Archive for the ‘twitter’ Category
A bulletin from the front-line of MIP TV in Cannes courtesy of C21 Media
C4 lines up ‘social media first’
MIPCUBE: UK broadcaster Channel 4′s first primetime show drawn entirely from digital airs this summer, allowing viewers to play along on social media and receive bonus content.
Was It Something I Said?, initially an eight-part Friday night panel show, will be presented by comedian David Mitchell and produced by Maverick TV and That Mitchell & Webb Co.
Adam Gee, Channel 4’s multi-platform commissioning editor, told C21 here in Cannes: “We’ve been trying to do this for a long time. For the last two years I’ve been looking for ‘the North West Passage’ from digital media to TV. This started life as an arts digital commission and now it’s yielded primetime television.”
Gee, responsible for commissioning campaigning multi-platform properties The Great British Property Scandal and Hugh’s Fish Fight, claimed the new show would be a social media first.
“What’s particularly interesting about it is that the playalong will be fully integrated into social media, so you won’t have to go somewhere else to join in,” he said.
The show pits two teams against each other in wordplay, based on things people have said, tweets, media, and TV and film dialogue. Viewers will be able to play along with the show on Twitter, and receive bonus content.
This was an interesting experiment we tried recently on enlivening pre-recorded shows – in this case by calling out for a mass action over an ad break focused on three UK supermarkets which are unclear about the sourcing of some of their seafood (though no horse flesh involved …I think) and then presenting back the results straight after the break including an on-screen graphic featuring the number of tweets sent. In the words of the Twitter folk: “A great result around the show last night. We count circa 42K+ in the last 24 hours and a peak of 22K+ at the call to action – which is an equivalent hashtag spike to those Xfactor enjoys around its biggest moments! This kind of audience activation and live polling with Twitter is brilliant.”
The following extract is courtesy of Broadcast…
Big Fish Fight hooks 20,000 tweets
5 March, 2013 | By Alex Farber
Hugh’s Fish Fight saw a massive surge in Twitter activity – to over 2,200 messages per minute – after presenter Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall urged viewers to message the UK’s biggest supermarkets.
Hugh’s Big Fish Fight (C4) 9pm-10pm
Total tweets: 22,151
Peak tweets per minute: 2,289
Fearnley-Whittingstall’s call to action over sustainable fishing saw over 10,000 viewers flock to Twitter over the course of the 60-minute show, according to data from SecondSync.
The show was watched by an audience of 1.1m (5.3%) according to overnight data supplied by Attentional – a conversion rate of around 1%.
The viewer engagement spiked at just after 9.30pm ahead of an ad break as Fearnley-Whittingstall encouraged viewers to tweet the supermarkets’ official accounts after they refused to be interviewed on the show.
The figures represented a massive uplift on the 312 tweets per minute the show averaged across the 60 minutes.
It also dwarfed the total tweet volume of 3,300 and 1,500 generated by the first two episodes in the series – when no call-to-action occurred.
C4’s multiplatform commissioning editor of factual Adam Gee said: “Fish Fight represents the sweet spot of multiplatform – the TV prompts understandable anger and the digital means now you can do something about it.”
The social media campaign was managed by digital agency Keo Digital and audience participation experts Telescope Inc.
Here are some extracts from an article on Creation Interactive which illustrates how Embarrassing Bodies is getting the healthcare industry to rethink how it communicates with patients and the public…
TV & Online: What can TV’s Embarrassing Bodies teach the healthcare industry?
With an outstanding level of online engagement during and after each programme, Embarrassing Bodies shows a strong correlation between relevant and challenging content and behaviour change.
A serious medical condition can make for uncomfortable discussions between friends and family. But what if you suffer from an embarrassing illness, one you can’t share with your aunt, your workmates or you may even be too ashamed to speak to a medical professional about it?
In the UK, a television show has sparked the imagination of TV and internet viewers by getting people to talk about, share and understand medical and body conditions that some people might think are obscure, freakish or disgusting.
With over 4 million TV viewers and an outstanding level of online engagement during and after each programme, Embarrassing Bodies illustrates that:
- Consumers are interested in everyday health, sickness and wellbeing
- Engaging content can make difficult health subjects accessible through everyday language
- People are willing to talk about personal and embarrasing health issues online
- Access to senior physicians provides a platform for stimulating response
- There is a strong correlation between relevant and challenging content and behaviour change
Embarrassing bodies TV series
Embarrassing Bodies was commissioned by Channel 4 as part of their public service remit to explore difficult personal medical issues. Since 2007 the factual entertainment series and website, produced by Maverick Television, has delivered on-screen diagnosis by the team’s professional medical presenters who explain complex medical conditions in an engaging way. They follow patients through their decisions and operations, showing life-changing stories as sufferers are relieved of burdens from illness they have lived with sometimes for many years. Participants trust the show’s talented experts, who include Doctors Christian Jessen, Pixie McKenna and Dawn Harper who have become role models for General Practitioners.
The heart-rendering Charlotte’s Story told the journey of a child who’s ugly verrucas were diagnosed as a symptom of a life-threatening bone marrow condition. The broadcast had an incredible response: The Antony Nolan Trust saw a 5,000% rise in requests for information on Bone Marrow Transplant the day after transmission.
The power of the web experience
The secret to the show’s success is its engaging web and interactive experience. The website generated the highest ever web and mobile viewing figures for a Channel 4 show, garnering 1.2 million page views within 24 hours of a May 2008 broadcast. The show regularly attracts 150,000 viewers who engage during or after each episode.
Viewers respond to a powerful call-to-action from the TV broadcast to visit the website where they can explore the issues raised. An Autism-Spectrum Test was accessed 38,000 times in less than a minute.
The show encourages viewers to take further action to safeguard their health by performing checks on their skin, breast and testicles, providing web resources for self-diagnosis. The website regularly receives comments from those who have been motivated to act, like a woman who discovered a lump in her breast:
“Because I found it in very early stages, it hadn’t spread and my outlook is fabulous. Thank you for your clear way of showing people like me how to potentially save our own lives!”
The show has a presence in selected networks: through the TV broadcast, the website, and a Facebook group (which has 147,000 fans) which feeds key stories and links from the show’s main website. The #embarrasingbodies hashtag is used by thousands of Twitter viewers during the show, although the show has no official Twitter presence.
Channel 4’s Cross Platform Commissioner Adam Gee believes the key to the series’ success is in combining talent and honesty in an entertaining and engaging form.
“If you want to talk about lactose intolerance, get their attention by talking about farting as a way into it. Health information doesn’t need to be po-faced. It’s a good engaging route into ‘meat and two veg’ healthcare issues. The show’s very open, non-judgemental tone and human language creates a huge sense of reassurance that people aren’t alone, and also a sense of hope.”
Embarrassing Bodies uses straight-talking everyday language to engage people about their health
Embarrassing Teenage Bodies targeting difficult-to-reach teenagers, generated a flood of 11,000 website comments showing confidence and changed attitudes. During the evening of the broadcast, 99,000 people took an online STI risk checker – engagement you would be unlikely to ever find in a sex education lesson at school. This show generated many mobile downloads, suggesting that teenagers are more likely to access this type of content in private on mobile devices than on computers.
The website allows for anonymous interactions: users do not have to pre-register to submit their photos or questions or to comment, however, the team have launched a new strand with real identities, Embarrassing Bodies: Kids for worried parents that have a common interest in the welfare of the children. Channel 4 have used the programme as a model for supporting the preventative public health agenda and experimenting with online interactivity. They are currently developing a buddying system for people who suffer from the same chronic illness to support one another and share first hand experiences.
Embarrassing Bodies Live
This year the broadcaster took TV-to-web interactivity to the next level with Embarrassing Bodies Live – a web-only show directly after the TV broadcast. 42,000 viewers logged on to the site to pose questions to the team’s medical presenters. The live show aimed to do things that linear TV or a radio phone-in could not: responding directly to viewers questions and rewarding interaction through shaping the editorial. Viewers submitted photos and questions anonymously then anyone could vote on those they wanted to be discussed, directly affecting the editorial in real time. It took the conversations that were already happening on Twitter and spring-boarded them into a wider conversation. #embarrassingbodies was the biggest trending topic on Twitter in the UK that night.
Embarrassing Bodies has developed a sizeable community of interest, but it’s a transient rather than sticky community. Adam Gee explains:
“You have to think carefully about what you’re doing with a community and not do the default thing to say let’s make a social network because they’re all the rage. What kind of social network would be build around embarrassing illnesses except one of hypochondriacs? People don’t come with a common interest to a site like this: it’s a lot of small, temporary communities. They arrive in a just-in-time, task-oriented way, looking for the condition they are worried about. They then hang out in the community just long enough to find which is the best support group or other help to plug into.
“The series has always connected to profession bodies, encouraging viewers to visit their General Practitioners and linking to the UK’s National Health Service Choices website. The destination sites are a stark contrast from the rich, engaging Embarrassing Bodies space. Suddenly, you’re in this white, stripped environment. They are two poles of public service health – we need to recognise that it is one continuum: on one end are health professionals, on the other are communication professionals. We spend all day finding ways to entertain and engage people, and they spend all day thinking about what is the correct medical procedure.”
Lessons for the healthcare industry
The website benefits exponentially from its springboard from a popular TV brand which regularly attracts up to four million television viewers. The challenge for the healthcare industry is to create its own springboards based on highly engaging content.
Embarrassing Bodies shows that rich media and interactivity can lead to deeper levels of engagement and changes in behaviour. Jonnie Turpie believes:
“Now that broadband accessibility and video steaming on the web is accessible to wider audiences there are increasing opportunities to make engaging interactive content and services. This enables digital media producers to deliver valuable health engagement, rather than simply health information, which may lead to greater prevention of illness.”
To make the most of digital engagement opportunities, television and online video should create a call-to-action to move audiences online and provide more in-depth information and medical solutions. Embarrassing Bodies shows that promoting illness, no matter how difficult to discuss, in an approachable and human way and providing value for the user to progress their understanding, can capture attention and imagination, forming a first step in creating patient engagement.
Today’s Broadcast exploring Two-Screen Experiences with reference to Surgery Live and Embarrassing Bodies Live
Two-screen TV: terms of engagement
11 February, 2010 | By Robin Parker
Broadcasters are finding new ways of attracting the growing number of people who surf the web while they watch TV. Robin Parker taps into the world of two-screen entertainment.
Broadcasters and producers looking to hold on to the communal experience of TV are increasingly turning to the very threat most readily associated with fragmenting audiences.
The web is fast becoming the place to bring an extra dimension to, and make money from, live TV viewing by capitalising on many viewers’ habit of peering at the set over their laptops.
Reasoning that viewers are talking with their peers on social networks and Googling shows, broadcasters want to own the space – and find ways of harnessing this conversation to inform the content of their programmes.
To date, ‘two-screen’, as the trend is known, has been dominated by live web chats to support ITV franchises such as Dancing On Ice and The X Factor, which attract up to 20,000 people a time, and play-along games for shows such as The Apprentice and Four Weddings.
But players in this field forecast an acceleration of interest this year and expect the forthcoming General Election and football World Cup to take the trend to new heights.
Last week saw former ITV exec Jeff Henry launch an ambitious ‘live linking’ service that sent viewers of Five’s US drama Num3rs to 160 websites featuring material relevant to the unfolding narrative.
This week, Channel 4 takes this development to its next logical step with its first ‘one-screen’ interactive experience: a live web show spin-off of Embarrassing Bodies.
Some might argue that enabling a web audience to interact with the show by asking questions and to vote in polls is merely a 21st-century extension of radio and TV phone-ins, but C4 crossplatform commissioner Adam Gee argues that this is reductive.
As Embarrassing Bodies Live unfolds, the studio feed will be dictated by the volume and nature of viewers’ questions, photos and comments. “Our one rule of thumb is that if the interactive element could be done on a digital channel or a radio phone-in, it’s out,” he says. “Those are not networked conversations and they’re not personalised.
“What separates the men from the boys is to take an existing behaviour, such as on Twitter, and spring-board off that into a conversation that has impact on the editorial.”
The web show is the culmination of 18 months of experimentation conducted by Gee, much of it involving Twitter. The highest-profile case, Surgery Live (see box below), became Twitter’s number one trending topic when it aired last May. Another, Alone In The Wild, was, says Gee, an “asynchronous” two-screen experience that opened up the production process before the show aired. It enabled a networked conversation – but one that excluded Ed Wardle, the isolated figure in the series.
Gee believes simplicity is best and thinks two-screen is effective for shows with “a certain wallpaper quality”. He adds: “If Big Brother were starting now, it would totally be in this territory.”
Where it goes wrong, he says, is when too much “unmoderated noise” renders the content incoherent, citing Bad Movie Club, a Twitter experiment backed by the likes of Graham Linehan and Phill Jupitus, in which followers watched the same movie and tweeted their thoughts as it played.
Thirst for information
In the spirit of DVD audio and text commentaries, Henry’s TellyLinks.com is the latest way to feed viewers’ thirst for more information. At launch, it acts like a micro-Google, connecting viewers with external links providing everything from information on an actor to background news stories and details of a show’s setting.
In time, it hopes to sell these links, enabling an advertiser to reach some viewers of regular shows such as the BBC’s Top Gear. Last week’s launch saw the site crash under what Henry says was “overwhelming demand”, which his team is trying to address.
Similarly, Maverick recently provided a Twitter commentary to HBO Iraq war drama Generation Kill as it played out on C4, in which followers of the hashtag #gk were offered definitions of about 60 technical military terms per episode, plus background context on the war that linked through to sites such as Channel 4 News.
The idea came to Maverick’s head of new media, Dan Jones, when he watched the show in the US. “While I loved it, it was hard to follow all the dialogue and I was looking up stuff online after each episode,” he says. “We designed a glossary that you could, if you chose, ignore most of, but you could look whenever you wanted to check something.”
The audience for this was in the mere hundreds but they were, he says, “really engaged”.
Maverick has also started working with talent on this, using Kirstie Allsopp’s love of Twitter to get the presenter to link to craft courses and contributors’ sites during the transmission of Kirstie’s Homemade Christmas.
“It’s low cost and this casual engagement becomes financially worthwhile as you’re directing people to advertising-supported sites like C4’s 4homes. com,” Jones adds.
Meanwhile, having pioneered simple play-a-long tools for The Apprentice, Come Dine With Me and Living shows such as Four Weddings, digital specialist Monterosa is also eyeing the commercial opportunities.
“Some of the biggest brands are measuring their marketing spend by engagement,” managing director Tom McDonnell says. “In shows with commercial breaks, there’s a huge opportunity to reach people waiting for shows – and games – to come back on.”
He believes the games reward viewer loyalty and help a pre-recorded show feel ‘live’. While less than 1% of the audience played along, as much as 80% of these watched every episode. Moreover, he says, “it’s about giving the broadcaster an authoritative role in viewers’ behaviour. Channels like Living have to feel interactive.”
Mint Digital has, under its own steam, developed its own play-a-long game – a fantasy football variant called Football 3s – and is now discussing with ITV how to exploit it for the World Cup.
Product manager Utku Can Akyuz believes the tournament, along with the election, will be the testing ground for two-screen, but feels it will remain a minority interest in the short term.
“I don’t want to go down the path where the only way to watch a show is with a second screen,” he says. “It’s a challenge for writers and producers to create hooks for it without being too overt.”
Another challenge, he says, will be adapting the experience for timeshifted viewing. Mint is prototyping a debate tool that time-indexes each comment made through a broadcast, then overlays them on a show on a catch-up site such as iPlayer so that viewers watching later can get a sense of the experience.
He also wants to finesse the feel of two-screen. “We’re looking at how to design it for peripheral vision – using colours or sounds so you can see things change, but you can decide whether or not to look down at your laptop.”
Which begs a bigger question: with Project Canvas on the horizon, bringing interactivity to the TV set, will two-screen have had its day? Players in this space think not, arguing that the peculiar mix of a personal and shared experience will live on.
“A lot of TV viewing is done with more than one person in the room,” says McDonnell. “Wouldn’t it be pretty annoying if dad was obscuring the TV just to play a game?”
C4 OPENS THE DEBATE
Windfall Films’ week-long Channel 4 series Surgery Live, which covered live operations from a surgical theatre, was the first significant and deliberate attempt by a UK broadcaster to involve Twitter and Facebook in shaping the editorial. Backed by a Wellcome Trust grant for online development, it asked viewers to become virtual students and tweet the questions and comments they would give if they were in the room with the doctors.
“It was a digital media literacy opportunity,” says C4 cross-platform commissioner Adam Gee. “We couldn’t assume people knew how to use Twitter, and this helped get them acquainted.”
More than 10,000 questions and comments arrived via Twitter and Facebook over the course of the week and the best got to the surgeon within two minutes. By the final night, it was Twitter’s biggest trending topic in the world and the Facebook group counted 5,000 members. Given that the show itself was only accessible in the UK, this was no mean feat and Gee counted surgical students, doctors and health charities among the interested audience who continue to discuss the issue online nine months on.
“It was a great opportunity to experiment,” Gee concludes. “It amplified what was going on and we took some real steps forward by initiating a broad range of debates on medical issues with a community that developed in a completely organic way.”
[Article reproduced courtesy of Broadcast]
Off shortly to a gathering at Maverick TV to prepare for our ground-breaking live switchover show on 10th Feb. The significance of this experiment is that it is taking pioneering 2-screen televisual experiences like Surgery Live and streamlining them to a single screen containing both the video and interactivity (see screenshot in my last post Bodies Live).
Here’s how it was reported this week in New Media Age:
Channel 4 spins off live web show from Embarrassing Bodies series
21 January 2010 | By Charlotte McEleny
Channel 4 is broadcasting an interactive live web show as part of the
Embarrassing Bodies series.
The broadcaster and production company Maverick TV will stream a live
programme directly after the TV show allowing viewers to influence the
content. Channel 4 said 150,000 people already engage online during or after
The content of Embarrassing Bodies: Live will come from the viewers, who can
comment, vote, submit content and have their health problems diagnosed live.
Each show will also feature a live health check to follow at home, such as a
breast or testicle examination.
Adam Gee, cross-platform commissioner at Channel 4, said, “We wanted to do
something that took complete advantage of being on the web, so anything that
has gone into the show shouldn’t be possible to do on linear digital TV.”
Users can interact in real time via the channel4.co.uk/bodies site but also through
social networks including Twitter and Facebook.
The web show will start after the second episode of the current series, which
airs on 10 February.
Diaphanous was one of my first gos at Artwiculate. I tried one a couple of nights earlier but it was only 5 minutes before the end of the 24 hours and it didn’t register – the word was Quagmire. “I admire a good quagmire, something you can really get stuck into”
The challenge of writing well in 140 characters is something else you can really get stuck into – it has something of the unities of classical drama about it. Some people really seem to shine at it like Russell no T Davies of Wired UK.
I came across Artwiculate because I’m always on the look-out for inspirational word stuff in my capacity as a non-exec (NED – another word game I indulge in is collecting TLAs) of Wordia, the video dictionary which is a quagmire in itself once you immerse yourself in all those lovely words and definitions like Vibrato, Neologism and Flannel.
Some of my recent Artwiculate entries:
A John Osborne one…
The Avocado Bathroom Suite – a drama by Kitsch N. Sink. Jimmy looks back in anger on a miserable visit to Habitat with posh cow Alison.
A Steely Dan one…
Yesterday’s Ephemeral is today’s Ephem: no static at all
An Evelyn Waugh/Men at Arms one…
Lissome up, men, I want this march lithe, quick and graceful – by the left, lithe, quick and graceful march! left, right, left, right…
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.