Sunday 29 October 2017

Britain is a country which says "Farewell" to Cinematographer, Walter Lassally, who held a mirror to its face and briefly captured it on film in the 1950s and 60s

Walter who has died at the age of 90 was born in Berlin in 1926, where he recalled :

"My father was German and my mother was Polish and we lived in a flat in Berlin where my father also had an animation desk because he was in the film industry. He was trained as an engineer and he used film as an adjunct to his engineering work for studying mechanical processes and he had his own company making these films which were anything from 20 seconds to 2 hours long. It started in the silent days around about 1924/25 and went on into the sound period." 

"Around 6 or 7 or 8, I was allowed to help by cranking the handle. So that was fun and that was my first contact with the cinema, but I don't think it was that which led me to my career choices, it was rather, seeing films in the cinema and I got quite fond of going to the cinema fairly early on and I remember I had a little badge made up from a trade journal of the company UFA, 'Universal Film Aktiengesellschaft', which was the MGM of Berlin. I had a little badge made up and wore it in the playground when I went to school."

When Walter was seven in 1933 and with the coming to power of Hitler and the Nazis, his father, because he was classified as 'non-Aryan,' was debarred from his profession and his making of industrial and training films came to an end, the authorities having ascertained that there were Jewish Grandparents in the family and beyond. He later reflected : "We didn't think of ourselves as Jews. We went to a Protestant church for Easter and Christmas and we thought of ourselves as Christians but for Hitler 'Jewishness' wasn't a religion, it was a race."  In fact, having seen local Jewish shops attacked on Kristallnacht when he was 8 years old in 1934, he felt most aggrieved, that his family were being stigmatised as Jews for no good reason.

Just before the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, his parents decided to leave Germany for Britain. Young Walter was thirteen and later recalled : "We got on a train in Berlin to Ostend to catch the boat for Dover It was a train which, in theory, connected to a train to England, but in Aachen they pulled us off the train and made us wait in the waiting room while they went -through the papers - just a deliberate thing to make you miss the ferry. So we spent the night on the floor of the waiting room in Aachen, then we were put on some other train. But, with hindsight, the good thing was that, at least, we all got out alive, because I'm an only child. My father's two sisters weren't so lucky and they were definitely killed in one of the concentration camps."

"There was moment when I cried. "Oh no. I don't want to go to a country where I don't speak the language. What an I going to do about English?" And all that they said : "It's going to be alright. And of course it was alright and because I'd learnt English, by rote, in the second term of the first year in an English school, I came second in English because all the others thought : "We don't have to study that. We know it anyway."

After arrival in Britain, the family found themselves very much on their own. As Walter later said : they were "Jewish enough to be thrown out of Germany by Hitler, but we weren't quite Jewish enough to be accepted by Jewish relief organisations in England." He said : "My first memories of London are, opposite Victoria Station there's a little cinema which was showing 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,' which was banned in Germany, because Disney was a Jew. So we all went to the cinema even before we went into our hotel."

Having settled in Richmond upon Thames, South-West London, by the age of 15, he knew he wanted to be a film cameraman. For Walter, as a teenager, 'going to the pictures' was his way of consciously preparing for his career in films : "I had many happy memories of going to Odeon or Premier Cinemas in Richmond. There were three cinemas in Richmond at that time and I went two or three times a week and while the War was still on they used to flash a thing up on the screen which said 'AIR RAID WARNING.' "

On leaving school at the age of 18, in 1944, he wrote to every film studio asking for a job as a 'clapper boy.' Meanwhile, he found work at a stills studio and then as a general dogsbody with a company making 16mm documentaries and medical films. In 1946, through the intervention of his father, now, once again, working in the film industry, he was taken on as a clapper boy at Riverside Studios, working on a film called 'Dancing with Crime' in 1947, with Richard Attenborough in his first starring part.

His employment at Riverside was short-lived : "The job only lasted ten months because the studio shut down. It was one of the perennial crisis of the industry.” Back in work at a bigger Studio, he got his first big break at the age of 24 : "I was given the chance to photograph my first documentary at the very end of 1950. That was a fire prevention film called 'Every Five Minutes.' "

It was in this period, from his mid twenties to his mid thirties that Walter honed his skills as the cinematographer in the Free Cinema documentaries of the 1950s in such films as the documentary shorts : 'Sunday by the Sea' in 1951 directed by Anthony Simmons and 'Power Signal Lineman' in 1953 and 'The Pleasure Garden' also 1953 directed by James Broughton and starring Lindsay Anderson.

Lindsay Anderson and Lorenza Mazzetti now founded the 'Free Cinema Movement' with its manifesto at a Charing Cross cafe called 'The Soup Kitchen.' It was based on the premise that as filmmakers they could make a virtue of their limitations and as Lindsay put it : "with a 16mm camera, and minimal resources, and no payment for your technicians, you cannot achieve very much - in commercial terms. You cannot make a feature film and your possibilities of experiment are severely limited. But you can use your eyes and your ears. You can give indications. You can make poetry."

Walter started to work for Lindsay as the young director who was only three years older than him, on the documentary 'Thursday’s Children' in 1954 about the Royal School for the Deaf in Margate which won an Oscar for Best Documentary Short' and and also the 1955 'Foot and Mouth' short.

In 1956 he worked on 'Momma Don’t Allow', directed by Tony Richardson and Karel Reisz, also aged 30 and like him, a Jewish refugee who had come to Britain, in his case, on a 'Winton Transport' from Czechoslovakia in 1938 and filmed at Wood Green Jazz Club in North London.

The following year he worked with Tony on the another documentary short : 'The Wakefield Express.'  It was at a time when Walter was consciously learning his trade and later reflected : "In the old days I shot quite a few films on this camera alone like 'Rufuge England', 'Momma does Love', all the 16mm films in the old days were certainly shot in Bolex which limits you to 23 seconds but that's quite good discipline."

In 1957 he worked on 'Every Day Except Christmas' directed by Lindsay and based on the traders at  Covent Garden Market and the following year with Karel over six weeks in the summer he worked him on his documentary :
'We Are the Lambeth Boys'. Both films took a sympathetic approach to an aspect of working-class life largely neglected by commercial British cinema. 'Lambeth Boys' attempted to deliver a positive portrait of the lives of ordinary teenagers, far from the usual violent 'Teddy Boy' stereotype and it also developed the theme initiated by Karel and in 'Momma Don't Allow' three years earlier. In his article on the film in 'Sight and Sound', sociologist Richard Hoggart talked of it as a 'film essay' rather than a documentary, because, as he claimed :
'it sets out to show, not the whole truth, but some aspects of the truth, wholly' and from that perspective, the film succeeded in embodying 'the strength and variety of these young people's vitality, their lively, tolerant and complex sense of community.'

'Lambeth Boys' won the 'Grand Prix' at the Tours Short Film Festival in France and represented Britain at the Venice film Festival, by that time, 1960, Karel had moved on to direct his first feature, 'Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.' It was in the following year that Walter started the first of his collaborations with Tony, as his Director of Photography. He didn't know it at the time, but he would look back on "the very brief period when I worked for Tony Richardson for Woodfall, I remember with affection. It was very productive, but it only lasted eighteen months. That produced three films, 'A Taste Of Honey', 'Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner' and 'Tom Jones'."

As a signed up member of the Free Cinema Movement and in the case of the first two films, Walter was "very conscious of the fact that in Daddy's Cinema, the British Cinema of the 1950s, working class characters didn't appear except as minor characters. There were very few working scenes and working class characters tended to be caricatures, like Bryan Forbes' many appearances as cabin boy and below deck characters in naval movies. So "yes," we were very much concerned with putting the reality of Britain on the screen and a considerable degree of cross-fertilisation between documentaries and features."

He recalled : "It was my idea, which came directly out of my experience on documentaries immediately prior to that on the Free Cinema documentaries, to shoot the film in three different film stocks, the idea was that one could give a location a certain look, not only by the lighting and the art direction and the dressing of the location, but also, by the choice of the film stock. So the early locations in the early part of 'A Taste of Honey' which were meant to look particularly gritty and the outdoor locations were in a more 'normal' and then there was an 'intermediate' film stock, which we used for the later locations and that was the revolutionary thing to do. Everybody advised me not to do it because in those days to use anything, but the Plus X was considered not the thing to do on a feature - might be OK on a documentary, or on a newsreel, but to use a grainy film stock for its grain that was a completely new concept."

Working on 'A Taste of Honey' he recalled : "That's probably the only time I've lit a scene using sand, because to get the silhouette of Rita leaning against the railway arch, to emphasise the fact that she's pregnant, only the top part of her body was against the land. The land was black with coal dust, so I had a lot of whiter sand put down so as to get the complete silhouette of her against a lighter background."

He also recalled : "In the flat where Dora Bryan lived with Rita Tushingham, which was supposed to be a bit of a slum, we had rather dreary wallpaper and we used this very grainy stock. We had in the bedroom one light reflecting off the ceiling in one place and another little light, a flat-fronted photoflood was used in reflected light mode. All the scenes in that flat, both the day scenes and the night scenes, are shot at a very low light level indeed."

For the next in the trio, 'The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner' in 1962, he recalled : "Each of Tom Courtnay's runs has a special character, there are three or four of them, if you count the final race  and one of them takes place at dawn and it was actually filmed at dawn and and there's a scene on Blackheath,somewhere around there, where the sun is just rising and in the top right hand corner of the picture is the crescent moon or the setting moon and some critic wrote something like : 'What consultation of ephemerides there must have been to capture that precious moment,' which only goes to show that critics don't know a great deal about how movies are made."

With the exuberant 'Tom Jones' the same year, based on Henry Fielding’s picaresque novel and starring Albert Finney in the title role, Walter matched technically everything that Tony achieved artistically. “We didn’t want to make Tom Jones look like a Hollywood epic” he recalled, “so we agreed to incorporate the style of A Taste of Honey.” With staging, costumes and locations impeccably in period, Walter again applied state-of-the-art camera techniques, reprising the use of three hand-held cameras as well as filming overhead shots from a helicopter.

"The hunt itself was a combination of very low angle shots on a mini moke where you get the camera 2 foot or 2 foot six off the ground, which is very good. The scene where the horse bolts under Susannah York and he rescues her, that was filmed with one fixed camera on the back of this little truck and I was crouched in the front compartment in the passenger seat with another aeroflex with a long lens and it shakes an awful lot but that's fine because it goes with the scene and the moment he jumps on and they both fall on the ground it becomes steady again - Tripod - Blimp - Tripod - Dialogue. At that moment it changes. So the hunt itself is a mixture of that low little truck and helicopter work and sometimes it's so cleverly intercut you think you're running along the ground, then suddenly you're jumping over the bushes and rising into the air. That was a very effective technique and caused a lot of comment afterwards."

"The other scene that's caused the most comment afterwards is the Eating Scene which was not in the script as such. In the script it was just that they became amorous towards each other and that's really all that was written. I don't remember any dialogue being written as indeed there isn't any dialogue in the scene and Albert and Joyce Redman developed that as they went along and it was very, very effective. It was very quickly done and it was entirely in the hands of the actors. Tony just set the scene, as he often did."

Although Walter went on to make over 40 films for a number of directors between 1964 and 2001, the most important being 'Zorba the Greek' in 1964, for which he won the 'Academy Award for Best Cinematography' in 1965, he would never again do something in Britain which said something significant about Britain at that point in time and in a manner of filming which, in itself, was a reflection of the ideas behind the 1950s Free Cinema Movement to which he belonged.

He once said :

"The important thing about 'A Taste of Honey' is that it is a poetic evocation of atmosphere. It isn't just a social document and therein lies its value : in the combination of the themes and the treatment."

Sunday 22 October 2017

Britain is a country with a Health Authority called Medway where old men no longer lanquish longer than necessary in hospital

With winter looming and health and care teams in Britain faced with the usual prospect of old men and women being left stranded on hospital wards because of the lack of provision when they are discharged, there is one area where their prospect is much brighter : the Medway Towns in North Kent. Here, the Medway Foundation NHS Trust has shown what can be achieved with the right mindset.

Working in partnership with 'Medway Clinical Commissioning Group', 'Medway Council' and 'Medway Community Healthcare,' the Trust has developed the 'Home First Initiative.' It provides support for patients who still require additional home support but, at the same time are medically fit to be discharged from hospital.

Since its introduction, 2,000 patients have been discharged under the seven-days-a-week scheme, which has four patient pathways, ranging from those needing little or no support, through to those with complex needs who may need intermediate care and may not be able to go home safely immediately. With this level of support in place, Medway has found that permanent admissions to care homes for the men and women 65 have halved since the introduction of the scheme which was implemented in April last year just a few weeks before a visit by inspectors from the Care Quality Commission. It used existing teams but removed historical 'territories' and created a single point of access for all coordination of a patient’s discharge. Under the new system patients have :

* transport arranged to their homes
* an assessment at home by an occupational therapist within two hours of leaving hospital
* a personal care plan for their therapy, goals, carer provision and any equipment they require
* if necessary, a care package which may involve 'telecare' and 'wraparound care', with people ringing to make sure medication is taken

Project lead Lisa Sladden of Medway Community Healthcare said :

"We know that most people would rather recover at home than in hospital and getting back to our lives and our routines is an essential part of that recovery. It helps us to regain independence, and allows us to receive care in a comfortable and familiar environment. 'Home First' aims to help patients do just that by working with community partners across Medway."

This is not the end of the story. Last year, before the Scheme was implemented, the number of days that patients, composing largely of elderly men and women, languished in hospital longer than was necessary was running at 774 days per month. That figure, after the implementation of the Scheme, has dropped to 475 days per month. Naturally, in an ideal world the figure would be zero, but Medway's 'Home First Initiative' has put its hospital patients way out in front in terms of speedy and supportive discharge from hospital in comparison with other parts of the country, where their counterparts continue to languish far too long in hospital beds.

Saturday 21 October 2017

Is Britain no longer a country for an old Theatre Director called Max Stafford-Clark, ousted by inappropriate behaviour ?

Max Stafford-Clark, 76, has been a leading figure in theatre since the mid-1970s. He was the artistic director of the Royal Court from 1979 until 1993, when he set up the theatre company 'Out of Joint', where, abruptly, this summer and despite his advanced years, he stepped down to 'focus on his international freelance career.' Feted at the time as one the most successful theatre directors of his generation, it has now been revealed that, in reality, he was forced out after being accused of inappropriate, sexualised behaviour.

Twenty-nine year old Gina Abolins, told the Company Board in July, that he said to her : “Back in the day, I’d have been up you like a rat up a drainpipe but now I’m a reformed character. My disability means I’m practically a virgin again.” The "disability" he referred to was to damage sustained from three strokes in 2006, which left him using a walking stick and wheelchair and impaired his eyesight.

A statement by a spokesperson for Max said that he “wholeheartedly” apologised for “any inappropriate behaviour that made some former colleagues feel uncomfortable,” adding that it was never his intention to 'bully' or 'harass.' Apparently, he had suffered from 'pseudobulbar palsy' and “occasional disinhibition” since his stroke and his "occasional loss of the ability to inhibit urges results in him displaying disinhibited and compulsive behaviour and his usual, at times provocative, behaviour being magnified, often causing inappropriate social behaviour. Whilst this is an explanation it isn’t an attempt to dismiss his behaviour and he apologises for any offence caused.”

Gina, on the other hand, said her complaint referred to a number of incidents. She said that Max had previously asked her to try on a bikini she had bought and told her she should have casual sex and tell him about it. Having joined the Company in 2016 as its Education Officer, she said that she was left embarrassed and shocked after his "rat up a drainpipe" comment which subsequently prompted her complaint. “I didn’t know what to say and I felt really victimised actually. That was him exerting his power over me in a crude manner. I felt really bullied and objectified. To me, it felt that he was saying, "I’m going to tell you exactly what I would have done to you and there is nothing you can do about it". ”

Now, almost inevitably, other women have stepped forward to be heard. Twenty-five year old Steffi Holtz, who worked as his personal assistant in 2016, said he asked her about losing her virginity several times and told the 'Guardian' the Director had a reputation for always being “outrageous”, which allowed him to get away with making inappropriate comments. Like Gina, Steffi said Max had made comments about her appearance and on one occasion, as she was leaving his office, said : “You’ve got a really nice arse,” as he tapped her on her bottom. She also said : “The worst thing he said, I was sat at his desk and he said, "If you were sat on the desk there in front of me I would eat you out." Coming from a 75-year-old man, I was in absolute shock. You feel so uncomfortable...It makes me feel so uncomfortable to even say that.”

Gina also said Max had asked her and another woman about loosing their virginity during auditions for 'Rita, Sue and Bob Too', in which two 15-year-old girls have a sexual affair with a married man. In addition, the playwright Rachel De-Lahay said she was asked this question in reference to the play on a separate occasion and had : “found herself over-talking and rambling through this story” and later said she was angry “not because he asked me but because I had answered.”

Steffi, like Gina, said she wanted to speak out to help other women with similar experiences feel that they could come forward : “One of the most important things to me in my life is being a feminist, working towards equality and allowing women the same voice as men and to not have repercussions when they use that voice.” Gina said : “We are at an important time, where people are standing up and telling their stories. If more people can find the strength to speak out, hopefully we can make a real difference.”

Max, is by no means an 'evil' man but his reputation will now, no doubt suffer, both while he is alive and after he has gone, as intimated by Antony when he considered the death of Caesar :

"The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones."

When considering the 'good' that Max has done, it is worth remembering that he was born in 1941 in Cambridge, the son of the distinguished psychiatrist David Stafford-Clark and obtained his formative attitudes towards women and society from his family, his schools at Felsted in Essex and Riverdale Country School in New York City in the 1940s and 50s and his undergraduate years at Trinity College, Dublin in the mid 1960s.

In danger of being interred within his bones is his :

* work as the young Artistic Director of the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh from 1968–70

* work as Director of the Traverse Theatre Workshop Company from 1970 to 1974

* founding of the Joint Stock Theatre Company in 1974

*  service as the longest-serving Royal Court Theatre Artistic Director from 1979 to '93

* award of the 1981 London Circle Theatre Awards (Drama Theatre Awards) for Best Director of 1980 for The Seagull.

* founding his national and international touring theatre company 'Out of Joint' in 1993

* his award the Special Award at the 2003 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards.

* commissioning and directing the first productions of leading contemporary playwrights : Sebastian Barry, Caryl Churchill, David Hare, Mark Ravenhill and Timberlake Wertenbaker.

In addition and also, in danger of being lost, are the memories of the pleasure he gave to his audiences in his productions of : 

* 2000 : 'Rita, Sue and Bob Too / A State Affair'

* 2001 : 'Feelgood' and 'Sliding'

* 2002 : 'Hinterland', 'A Laughing Matter', 'She Stoops to Conquer'

* 2003 : 'The Breath of Life', 'Duck', 'The Permanent Way'

* 2004 : 'Macbeth'

* 2005 : 'Talking to Terrorists'

* 2006 : 'O Go My Man'

* 2006 : 'The Overwhelming'

* 2007 : 'King of Hearts'

* 2008 : 'The Convict's Opera'

* 2009 : 'Dreams of Violence', 'Mixed Up North'

* 2010 : 'Andersen's English', 'The Big Fellah'

* 2011 : 'A Dish of Tea with Dr Johnson', 'Bang Bang Bang','Top Girls'

* 2012 : 'Our Country's Good'

* 2014 : 'This May Hurt A Bit', 'Pitcairn'

* 2015 : 'Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage'

“Brilliant. It wrenches the gut and makes the soul sing… Staggeringly moving”
The Times

“Riveting… A cracking, heartfelt evening”
Mail on Sunday

Time Out

Tuesday 17 October 2017

Britain is a country which has lost and says "Farewell" to its scarce 'old' campaigner for the 'Rights of the Disabled', Bert Massie

 Bert, who has died at the age of 68, once said :

“Life has been a battle. It’s frustrating, but I don’t do bitterness or hate. I have tried that and it’s exhausting. It’s shattering. I haven’t got the energy for that level of emotion. I’d rather forgive someone.”

His battle with life began shortly after he was born, Herbert William, the son of Lucy who worked in the Jacob's Biscuit Factory and Herbert Douglas Massie, a dock labourer, in the Spring of 1949, in the same Liverpool Walton Hospital, where Paul McCartney had been born seven years before. Three months later baby Bert contracted polio and he found growing up as a severely disabled kid in the 1950s and 60s working class Liverpool, that not much was expected of him : plenty of prejudice was in place and his horizons were strictly limited. As a teenager his sense of injustice was acute and by the age of 18 he had become a disability rights campaigner, a role he maintained for the rest of his life rising to the positions of Chairman of the Disability Rights Commission and a founding Commissioner of its successor, the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

He spent his first five years in Alder Hey Hospital, then the 'Children’s School of Rest and Recovery' at Sandfield Park, where he, no doubt, became estranged from Mum and Dad, since they were only allowed the statutory visit to him every other sunday.  At 11 was packed off to Sandfield Park Special School, which was residential and when asked what was the worst time in his life ? He answered : "Endless operations as a child and boarding school."

It was now that he joined what he called the 'escape committee' when, with his mates, he perfected their Colditz-style escapes from school. With them, he would freewheel down the drive into town to get sweets and and a taste of the outside world and when they were cold or tired, would allow themselves to be picked up by the local police who were sympathetic to their situation. They would then be either bought snacks, taken back to the police station for tea, or given the thrill of being driven around Liverpool in a police car and this, at a time when Z-cars was playing on tv.

His life wasn't universally bleak and as a youngster, Bert enjoyed annual visits to a summer holiday camp in the Wirral for Disabled Boys and he was aware his disability afforded certain advantages and recalled :  “With polio there were no class barriers, middle class people got it, working class people got it; journalists got it, and footballers got it. I joined the British Polio Fellowship at 11 and had my first holiday through them at 11 when my brothers and sisters hadn’t even heard of holidays. I mixed with the middle classes and at last had an aspiration for education; for the first time I was encouraged to ask ‘why don’t you ?"

With no expectations that disabled youngsters would study for 'O', let alone 'A' levels, Bert left school without any formal qualifications. He described it starkly as : "In the 1950s there was a pretty low expectation of what you could achieve in this condition and you were doing well if you were still alive at 16." His interpretation as to why he didn't succeed at school, however, was interesting  : “In those days education was fairly basic. You weren’t pushed. I used to think I left school with no qualifications because of that and that I was disabled, but then I looked at the education of my brothers and sisters and realised it was just because we were working class.”

When he was 16, in 1965, he got his first trike which would ferry him around after he had shown up at an artificial limb appliance centre at a hospital in Liverpool, where the assessor met him with an 'invalid carriage.' He recalled : "The guy who assessed me was an engineer and he said : "Sit in this, I'm going to push you and I want you to push the brake down to see if you can stop." So we did that, I stopped it and he said, "Right, you're quite capable of driving. And that's how I passed my test." He added : "I had a few go on fire on me, so you'd stop and other motorists would drag you out as the thing went up in flames."

At this time the trike was a formative influence in his life. Bert already had "a strong sense of justice and injustice. My drive came from both a personal need and an appreciation of what was wrong. I started off fighting for access to cars when I was a young man because I had been given a Niblet three-wheeler and it one had one seat. Put aside the fact that it kept breaking down, I couldn’t take my girlfriend out in it!  There was a sign on the dash which said you couldn’t take passengers.  Liverpool police ignored it but the minute you got into Lancashire, they were waiting for you. I wanted to try and get a small car and so joined the Disabled Driver’s Association when I was 19, then the National Committee, campaigning that 'the car was an extension of you.' I cut my campaigning teeth on motability issues. But it was always, as much as it was about physical access, about attitudinal barriers we face.”

After first starting work in an office as a book-keeper, he moved on to the 'Liverpool Association for the Disabled' where the Director, having been paid a visit by nuns had said : "You’re a'teaching order', you can teach Bert," which they duly did, with Bert receiving private tuition for 'O' levels at the local convent with the nuns and a medieval history course, with him handling and interpreting original documents. As a disabled teenager, in the late 1960s, it was a common occurrence that he'd "go to a restaurant and people would say : "We don’t serve wheelchairs" to which he'd reply :  "Well that’s okay, I don’t eat wheelchairs."

The convent was located on the same site as a Teacher Training College and drinking with the student teachers in the bar, Bert observed : 'They may have A levels but they don’t seem that clever.’ Having resolved to go for 'A' levels himself, he found that there was nowhere physically accessible for him, so he gave up his job and went off to a specialist college for disabled people near Mansfield and then returned to Liverpool to take a degree at Liverpool Polytechnic, followed by a postgraduate 'social work' course at Manchester. He later confessed : "I would have been a lousy social worker" and "I was supposed to talk to people about their problems but once the problem was clear I would rather help put it right. I was accused by one of my lecturers of being task-centred."

Reflecting on the 1970s he said : "At that time there were no specific social security benefits for disabled people. After much campaigning they were introduced from the 1970s onwards. 'The Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970', improved social care for disabled people and also introduced what the Blue Badge Scheme. It was the first major legislation specifically concerning disabled people since the 1940s. Although it introduced the concept of an accessible buildings in this part of the Act proved ineffective."

Having graduated, he received a phone call from the newly formed 'Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation 'in London (RADAR). It was 1977 and he was 28 years old and, as he recalled the CEO "asked me to come and work for them and it seemed a good idea to get some vocational experience." In his opinion it was the 1980s which "saw the blossoming of the disability movement and a greater determination by disabled to influence the environment in which we lived and to design the services we used." It was in 1980 that he began working on a new taxi made accessible to disabled people :

At the age of 41 he took over as the CEO of RADAR in 1990 and stayed for another ten years and recalled that the landmark : "Disability Discrimination Act 1995, came to fruition during my tenure, from a campaign we had started in 1981. We managed to get reductions in council tax for disabled people and we ran an information service which changed people’s lives." With perfect understatement he said that the campaign for the new Act : "was a tough battle, but we were backed by John Major who was Prime Minister at the time."

In 2000 Bert became Chairman of the Disability Rights Commission, which was set up to promote 'The Human and Civil Rights of Disabled People' and, in the Autumn, having been invited to give a keynote address at a major conference in Scotland had tried to board a plane to Scotland, only to be told that would not be allowed to take his seat because he was in a wheelchair. In Bert, the captain had clearly chosen the wrong passenger and within hours the story : ‘Chair of Disability Rights Commission refused access to airplane’, was bouncing its way around the world.

In 2007, Bert was a Founding Commissioner, when the Disability Rights Commission merged with other civil rights commissions to form the 'Equality and Human Rights Commission.' The following year he was appointed Commissioner for 'The Compact', which had been set up to promote better relationships between the Government, local authorities and the voluntary sector and in that position he served until 2011 and in that year said :

"Many disabled people have been invited to look to the stars, only to find the ground opening beneath them. It is clear, that without action now, the challenges of the coming years will create new patterns of inequality and disadvantage that Britain can ill-afford."

It was in 2007 that Bert received and became, 'Sir Bert', in the New Year Honours for 'Recognition of his work for Disabled People' and said: “I am delighted and while it is the nature of the honours system that awards are given to individuals, in practise the knighthood is also in recognition of the wide range of people it has been my privilege to work with, at the Disability Rights Commission and more generally in helping to bring about rights and justice for disabled people. I look forward to continuing to work with them on this vital task in the years ahead.”

When he was interviewed five years ago, Bert said : "The scale of how much there is still to do is all around us. Too many buildings remain inaccessible to people with mobility impairments. People who are deaf or blind still face communication difficulties and far too little information is available in suitable formats for people with learning disabilities. People with mental health issues receive inadequate support. The rate of unemployment amongst disabled people has increased since 2007."

He made the point that : "Although equality legislation and practise has a role, it is perhaps not a significant as the role of human rights. We should be pressing for all disability services to be based on Human Rights Principles. This would, of course, also apply to any public services that disabled people use such as health and social care."

Seven years ago, Bert described himself as :

"An ageing disability activist who fears that the equality successes of the past might be undermined in the future, thus placing disabled people at a further disadvantage."

When asked the question : "If you could give your younger self, advice, what would it be?" He replied :

"Choose battles carefully, plan strategies diligently and pursue them fearlessly and relentlessly. Never underestimate your opponents. Learn their strengths and how you can overcome them."

What better epitaph for an 'Ageing Disability Activist ?

A final word from Bert, speaking as a patron of  'Disability and Deaf Arts' at its launch in 2012 :