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

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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

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

Thank you, Miss Bugler

best_job_150Someone recently asked me what the best job I ever had was. I found it quite hard to answer. For a start, define “job”; would I include all paid employment, self employment and voluntary work? I decided to exclude voluntary work for the time being, but then I had to work out what I meant by “best”.

I decided that it meant the most enjoyable, rather than the best paid, or the easiest. The answer still did not jump out immediately; I have done a lot of jobs in my time. Running through the chronological list, they all seemed to have their pros and cons. So I took another angle, and rephrased the question – what job do I most regret not doing for longer? Continue reading