Archive for the ‘brighton’ Tag

Looking down on Stars of Brighton by the gutter

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”

― Oscar Wilde, ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’

 

“…he happened to have a first-class ticket for Worthing in his pocket at the time. Worthing is a place in Sussex. It is a seaside resort.”

― Oscar Wilde, ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’

East of Worthing, east of Hove, at the eastern end of Brighton, just below Kemptown, sits Brighton Marina (site of ArkAngel Productions’ regional office). It was built from 1971 to 1978 and opened in 1979 with the age of Thatcherism. Rumour had it that it was some kind of scam to secure European (EEC) money.  In 1985 it was taken over by Brent Walker, nicknamed ‘Bent Walker’, a property and leisure business run by the former boxer and Soho gangster George Walker. Earlier in his career he was jailed for stealing nylon stockings in Victoria Docks, London.  

Among the shops Walker established in the Marina is a rather incongruous Walk of Fame, a set of stars built into the pavement Hollywood-style. I’ve walked over them often over the years, frequently asking myself the question what have they got to do with Brighton? Like Kevin Rowland of Dexy’s Midnight Runners – he’s a Brummy as far as I know (Wolverhampton?), of Irish descent (Co. Mayo) and he has lived in London a fair bit, but what’s Brighton got to do with him?

Young soul rebel in 1980 (front left)

Whilst tramping over them during the summer I decided to use the stars as the basis of an occasional series on Simple Pleasures Part 4, of which this is the introduction.

So Brighton Marina’s Walk of Fame is the first such one in the UK. It was the brainchild of David Courtney, a Brighton-born songwriter/music producer who had an internationally successful partnership with Leo Sayer in the 70s which brought him to L.A., spiritual home of Walks of Fame. That prompted him to bring the concept back to his home town and to the Marina his uncle, Henry Cohen, helped conceive and realise.

So the first star in this series, given the business of ArkAngel Productions, will be Ray Brooks.

Ray Brooks is the voice of Mr Benn, the sober suited businessman from Festive Road who made regular visits on the sly to a certain dressing up shop. There The Shopkeeper offered him outfits to try on and when he went into the changing room there his magical adventures began. From knight in armour to cowboy, he lived a more colourful, adventurous life for a brief while until the Shopkeeper fetched him back to the changing room. The character was conceived by David McKee originally for children’s books but became the star of a much-loved BBC animated series in 1971/72 (the year the Marina was born).

I worked with Ray Brooks only once – he did the voice-over for a film I directed for Barnardos about whistleblowing, ‘Sounding the Alarm‘. 

His Brighton connection is simple: he was born there just before the Second World War. His career as an actor started in ‘Coronation Street’ in the early 60s. A breakthrough came in 1965 when he joined Michael Crawford and Rita Tushingham in Richard Lester’s comedy ‘The Knack …and how to get it’ which won the Palme d’Or in Cannes that year. 

Interlude: Coincidence No. 266

That’s the second time ‘The Knack’ has come up in the last couple of days. Someone in my circle posted a picture of the LP sleeve of the soundtrack by John Barry because they’d dusted it off and were giving it a Lockdown2 listen.

The following year Ray appeared in the landmark ‘Cathy Come Home’. Throughout the 60s he got parts in cult classics from ‘The Avengers’ and ‘Danger Man’ through to ‘Dr Who’. 

He was the voice of the storyteller in ‘Jackanory’ throughout the 70s. At the turn of the millennium he starred in ‘Two Thousand Acres of Sky’ with Paul Kaye and did a spell in ‘Eastenders’ in the mid-noughties. 

He lives in London but still goes to Brighton to write. He clearly remains attached to the place as his final blog post (17th March 2019) ends with a reference to it as the place he’d go to get rid of his ego:

But what could I expect.? The old ego was popping up again. I’ll put it into a box and chuck [it] off the Brighton Pier I’m sure David Attenborough  wouldn’t complain ‘cos fish with egos wouldn’t eat plastic bags any more they’d be too full of themselves.

Jane Birkin (uncredited) & Ray Brooks in ‘The Knack …and How To Get It ‘ (1965)

Jane Birkin was married to John Barry, composer on ‘The Knack …and How To Get It ‘ before moving on to hook up with Serge Gainsbourg at the end of the decade. This is a CD cover my old friend Marcelino Truong drew and designed for Gainsbourg. Marcelino has stayed at ArkAngel South-East in Brighton Marina.

Gainsbourg ‎– Mon Légionnaire (1988) by Marcelino Truong

Coincidences No.s 208, 209 and 210 – Sussex

Coincidence No. 208 – Kemptown

I’m sitting at this café in Kemptown, Brighton when I hear a familiar voice. I look round and the face is familiar too. I ask this young woman: “Excuse me but do you have some kind of clothes business in Camden Town? were are you in a film a while ago? “ At first Camden Town doesn’t ring much of a bell with her and I say sorry my mistake. Then she suddenly realises that she took premises temporarily in Camden Town sometime ago and that she is the woman I’m thinking of. She was in a documentary I commissioned a couple of years ago about psychedelics. I know her voice and face not from any direct contact but because I heard and saw her over and over in the editing process.

I didn’t even know she had anything to do with Brighton and associated her with Camden Town and somewhere up north where her accent comes from. 

Mind-Explorers-Poster real stories little dot studios documentary

Coincidence No. 209 – Saltdean & Lewes

My old friend N comes to visit me in Brighton. First thing in the morning I take him to Saltdean for a swim (which is something of an adventure as he hasn’t swum in UK waters for over two decades, he prefers hotter climes). As we walk to the beach we pass the Lido (opened by Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) in 1938). “What does Lido actually mean?” asks N (i.e. specifically). “Is it always like this?” I say that I think it’s usually a 1930s large open-air pool like this, although I was taken to Ruislip Lido as a child and that, from memory, was more of a lake.

a public open-air swimming pool or bathing beach 

At N’s request we go to Lewes in the afternoon in search of a second-hand bookshop. We go to the excellent Bow Windows in the high street. We browse, masked up, in the stifling heatwave heat. I examine a Graham Greene novel, one of the first books I lift from the shelf (are you allowed to actually lift books in the Covid era?). It is The Comedians (1966) set in Haiti. The hotel in the story is called Hotel Lido.

I speak to Enfant Terrible No. 2 in the evening. I ask what he’s been doing with his day in this heat. He has been down to Crouch End Lido he informs me, which is full of “old people” (i.e. 30 plus) doing lanes and, post-Lockdown, none of the young yahoos that used to be there seem to have registered the reopening, all of which pleases him.

Coincidence No. 209b – Saltdean & London

Walking beside Saltdean Lido to the beach I notice the name of the makers of the old pale blue iron railings sloping down to the pedestrian tunnel: J. Every, Lewes

At the spot where I normally park in front of our house in London N2 is a metal plate by the drain. It is made by J. Every, Lewes. The drain itself is made by J. Gibb & Co. Ltd., London. Why did London Borough of Barnet go all the way to Lewes for its drain stuff?

Coincidence No. 210 – Rottingdean

I am starting to read the new novel by Ali Smith, Summer. It just came out a few days ago and I have read and enjoyed Spring and Autumn (the latter for our book group which is where I first came across her). I read these sentences: 

She already knows she is never going to have children. Why would you bring a child into a catastrophe? It would be like giving birth to a child in a prison cell. 

This last sentence reminds me of a programme I heard a few days before on BBC Radio 4 about women giving birth in prison. I remember that I was approaching the traffic lights in Rottingdean when I was listening to it. Rottingdean is the village beside where I now live much of the time in Brighton.

Then comes the next sentence which I have not yet read or glimpsed:

And Brighton’s a good place, one of the best in the country for green things, the only place in the whole of the UK with a green MP

I had no idea the novel was set in Brighton until that moment. This sentence is the first reference to it.

Violet Vixen

My latest Real Stories Original commission to go live is Violet Vixen. In the wake of the documentary‘s launch, its protagonist, Leo Noakes aka Violet Vixen, appeared this week on ‘Loose Women’ (ITV). I went to the live studio transmission at the BBC Studios at Television Centre, Shepherd’s Bush with the director, Leanne Rogers. Leo did a good job in a high pressure situation, wittily taking up Stacey Solomon’s  offer to have him become her make-up artist.

violet vixen poster real stories original documentary

Leo is an articulate, sassy, amazingly mature 11 year old boy who loves doing make-up, dressing up and playing with his identity. He doesn’t want to be a girl but he does want the liberty to do ‘girlish’ things and above all to be who he is.

“I love dressing up. I don’t particularly see the clothes and make-up I wear as belonging to girls, or even to boys. I hate the fact that society labels stuff.” says Leo.

His mother surprises him with a trip to Brighton to meet his hero, drag artist Courtney Act, who Leo first came across on US reality TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race. The contrast between conventional Corby where his home is and progressive Brighton blows his young mind.

Leo runs a very successful Instagram channel, overseen by his mother, Lauren. She has to protect him from trolls but by and large people are positive about his alter ego, Violet Vixen. He uses his social media channels to spread the age-old message: Be true to who you are!

Leo’s know-how about make-up is particularly striking. He taught himself as Lauren is not really into cosmetics or clothes. He has ambitions to move to the USA and become a TV drag artist. But above all he wants the freedom to be himself.

courtney act tweet about leo violet vixen

Courtney Act aka Shane Gilberto Jenek, winner of Celebrity Big Brother 2018, was delightful in his interactions with Leo and proved a huge inspiration.

Courtney Act drag queen

Courtney Act

One of my favourite aspects of the film is the way Leo cannot compute that a place like Brighton (where he meets Courtney) actually exists – a place where he wouldn’t stand out for being who he is.

courtney act leo noakes violet vixen

Courtney, Leo, mum & friend

courtney act leo noakes violet vixen

leo noakes violet vixen brighton

Art Deco Sussex

Bexhill-on-Sea to Brighton, east to west 23.vii.18

De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex - interior staircase

De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex

De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex - exterior seaside

De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex - exterior staircase

De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex - interior staircase

De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex - interior staircase

De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex - exterior artist painter

De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex - exterior staircase landside

Staircase, landside

De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex - interior staircase landside

De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex - exterior

De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex - exterior staircase

58 South Cliff, Bexhill

58 South Cliff, Bexhill

58 South Cliff, Bexhill

58 South Cliff, Bexhill

The Sandcastle, Pevensey, East Sussex art deco house

The Sandcastle, Pevensey, East Sussex

The Sandcastle, Pevensey, East Sussex art deco house

from the beach

The Sandcastle, Pevensey, East Sussex art deco house

The Sandcastle, Pevensey, East Sussex art deco house

The Sandcastle, Pevensey, East Sussex art deco house

The Sandcastle, Pevensey, East Sussex art deco house

The Sandcastle, Pevensey, East Sussex art deco house

Embassy Court Brighton flats apartments

Embassy Court, Brighton

 

Fits & Starts (Phase 2: Weeks 9, 10, 11)

Lying on the couch in Brighton, balcony doors open, ‘Crescent’ (John Coltrane) playing, Enfant Terrible No. 1 doing his revision at the table, spirit of my dad floating around and seagulls making those seagull noises outside over the water – and I’m feeling pretty fine. Just finished the first full draft of the Littlewood/Theatre chapter. The two of us drove down last night to get a couple of days’ quiet and get some hours in.

We had our lunch break just before down in Rottingdean – a Ploughman’s lunch each in the sun (god knows what the ploughmen ate) and then a walk down to the beach for some chat and stone throwing.

The last three weeks have been bitty but at least progress is still being made.

I hooked up with a couple of writers this week to glean some know-how and advice both around the practice and motivation of writing and the business of publishing. The first of them has a string of factual books to his name, including one really big hit. We did beer and chat, sharing our mutual Hibernophilia, and he gave me a copy of one of his books about Ireland. The second is about to have his first novel published and is just completing his second. He used to work as a TV journalist/presenter and is revelling in his new-found life as a full-time writer. We did blood-orange juice in the sunlit bar of Soho House, welcoming in the Easter holidays. Both encounters were very encouraging and inspiring.

Meanwhile ‘When Sparks Fly’ went in to a Penguin group publisher on Monday and the wait begins…

Last week I got to write some of it in the pleasant surroundings of Juan Les Pins. I was there for the TV market MIP and came home after work to a gueridon (round metal table – that Modern Languages degree comes into useful occasionally, not least for the title of the book which comes from Breton’s first Surrealist Manifesto), a spacious balcony, palm trees framed in the view – a pretty nice place to write.

As is this…

20140417-173214.jpg

Brighton Beach Memoirs (Day 74)

Brighton beach England

By Day 74 there’s a danger of hitting More of the Same – most of my time today was spent working on the Terri Hooley part of the Music chapter. (BTW I’m writing this on the bus into Belfast to meet Terri at Good Vibrations).

I trained it to Brighton for the AGM of Culture24, of which I’m a trustee.

Brighton sea front England

First port of call Breakfast at Tiffanys caff in the Laines for a meeting about a creative enterprise that’s spun out of all this time reflecting on Creativity, with two collaborators of long standing, originally met through the means of personal networks. I chose the venue based on a Sign from beyond (that image of Audrey Hepburn from the movie – linked to my late sister-in-law Bronagh, a natural creative par excellence).

Hepburn, Audrey (Breakfast at Tiffany's)

I’m now on the couch at Good Vibrations (current incarnation on North Street, No. 11) waiting for Terri – his morning didn’t work out as planned (unexpected visitors), just as it should be.

Back in Brighton, second port of call Brighton Books on Kensington Gardens where I picked up that excellent book on Ginsberg, Pater Familias, at the outset of all this. This time got a copy of Debbie Curtis’s memoirs (wife of Ian, singer of Joy Division). In the back of it is a list of all Joy Division’s gigs. Yesterday I found my ticket for the one and only gig where I saw them, tucked into a Buzzcocks CD, which is who they were supporting at The Lyceum. The ticket had no year but combined with the book I should be able to confirm it (think it was ’79). I also picked up a Greil Marcus book which Jon King (Gang of Four) mentioned the other day – it was clearly waiting for me. It connects to the other previously mentioned spin-off music project. It turned out this copy belonged to the shop assistant who was very knowledgable on post-punk. I assured him I’d be giving his old tome a good new home.

Port of call three, a Red Injun jewellery shop where, as I picked up a little Crimbo something for the Mrs, Down by the Sally Gardens came on their sound system just as I lifted a particular piece, which I also saw as a Sign.

Port of call four, the beach between the piers where I whipped out the ol’ Mac Air en pleine air and tapped away, sipping fish soup from the Mills’ little ol’ shop.

As the rain started to penetrate the seafront shelter I’d retreated to from the brick wall on the beach when clouds threatened, I retired to a coffee shop for more tapping and thence to Culture24. There are now two publishers among my fellow trustees so good advice/contacts were received as the three of us travelled back to London together.

Train of Thought (Day 9)

john-coltrane-blue-train

It wasn’t looking too good. I had to start the day writing a script for a Channel 4 project because it fell between the stools of the TV indie and the digital indie, neither felt comfortable doing it so I had to get hands-on. Then my mum dropped by as it was our wedding anniversary as well as one of the Enfant Terribles birthday, so she came bearing cards. Next my brother shows up for similar reasons. At which point I have to leave for Brighton to do a little turn at Culture24’s Let’s Get Real conference on arts and digital, something I committed to before knowing I’d be on sabbatical. So far, so no work done.

I get on the train to Brighton. Hedge my bets a bit by broaching some more research – focusing on The Beatle’s Apple corporation through Denis O’Dell’s memoir, At the Apple’s Core. Then brace myself and dive in. Back in to Chapter One, integrating the last batch of notes that went in, ploughing through paragraph by paragraph and getting up some sort of flow.

A brief interlude in Brighton where I nabbed a Farley’s Rusks Shakeaway; bought an illustrated, beautifully bound Folio edition of Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience (from the aforementioned Brighton Books – they still had a 1968 first American edition of Jane Fletcher’s book on Ginsberg left over from my last visit in the summer); had a brief chat with my pal Anthony (Lilley) of Magic Lantern;  did the gig at The Dome Studio; and headed for home.

The choo choo rhythm was just as conducive to writing on the way back so all-in-all it ended as a satisfying day.

freight-train-blues-bob-orsillo
(photo courtesy of Bob Orsillo http://www.orsillo.com)

Postscript

Today’s wisdom from the posting mechanism of WordPress to prove it’s not just me that feels the daunt:

“The scariest moment is always just before you start.”
Stephen King

I don’t think he only meant writing the very first words – he may well also mean each time you come back to it

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