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


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

Leicester, Part 2: Turbigo days

I spent three years of my life in Leicester, between 1962 and 1966. In Part 1 I wrote briefly about my earliest impressions of this city, its university, and my tenuous connection to its football team.

Talking recently to another graduate of Leicester University I was reminded of an odd aspect of student life there in the sixties, just one mild absurdity, the use of haute cuisine names for mundane dishes served up in the refectory (academic-speak for canteen.) One ludicrous example  has stayed with me – the term “Turbigo”, used as an adjectival noun in menus, for instance “Chicken Turbigo”.

For me there was something intrinsically laughable about the word itself, and I was amused by the pretentiousness of dressing up canteen food with posh names. Over time I noticed that Turbigo could be applied to just about any main course; the common factor was that the dish always included mushroom stalks. No heads, just the stalks. Continue reading

The great nativity pilgrimage

Spot on Caroline!



I have a theory. The increase in road traffic at this time of year can’t be due to Christmas shoppers as we all shop online nowadays. And it’s too early for the annual dash to the airport for the great Christmas getaway. And as I sat on the A1 the other day in a traffic jam, I had this blinding realisation as to who it was blocking up the lanes – it’s us! Us lot, the over 50s/60s, the grandparents, the proud parents of children who are proud parents of angels, kings, wise men and sheep and what have you. That was it – we were all on the great annual nativity pilgrimage – some driving from one end of the country to another – and mostly, it seemed, on the A1.

Families don’t all live in the same town these days – we know that. So there we all…

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Brexit and Trump – an apology

I’m not a Facebook fan, but today I read something on my timeline written by an old friend and colleague which alone justifies the existence of social media:

phil_cosker_fb_150An apology (by Phil Cosker)

I have no witty aphorism to offer in the face of Brexit and Trump’s victory in the US presidential election. No pithy pun to make me look good. No alliteration to amuse you. And why not? Because Brexit, and now this latest populist insanity in the USA, are not funny. If Brexit was bad Trump’s victory is terrifying. I may have no jokes but I do have something to say – and it’s an apology.

But before that – I am heartbroken that the majority of the people of the countries that make up the United Kingdom (sic) have decided to leave the European Union. Continue reading

Prefabs are back!

So the UK government has rediscovered prefabs! Well done – better late than never I guess. Anyone who had the privilege of growing up on one of Churchill’s post war prefab estates and has lived long enough to tell the tale could have told our leaders at any time since the sixties that prefabs have the potential to transform our endemic housing problem and even help banish enforced homelessness.

Perhaps the government has been influenced not so much by the  opinions of the diminishing number of people who, like me, experienced prefab life in post-war Britain, but by more recent and newsworthy examples of successful prefabricated housing interventions elsewhere, in response to chronic housing problems and international emergencies such as the 2011 Tsunami. For instance, since the only home to remain standing in one devastated Japanese village was a prefab made in the Philippines, business has apparently been booming:

Continue reading

East Coast Reflections: Gibraltar Point and Gunby Hall

Full marks to the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust for the splendid new visitor centre at Gibraltar Point which opened earlier this summer. The spectacular new £1m building replaces the former centre, which suffered extensive flood damage during the storm surge in December 2013. The trust is taking no chances this time – the building is raised on stilts to protect it from any future flooding.

Spectacular is not too strong an adjective, in my opinion. Continue reading