New Zealand days – part 1

Warning: this post contains scary insects……..

Our rather sudden decision to emigrate to New Zealand in 1967 was really just an impulsive lark. It just seemed a good idea at the time. We were newlyweds and with my mediocre degree my prospects in the UK did not seem in any way promising. At the time commonwealth countries were making some tempting offers to teachers and nurses, so we fitted the bill.

Once the idea took hold, it was a Goldilocks’ porridge choice between Australia (too hot), Canada (too cold) and New Zealand (just right?). A choice based on stereotypes and skimpy research, and in my case influenced by the example of a boy at Fryent primary school who, years before, had beamed down in London NW9 one day from planet New Zealand. Actually I don’t think he remembered much about NZ, but I became so fascinated with this kid from a country on the other side of the world that I read up about it  in my second home, Wembley town hall library. (No internet then). The land of the long white cloud must have lodged itself in my young brain as a romantic aspiration; after all for us Brits it’s as far as you can go south without starting to come back.

And it has people called Maoris, covered in tattoos……… Continue reading

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My window faces the south Part 2: John Fowles

If you have read Part One of this memoir, you will remember that my main aim was to move away from routine directing of South Today, working more and more on regional “opt out” features made at BBC South. I will write later about this period, but it’s going to be quite a long job, so in the meantime, here’s a clip from one episode of a programme strand which I created and produced in the early eighties, called “Don’t Fence Me In”. In this edition John Fowles, celebrated author of “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” and other best sellers, who normally refused to appear on television following some bad experiences, broke cover and gave me an exclusive in his less well-known role as curator of the Philpot Museum in Lyme Regis.

The story was about claims that fossil hunters, both amateur and professional, were a threat to fossil conservation along the Dorset Jurassic Coast and even to the homes of residents on the cliff tops. The interviewer was Michael Jordan:

This story raised a few eyebrows among my NUJ card-carrying journalist colleagues
not for the first time, not because the story itself was momentous, but simply on the grounds that I had somehow persuaded an international celeb to appear on TV. For the record, I didn’t need to persuade him. I just phoned him and he readily agreed on condition that he would not be asked to talk about his books. Continue reading

My window faces the South: Part 1

Coming into the BBC from New Zealand television in 1973, I quickly realised that my training and experience as a TV producer / director there did not fit well into the quasi civil service BBC job hierarchy, so at the time I had no choice but to settle for the assistant producer “rank” when I was hired to work as a network director (transmission controller) at the TV Centre in London, on a series of short-term contracts. The job was a means to an end; I wanted get back to making programmes as soon as possible.

In those days BBC Television didn’t normally hire programme directors. Instead they called them assistant producers. A fairly meaningless title really, as almost everyone on a production assists a producer. Also an insulting title, especially on live programmes, where the split second decisions of the programme director translate instantaneously into actions which dictate what the viewer sees and hears, independently of a producer. Continue reading

On tour with the Leeds Phil

For many years my wife Margaret sang with the Leeds Philharmonic Chorus, AKA the Leeds Phil, and on two occasions I went with her on exchange tours. The first trip, to Estonia, Finland and Latvia, inspired me to take my video camcorder with me next time to record a trip to Bratislava, Gyor, Vienna and Budapest, on the understanding that, as well as acting as a roadie, I would produce a DVD for members, which I did. Here’s the final film:


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Jag älskar Helsingfors

The other day a promotional video praising the virtues of Helsinki appeared unbidden on my Facebook feed. I know not why, but could it just be that their algorithm has noticed that I still have friends in Finland, traceable to the many happy times I spent training TV journalists at the splendid YLE TV centre in Pasila, just a tram ride from downtown Helsinki?

If so, I find this more than a little creepy. And to reinforce my long held anti-Facebook prejudice, I couldn’t get the video to run reliably on this page. You haven’t missed much. So here’s a much better video, evidently shot from a drone, which does a pretty good job of portraying this great city, without a word of voice-over hyperbole, or even worse some trendy presenter mouthing trendy nonsense to camera:

My connection with Finland actually started not in the Finnish capital but in a hotel breakfast room in Montreal, at a conference of public service television training folk called Preput, circa 1993.

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The Dewrance Connection – update

Almost two years ago I told the story of my connection to father and son engineering ancestors John and Sir John Dewrance, as I understood it at the time, including references to John Dewrance having built George Stephenson’s Rocket. Quite recently I have been assured by a learned reader that this was unlikely and that the Rocket was built by Robert Stephenson. Since my original post was primarily about the family connection, only mentioning the Rocket in passing, and in the interests of accuracy, I have updated it accordingly. I do hope this meets the concerns of anyone more interested in railway historical minutiae than in a family yarn, of interest to anyone sharing the family name.

Updated post

En Marche!

The recent success of M. Macron and his party En Marche! brought to mind my own entanglements with the French since I first went on a school trip to Paris in the late fifties. Standing on the deck of a Newhaven to Dieppe British Railways ferry, my first visual impression of France was of a gendarme standing on the quayside at Dieppe, sporting a machine gun. The second mental snapshot was of a group of French women washing clothes in a river, seen from the SNCF steam train to Paris.

Still a teenager, at last I was quite literally en marche, (on the move) having saved up for this trip from my earnings as a Saturday boy in Woolworths and Boots the Chemist. I think it cost around £25.

Those first brief images still exist only in my mind, but are as vivid as photographs. Later that week one of the French teachers on the trip asked me why I wasn’t taking photos. I did have a Boots camera, and I had taken a few black and white snaps in Paris, but the real reason for not snapping further was that I could only afford one roll of film and it had run out. Rather than admit that, I pompously answered that the best photos are the ones in your brain, just to shut him up. As it turns out, it’s true, at least for me, but not much use for anyone else I guess.

The idea of the school trip was that we could practice our conversational French. Needless to say that didn’t happen much, but for me it was the start of a love affair with France and the French. I just loved being in Paris – people effortlessly speaking French (how did they manage that?), actually sitting outside cafés, riding the Metro, smoking Gauloises, drinking red wine and wearing fashionable clothes. I had seen pictures in books and even the odd French film, but suddenly this was the real thing. Marianne made Britannia seem rather boring. Continue reading