Wednesday 29 August 2018

Britain says "Farewell" to an old production designer for film called Michael Pickwoad who once gave a home to 'Withnail and I'

Michael, who has died at the age of 73, was for more than 40 years, at the heart of the British film and television industry, designing sets designed to take the viewer from palatial costume drama interiors to decrepit Cumbrian farmhouses. He will probably be best remembered for his work on 71 episodes of the long-running BBC sci-fi series, 'Doctor Who', from 2010 until 2017 :

But he will probably best loved for his work on 'Withnail and I' which starred Richard E Grant, Richard Griffiths and Paul McGann. It was this squalid 1960s tale of two out-of-work actors made when he was 43 in 1988 which sealed his reputation and earned his place in the hearts of movie- buffs.

He was born in Windsor in the Summer of 1945 at the end of the Second World War, the son of Anne Payne Cook, a theatre designer and architect and actor William Mervyn Pickwoad, who took the stage name William Mervyn. School was at first St George’s School in the grounds of Windsor Castle itself, before being packed off to the illustrious public school for boys Charterhouse in Godalming, Surrey.

By this time his father was landing bigger film parts and the 13 year old Michael, no doubt went to the cinema to see him play Colonel Buckmaster in Lewis Gilbert's 'Carve Her Name With Pride' in which Virginia McKenna played Wartime SOE agent, Violette Szabo in 1958.

Charterhouse, with its traditions dating back to 1611 and its motto 'Deo Dante Dedi' / 'With God giving, I gave', clearly made its mark on him, as it did on his contemporaries : Max Hastings, future journalist, writer and broadcaster who was in his year and Jonathan Dimbleby, tv and radio presenter and Jonathan King, pop music impresario who were both in the year above him. After leaving school at 18 in 1963, he spent the long vacation working on a cargo ship to West Africa, an experience which he said opened his eyes to “the reality of the extraordinary and the expectation of what something should look like”.

Returning to Britain he took his place studying civil engineering as an undergraduate at Southampton University and after graduation in 1966, with a keen interest in design and mechanics, coupled with his parents’ background in film and the theatre, a career in set design seemed an obvious step.

Michael's road to Withnail began when he was 25 in 1970 and employed as 'Assistant Set Dresser' on  'The Man Who Haunted Himself' starring Roger Moore and this was followed by his promotion to Art Director on 'Blinker's Spy Spotter' the following year. This was followed by work on
27 movies over the next seventeen years, including Richard Eyre's 'The Ploughman's Lunch' in 1983. His final promotion to 'Production Designer' came when he was 42 and with 'Jane and the Lost City' in 1987 and was followed by 'Withnail and I' in '88.

It was Michael's sets : the actors’ seedy London flat :

Uncle Monty’s Lakeland cottage :

and the spartan 'Crow and Crown' pub :

which have fixed the film in the popular imagination of so many ever since. In 2012 Michael said : “So many people say it is their favourite film. It’s wonderful to watch as it was so beautifully written. It was a lot of fun setting it too, especially recreating the feel of the 1960s. I enjoyed the reality and absurdity of it and finding all those wonderful items.”

“I loved Withnail’s kitchen. We found a lovely flat in Bayswater and had to knock a hole in the wall. On the day before we were supposed to start filming I sent out for a Chinese takeaway and smeared sweet and sour pork all over the plates in the sink to make it look realistic. We didn’t actually start filming until four days later, though, so when you see them pulling food out of the sink it really was as disgusting as it looked. Health and safety didn’t mean the same thing back then. It was a wonderful scene.”

Thinking back to his own 1960s Michael said : “It wasn’t inspired by my flat, but by the things I had seen.”

Paul McGann has said : "I honestly think that without the idiosyncratic genius of designer Michael Pickwoad we mightn't be talking about the picture at all today. It was his attention to detail that astonished Bruce Robinson when we first walked onto set. I remember Robinson saying to us, 'Good god, this is just how it was---he's recreated it exactly!'"

A.O.Scott's tribute to 'Withnail and I' for the New York Times in 2011 :

Monday 27 August 2018

Brexit Britain : a country for old men, not the young

The BBC recently commissioned research from Sir John Curtice, Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University to examine :

He found that if there were to be a second referendum now, an average of polls over the past three months suggests that overall, 52% would vote Remain and 48% Leave. So, it is a stable picture, albeit one that reverses the position in 2016.

What is more interesting is the sharper division which now exists between the young and the old. At the time of the Referendum just over 70% of 18 to 24-year-olds who voted in the referendum backed Remain, with just under 30% backing Leave. In contrast, only 40% of those aged 65 and over supported Remain, while 60% placed their cross against Leave.

Now a total of 82% of 18 to 24-year-olds with a voting preference say they would vote Remain in a second referendum, while only 18% of this age group say they would vote Leave. At the same time, two-thirds of those aged 65 and over would back Leave, while only one-third would favour Remain.

There are also stark divisions over the question of a second referendum. Asked whether there should be a referendum on whether to accept the terms of Britain's exit from the EU once they have been agreed ? about half of 18 to 24 year-olds say they are in favour of another poll. While only three in ten of those aged 65 and over hold that view.

However, only half of 18 to 24-year-olds said that they would be certain to vote in a second EU referendum against 84% of those aged 65 and over. Which means that if there were another ballot, it is far from certain that young people would necessarily take the opportunity to register their distinctive views.

In addition, there were also sharp divisions over :

With regard to priorities. 50% of the young thought that the main priority should be to stay in the single market and when it comes to the economy, 54% of 18 to 34-year-olds disagreed with the statement 'Britain will be economically better off post-Brexit' and half that number, 27%, thought the country would be better off.

By contrast, the old placed the biggest emphasis on the ending of the free movement of labour. In fact on the question of immigration, 61% of those aged 18 to 34 think that immigration enriches Britain's cultural life.

Friday 24 August 2018

Brexit Britain is no country for an old film and theatre director called Peter Brook

Peter, who has been based in France since the early 1970s, was born in 1925 in Chiswick, London, the second son of Ida and Simon, Jewish immigrants from Latvia. Today, at the age of 93, he is Britain's greatest living theatre director and not a happy man.

Interviewed by Stephen Smith, on the BBC's 'Newsnight' last night, Peter said :
"I think the folly, for any of us, for all any of us living in Europe and in England is Brexit. It is something so narrow-minded, this old fashion thing that, because we are an island, we mustn't have anything to do with those awful people on the Continent."

Stephen :"We're taking back control, that's the argument. We're freeing ourselves of the shackles of European regulation."

Peter : "And that is true. but the ideal. Because at the beginning, behind it, like the ideal of the United Nations, which hasn't lived up to its, but we can recognise the ideal and the ideal of Europe, bit by bit, coming together."

Peter was also interviewed for the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme today:

Martha Kearney : "You've always had an interest in theatre which crosses cultural boundaries. you have a cosmopolitan identity, you've lived in France for many years. I think I'm right in saying you kept a British passport and I wonder whether you still feel British, that you have a British identity ?"

Peter : "It's a funny thing. I have one pocket in one place and I can tap it at this moment, on the calf of my leg. It's a special pocket and, whatever the make of trouser, I always see that there is such a pocket and I keep my passport there and that is part of my flesh. It's my British passport and nothing in the world betters that, you know, being offered, from France and other countries, the possibility of becoming nationalised, a double passport, I couldn't. This is what you call one's birthright what in the British community."

Saturday 18 August 2018

Britain is no longer a country for a fearless old publisher called John Calder who once filled it with light

John, who has died at the age of 91, was in his late twenties in the late 1950s when let in the light on dreary post-war Britain with his publication of a flood of progressive foreign writers and became the scourge of its conservative literary establishment in the process.

In 2002 the poet and critic Al Alvarez said : "What is important about John is that he has gone to the wall, both artistically and financially, for his literary beliefs and he continues to publish experimental work with a strictly minority appeal. I'm sure he will be part of literary history for what he's done in terms of getting difficult minority writers a hearing."

It had started when John became friends with the US publisher Barney Rosset, who had discovered Henry Miller and Maurice Girodias, the Paris-based publisher, who first introduced him to Samuel Beckett's experimental novels 'Murphy', 'Malloy' and 'Malone Dies', which John published as a single volume in 1958.

In his first meeting with Samuel, John said they "talked about life, its pointlessness, the cruelty of man to man." It was a friendship which would last for over 30 years and only ended with Beckett's death in 1989. John spoke of their friendship in the BBC documentary.'Samuel Beckett : As The Story Was Told' in 1996 : and also the creative process :

In 1960 he organised a nation wide reading tour of three of his authors : Marguerite Duras, who had just won a nomination for Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards. for her script for the film 'Hiroshima Mon Amour'; Nathalie Sarraute, whose 1956 essay 'The Age of Suspicion' had served as a manifesto for the 'Nouveau Roman Literary Movement' and Alain Robbe-Grillet, another member of the Movement. He recalled the impact of the trio, when questioned about them in Paris in 2013 :

In the same year, with Jim Haynes and Sonia Orwell he arranged the first 'Writers' Conference' at Edinbugh and assembled a list of progressive writers :  MacDiarmid, Trocchi, Wilson, Mailer, Burroughs and Henry Miller : "There hasn't been anything like it before or since," said Jim Haynes. 
John recalled the creation in 2013  : . Subsequently, writers such as Malcolm Muggeridge and Angus Wilson chaired sessions, discussing issues such as sexuality, censorship, colonialism and the repression of writers overseas.

The following year, he managed a drama conference, presided over by critic Kenneth Tynan and featuring playwrights Arden,  Wesker, Pinter and Ionesco along with Laurence Olivier and screenwriter Wolf Mankowitz

In 1962 he inherited Ledlanet, a shooting lodge in Kinross-shire, from his great uncle, Sir James Calder and converted it into a kind of Scottish Glyndebourne, presiding over his Ledlanet Nights in a kilt, providing early opportunities for singers like Josephine Barstow and Philip Langridge and staging plays and concerts as well as his beloved operas.

In 1963, he published Henry Miller's landmark novel, 'Tropic of Cancer', which, because of its graphic sexual content,no publisher had dared consider before in Britain. Later that year, his publication of Scottish beat writer Alexander Trocchi's, 'Cain's Book', which detailed  the life of Joe Necchi, a heroin addict and writer, who was living and working on a scow on the Hudson River in New York, sparked an obscenity trial in Sheffield, which John lost.

The year ended with publication of William Burroughs's drug-fuelled beatnik trilogy, 'The Naked Lunch', 'The Soft Machine' and 'The Ticket That Exploded', which had been the subject of an infamous obscenity trial the previous year in the US. John published all three in a single volume called 'Dead Fingers Talk', from which William had excised some of the more objectionable passages.

In 1964, his publication of 'The Naked Lunch' sparked a lengthy correspondence in the Times Literary Supplement, the high point of which was a letter from Dame Edith Sitwell in which she said of John : 'I do not wish to spend the rest of my life with my nose nailed to other people’s lavatories' and added : 'I prefer Chanel Number 5.'

In 1967, after the Conservative MP Sir Cyril Black had taken out a summons against a London bookseller for stocking Hubert Selby Jr’s 'Last Exit to Brooklyn', calling it "pornogrpahy incarnate" and the copies were consigned to the flames. John decided to go ahead with British publication and the book, with its gang-rape scene, was sent to trial at the Old Bailey.

The aged publisher and bookseller, Sir Basil Blackwell, declared in court that he had been irremediably corrupted by his reading of it, but although a guilty verdict was returned, it was quashed after an appeal won by John Mortimer and this success virtually ended censorship in Britain and the light flooded in.

John was now publishing 350 titles a year and earning the support of the Arts Council. He took over London’s 'Better Books' and then started another shop in Edinburgh. For a time he was joined by the publisher Marion Boyars to form Calder and Boyars and they published Miller’s 'Tropic of Cancer.' These were the years in which he could justifiably boast :  “My literary success, as well as my lack of business sense, can be judged by my having published more Nobel Prize-winners than any other publisher in Britain during that time, while making no money doing it.”

His partnership with Marion ended in the 1975 and he lost half of his authors and his 80s and 90s proved very difficult, in part because of a sea-change in publishing which he blamed on the fact that : "Thatcherism had taken its toll in a xenophobic dumbing down of international culture."  The Arts Council under William Rees-Mogg discontinued his grant in 1983, a manifestation, in his eyes, of Thatcherism at its most brutal and philistine. There were also a succession of disasters, which most seriously led to a US distributor confiscating his stock which meant he "had to stop production of all books, stop paying royalties" and as a result he lost Miller and Burroughs.who were taken away by executors.

He sacked his freelance sales force, preferring to sell his books himself to booksellers, not just in Britain but around the world. In 2007 he sold the business to another independent publisher, though the imprint retained his name.

John once said :

"I'm not that particularly interested in getting credit for anything. What matters is what has been thought, written, done, painted - the repository of the cultural heritage of the country. People like myself are just cogs in the wheel, and cogs get worn out. I don't think that anyone is ever going to try to do again what I did."

John was born in Montreal in 1927, the son of French-Canadian born, Lucienne Wilson and James, the scion of a prominent Scottish brewing clan, who had distinguished himself during the First World War, winning the Military Cross. The money in the family came form his Canadian Grandfather, an industrialist and later senator, who had made his fortune during the prohibition of alcohol in the States in the 1920s and early thirties. In fact it was Prohibition which had brought the two families together, with Calder whisky being funnelled into the States via Canada.

A shy boy, John could read by the age of 4 and did so avidly. Betty said : "I don't know where he got it - certainly not from our parents. It must have been some kind of genetic aberration. He was always inventive, he would write little plays and he would get us to act in them. And everybody had to go with his direction."

His was a lonely childhood : At the age of 9 in 1936 and for the next four years he was packed off a a boarder at the Benedictine Gilling Castle Preparatory School in North Yorkshire. When the family moved to Canada in 1940, after the Second World War, he continued his private education at Bishop's College School in Lennoxville, Quebec for the duration of the War.

John's father died from tuberculosis in 1944 and the following year John was set to take up his place to read English at Oxford, but be came under the influence of his mother's new lover, a Canadian soldier who was interested in the widow's fortune and convinced John to study economics at Zurich University. John recalled : "He had read an article in an American business magazine about how Zurich was the most prominent business university, so I allowed myself to be sent there." 

Despite the unexciting curriculum and semi-monastic regime, with some classes beginning at 7am, John still managed to enjoy his time in Switzerland, by indulging, what became a life long passion for opera. At the same time his literary tastes were eclectic and international. He became fluent in French and German and couldn't understand why back home in Britain there was so little interest in other cultures or in foreign literature.

At the end of his course in 1949, while staying in the luxury Dolder Hotel, John by chance met "an apparition in pink," who introduced herself as Christya Myling, an aspiring Hollywood starlet under contract to MGM. He was now 22 and began a passionate affair with Christya  conducted in Lausanne, Paris and London, where they were married within weeks at Westminster Registry Office. When John returned to Zurich to take his final examinations, however, Christya became involved with a Hollywood producer and, within 10 days of getting married, John, with difficulty talked her out of getting a divorce.

John's first involvelemnt with publishing was in 1950 in the shape of a short-lived company he formed with André Deutsch which published some Tolstoy translations and Petronius's 'Satyricon.' Most of his time, however was devoted to his uncle's timber firm and despite his success in turning around an ailing timber yard, he still couldn't quite match Christya's talent for expenditure and recalled : "She was opening various accounts with department stores, which I did my best to limit or cancel."

With the timber company in the throes of a takeover, John devoted more and more time to publishing and in 1953 started to publish in succession : opera annuals, the British Film Institute magazine 'Sight and Sound' and in the mid-50s growing number of pioneering anti-McCarthy books, including 'The Un-Americans' by Alvah Bessie. In addition, he began  publishing new translations of the works by Goethe and Chekhov.

In 1954, Christya gave birth to a healthy baby girl and at her insistence, they had her christened 'James' to satisfy the Calder family expectation that he would have a male heir and when the deceit was discovered John was disinherited by the family. His marriage to Christya finally ended when he was 34 in 1961 when his late-night bout of his cello practice triggered an explosive argument, as he recalled : "I had become rather adept at playing the instrument, but while I was practising on this particular night, she came and said : "You and your fucking cello." She took a cigarette box and threw it straight through the front of it. I saw red, and nearly strangled her. I packed a couple of things and moved out there and then." Surprisingly, the marriage had lasted 12 years.

John's publication of 'The Question' by Henri Alleg, an indictment of French colonial policy in Algiers which described the brutalities inflicted by French paratroopers, had became a surprise bestseller and sold 5,000 copies in two days. It was followed by 'Gangrene', a collection of articles edited by Jerome Lindon that formed a powerful critique of British and French colonialism. These were the first steps he made in a career which would see him become one of the most significant publishers of literature in the 20th century.

Sunday 12 August 2018

Brexit Britain, steeped in nostalgia, is no country for an old author called Alan Garner

Alan Garner will be 84 years old in October and his debut novel, was published when he was 23 years old in 1957. 'The Weirdstone of Brisingamen' is regarded as on of the great works of 20th century children's literature and was followed by 'The Owl Service'. They were both inspired by the Cheshire landscape, in which he grew up. His new memoir, is a series of recollections of his childhood during the Second World War.

This week, BBC Radio 4 broadcast his interview in its 'Front Row' programme. Samira Ahmed began by asking him :
"Your book is unsentimental and you're quite careful to avoid nostalgia in recounting your childhood, but you'll be aware that, in the country at the moment, there's a huge amount of debate about the past and whether it was better, around Brexit, and particularly this obsession with the Second World War and I wonder if someone like you, who was there at the time, what do you make of Britain's nostalgia for that past ?"

To which Alan replied :
"I find nostalgia one of the most poisonous words in the language. It is a complete romantic fabrication. When I was living in that time I heard adults taking about "The Good Old Days" and now they are talking about "The Good Old Days", but the point of getting out of bed in the morning is to bring about the future and that's why I loathe nostalgia."

Alan doesn't take words lightly and knows a thing or two about the value of the meaning of words because, as he told Samira : "I missed more than half of my primary school years through dramatic illnesses. I was declared dead three times and I heard it once and that brought me round. The ones that would have killed me were diphtheria, meningitis and pneumonia with pleurisy, but, with the meningitis I also had, at the same time, whooping cough and measles So it was fairly strenuous." 

On having been given books to look at, Alan "lay in bed and looked at the words. Some of the big letters were in the pictures and in the story below and some of the little letters were the same as the big. I tried to work out what the strange ones were by putting them together and so, one at a time, I learnt the little letters and after practising over and over, in one moment, I saw I could read everything. I was that excited, I had to stop and lay down flat in the bed. I was shaking and couldn't hold the pages still. The sky was blue with white fluffy clouds and the sun shone on the barrage balloon." 

Podcast :
Interview at 7.47 into the programme

Alan also told The Guardian that : "I think Edgar Rice Burroughs must have had a similar experience. Tarzan is described as seeing the letters on a page as little bugs and then realising that the little bugs fitted together. That was so close to my own experience. I then became a literary gourmand. I just stuffed myself with books."

Having gained a place at Manchester Grammar School for Boys he "learned the hard way that there wasn't much point in rushing home and becoming excited about irregular verbs. But my grandfather, who was a triple smith - blacksmith, whitesmith and locksmith - never said this. He gave me the wonderful advice : "If the other fellow can do it, let him". What he was saying was 'find out what is in you and don't let other people say otherwise', and that has been the single conscious driving force in my life. It haunts me and justifies me."

After leaving school Alan did his National Service as a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery before taking up a place at Magdalen College, Oxford, to read 'Classics.' In his early twenties, although he was active in drama societies, he still wasn't writing and later recalled : "There were lots of people saying they were going to write and they just embarrassed me."

Alan, the gifted linguist would, in his undergraduate years, have a reading knowledge of 12 languages and recalled : "For a time I could absorb any language like a sponge but I still don't understand why I had to learn so many. Was I unconsciously rejecting my real language?"

In Oxford, he once found himself in the same room with those two great wordsmiths, Tolkien and CS Lewis, with whom, incidentally, he would later be compared. He recalled : "I heard Tolkien say that modern English is not a vehicle capable of writing prose." It was back home in Cheshire when sitting on a tree stump at home looking at a wall built by his great-great-grandfather he knew he
 : "had to do something that was as well done as that wall. As a writer I had to be true to that wall. When I went back to Oxford it had become a cold and irrelevant place for me."

Alan Garner : 

found Magdalen College, Oxford in 1956 : "a cold and irrelevant place." 

finds Brexit Britain in 2018  : a country with of  "a complete romantic fabrication" called "nostalgia."

Thursday 9 August 2018

Britain is no country for old men looking to live longer and longer lives

Britain experienced steady increases in life expectancy at birth throughout the 20th century. This was attributed to improvements in treating infectious diseases, health improvements in the population as it aged, advances in medical care such as heart disease treatments and behavioural changes such as a reduction in the rate of smoking in the population.

Now, however, official figures, released by the Office of National Statistics, show that Britain has experienced one of the largest slowdowns in life expectancy growth among 20 of the world’s leading economies. In the decades up to 2011 old men and women in Britain were living longer and longer, but in the years since their increased longevity has stalled.

Alan Evans, from the ONS, said : “The slowdown in life expectancy improvements that has been observed in the UK since 2011 is also evident in a number of countries across Europe, North America and Australia. However, the UK has experienced one of the largest slowdowns in life expectancy at birth and at age 65 years for males and females.”

Only in the USA was there a greater slowdown in 'life expectancy growth at birth' than in Britain where improvements dropped by nearly 76%, from 17.3 weeks per year between 2006 and 2011 to 4.2 weeks per year between 2011 and 2016. In other words, old men in Britain are living longer, on average. year by year, but only by a month and far slower than their counterparts in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

As academics earlier this year noted, as they demanded a public inquiry, it represents one of the worst slowdowns in life expectancy improvements in around 120 years. Last October, the ONS revised down life expectancy by the year 2041 by nearly a year less than their estimates in 2015. As Professor Danny Dorling and Stuart Gietel-Basten note, that means one million projected earlier deaths over the next four decades.

How can this be explained ?

Could it be alcohol use ? Apparently "No" : It has been steadily falling, with the ONS finding in 2016 that alcohol consumption had fallen to its lowest rate since the survey began in 2005. What about tobacco-related deaths ? Again, "No" : There are fewer smokers in Britain than ever. Could it be influenza-related deaths ? Again, "No" : As Dorling notes, there has not been a major influenza outbreak since the increase in life expectancy ground to a halt.

Has Britain simply reached a plateau – that life expectancy cannot keep increasing for ever ? Again the answer is "No." As Professor Martin McKee has said : "We are a long way off that,” observing that life expectancy in Japan and Scandinavian nations is higher.

The answer could well be wrapped up in the fact that, this year academics demanded an urgent inquiry into whether Government-driven austerity policies could be behind a stagnation in life expectancy ? They accused the Government of repeatedly ignoring concerns about a potential link between death rates and under funding of the National Health Service and social care.

Thursday 2 August 2018

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to the Prince of Stage and Screen Sword Fighting Choreography, William Hobbs

It sad to think that Bill, who was so full of the vibrancy of the sword fight, has died at the age of 79 from the effects of dementia. He is unlikely to have remembered the many stage and film fights he had choreographed, including more than a score of 'Hamlets' and that he had thrilled audiences in theatre and cinema in productions over a span of 50 years. 

He would have forgotten that, as a fight choreographer, he had, with acclaim, revolutionised fighting with all manner of swords, but also worked with lances, pistols, maces and even office furniture in 'The Meaning of Life', sticks in 'The Count of Monte Cristo' and an umbrella in 'The Avengers.' By the end of the last century he was held in such esteem, that when approached by Ridley Scott to stage the fights in 'Gladiator', he turned him down because the project subject didn't interest him.

Bill was born 'William Hobbs' in Hampstead, North London in 1939, eight months before the outbreak of the Second World War, in 1939, the son of an actress mother, formerly Joan Ker-Lindsay and Kenneth, a RAF Lancaster bomber pilot, of whom he saw little and barely knew, who was killed in raid over Germany, when Bill was three, in 1942. With his thespian mother, an aunt who was as a dancer in the Windmill Theatre and had won a prize for 'the Second Best Legs in England' and an elder brother who worked in a circus, it is unlikely that Bill could have avoided the lure of the bright lights in some shape or form.

His life changed dramatically in 1948 when he was nine and his Mother and Aunt decided to move the family to Australia and it was here that he started fencing at school in Sydney at the age of 15, posed to the left of Mike O'Brien when he was 16 and narrowly failed to make it into the Australian Olympic Fencing Team for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.

They returned to London the following year and, at the age of 18, he began his studies at the 'Central School for Speech and Drama.' Among his contemporaries were, Judi Dench and Vanessa Redgrave, who were also learning the trade of stagecraft. When it came to stage fighting he recalled he was was shown four fight positions and was told by the Registrar that fencing was taught for "grace and deportment."

Having graduated, he spent 1959-60 doing weekly repertory theatre and he himself confessed that the experience and the quality of his acting was "awful" and even the great Lawrence Olivier told him : "Give it up baby."  He later recalled : "I started as a competitive fencer, a sports fencer and then I went to theatre school to train as an actor - was a very bad actor. Found I had a way, I think, of making fights a little more real than they had been in the old Hollywood era." 

He had been inspired by scenes in Scaramouche and work followed coaching Peter O'Toole in 'Hamlet' at the Bristol Old Vic and working on the sword fight in Franco Zeffirelli 'Romeo and Juliet' which starred Judi Dench and John Stride at the London Old Vic. To his surprise and delight his duels got rave reviews which was unheard of for theatre notices.

In 1962, at the age of 23, he got his first film commission as 'Fight Arranger' on the British Navy drama, 'Damn the Defiant' starring Alec Guinness, Dirk Bogarde and Anthony Quale. He later said : "I found it very educative because I had not found anyone to teach me. From the beginning I always tried to think my choreographies through the characters who had to fight." 

He now started his 9 year stint as 'Fight Director' at Olivier's 'National Theatre Company, where he built up his bank of experience which formed the bedrock of the expertise which would serve him so well in the stage and screen fights he choreographed with such acclaim from the 1970s to the end of the century.

Bill described sword fights in pre-1960s movies as "two cuts high, two cuts low" and quoted his old friend, stunt coordinator Richard Graydon who said : "In the old days every stunt man was happy as they had in their repertoire three very effective sword moves. Then Bill Hobbs came along, added a fourth, and made it complicated." 

Bill stressed that sword fights should not seek to copy classical fencing parries but had to be wider and newly created attacks that had to be specially conceived so that they would look convincing. As Errol Flynn confessed in My Wicked, Wicked Ways : 'I'm not a fencer. I'm a thespian. But I know how to make it look good.'

In 1965 he acted as 'Fight Arranger' in the film based on the National Theatre Company's staging of Shakespeare's 'Othello', starring Laurence Olivier and Maggie Smith and staged the fight between Derek Jacob as Cassio and Edward Hardwicke as Montano.

In 1967 published 'Techniques of the Stage Fight.' He later said that : "Most actors say they are good fencers. That's a lie : they're not" and in his book, he challenged Simon Callow's comment in 'Being an Actor' that : 'There were no classes at the Drama Centre in fencing, dialects or clog dancing. They reckoned that if you needed them, you could peck them up in ten minutes. They were right.'

He continued his role of teacher when he followed his work at the National with 15 years as 'Fencing Master' at the Central School for Speech and Drama and was working there in 1973 when Richard Lester asked him to work as  'Fight Director' in the making of  'The Three Musketeers' , he recalled Richard 'wanted to create that grittier muckier world- we wanted to get the physicality of the period.' 

He devised weapon combinations for sword alone, sword on sword, sword and cloak, sword and lantern and staged the memorable fight to the point of exhaustion between Michael York as D'Artagnan and Christopher Lee as Rochefort and was followed by 'The Four Musketeers' in 1974.

He still played the occasional roles on screen and in 1971 made a personal appearance as Young Seward and was stabbed to death in a sword fight with Jon Finch in Roman Polanski's 'The Tragedy of Macbeth.' In the first musketeer film he made another appearance as the assassin intent on murdering Porthos and in 1974, at the age of 35, he made another in 'Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter' where, as Hagen, he was stabbed in the stomach and had his throat slashed with a crucifix sword at the end a fight with Horst Jansen.

In his mid thirties and with his reputation as the premier 'Fight Director' firmly in the making, Richard called on Bill's services again for 'Royal Flash' in 1975, based on George MacDonald Fraser's second Flashman novel and starring Malcolm McDowell as Captain Harry Flashman and Alan Bates as Rudi Von Sternberg and included Florinda Bolkan as Lola Montez in a duel with Margaret Courtenay as 'Lady.'

In 1975 Gene Wilder was directing 'The Adventure of Shelock Holmes' Smarter Brother' in which he played Sigerson Holmes and asked Bill to work as 'Fight Arranger and Advisor'  and choreograph his fencing scene with Leo McKern as Moriarty. He found that he could utilise Gene's natural talent for swordplay and was, to that date, his most promising actor-pupil, of whom he said : "He could actually fence" and it was no accident that Gene became the Patron of the 'Swash and Buckle Fencing Club' Bill founded in London some 17 years later.

In 1976 Richard Lester asked to take on the role of Fight Arranger in 'Robin and Marian' starring Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn and he choreographed Sean's fight scene helped by Nicol Williamson's Little John on the castle battlements. 

The following year he was asked by Ridley Scott to orchestrate the fights in 'The Duellists', starring Harvey Keitel and Keith Carradine as the French Napoleonic officer antagonists involved in a long running feud. The five duels made up half the movie and Ridley told him that : "I don't want any old tosh I want it real." Played out with swords and with pistols, on horse back and in the snow, in fight after fight, Bill demonstrated his mastery of period combat and understanding of what does and doesn't work on camera. 

Bill said of the Duellists : "From the beginning I wanted to break away from all the Hollywood stuff I'd seen. What interested me was the story, the drama. I was excited by the people. The pauses we put into the fights in that film were phenomenal, but we wanted to get across the idea that you believe you'll be dead on the floor. In the end the realism is in the fear."

It was the preparation for commissions like this which prompted Bill to say : "Nobody would believe the amount of work and effort that goes into choreographing a duel or a fight sequence."

"A climactic duel will take three weeks to choreograph. It sounds like a lot of time, but it's not a lot of time. But if you think that Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers used to take six weeks on a dance sequence, it's not surprising that it takes that amount of time." As he said, he based his method on "the sport, pure fencing" which he "then adapted for safety because, with the sport you're trying to hit somebody for real without being hit yourself. In film and theatre, what you're doing is creating the illusion of reality and keeping the actors as safe as humanly possible."

"You can't go at half speed. It's got to be flat out to make it work. Very few people realise the amount of slow, slow build up, sometimes with actors who've never done it before in their lives, that is necessary to get them to a point they can convince an audience that they really going flat-out, for real."

"I would choreograph, say, a sequence, a day. That's one sequence of let's say eleven moves. The next day you would add the second sequence. Now you're going back over two sequences. The following day a third sequence. Slowly, slowly,slowly, you're building up. At the end of the third week you might begin to have a finished result. It's perhaps where you are making little changes, adjustments. So that finally, you're ready for shooting and hopefully, you peak for the moment the camera turns on. I hope that there's nothing inherent in the choreography that I do that is not simply the normal cinematic sword bashing that you see going around most swashbuckling films."

"Every move is planned and What I endeavour to do is never make two moves the same. If you watch the pattern of blades, if you slow-motion it, there's very little repetition in terms of the movement and this of course makes it extremely difficult for the actor, but I hope the end result is worth the effort. "

"I still get very anxious the day that we're shooting and that it's going to go OK, because ultimately, it's the actors there I stand back I can't do much more except the odd word here and there in there ear to say : "This doesn't look right, quite good enough and you'd look better if you did this or that." But it's time to let them get on with it and stand back."

He was 41 years old in 1980 when director Mike Hodges approached him to act a 'Co-ordinator of Action and Movement' in 'Flash Gordon' which starred Sam J. Jones as Flash, Melody Anderson as Dale Arden and Max von Sydow as The Emperor Ming. In the same year he published 'Stage Combat' which brought his career up to date.

The following year he was employed as 'Fight Arranger' by John Boorman in the making of 'Excalibur' starring Nigel Terry as King Arthur, Helen Mirren as Morgana and Nicholas Clay as Lancelot and in which he brought forth a repertoire of lance, sword and mace. 

In 1983 he clearly had fun working as Fight Arranger on the Terry Jones / Terry Gilliam 'The Meaning of Life' on the segment entitled 'The Crimson Permanent Assurance', about a group of elderly office clerks working in a small accounting firm who rebel against yuppie corporate masters, transform their office into a pirate ship and raid a large financial district. Two years later Terry Gillam employed him as Fight Arranger on his 'Brazil' with its giant samurai sword sequence. 

1986 saw him working as 'Fight Stager' on Roman Polanski's 'Pirates' , who recalled : 'Bill coming to visit me in London to discuss 'Pirates.' He asked me how many fight scenes would be in the film, I could not resist teasing him. I answered "One, The whole film is one long fight." 
Two years later he worked as Fight Arranger on 'Willow' directed by Ron Howard and based on a story by George Lucas, it  starred Val Kilmer Madmartigan, Joanne Whalley as Sorsha and Warwick Davis as Willow Ufgood.

'Dangerous Liaisons' directed by Stephen Frears in the same year saw him working as 'Duel Co-ordinator' and making swordsmen out of John Malkovich as Vicomte de Valmont and a very game Keanu Reeves as Chevalier Danceny, who Bill remembered being "so physical you couldn't stop him jumping around." Christopher Hampton, who won an Oscar for his screenplay, said he admire "the really rough stuff" that Bill brought to the films duel : "It's tremendously immediate and not at all elegant."

1990 brought Jean-Paul Rappeneau's 'Cyrano De Begerac' with him working as 'Fight Arranger' with the larger than life Gérard Depardieu in the title role, with subtitles used for the non-French market and the English-language version using Anthony Burgess's translation of the text. In the same year he worked for Franco Zeffirelli as 'Duel Arranger' in his version of 'Hamlet' with Mel Gibson in the title role. It prompted Bill to ask himself : "I do a bit think, What the hell am I going to do this time to make it different? On the other hand, you can't make it different. There's the text, and you've got to follow it truthfully and honestly."

Two years later he was working on the Danish tv film series as 'Fight Director' for Peter Eszterhas on  'Gøngehøvdingen', starring Søren Pilmark as Svend and based on the popular novel by the Danish author Carit Etlar, which told the story of a small Danish resistance group, fighting the Swedish occupation of Denmark in 1658. 

Commisions also continued to come from stage production and in 1995 he directed the fight scene in Verdi's opera, 'Stiffelio', at the Royal Opera House Convent Garden and in the same year worked in the Broadway production of 'Hamlet' at the Belasco Theater, in which Hamlet was played by Ralph Fiennes with Damian Lewis as Laertes. Vincent Canby wrote in The New York Times, the sword fight 'has an intensity seen more often in a swashbuckler than in a 'Hamlet.' ' Bill commented at the time : "Perhaps my advantage is that having been an actor, I'm trying only to do the move I feel is right for the character. You are not doing pyrotechnics for the sake of being pyrotechnic."

Ralph commented : "Bill gives you that the sense of a real fencing competition; there's a real danger," and wanted the duel to be "as pure as possible, not fancy or balletic" and "A lot of it is about the skill of the swordplay.Bill actually is a competitive fencer, so he is familiar with that sense of people trying to score points. It's choreographed in a very organic way."

1995 also saw the release of Michael Caton-Jones' 'Rob Roy' with Liam Neeson as clan leader and Tim Roth as the foppish villain Cunningham, who had never fenced before. Bill's comment in his 1995 version of 'Fight Direction for Stage and Screen' : 'the actors have to be working mentally on a conscious level of coolness, with complete body relaxation and control, so that their acted aggression can be performed with conviction and at the same time in absolute safety' seems entirely appropriate for the duel between the blades of Liam's claymore and Tim's rapier.

In 1998, Director Randall Wallace asked him to act as Fight Arranger on 'The Man in the Iron Mask' with Leonardo DiCaprio as both King Louis and his brother Phillippe and John Malkovich as the musketeer, Athos.

Ralph Fiennes again worked with Bill, this time as John Steed, on 1998 version of 'The Avengers', where he was given responsibility of 'Sword Fight Arrangements' by Director Jeremiah S. Chechik. He rated Ralph as highly as Gene Wilder as an actor-fencer and Ralph enjoyed it so much that he took extra coaching and joined Bill's Swash and Buckle Club in London. Bill and Ralph worked together again on worked on 'Sunshine' in 1998, where he worked as 'Fight Choreographer' under István Szabó's with Ralph, as Hungarian fencing champion, Adam Sors. 

It was at this time he also worked as Fight Arranger on Tom Stoppard's 'Shakespeare in Love' directed by John Madden and starring Joseph Fiennes as Will Shakespeare and Colin Firth as Lord Wessex.

His work as 'Fight Arranger' on 'The Mists of Avalon', a tv mini series, which starred Angelica Houston and ran for just two episodes in 2001,  was probably best forgotten along with Tim Reeve's 'George and the Dragon' starring James Purefoy, where he also acted as 'Fight Arranger' in 2004.

In 2002 Director Kevin Reynolds asked him to arrange the fight scenes in 'The Count of Monte Cristo' with Jim Caviezel as Edmond Dantes and Richard Harris as Abbé Faria. Bill commented : "I rather enjoyed a sequence we did in the cell with Richard Harris who had to train Jim our leading actor. They were only working with sticks hidden away in the cell, a metal plate and a cup, a mug. so by utilising these, I was able to make moves very simple for the actors to perform well and I hope added a certain amount of wit to it as well."

Inevitably, the 'Game of Thrones' team had to draw on the experience of Bill and in the 2015. Season 5, Milto's Yerolemou worked extensively with Bill to bring out the unique style and history behind Syrio Forel's 'water dancing style' in sword fighting and they,apparently, discussed the Rob Roy fight in length.

Sadly, this was probably Bill's last commission before his dementia closed in.

In 1995 Roman Polanski wrote :

'Behind the scenes he is a gifted teacher, a psychiatrist and a coach. He instructs with the same finesse he brings to his duelling. He charms,coaxes and cajoles toward steady improvement.'

Bill himself said :

"A fencing phase should have the same feeling as two serpents recovering their balance before resuming their attacks on each other."