Archive for the ‘britz’ Tag

Life afta Bafta

Bitter Lemon

I think it was Sartre who said: “You’ve got to be philosophical about it.” Well, I was trying my best last night at the TV BAFTAs after Big Art Mob lost out to Spooks in the Interactivity category. I tried to put on my least bitter look, so more mandarin than lemon but not really peachy.

That said, I had an enjoyable enough evening. Besides my co-nominees (Alfie Dennen of Moblog and Clifford Singer of Edition, who showed an admirably rigid upper lip) at my table was the dapper Peter Kosminsky, writer and director of Britz (for Channel 4), which caused the biggest upset of the night by stealing the Drama Serial category from hot favourite Cranford. He gave a lovely acceptance speech acknowledging his late father, an aspiring writer who never achieved recognition. Accompanying Peter was his wife Helen who works for Artichoke, the outfit behind The Sultan’s Elephant – which I had the great pleasure of stumbling on by accident as I left a meeting at the ICA, one of those unexpected pleasures which make life worth living.

The two leads from Britz were also at our table, Riz Ahmed and Manjinder Virk, the former filling us in on his non-acting activities as Riz MC – I’ve just downloaded a track (The Post 9/11 Blues) and it’s a jolly little choon with a nice twist of politics. Talking of twist, he told an illuminating story about coming back from the Berlin film festival (where Britz won the Silver Bear) and being detained and roughed up by British immigration when he reacted with incredulity to their bizarre full-on questioning as he arrived home-sour-home.

Among our number was also a trio of filmfolk – David Aukin, formerly head of FilmFour (in the Trainspotting era) who told us a bit about his new movie that kicked off production yesterday starring the marvelous William Hurt (The Big Chill, Altered States, Smoke); Rebecca O’Brien, Ken Loach’s long-time producer; and Kierston Wareing, up for best actress for It’s a Free World (not bitter either), who was sitting on the other side of a large clump of decorative foliage from me so never had the pleasure of engaging with her beyond admiring her LBD+ (second only to Joanna Lumley’s flowing tangerine Grecian number).

Otherwise caught up with Ben Miller (of Miller and Armstrong) who co-wrote MindGym with Tim Wright and me. The best thing about working with him was that he insisted on performing the stuff he wrote before he would hand it over. He was also being philosophical about things having lost out in the Comedy category to C4′s Phonejacker.

Another philosopher was Matthew MacFadyen who, having missed out on Best Actor (in his role in Secret Life) to Andrew Garfield (Boy A), confirmed it’s all a pile of crap (the classic default position until you triumph), backed up by his Mrs Keeley Hawes who confirmed it’s all down to who’s in the room the day they do the judging (the back-up default position).

Other highlights of the evening included having a piss beside the Top Gear boyz Richard Hammond and James May which impressed the Enfants Terribles no-end (they’re Dave addicts); getting picked up from my gaff by a chauffeur-driven posh Audi (driven by an off-duty road cop from Northampton) – I took as long as I could decently do getting from the front door to the car for maximum neighbour-exposure; meeting various Skinsfolk including Tony and the late Chris; and spotting a psycho-stalker-autographhunter (complete with two cameras round his neck, the cover of an Emmerdale video among his equipment, and seriously deranged teeth) as we went into the Grosvenor bash, who, together with the red carpet experience before the Palladium show, made you happy not to live the celeb life-style and truly content with the Simple Pleasures.

We got the Jazz

Lafayette Flying Corps

The other afternoon I had a fabulous chat over tea with director/writer Peter Kosminsky (Britz, The Government Inspector, Warriors) about a forthcoming scriptwriting project of his. It was refreshing for me because the conversation centred on stories which is not usually the focus of much of my work in the Factual arena. Stories are so fundamental to human culture and I came across the beginnings of a fascinating one today.

Like my earlier post Je suis un chef noir – Heart of Darkness, it’s a story involving France and Africa (in this case, indirectly through Afro-America) and racism (in this case, the prejudice of America not of France).

The protagonist is Eugene Bullard. The entry point is the Paris jazz scene between the wars.

The scene was based in the seedy quarter of Montmartre. Bullard, a black American born in Georgia or Mississippi [depending on what you read] in 1894, was programming Zelli’s Club, one of the key clubs in the area (set up in 1919 or 1922 [depending on what you read] by Joe Zelli, a London restauranteur or an Italian-American [depending on what you read] – guess he could have been both, a restaurant and club which dominated the scene til the 30s. The walls were decorated with movie star caricatures which were later emulated at Sardi’s in New York which is where I’m writing this post [in the city not the restaurant, that is]. I came across this story whilst reading about purposeless wandering around cities and today in my purposeless wandering around Gotham I found myself under the red awning of the Village Vanguard where, for example, John Coltrane played in 1961 – the year Bullard died in this same city. So all the skeins of this narrative have been weaving themselves together all day.) Bullard went on to own another hot jazz club, Le Grand Duc. Zelli’s, with its underground dance hall, was less upmarket than the Duc and regularly raided by les flics.

Back as a child in the deep South, Bullard had had explained to him by his father: “in France there are not different white churches and black churches, or white schools and black schools, or white graveyards and black graveyards”. His mother was a Creek Indian which makes the decoration of the biplane, above, all the more resonant.

When he was ten, Bullard stowed away on a ship and made first for Berlin or Scotland [depending on what you read], then London (where he was a boxer and music hall performer), reaching Paris in 1913. When the Great War erupted the following year, Bullard joined the French Foreign Legion. He won the Croix de Guerre for his role at the crucial battle of Verdun. He went on to join the Lafayette Flying Corps, a volunteer squadron who fought for France before America entered the war (the outfit to which the plane above belonged). He flew 20 missions and downed two enemy planes. So he was the very first African-American military pilot. His nickname was Black Swallow of Death. When the USA did enter the conflict in 1917, Bullard was transferred to the US Air Force and immediately grounded. He ended up back in the French infantry. He’d literally been “uppity”, thousands of feet uppity in the French skies.

Our hero died in poverty and obscurity in New York in 1961, having had a series of non-uppity jobs from perfume salesman to interpreter (for Louis Armstrong) to security guard, ending up as lift operator at the Rockefeller Centre (which I wandered past last night aimlessly).

Despite decades of obscure wandering in the aftermath of his Parisian heyday, Bullard was buried with military honours …by French Officers in the French section of the military cemetery in Flushing, Queens, New York. Two years before, the French had made him a Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur. By contrast, the Americans waited 33 years after his death and 77 years after his pioneering heroism to eventually make him a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force. Not the ending the story deserved.

eugene bullard

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