Wednesday 23 September 2020

Britain says "Farewell" to an old Northern Irish writer of children's stories called Sam McBratney, who gave the world 'Guess How Much I Love You'

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Sam has died at the age of 77 and although Sam was the author of more than 50 books and scripts, he was best known for 'Guess How Much I Love You', the story of Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare and their efforts to express their love for each other. First published in 1994, illustrated with Anita Jeram’s watercolours it became a children’s, sold more than 50 million copies worldwide, been translated into 57 languages and gave Sam his place in the pantheon of writers of stories for children. 

He was born the son of Ina and Samuel in Belfast, Northern Ireland during the Second World War in t
he Spring of 1943, where his family were forced to evacuate their home near the city's shipyards, which were a Luftwaffe target, when he was two years old. Sam didn't have children's books in their first home on Belfast's York Road, nor their second in Lisburn. He recalled : "There weren’t picture books in Northern Ireland. There were hardly bananas, much less books." His was an austere post-war childhood where, dressed in short trousers and Fair Isle jumpers in the 1950s, at home he read the Beano and Dandy kid's comics, which his "Dad used to bring home once a week, in his large gabardine pocket" and Dad's Zane Grey westerns and his mother's 'Woman's Weekly' and later reflected : "there was nothing else there to read." Then, "Gradually more and more things became available specifically for children. Like Enid Blyton's series of books, 'The Ship of Adventure' and all that." 

Sam recalled : "I was about 16 and I remember my mother asking me what was I going to do later on in life, and I said to her I might be a poet. There was a long pause and she actually said, 'You know you can be put in jail for stealing other people's words'. Looking back on that, I ask myself, it is true, but that was the attitude in our family. She had no clue it was possible for someone from the family to write." "Certainly, there wasn't a tradition in our house of telling stories".

He said that he had favourite moments in books which stayed with him :"Robin Hood shoots an arrow and says, "Bury me where it lands"; Jim Hawkins hides in a barrel of apples; the lame boy fails to make it through the mountainside and so on. One story which made a big impression on me was 'Rip Van Winkle'. I loved the idea of playing about with time."

Sam studied hard for his 11-Plus exam and got into the Quaker, Friends Grammar School. Very much the grammar school boy, his father skilled typesetter on the Belfast Telegraph's printing works and Sam recalled : "I used to go through the paper and point out mistakes and blame them on dad." At the age of 17 he won a scholarship in 1960 to study for a degree in 'history and political science' at Trinity College, in Dublin and started to take a notebook about with him there, to record all his thoughts and began to write historical texts.

After graduation in 1964, he became a teacher and taught at a further education college, a grammar school and a primary school, while writing at night in various genres, from science fiction to radio plays. His first attempt, in 1969, was the autobiographical 'Mark Time' which he described as “a pre puberty love story.” Like many authors’ first books, he described the process of getting published as "the usual story of the rejection slip. Stick it in the drawer."  Finally in 1976, it was picked up and published by Abelard-Schuman. He recalled : "My mother lived to see some of my earlier success and was probably very surprised by it" although she recalled that when he was a boy, his "nose was never out of a book". Sam said of himself that : "On the whole I would say that my interest in children's literature just derives from the fact that I am basically an introspective character. And I hardly knew what I'm thinking until I see it written down." 

By the time he was 47, in 1990, he took early retirement from teaching to concentrate on his writing and by that time he had published twenty-three novels, most of them targeted at young adult readers. This was the year his 'School Trip to the Stars' was published and he recalled : "I was standing in the classroom and I saw a star at half three. I thought, wouldn’t that be great to take a school trip up there. I wrote the heart, for myself, or for a publisher." His acclaimed 1993 young adult novel, 'The Chieftain's Daughter', a fifth century story of young love and tragedy, was praised by critics as being among the most significant works of children's historical fiction published in Ireland. 

When it came to the genesis of 'Guess How Much I Love You', which was published in 1994, Sam said : "My editor in London asked me to write a picture book" and recalled : "I knew I didn't want it to be bears because there were a lot of bear stories about at that time, and I was just sitting in the kitchen one day when from somewhere in that remote land between the ears out popped Little Nutbrown Hare. And where that came from I have no idea, but it's just so perfect" and "What I tried to do was capture tender moments between the big ones and the wee ones. It took about six months - it's not as easy as it looks" "And for those six months every word you write is fighting for its place on the page.

In the event, the book was written in 395 words and Sam's expectations were low : "I expected that picture book to go like all the others, all the other books. You know, might get five years out of it, might get six, then after that you'll not be able to buy it in the shops anymore."

Sam was fulsome in his praise of the work of the book's illustrator, Anita Jeram, who had "beautifully captured the ugly, awkward ganglyness of hares, I mean, they're not bunnies. I mean, people call them rabbits and I get reaction about that, you know, they're hares. And it's one of the triumphs of the book I think to get the name Little Nutbrown Hare and to have them so wonderfully rendered by Anita."

Donna Cassanova at Walker Books said : “It is also the true mark of the man that he never failed to recognise the role that Anita Jeram’s exquisite illustrations play in the success of 'Guess How Much I Love You'. They were a literary pairing of the highest calibre. Sam faced everything in life, and death, with such great, good grace and humour. He always smiled out at the world and I feel so lucky to have felt the warmth of his smile.”

Despite the book's success, Sam remained modest and self-effacing and maintained that it was “a lighthearted little story designed to help a big one and a wee one enjoy the pleasure of being together”. Last year, at a celebration of the book's 25th anniversary he said : “I’d like to share with you one comment a father sent me. He wrote : ‘On good nights my little girl loves me all the way to the moon, but on bad nights she only loves me to the door.’ If you’re a parent (or a grandparent like myself), here’s hoping that you mostly make it to the moon. And back ...”

Then he looked up beyond the thorn bushes,  out into the big dark night. Nothing could be further than the sky.  "I love you right up to the MOON," he said, and closed his eyes. 

"Oh, that's far," said Big Nutbrown Hare. "That is very very far." 

Big Nutbrown Hare settled Little Nutbrown Hare into his bed of leaves. He leaned over and kissed him goodnight. 

Then he lay down close by and whispered with a smile, "I love you right up to the moon...AND BACK."

Sam said : 

"The best thing about the book is that I know that every day somewhere in the world a mum or dad will reach for it and read it to the most precious person they have in the world, their child. That thought really pleases me."

Readers' comments :

'That's a wonderful tribute' : Ann. London. 

'Just read - and sent to my daughter' : USA

'That was a great read' : Garrick. Oregon. USA

'This is a really interesting read' : Holly. Liverpool

'An amazing tribute. Will share with my six year old this weekend' : Kavitha. UK

'What a beautiful tribute' : Veronica. UK

'This was a beautiful tribute' : Cordelia. Annapolis Valley. Nova Scotia. Canada

Monday 14 September 2020

Britain is no country for an old Extinction Rebellion Protester called Arnold Pease

A few minutes before Boris Johnson’s convoy swept past on his way to Prime Minister’s Questions in Parliament last wednesday, around a dozen people stepped off the pavement and into the middle of the busy junction outside parliament. When they hurriedly sat down and tried to glue their hands to the road, they were surrounded by scores of police officers. One of them was 92 year old Arnold Pease from Manchester. Within seconds they were either lifted or dragged, or in Arnold's case, 'escorted' back to the pavement. The protest was over almost before it had begun and minutes later the Prime Minister’s motorcade sped past unhindered.

Arnold was taking part in one of scores of Extinction Rebellion non-violent civil disobedience protests that have been taking place in major cities across Britain over the past two weeks in an effort to try to highlight the escalating climate crisis.

Unlike XR’s previous rebellions in April and October last year, which saw thousands of people blockade large parts of central London day after day, Arnold was a protester who was focused on what he believes is a key actor driving the world's climate crisis : the British Government.

Arnold was arrested as a threat to public order.

As he was being led away by police, he said : “We’re here to continue holding them to account. They call 92-year-old great grandparents ‘organised criminals’ for doing what’s necessary to protect their grand kids? The Government’s criminal inaction on the greatest existential threat we’ve ever faced is the real story."

As he was escorted away an obliging police officer carried his coat and walking stick.

Saturday 12 September 2020

Britain, assailed by Coronavirus, has a nation called Wales where old men no longer sing in their Male Choirs

Male voice choirs have long been symbolic of Wales' cultural heritage and epitomise its reputation as a land of song. However, Chris Evans, the Secretary of the Beaufort Male Choir in Ebbw Vale and Secretary of the Welsh Association of Male Choirs has said, referring to the effect of the Coronavirus Pandemic : "It's an existential issue for some. One, the demographics in choirs and in male choirs are quite old. So it means that there will be choristers who don't want to sing again And if you're only a small choir and 50% of you decide they don't want to do it again, that means that existence is a challenge." In other words, the choirs contain a high proportion of old Welshmen who are reluctant to leave home and attend rehearsals for fear of contracting the virus.

In addition, some choirs were struggling for venues in which to practise and choirs have lost money over the summer. Chris' choir rehearsed last week, for the first time since March, in the stand at Ebbw Vale Rugby Club, so that the men could socially distance. During lockdown the choir had been unable to rehearse, but members had been practising at home with recorded instructional videos from its musical director. Chris said rehearsals at the rugby ground had been an emotional reunion and when he first song that they sang last week was the Welsh hymn, 'Gwahoddiad'. He said : "It brought tears to the eyes. It was brilliant to sing again."

The Welsh Association of Male Choirs, of which Chris is also the Secretary, surveyed its members about the pandemic and its report said that :

* almost all choir activity for 2020 ceased in March, while two major concerts of massed choirs in London and Cardiff were postponed
* more than 450 individual concerts have been cancelled, half of which were fundraisers for charities
* 43 choir tours throughout Britain and Europe were cancelled
* there was an estimated loss of almost £140,000 across more than 90 choirs  and the biggest single loss affecting one choir was £15,000

Alun Davies, President of Beaufort Male Choir, wants better guidance on rehearsals that would enable safe indoor practice sessions over the winter and said : "There is nobody here who wants to break rules, and there is nobody here who wants to see people become ill as a consequence of what I am suggesting. But what we are looking at is having an element of normality that will be especially important as we face a winter, and those long dark cold months."

Despite concerns for the future, the WMAC said 50% of the choirs it surveyed had begun booking concerts for 2021. However, some male voice choirs fear, as Chris has suggested, that they will never sing again due to the Coronavirus Pandemic.

In happier days : Chris and the Beaumont All Male Choir singing 'Take me Home' at the Apollo Theatre in 2017.

The sun set in the west over South Wales
And mine and steelworks and factory spilled out their people to the evening and leisure
As the people of the valleys
Colliers and Choristers
Lovers and Lonely alike
Sang out aloud with life

I remember the face of my father
As we walked back home from the mine
He laughed and he'd say
"That's one more day
And it's good to feel the sun shine"
I remember my mother was smiling
As I set out to make my own way
She seemed to know that I had to go
But I'd come back home one day

Take me home
To my family
Take me home
To my friends
Take me home
Where my heart lies
And let me, let me sing again

Take me home
Let me sing again

Take me home
Let me sing again

Take me home
Let me sing again

Take me home
Let me sing again

Take me home

Friday 11 September 2020

Britain bids a "Farewell" to an old TV Film Producer called Paul Knight, who told its History, not as it was, but as it should have been

Paul, who has died at the age of 76, did his best work as a TV film producer when he was in his thirties in the 1970s and if the Italian philosopher, Benedetto Croce, was right and 'all History is Contemporary History', then Paul's historical adventure series tell us more about the mid 1970s and early 198os, than they do about the times in which they were set.

Paul himself was born in the Second World War, in the winter of 1944, in Hendon, Middlesex and attended, the fee-paying boys public school, John Lyon School, Harrow-on-the-Hill. Perhaps Paul got his enthusiasm for drama, history and story telling from school ? The actor Timothy West and theatre director, Michael Bogdanov were pupils there before him and the documentary film maker, Michael Gold, was three years his junior. Paul would have recognised and named his teachers assembled in the staff room in 1960.

Paul eschewed working for exams in the sixth form and when he left school at the age of 16 in 1960. joined the ITV company ATV as a messenger boy and worked his way up to assistant floor manager. When he was 23 in 1967, the producer, Stella Richman, became his mentor when she took him on as an 'Associate Producer' He served his apprenticeship as a producer for director Alan Clarke when he worked on plays by Alun Owen, Edna O'Brien and Roy Minton and in 1968, worked on the six episodes of the 'Ronnie Barker Playhouse' which Stella produced for another of the commercial television franchise holders, Rediffusion.

In the 1970s Paul started, what was to be, a 20 year collaboration with the writer, Richard Carpenter, who had created of the fantasy TV series, 'Catweazle'. They were joined by another producer, Sidney Cole, who had made 'The Adventures of Robin Hood' and other 1950s black and white ITV swashbucklers. The three of them worked together from 1972 - 74 to make 'The Adventures of Black Beauty' with Richard as the lead writer of scripts, that were a continuation of Anna Sewell’s 19th-century children’s classic and Paul as Executive Producer.

Seeking music as a theme to introduce and support the series, Paul gave the brief, by relating to a American TV Western Series : “Think 'The Virginian'. Only not a western.” His choice of Denis King’s triumphal 'Galloping Home', not only became a classic, but also won an Ivor Novello award in 1974. Remarkably, the series, which starred Judi Bowker, was screened at teatime on a Sunday, was watched by up to 15 million viewers.

With Richard and Sidney, Paul now formed 'Gatetarn Productions' specifically to make drama series about English folk legends which would, no doubt, be underpinned by Richard's interest : "I've always been interested in the person who is outside society. In a sense, that is the hero, the heroic figure is the man who takes on the world alone."

As a result, in 1979 they worked on the first series of 'Dick Turpin', starring Richard O’Sullivan as the 18th-century highway robber. Paul negotiated a deal with the American version, 'Dick Turpin’s Greatest Adventure', screened in Britain as that year’s part in the five-part series, with the 'Dallas' soap star company RKO for a 1981 film Mary Crosby joining the cast.

The trio created 'Smuggler', which featured Oliver Tobias in 1881, as the swashbuckling Jack Vincent, a former naval officer eluding customs officials in the early 1800s. Like their previous dramas, the production values were high, with location filming along the Somerset coast and a TV sequel, 'Adventurer', set in New Zealand, followed in 1987.

With their 'Robin of Sherwood' in 1984 they used Richard's innovative reimagining of the legend, with mystical elements and new characters. Its mysticism reflected a 1980s renewed interest in paganism, as well as the concerns of the growing environmentally green movement and it could be argued that the idealism of the hero was a backlash against the materialism of the Margaret Thatcher era in Britain.

The series began with Judi Trott as Maid Marion and Michael Praed as Robin Hood and Mark Ryan as their foe, Nassir, but Mark Ryan gave such a good performance in the role during filming at Alnwick Castle, Northumberland which was doubling for Nottingham Castle, that Paul asked  Richard for a script rewrite to make Nasir a comrade and keep him on as one of Robin’s band and said : “This boy is terrific. The girls love him, he looks wonderful in his leather jacket.  We can’t kill him.”

Paul again showed enterprise by commissioning Irish band Clannad to produce the haunting theme music 'Robin (The Hooded Man)' and 'Together We' , 'Now is Here', 'Herne' . Paul was presented with a serious problem when Michael Praed left after the second series to take a stage role on Broadway, He and Richard solved the problem by killing off Robin in battle and switching to an alternative version of the myth, with the hero being a nobleman, Robert of Huntingdon. Paul considered Jason Connery, Paul McGann and Neil Morrissey for the part before deciding that Connery fitted the new character best. However, the resulting third series was to be the last. Goldcrest, the company funding the production, pulled out in 1986 before a final fourth run after suffering financial difficulties and Richard's wedding of Robin and Marion never reached the screens.

When interviewed some years later, when Richard was asked what he thought the importance he thought History played in the series ? He replied : "It gives the story an authentic background and helps to make it more believable" but "I was not writing a history lesson. Dates are unimportant in a fantasy. Robin Hood is a fantasy. He never existed." 

The trio worked no longer worked together : Paul went on to establish Jack Rosenthal’s 'London’s Burning' as one of Britain’s most hard-hitting dramas, but he was back with Richard for the ITV children’s fantasy series 'Stanley’s Dragon' in 1994.

Monday 7 September 2020

Britain is a country assailed by coronavirus, with a town called Bolton where old men have most to fear from their children and grandchildren

A further 2,988 cases of coronavirus were reported in Britain yesterday, indicating the highest number reported on a single day since 22 May and a rise of 1,175 on Saturday. The figures indicate that the largest number of cases were in the 18-49 age group and prompted the Health Secretary Matt Hancock to say that said he was "concerned" about a rise in cases "predominantly among young people". He repeated the Government message : "It's so important that everybody does their bit and follows the social distancing because it doesn't matter how old you are, how affected you might be by this disease, you can pass the disease on to others. So don't pass the disease on to your grandparents if you're a young person, everybody needs to follow the social distancing."

What he should have said when addressing the 18 to 49 year olds was : "Don't pass the disease on to your parents and grandparents", since Britain's post-Second World War baby boomers are now in their 70s, with children in their 40's and grandchildren in their 20s. What Matt Hancock and health officials are worried about is that Britain might follow the same path as France and Spain, where increases in infections amongst younger adults led after a few weeks to higher numbers of admissions to hospitals for older and more vulnerable patients.

The most dangerous place for fathers and grandfathers to live at the moment is Bolton, a large town in Greater Manchester in North West England, historically and traditionally a part of the county of Lancashire. More than 90% of cases in the town are people aged between 18 and 49 years-old and Council bosses are urging young people, in particular, to adhere to the new coronavirus rules. All the latest cases are believed to be linked to a holidaymaker who went on a pub crawl instead of going into quarantine when he returned from Spain last month. By 31 August the virus had spread to almost every council ward covering its 285,000 residents. Bolton now has, by far, the highest infection rate in England, at nearly five times the national average. There were 333 new cases recorded in Bolton in the seven days to September 3. This is the equivalent of 115.8 cases per 100,000 people – up sharply from 36.5 in the previous week, the seven days to August 27 and is the highest rate of new cases Bolton has recorded to date.

In response to the upsurge of cases, Bolton residents have been told to avoid mixing with anyone from outside their own household and to use public transport only when necessary. In a joint statement, Council leader David Greenhalgh and Chief Executive Tony Oakham said : "It has been a tough period for individuals, families and businesses but we don't want to throw away all our hard work by allowing the infection rate to rise even higher. Now, more than ever, we need everyone in Bolton to play their part. Nobody wants these restrictions to remain a moment longer than necessary and we believe these new measures will keep everyone safe and help avoid a full lockdown in Bolton."

Dr Helen Lowey, Director of Public Health for Bolton Council, said : "We are carrying out extra testing including giving out home testing kits, and are carrying out extra site visits to support businesses to be Covid secure, and carrying out enforcement where necessary. Evidence from Oldham and Blackburn shows stopping households mixing works."

There is scepticism by some health experts that that this will do any good. A leaked Public Health England Analysis has stated that : coronavirus levels in parts of the North of England found that the national lockdown earlier this year had failed to bring transmission down to near zero, as it had in most of the country. The authors asked : 'If these areas were not able to attain near-zero Covid status during full lockdown, how realistic is it that we can expect current restriction escalations to work?' It states that 'The overall analysis suggests Bolton, Manchester, Oldham and Rochdale never really left the epidemic phase.' In other words, in Bolton, coronavirus has become endemic.

Thursday 3 September 2020

Britain says "Farewell" to James Partridge, its Giant among Campaigners for Facial Equality

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More than 500,000 adults and children in Britain have some kind of facial disfigurement, ranging from cleft lip and palate or birth marks, to injuries sustained in a fire, or by developing a condition such as Bell’s palsy or facial cancer. For the last twenty-eight years, James, who has died at the age of 67, has been their champion.

He was born in the Autumn of 1950, the son of Joan and John, in Chipping Sodbury, Wiltshire and spent his formative years in the Bristol area, living in Flax Bourton just outside the City and, from the age of 11, as a boarder, attending the public school for boys, Clifton College, Bristol, with its motto : 'Spiritus Intus Alit', 'The spirit nourishes within.' Founded in 1862, it was notable for emphasising science rather than classics in the curriculum compared with other public schools and for being less concerned with social elitism by, for example, admitting day-boys on equal terms with residents, like James.

As a boy, his father, the son of a Bristol boot and shoe maker, had been a bluecoat at Queen Elizabeth Hospital who had left school when he was 15 and joined Imperial Tobacco in 1923. As his son, James enjoyed a privileged childhood in an upper middle class family, financially supported by his father, who became Chairman of Imperial Tobacco when James was 12 years old and went on to receive a knighthood and, as Sir John Partridge, become President of the Confederation of British Industry.

At the age of 18, the world was James' oyster. He himself said : "At 18 I was a happy-go-lucky guy who had, really, the world ahead of him. I had all sorts of dreams and ambitions." Having taken the usual GCE ‘O’ levels and ‘A’ levels at school, he stayed on for an extra term in order to sit the Oxford Entrance examinations in the late Autumn of 1970 and was looking forward to his ‘gap’ year of work and travel. His long term plan was study for a Philosophy, Politics and Economics degree at Oxford University followed by a career in the City.

Shortly after sitting his exams and three days before leaving school, James, with a number of school friends and a master from Clifton College, was driving to North Wales for a weekend’s walking. Driving north on the 5th December, on a cold wet night from Chepstow towards Usk, the Land Rover, driven by James, overturned on a left-hand bend and skidded on its driver’s side across the carriageway. In Land Rovers of that vintage, the petrol tank was located under the driver’s seat and as James recalled : "I contrived somehow to turn the car over and the damn thing blew up and I was stuck inside for about 30 seconds, enough to get severe burns. And my life changed."

Narrowly escaping with his life, he recalled : "I suffered severe body and facial burns in the accident - my nylon polo-neck sweater did me no favours. My whole face was very badly burnt, and I was lucky not to lose my sight." In fact, he suffered 40% burns and subsequently lost a number of fingers. The other travellers were more fortunate, emerging virtually unscathed, with just one of them sustaining burns to his legs. He considered himself very lucky, as in the car behind was a trained nurse and her fiancĂ© who, sacrificing her coat and their night out, drove him at speed to Chepstow where the hospital had a burns unit.

His 'gap' year before Oxford was now to be spent in the Burns Unit of Queen Mary’s Hospital, at Roehampton, where he had to undergo a great deal of plastic surgery and associated treatment. He said : "People came to see me in those early months and I could tell from their faces that I’d done something pretty damn serious to mine. There are no mirrors in a burns unit but the reflection in the silver-coated splints on my damaged fingers told me that nothing lined up. After about three months I looked in a mirror and wondered : ”My God, what is life, looking like this?” I’d never met anybody who’d looked like that. All I’d seen was someone in a Battle of Britain film with severe burns and I’d recoiled. Now I was recoiling from my own face."

Shocked to the core, what stared back at him was unrecognisable compared to the angelic teenage face he had lost."The thought of taking this face into the street and meeting old friends - the self-consciousness level was of absolutely colossal proportions. The face is so much how we communicate. It's our self image. It's what other people remember. Not only did he have to come to terms with his unrecognisable face, which he called 'IT', but he had to build a new resilient person able to tolerate the intrusions and assumptions that went with 'IT.' “I was groping in the dark. It was a long, long struggle to get out the other side. I didn’t really have any guidance.” 

He recalled that : “Self-belief and self-respect are very hard things to find if you have had them blown away” and that it was his mother who told him that all the pain would not be in vain and would have meaning one day. “It was such a ridiculous thing to say, but she kept on saying it. It’s not that I really believed it at the time, but at least someone was saying it. It was very hard for me to see a future, but she was a fairly committed Christian and believed something good was going to come out of it.”

In total, James had over 50 surgical procedures and said : "The surgeons back then in the 1970s did a remarkable job, reconstructing my face so well that the shock factor disappeared. But I still looked different and there was no one to teach me how to live life like that. I wrote an article in the hospital magazine saying 'Thanks for all you’ve done, but come with me down the street, to the job interview, the party, the pub…there’s something more you have to do here.'" 

Despite his trauma, James was determined to take up his place at University College Oxford and took his place to read for his degree in 1971. He recalled : "Nine months after my accident I took my place at Oxford and started to find my bearings - if I acted positively, I could leave my room. I discovered that I could still flirt, talk to people I didn’t know, and that people were willing to be with me despite what I looked like."  His friends were supportive and he learned techniques for coping with intrusive attention : “Keep your eyes looking forward, do not let your chin drop, sanction the staring without reacting to it.”

Reading voraciously for his degree, James read one publication which one was to prove pivotal. “I chanced on 'Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity' by Erving Goffman in the sociology section of a bookshop as a first year student and it resonated with so much of what I recognised about myself except it offered no solutions. What it did give me, however, was a what-if moment. What if I could discover self-respect, which seemed highly unlikely, could I gain the respect of those around me which seemed denied to me because of my disfigurement? At that point I had no idea what the solutions might be, but I had a sense that finding my self-respect might enable me to deflect other’s stigmatising of me.”

During the vacations, when most of his contemporaries were travelling or working, James went back to Roehampton again and again and again for more surgery and also during the whole of what would have been his third year at Oxford. This included growing a pedicle, a tube of skin taken from his back and grafted on to the lower part of his face. When he graduated in 1975 and having developed a strong interest in health care, health promotion and illness prevention, he continued his studies at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, where he was awarded a Master of Science degree in Medical Demography.

At the age of 24 in 1976, James joined the National Health Service as a 'Research Assistant in Health Economics' at St Thomas’ Hospital in London. At his interview, one of the panel said : “I see you have had a lot of plastic surgery. Do you think you will be needing some more?” To which James replied : “Why – do you think I need more?” Subsequently he was taken on as a Research Fellow at Guy’s Hospital.

Having met and married Caroline Scofield, James' made a dramatic change of direction and, in 1979, at the age of 27, moved to her native Guernsey where they bought a derelict farm which they renovated and went on to raise a herd of Guernsey cows, became involved in Island life and raise a family of 3 children. James even found time to teach 'A' Level Economics at The Ladies College and was appointed both to the 'States of Guernsey Agricultural and Milk Marketing Board' and to the 'States of Guernsey Board of Health’s Ethical Committee'.

Interestingly, James was also a part-time Consultant to University College Hospital’s Phoenix Appeal. The Appeal had been set up in 1988 by the plastic surgeon, Michael Brough, who had to draw on all his skills at University College Hospital, when faced with the severely burned survivors of the 1987 King's Cross Fire, started when a wooden escalator at the London underground station burst into flames and the intense fire in a confined space resulted in 30 deaths with 14 survivors who suffered flame burns and smoke inhalation. 

James' life took a second dramatic change of direction when he was 48. In 1990 and after the Kings Cross fire and also Bradford Football Ground and the Piper Alpha oil rig fire, James met Paddy Downie, an Editor at Faber and Faber, who encouraged him to write the book : 'Changing Faces: The Challenge of Facial Disfigurement', which he dedicated to his mother and was published in 1990.

James said that he wrote the book as a dairy farmer, but its publication by Penguin completely changed his life. Radio interviews and television appearances soon followed and on the 'Gloria Hunniford Show', he met Nichola Rumsey, Professor of Social Psychology of Facial Appearance, who had written widely on the psychology of disfigurement. Afterwards she said that "the Guernsey cow farmer totally eclipsed the academic expert and then went on to steal the show".  Whilst talking, they both realised that, by different routes, they had reached very similar conclusions on the effects of disfigurement and that many people had problems of social interaction following disfigurement.

James started work by developing and running small programmes, initially working with individual and families, then gradually building up to work with the National Health Service and train their professionals. In schools he trained teachers and in companies with employers and their staff. He had found that staring, curiosity, anguish, recoil, embarrassment and dread, what he described as "SCARED syndrome", summed up the feeling of people meeting him and his face. He decided that : "When meeting new people, I take handshakes very seriously and make lots of eye contact. Incidentally, if you meet someone with a disfigurement it’s good to look them in the eye. If that’s hard at first, look at the bridge of their nose - it has the same effect."

James left Guernsey and the farm and moved back to his beloved Bristol to Redland, with his wife, three children, the cats and the dogs, the guinea pig and the parrot and also Moonshine and Stardust, the goats and in 1992 James founded  'Changing Faces', based in London. It was to become the leading charity in Britain for anyone with a scar, mark or condition that affects their appearance. Its aims were to :

* change attitudes to facial disfigurement by facts underpinned by evidence and backed up by research
* pioneer unique life skills programmes for people with disfigurement, their families and friends
* campaign, educate and inform society at large
* support "the thrivors", as James called them, in their daily lives

It worked with burns victims, but also with a wide range of other disfigurements, including birthmarks, Bells Palsy, cleft lips and palates, facial cancer, those involved in road traffic accidents, industrial injury, violent attacks and a range of other conditions. It is underpinned by his beliefs that : we can and should accept people for what they are and who they are; with training, encouragement and support people with disfigurement can face life with confidence ; discrimination can be confronted.

Under James' leadership 'Changing Faces' helped thousands of people and their families and saw its work expanded in Britain with its literature is translated into many languages. He saw the University of the West of England create the 'Centre for Appearance Research' with five years of core funding provided by the charity to give it a good start. In partnership with the North Bristol NHS Trust, it founded the world’s first 'Disfigurement Support Unit' at Frenchay Hospital. James said at the time : "There has been an inadequate support system before now, with some hospitals providing follow-up, some burns units providing support and some hospitals sending health professionals into schools to teach about disfigurement - but no national service."

James recalled : "When I set up the charity in 1992 there was no Disability Discrimination Act in the UK. I made it my mission to connect with other disability organizations which were lobbying for such protection, because I felt that disfigurement should be covered by that legislation. A disability bill was produced but it didn’t include people with disfigurements. We became very active and managed to successfully lobby for the 1995 Act to include this protection. We put disfigurement as a human rights issue on the map. And the subsequent Equality Act 2010 provides ongoing protection against discrimination in work and day-to-day life."

By 2007, despite the successes, James felt that Britain's appearance-obsessed society head bred a less tolerant attitude towards people whose looks do not fit 'the norm." He said, with some disappointment that : "We hoped we were going to ride a wave towards diversity and the inclusion of people with disabilities, but it's almost the other way. The norms of acceptability are narrowing." 

By this time the charity was being contacted by up to 1,000 new clients annually and counseled and supported 2,000 ongoing cases. Callers typically suffered from low self-esteem, feelings of being rejected and problems with intimate relationships. What James could not have foreseen was how the charity would come to be used by people who have had cosmetic surgery. He said : "The face lift or nose job didn't turn out in a way they hoped and hasn't given them the buzz, the self-confidence boost, or made their love-life better." 

It was his core belief that professionals played a key role in helping people adjust to their changed appearance, whether it was surgeons, doctors, teachers or HR departments, they all needed to become skilled in creating a society where face equality was at its heart. With this in mind he worked with his businessman friend, Phil Friend and started 'Dining with a Difference' where he and Phil hosted dinners, usually monthly and aimed specifically at large organisations like Royal Mail and Lloyds Bank. With their captive audience of Board Members and Senior Executives, they explained the good business case for employing people with disabilities.

James saw 'Changing Faces' launch 'The Campaign for Face Equality’ in 2008 with award-winning posters on the London Underground and in January 2010, to support the 'Children’s Face Equality Campaign' , 430 'Changing Faces' posters featuring children with disfigurements were displayed on stations throughout the London Underground, with the potential to reach 2.2 million commuters.

In November 2009 when James was a guest lunchtime newsreader for a week on Five News, the first person with a disfigurement ever to do so worldwide and as part of the Charity’s campaign work, he said : "It was a terrifying experience, but it was great." He was pleased that, when 'Changing Faces' asked for comments from the viewers about his reading the news, of over a thousand replies, only one was a negative response.

In 2012 when the TV series, 'Downton Abbey' ran a storyline about  a wounded First World War Canadian officer who arrived at Downton to rehabilitate who told Lady Edith that he's actually, the heir to Downton, Patrick Crawley, who was pulled out of the wreckage of the Titanic with amnesia and was misidentified. His face was covered with horrific burns and bandages, making him unrecognizable, but he said the explosion brought back his memories of who he was. Needless to say, the plot jarred with James, who got in touch, made his feelings known and saw the cast offer their unqualified support and host two successful fund-raising evenings.

When James met Downtown creator Julian Fellowes and told him about the 'Changing Faces' 'Face Equality on Film Campaign' which hoped to focus greater awareness on how movies and TV shows too often have disfigured characters portraying villains, the result was an ad entitled 'Leo' starring Michelle Dockery, who played Lady Mary Crawley on Downton Abbey. It ran in British cinemas and showed a man with a badly disfigured face, played by Leo Gormley, a real life burns victim, watching from his car as a woman arrives at her townhouse on a rainy night. He then heads for her door and it turns out, is a friend who has shown up early for dinner with the ads tagline reading : “What did you think was going to happen?”

At the Downton Gala dinner held in 2014 James was joined by the presenter, Adam Pearson who suffers from the genetic disorder neurofibromatosis and other Downton actors alongside Michelle Doherty.

In 2018 he launched 'Face Equality International' which now has 38 member organisations around the world. By this time he was undergoing cancer treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma, but was still able to host its first conference. Having successfully campaigned at Changing Faces to get legal protection in Britain for people with 'severe disfigurements', James hoped to do the same for people in countries such as South Africa and India, where they have no such protection or rights.

In 2019 and clearly affected by his continuing cancer treatment, James made with ITV : 'How I'm using my face to challenge attitudes.' 

The latest James Bond film, 'No Time to Die', which had its release delayed this year because of the Coronavirus Pandemic, has two baddies with facial disfigurements. One of them, the character, Blofeld, played by Christopher Waltz, has a deep facial scar. James used the delay as an opportunity to raise awareness about how this shorthand for a movie villain continues to stigmatise people.

He also wrote to film director, Peter Jackson and Amazon Boss, Jeff Bezos about the new 'Lord of the Rings TV Extravaganza' which he said will “lazily portray the ‘baddie’ Orcs as facially and bodily flawed”, when Tolkein didn't. James insisted that : “We have to take the fight to those who continue to promulgate these stereotypes.” 

James also took issue with airbrushing apps used by millions of young people on social media, which, in his opinion, meant that a new generation is bombarded with unobtainable images of beauty on their phones 24/7. He believed that now cosmetic surgery has now become so normalised that if you have a less than perfect face it’s seen nowadays as your own fault. He said : “There is almost a moral obligation to have work done, to get your face fixed”. He has warned for many years of the potential dangers of cosmetic surgery and how it needs to be much better regulated, but said :  “The Government has failed to get a grip of the whole problem”.

This year he published his second book, 'Face It : Facial Disfigurement and My Fight For Face Equality', which was part memoir, part manual and part manifesto for change.

Last month James entered the national debate about face coverings in the Coronavirus pandemic and said : "Wearing face masks will prevent people seeing my face and those of many people with cranio-facial conditions, the aftermath of facial cancer or a Bell’s palsy, or with a skin condition like psoriasis or acne. In my ideal of a fair post-covid society, we would all have a right to be seen, respected, and accepted, and the current absurd “face-perfect” judgements of our global society would be consigned to the dustbin of history. It seems likely that we will need to wear face coverings for some years to come, which just might make it easier to argue the case for face equality for everyone, whatever their face looks like, free of prejudices and low expectations."

Some years before he had said :
"There’s often a sense that a disfigurement has to be removed, got rid of. Surgery matters, of course, but it’s not a panacea. Public understanding is gradually growing that all faces should be respected. As with anyone, there’s more to me than just my face, but for me my face matters very much, scars and all."  He described it as “a hotchpotch of scars, skin grafts and weird asymmetry, thanks to brilliant surgery” but said :

“I live with my very distinctive face with pride.” 

His ambition, for the last 28 years, has been, for all those with some sort of facial difference, to feel the same

Reader's comments :

'It's a lovely tribute. A campaigner to the end.'

'I really appreciate this. I had known James for over a decade and he was my inspiration for the Concept and Creative Direction of my exciting Portrait Positive Project which received global publicity/coverage.'

'Having known him for over 60 years, I was moved by the perception of this and the way it captures the man and his purpose.'

'That's a powerful piece. Makes you realise how cramping is the pressure to focus on appearance and how liberating a change of perspective might be.'

'A wonderful tribute to James Partridge. Gratitude, respect,admiration!'

'This is tremendous. Well done. James was a good man who did a lot of good for a lot of people,'

'Thank you for taking so much effort to remember such a lovely man. I'd like to add that along with myself  (Phil Friend), Stephen Lloyd and Simon Minty were also closely involved in the development and subsequent success of Dining with a Difference.'

'A tribute to the wonderful man that was James Partridge. I've had to stop reading for now because it's just harrowing and emotional. Gone too soon lovely man and I miss you already.'

'Great summary of James's latest book and a lovely tribute to James.'

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