Archive for the ‘musings’ Category

St George’s Day

There’s been a lot of discussion in the UK media about English identity yesterday and today so here’s a take on Englishness worth celebrating…

Shakey’s birthday is traditionally also celebrated on 23rd April
First and foremost a Londoner (which is another story)
The DMs are the Anglo-Saxon roots, the dress the Norman layer
Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy (1970-1) by David Hockney, where Yorkshire meets London
A unique sense of humour
Tolerance
Eccentricity & individuality: a South Londoner who believes in more love, less ego (Greentea Peng)
Openness to other cultures
Twiggy by David Bailey
Pauline Boty & Christine Keeler
St Michael’s Mount, Cornwall

Do they pay you properly? (a memory of Prince Philip)

1992: HRH The Duke of Edinburgh photographed in the Chinese room, Buckingham Palace

I crossed paths with Prince Philip only once. It was in the conference centre named after his wife (The Queen Elisabeth Centre) near Westminster Abbey, where they got married in November 1947. I was there with Barnardo’s for whom I was making films at the time. It was a huge room, conference centre scale. I was standing beside the CEO of the charity, Sir Roger Singleton. Philip entered right at the other corner of the room but I knew from the moment he entered he was going to come up to me. I’ve no idea why, I just knew it. 

And that’s what happened. He gradually made his way across the room and eventually reached us. 

” What are you doing here?”

“I make films for Barnardo’s.”

“Do they pay you properly?” (The CEO is beside me, two feet away.)

“They do indeed.”

The bluntness and inappropriateness is the kind of thing, of course, that people loved about him.

The Angel, Islington this afternoon

When I started my career in Marshall Street, Soho at Solus Enterprises with Jack Hazan, Roger Deakins, Dick Pope and David Mingay, Wheeler’s restaurant still existed in the Cambridge Circus corner of Soho, on Old Compton Street from memory. We went there for the company Christmas lunch one year at a time when Jack and David were looking at making a film about Rachman, the pantomime tabloid villain of the Profumo Affair. They told me that Philip had been a very naughty boy upstairs at Wheeler’s at that time (1963). I was surprised that Wheeler’s got a mention on the BBC TV news tonight, with photos of a couple of bottle blondes I didn’t recognise, starlet types. He was married to the Queen for 74 years so fair play to him, no mean achievement. That, the public service and charity work, his awards scheme for young people – plenty for one life, even a 99 year one.

Camden Passage, Islington this afternoon (solar-powered waving arm)

The boozy lunches upstairs at Wheeler’s were known as the Thursday Club – all lads, lots of drink, don’t think they were that interested in the fish. Members included David Niven and Peter Ustinov (film actors), Larry Adler (harmonica player), Kim Philby (undiscovered Russian spy) and Stephen Ward (osteopath and fall guy for the Profumo Affair). 

Private Eye – Dec 1963 (Christine Keeler in the dock)

Apparently there was a Private Eye cartoon cover showing Philip’s coronation robe cast off in the bedroom of Ward’s young protégée, Christine Keeler. It seems to have mysteriously vanished from the Web. Philip’s wing man at the time was his equerry Mike Parker. Parker’s wife claimed that Philip and Parker habitually tore up the town together using their party aliases Murgatroyd and Winterbotham. 

Wheeler’s was no stranger to alcohol-fuelled bacchanalia – the top-equal artist of the 20th century liquid lunched there (Francis Bacon). 

Wheeler’s the year before Profumo (1962) –
(L-R) Tim Behrens, Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach and Michael Andrews
1973 – 19-21 Old Compton Street

Update 11/4/21

I found this among my grandparents’ stuff a few years ago when clearing the house. It is printed on tin – my grandfather was a scientist who specialised in print-on-metal technologies. I liked it for sentimental and ironic reasons but I’ve come to see it in a different light these last couple of days. 

Portland Ware manufactured by Metal Box

The Road to DeMaskUs – life after Lockdown

An Anderson shelter in Poplar, East London, 1941 [Photograph: IWM]

Coming out of this third Lockdown following along the government’s ‘roadmap’, it is like emerging from a bomb shelter blinking into the light. As your eyes adjust to the brightness, you look around to see what’s still standing. So with the relief, liberty and happiness, it is natural to feel some uncertainty and anxiety too.

Coincidences No.s 291 & 292 – A London Boy

No. 291 All Things Must Pass

I go for my last run (of hundreds) in St Pancras & Islington cemetery. It’s only open on weekends at the moment due to Lockdown/Covid so this Sunday is my last opportunity. I am due to move house on Tuesday. I know every inch of this huge cemetery-cum-nature reserve and have deeply enjoyed the hours I have spent here running, walking and meditating. I jog listening to a BBC Radio programme (‘Archive on 4‘) about George Harrison’s first solo record ‘All Things Must Pass’. 

As I reach the gate coming out for the last time the narrator, Nitin Sawhney, reminds us that the record first came out in the UK 50 years ago on 30th November. This is 29th November. On the 30th I am packing up the house and home office of ArkAngel to move out. 

As I reach the side gate of the house at the end of the run George says (referring to the long recording process):

“…and it’s finished.”

No. 292 A New Dawn

I just received the following message (30 seconds ago via Facebook):

“Listening to it myself. Dedicating Nina to you. Xx”

It refers to this playlist, ‘Weekend at Home‘, created by my Best Man, and the track ‘Feeling Good’ (by Nina Simone). I’ve been listening to the playlist all morning on the first Saturday in my new home, where I’m sitting at my new ArkAngel desk.

About two minutes before the message arrived I got an email from a colleague/friend at Little Dot Studios. It was about somebody pirating ‘Surf Girls Jamaica‘ and at the end he asked

“How’s the new place?”

Exactly as I read the email these were the very words I heard from Spotify…

It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me

Yeah, it’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me

And I’m feelin’ good

‘Feeling Good’ was actually written by two Londoners – Anthony Newley (Hackney) & Leslie Bricusse (Pinner) for a musical, ‘The Roar of the Greasepaint’ . As I finish off this post, on the ‘Weekend at Home’ playlist I’ve reached the track ‘The London Boys‘ by David Bowie. It was a 1966 B-side on Deram records which put out his early work. He sings it in a very Anthony Newley London style as Newley was a huge influence on Bowie when he was starting out. My move takes me back to my native postcode: London NW7

It’s a new dawn

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

Jewel of Irony

Gary Oldman (actor) is 13 days younger than Gary Numan (singer)

gary oldman actor sid and nancy vicious

Oldman is young (in Sid & Nancy)

Replicas gary numan album singer tubeway army

Numan is old

Something Is Happening

highway 61 revisited photo session bob dylan bobby neuwirth LP cover

Highway 61 Revisited photo session (New York 1965)

Just listened to a music podcast called ‘Is It Rolling, Bob? (talking Dylan)’ in which two actor blokes (Kerry Shale and Lucas Hare) talk to a journo bloke (David Hepworth) about a song & dance man, Bob Dylan.

It is a lot better than ‘Stalking Time for the Moon Boys’ in which two TV blokes (David Baddiel and Tim Hincks) talk to various other blokes and each other about a song & dance man, David Bowie. But it’s still not great. Entertaining enough if you’re keen on your Dylan.

One interesting fact I picked up was that Dylan named himself not after Welsh poet D. Thomas (which I’d believed) but after Marshall Dillon in some TV cowboy show (‘Gunsmoke’). Dylan as lifelong cowboy makes a lot of sense.

A question they asked David was how did you first come across Dylan. Got me thinking.

As a six year-old, just allowed to go by myself across one road to the newsagent (Eric & Mavis’s or perhaps it was the previous incarnation), I bought myself a fold-out poster magazine. I got it home expecting it to fold out to reveal a hippy rabbit (Dylan of ‘Magic Roundabout’ fame). Instead it was an unprepossessing bearded bloke with a guitar. A disappointing first encounter.

When I first fell under Dylan’s spell was having one of those Moments listening to ‘Ballad of a Thin Man’. I’d heard bits & pieces of Dylan during my childhood, listened to him a bit at uni through friends who were advocates (but I still had my Punk head on). But it was listening to this track on ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ when the light went on. It was the Surrealism of the lyrics that really grabbed me – I’m not really a lyrics man but the words made their impact, above all the non-rational, dream-like nature of them. I was in.

This moment lead directly to my ending up with a son called Dylan (who looks at times a little like the Big Man of this vintage).

IMG_2051

highway 61 revisited bob dylan bobby neuwirth LP cover

You walk into the room with your pencil in your hand
You see somebody naked and you say, “Who is that man?”
You try so hard but you don’t understand
Just what you will say when you get home
Because something is happening here but you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mr. Jones?
You raise up your head and you ask, “Is this where it is?”
And somebody points to you and says, “It’s his”
And you say, “What’s mine?” and somebody else says, “Well, what is?”
And you say, “Oh my God, am I here all alone?”
But something is happening and you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mr. Jones?
Sometimes it’s really good not to know what it is – just let it sink in and brew up.

Story Snippet No. 401 – books and covers

I got on the tube at East Finchley heading into town, sitting in a corner seat by the glass. Opposite me was a woman in her late fifties or sixties, loud, stocky and short. To my left was an elderly man with a proper voice, who just added in the odd question or remark to keep the conversation going. Because she was performing diagonally across the carriage the woman’s monologue was audible and, in some way, for public consumption.

She works on the Underground, on the other branch between Edgware and Golders Green, but lives on this branch because she likes the separation. She was highlighting the amassing problems on the Underground – lack of staff leading to lack of team work; well meaning, personable managers who are clueless; growing discontent that she predicts will spill over in the next two years as the individual lines are teed up for privitisation. Watch this space, she warns.

She recounted the lack of demand for the night services, which she saw as mainly politically motivated. She said she mainly sees drunks and stoners, people pissing and shitting on the platforms, which her and her colleagues have to clean up. A man comes in, asks if there are public toilets in the Tube (there aren’t any inside or out in the streets these days), is drunk, is spotted moments later on CCTV urinating on the platform. That’s typical on these night shifts she now has to do. She mentions she has a chronic medical condition which accounts for her short stature. She was not supposed to live into adulthood. She now has grandchildren.

She likes to do art with her grandkids, as doesn’t allow them on phones when they visit. They like this. She does talks in schools and opens with two questions: Who’s got a phone, tablet or similar? (Most of them, even in primary classes.) Who knows how to sew on a button? (None of them.) She recounts the story of a man she met on holiday somewhere in Britain who paid £5 to have a button sewed on by a dry cleaner. Can’t you sew a button on? She was appalled.

She mentioned her A Level achievements, including in Biology. (I’ve a vague memory she wanted to follow a particular course of further study but was somehow thwarted.) She explained how she and her colleagues have to go on many courses each year to retain their licences (many to do with health & safety and emergency procedures), that it is actually a skilled and technical job.

She moves on to talk about how many of the staff are talented amateur artists. (We’ve seen this at East Finchley where for a while, before they pulled out the ticket office and most of the staff, we had an enthusiastic painter decorating the entrance with his framed pieces.) She mentioned a display at the back of Southwark station organised by staff (and where all costs are borne by the staff). She had a shopping carrier which turned out to contain some of her works. She buys high quality sheets from charity shops and uses them as the base of her embroidery. She described three pieces she’d done to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War. Then she pulled them out. (She knew I was watching too over my book.) They were very detailed depictions, interestingly composed. One had a soldier writing home to his loved one in a trench enclosure. Another had a soldier silhouetted against a golden sunset in a cornfield. A great deal of work in both, both framed, both a little surprising in contrast to her weighty hands and projecting voice. She rammed them back into the tightly packed shopping trolley as I got off at Euston. She mentioned she had done her own version of the Bayeux Tapestry over many years, 55 feet long.

[This last fact enabled me to find her story online and discover her name, Annette Banks. She is one of eleven children from Canning Town.]

east finchley underground tube station

Coincidences No.s 212 & 213

No. 212  (27.03.18)

Members of the Jewish community hold a protest against Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn

26th March 2018

I am working with a fellow producer in Covent Garden in his office. We are talking to a colleague from Glasgow-based Finestripe Productions who attended the Labour Anti-semitism rally outside Parliament last night. This prompts my co-producer to mention who his MP is (as he was prominent at the event).  “Where is the constituency?” Harrow he tells me.

I go round to my mum’s for dinner with my step-dad. We have arranged to go for a Chinese somewhere in Colindale. When I arrive the plan has changed. It is more of a family affair and we are going to a different Chinese. We drive through Harrow, on to Hatch End. (Not sure I’ve ever been here before.) I decide to phone my co-producer from outside the Chinese: “I think I may be in your manor.” I tell him the name of the restaurant. “Look opposite, slightly to the right. Can you see Wellington Road?” I can. “That’s where we live.”

No. 213 (26 & 27.3.18)

1962 lawrence of arabia movie film poster

1962

I am watching a movie from the 80s, ‘Winter Kills’ starring Jeff Bridges. It strikes me that Jeff looks a lot like my old friend Adam D.

I get an email from Adam D for the first time in ages, about 70mm screenings of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ in his home town of Amsterdam – do I fancy flying over?

Coincidences No.s 208 & 209

13.ii.18 Theatre503

I meet the Creative Accountant, Sydney Levinson, for tea in Mayfair (Little House). At the end of the meeting he has to head for home to get ready to see the play of a friend of his at a small theatre in Battersea – Theatre503. I’ve never heard of the place.

I leave the tea with Sydney to go to a special preview screening of a documentary I’d recently commissioned, Sorry I Shot You. The screening is in Bermondsey in a back-street cafe run by an ex-offender. The director of the film, the protagonist, and various people at the gathering are also ex-cons. I meet an interesting and pleasant man called John who has done time in Liverpool for armed robbery. He is smartly dressed and articulate. He has recently written a play about his time inside which is about to be put on …at Theatre503.

10.iii.18 & 14.iii.18 Wildwood

I am walking from home to Crouch End through a string of woods. When I get to Queen’s Wood I read the information board at the entrance which explains that the woodland which covered England until 5,000 years ago was known as ‘Wildwood’. Not a term I have ever heard but I know a road called Wildwood near where I live, beside an island of woodland. I explain all this to my friend Roddy over breakfast at Banners.

An email comes through this evening about a newish band I’ve never heard of: Wildwood Kin.
A family trio – two sisters and their cousin – Wildwood Kin formed four years ago while in their mid to late teens. Their extraordinary debut album Turning Tides entered the UK charts in the top 40 and whilst it borrows from early folk influences, not least in their hypnotic three-part harmonies, it delves deeply into other genres, featuring both electric and acoustic instruments and boasts inventive electronics and spectral atmospherics.”

I’m listening to their inventive electronics and spectral atmospherics (out of Exeter) as I write this and it’s not unpleasant. Though I’d sooner have the band I saw last Monday (5th March) at the Imagining Ireland gig at The Barby, Saint Sister, a harp-keyboards duo (out of Derry & Belfast), not actual sisters but with a sisterly vibe. 

saint sister irish band

Gemma Doherty (Derry) & Morgan MacIntyre (Belfast)

Here’s a really striking song they performed, Corpses:

 

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