Archive for September 6th, 2020|Daily archive page

Things That Are No More #2: I’m Walking Backwards for Christmas – and forever

This is Michael Dickinson (filmed by me in April 2018) not far from Spike Milligan’s stomping ground. Sadly he passed away recently. He was a much-loved presence in East Finchley as well as other parts of London such as Camden Town. He came to East Finchley to visit the Phoenix Cinema (which BTW is about to re-open) among other things.

Michael was an actor, writer and campaigner. He suffered from a psychological condition called ‘retropulsion’, a compulsion to walk backwards, which is a symptom of Parkinsonism. He died from Peritonitis on 2nd July in his bedsit in Highgate, aged 70.

Michael was born in Yorkshire. He lived all around Camden Town in the 70s and 80s, then mov­ed to Istanbul. After 30 years living in Turkey and working as a teacher, he was deported back to Britain in 2013 after being arrested for exhib­iting a collage portraying President Erdogan as a dog collecting a rosette from George Bush.

He studied at Manchester School of Theatre in 1969. Michael acted and wrote for the Pentameters Theatre (which BTW urgently needs support to survive and has a crowdfunder on the go to that end) above the Three Horseshoes pub on Heath Street, Hampstead where he was considered a talented actor. His final play was about Keats whose manor included Heath Street. Léonie Scott-Matthews, who has run Pentameters for over five decades, witnessed when the condition kicked in: “I remember when he started walking backwards. He was in a play here. He got off the stage and just started walking back­wards. It was just after he had got back from Turkey.”

In a 2017 interview in the Camden New Journal Michael said: “I am not acting. If it wasn’t for the retropulsion, I would much prefer to be walking forwards.”

For some time he lived in a tent on Hampstead Heath. Other times his home was a cardboard box behind Sainsbury in Camden Town and various squats including Hampstead Police Station (also on Heath Street). Eventually he got more regular accommodation. 

The Erdogan episode took on international proportions. Michael arrived at the appeal hearing bearing a similar collage with Erdogan’s face on a dog’s body. During the shenanigans Charles Thomson, co-founder of the pro-figurative Stuckist group of artists,  wrote to the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to encourage the “strongest condem­nation of this prosecution”.  Thomson said: “The story got international media attention because they were trying to get into the EU at that time. I think without it he would have got a stiff jail sentence.” He described Michael’s art as “exquisitely wrought political collages”. Relating it to the movement he founded he said: “Stuckism is for individuals who feel marginalised and not prepared to kow-tow to the establishment. They are not afraid to be them­selves and often they pay the price for that.”

Besides plays, as a writer michael wrote dozens of articles, mainly published on Counter­punch. His output included various essays about his life.

Michael’s life is a perfect example of the richness of stories that can underlie people in our communities we are perhaps dismissive of or put in a judgmental box. Another such example from my own childhood community was Dr Stephan Hassan, known as the Edgware Walker. When I started working at Channel 4 the filmmaker-comedian Lee Kern (Co-producer of Who Is America? with Sacha Baron Cohen) gave me a copy of the film he had just finished (2003) as a tribute to a forwards runner, as mysterious as Michael Dickinson.

Lee’s affectionate film, The Edgware Walker, was first broadcast in 2004 (Channel 4). Its core message is that is is important to engage with such people where we live, including asking them questions as you would your friends and neighbours. 

Things That Are No More No. 1

39 films for Jake

The Big Chill
  1. The Big Chill
  2. Diner
  3. Apocalypse Now
  4. The Unbelievable Truth
  5. La Haine
  6. In the Name of the Father
  7. Platoon
  8. The Conversation
  9. I know where I’m going
  10. MASH
  11. A bout de souffle
  12. Pandora and the Flying Dutchman
  13. The Third Man
  14. Bulworth
  15. Running on Empty
  16. Chinatown
  17. Chaplin
  18. Vertigo
  19. Harold & Maude
  20. City Lights
  21. Enemy of the State
  22. Cinema Paradiso 
  23. Casablanca
  24. Dr Zhivago
  25. Mississippi Burning
  26. Blow Up
  27. Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid
  28. Bonnie and Clyde
  29. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?
  30. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid 
  31. The Great Gatsby (1974)
  32. The Parallax View
  33. Baby it’s you
  34. The Searchers
  35. Easy Rider
  36. Flirting
  37. Smoke
  38. The Hairdresser’s Husband
  39. La Lune Dans Le Caniveau (Moon in the Gutter)

    Bubbling under: Marnie, A Month in the Country, The General, Lethal Weapon, The Maltese Falcon, Betty Blue, The Accountant, 20,000 days on Earth, 2001: A Space Odyssey, All the President’s Men, Romeo & Juliet (1996), The Sting, Johnny English, The Bounty, 24 Hour Party People, The Remains of the Day, Cold War, My Life as a Dog, The Commitments, The Bourne Supremacy, Rolling Thunder Review, Modern Times, The Wild Bunch

 

La Lune Dans Le Caniveau (Moon in the Gutter)

My nephew Jake turned 16 this weekend – he has remarkably good and sophisticated taste in films, so as a bonus birthday gift I put together this list of films I love which I reckon he’ll enjoy too. His favourite film is Inside Llewyn Davis. That one has fond memories for me as I met & chatted with  Oscar Isaac and T Bone Burnett at the screening I attended, the latter being particularly charming, interesting and generous with his time. T Bone’s first experience on the road is captured in last year’s spectacularly brilliant Rolling Thunder Review.

Inside Llewyn Davis
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