Archive for the ‘Reflections’ Category

The Golden Envelope

Exactly this time last week I was at the Festival Hall, London entering the auditorium for the Television BAFTA Awards. Our film ‘Missed Call’ was nominated alongside three BBC productions and, while I had faith in the quality of the film, I didn’t have high hopes of a win. It had been shot entirely on a smartphone. No broadcaster was involved at any point. It was fully funded by a privately held UK indie.

The team assembled in the afternoon sunshine in an urban garden on top of the adjacent Queen Elizabeth Hall. On the taxi ride in I’d noticed our table number was 007 so I was feeling positively Bond like in my John Pearse jacket. John I suspect is the only Savile Row trained tailor cum filmmaker in London.

At the appointed time we dropped down onto the red carpet and shuffled along. Greg Dyke was just in front of me. He soon gave way to Rob Brydon and Lee Mack.

Once inside I found myself chatting to a man from BAFTA’s marketing company – he proved an important character in the night’s drama. Let’s call him X.

Oiled with champagne, I talked to various colleagues from the industry, many from my alma mater Channel 4. I entered the hall behind David Mitchell (who was talking about how we all pretend not to care about awards – but can’t help but care when we win) and Victoria Coren-Mitchell who was talking about women not wearing pants. I had a brief exchange with Steve Arnott from ‘Line of Duty’ – he turned out to be Scottish, who knew?

As Graham Norton kicked off the show I felt increasingly like we had no chance. Until the Live Event award was announced and a Remembrance Day programme beat the Royal Wedding – at last, an underdog. I put in a small prayer for help from up there to my dad. I had bought a Farah shirt for the night the day before to invoke his spirit – he used to wear these very conservative Farah “slacks”. Apparently some how (Christ knows how?!) the make is becoming trendy again (again???).

Then it was the moment – Short Form Programme. They showed the clips, including one featuring Jodie Comer, the hottest of properties thanks to ‘Killing Eve’. Then two beautiful things, boy and girl (still not sure who they were as I’m in my silver fox period and phenomenally out of touch) opened the golden envelope and said the words “Missed” and “Call”. There began a week-long buzz I can still feel. Our director, Victoria Mapplebeck, and me had a moment – made all the more beautiful by the fact that Jim, her son and co-star in the documentary, was on her other side. As we walked down to the stage I passed Andrew (Moriarty) Scott clapping with genuine enthusiasm and in front of him Phoebe Waller-Bridge being equally generous. That moment was both humbling and perhaps the highlight of the night for me. On the stage Victoria did a beautiful speech, Jim getting very well deserved applause, as did the iPhone Victoria brandished as the main tool of her trade. Hearing my name in that context was of course a kick. Victoria and I had started the project as a BBC3 series (which they rejected) just before I started at Little Dot Studios and I took advantage of the new job to realise one episode which became ‘Missed Call’, a high risk 19-minute unscripted piece whose ending we didn’t know when we embarked (would Jim get to meet his long AWOL father?) Watch the film here to find out…

The other thing that really struck me was how enthusiastically our win was greeted. Jim’s 15-year-old presence will have helped much. But so to did X because he promised to make a noise if we won and he whistled so loudly his wife smacked him.

When we shuffled off in a lovely daze we went through an efficient assembly line of photos, signing for the individually numbered BAFTA mask, being interviewed. Victoria, Ananda Murphy (our stalwart producer) and I were the named individuals representing the winning production team. The next day I took the heavy bronze award into the Little Dot offices, holding it aloft like the FA Cup, and these are the massive smiles it lit:

Eventually we were reinserted into the hall in our original seats and tried our best to concentrate, while texting our mums, spouses, children.

Then a bit of a shock which put it all into perspective. The memorial section in which, to my dark astonishment, the name and face of Anthony Owen appeared. I had no idea he had passed away. I checked after and he had texted me three days before to congratulate me on

my new job at Red Bull Media House. Everyone used to envy his job title at Objective – Head of Magic. He used to get my kids tickets for Derren Brown, always generous and warm. I last saw him at The Story conference in February. A total shock.

After the awards/programme recording concluded a big photo of all winners was taken on stage. I was standing right behind Benedict Cumberbatch who was clearly very emotional about his first BAFTA win. To my right was Fiona Shaw who is an acting idol of my Mrs and Joan Bakewell. I had a brief exchange with that other underdog Huw Edwards (of the Remembrance programme).

Next a very nicely presented dinner with my team from Little Dot and ‘Missed Call’ and wafting around in a delightful daze. At one point I was accosted by a charming older couple who wanted to cop a feel of the mask. They did and we got chatting and it turned out they were the parents of Ruth Wilson. ‘Mrs Wilson’ was one of my favourite contenders for this year’s awards and I voted for it for everything possible. The gentleman was one of the son’s of Alexander Wilson featured in the drama. They introduced me to Ruth and we had a long chat, including about the fact I’d made a film about another Ruth Wilson last year ‘Vanished: The Surrey Schoolgirl’.

A whirlwind of chat and booze until 3am. I bumped into these delightful colleagues from Little Dot who had arrived from BAFTA’s offices at mudnight having clipped up the broadcast for YouTube – small world.

After two and a half hours sleep I got up to go deliver a lecture at Ravensbourne film school. “The bad news is this is the first lecture I’ve ever done still a bit drunk. The good news is I have a great excuse…” Pulls out heavy, shiny mask.

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Picture of the Month: Live & Direct from Dublin

I think this is only the second time I have written a Picture of the Month right in front of the picture itself. The first time was in Buenos Aires in front of a Frida Kahlo self-portrait with monkeys. As I referred to this Jack B. Yeats painting [‘The Liffey Swim’ 1923] in my last post I thought I’d pick up the baton with it, here in the National Gallery of Ireland on Merrion Square, Dublin.

I spent a bit of time yesterday along the Quays and looking at the Liffey, and had a chat with my son about the notion of swimming in this river. He had been watching a documentary about swimming the channel between Scotland and Ireland just before. I mentioned this painting as evidence that people were known to brave the Liffey.

The painting has a real sense of event around it with spectators filling the bottom left half beneath the strong diagonal that bisects the composition from top left to bottom right. We see a mixed gender crowd (a bare-headed blonde woman prominent near the front) filling the pavement, filling both decks of a bus or tram, filling the bridge and the opposite quay. This is 1923 (or at least painted that year), the first half of which was the time of the Irish Civil War so to see a crowd united in a joyous occasion must have been resonant.

The image and composition remind me of an early 20th century English painting of an East End music hall (perhaps Sickert? or was it Bomberg?? – I’ll try to find it another time). And the overall style has something of the Camden Town Group about it – a muddy palette and loose, free brushwork. Yeats was not born in Dublin but in London in 1871, so was 52 at the time of painting this.

The swimmers are swimming crawl in what gives the impression of a strong current. One of the brightest colours is the orange in the part of the water closest to us. The figure closest to us, a cap-wearing man leaning on the wall to look down into the river is sliced in half, only his cap, a bit of hair protruding at the back, his neck and shoulder visible, cropped in a photographic way.

We can see the face and open mouth of one swimmer as he takes a crawl breath – it has something of Munch’s ‘Skrik’ (Scream) about it though is probably more about the breath of life than anything dark.

No Dublin rain in sight – the skies are blue with some high white clouds.

Apparently this swim was an annual event from 1920. As the War of Independence raged from 1919-1921 at least one, possibly two of these races took place in wartime which indicates life must have gone on during the conflict. It ended in July 1921 so if the race happens in July or later and the one depicted was 1922 not 1923 this would be the first one free from British rule in the capital of a modern sovereign Irish state.

For all I know Yeats may have had little political intent – he was known to be interested in sporting themes – but I am going to take this as a depiction of joy, hope, energy and freedom.

A Day in Dublin

Following a meeting with RTÉ in the Docklands in East Dublin I had the afternoon free to wander the city. On the way in to the centre from the airport the bus passed the end of Eccles Street where Leopold Bloom lives and is having breakfast in the second chapter of ‘Ulysses’. An hour later I walked across Holles Street where the maternity hospital is where another chapter of the Greatest Book Ever takes place. After that I looked into the window of Sweny’s the pharmacist where Bloom buys his lemon soap (and they still sell it in waxed brown paper). In a couple of hours I am heading back there for a ‘Ulysses’ reading group as it is now a volunteer-run centre dedicated to the book. It is just opposite the back entrance to Trinity College, Dublin where I am due at a lunch at noon.

Yesterday I also passed the Ormond Hotel (which, if I had my bearings right, is largely a space on the North side of Ormond Quay having been pretty much demolished since my last trip to Dublin) where the music-centred chapter of the novel occurs, the chapter which is the focus of the long-running Charles Peake seminar at Senate House, University of London which I attend every month. It takes the group several years to get through a chapter as it is a close-reading approach – we cover just a dozen or so lines per two hour Friday evening session.

Back to Friday afternoon, I pass the old Ormond Hotel on the way to Kilmainham Gaol where the leaders of the Easter Rising were imprisoned in 1916. There I meet my younger son who is also over, meeting his cousins. I have the great honour in the course of the visit to read to him (he has severe dyslexia so I am in the habit of reading to him) one of the surviving twenty copies of the Irish Proclamation of Independence, a poster size text printed in two parts, and then parts of the original letters written by the condemned men as their last words. A particularly resonant one is by Joseph Plunkett to his girlfriend who he recognises he should have married – signed “Your lover, Joe”. My son is an Irish citizen hence the honour of introducing these things to him. Later in the afternoon we pass the GPO in O’Connell Street where I conclude my history to him of the Easter Rising, the War of Independence and the Civil War. Which reminded me that I wanted to ask my RTÉ colleague how the preparations are going for the tricky centenary of the Civil War. When I was over speaking to the RTÉ Board in December 2017 they were just starting to address the project with the President that same day.

We went back into town via the Irish Museum of Modern Art, taking the Luas (tram) back to the river. My son is really interested at the moment in wild/open water swimming and imagined swimming the Liffey. I told him about Yeats’ energetic painting of a swimming race in the National Gallery of Ireland.

I rounded off the day seeing both a 1939 1st edition of ‘Finnegan’s Wake’ (€2,000), which I sent to Finn Fordham who leads the monthly Wake seminar at Senate House I also go to fairly regularly, and a 1922 1st edition of ‘Ulysses’ from Shakespeare & Co., Paris, 1 of 750 copies, with the famous (among a small but dedicated circle) Greek blue cover (€30,000) at Ulysses Rare Books shop off Grafton Street. I’ve seen and even handled the ‘Ulysses’ 1st edition in that fabulous shop before – this one has only been in a month. If I was rich I would by one alongside a powder blue Mark 2 Jag. My son wanted to know how Joyce had managed to fill 700 pages with two people’s wanderings around Dublin for just one day.

I concluded the day in another book shop, The Winding Stair, named after the other Yeats’ volume of poetry. For the last 15 years the book part has shrunk to just the ground floor and the 1st and 2nd floors up the eponymous stairs has become a really good Irish restaurant with a view of the river, quays and Ha’penny Bridge. In the past the dining room where I enjoyed Irish duck and Irish trout this evening used to be covered in bookshelves full of second-hand volumes. Now just a couple of shelves tip a hat to that literary past. The tome I acquired from here that comes first to mind is Siegfried Sassoon’s ‘Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man’, a vintage Penguin paperback. Every book becomes a friend.

My Saucer Runneth Over

Nick Masons Saucerful of Secrets Roundhouse London 4 May 2019

Nick Mason & Gary Kemp

In October 1966 Pink Floyd played an all-nighter at the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm, London, the circular former railway turning shed which that night proved a musical and cultural turning point too.

floyd roundhouse allnight rave international times poster handbill

It’s interesting to see what language was already in circulation in 1966 – “rave” which we commonly think of as an 80s term from the E era; “pop-up” as a 2000s term from the new age of austerity.

This line-up touches on my life in a couple of ways. I have met Barry Miles, editor of International Times, a couple of times since 2013 – once when I was writing about Allen Ginsberg, another time at a party at the October Gallery given by my friend Kathelin Gray. The Roundhouse event was the official launch of the publication.

My wedding suit was made by John Pearse, co-founder of Granny/Grannie Takes a Trip, which was established at 488 Kings Road, Chelsea that February. (He also made my Lucky Jacket which I’ll be wearing next week to the TV BAFTAs.)

nick masons saucerful of secrets roundhouse london 4 may 2019

So to be gathered in The Roundhouse in 2019 awaiting the arrival on stage of Pink Floyd’s drummer, Nick Mason, the most consistent member of the landmark band, with his new band, Saucerful of Secrets, was highly resonant.

The new band consisted of:

  • Dom Beken, on keyboards, formerly of The Orb
  • Lee Harris, on guitar & vocals
  • Gary Kemp, on guitar & vocals, beating heart of Spandau Ballet
  • Guy Pratt, on bass & vocals, related by marriage to Rick Wright (Floyd’s keyboardist) – as far as I know, I last saw him live on Bowie’s Serious Moonlight tour in 1982

Gary Kemp I had the pleasure of meeting around the same time as Barry Miles, in connection with the same writing project (When Sparks Fly). He has a very clear take on bands, their dynamics and motivations. I also met him when he unveiled the David Bowie blue plaque in Haddon Street. And one other time briefly (with Barbara Windsor, who I also interviewed for When Sparks Fly) at the Theatre Royal, Stratford when he was performing in a Joan Littlewood musical, Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be.

On Saturday night, the final night of their tour of the UK and USA, Saucerful played a great selection of songs from pre-Dark Side of the Moon Floyd, from 1967’s The Piper at the Gates of Dawn to 1972’s Obscured by Clouds, their first and seventh studio album respectively:

Interstellar Overdrive – probably the one everyone was waiting for, emblematic of early Floyd psychedelia, it didn’t disappoint from those distinctive opening chords – the lighting replicated the lava lamp type effects I’ve seen in photos and footage from the era
(The Piper at the Gates of Dawn)

Astronomy Domine
(The Piper at the Gates of Dawn)

Lucifer Sam
(The Piper at the Gates of Dawn)

Fearless – from my favourite early Floyd record, one I grew up with
(Meddle)

Obscured by Clouds
(Obscured by Clouds)

When You’re In
(Obscured by Clouds)

Remember a Day
(A Saucerful of Secrets)

Arnold Layne – also grew up with the 1971 compilation album Relics, as Guy observed, it was the one everyone had because it was cheap (on MfP label I think – Music for Pleasure) – Nick Mason designed the cover when he was an architecture student at Regent Street Polytechnic
(single March 1967)

Vegetable Man
(1967 unreleased)

If – a highlight sweetly sung by Gary
(Atom Heart Mother)
+
Atom Heart Mother
(Atom Heart Mother)

The Nile Song
(More)

Green Is the Colour
(More)

Let There Be More Light
(A Saucerful of Secrets)

Childhood’s End
(Obscured by Clouds)

Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun – another highlight, epic
(A Saucerful of Secrets)

See Emily Play
(Relics, single June 1967)

Bike
(The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Relics)

One of These Days
(Meddle)

Encore:

A Saucerful of Secrets
(A Saucerful of Secrets)

Point Me at the Sky – suitable goodbye lyrics
(single Dec 1968)

Gary mentioned how pleased he was to be home in London with the show. The way most of the songs were sung felt very London – connected back through Bowie (especially early Bowie on Deram – see Mr Gravedigger in this post on the death of Bowie) to Anthony Newley.

syd barratt nick masons saucerful of secrets roundhouse london 4 may 2019

Syd

Nick made a point of paying tribute to Syd Barratt, prime mover of Pink Floyd. I saw him, Dave Gilmour & Rick Wright play at a Syd tribute gig at the Barbican, with Roger Waters playing separately. That night they played Arnold Layne, the debut single that started the whole story.

relics pink floyd album cover record 1971

Fond memories

Story Snippet – Trondheim train

I find myself sitting next to Sissel on the six-hour train journey from Trondheim to Oslo. She is an elegant elderly lady with a wicked laugh. A native of Trondheim, she used to be the projectionist at the Cinemateket where I delivered my lecture on Thursday. She is on her way to Oslo airport heading for Berlin, her first visit there since 1977. The last time she went she tried to call David Bowie and Iggy Pop. She found the phone number of their flat under James Osterberg (Iggy’s non-stage name) in the phone book. She rang but a woman answered and said they were out.

david bowie iggy pop berlin

4 reasons to love Albert Finney

A friend of mine (whose artwork sits below where I am writing) is a close relative of Albert Finney so it was with a bit of a jolt that the news of the actor’s death caught me yesterday. I had last watched him on the obscure Channel 81 on Freeview (which is my favourite, random old movies from the 50s and 60s) in the somewhat bizarre (but very interesting) Gumshoe a few weeks ago.

Last night Erin Brockovich felt like the right celebration for a Friday night of a distinctive and charming actor. I’d forgotten that the movie was one of Steven Soderbergh’s, adding to the alignment as the sad news came in on the same day as posting this new article which brackets Soderbergh’s latest movie with my commission Missed Call and Sean Baker’s Tangerine.

1. Tom Jones (1963) as Tom Jones

TOM JONES (1963) albert finney actor

From the year of my birth, derived from one of my favourite books, characterised by a youthful cheekiness.

2. Under The Volcano (1984) as Geoffrey Firmin

albert finney under the volcano actor 1984 movie

From my university days, watched at the Arts Cinema Cambridge (also sadly missed), I remember it as a deeply disturbing performance and movie.

3. Erin Brockovich (2000) as Ed Masry

erin brockovich albert finney julia roberts

Avuncular, great chemistry with his shining co-star Julia Roberts, still that cheekiness.

4. Skyfall (2012) as Kincade

albert finney skyfall kincade poster

Shot by my first boss (Roger Deakins), with the immortal line:

Welcome to Scotland!

as he shotguns two of Bond’s assailants. Cheeky and irresistible to the end.

 

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is a 1960 British drama film directed by Karel Reisz and ... Albert Finney as Arthur Seaton

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960) as Arthur Seaton – bridging 50s Angry Young Men (here) and 60s Swinging England (Tom Jones)

Postcard No. 4 & Coincidence No. 294

old postcard 1914 WW1 kings royal rifle corps

old postcard 1914 WW1 kings royal rifle corps

This is what is written in ink on the postcard:

Dear Aunt & Uncle,

I suppose you know by now I have enlisted. I am at present stationed at Aldershot, where we are busy training. I’m quite well, and worked hard, but quite content. In peace time we are dressed in the dress shown on the card.

Love to all, your loving nephew, CWW/GWW

The card was sent to:

Mr & Mrs Whitney
5 County Road
March
Cambs

So that makes him CW/GW Whitney.

He sent the card on 12th September 1914 from Aldershot, a big army town obviously, and just two months after the declaration of war. There are also the words Malborough Lines(?) on the postmark. Lines seems to be military jargon for something to do with barracks, probably lines of or between buildings. It was postmarked at 8.15pm across its Half Penny stamp bearing the head of George V.

The destination of the card, March, is a Fenland market town in the Isle of Ely area of Cambridgeshire. In 1914 it was the county town of the Isle of Ely (a separate administrative county from 1889 to 1965). March was once an island surrounded by Fenland marshes, the second largest in ‘the Great Level’, a 500 square mile area of The Fens.

On the front of the card is a watercolour illustration of a soldier from The King’s Royal Rifle Corps. Signed JMN. The front includes a list of the regiment’s Battle Honours including “Martinique 1762, 1809” and “Defence of Ladysmith”. The summary of History and Traditions mentions “the Afghan War, 1879-80, including Roberts’ famous march to Kandahar, and the Battle of Kandahar”. There seem to have been subsequent Battles of Kandahar in 2001, 2006 and 2011. Plus ça change.

A quick search online has revealed: Charles William Whitney

A/3092 Cpl, 7th King’s Royal Rifle Corps. Killed in action 15-9-16, age 26. Son of Charles & Elizabeth Whitney, 4 Station Rd, Chatteris; husband of Alice Whitney. Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France.

So our man only survived two more years and three days. 15th September was the day my wife was in labour with our first-born son.

Chatteris is only 9 miles away from March, being one of the four market towns in the Fenland district of Cambridgeshire, alongside Huntingdon, March and Ely.

The regimental badge on the front of the card shows the motto “Celer et Audax”. I’m going to guess that means Speed & Boldness – and now I’m going to ask Prof. Google… yup, close – Swift & Bold, now the motto of The Royal Green Jackets. Their badge is similar, just with a circle of laurels around the cross. They were formed in part from The King’s Royal Rifle Corps in January 1966.

The card was “British Printed” by G&P which seems to stand for Guards Posted, military being their specialism.

I wonder how Charles felt when he was first posted as a guard? and whether he ever got to see his uncle and aunt again?

A bit more googling and I found a photo of Charles…

ct06101916whitneycwpic charles w whitney soldier WW1

…and this information:

Corporal Charles William Whitney 7th Bn, A Coy, A/3092 King’s Royal Rifle Corps

Died 15 September 1916

Charles William Whitney was born in around 1890 in Bury Huntingdonshire England. In 1901 he lived with his parents Charles and Mary Elizabeth Whitney and his brother Laurie Stonecliffe (who also died in the war) in Station Road, Chatteris. His father was a mining engineer by trade.

In 1911 Charles boarded at 15 Church Road in Erith and was a school teacher at Dartford Elementary School. Before the war Charles had been an assistant master at King Edwards School.

By the time of his death Charles was married to Alice and lived at 24 Topsfield Parade in Crouch End, London, his parents still lived in Chatteris. Charles enlisted in Hammersmith in August 1914, having only held his current teaching post for 3 months, and joined the 7th Bn King’s Royal Rifles Corps, going out to the front on May 1st 1915. His battalion were part of the 14th Light Division in 1916. They, along with The New Zealand Division and 41st Division were successful in capturing the village of Flers on 15.9.16. English Newspapers reported that ”A tank is walking up the High St of Flers with the British Army cheering behind.” Sadly Charles wasn’t amongst them. A letter in the Cambs Times, 6th Oct 1916 records a letter from his Captain stating that Charles was instantly killed by a shell. He was a signaller. Charles has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval memorial.

Project File contains: • CWGC certificate • Cambs Times 29 Sep 1916, 6 Oct 1916, photo • 1901, 1911 Census • Soldiers Died • Medal Card • Picture of name on Thiepval Memorial

I can’t recall where I bought this card for 50p. It might have been in Ireland, at an antique fair in England, not sure. But the weird thing is this man lived only 2 miles away from where I am sitting in my backroom, his last address being in Crouch End, despite his origins in The Fens.

What are the chances – a postcard posted in Aldershot to Cambridgeshire by a man from Cambridgeshire should end up two miles down the road from his final address in London?

whitney-charles-william-ccanthiep thiepval memorial

Charles William Whitney on the Thiepval memorial

Charles William Whitney on the Thiepval memorial

His younger brother Laurie (three years his junior) ended up in Ealing before he left for the war. Laurie Stonecliff Whitney was Company Quartermaster Serjeant for the 1st Huntingdon Cyclist Battalion (The Fens are good for cycling being as flat as it comes so probably have a strong bicycle tradition). Laurie died two years after Charles on 11th July 1917. He had been born at Bury in Huntingdonshire (in 1893) but breathed his last (age 23, the age I met my wife) in Scarborough, where he would have been in hospital wounded.

whitney-laurie-stonecliffe-ccan-358x538

Charles’ brother Laurie – buried at Chatteris Meeks Cemetery

On the last Remembrance Day I wrote a post about a local casualty of the Great War, John Parr, who had the tragic distinction of being the first British soldier killed in action. He was from one mile down the road from this back room. By coincidence, he too was in a cycle brigade, a reconnaissance cyclist.

Quote of the Day: Resolution

'Helmet Head No.1', Henry Moore OM, CH, 1950

‘Helmet Head No.1’ (1950) by Henry Moore (1898-1986)

“I think in terms of the day’s resolutions, not the year’s.”

Henry Moore

Quote of the Day: Resilience

Learn to deal with the valleys and the hills will take care of themselves.

– Count Basie

Sinatra with Count Basie

The Count & The Chairman of the Board (Basie & Sinatra)

Quote of the Day: the corner of the universe that matters

“There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self.”

― Aldous Huxley

Aldous Huxley writer

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