When our local Woolworths closed down it seemed that the heart of the town stopped beating. It’s true that our beloved high street retailer had been ailing for some time, but nevertheless, the fatal blow came as a national shock. My first thoughts were for all those who worked there, suddenly out of a job. This reaction was probably coloured by my own memories of working as a part-time Woolworths Saturday boy in Neasden, London NW10, sweeping floors, bailing cartons and tending the boiler.
The collapse of Woolworths triggered a train of thought; I began to think about all the part-time jobs I had as a hard up teenager, either on weekends or, later, during school holidays. One thing has become quite clear. Though the need for employment back then, between about 1958 and 1962, arose simply because I needed money to buy things which my parents could not have afforded, l now see there was an unforeseen bonus – these were learning experiences which I now value as highly as any amount of official education. Continue reading
We didn’t choose to live in Dunedin. It was a decision made by my employer, the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation, with no consultation. It was also the result of a promise made and broken by the head television producer, Roy (aka “Rosie”) Melford. I had just qualified as a producer, having “passed” Roy’s Producers’ course, which apparently gave the NZBC the right to post me, and my family, to any of the four state-owned TV stations in New Zealand, Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. Roy had promised that if I passed I would be posted to Auckland, as soon as a vacancy occurred. This edict came at a very bad time, shortly after the birth of our second child.
Bear in mind that Wellington, where we lived at the time, and Dunedin are 492 miles apart by air. This wasn’t too bad a prospect for the family, but I would have to get there by road and ferry. The plan was go ahead to find somewhere to live and check in for duty at DNTV2.
When I arrived in Dunedin it was eight degrees below. I had been seasick on the overnight ferry from Wellington to Lyttelton (Christchurch), facing the 230 mile drive in our campervan down the East Coast of the South Island, to find a hotel in Dunedin. I’m not usually fussy about accommodation, but my mood was not improved by finding the only heating in the room was a two-bar electric wall mounted heater. I spent a cold sleepless night fuming about the turn of events and working out what to say in the morning to my new station manager Alf Dick, whom I had never met. Continue reading
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
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
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
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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