Archive for the ‘bbc’ Tag

Laughter

With Canadian sit-com Schitt’s Creek picking up all 7 of the comedy awards last night at the Emmys in LA, dubbed the ‘Phantemmys’ due to having to go online and virtual due to the pandemic, it is a perfect moment for this Byron quote:

“Always laugh when you can, it is cheap medicine.”

Byron in 1815
The Rose family from Schitt’s Creek. The sixth and final series has just aired in the US.

On the subject of Byron, the BBC’s new 3-part series on Romanticism fronted by Simon Schama is well worth a watch. The Romantics and Us plays out on BBC2 and was made by Oxford Films

Coincidence No. 101

I wake up in a pleasant hotel in Bristol and decide to treat myself to some pleasant TV (‘Strike: Lethal White’ BBC1), finishing off an episode from last night. There’s these lines in the bit I got to:

No, wait, I’ve seen Blanc de Blanc before. Matt’s Instagram. Where we went on our anniversary. It’s only an hour from Chisel House.

The character (Robyn) is referring to a hotel where she went with her husband. Blanc de Blanc was the room name.

I am writing this in Casa Lapostolle, a room in the Hotel du Vin. It is named after a wine as is their way. The bottle is sitting in a cabinet just outside the door.

Watching Hotel du Vin in Hotel du Vin

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

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

Moon Shots

The 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission resonated strongly for me. I consider Neil Armstrong’s foot touching the moon one of the two most significant events of the 20th century. The other is the explosion of the atom bomb in Hiroshima.

I watched the moon in our back garden on the eve of Blast Off + Half-a-Century – it looked full, technically one night off I think. It was slightly yellow, the surface patterns visible from the suburbs of N2.

the moon london 15th July 2019

The moon, a eucalyptus and our garden shed

During the night I caught a bit of a BBC World Service podcast on Radio 5 – in the morning I started listening to the 11-part series, 13 Minutes to the Moon, presented by Kevin Fong.

But only in London, before the day was out, would you by chance cross paths with not only an Eagle lunar landing craft, but also a Saturn 5 landing capsule.

neil armstrong portrait photograph NASA

At 09.32 on 16th July, the time of Apollo 11 lift off, I published a photo of Neil Armstrong from the Wall of Honour in our downstairs loo. It is a signed photo, the smudged signature proving it is an actual individually signed document. The smudge was made by Mark Reynolds’ auntie in Leeds who thought it was a printed moniker so wet her finger and wiped it through in 1969. She was wrong. Mark Reynolds was my trusty editor in the 80s. We made a documentary together about the first British astronaut, Helen Sharman. I swopped the photo Mark wrote away for in his childhood for a signed Damned single from Loppylugs in Edgware. One of my better deals. I’m reflected in the moon in the photo of the photo.

In the evening I went to a screening by Netflix of the documentary The Great Hack about Facebook and the Cambridge Analytica outrage, coming out on 24th July on a data-driven, aspiring monopoly digital platform near you. It was an interesting evening which included taking a leak next to the CFO of Cambridge Analytica and bumping in to an old college contemporary of mine, Chris Steele, author of the notorious Trump-Russia dossier. A chat with Riz Ahmed. Sitting in front of Brittany Kaiser, the protagonist of the film.

But the highlight of the evening – in the Dana Centre of the Science Museum – was walking out past the lunar lander on the left, covered in the crinkly gold foil mentioned in Episode 1 of the podcast, and the re-entry capsule on the right. Not something that remotely crossed my mind as I enjoyed that first episode some ten hours before and ten miles away.

The replica Apollo Lunar Excursion Module (LEM), in the London Science Museum.

Apollo Lunar Excursion Module (LEM)

Apollo 10 Command Module | Science Museum

Apollo 10 Command Module

On the tube home from South Kensington I was sitting chatting to Dr Kevin Fong’s agent – Kevin had been at the Netflix screening unbeknownst to me.

When I walked up my street on the way back home I looked up and caught the moon, now fully full, between two suburban rooftops and the disc was halved by the shadow of an eclipse. Wondrous.

As I write this it is Day 3 of the mission. Little Dot Studios where I have been working the last couple of years has brilliantly produced a marathon 6-day live broadcast on the notorious Facebook and the dubious YouTube bringing us the transmissions from Apollo 11 and Mission Control from NASA’s archive, courtesy of my previous employer, Channel 4. Moon Landing Live. (I proposed this programme in 2014 when I was still at C4, a bit ahead of the curve.) If you shoot for the stars, you may hit the moon.

 

Square Root of Instagram

In 2006 at Channel 4 (London) I commissioned a mobile-centred website called Big Art Mob. It enabled users to publish photos of Public Art (from sculptures to graffiti) from their mobile phones. In other words, it was basically Instagram 4 years before Instagram was invented. It was created with digital all-rounder Alfie Dennen (father of We Are Not Afraid) using a photo-publishing platform he had developed with partners named Moblog. I had been experimenting with Moblog for 18 months when a TV project about Public Art (The Big Art Project) came over the horizon and it struck me as an ideal place to apply Moblog technology.

The main difference from Instagram is that Big Art Mob’s photos were not in square format.

Today I went to see the Klimt / Schiele exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, London. I have been a big admirer of Schiele since I heard about him from David Bowie on a radio programme around the time Lodger was released (1979). At the time the Austrian painter was little known outside cognoscenti circles (eg the Marlborough Gallery in London). I was taught a little by Frank Whitford at Cambridge who wrote the Phaidon monograph on Schiele. And I won a travel scholarship at Girton to go study his work in Vienna around 1984. Last year while working at ORF in Vienna I got to do a bit of a self-shaped Schiele tour to mark the centenary of his death which I wrote about in On The Trail of Egon Schiele. I even had a stab at a Schiele in a painting class I recently attended locally:

adam gee copy of egon schiele painting

The exhibition was excellent, bringing out the contrast between how and why Schiele and his mentor Klimt drew. Along the way it reminded me of Klimt’s distinctive adoption of the square format in his portrait painting. Which got me thinking about which other artists went square.

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I is a painting by Gustav Klimt, completed between 1903 and 1907. The portrait was commissioned by the sitter's husband, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, a Jewish banker and sugar producer. The painting was stolen by the Nazis in 1941 and displayed at the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I by Gustav Klimt (1903-1907)

Klimt’s famous portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer is 1.38m by 1.38m. It was commissioned by Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, a Jewish banker and sugar producer, husband of Adele. The painting was notoriously stolen by the Nazis in 1941 and displayed at Schloss Belvedere in Vienna, until being returned by the Austrian courts to Bloch-Bauer’s heirs in 2006 at which point it found a new home in New York. It is considered the zenith of Klimt’s golden period. It uses Klimt’s trademark technique of cropping the figure top and bottom to create a pillar through the canvas, here set slightly right to allow the bulk of the patterned dress or aura to balance the composition.

Square and portraits reminded me of the excellent Hockney exhibition at Tate Britain last year. The square format works particularly well in the double portraits which were the beating heart of that show.

My Parents 1977 by David Hockney born 1937

My Parents by David Hockney (1977)

The emotionally resonant My Parents is 1.83m by 1.83m, even more epic than the Klimt, yet with the most down-to-earth subjects. Each parent occupies their own half in a very different way – attentive mum, square on, in her own space; pre-occupied dad, at an angle, overlapping the furniture – subtly capturing the difference in parent-child relationship.

Hockney was born on 9th July 1937, eight days before my dad. Nine days later another German Jew, Gerda Taro, died in Spain. She has the tragic distinction of being the first female photojournalist to have been killed while covering war at the frontline. This evening I started watching My Private War for this year’s BAFTA judging, starring Rosamund Pike as Marie Colvin, a latter day Taro. Recently, also for voting purposes (BAFTA Documentary Film chapter), I watched the feature documentary Under The Wire, likewise about the life and death of Colvin (killed in Homs, Syria by an Assad regime air-strike). Taro was killed during the Spanish Civil War in a tragic accident involving a reversing Republican tank.

republican woman 1936 gerda taro

Republican militiawoman training on the beach outside Barcelona by Gerda Taro (1936)

Taro was another stand-out squarist. She was partner of Magnum photojournalist Robert Capa. (Capa was introduced to the world by Picture Post in 1938, where my maternal grandfather worked. The Hungarian Jew, who famously lived out of a suitcase for most of his adult life, co-founded the Magnum photo agency with Henri Cartier-Bresson and others.) I saw Tara’s first ever US solo show at the International Center of Photography in New York in 2007. Capa picked up the habit from Taro and there are a number of square photographs attributed to Capa which are widely thought to actually be the work of Taro.

These days I find myself photographing square by default. I’ve enjoyed using Instagram for years as a platform for photography only (none of the Stories bollocks or video). Initially it was an excellent way to syndicate your photos across your social accounts (when it was linked to Flickr – the monopolists must have disconnected on account of Yahoo’s ownership of Flickr I guess). Square poses its own compositional challenges which by and large I enjoy rising to – there are not that many shots I take which can’t be accommodated in the stable, equal-sided space. It encourages the use of diagonals which can be dynamic. Here’s one of my favourite of my square compositions:

statue of george orwell outside the BBC (New Broadcasting House, Portland Place, London)

Statue of George Orwell outside the BBC (New Broadcasting House, Portland Place, London) March 2018

The square is stable enough to carry the two dark figures on the right side. Orwell’s statue is characteristically smoking, hence the appeal of the BBC smoker – both are fag in hand. Of course Orwell like Taro was a graduate of the Spanish Civil War but he made it home to the BBC and to die in the relatively civilised surroundings of UCH (University College Hospital, established by two of my distant ancestors on the Picture Post grandfather’s side, and where both my boys were born). Orwell’s house (at 1 South End Road) is along the same road in Hampstead/Parliament Hill where my dad grew up. He was a child of refugees from Nazi Germany.

If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear

To round off these square stories, Taro was given a funeral, attended by thousands, by the Communist Party of France. She was buried at Père Lachaise on 1st August 1937 (what would have been her 27th birthday) in a grave designed by Alberto Giacometti. On the tomb is written, in French and Catalan

So nobody will forget your unconditional struggle for a better world

Fast-forward to the summer of 2016 – an open-air display of Taro’s Spanish Civil War photos was included in the f/stop photography festival in Leipzig. Leipzig is where my dad was born in July 1937 in the shadow of the Nazi fascist regime, a swastika and eagle on his birth certificate. When f/stop ended, it was decided that the display would become permanent. This was partly financed through crowdfunding. On the night of 3rd/4th August 2016 (two days after Taro’s 106th birthday), the display was destroyed by being daubed with black tar-like paint. This dark act of destruction was widely suspected to be motivated by anti-semitism or anti-refugee politics. A further crowdfunding campaign more than raised the €4,000 required to restore the vandalised photos. The equal and opposite forces of creativity and destruction, light and dark, squared up to one another.

Be there and be square.

The Next Day: fragments of Bowie

24381732930_4d6c43a3ec_k

Outside 155 Hauptstrasse Schoeneberg Berlin – Bowie’s apartment – 17 Jan 2016

So today is The Next Day – the day after Bowie’s birthday, after the anniversary of the release of Blackstar, the day before the anniversary of his death, the middle day, the limbo day.

As promised in yesterday’s birthday post, The Man Who Rose from Earth, in this one I’m going to gather some of the Bowie posts from across the years of Simple Pleasures part 4. As a blog about Creativity and the quest for Happiness through the Simple Pleasures of life Bowie was always bound to feature as a great creator, an outstanding innovator and a man who worked hard to know himself and find Peace.

So adding to the photo album of my Bowie’s Berlin trip last January and my post on hearing of his death (Blackstar Rising) from yesterday’s post are:

Bowie: The Next Day [11 January, 2016] My reflections on his death

The Berlin Trilogy 1 [16 January, 2016] the first day oy my trip to Berlin in the days after his death

The Berlin Trilogy 2: Where Are We Now? [17 January, 2016]

The Berlin Trilogy 3: Goodbye to Berlin  [19 January, 2016]

Heroes Mystery Solved [27 January, 2016]

David Bowie locations in Berlin [22 January, 2016] a ready-made tour

Heddonism [11 April, 2012] a first-hand account of the unveiling of his plaque in Heddon St.

A Bowie Moment [13 January, 2016] Ziggy Stardust plaque unveiling video

4 for 66 (Happy Birthday David Bowie) [9 January, 2013] 4 of his best songs

Sound & Vision [12 November, 2016] the best of Bowie’s art collection

Cut up by Bowie’s Black-out [20 January, 2016] a Bowie-style cut-up

Where Are We Now? [11 January, 2016] an animation

100 Greatest Songs [12 January, 2008]

***

24049082014_123b015488_k

Outside 155 Hauptstrasse Schoeneberg Berlin – Bowie’s apartment – 17 Jan 2016

Celebrated The Big Man’s birthday yesterday evening by watching David Bowie: The Last Five Years, a new BBC feature documentary commissioned by my friend and former Channel 4 colleague Jan Younghusband. It is an excellent watch, breaking new ground with its focus on his last half decade and last two LPs in an intelligent and insightful way. It was directed by Francis Whately. There are various clips here.

A Survivor’s Story (Lakonia 3)

scan-2-bbc-light

This is a Remittance Advice from BBC Radio (signed off by a certain Teresa McGonagle (Miss)) for a talk my grandmother, Rita Harris, gave on Woman’s Hour on 2nd July 1964, recounting her perspective on the Lakonia disaster (see previous two posts). I also have the transcript:

31345863870_a189204d5d_k

What is striking about the account (for which she received the princely sum of 12 guineas) is the litany of safety failings from the moment they set foot on board the ill-fated vessel in Southampton. Here are some extracts:

“We arrived at Southampton and boarded the Lakonia. From the very beginning things seemed to go wrong. The corridors were still teaming (sic) with workmen, the gangways were still down, and the wind whistled around the ship. Eventually the workmen scrambled ashore and two hours late we were under way.”

“Next morning we received the ship’s newspaper with the programme for the day. At 10.15am there was to be a fire drill. So after breakfast we made our way to the promenade deck, where we waited sitting wrapped up in rugs. Some 30 minutes before the drill was to commence some passengers were already walking around wearing their life-jackets. As a result of the subsequent way the fire drill was carried out, at least two thirds of the passengers would have no conceivable idea of what to do if a real emergency arose. My husband was so disgusted that he wanted to complain to the Captain, as he said it was the biggest nonsense that he had ever taken part in. I am sorry to this day that I did not let him carry out this threat.”

In one section it is clear that my grandfather, Ian Harris, had his camera on him at the time of the tragedy because he was taking photos of the crowning of the King and Queen of the Tramps at the Tramps Ball that was taking place when the fire broke out. He was the only person on board who had a camera (although I believe another man may have had a movie camera). All the stills one sees taken on board during the disaster were by him.

“To take the photos of the crowning, my husband made his way to the main entrance of the room [the Lakonia Room]. As he went a steward whispered something to the Captain who was at the next table – he immediately jumped up and ran out of the room. My husband returned more quickly than he’d left, and quietly informed our table that the ship was on fire and we should go to our cabins and get our life-jackets on. Simultaneously smoke started to billow in through the now open doors. As we made our way down to our cabin the alarm sounded, short and faint, then died away never to be heard again, for the tannoy system broke down almost immediately.”

“We rapidly made our way to the main dining room, where we had been ordered to go. Here we found many women and children barefoot and in their nightwear. We realised that we were two decks below the fire! Things now became chaotic. People were milling round the dining hall. Fire hoses appeared in the corridor which were so entangled they reminded me of spaghetti. Water was everywhere except coming from the hoses. Many people were crying – elderly people were wearing life-jackets but had no idea how to do them up and the tapes were hanging loose. I spent some time tying them up properly. When my husband could stand it no longer, he had an argument with an officer who was still directing people downstairs into the already overcrowded dining room. He argued that if there was a bad fire, everybody would be trapped below. The officer gave in and we all started for our life-boat stations. Half-way up the stairs we received a counter-order sent by the Captain to return to the dining room. People were now becoming really distressed.”

“Finally we received the order to make our way to our boat stations. In an attempt to reach the lifeboats, members of the crew were hacking with firemen’s axes at supposedly moveable partitions. These partitions were stuck fast with either paint or varnish.”

“We were not able to get into our lifeboat, which incidently tipped up [due to painted up ropes] and never reached the water. We went to the next lifeboat in which there were already about 40 people. The officer was about to cast off. After another argument my husband managed to get us aboard together with a further half dozen. This lifeboat had a capacity of 85 persons and so approximately 30 more lives could have been saved if it had been correctly filled. The next day we counted only 26 aboard another lifeboat.”

“Although the lifeboat wasn’t full to capacity it hadn’t been loaded properly and I spent the night sitting on a tiny space of about ten inches, while my husband stood, as there was no room for him to sit. Gradually the water started to rise in the bottom of the boat.”

The water had risen to knee depth by the time my grandfather and another man, both ex-navy men, spotted ship signals in the dark, about half an hour away. The Salta eventually rescued them, hampered by the swell. After a tumbler of Cognac and a sweet black coffee my grandmother was given a berth in the crew’s quarters.

“I found the corridor filled with women and children. A lady to whom I had previously no more than nodded the time of day recognised me and cuddled me like a long lost relation. Folk who seemed like strangers a few short days ago, now felt like family.”

Last night (19th December) was the night the Lakonia sailed, today was the first day at sea.

Don’t Stop the Music on Newsround

I loved Newsround as a kid. And now after all these years a bit of me gets on it – in the form of Don’t Stop the Music, the multiplatform project I’ve been working on all summer with pianist James Rhodes and Jamie Oliver’s production company, Fresh One.

Over 7,000 instruments were collected in the Don’t Stop the Music Instrument Amnesty thanks to the huge generosity of the British public and their care about music education. That makes it the biggest UK instrument amnesty ever.

Here’s the Newsround item which shows the last step in the journey as the instruments reach the kids…

Screen Shot BBC Newsround

Freudian slit

Image

An amusing iTunes listing from BBC Radio 4 In Our Time thanks to an unfortunate character limit

%d bloggers like this: