Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to the scarce old Father of 'Landscape Theatre' and creator of 'WildWorks', Bill Mitchell

Bill, theatre director/designer, who has died at the age of 65, recalled in 2012 that : "The name 'landscape theatre' came out of almost a joke" when he was "outside directing a piece on a cliff" and one of the participants appeared dragging "stones on a piece of corrugated iron right across this landscape on the coast of Cornwall and somebody said : "What d'you call this work ?" To which he replied : "Landscape theatre" and "it stuck."

At the same time he said of the company he had created seven years before : "The major thing that makes 'Wildworks' different is going outside. It's finding real places. I find that profoundly exciting. To find a real site that gives you all sorts of resonances. It gives you real history.but we don't tend to worry about that too much - you're trying to find the 'genius loci', the spirit of that place and that's what we delve in and that, I think, makes us different to an awful lot of other companies."

A post Second World War baby boomer, Bill was born into a working class family in Erith, Kent in 1951, the son of Ethel, a cleaner and John, an engineer. A bright lad, he passed his 11+ exam in 1961 and secured a place at Dartford Grammar School for Boys where Mick Jagger had been a pupil a few years before and where Bill he showed early promise in Art. Having left school he took a foundation course at Medway School of Art and went on to the theatre design course at Wimbledon School of Art, London.

Bill entered the world of professional theatre at the age of 24 in 1975 and served his apprenticeship acting as a freelance designer on a succession of theatre companies which included the Royal National Theatre, Donmar Theatre, Lyric Theatre Hammersmith and The Shaman Company in Budapest. Then, at the age of 36, he became a member of the 'Kneehigh Theatre Company' based in Cornwall and then their Artistic Director from 1995 until 2005.

In addition to his theatre-based projects like the Donmar Warehouse production,'The King of Prussia' in the 1996, he also worked with Sue Hill on site outdoors, where they were influenced by the work of 'Footsbarn Theatre' and 'Welfare State International.' They both felt that Kneehigh was pulling in two different directions, one based in studios and theatres and the other in the landscape and at this point he and Sue formed their own company,'WildWorks,'

Their first performance was a co-production with 'Kneehigh', 'A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings,' adapted from a short story by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It was based on the story of the arrival of an ambiguous angel-like figure in the small fishing village of Maha-Le and showed how the small community respond to both his presence and the changes that followed as the figure attracted outside interest and visits by pilgrims with the money they brought having a dramatic effect upon the previously close-nit and simple community.
Initially produced at Hayle in Cornwall it travelled to Malta and Cyprus where in 2004 Bill was given permission by the UN to put on a show in a derelict taverna which had been closed due to earlier sniper fire on the 'Green Line Buffer Zone' separating north and south. Actors and audiences from either side of the line came together for performances that ended with the image of an angel flying over the divided island.

By this time his company's methodology was in place as elucidated by Bill : "WildWorks stories are always developed in the same way. First of all you find a site and you just go to the site all the time. You attend to the site and the site starts to speak to you. It starts to tell you what the dynamics are. You then start to talk to people who around, worked there, lived there and they then start to give you another dimension. They start to tell you things about the place they live and then you realise, you find the passion of those people and you find the connection with the place and those people and they are telling you more than memories. They're telling you their values - the things that are important to them and if you attend to that you can make a piece of work." 

It goes without saying that, from the start, Bill was insistent upon the importance of working with local people : "I hate the idea that we will be parachuting in and doing a show on landing on people in a really clumsy way and it always takes time for us to meet people to allow those people to introduce us to other people. To gain that trust that we can do the work. That's why partners are really important to us. It's not something we can do on our own."

In 2006 and for the next two years he undertook his first independent production, 'Souterrain' which was inspired by the grief Bill and his partner, Sue, felt when her parents died within a month of each other and drawing on the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, was a meditation on letting go. Bill said at the time : "The theme of Orpheus has always interested me but I know I will need to visit, explore, talk, listen and generally feel this project before choosing a particular direction for the story." In the event, he visited and explored Stanmer Park, Brighton, La Citadelle, Amiens, 'The Minories and Keddy’s Department Store', Colchester, The Grove School, Hastings, La Chartreuse des Dames, Gosnay and finally Dolcoath Mine, Cornwall.

In the course of this he talked and listened to hundreds of people and 'Souterrain' performed for thousands and on its journey to disparate venues, the production picked up 12,000 luggage labels on which audience members had written thoughts. In addition, in each case actors, musicians and visual artists worked with a range of local artists and community groups in each location to devise and develop the performance in each site.

In 2009. he created 'The Beautiful Journey' which was performed in Devonport, Dockyard, Plymouth and Wallsend Newcastle. The story was set in the near future following an unnamed global catastrophe when sea levels have risen to such an extent that the entire community is squeezed on to a small area – perhaps the only dry land left and survive by devising new ways of propagation, working in harmony and entertaining each other and by telling stories of their history. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tK6xg0vQrIo&t=0m50s

Part of Bill's philosophy had been : "We tell stories and help people to remember their own stories. Our stories and our memories are what make us human. We mustn't lose them." That being the case the memories of Plymouth and Tyneside residents played a big role in his ambitious outdoor performances in the Dockyard and on the banks of the River Tyne. In both former shipbuilding communities Bill heard about how people felt about the decline of the industry. It wasn't difficult here, for him, to fulfil his aim of : "What we try to do is over a period of time get to the heart of a community. We try and get some sense of what their memories and values are and invite them into the show in some way."

In Tyneside he looked to recruit beekeepers, hairdressers, singers and boat builders to help with the production and said : "We don't put them on the spot, we don't get them to act, but they are performing. We can build their skills into the show and that becomes part of the performance."
More specifically : "We talked to one couple about their relationship to the sea and the man who was in the Merchant Navy said  "I love it, it's everything to me." His wife said : "I hate it, I'm jealous of it." And that's absolutely right in the centre of the show. There will be a man making a boat and he makes one every day but at the end of the day, because he's very attached to his woman, he cuts the boat free again and he doesn't go. When you hear those things they haunt you and then you can start making a piece of work."

In the making Bill said : "We don't give people lines to learn - we give them a structure to learn. It's the structure we're looking for now " and just weeks before the production he reflected :  "We've been planning this show for two years and we're performing it in just over a month. At the moment, we still don't know where it's going. But we thrive on uncertainty. It's all about holding your nerve. The longer things remain fluid, the more interesting the outcome."

In Devonport working with the constraints of the high-security environment of the Dockyard was a challenge :  putting in a power socket required 42 days' notice and health and safety requirements meant everything had to be negotiated - including the show's finale, which involved the launching of a boat built with the help of local people and ex-shipyard workers. Bill commented wryly : "Sometimes the navy seems quite frightened of the sea."

In 2011 he produced his masterpiece 'The Passion' in Port Talbot, South Wales, 2011 in collaboration with Michael Sheen and National Theatre Wales. It involved over a thousand people in its creation with an estimated 22,000 people attending over a three-day period and staged across the beach, steelworks and the town itself.

In the process Bill :
* Accompanied Michael when they reconnoitred the streets and shopping centre :

* Introduced the soldiers in the cast to their guns : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lq2bsO_TtUE&t=17m42s

* With Michael, put groups together on the beach a few days before production :

* Helped Michael practice the cruxifiction : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lq2bsO_TtUE&t=45m21s

* Accompanied Michael in the final talk to the cast before production :

Bill would have been well satisfied by the crucifiction scene in the production : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=99b9C4POEIk&t=53m14s

Michael said after his performance : "It will undoubtedly be the most significant thing in my career, I know that, but also, the most significant thing in my life probably, in terms of what I learnt about what’s possible – not just possible within theatre, but possible in terms of community when people are brought together and feel enabled and empowered and able to tell their stories."

Bill himself declared that working on the production and with Michael had been the highlight of his career : "We had to do a lot of work contacting all the participants and building a team but he was able to help with that very simply and we were given a lot of people to work with. And this really – I really enjoy this process and I really enjoy telling this story."

In 2012 he approached his London-based, 'Babel', which was performed around a Victorian clock tower opened by Prince Albert in 1855 with his usual blend of enthusiasm and optimism : "The major thing was we knew the Babel story was people gathering, people coming together as many different groups and individuals would come together to a place what that place was becomes the really important thing. So here we had a really good explore and the major thing we found not only an iconic and wonderful tower and you think, 'OK we need to do something with that. That's handy - Babel.' The woods around it are magnificent in terms of story telling. When you're in the woods you can't see the tower. So you can take the audience through one experience, then gradually you come into this other world ."

His  collaboration with 'The Lost Gardens of Heligan' culminated in a one day event on Sunday 3 August 2014 entitled '100 : The Day Our World Changed' which remembered the local men who went to fight in the Great War and the 53 who died and the stories of the people they left behind. Bill put the call out : "We need people to be stewards, to perform, sing in the chorus of 100 voices, people who can sew and help make the costumes and uniforms, even someone with drill sergeant experience, Basically, if you'd like to be involved we'll find something for you to do."
The performance started at Mevagissey Quay, when three red-sailed luggers approached the harbour as the town crier summoned local men to depart. The audience then met the main characters in the drama – the local squire, one of his gardeners Jack, and May, his love and followed the men of the Royal Naval Reserve as they marched off to war, accompanied by St Austell Town Band, as they had done 100 years ago. Later they enjoyed Edwardian fun and games at the Gardens and had a chance to hear the stories of its gardeners who joined up. Bill said : "Theatrically, what I am playing with is life in 2014 at Heligan with 'time slips' back to 1914 and glimpses of war in France" and "Fundamentally it revolves around two characters who are 'walking out together'. He signs up for war and she doesn't know. It's a very human and archetypal story of what happened to a lot of people."
In 2015 he created 'Wolf's Child' which had its genesis in 2012 : "I was invited by My Gilinskiy (Norfolk & Norwich Festival Artistic Director), to come along and make a piece here that involved local population and at that point we had a conversation : "I want to do something in the woods." So three years later we're on and we're now making the piece. We're sharing the piece to the public for the very first time around Felbrigg Hall. The journey, I think about a mile and a half, the journey that the audience are on. So the story wraps us all the way round, from outside the Hall - civilisation and then when we plunge into the woods. With our work I probably have to spend two or three visits just understanding how the route might work and then you start honing down very particular parts of the story and matching it to places in the woods. So the wood has been our inspiration really."

Donald Hutera writing in 'The Times' described it as a 'howlingly good outdoor fairytale' a show which was 'mischievous, moving and, at its best, utterly magical. Wolf’s Child is a generous and engaging act of theatrical imagination that plumbs some wrenching emotional depths.'

This year WildWorks had returned to Cornwall after and absence of ten years and this Spring, Bill had continued to work with his theatre company until his last days and had been responsible for the vision behind this summer's production of Wolf's Child at the Trelowarren Estate.

Bill once said :
“They say we all die twice. The first time when our body dies and the second time when people stop saying our names and stop telling the stories of the things we did in our lives.” 

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Britain is finally a country for and says "Sorry" to old, gay campaigner called George Montague

George is 93 years old, yet back in 1974, when he was 50, he gained a criminal conviction for an an 'act of gross indecency' with another man in a public toilet in Slough. In the last two years George has not been trying to clear his name, but elicit from the Government an apology for the fact that he was criminalised in the first place.

In 1967 in Britain, the 'Sexual Offences Act', decriminalised homosexual acts in England Wales performed in private between two men, both of whom had attained the age of 21. Apart from that exception, the 1956 Anti-Homosexual Laws still applied, with sex between men illegal in all other circumstances. In fact, immediately after decriminalisation there was a big crackdown on gay men involved in 'age of consent violations', cruising and meeting in public places and sexual acts in public toilets and parks and contrary to expectations, convictions for these forms of consenting homosexual behaviour soared.

The number of men found guilty of the gay offence of 'gross indecency', which stood at 420 in 1966, had more than trebled by 1971. It wasn't what the reformers had intended and got worse. Following the moral panic over AIDS, convictions for this offence rose to 1,503 in 1989, compared to only 890 in 1954 at the height of the anti-gay witch-hunts when homosexuality was still totally illegal.

It was against this background that George who was born back in 1924 and after service in the Armed Forces in the Second World War, found himself in his twenties, living in the small village of Hitcham, Buckinghamshire, where he ran an engineering business employing 40 people. He became a scout commissioner and, in his own words "a pillar of the community."

George married and raised a family and in 1974, when he was 50, he went to Slough for the day because : "There was no one else of my persuasion in Hitcham, so I used to go looking for company. There was no internet or gay scene and hardly any bars, so we used to gravitate to 'cottages', or public toilets." George found "the place was empty but for one man in a cubicle" and "went into the adjoining cubicle and locked the door. There was a hole in the wall between" them "a sure sign it was a gay haunt."

George "had a glance through" and finding the man was much older than him "blocked up the hole and waited for him to go, but instead he pushed the paper out and attempted to put his penis through. At that moment there was a scuffling outside and a police officer craned over the top of the door. I was doing nothing; I hadn’t invited any contact from the other man, but the timing was awful. We were both arrested and taken to the police station."

When he was questioned by the police they produced a 'queer list' with his name on it : "They made it their business to find out the name of anyone locally who was gay. They’d do it by arresting a young gay boy and threatening him until he gave them as many names as possible. I was charged with gross indecency and sent for trial. I employed a solicitor and counsel, which cost a lot of money and pleaded not guilty."

George said that subsequently : "The man in the adjoining cubicle to me pleaded guilty, which, I suppose, he was. That was also all over the papers – that he was a married man with children. The disgrace for many men was terrible" but "there was no story about me, despite me being found guilty." He "had a few contacts on the local paper because of my community work, and they were kind. There was suspicion in the scout movement, though, which made me angry and upset. I know the word “paedophile” was used, and that was humiliating. I resigned, which hurt a great deal."

He "was fearful it would come out, though. My wife knew I was gay when she married me – she was a wonderfully supportive woman – but no one else knew: not friends, not my children. I took it in my stride. I came to terms with it and had several relationships subsequently."

Today, George lives in Brighton with his long-term partner of 20 years and back in 2015 he said he was "very angry about what happened to me. I served my country during the Second World War. I don’t want a pardon because I’m not guilty. I’m angry with the Government and the entire establishment throughout the 20th century. They need to apologise to the gay community on behalf of their predecessors and the police need to apologise for the way they enforced the law. There are many men out there with this stigma hanging around their neck."

At the age of 93, he appeared on the BBC's 'Newsnight' Programme last November when he was reacting to the news that the Government was to grant a pardon to gay men like himself who were convicted of sexual offences where the act in question is no longer illegal today. His reaction was : "If I get the apology I don't need a pardon. I don't mind in the least. It's just I want an apology. Not only me. There's apparently, still 11.000 older men like me still alive. My great friend Lord Edward Montague, take him. He served a year in prison and I said to him one day "Come on, surely, you deserve an apology" and he said, like other contemporaries who speak to me when I talk to them : "Oh George, let it lie." Well, I'm not going to."

And he didn't. He organised a petition on his behalf and personally presented to the Prime Minister, Theresa May's residence along with his letter :

'Dear Prime Minister,

In 1974, as a Senior Commissioner in the Boy Scout Association, running camps for severely physically disabled boys from six southern counties in the UK, I was forced to resign. As a consequence of the Gross Indecency Law, I was arrested and charged enthusiastically by homophobic police, assisted by provocateurs and informers. If one was born only able to be “in love” with another man, one was automatically presumed guilty.
I, and 49,000 others, still have criminal convictions. I am therefore partitioning for an apology from this government on the part of their predecessors. Some of those past legislators are still alive, often asleep in the House of Lords on £300 per day, many of them refusing to accept the fact that being homosexual is NOT a choice. I agree that any indecency of a sexual nature IN PUBLIC should still be an offence but our “offences” were often “committed” in private. We don’t seek pardons, for that admits guilt (eg; Alan Turing), we believe that these convictions should be quashed.
PLEASE Madam Prime Minister, may we have an apology before I die?

George Montague, aged 93 and author of “The Oldest Gay in the Village” '


Last night on 'Newsnight' George was interviewed by Emily Maitlis and proudly read the reply he had received from a senior official in the Home Office, on behalf of the Government :

'Dear Mr Montague,

Thank you for your letter of the first of November to the Prime Minister about past convictions incurred by gay men, to which I have been asked to respond to your request of an apology from the Government on behalf of its predecessors. Many more lived in fear of being criminalised because they were being treated in a very different way from heterosexual couples. Actually, understand, that we offer this full apology : Their treatment was unfair. What happened to these men is a matter of the greatest regret to all of us. I'm sure that, for the Members across the House, we are, so deeply sorry.
I hope this addresses the concerns you have raised.
Yours sincerely,
John Woodstock

George said, describing his emotion on receiving the letter : "I cannot describe my delight when I opened it. I couldn't believe. I'd hoped we'd get something, but I never thought we'd get such a detailed letter of apology. Wonderful."

He did, however, add the caveat : "The only thing I'm a little bit concerned about, the whole thing is to me personally. Now, there's 16 - 17,000 other men, many of them did nothing, but they were persecuted by the police and ended up with convictions, some of whom committed suicide. Now, OK, we can't apologise to them but give them at least a postumous apology. Going back to Oscar Wilde, he served in prison for two years. He'd never received any kind of apology."

Alan Turing, the genius who was a wartime codebreaker, was granted a posthumous pardon by the Queen in 2013, for his criminal conviction for homosexuality, bearing in mind that he committed suicide in 1954 after his 'chemical castration.' George argued for similar apologies to his friend the late Lord Edward Montague along with the west country landowner Michael Pitt-Rivers and Peter Wildeblood, the Anglo-Canadian journalist, novelist, playwright and gay rights campaigner, who all served time in prison.

George is still inspired by the lessons he learned as a poor boy living with his family in a tied cottage in the 1920s, without either bathroom or toilet, on a large estate with a big house owned by Colonel Handbury in Buckinghamshire where his ex-policeman father was a gardener and his mother, the laundress. It was here that he dug up weeds with the other children to earn some pocket money and :

'It made our fingers sore, but I think it taught me a lesson that would be with me all of my life : if something needs to be done, then best get on and do it.'

George on BBC Radio 4 'The World At One' today : http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04zrt2x

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to actor, Tim Piggot-Smith and film director, Christopher Morahan who gave it 'Jewel in the Crown' and more, much more

On the 7th April this week Britain, lost Tim at the age of 70 and BBC's lauded 'Jewel in the Crown.'
Christopher at the age of 87. Their paths crossed professionally in 19843when Tim, still a young actor of 33 and with what was to be a brilliant stage and film career still in front of him, played Captain Merrick and Christopher, by then, seasoned middle aged director of 54, played Lead Director in the

Tim was 10 years old when Christopher directed the first of almost sixty episodes of 'Emergency Ward 10', broadcast live in the late 1950s and in his mid teens when he turned his hand to 'Z-Cars'. Over the next 20 years he was involved in over 60 productions on stage and screen, before asking to direct 'Jewel in the Crown.' Tim, meanwhile, had made his first tv appearance at the age of 24 as Captain Harker in 'Doctor Who : The Claws of Axos' in 1971 and then appeared on stage and screen, in over 20 productions over the next ten years and as Tim Dent in 'Glittering Prizes' and Arthur Llewelyn Davies in 'The Lost Boys.'

Christopher had been familiar with the 'Raj Quartet' novels of Paul Scott because, as he recalled he had by chance : "been given the books at Christmas time. And my new in-laws were ex-India, Anna’s father had been a colonel, no he’d risen to the rank of colonel, but he’d been a captain in the lancers, in the Indian Army and I looked at the family photos and I found a vanished world" and "found them fascinating too because they had an alternative view to the received Empire view of our rule in India."

He found that, in relation to the proposed series based on the novels : "Ken Taylor had been asked to do six scripts, for Granada and somebody else had been asked to do the other six. I wrote to the producer, Irene Shubik, and said that I’d like to be the lead director. And she said "yes"". He later said that, when he went to see Les Foreman at Granada, he didn't blanch at the prospective £6.5 million budget and said : "Well, we've got to get some money."

He set to work and "did some spadework just finding out about what it was like in India. When they made 'Staying On' Silvio Narizzano had made that in India with Trevor Howard. And I did a report for them, Granada TV and the long and the short of it was they asked me to produce."

Starting in 1980, Christopher devoted the next three and a half years to the production. This involved three trips to India and commuting between Manchester, Delhi, Bombay, London and Simla. He explored dozens of locations and conducted hundreds of interviews. In 2016 he told Michael Billington : "I spent about four months, five months in India planning it, looking at locations, because we also had to make sure that we were going to be, because of the rains, the hot weather, we had to make sure were were going to a place where we knew we could film. Some of it was shot in Wales and quite a lot of the buildings were shot around Manchester, but nevertheless, it was extremely satisfactory, very exciting and I found working in India very exciting." 

In the event he directed 7 of the 14 episodes himself and demonstrated his talent to be equally suited to either command an army corps in action or to direct his actors in the most intimate scenes. He recalled : "Because we had two directors, in a way, we were able, not rest, as you might say, but nevertheless, it meant that we had time to think for ourselves."

Christopher had a formidable task in front of him and problems arose even before this first day of filming. Granada had allowed three weeks to ship over all the equipment, scenery, first aid items, lights and costumes, but problems with customs in Delhi arose when some paperwork was found to have not been filled out correctly and nine empty lorries were forced to simply sit and wait for days on end followed by four months spent shooting in India.

Return to Britain was followed by another twelve months of production before disaster struck when a fire destroyed the Botony Warehouse at the rear of Granada's studios that contained costumes, sets and props. Other delays were caused by matching up scenes shot in India with scenes shot at home, such as the scene where a character orders a cup of tea on the veranda of a house in Simla and has it served in the studio in Manchester.

Tim's role in the production was to play the complex police officer, Ronald Merrick who was using his post in India as a means to climb out of his humble middle-class origins back home who takes exception to Hari Kumar, played by Art Malik, a young Indian who had been taken to England at the age of two by his ambitious Indian father who wanted to make sure that his son would grow up to be an English gentleman, who was then shipped back to Mayapore, where he found himself an outsider, snubbed by the British rulers and despised by Indians for being too British.

Hari became involved with a British woman, Daphne Manners played by Susan Wooldridge, the niece of a military family with a respected name in India, who has the misfortune to catch the amorous attentions of Tim's sadistic police superintendent, Ronald Merrick.

Tim recalled his preparation of the role of Merrick : "We had a remarkable woman working with all of us when we rehearsed before we flew to India, a woman called Elizabeth Percy, who worked on us with 'class distinction.'  She said : "I think that people who have a very hard time in life and find it very difficult to assert themselves, have jaws that are very slightly thrust out. So can we see what happens when you do this with your face." I began to push my jaw out and it grew on my face that there was something like a bad smell and I thought, not only is this the character but it's absolutely the crux of the book. The journey that Merrick travels is to learn that those attitudes of superiority to another race and those attitudes of contempt of which Scott, the author found the British guilty, not right, and eventually Merrick is murdered because of these attitudes. That moment, when we found that thing, seemed to me to be quite astounding, becuase she had put her finger on the nub of the four books."

The series won five BAFTAS out of 10 nominations including 'Best Actor' for Tim and 'Best Actress' for Peggy Ashcroft. It also won 'Best Mini Series' at the Golden Globes and 'Best Limited Drama' at the Emmys. It stands today as an example of what could be achieved on television - but hasn't been since.

The then, 31 year old Susan Wooldridge paid tribute to Christopher at the BFI in 2016 when she said : "All I want to say is, thirty years on is thankyou for the greatest present of Daphne Manners. I couldn't have done it without you.You let me fly and kept me grounded and it was the most extraordinary career experience and you have been the gold standard by which I've judged directors since and found all of them wanting." 

She was followed by Art Malik, then also 31 who said of Christopher : "He's an extraordinary man. Anyone who's had the privilege to work with him knows that. What is extraordinary about him is that he doesn't say a lot. When I first met him to play this part, which I have to admit was around the time when people were still 'blacking up' and he was insistent that Hari would be played by somebody who was from the Subcontinent and that to me was wonderful. I was straight out of drama college, three of four years and I remember going to see him for the first time and he said : "Well, what have you been doing ?" and I said : "I've just done a play at the Young Vic. He said : "Yes, I saw that." Silence. I said : "It was a very difficult play." He said : "No, it wasn't at all." Silence. "Would you like to read something ?" "Of course." "I think you might have to come back." That was my first audition and you've given me my career. Thank you Sir. Thank you."


We are reminded that, in the production, Christopher also utilised the talents of a 39 year old Charles Dance : https://www.videodetective.com/tv/the-jewel-in-the-crown-just-a-visitor/886796
and 76 year old, award-winning, Peggy Ashcroft : https://www.videodetective.com/tv/the-jewel-in-the-crown-i-shall-not-be-changed/11591

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Should Britain be no country and Labour, no political party for an old Mayor of London called Ken Livingstone ?

In relation to our 71 year old, erstwhile Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, an article in the Guardian this week was entitled :

John's article referred to the fact that a disciplinary panel of the Labour Party has ruled he should be suspended for another year for 'bringing the party into disrepute' over his comments about antisemitism, Hitler and Zionism. A member of the Labour Party for almost 50 years, he was censured by the Party, both for suggesting that Hitler, at one point in his political career, supported 'Zionism' and for defending the Labour MP, Naz Shah, over the antisemitic Facebook post she made, for which she has apologised.

Everything hinges on the claims Ken made to reporters that the Nazis sold weapons to Zionist fighters and set up training camps to help Jews adapt to life in a different country and his contention : “So you had, right up until the start of the Second World War, real collaboration.” His comments referred to the 'Haavara Agreement', signed by the Nazi Government, that facilitated the relocation of some Jews to Palestine in 1933 and before the Third Reich began its campaign of mass persecution. Ken's claim that the Agreement had meant Hitler was supportive of a Jewish homeland has been widely disputed by historians.

In his article, John tried to redress the balance by saying of Ken : 'There was another reason so many of us were willing to overlook his dodgier statements, one that’s been forgotten over the last few years as he gradually seems to have lost the plot: he was really rather good at running London.' He then considered 'a brief selection of some of the things Livingstone did as Mayor.'

'He introduced the congestion charge, massively reducing congestion and improving travel times in Central London.'

Ken served two terms as Mayor of London from 2000 - 08, before he was defeated by Boris Johnson and introduced the congestion charge in 8 square miles of Central London in 2003 as an attempt to deter traffic and reduce congestion. As a policy, it was it was opposed by businesses, resident groups, the roads lobby and Tony Blair's Labour Government and it was widely recognised that, if the policy was abandoned, it could have led to the end of Ken's political career. In fact, the 'Political Studies Association' named him 'Politician of the Year' due to the implementation of his 'bold and imaginative' scheme which resulted in a marked reduction in traffic and, in turn, improved bus services with a 20% reduction in congestion by 2007.

'He invested heavily in the bus network.'

Although he had initially stated that he would not do so, Ken sought to phase out use of the Routemaster buses, the design for which dated to the 1950s. Although iconic, they were deemed hazardous and responsible for a high number of deaths and serious injuries as passengers climbed onto them and being 'non-wheelchair accessible' and didn't meet the requirements of the 1995 'Disability Discrimination Act'. They were replaced by a new fleet of over a hundred articulated buses, known colloquially as "bendy buses", which were launched in 2002.

'He gave us the Oyster card, the cycle hire scheme and London Overground, in which battered old national rail lines were reborn as a sort of S-Bahn.'

As a result of this, in  2007, the Government agreed to go ahead with Crossrail, a £16 billion project to construct a train line under Central London, linking Berkshire to Essex.

'He thought big, too. He was a key figure in the capital’s bid for the 2012 Olympics.'

In 2002, Ken had come out in support of a proposal for the 2012 Olympic Games to be held in London and had insisted that the Games must be held in the East End and result in an urban regeneration programme centred on the Lee Valley. During his second term, he continued his support for London's bid to host the Games and played a crucial role in securing vital Russian backing for the bid and had the satisfaction of attending the ceremony held in Singapore in which London was announced as the victor.

John, didn't, but might have mentioned Ken giving the go ahead for 15 sky scrapers to be constructed during his Mayoralty, including The Gherkin and The Shard. He considered these decisions necessary to fill the demand for office space. Being Ken., he brushed off criticism by groups and individuals, most notably Prince Charles, concerned about the preservation of historic skylines.

In addition, he pedestrianised the north side of  Trafalgar Square, transforming it into a public space with a cafe, public toilets and a lift for the disabled; introduced an annual Saint Patrick's Day Festival to celebrate the contributions of the Irish to London ; revived London's free 'Anti-Racism Music Festival', now called 'Rise : London United'; continued his support for LGBT rights and in 2001 he set up Britain's first register for same-sex couple which, while it fell short of legal marriage rights, was seen as a step towards the Civil Partnership Act in 2004.

John finished his article with :

'But, broadly, Livingstone in power showed what a leftwing mayor could do: investing in services, public events and civil rights, and the embracing the idea of the city as a place of diversity and solidarity. I defy you to watch the speech he gave after the 7/7 bombings without welling up just a little. Now he’s been suspended for bringing the Labour party into disrepute, he’s permanently trashed his own reputation. Few Londoners will be getting drunk and angry about how he’s been treated tonight. And few, I fear, will now spare a thought for all that he did for the City.'

"The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interrèd with their bones."
'Julius Caesar'

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Britain is still a country for its greatest TV April fooler, Michael Peacock, creator of the Swiss spaghetti harvest

This morning, the 1st April 2017, to mark the occasion of the 60th anniversary of BBC TV's 'Spaghetti Harvest' broadcast, which has entered the record books as the greatest broadcasting April fool of all time, the 73 year old John Humphreys interviewed 87 year old Michael Peacock.  At the time of the broadcast Michael was the 28 year old producer of the fledgling 'Panorama' programme, the Corporation's first weekly TV current affairs series. He had joined the BBC as a trainee producer in 1952, after graduating from the London School of Economics with a sociology degree. By the age of 26 he had become the producer of Panorama and under his editorship, with Richard Dimbleby as anchorman, the programme developed a high reputation and during the Suez crisis in 1956 audiences had reached 12 million viewers.

Michael told the story of the genesis of the 1957 April Fool : "We had a freelance camera man called Charles de Jaeger and he convinced David Wheeler, who was my number 2, that his idea for an April Fool's film concerned with 'the spaghetti harvest' would be a great thing to do for April's Fools of that year, He explained how he was on very good terms with a village in Switzerland where he came from and where they would be ready to put spaghetti on trees to demonstrate that it grows, not comes out of boxes. Eventually I thought : 'Well why not ? Why not ?' So I said : "I'll give you a hundred pounds. Off you go, Make the film and bring it back. There were two of things that became clear when we thought about it all. It would need the imprimatur of Richard Dimbleby's voice as an item."

David's script began with Richard's : "Spaghetti cultivation here in Switzerland is not carried out on anything like the tremendous scale of the Italian industry. Many of you. I'm sure, would have seen pictures of the spaghetti plantations in the Po Valley. It tends to be more of a family affair." 

Michael continued : "We had to keep absolutely schtum about it. It must be kept away from the Press Office, the chain of command. We didn't tell the bosses because if we had it would've been out. That's the way we saw it."

In answer John Humphrey's : "You were taking a heck of a gamble there." Michael replied : "Yes and No. There was less at stake in those days and we were competing with ITV and commercial radio, which had just come on stream and it seemed the right way to approach it. David Wheeler wrote a brilliant script which carried exactly the right flavour."

He continued : "We put it out at the end of the item. Richard looked at the camera in the eye, put his finger to his nose a couple of times. "That's Panorama for the the first of April 1957."

John remained incredulous : "Even so, Even though he gave it away, in one sense, an amazingly large number of people fell for it including, is it true, the Director General of the BBC ?" (Sir Ian Jacob)

To which Michael replied : "I certainly was told that that was the case. He is said to have spoken to his wife on the other side of the television set : "My Darling. I didn't know that spaghetti grew on trees" and she said : "Of course you didn't know, because it doesn't." So that was a wonderful catch, as it were, and all over the country that sort of uncertainty : what was true and not true ?"

Dimbleby : "Another reason why this may be a bumper year lies in the virtual disappearance of the spaghetti weevil, the tiny creature whose depredations have caused much concern in the past.

After picking, the spaghetti is laid out to dry in the warm Alpine sun. Many people are often puzzled by the fact that spaghetti is produced at such uniform length, but this is the result of many years of patient endeavour by plant breeders who've succeeded in producing the perfect spaghetti 

And now the harvest is marked by a traditional meal. Toasts to the new crop are drunk in these boccalinos and then the waiters enter bearing the ceremonial dish and it is, of course, spaghetti. Picked earlier in the day. Dried in the sun and so brought fresh from garden to table at the very peak of condition. For those who love this dish there's nothing like real home-grown spaghetti." 

John : "Well, because it was done so persuasively. There was no hint of it being a joke and it was done in the way BBC programmes were made in those days." 

Michael : "It was done in the way the old newsreels were made really. It was one of these nice ideas that worked." 

Three years after the programme went out, Michael was promoted to Editor of Television News and then in 1963, was placed in charge of the launch of the BBC 2 the following year. He served as its Controller for a year before becoming Controller of BBC 1 at the age of 36 in 1965.

In 1967 he parted company with the BBC and became the first Managing Director of London Weekend Television, which began transmissions in 1968 and then in 1971, joined Warner Bros TV Ltd as its Managing Director in London. After a couple of years in the USA he returned to Britain and developed the TV side of 'Video Arts' and also helped to found Manchester's 'Piccadilly Radio' in 1974 and was a Director until 1987. From 1989, to his retirement in 1995, he worked a Chairman of Unique Broadcasting Co.

In answer to John's question : "You don't mind, with your distinguished radio and television career behind you, you don't mind being remembered as the man who created the best April Fool's broadcasting joke of all time ?" 

Michael replied :
"I don't mind at all. Better to be remembered than forgotten."

Friday, 5 August 2016