Wednesday 26 April 2017

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to the Father of Recycled Waste, Jon Vogler

Many young people living in today cannot remember a time when household waste wasn't recycled and it has become an accepted feature of everyday life in Britain, yet go back 30 years and it was only Kirklees Council, which sorted household waste material and Jon, who has died at the age of 77, was the 35 year old engineer in charge of that operation and for that reason deserves the title of 'Father of Recycling' in Britain.

He was born Jonathan Anthony Vogler in Hackney, North-East London in March 1939, just before the outbreak of the Second World War, the son of his Catholic mother, Thérèse and Jewish father, Sydney, who was a public health inspector. at the age of 10 gained a state scholarship ton attend the pestigious independent school for boys, Haberdasher Askes. For future reference, it was when he was in his mid teens that he later recalled a conversation with an aunt who "was a painter who took up sculpture.  I asked her what art was about and she showed me a picture of Van Gogh's 'Chair' and said : "That is the essence of a chair." "

Having left school at the age of 18 in 1957 he took himself down to the West Country and Bristol University to study as an undergraduate for a BSc degree in Aeronautical Engineering and having met an undergraduate studying medicine called Jillian Hughes, he recalled that, she, "the girl I was in love with was not very interested in wind tunnels and supersonic aerodynamics but was very willing to go and look at art with me. We went to a talk about Picasso's Guernica in Bristol Art Gallery.  This evidently worked, because she became my wife and we have been visiting art galleries together ever since. However, I was certain I had no ability as an artist myself." Philosophically, he drew a distinction in his mind between the creativity involved in 'art' and that of engineering which was different "in that all your choices are rational; either you calculate or else you draw on your past experience."

The Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) was founded in 1958 and Jon was one of its first volunteers assigned to help to finish building the Bernard Mizeki School in Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, which opened as an independent boarding school for boys in 1961. He then taught in the school and returned to Britain the following year to take up an industrial fellowship with 'English Electric' and married Jill, now a qualified doctor, in 1962.

In 1966 he moved with Jill to Nigeria, where he was resident engineer on the Kainji Dam on the River Niger and later recalled : "I was site engineer on the main turbines for the Niger Dam. To stop the River Niger in its tracks, and walk on the river bed where nobody had ever walked before, was an extraordinary experience." They returned to Britain the following year and in 1971 settled in Roundhay. a suburb of Leeds, West Yorkshire.

In 1974 Jon used his skills as an engineer to set up Britain's first large-scale recycling system at a time when it was virtually unknown and designed the 'Wastesaver' household scheme in West Yorkshire for Oxfam. His innovative 'dumpy' device, made of metal tubing, held four different coloured bags into which households sorted their waste and with the co-operation of Kirklees Council, the sorted material was collected from 20,000 homes and taken to a disused mill in Huddersfield for recycling.

With the exception of clothes, textiles and aluminium collection, the Wastesaver scheme was discontinued four years later and Jon wrote in the Oxfam publication 'Muck and Brass' that it had been 'an interesting experiment in waste recycling. It has proved conclusively that the public will respond in a sustained fashion to a well-run recycling scheme. Yet it has clarified the underlying weakness in the British economy as an environment for domestic waste reclamation. Rising transport costs have been the major inhibiting factor, and they remain the question mark for the future.' 

In the 1980s, when he was in his forties and with his recycling reputation established, he received funding from the Commonwealth and the United Nations and undertook research into the reuse of waste materials in the Third World and set up his consultancy, 'Interwaste', aimed at 'recycling of waste in both Great Britain and developing countries.'

He was highly critical of existing government institutions and wrote in 1984 : 'The United Nations has an Environmental Programme which has, in the past, had a poor reputation for constructive activity. Its staff should abandon their comfortable offices in a lovely suburb of Nairobi and start to tackle some of these dirty, unattractive waste recovery and disposal problems. In Eastern Europe, as in much of the Third World, the need of people to obtain a livelihood will, inevitably, take priority over environmental considerations. However recycling can provide a constructive solution to both. NGOs are pointing the way; it is time for industry, municipalities, governments and international bureaucracies to follow.'

Jon was busy in Nairobi where he worked with the 'Undugu-Society of Kenya' to : 'try and provide employment for the Parking Boys : youths who normally roam the streets demanding protection money from motorists who park their cars.' This project involved recovering the scrap metal from wrecked cars, which littered the streets of the city and selling it to the local steel mills, which melted it to make reinforcing bars for the construction industry. He recorded that it : ' was technically successful with training of selected youths to dismantle wrecks, but did not proceed because the Nairobi City Council would not take the necessary legislative and administrative steps to authorise the project to deal with the huge numbers of rusting cars which disfigure their city.'

His work in a tough, poor area of downtown Kingston, Jamaica where he worked with 'Coke Methodist Church' to develop a recycling scheme to create employment for local women proved to be 'successful and enduring'. He recalled : 'They received a one week training course in identification of the main different kinds of plastics and rapidly became proficient at separating polymers, to the satisfaction of a local manufacturer of agricultural irrigation pipes.' Initially he had a problem getting sufficient supplies of waste plastic 'but contacts were made with scavengers on the local municipal garbage dump, who willingly undertook to collect plastics materials and from then on obtaining sufficient supplies proved no difficulty.' 

His attempt to replicate the successful Jamaican plastics recycling project in Nairobi, Kenya failed. Initially, all went well and 'Good progress was made in obtaining reliable supplies, training work people and negotiating lucrative sales contracts.' However, the senior project management, the Salvation Army, failed to resolve problem of the supply of electricity used to run the granulating machine and he concluded that 'The message is that single minded local management, with commitment and authority, is essential.'

In Egypt he had more success where he 'worked with Oxfam and Environmental Quality International, management consultants of Cairo, to help the Zabaline garbage collectors improve their sorting and processing techniques, add value to recyclables and sell them into better markets.' 

This involved strengthening links with the Muqattam Community and Zabaline's own local community association with Oxfam, which instead of funding individual recycling projects, enabled the association to set up a rotating fund which would make loans to its members.

The 1980s were also the time when he was prolific in print. He published 'Work from Waste' in 1981 and stated in the preface : 'This book is of no value until someone, one day, uses it and finds work and earns money when previously they were idle' and saw it become a classic text for those recycling wastes to create employment and although iy was directed at the Third World, he was conscious that it also had relevance to more advanced economies.

His 1983 'Jobs from Junk' concentrated on creating employment and tidying up derelict cars and the following year he aimed his 'Small-scale recycling of plastics' at that recycling in developing countries. He published 'Recycling for Change - a handbook for fund raising by recycling' for Christian Aid in 1985.

His 1984 publication for 'Volunteers in Technical Assistance' in Virginia : 'Understanding Scrap Metal Recycling', demonstrated his ability to put recycling in an historical and cultural context : 'The recycling of metals is probably as old as other forms of metal working, which the book of Genesis gave as the occupation of Tubal Cain, eight generations after Adam, who "made all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron." Perhaps the earliest reference is in Isaiah : "They shall beat their swords into plough shares and their spears into pruning hooks." Much of the history of the modern world has been caused by the recyclability of metals: the Spanish Conquest of Latin America in the fifteenth century was carried out because the gold and silver that had been produced from ore by the Mayas and Incas could be melted down and converted into jewelry and bullion for the King of Spain.'

1986 he published his article, 'Bottle Bank Con Trick' in the New Internationalist Magazine and began with the combative : 'How do you feel when dropping the relics of that Beaujolais in the bottle bank? Virtuous; doing your bit to conserve planet earth's dwindling resources? Wistful; surely those elegant shapes needn't be smashed? Or seething about one of the slickest con tricks for which the British public has ever fallen?' He concluded that : 'I believe bottle banks are of limited value, deceive the public and obstruct an important step towards achieving a 'non-waste' society, They contrast badly with developments in Europe and the US, and with the informal and genuinely valuable recycling carried out by millions of the very poor in the Third World.' 

It was in the mid 1980s, after ten years at the forefront of recycling, that Jon shifted his career focus shifted to computing, then cyber-security, which was then in its infancy He became a computer consultant, founded 'Active Backup Ltd' and became a prolific technology journalist with articles on hacking and child pornography on the Internet and an expert witness testifying in industrial disputes and criminal cases.

In 1994 he began his voluntary work leading working parties of the 'Friends of Roundhay Park' for which he would be awarded the British Empire Medal in 2014. The 700 acre park is a venue for rock concerts and now attracts over a million visitors each year and in 2014 Jon said : “The Royal Horticultural Society recently named Roundhay the best public park in the country which is a great source of pride. It has everything - splendid lakes, formal gardens, acres of woodland and Tropical World of course and I find the work most satisfying.”
What he didn't say was that he had been instrumental in defending the Park’s Mansion House from being converted into council offices and helped to successfully lobby for the building to be restored to its former splendour with the rear wings of the building opened after an £8m refurbishment, followed by a cafe and function rooms in 2009.

In the early years of this century and in retirement, he changed direction again and concentrated on improving his skill as an artist and recalled : "As an engineer I wanted to know how things worked and how a good machine differed from a bad one. During fifty years of looking at art I have wanted to know what made one picture, or one sculpture, better than another and, of course, how to make my own sculptures 'good'." He started as an undergraduate studying for a BA in Fine Art at Leeds Metropolitan University followed by an MA in Contemporary Art Practice at Leeds College of Art and recalled : "When I started art classes they had me drawing on a big sheet of paper on the floor with a long withy stick.  I complained "I am not in control" and all the girls in the class laughed and said "That's right!  This is art not engineering!" "

Jon was able to reflect the consistency of his approach to his work across the decades : 'There is a great similarity between making a sculpture and organising a working party and, indeed, with installing a turbine in a dam. First you have to visualise; then you plan - tools, materials, work areas, special skill requirements and, always, co-ordination with others who are involved.  Then comes the execution; the part I most enjoy, when you are in contact with the material, whether it is wax for a casting or tree poles to be cut into sections to surface a muddy path or huge cylindrical steel parts to be welded together. Each material has its own special feel, its own resistance to cutting or bending, its own surface texture that needs smoothing or grinding or just leaving as nature created it.'   

Jon emerged as a talented sculptor and letter cutter, wood and stone carver and garage-based steel welder and bronze caster. He drew portraits and figures from life, sold by commission and exhibited in his garden and elsewhere in Roundhay.

For a private client he carved 'The Hands of God' in oak which are now placed in St Edmund's Church, Roundhay along with his wooden cross with the words “Be still and know that I am God” from Psalm 46, verse 10 and installed under the East window in 2012. When asked to contribute to Easter celebrations he said : "Art seeks to visualise the unimaginable. Since the Middle Ages, the Stations of the Cross have helped believers imagine how one man confronted agony, despair and the finality of death to redeem broken humanity. I am thrilled and fearful to follow great artists who have tackled this awesome subject."

His 'Stone Nude' was carved in 2013 from a fine-grained Yorkshire sandstone and his 'Bull Dancing,' based on the practise in Ancient Crete, was inspired by Niall McGregor in the BBC Radio's 'History of the World in 100 objects.'

Jon, who died from the effects of mesothelioma, a consequence of his early career in industrial engineering, said last year : "Finally, as you get older there is the challenge to overcome the body's progressive dilapidation; to use the experience gained over a lifetime as a substitute for strength and stamina and acuteness of eyesight."

Also, last year, Jon donated his 'Arrows of Desire' "protest piece" to an exhibition at St Edmund's Curch which explored Blake's 'Jerusalem' and said : 

"I see Blake as a perpetual protester - protesting against poverty, against rationalism, against industrialisation that destroys creativity, against the exploitation of women and children and animals, against the establishment and, particularly, the Established Church."

"There is so much to protest about in our contemporary society. Yet there is also so much that is clean and beautiful and peaceful and that is what I see from my window." 

Monday 24 April 2017

Britain is no country for an old Scots tenant farmer called Bill Telfer in his battle against the Hollywood Film Industry

Jim is an 82 year sheep farmer fighting a Hollywood film industry, intent on taking the 24 hectare, Old Pentland Farm in Midlothian, just outside Edinburgh which his family have worked for a hundred years and on which Jim and his mother before him were born. It was first leased from the Gibsone family to his Grandfather in 1915. He now lives there with his wife, daughter, Mary, and Grand daughter. However, if the present owner of the land, Nick Gibsone, has his way the family won't be living there much longer because, with the backing of the approval, 'in principle', of the Scottish Government, the previous objection to the building of a film studio on the on the grounds that it would 'cause significant adverse effects on the character of the local landscape' has been overridden.

In the face of this, Bill remains adamant : “I’m not moving. No, no, no. There are other places to go for the film studio” and standing alongside him Mary has said : “We will fight it to the utmost” and take their case to the Supreme Court to thwart the proposed building of a £250 million studio. “To lose it would be devastating, hugely to ourselves but to the community – and for something that could be built elsewhere. There’s absolutely no need to be destroying prime agricultural land for this development when there are alternatives.”

Bill has turned down Nick Gibsone's offer of a £250,000 compensation package that would allow him to continue living in the farmhouse until he died and Mary put her finger on it when she said : “At the end of the day money doesn’t mean anything to Dad. He’d rather keep on farming and keep the farm for the community.”

When Jim contemplates the farm's transformation into a studio complex with six sound stages up to 70ft high, a hotel, visitor centre, film academy, workshops and a creative industries hub, he becomes understandably emotional : “I was born there. I could never come back to the place. I could never come back. I could never face the place again, I could not do it. Whenever I wake in the middle of the night I think about them. It’s in the back of my mind all the time.”

Jim's farm, close to Edinburgh, is ideally placed for studio development given the popularity of location filming in recent years and Willy Wands, Chairman of the 'Association of Film and Television Practitioners Scotland' has claimed that Scotland’s lack of a studio was “absolutely a factor” in the new Star Wars film 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' being filmed in Ireland instead of Scotland. In addition, the latest Avengers film, starring Robert Downey Jr and Scarlett Johansson, is being filmed in Edinburgh but with all the studio filming for the movie is being done in Atlanta, with pre- and post-production in the USA rather than Scotland.

It seems that Nick Gibsone's "hope" will remain unfulfilled in Jim's lifetime : “Since last June, we have asked the Telfer Family to participate with us in independent mediation so that we can discuss this proposal. Whilst we have yet to receive a response to the offer of mediation, it is our sincere hope that this is the chosen path for both parties.”

Jim has the support of Midlothian Council and the banner reading 'Save Jim’s Farm' still hangs on an outhouse where thousands gathered last year to protest against any potential eviction and is still set to hang there for some time yet. Yet Mary bore testimony to the strain from which Bill continues to suffer : “He is under huge emotional pressure. This is his life’s work, not something he can dip in and dip out of. He wants to hand the farm on to his family and hand it down through the generations. He must be crumbling inside. This is not something someone at his age should have to go through.”

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.

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 :

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

* Helped Michael practice the cruxifiction :

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

Bill would have been well satisfied by the crucifiction scene in the production :

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 :