Archive for the ‘hampstead’ Tag

Things That Are No More #2: I’m Walking Backwards for Christmas – and forever

This is Michael Dickinson (filmed by me in April 2018) not far from Spike Milligan’s stomping ground. Sadly he passed away recently. He was a much-loved presence in East Finchley as well as other parts of London such as Camden Town. He came to East Finchley to visit the Phoenix Cinema (which BTW is about to re-open) among other things.

Michael was an actor, writer and campaigner. He suffered from a psychological condition called ‘retropulsion’, a compulsion to walk backwards, which is a symptom of Parkinsonism. He died from Peritonitis on 2nd July in his bedsit in Highgate, aged 70.

Michael was born in Yorkshire. He lived all around Camden Town in the 70s and 80s, then mov­ed to Istanbul. After 30 years living in Turkey and working as a teacher, he was deported back to Britain in 2013 after being arrested for exhib­iting a collage portraying President Erdogan as a dog collecting a rosette from George Bush.

He studied at Manchester School of Theatre in 1969. Michael acted and wrote for the Pentameters Theatre (which BTW urgently needs support to survive and has a crowdfunder on the go to that end) above the Three Horseshoes pub on Heath Street, Hampstead where he was considered a talented actor. His final play was about Keats whose manor included Heath Street. Léonie Scott-Matthews, who has run Pentameters for over five decades, witnessed when the condition kicked in: “I remember when he started walking backwards. He was in a play here. He got off the stage and just started walking back­wards. It was just after he had got back from Turkey.”

In a 2017 interview in the Camden New Journal Michael said: “I am not acting. If it wasn’t for the retropulsion, I would much prefer to be walking forwards.”

For some time he lived in a tent on Hampstead Heath. Other times his home was a cardboard box behind Sainsbury in Camden Town and various squats including Hampstead Police Station (also on Heath Street). Eventually he got more regular accommodation. 

The Erdogan episode took on international proportions. Michael arrived at the appeal hearing bearing a similar collage with Erdogan’s face on a dog’s body. During the shenanigans Charles Thomson, co-founder of the pro-figurative Stuckist group of artists,  wrote to the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to encourage the “strongest condem­nation of this prosecution”.  Thomson said: “The story got international media attention because they were trying to get into the EU at that time. I think without it he would have got a stiff jail sentence.” He described Michael’s art as “exquisitely wrought political collages”. Relating it to the movement he founded he said: “Stuckism is for individuals who feel marginalised and not prepared to kow-tow to the establishment. They are not afraid to be them­selves and often they pay the price for that.”

Besides plays, as a writer michael wrote dozens of articles, mainly published on Counter­punch. His output included various essays about his life.

Michael’s life is a perfect example of the richness of stories that can underlie people in our communities we are perhaps dismissive of or put in a judgmental box. Another such example from my own childhood community was Dr Stephan Hassan, known as the Edgware Walker. When I started working at Channel 4 the filmmaker-comedian Lee Kern (Co-producer of Who Is America? with Sacha Baron Cohen) gave me a copy of the film he had just finished (2003) as a tribute to a forwards runner, as mysterious as Michael Dickinson.

Lee’s affectionate film, The Edgware Walker, was first broadcast in 2004 (Channel 4). Its core message is that is is important to engage with such people where we live, including asking them questions as you would your friends and neighbours. 

Things That Are No More No. 1

VE Day 75 – The Walk

flags VE day 75th 2020 london

Beginning of my VE day walk – a lone hint of celebration on our street – East Finchley, London N2

st pancras and islington cemetery commonwealth war graves

Coronavirus has stopped normal access to the commonwealth war graves in St Pancras & Islington cemetery

the commonwealth war graves in St Pancras & Islington cemetery

The commonwealth war graves in St Pancras & Islington cemetery earlier in the lockdown (before they closed the cemeteries)

naked lady henlys corner statue war memorial

I’m sitting just beneath Emile Guillaume’s La Délivrance known locally as The Naked Lady – it’s a WW1 memorial but it is opposite the flat where my great-uncle Bruno lived, a concentration camp survivor & refugee from Leipzig Germany, so its WW2 victory for me

children holocaust memorial henlys corner

Flowers for children VE Day 75, Henly’s Corner

clock tower war memorial golders green

The clock tower memorial to WW1 & WW2 at Golders Green with its distinctive blue

keith douglas poetry golders hill

WW2 poetry Keith Douglas in flower garden at Golders Hill – wisteria no hysteria, stiff upper lip

Comment: unicornsalmost

‪This Sunday, on @bbcradio3 : Unicorns, Almost – a play about the life and poetry of Keith Douglas https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000j2bn‬

hampstead war memorial

Hampstead war memorial to both world wars – a few hundred yards from where I was born, overlooking all of London

location Allied brad pitt hampstead

Film location of ‘Allied’ movie with Brad Pitt & Marion Cotillard set during WW2

Film location of 'Allied'

Film location of ‘Allied’

I met a family sitting out on their front steps down the road from here, told them what I was doing and they pointed me to…

nicholas winton s house willow road hampstead

Nicholas Winton saved 669 Jewish children from the Nazis when based in this house in Hampstead

liam gallagher RAF roundel

Liam Gallagher‘s RAF roundel window at his old place in Hampstead

lee miller roland penrose house downshire hill hampstead

Photographer Lee Miller‘s house Hampstead – she photographed WW2 for Vogue magazine including the liberation of Dachau & Hitler’s bathtub in Munich

hampstead heath pond

My dad remembered vividly a doodlebug V1 exploding in the corner of this pond near his childhood home – I never walk by without thinking of him Hampstead Heath, VE day 75

george orwell house hampstead parliament hill

George Orwell‘s house – his wife Eileen O’Shaughnessy worked at the Ministry of Information during WW2 (in the censorship department) in Senate House, University of London & he famously used it as the model for the Ministry of Truth in 1984 – Orwell was in the Home Guard & broadcast for the BBC

ve day walk montage

That’s the VE day 75 walk done – 9 hours, 24,600 steps, good fun

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