Archive for the ‘friends’ Tag

In memory of Gary

This time yesterday I went to the funeral of my old friend Gary Watson. This could be him…

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…but actually it’s not. This could be him…

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…but actually it’s not. But it is in essence – sharp dresser, a bit of a geezer, totally committed to music, tall, swept back black hair, a wild side – these are him.

My favourite memory of him is at a party at a squat where he was living in Stamford Hill. I got there early evening and not much was ready – it was the end of a fine summer’s day and so a barbecue was in prospect. But the transformation was nigh on miraculous. First the speakers went out into the garden to get the groove going. Then the couch and all the living room furniture was taken outdoors. Next Gary and John Hand between them built a whole set of tables in a horseshoe around the garden – from scratch, off-cut timber. As they went about their work little heads started to appear over the fences and in the windows of the surrounding houses which were mostly home to orthodox Jews. Who are these strange men with their hucking and knucking and their music, living life to a different beat? Every kid in the neighbourhood started to come out of the woodwork. The tables and temporary furniture were constructed so swiftly and a fire lit with typical Irish efficiency (John using tried&tested techniques from Athlone of rolling and folding newspaper to help get the flames established) that there was plenty of time for artist and set constructor/designer John to also construct wooden sculptures on the trees to complete the outdoor decor. In under an hour an entire outside room was created for the evening’s shenanigans. As the sun set dozens of little bright eyes looked on with amazement and pleasure.

I got quite fucked up that night. In a good way. Didn’t sleep a wink. Had to go see my dad in Brighton the next day, when one of my favourite photographs of myself was taken. I’m standing by the breakwater wall of Brighton Marina with my dad, leaning on the concrete in a nonchalant way in a lilac jumper and tan austen boots. He’s beside me looking pretty relaxed. Little does he know how fucked up I am inside but a broad smile belies that. And I was happy thanks in large degree to Gary’s party.

I have only one thing connected to Gary – a beautiful thing. It’s a second-hand Frank Sinatra record he bought me – a propos of nothing I think. Not only had he clearly chosen the music with care (60s bossa nova Sinatra which I like for its cool stylish swing) but he’d decorated the cover with great care with a collage centred on the word “Incognita” from an old map. ‘Terra Incognita’ is ‘unknown territory’ in the world of cartography. And that’s where Gary is now.

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The last time I listened to this record (before using it to herald the funeral yesterday) was the last time I saw Gary, when he came round to our place for dinner. Una and I had been out for a walk along the canal near Clapton and I’d parked at Watermint Quay, HQ for the best of our partying in our late 20s with a Hibernocentric crowd of friends. It was through John’s sister that Gary came into our lives. As we walked from the car down to the canal past the door behind which all those parties took place the door swung open to reveal Gary. We promised to pull by for a cuppa on returning from our walk and then invited him over that same Christmastime evening to join our dinner with friends. A lot of talk was talked, a lot of drink was drunk, Frank sang and it was a fine night to go out on as things transpired.

At the funeral yesterday one of Gary’s brothers sang one of Gary’s songs – beautifully, full of the kind of feeling you can only get on such an occasion. And a recording of Gary singing was also played – he had real talent, even more obvious now. The event was enriched with a variety of stories about Gary’s generosity and kindness, things even his parents didn’t know about because he was quiet and no-nonsense in his giving. The single mum’s house he did up across the road at his own expense and effort. The Rolex he gave away to a waiter just because it made the man so happy. The muslim co-worker he joined on fast for Ramadan for 28 days as soon as he became aware of the rules (no tea etc.). But the story I liked most was Gary lying in the middle of a long straight road in the middle of nowhere in the north of Scotland as his pal sped by on his huge motorbike just feet away at 100 mph so Gary could experience the Doppler effect in a big way. So Gary. Risk life&limb for a good sound effect.

We finished the funeral day yesterday at a concert by Wynton Marsalis’s jazz big band, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, at the Barbican. The encore turned out to be an old-style New Orleans funeral march. Meant to be. Music, soulful, sharp suits – very Gazza.

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25 today

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I can’t let today pass without marking the 25th birthday of Channel 4 which was at 4.45pm this afternoon. Ironically at that time I was entering the BBC (at Bvsh House), albeit with Camilla Deakin of Lupus Films, custodian of Channel 4 animation and a former Commissioning Editor herself in the Arts department. We were meeting Philip Dodd, formerly of the ICA, Sight & Sound and now of Made in China, to talk about exporting British animation to China and a possible broadband animation channel to launch next year – animation being a great example of where the Channel has lead from the front, all the way to the Oscars. So broadband video and China – very now&next.

Also very now is me sitting here watching the Big Fat Anniversary Quiz and writing a blog simultaneously – so 2007. MC Jimmy Carr was in the Channel 4 caff earlier today when I got into work. Coming into 124 Horseferry Road past the Big 4 this morning I couldn’t help but feel a little quiver of pride&joy. Who’d have thought that that day quarter of a century ago when I watched a bloke called Gavin (or was Gavin the actor and Paul or somebody the character?) opening his bedroom curtains to reveal Brookside Close for the very first time that one day I’d be beavering away for the nascent Channel.

That winter I left for a year to live in Chambery in France (Savoie) before going to university – my first time living away from home. To stay in touch with things back in Blighty I had a lively correspondence throughout 2003 with my lovely friend Katherine (now herself abroad long term in Aspen) about Gavin, his missus Petra, Bobby and Sheila, etc. I just got back on Monday from a visit to Paris to my other great mate Marcelino Truong who I first met that winter in Chambery – he was just about to pack up teaching and become a comic book illustrator. So 2002/3 was a very big year in my life as well as for British broadcasting.

That same first night the film ‘Walter‘ was broadcast starring Ian McKellen. That too came to have a personal connection. While I was at college I met a visiting fellow called David Rudkin (Artemis 81, December Bride), an accomplished screenwriter and Hitchcock expert. He brought to the university for a speaking event Alistair Reid (Tales of the City, Traffik – both for C4), original director of ‘Morse’, who showed his home video of the making of the series, an inspiring presentation and one of many things which lead me to leaving university with no more precise an idea that that I wanted to work with moving pictures. David also introduced me to ‘Walter’ producer Nigel Evans and his business partner Simon Mellor who gave me my first job in the biz – a holiday job as a runner at his company AKA in Farringdon Road (now the Guardian Newsroom annex where last year, 20 years on, I found myself presenting my commission Breaking the News).

Jools Holland has just popped up to ask a question on the Big Fat Quiz about the Tube. The AKA experience helped me land my first proper job at Solus Enterprises, the co-operative of Jack Hazan & David Mingay (makers of British cinema verite landmarks like ‘A Bigger Splash‘ and ‘Rude Boy‘ with The Clash), Roger Deakins (Sid & Nancy, Shawshank Redemption, O Brother Where art Thou?, etc.) and Dick Pope (Secrets & Lies, Vera Drake). The cutting room upstairs at 35 Marshall Street was usually occupied by promo director Tim Pope and editor Pete Goddard. In there was made the series Groovy Fellas for Channel 4, commissioned by Seamus Cassidy. The title graphics were deliberately difficult to read and looked as much like Groovy Fuckers as Groovy Fellas, derived from Jools’s legendary Freudian slit of the tongue. The graphics, from memory, were designed by Andy who used to do all The Cure’s covers. Alongside Jools, it starred Roland Rivron as an alien who dapper Jools was guiding around contemporary Britain. These days Roland and I cross paths in the local schoolyard rather than the cutting room.

My path also crossed Channel 4 in the next phase of my career in another edit suite – that of the very talented Jan Hallett, the Harrymeister with the legendary ‘trouser tape’. Jan is married to Niamh Byrne who has been doing Presentation at Channel 4 for a dog’s age, one of the longest serving staff members. Jan did all the graphics for Chris Morris’s shows (Channel 4’s ‘Brass Eye’ and the fabulous ‘Day Today’). The ‘Day Today’ gig landed partly because it was done out of IDF (later Jump Design, the graphics outfit which emerged from ITN under the direction of the one&only Richard Norley, who had designed the titles for Channel 4 News). We worked out of the Quantel edit suites of ITN in the downtime between the end of Channel 4 News and the start of Big Breakfast News at dawn. Fueled by adrenaline, beer and curry they were golden days which landed us the Grand Award at the New York International Film & Television Festival and a bunch of other gongs from around the world. And the over-night working combined with inability to sleep in the daytime, frankly, was better than drugs.

So, like the Northern Line, the Channel has been a thread through my life from way back when. Since I started working at C4 early in 2003 my personal favourites include DV8’s ‘Cost of Living’, ‘Shameless’ and ‘Jump Britain’.

So we’re in an ad break now. The ads? Apple iPhone. Nintendo DS. What a different world the Channel’s in 25 years on. A huge challenge. Huge opportunities. The important thing is to stay in touch with our values – well expressed, in the Mark Thompson regime under which I started, as: Do It First, Make Trouble, Inspire Change. And also to have a vision going forward as bold as our heritage – one which refreshes and redefines the broad social purpose of the organisation within UK society on a grand scale, as public service media moves into the digital age.

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