The Story So Far

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In the last part of 2013 I take a sabbatical to mark my 10th anniversary at Channel 4 and write five eighths of a factual book entitled ‘When Sparks Fly: the creative rewards of openness and generosity’. I write 9 to 5 every working day during the sabbatical and get five chapters more or less completed.

I document the process from Day 1 to Day 94.

The plan is to try to write the last three when I’m back at work in evenings and weekends. The thing is I value my marriage and I’m keen on my kids. And also I commission 26 series of short form video and 9 pilots in the following 12 months. The best part of 250 episodes. that’s a fuckofalot of work.

A couple of weeks ago I have 7 days holiday left for the year which I have to use or lose so I go over to my favourite place, Donegal. I find empty beaches, the sun splits the sky from the moment I walk off the plane in Belfast till the day I return. I chill and I’m in the mood to write. At the prompting of my venerable & wise mentor, a veteran and very committed documentary maker, I set aside Book 1 for now and move to Book 2. Book 2 is not massively research and interview heavy like Book 1. It is about my day job. I’d had it in mind as a way of clearing the writing pipes.

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So I write the opening on an isolated and very difficult to access beach on Fanad Head, my favourite place in my favourite place. What a beautiful moment suspended in time.

I write the outline by the lake in the garden of artist Derek Hill’s house in Churchill. Intense, fast, no mucking about – in the zone.

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I start the main text on a secret beach up the coast from Port Salon. I have to leg it to escape from charging cows to get to the beach – but it’s worth it. Got it completely to myself.

What’s a rush is that I can just write (unlike Book 1). No notes. No looking up anything. Just tap away at the speed of thought.

And so, as I embark fully on Book 2, the story continues…

[writing location: a train just outside Durham 7.1v.16]

 

 

 

1978 in Music

I wrote about 1971 as the key year in music this time last year and this week David Hepworth has released a book on exactly the same theme. I started thinking about this in 2013 when I had a discussion at BAFTA with Malcolm Garrett, designer of the covers of Another Music in a Different Kitchen and Love Bites (referred to below) – Malcolm argued for 1970. Today my friend & best man Stuart Rubenstein proposed 1978 as an alternative. I don’t really buy it as the most significant year but it was a landmark, dynamic one.

Here are a dozen of the LPs that got my blood racing that pivotal year of my youth and I write this listening to Stuart’s 1978 playlist.

1978 was the year I fully got the punk bug thanks to Buzzcocks who released 2 great LPs during those palpitating 12 months. So in no particular order:

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(1) Give Em Enough Rope – The Clash

I trudged through the snow to Loppylugs in Edgware to buy this. I saw the tour at the Electric Ballroom in Camden Town with Mikey Dread and Joe Ely supporting, one of the greatest gigs of my life.

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(2) The Scream – Siouxsie & the Banshees

Was transfixed by this band, not least the track Switch. Saw them at Hammersmith Odeon and the Music Machine in Mornington Crescent around this time.

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(3) Another Music in a Different Kitchen – Buzzcocks

Got this as a Christmas present (at my own request) from someone I didn’t much like. The single from it (which I got first from Smiths in Chichester), What Do I Get, was what opened me up to Punk. The sleeve design was really striking with its silver and fluorescent orange. It was a kick years later to meet its super-talented designer Malcolm Garrett through work. My copy now bears his signature.

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(4) Easter – Patti Smith

I was transfixed by the hairy armpit in the cover photo by Robert Mapplethorpe.

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(5) Plastic Letters – Blondie

I had a crush on Debbie Harry as Debbie had on Denis. I saw them for my 2nd ever gig at Hammersmith Odeon, as well as outside their record label, Chrysalis, near Bond Street.

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(6) Stage – David Bowie

One of the few things outside of punk to catch my attention.

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(7) Handsworth Revolution – Steel Pulse

Can’t recall how I came across this but it will have been thanks to the Punk-Reggae axis.

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(8) Public Image – Public Image Ltd

How could Johnny Rotten transcend the Pistols? With a single as startling as anything those bad boys did.

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(9) An American Prayer – Jim Morrison & The Doors

I still reckon Jim was a significant and talented poet.

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(10) Here My Dear – Marvin Gaye

As intense as records ever get – I pictured Marvin alone in the studio in the dark, laying his voice over and over itself.

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(11) Moving Targets – Penetration

Something a little exotic from the regions

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(12) Power in the Darkness – Tom Robinson Band

My very first gig at Hammersmith Odeon with PJE. I used the stencil which came with this on my school bag.

Naked & Invisible

The trail for my recent Channel 4 commission Naked & Invisible was launched on Facebook yesterday – 1M views on day one, 2.7M and growing on day two. Commissioned from Showem Entertainment and featuring body painting double world champion Carolyn Roper.

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Update 15.iv.16

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Now up to 5.8M views with a reach of over 15M – a record for Channel 4, E4 and All 4 on Facebook

Oh Shit I’m 30!

My latest commission to go live on All 4, as reported in Broadcast.

 

All 4 signs up YouTube’s Emily Hartridge

YouTube star Emily Hartridge is to create a series about the pressures of turning 30 for All 4. Channel 4’s multiplatform video service has ordered six episodes of Oh S**t, I’m 30! from producer Spirit Media. The series will explore the pressures of hitting the landmark, with each episode tackling a different subject including work/life balance, aging and exploring your sexuality in your 30s.

The show was ordered by multiplatform commissioning editor Adam Gee. Executive producer Matt Campion said a life panic is “something everyone can relate to” on a milestone birthday. “It’s a very real issue that Gen Y are having their life crisis much younger and are faced with the big questions about whether their lives have turned out as they envisaged,” he added. “This series sees Emily light-heartedly experience these very real dreams and fears and bring them to the small screen.”

Hartridge, who recently turned 30, hosted Virgin Media’s The Snap on YouTube after creating her own weekly show “10 Reasons Why…”, which drew over 3 million viewers a month.

Today in 1916, Dublin – Easter Tuesday – Support real and imagined

Easter Tuesday (25th April 1916)

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British troops (and machine guns) on the streets of Dublin

Holed up in the GPO Padraig Pearse writes an optimistic report for a Republican newssheet: “The Republican forces everywhere are fighting with splendid gallantry. The populace of Dublin are plainly with the Republic, and the officers and men are everywhere cheered as they march through the streets.” Not totally true. At the Jacob’s factory, for example, a mob jeers at the Volunteers inside: “Come out to France and fight, you lot of so-and-so slackers!” (I suspect they didn’t really say “so-and-so”, the feckers.) Pearse also writes a Manifesto to the Citizens of Dublin: “The country is rising to Dublin’s call and the final achievement of Ireland’s freedom is now, with God’s help, only a matter of days…” Not totally true. Risings outside the capital are to a large extent sporadic and confused.

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British troops marching prisoners

Rumours abound. The Germans have landed in support of the uprising. Rebel reinforcements are converging on the capital. Cork has fallen to the Volunteers. The British barracks are beseiged and on the point of surrender. The whole country is up in arms. Not true at all.

In fact British troops are arriving in numbers by train overnight from Belfast and Kildare and en route by sea from Britain. They machine gun the men and women of the Citizen Army on St Stephen’s Green, firing down from the height of the Shelbourne Hotel, forcing them to retreat to the College of Surgeons. They take back the City Hall, confusing the female rebel fighters for kidnap victims. “Did they do anything to you? Were they kind to you?”

They retake the Daily Express offices beside City Hall. Meanwhile in the Irish Times (paper not building) reports of the uprising are suppressed and replaced by a short piece of under 50 words, opening…

Yesterday morning an insurrectionary rising took place in the City of Dublin.

and a counter-proclamation from Lord Wimborne, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, announcing the imposition of martial law. The authorities are getting a grip on the situation after a slow start. The proclamation speaks of “a reckless, though small, body of men” and of “certain evilly disposed persons”.

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Next: I’ll pick up Easter Wednesday (26th April 1916) on 26th April 2016

Today in 1916, Dublin – Easter Monday – One small step, one giant leap

Easter Monday (24th April 1916)

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Padraig Pearse

Around noon James Connolly and Padraig Pearse lead 150 rebels up Dublin’s O’Connell Street. They march as far as (appropriately enough) the Imperial Hotel when Connolly suddenly gives the order to wheel left and charge the GPO. Once inside the first task was to persuade baffled customers that they were for real and that said customers needed to take off, get outta here.

Pearse had been appointed President of the Republic and it fell to him to proclaim said republic. He came out of the Post Office looking “very pale” and read the now famous proclamation.

ad-hist-procLiguist and writer Stephen McKenna was among the small crowd who witnessed the momentous event:

“For once, his magnetism had left him; the response was chilling; a few thin, perfunctory cheers, no direct hostility just then, but no enthusiasm whatever.”

Half an hour later a company of mounted British lancers charge down O’Connell Street, sabres drawn. Shots ring out from the GPO and the Imperial Hotel, killing four of the imperialists and scattering the rest. Battle has commenced.

Rewind to the start of this resonant day. Rebels turn out in Dublin but in reduced numbers after the chaos of Easter Sunday. They gather in the guise of Irish Volunteers on manoeuvres but at noon transform into determined and bold revolutionaries. They seize key buildings across the city with the GPO as HQ – Boland’s Mill, Jacob’s Factory, the South Dublin Union and other strategic buildings. The Citizen Army takes a position on St Stephen’s Green. (During the night British troops sneak into the overlooking Shelbourne Hotel effectively neutralising the position.)

They move on Dublin Castle, the centre of British administration, but misjudge and hesitate resulting in the gates being shut in their faces. They take adjacent City Hall instead. During the aborted assault Abbey actor Sean Connolly shoots an unarmed police constable, making 45 year old James O’Brien one of the first fatalities of the Rising. A couple of hours later, at 2pm, Connolly, up on the roof of City Hall, takes a bullet in the stomach and bleeds out in front of his 15 year old brother, Matt.

Looting starts around O’Connell Street as local people sense the opportunity of disruption.

More lofty deeds are being carried out on the roof of the overlooking GPO. Eamon Bulfin, a lieutenant in the Irish Volunteers, is sent up to raise a green flag with the words Irish Republic and a golden harp.

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made by Mary Shannon, a shirtmaker in the cooperative at Liberty Hall

A green, white and gold tricolour is also raised on that roof, for the very first time over the Republic of Ireland.

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The largest military parade in the history of the Irish state passes the GPO as part of the 1916 Easter Rising centenary commemorations in Dublin – 27 March 2016

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The essence of Padraig Pearse

Today in 1916, Dublin – Easter Sunday – A bit of a mess

Easter Sunday (23rd April 1916)

Marked the day by going to the National Film Theatre to see The Trial of Sir Roger Casement, a television play from 1960 (on Granada) starring Peter Wyngarde as Roger Casement, who was hanged for treason 100 years ago not a million miles from here (in Pentonville prison) and even more shamefully chucked into a pit of lime. That’s Peter Wyngarde of Jason King and Department S fame. It was 56 minutes of skilfully crafted court room drama, with a contemporary commentary well integrated into the flow. Casement was arrested on Good Friday 100 years ago…

Scroll forward two days and it is as much a confused fiasco as Casement’s bumbling efforts on the Kerry coast. Had the arms shipment from Germany brokered by Casement arrived as intended, Eoin MacNeill, Chief of Staff of the Irish Volunteers, might have supported the Easter Rising but as it was, considering the rebels to be underarmed and to have no chance of victory, he countermands the order to gather and ultimately rise up against the English and thereby creates confusion across the country. The plan had been to assemble armed men (and women) of the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army across Ireland as cover for the start of the Easter Rising.

MacNeill’s withdrawal of the order for ‘manoeuvres’, indeed “all orders given to Irish Volunteers for tomorrow, Easter Sunday”, is published in the Sunday Independent.

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The Countermand Order

Significant numbers of IV and ICA gather in Dublin and across the country but are uncertain what’s to happen. Needless to say it’s raining in much of the country as the volunteers hang around awaiting orders. Most end up dispersing (although many are still set to mobilise the next day if so commanded).

The rebel leaders decide just to postpone the uprising until Easter Monday despite MacNeill’s countermanding order.

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Eamonn Ceannt

Eamonn Ceannt, one of the seven men to sign the Proclamation of Independence which was read out today (2016) in front of the GPO in Dublin, as it is every year on Easter Sunday, was on the IRB (Irish Republican Brotherhood) Military Council with Joseph Plunkett and Sean MacDiarmada. He was appointed Director of Communications as well as commandant of the 4th Battalion of the Volunteers. During the Rising his battalion of over 100 men was stationed at the South Dublin Union, with Cathal Brugha as his second-in-command.

Ceannt returns home at 2am on Sunday and tells his wife Aine: “MacNeill has ruined us – he has stopped the Rising.” In the morning he heads to Liberty Hall to consult with Connolly and the others. His battalion meanwhile gathers at his house, the bicycles stacked four deep in the front garden. Ceannt returns to the house in the evening and begins filling out mobilisation orders. The bundle of papers commands his men to assemble again on Easter Monday. The decision to proceed is in motion…

Once the GPO fell and the rebels surrendered, Ceannt, like the other leaders, found himself in Kilmainham Gaol. He was shot like the rest in the stonebreaking yard on 8th May. He was 34. He wrote a last message a few hours before in cell 88:

I leave for the guidance of other Irish Revolutionaries who may tread the path which I have trod this advice, never to treat with the enemy, never to surrender at his mercy, but to fight to a finish… Ireland has shown she is a nation. This generation can claim to have raised sons as brave as any that went before. And in the years to come Ireland will honour those who risked all for her honour at Easter 1916.

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Today (2016) the Irish tricolour was raised above the roof of the GPO with planes of the Irish Air Force flying overhead trailing green, white and orange. What would Ceannt have made of that?

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The ceremony in the Stonebreakers’ yard in Kilmainham Gaol today with The President of Ireland and the flag of the state

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The ceremony in our kitchen today with the flag of the state

 

A parlour game for Easter

This has flown in from Dan McKevitt in Carlingford (via Facebook). A musical parlour game for the holidays.The emphasis is on records that have meant a lot to you rather than the all-time greatest.

“Here are the rules. Post up 12 albums on to your timeline that have stayed with you for whatever reason. One album per Artist/Band. Tag 12 friends and get them to do likewise, include me so I can see your choices. Don’t overthink it. Enjoy. No Compilations.”

1 Kind of Blue – Miles Davis [how to become tranquil in 5 easy steps/tracks]


2 Jesus Christ Superstar [as a young teen I used to spend hours and hours drawing and colouring to this]


3 What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye [I played it the night my fist born made his appearance]


4 Another Music In a Different Kitchen – Buzzcocks [my route into punk]


5 A Love Supreme – John Coltrane [took me somewhere higher]


6 Hot August Night – Neil Diamond [the first LP I bought myself – helluva jean jacket]


7 Let’s Dance – David Bowie [helped me find the joy in my first year away from home]


8 Glorious Fool – John Martyn [prompted me to recognise that JM was the greatest singer of them all …ever]


9 Give ’em Enough Rope – The Clash [trudging through the snow to get this from Loppylugs the day it came out – there’s never been such anticipation]


10 Moondance – Van Morrison [contains my eponymous wedding dance]


11 The White Album – The Beatles [teen memories of discovering the Fab Four and others with JRT]


12 The Scream – Siouxsie & the Banshees [will life ever get more exciting?]

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By the way, here are the Best Albums ever

And here are some more music lists

Today in 1916, Dublin – Easter Saturday – Nearly strangled at birth

Easter Saturday (22nd April 1916)

As I start this post the centenary commemoration and celebrations of the Easter Rising are kicking off in Dublin. I was hoping to get over there but couldn’t quite make it happen. I got a bit of a feel for the mood and thoughts when I was over in Donegal last week. The last time I was in Dublin for the anniversary was on 8th April 2007, the 91st. That day I went down to the GPO to watch the official commemoration at which a female officer of the Irish army read out the Proclamation of Independence in front of the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and the President Mary McAleese. It was on the stairs of the General Post Office that Padraig Pearse first read those words a century ago.

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To transport myself there for the 100th I’m going to post a hundred-years-ago-today account of the Rising over the next week.

The Easter Saturday should have been the eve of the Rising but the big day had to be postponed by 24 hours to Easter Monday.

On the Saturday the under-secretary for Ireland Sir Matthew Nathan writes to the chief secretary Augustine Birrell saying: “I see no indications of a rising”. So a bit like Michael Fish missing the Great Storm of October 1987 or Dick Rowe turning down The Beatles at Decca. Nathan was a career colonial administrator, born in Paddington of Jewish descent.

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Before: Liberty Hall

Meanwhile James Connolly and men of his Irish Citizen Army are installed in Liberty Hall on Beresford Place/Eden Quay,headquarters of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union and of the ICA. It’s where Constance Markievicz and Maud Gonne ran  a soup kitchen for workers’ families during the Dublin Lock-out  in 1913. In 1916 it served as a factory for the manufacture of bombs, bayonets and arms for the impending rebellion. Eventually the leaders of the Rising marched from there to the GPO to proclaim the Republic and start the Rising (but more of that on Monday). The building was left vacant throughout Easter Week, but the British didn’t know that and selected the Hall as the first target to be shelled. It was largely destroyed by British artillery during the Rising.

So back to the previous failure of British intelligence – “I see no indications of a rising”. The next day Nathan and the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Lord Wimborne, find out that five 50lb  cases of dynamite have been stolen from a quarry in County Wicklow, just south of Dublin, and the police suspect they have been taken to Liberty Hall. At the Vice Regal Lodge in Phoenix Park Wimborne and Nathan discuss the situation with the military and police. Wimborne wants an immediate raid on Liberty Hall with arrests, using 100 troops and 100 police. The Royal Irish Constabulary are more cautious, reckoning the leaders will not be there (some were), there will be significant loss of life and the press will be highly critical. Wimborne eventually agrees to postpone till Monday to allow time for the military to prepare properly and on the basis the rebel leaders would probably be there. In Wimborne’s words: “It was no good to stir up the hornets’ nest unless they could capture the hornets.”

Had they acted on Wimborne’s initial instincts the Rising would have been strangled at birth on Saturday and, in the words of Euston’s finest, no terrible beauty born.

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After: Liberty Hall

The Black Lesbian Handbook

Some feedback I just came across for this series while preparing a very dull document – background on the commission is here.

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RosyKat ‏@RosyKat  19 Dec 2015

Bit late to the party but #theblacklesbianhandbook is the best thing I’ve ever seen on TV @Channel4 #uklesbians

 

tawa ‏@TawandaFarai  17 Sep 2015

The Black Lesbian Handbook is brilliant. Storytelling at its finest.

 

vivi woo ‏@PeachesLenoir  27 Feb 2015Greenwich, London

I watched the black lesbian handbook, very insightful

 

Brooke ‏@BrukusMaximus  17 Feb 2015

@4oD just found the black lesbian handbook. Very interesting. Thank you. #BlackCulture #gay # blackgaytaboo #girlswholovegirls #stud #fem

 

SineadAlannah ‏@SineadAWrites  18 Dec 2015

Addicted to the Black Lesbian Handbook @Channel4 #fridaynightin

 

JustJoyxox ‏@soul_sistar  11 Dec 2015Croydon, London

I just watched the black lesbian handbook very interesting documentary I learnt a lot about the gay community here and abroad #LGBT

 

Sean ‏@PhantomDoor  18 Dec 2015

Watching Peep Show, keep getting ads for “The Black Lesbian Handbook” the most Channel 4 show imaginable.

 

DANNII ‏@MissDannitweets  9 Dec 2015

The black lesbian handbook docs on channel 4 is so fascinating!

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