Kingsbury County Days

In 1954 I passed the eleven plus exam, a bundle of tests which, according to Tory MP David Davis “rescued a generation of underprivileged children”. Even at this tender age we all in our last year at Fryent Junior understood the what was going on, and many feared the consequences of failure. I can’t remember much about the tests themselves, and I was surprised that I passed, as I suspect did my parents.

I know my Mum and Dad were pleased, especially as I had missed best part of a year’s schooling when I nearly lost my eyesight when I was eight. I learned later that for Dad, Grammar School entrance was a pretty big deal as he had always resented having been denied the opportunity himself in favour of one of his three brothers.

I remember the impact of my attainment on my Dad’s meagre wage packet, which immediately arose from the need to kit me out with an expensive uniform, only obtainable from a posh tailors shop in Golders Green which enjoyed a monopoly supplier arrangement with Kingsbury County Grammar, the school in London NW9 which the local education authority had selected for me.             Continue reading

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New Zealand Days: Part 4 – Wellington

Previous post  First Steps in the NZBC

We had been warned. We should not have been surprised when our bed sheets were torn from the clothes line and distributed down the gorse covered hillside behind our rented house in Karori, a windswept suburb of Wellington, capital city of New Zealand, in 1971, not long after we moved there.

In 1966 the New Zealand National Film Unit produced a documentary called “Toehold on a Harbour”, which, not without typical kiwi irony, will give you a fair idea of what we were up against, including the wind problem and the near perpendicular housing sprawl. (Stay with this film, it really does the job, even though we moved to Wellington five years after the film was released).

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New Zealand days – part 2: Dargaville

 Check out the story so far

1967

The stocky man who met me at Dargaville bus stop introduced himself as Maurice Fitchett, senior master at Dargaville High.  During my so-called teacher training course in Auckland I had already picked up the post-colonial feel of New Zealand secondary educational system, but that brief experience had not prepared me for Maurice Fitchett, nor, as it turned out, for the disciplinarian culture of schools such as Dargaville High. I have to admit that I was taken aback. Elsewhere this was the swinging sixties, but even though horses had been replaced by cars in Dargaville main street, Maurice, both in appearance and bearing, could easily have been cast in a period movie set in the 1860s.

Actually he didn’t say a lot on that occasion; he had been delegated to meet me off the Auckland bus and take me up to Dargaville High School, to be interviewed for a job as a French and English teacher. Understandably he wasn’t giving much away. But as meet-and-greet exercises go, it left much to be desired. Some corporate pride and enthusiasm might not have gone amiss, and when I was ushered into the headmaster’s study I was probably a bit disconcerted, which may have been deliberate I guess.

Fortunately the mood changed for the better when headmaster George Ball and I got down to the business in hand. We got on like the proverbial house on fire. Continue reading

Early memories

Or are they really memories?

My earliest memory is really an image in my head. It could only have been seen by me – the mental equivalent of a point-of-view shot in a film. I see the world through some kind of netting. Two faces appear and the netting is pulled aside. The faces of two young girls appear, one blonde, the other brunette. That’s it – just a brief flashback, but I am convinced I have not made it up or been told about it. What is odd is that I must have been no more than two years old.

I think I once mentioned this to my mother, who probably thought it was just another of my silly fantasies, but when I later learned about the circumstances of my infancy, I became convinced that the faces belonged to my cousins Pamela and Barbara. My Auntie Joan, the only person whom I have trusted to tell the truth about those difficult times, confirmed this theory years later.

To explain:       Continue reading

Working for Auntie 1973 revisited (RIP Michael Dean)

Some time ago I wrote about my short-lived spell in the BBC2 Presentation Programmes Department in 1973, not long after the demise of Late Night Line-Up in 1972. Its predecessor “Line-up” had started out as a kind of early evening trailer when BBC2 first went on the air in 1964 but later that year it morphed into “Late Night Line-Up” featuring “open and candid discussion among invited guests”, transmitted live after the 9.00 p.m. watershed.

In my earlier post I mentioned Michael Dean, whom I got to know post Late Night Line-Up, as a friend and colleague, when I moved over from BBC2 programme directing to BBC1 Presentation Department as a Network Director (AKA Transmission Control and Trailers.) At that time Michael was working for Auntie as a continuity announcer prior to returning to his native New Zealand, and we used to chat and have a laugh or two in the tea room from time to time, often about NZ , whence I had just returned after a six-year stopover. At the time I knew Michael had worked on Late Night Line-Up, but did not fully realise that he had been a celeb as a “highbrow” arts and current affairs presenter and interviewer on the show, along with colleagues such as Denis Tuohy, Joan Bakewell, Tony Bilbow and Philip Jenkinson. Continue reading

My window faces the South part 3: Lawrence of England

A few weeks ago a friend mentioned he had seen an exhibition about T.E. Lawrence in Newark, and he asked me if I knew anything about him. I replied, yes, just a bit, and tried to talk about the TV programme I made in 1978 called “Lawrence of England”. It was a difficult conversation, walking along the beach at Gibraltar point in a howling gale, but it prompted me to bring forward my vague plan to write about the making of the programme at BBC South.

For many people, the image of Thomas Edward Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia, is that of the dashing first world war hero depicted in David Lean’s eponymous blockbuster movie. The depiction is seriously flawed; for starters, Lawrence (5′ 5″)  was not as tall as Peter O’Toole, and he did not become a masochist obsessed with blood-lust. Quite the reverse. And so on.

The film’s popular success also made things difficult for Lawrence’s younger brother Arnold and for anyone else interested in documenting the real Lawrence, as I found out having quite accidentally discovered that he had spent some time at military establishments and elsewhere in the South of England after the great war, apparently intent on avoiding celebrity, until his retirement and untimely death in 1935.

I first came across Lawrence’s celebrated “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” as a schoolboy haunting Wembley Park public library in the fifties. I was actually looking for DH Lawrence novels (for fairly obvious reasons,) but I borrowed TE’s book on the evidence of a quick peek at the illustrations and some random text. I took it home and tried hard to read it – I really did, but without much success. I was also a bit confused – was this fact or fiction? Like most boys of that time I had been pretty keen on Biggles, Bulldog Drummond, The Saint and other tales of derring-do. Fortunately it wore off quite quickly. Continue reading