade.

Noel went on to have a long and interesting career as a doctor, politically active in a way reflecting her Fabian roots. Rupert had a short one as an early crash-and-burn teen hero, paving the way for everyone from James Dean to (fellow Cantabrian) Nick Drake to River (appropriately enough) Phoenix. He didn’t quite make 28. He cast himself as a Neo-Pagan (becoming a central figure of an eponymous group of writers and artists) and Virginia confirmed this: “He was consciously and definitely pagan.” They were the original Teddy Boys, the reckless youth of the Edwardian era, rebelling against the constraints of stiff-collared Victorian ways.

Embodying the Neo-Pagan ideals of youth, comradeship and the Simple Life, Brooke revelled in going barefoot and skinny-dipping: “Two miles from Cambridge up the river I wander about barefoot and almost naked. I live on honey, eggs and milk.” (letter to Noel Olivier, summer 1909). A bit of Romantic exaggeration of course, but Rupert certainly enjoyed casting off a few layers.

This summer I had the Simple Pleasure of bathing in Lough Hyne, just outside of Baltimore (the one in West Cork as opposed to The Wire one). It is pretty much unique as a salt-water lake, quite the place to go if you want to hang with a goby, shanny, blenny, three-spined stickleback or clingfish. Its salty water reminded me of another top bathing experience – the Blue Hole, East of Port Antonio, Jamaica (aka the Blue Lagoon since Brooke Shields skinny-dipped there in 1980, directed by Randal Kleiser, who I had a ridiculous phonecall with when I was working at Solus – for some unaccountable reason I turned momentarily into The Player, luckily old Randy couldn’t see the tenderfoot at the other end of the transatlantic line). The Blue Hole is a mixed salt and fresh water lagoon, fed by cold underground springs. When you swim you have the unique experience of one stroke warm, next stroke cool, warm, cool, warm, cool, warm, cool. Divers and scientists say it has a depth of about 180 feet. Local islanders say it is bottomless and a monsterous creature lives down below. The mixture of intense physical pleasure and underlying anxiety of the sheer extent and unknowableness of Nature is an experience common to skinny-dippers the world wide.

The-Blue-Lagoon

Has anybody here seen my old friend John?

Music, love and friendship

Catching the next train home

Wild child

Wild child

I heard Solid Air performed live just last week at a performance of Nick Drake’s songs at Bush Hall in Shepherd’s Bush by Keith James and Rick Foot. It’s such a unusual song in that it’s equally associated with its subject, Nick Drake, and his friend the creator, John Martyn. What really struck me was what a warm, open expression of friendship it is, especially as I imagine the communication was rather one way.

The last time I saw John Martyn live was when he played the whole of the Solid Air album live at the Albert Hall. It is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the greatest albums ever. I went that night with a friend whose life subsequently took a bit of a nose dive due to drugs – a close-to-home illustration of how delicate we all are with regard to alcohol and the like. Watching JM decline from beautiful boy to one-legged survivor wasn’t easy but his unique voice and experimental energy was an enduring thread through his music-packed life.

The penultimate time I saw him was from a red velvet seat in the front row of the Shepherd’s Bush Empire with Una. The performance had a beautiful later life serenity.

Dyed in the wool Londoner that I am, I’ve never been a big lover of West London beyond occasional quick sorties to the All Saint’s Dinner (sic) and the Hammy Odeon, but West London seems to run as a skein through my life with John. One of the first times I saw him was in the Underworld/Westworld (? darn, what was that place called?) somewhere under the Westway near Portobello market. I just remember it as electric.

I saw him live around a dozen times – the Town & Country Club (Kentish Town), the Jazz Caff (Camden Town), the Mean Fiddler (Harlesden) – he struck a chord with me. We shared a birthday. Cooltide accompanied me down the Nile at sunset. One World has that special vibe of Jamaica which runs deep in me.

On the subject of Island, if I had to pick just one song to take to a desert one, it would be Don’t Want to Know:

I don’t want to know ‘bout evil
Only want to know ‘bout love
I don’t want to know ‘bout evil
Only want to know ‘bout love

Sometimes it gets so hard to listen
Hard for me to use my eyes
And all around the cold is glistenin’
Making sure it keeps me down to size

And I don’t want to know about evil
Only want to know about love
I don’t want to know one thing about evil
I only want to know ‘bout love

I’m waiting for the planes to tumble
Waiting for the towns to fall
I’m waiting for the cities to crumble
Waiting til’ the sea a’ crawl

And I don’t want to know ‘bout evil
I only want to know about love
I don’t want to know ‘bout evil
I only want to know ‘bout love

Yes it’s getting’ hard to listen
Hard for us to use our eyes
‘Cause all around that gold is glistenin’
Makin’ sure it keeps us hypnotized

I don’t want to know about evil
Only want to know ‘bout love
I don’t want to know about evil
Only want to know ‘bout love

Not much more to say after that. From the words of another great English bard, if music be the food of love, he satisfied us wondrously in his six decades – and I couldn’t love him more for it.

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