Maurice Podro 1928-2020

Maurice Podro 43 Group by Stuart Freedman

Maurice Podro photographed by Stuart Freedman 2020 (copyright Stuart Freedman)

Maurice Podro was 91 which is one reason why he hardly appears on the Web. He has two search returns: a listing as a company director – inactive and a piece to do with his time in the 43 Group, a post-war anti-fascist group mainly of Jewish ex-servicemen who took on Mosley and the blackshirts, pretty successfully. Maurice’s older brother was quite political and led the intelligence operation. Maurice wasn’t political – he just said “I knew it was the right thing to do”. That second search return is an article entitled ‘Remember the day they did not pass’ – it’s about the Battle of Cable Street.

Maurice Podro fought the resurgence of fascism in post-war Britain and his response is unambiguous.

“I am a firm believer that you fight violence with violence. I don’t see it any other way.”

The journalist, Alex Davis, seems a bit disapproving of this plain-speaking response. Maurice had a catchphrase to conclude any debate or discussion: “…and that’s simplified it.” That meant, that’s the plain truth.

The photograph above was taken by Stuart Freedman to capture the last half dozen surviving members of the 43 Group. I had connected the historian Daniel Sonabend, author of ‘We Fight Fascists’, a definitive history of the 43 Group, to Maurice and he interviewed him. Daniel then connected Stuart to Maurice and he photographed him. Maurice was not too well at the time and he didn’t much like the photo for that reason. Ditto his wife, my mother. But I really like it because it captures Maurice’s determination and fighting spirit in those pursed lips.

The last outing I went on with Maurice was to an evening discussion about Daniel’s book at King’s Place, York Way. He was wearing a camel hair coat and looked like the dapper cross of a mafioso and a Wingate football club supporter of the 70s (minus the cigar). Every inch the swagger don. I was well proud of him that night.

In the foyer he bumped into some men whose families worked in Petticoat Lane/Wentworth Street market. Maurice knew their relatives in detail – crystal clear memory. It was like the time I took him to a Sinatra show at the Palladium – the children of some market traders of the golden age recognised Maurice at the interval and eagerly questioned him about their parents’ generation down the Lane. He knew every name without fail. He was a living link to a past now almost vanished. I’m glad that I got round to interviewing him at length on video and I’m going to give the video to the Jewish Museum in Camden Town now. I did the interview with David Rosenberg who is a specialist on the history of anti-fascism and radical politics in the East End. I once took Maurice on one of David’s ‘Anti-fascist footprints’ walks and every time we stopped at one of the landmarks Maurice would pipe up and add more first-hand testimony to David’s commentary. Such as details of the mini-train that snaked around the playground at his school, JFS. And the time they beat up a blackshirt, broke his legs and chucked him in a bin.

So I wanted to get Maurice properly on the internet with this post to mark his passing to the big jazz club in the sky yesterday afternoon. I’m writing this listening to Buddy Rich. Maurice loved drumming, learnt to play during his time in the RAF, hung out in Archer Street, Soho in the days when it was in effect the jazz musicians’ labour exchange. He took me to see Buddy play twice. The second time, at the Festival Hall, I got to meet him and get my record signed. I was in my school uniform still. Buddy told me I should be at home studying on a school night, not out listening to jazz.

The last time I saw Maurice he was at home in the Corona Lockdown. I saw him through the open side door at the front of my childhood home. He was frail and not doing that great. I cracked a joke slightly at his expense and he laughed – I can’t remember what it was but I remember being pleased it was a good one and was appreciated. I’m glad that was our last ever interaction.

He took me to jazz. He took me to the other Lane (Spurs, where he got me hot Ribena and we sat next to a man who sucked on a huge cigar but never lit it) – in latter years, we would go to a caff opposite before the match and he would engage with all and sundry, the highlight of the afternoon eclipsing the actual football. In the good old days he had an 8-track in his car on which he introduced me to some great music such as ‘Hot August Night’, Diana Ross and Stevie Wonder. He gave me a job down the first Lane as a teenager – as we passed Hoxton on the early morning way into work he would pronounce “‘Oxton – ares’ole of the universe!” (it’s improved some since then), and get me good grub at Mossie Marks or Kossoff’s, sausage sarnies with lashings of ketchup a favourite on cold mornings. All a far cry from my dad who was a research scientist.

Maurice was my step-father and the best way I can capture him is to say that whenever he was introducing me to anyone he would always say “this is my son, Adam” – never “my step-son”.

maurice podro sadiq khan mayor london cable street commemoration

Maurice with Mayor of London Sadiq Khan when he was honoured at a Cable Street commemoration

The Casting Game No. 76

Monica Vitti actress Italian

Monica Vitti (L’Eclisse 1962)

AS

princess diana

Princess Diana

In the Wake of Waking Up

I’m writing this after having just finished an online session about the Sirens chapter of Ulysses with the Charles Peake Seminar group – it’s the chapter centred on music. I switched straight from that which finished at 8pm to a live online gig from the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin by Iarla O Leonaird (singer in Gaelic) & Steve Cooney (guitar player) which started at 8pm. Music is a Big Thing for Joyce – this morning I got to The Ballad of Persse O’Reilly at the end of the second chapter of Finnegans Wake, marking the culmination of the rumours about HCE’s shameful act, fixing that moment for the long term in folksong. It actually opens with musical staves and notes, underlining the collagey, encyclopedic and scrapbooky nature of the Wake.

Have you heard of one Humpty Dumpty
How he fell with a roll and a rumble
And he curled up like Lord Olofa Crumple
At the butt of the Magazine Wall,
The Magazine Wall,
Hump, helmet and all?

He was one time our King of the Castle
Now he’s kicked about like a rotten old parsnip.
And from Green street he’ll be sent by order of His Worship
To the penal jail of Mountjoy
To the jail of Mountjoy!
Jail him and joy.

I noticed this morning after finishing this section and the couple of pages before it that when I went to read another (conventional) novel it took a good few minutes to go back to conventional reading – you get into a different mode of reading and thinking when immersed in the Wake. It was a really interesting reading experience. The way you read the Wake is more engaged, playful and energetic than normal reading.

I want to finish off this second post by starting a couple of lists. The central character, HCE, has his initials explained in a number of ways in the book and I want to start capturing them:

  • Harold or Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker (p30) – see last post
  • Howth Castle and Environs (3) = 1st line of the novel, a key location in both the Wake and Ulysses
  • Haveth Childers Everywhere (a section published in 1930 as part of Work in Progress) = Adam, father of mankind
  • humile, commune and ensectuous (29)
  • Here Comes Everybody (32) = Everyman
  • habituels conspicuously emergent (33)
  • He’ll Cheat E’erawan (46) = a sinful fella

HCE Group-Logo-Landscape-Colour

Another list I want to begin here is one of all the different ways Joyce refers to the city at the heart of the novel (as with Ulysses) – Dublin:

  • Dabblin (p16)
  • (Brian) d’ of Linn (17)
  • dun blink (17)
  • durblin (19)
  • Devlin (24)
  • Dumbaling (34)
  • Poolblack (35) = Dub/black Lin/Pool : dubh linn (Gaelic) black pool
phoenix-park map finnegans wake

The focus of Wake’s Dublin

(I’ll keep building these lists as I read through.)

 

Waking Up

My favourite book is Ulysses by James Joyce. I first read (most of it) at university, completed it six years later. By that time it resonated far more for me – I’d got to know and love Ireland in the interim. It has a reputation for being difficult but once you let go a bit and let it flow over you to some extent it becomes both readable and enjoyable. It feels to me like it’s about everything.

finnegans wake james joyce book novel

Inevitably after a few years the thought occurred to read Joyce’s follow-up, Finnegans Wake. In November 2017 I bought myself a copy of A Shorter Finnegans Wake, edited by Anthony Burgess. The longer original seemed so intimidating that I felt this attractive slimmish Faber volume might be the route in. But on opening to the first page it looked absolutely unreadable. A codebook with no key. Like nothing I’d ever seen, apart from perhaps the most obscure, chaotic parts of Ulysses – reminiscent but far more convoluted.

At the beginning of 2018, on 5th January, I joined the Charles Peake Seminar at the University of London, a monthly gathering at Senate House of mainly academics close-reading Ulysses, which I’d first been told about years before by Fritz Senn, the director of the James Joyce Institute in Zurich. “Good timing”, the person beside me whispered, “we’re just starting a new chapter!” I wasn’t particularly impressed until it came to light that the last one had taken 5 years. We’re talking close reading here.

We’ve got five years, stuck on my eyes
Five years, what a surprise
We’ve got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, that’s all we’ve got

One of the regular attendees at the Charles Peake was Finn Fordham from Royal Holloway who led another sister seminar on Finnegans Wake, also monthly, same place. He persuaded me to try it out, reassuring me that it didn’t matter that I hadn’t read the book. My first session was on 23rd February 2018. we were on page 538. Now we’re on page 547. Two and a bit years to cover 9 pages!

But these two years proved crucial. A few weeks ago, during the Coronavirus lockdown, our seminar having shifted online for now and doubled in frequency through demand and enthusiasm, I realised, after a particularly enjoyable session, looking back to page 1 that I could now read what once seemed unreadable. On 26th April (2020) I embarked on the journey through the Wake. Reading at least a couple of pages every day, usually to get my day under way, I have now read the first couple of chapters, the first 50 pages, in half a month.

riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.

I’m glad to get a name-check in the opening line. The central character is HCE. By my reading so far HCE is Adam (among others). HCE is a man who has a great fall by committing a sin in a garden or park, Phoenix Park in Dublin. It involves sex and breaking the law. He might have been exposing himself to some young ladies or wanking in a hidden place. He may have been frolicking with some soldiers. His crime changes with each telling. Rumours abound. HCE stands, we are told at the start of Chapter 2, for Harold or Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker. Humphrey connects him to another bad egg (or ego) who had a great fall, Humpty Dumpty. Chimpden is a reminder that we are but bald apes. Earwicker renders him/us lower, creepy weird insects (earwigs). But at the same time HCE is also some kind of a king. This is the night book to Ulysses‘ book of a single day around Dublin city. This one takes us to dawn through the obscurity and dream-world of a typically chaotic, but not without pattern, human sleep. Humphrey becomes Humpty becomes Adam becomes Everyman, struggling with identity, guilt and self-justification, interacting with a family equally fluid, in a language playful, funny, obscure, frustrating, innovative and plumbing the depths for things that don’t really want to come to light…

James Joyce portrait Irish writer novelist

To see or not to see, that is the question

 

Athena Skates

This is my 2nd commission for Red Bull Media House. Athena Skates is an uplifting film spotlighting a new generation of empowered Athenian women.

Athena Skates short form still red bull media house

As Athens tentatively emerges from a decade of chaos, a group of young female roller skaters are fighting for space in their city. This new generation of Greeks grew up with few opportunities – but this taught them a valuable lesson: if you want to follow your passion, you have to do it yourself. While support and infrastructure for young people fell victim to the crisis, the girls are using roller skating to create their own community and express themselves.

Athena Skates is a filmic journey through the hidden skate spots and urban wastelands which punctuate this ancient metropolis. In the process, it shows what it means to be a young woman in Greece today and why finding a way to do what you love – despite the challenges – matters now more than ever.

At a time when so many are stuck indoors, Athena Skates is a liberating, dynamic film revelling in the freedom to move through your city and create your own space within it. The film opens in the spectacular location of the abandoned Hellinikon international airport as the sun sets over the Saronic Gulf. The skaters set off on a high-energy journey across the gritty concrete jungle that is Athens, culminating at the top of Mount Lycabettus, as the sunrise ushers in a new day – and a new generation.

Athena Skates was produced by Hijra Collective, London for Red Bull Media House, London & Salzburg – part of an initiative I have been running focused on excellent storytelling applied to human interest documentaries. Athena Skates is directed by London-based Elliott Gonzo, an outstanding young voice, distinctive and original, working in the realms of commercials, drama and documentary.

VE Day Walk supplementary

These images relate to VE Day 75 – The Walk

allied movie brad pitt marion cotillard poster

allied movie brad pitt marion cotillard hampstead

Brad Pitt & Marion Cotillard at the Hampstead location

nicholas winton

Nicholas Winton

Nicholas Winton

Nicholas Winton

Liam Gallagher

Liam Gallagher

lee miller by man ray solarized

Lee Miller by Man Ray

lee miller WW2

Lee Miller goes to war as an accredited US war correspondent

Lee-miller-hitlers-bathtub-nsu-art-museum-fort-lauderdale

Lee in Hitler’s bath tub, Munich – the day she photographed Dachau – by David Sherman

george-orwell-at the bbc

Orwell’s wartime broadcasts

eileen maud blair orwell

Eileen Maud Blair – Orwell’s wife

VE Day 75 – The Walk

flags VE day 75th 2020 london

Beginning of my VE day walk – a lone hint of celebration on our street – East Finchley, London N2

st pancras and islington cemetery commonwealth war graves

Coronavirus has stopped normal access to the commonwealth war graves in St Pancras & Islington cemetery

the commonwealth war graves in St Pancras & Islington cemetery

The commonwealth war graves in St Pancras & Islington cemetery earlier in the lockdown (before they closed the cemeteries)

naked lady henlys corner statue war memorial

I’m sitting just beneath Emile Guillaume’s La Délivrance known locally as The Naked Lady – it’s a WW1 memorial but it is opposite the flat where my great-uncle Bruno lived, a concentration camp survivor & refugee from Leipzig Germany, so its WW2 victory for me

children holocaust memorial henlys corner

Flowers for children VE Day 75, Henly’s Corner

clock tower war memorial golders green

The clock tower memorial to WW1 & WW2 at Golders Green with its distinctive blue

keith douglas poetry golders hill

WW2 poetry Keith Douglas in flower garden at Golders Hill – wisteria no hysteria, stiff upper lip

Comment: unicornsalmost

‪This Sunday, on @bbcradio3 : Unicorns, Almost – a play about the life and poetry of Keith Douglas https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000j2bn‬

hampstead war memorial

Hampstead war memorial to both world wars – a few hundred yards from where I was born, overlooking all of London

location Allied brad pitt hampstead

Film location of ‘Allied’ movie with Brad Pitt & Marion Cotillard set during WW2

Film location of 'Allied'

Film location of ‘Allied’

I met a family sitting out on their front steps down the road from here, told them what I was doing and they pointed me to…

nicholas winton s house willow road hampstead

Nicholas Winton saved 669 Jewish children from the Nazis when based in this house in Hampstead

liam gallagher RAF roundel

Liam Gallagher‘s RAF roundel window at his old place in Hampstead

lee miller roland penrose house downshire hill hampstead

Photographer Lee Miller‘s house Hampstead – she photographed WW2 for Vogue magazine including the liberation of Dachau & Hitler’s bathtub in Munich

hampstead heath pond

My dad remembered vividly a doodlebug V1 exploding in the corner of this pond near his childhood home – I never walk by without thinking of him Hampstead Heath, VE day 75

george orwell house hampstead parliament hill

George Orwell‘s house – his wife Eileen O’Shaughnessy worked at the Ministry of Information during WW2 (in the censorship department) in Senate House, University of London & he famously used it as the model for the Ministry of Truth in 1984 – Orwell was in the Home Guard & broadcast for the BBC

ve day walk montage

That’s the VE day 75 walk done – 9 hours, 24,600 steps, good fun

VE Day 75

ve day trafalgar square 8 may 1945

8th May 1945, Trafalgar Square

The current situation of lockdown under threat of a deadly viral enemy is as close to war as my generation has ever come which makes it a most resonant time to celebrate this landmark VE Day, the 75th.

My most memorable VE day to date was one spent in Bangor, Co. Down, N. Ireland when my wife was working on the BBC’s live coverage of the event which involved the lighting of a string of lanterns right round the British coast. To help her manage the day, with a very demanding, experienced and alcoholic director, I looked after one of the main contributors, a charming old fella from Belfast who had survived the Belfast Blitz of 1941. I spent the day hanging out with him, chatting and making sure he felt looked after. He was interviewed in the evening by John Cole.

Today’s VE day I marked with a themed walk, made up last minute, partly on the fly. I came up with the idea while sitting in the garden in the early morning sunshine. By 9am I was on the road. 9 hours and 24,600 steps later I returned home.

VE day walk 8 may 2020

I’ll publish the details of the walk tomorrow – it ranged from photographer Lee Miller’s house to Liam Gallagher’s RAF roundel window, from the location of a Brad Pitt war movie to a tribute to the 1.5 million Jewish children killed in the holocaust.

Half way I stopped to read some of Keith Douglas‘ poetry, a WW2 poet stationed largely in North Africa. He died shortly after D-Day at the age of just 24. The line

but time, time is all I lacked

from the last poem in the volume (a selection by Ted Hughes) seemed to sum up his artistic life. There’s a radio play about him on Radio 3 on Sunday (10th May) at 7.30pm called ‘Unicorns, Almost‘ by Owen Sheers.

I began the day by sharing an unpublished poem by Edmund Blunden entitled ‘V Day’. it’s in the manuscript collection of the Imperial War Museum. It concludes with the line:

 We have come through.

which seems very apposite and inspiring for these strange days.

V day page 1 poem edmund blunden

V day page 2 poem edmund blunden

Edmund-Blunden

Edmund Blunden – a WW1 poet who was still writing in 1945

Keith Douglas poet WW2

Keith Douglas

Innovation quote

I’m as proud of many of the things we have not done as the things we have done. Innovation is saying no to a thousand things.

Steve Jobs

steve-jobs young

The Casting Game No. 127 Take 2 – moody with big chin

I was struggling to figure out who actor Stanley Holloway looks like and think I may have put my finger on who wouldn’t quite come to the surface on my original attempt…

Stanley Holloway in Eva directed by Joseph Losey

Stanley Holloway (in Eva – 1962)

AS

morrissey-of the-smiths singer

Morrissey of The Smiths

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