Central MediaScene 2005
- The Year In Review
Below are some of the media developments that made the news in 2005.
On the local writing scene, Christine Aziz, who earlier gave up a career as
a London health-and-lifestyle journalist to become a Bournemouth homeopathist,
won £50K in the Richard & Judy "How to Get Published"
competition [Feb] for her futuristic fantasy The
Olive Readers. She made the papers a second time [Nov-Dec]
when she was nominated for the Literary Review’s annual ‘Bad
Sex In Fiction’ award, and unlike most authors, attended (‘doing
my bit for Bournemouth’), though she didn’t win. Bournemouth-raised
scriptwriting lecturer Louise Tondeur based a second novel [Oct] on local
sites (Portland, Moreton etc), The Haven Home For Delinquent Girls,
following on her Bournemouth-set 2003 novel The
Water’s Edge (named after a now-vanished Boscombe
obtained [Jan] under freedom of information laws revealed why the authorities
banned, as obscene, an earlier novel about close female relationships, The
Well Of Loneliness, by Bournemouth-born writer Marguerite Radclyffe Hall.
They feared, in 1928, it might lead to “a social and national disaster”
by spreading awareness of lesbianism. In memoir writing, former Bournemouth
schoolgirl Christine “Battle-Axe” Hamilton published For Better
or Worse, focussing on how she and her ex-MP husband Neil cultivated
media careers after he was bankrupted in 1994 by lawsuits.
And in September the Bournemouth
Literary Festival reappeared Phoenix-like, in a new incarnation,
created this time as a private initiative, a decade after the Council abandoned
its attempt to emulate the Edinburgh International Festival, and various local
writing groups had given up on partnership arrangements.
Crime And Mystery
In the crime and mystery genre, there was a new book (Supper
with the Crippens) about Dr Crippen and his partner (partner
in crime, some say) Ethel le Neve, who is remembered locally as, after she
was released, she ran what is now The Crooked Beam Restaurant in Christchurch.
Actor and scriptwriter Julian Fellowes (whose Dorset country house appeared
in the 1995 film of Austen's Emma), continued in the direction he
began with his Oscar-winning feature script Gosford Park by presenting
his own Friday-night prime-time BBC1 docu-drama series re-investigating vintage
upper-crust mysteries, Julian Fellowes Investigates, and turned feature
director with an adaptation of A Way Through The Woods, an autobiographical
novel of marital intrigue by Nigel Balchin (whose The Small Back Room
was part-filmed in Dorset – see 'Centenaries' below).
Famous Five, Forever Young
Enid Blyton's Famous Five series, many of which were written locally, topped
a poll of the best children's books [Dec]. A petition was organised by Vivienne
Endecott, the owner of Ginger
Pop, a local Blyton-souvenir shop, to stop a new Famous Five
series as it will be a modernised cartoon made for the international market.
Grumpy Old Man Dies
Novelist John Fowles died [Nov] at his home in Lyme Regis age 79. The usual
round of obituaries were less than complimentary, characterising him as a
rather puritanical miserabilist. His sudden wealth from film-rights sales
(to The Collector, The Magus and The French Lieutenant’s
Woman), and his annoyance with the resulting screen versions, left him
discomfited, leading to his retreat into antiquarian research and reclusive
behaviour, and his becoming Lyme Regis’s resident grumpy old man (Fowles called LR 'Slime Regis'), complaining
about being persecuted by his readers. There was little mention of how he
had redefined the period novel with a contemporary sensibility in The
French Lieutenant’s Woman.
Seen On Screen
The region was occasionally glimpsed on screen in 2005. Lulworth in particular
continued to draw filmmakers. (Note that what follows is not intended as a
complete list of 2005 shoots - there are always producers, such as the BBC,
who avoid publicity re their location work to minimise disruptions and keep
locations confidential for possible future use.) Lulworth Cove (portraying
California's Big Sur) was seen last winter in Beyond The Sea,
directed by and starring Kevin Spacey as singer Bobby Darin; and this Xmas Durdle
Door was seen in the Emma Thompson children’s film Nanny McPhee.
And according to a local tourism website, a ‘Bollywood’ film also
shot some scenes on Bournemouth beach in August, but no other details were
given. Montacute House, Somerset, appeared in the Johnny Depp vehicle The Libertine.
The most publicised was probably BBC’s Much Ado About Nothing,
in their heavily-trailed series of modernised Shakespearean adaptations.
This was set in the studios of “Wessex Tonight”, which announces
itself with aerial shots of Poole Harbour. There are also a few unidentifiable
seashore and Bournemouth-hotel interior location scenes, and various jokey
local references in a programme-planning scene as to which story should lead
the evening news - the Sturminster Newton Festival Of Cheeses, or the 'Weymouth
Triangle' (a lost fishing boat)? ("It's just like All The President's
Men" comments Benedick.)
TV, a term supplanting the earlier ‘docu-soap’ (used for the late-90s
Bournemouth-based series Dream Town), continued to be a somewhat
perverse label for ITV shows devoted to contrived situations. Meridian TV’s
odd blind-date series Looking For Love, co-sponsored by an online
dating agency, and showing ‘contestants’ being afterwards debriefed
and counselled by a radio DJ cuddling a small dog, had another series, this
one set on Wight instead of in Bournemouth-Poole. Another local-interest ITV series,
Pets & Their Vets, was filmed using a local chain of veterinary
practices and pet-pamper clinics [to be shown Jan-Feb 2006]. The May election
prompted Labour to hire The English Patient writer-director Anthony
Minghella (from Wight) to produce their filmed party-political tv spots -
which according to commentators, managed to make Labour look foolish, though
this was presumably unintentional.
Less contrived was a final season of TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s
charming River Cottage series for C4, on how in order to have a more
self-sufficient and relaxed lifestyle he developed a Dorset smallholding into
an independent business,
the series coming to an end with an update-recap season, River Cottage
Forever, and a two-part road trip.
Cashing In, And Juggling One's
In royal news, Prince Edward the Earl Of Wessex’s royal-documentary
TV production company, Ardent Productions, was in the headlines again [Nov].
It came out it had been re-floated by a mystery ‘offshore’ cash
donation of £350K five years ago, the latest in a series of revelations
it had been allowed to operate outside normal rules due to the Earl and Countess
of Wessex’s royal status. As it had stopped making documentaries several
years ago and had run up £2M in debts, Ardent is now to be wound up,
the mystery money having been officially ‘converted’ to shares
and no longer available.
A local link appeared in the ‘cashing-in’ fuss that surrounded Cherie Blair’s
six-figure fees for a cancer-charity ‘fund-raising’ speaking tour of Australia,
where she spoke on her usual theme of women having to do a lot of ‘juggling’
of their responsibilities. The PR agent behind the arrangements (who was also
deducting a six-figure fee) was former Bournemouth DJ and pop promoter Max
Markson, who had earlier arranged Bill Clinton’s speaking tour there. His
autobiography, originally titled Show Me The Money, described how
he had established himself down under in the 1980s through another kind of
juggling of assets – he helped popularise the wet T-shirt competition in Australia.
There were a few more runaway shoots (where a work is not filmed locally but
arguably should be). ITV’s new series about Agatha Christie’s
elderly sleuth Marple (no ’Miss’ about it, title- or
concept- wise) starring Geraldine McEwan as Jane Marple and all-star-guest-casts
avoided using Bournemouth as its 1980s BBC predecessor had done for the seaside
resort ‘Danemouth’. Dr Who returned as a major hit on
BBC1, but there was nothing to be seen of the Dorset quarries that were a
in the earlier, lower-budget pre-CGI series. And there was yet another in
a succession of Hardy adaptations not filmed in Hardy Country: ITV’s
Xmas drama Under The Greenwood Tree, filmed – for the first
time since the birth of talkies – this time mainly using a country life
museum on Jersey as the Wessex country village. Writer Ashley Pharoah explained
“I went back to Dorset to the village it was set in, Stinsford ...
although it was pretty clear we couldn’t shoot there. Jersey looks more
like Dorset did in Hardy’s time.”
Hits Prime Time
surprise-hit documentary series of the summer, Coast, had several
local-interest segments (on Poole Harbour, Studland’s nudist beach,
and the Jurassic Coast). That it was a hit, beating out both C4’s Big
Brother and Ricky Gervais’s new BBC series in the ratings surprised
many as it was actually an “educational” programme, and thus went
against conventional tv-executive wisdom the public is not interested in education.
It was actually a co-production with the Open University, part of their new
brief to produce shows that can be aired in ‘normal’ viewing hours
– as opposed to the graveyard slot the OU has had since it began on
BBC2 in the 1970s. The BBC had in fact decided that even with the possibility
of taping off-air, BBC2 should be concentrating more on documentary and less
on ‘light entertainment’. The coverage in The Times noted
that thousands had signed up for the guided coast walks advertised at the
end of each episode. (The series website, with walking guides, is here.
100th anniversary of the birth of director Michael
Powell, whose inspiration to other directors (such as Martin Scorcese)
is commemorated annually via The Michael Powell Award, was celebrated nationally
with a programme of film showings and radio and tv documentaries. (Powell
grew up partly in Poole and the New Forest, returning to the area to stay
in 5-star hotels, and filming the classic bomb-defusing finale of The
Small Back Room on Chesil.)
Another centenary [June] was that of the birth of Shaftesbury-born actor Robert
Newton, which was commemorated by a blue plaque there. Newton's enduring popular
legacy of course remains his classic Long John Silver character, for which
he drew on his youthful familiarity with West Country accents. His eye rolling,
'r' rolling, interpretation is still the subject of many imitations and pantomime
caricatures of the 'Arrrr Jim me-lad' type, but is not generally understood.
His great innovation, just a few years before he died of alcoholism, was to
utilise the antiquarian West Country speech idiom that was dying out but that
he had grown up around, for his irascible pegleg sea-dog, Silver. (If you
want to see an authentic example, courtesy of tribute site Mooncove.com,
hover your mouse on the image.)
Never Give Up Till The Fight
veteran maverick film-maker Ken Russell, 78, who had filmed in the area since
the 60s, was in the news because of his refusal to accept the end of his career
after winning a lifetime-achievement award in Istanbul. He was seen in BBC
One's Ken Russell - A Picture of The South [June], where he revisited
locations he had used across the region, from Larmer Tree to Portsmouth to
Wight, and was interviewed at his New Forest home, where he lives with his
4th wife (whom he met via the internet). He told how he had been unable to
get his scripts produced and been reduced to shooting films using a hand-held
digital camera, such as his straight-to-DVD The Fall Of The Louse Of Usher.
The title, which is not a misprint, offered a clue as to why he can’t
get commercial backing, the clips of this and other recent works showing that
he had become a self-caricature of his earlier enfant terrible persona,
now doing schoolboy sendups of his distinguished earlier arts-documentary
work, from which clips were also shown.
Debuts, Discoveries & Retrospectives
The latest in a line of ex-Sherborne School pupils found screen success, following
in the footsteps of John Le Mesurier, Jeremy Irons et al, in a role previously
played by Brando. Somerset-born James Purefoy, seen last year in ITV’s
The Mayor Of Casterbridge, played a Marc Anthony who was not a tortured
idealist as with Brando in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, but
a sardonic, not-too-bright hedonist who could still be a dangerous political
adversary, in HBO/BBC’s big-budget drama serial Rome - a 2nd series of which is be shown in 2006.
Another Bournemouth schoolboy was chosen straight out of school (as Christian
Bale was for Empire Of The Sun), and was hired -- after losing the
chance to play young Hannibal Lecter -- to portray Euan Blair in the upcoming
feature The Queen (starring Helen Mirren as HM).
BBC’s Xmas TV bonanza included retrospective coverage of a couple of
earlier, now deceased, celebrities who spent their boyhood in Bournemouth.
There were a pair of documentaries on Tony Hancock, and a new one-off dramatisation
of Gerald Durrell’s humorous expat-childhood memoir My Family &
Other Animals (which BBC
had adapted as a series in 1987), followed by a BBC Four documentary profile
And after receiving his knighthood from the Queen, actor Sir David Jason at
his press call outside the Palace mentioned [Dec] that originally he had been
‘discovered’ as a talent in the 1960s while performing in an end-of-the-pier
show in Bournemouth.
Press coverage of the past two years on how the pop and film star turned children’s
writer Madonna has reinvented herself as a lady-of the-manor country sportswoman
got an unexpected boost in August. She and her husband, film director Guy
Ritchie, had purchased a 1,132-acre country seat at Ashcombe House near Tollard
Royal on the Dorset-Wilts boundary, and had just fought, and largely won [May],
a court battle to keep the public off the estate to use it exclusively for
private shooting, and riding. While celebrating her 47th birthday, she fell
off her horse and broke various major bones, though recovering by year’s
Curse Of The Furry
was an odd story re Wallace and Gromit’s debut feature (after
3 shorts), The Curse of the Were-Rabbit – did it
have its own curse? National press coverage [Oct] was generated
when locals on Portland objected to the word ‘rabbit’
on posters, as it was taboo due to an ancient superstition, the
locals using euphemisms like "furry things". But the exhibitors
declined to change the posters or title (‘Curse of The Were
Furry Things’ does lack a certain something). When the film
opened in Weymouth, the curse struck – the film broke and
melted, and the showing had to be cancelled, generating more coverage.
The entire warehouse containing Ardman’s props also burnt
A local-interest feature film was announced [June] on the rise,
fall and recovery of an amphetamine addict, based on the memoir
Addict by Stephen Smith, who in the late 1970s went from
London high life to sleeping rough in Boscombe. The project had
in fact been announced before, in the late 1990s, but the signing-up
of Johnny Depp as star and Andy Serkis (Gollum and King Kong) as
director put it back in the news. A sequel to the successful 1998
Cate Blanchett film Elizabeth focussing on her onetime
favoured courtier the Sherborne MP Sir Walter Raleigh, played by
Clive Owen, is in the making; the 1998 film used Athelhampton and
Montacute among its many stately-home locations. Pierce Brosnan,
who named his son after the poet Dylan Thomas, is financing Caitlin,
on Dylan’s stormy marriage, with Miranda Richardson as Caitlin.
Their first home together was actually at Fordingbridge on the edge
of the New Forest – though of course this may turn into another
runaway production, shot in Ireland. David Frost announced he was
remaking The Dam Busters, a story with several local connections
(e.g. the bomb was tested at Chesil Beach). The fact 2006 is the
centenary of the birth [Aug] of Poet Laureate John Betjeman (who
had various local connections) means a series of radio and tv documentaries
will now be in development for next summer, some no doubt incorporating
his own witty and charming b&w architectural documentaries.
Publishers Cut Back
In publishing, the area’s largest magazine group, Bournemouth-based
Highbury Entertainment Ltd, which earlier took over the Paragon group, and
publishes around 30 IT-consumer magazines, announced [Dec] it was in financial
difficulty due to over-expansion, and the fact its planned sell-off to Future
Publishing was blocked by the OFT, and some local staff jobs were now in question.
Its executive chairman, former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie, resigned
before Xmas after he was unable to resolve the crisis.
The Best And Worst Venues Win
Highcliffe’s 5-star Chewton Glen Hotel, where film stars such as Minnie
Driver and Cate Blanchett and other VIPs stay (Sunday Times restaurant
critic Michael ‘Death Wish’ Winner often mentions it), was voted
[Oct] by Conde Nast Traveller magazine as best in Britain, and 2nd-best in
the world, although the Daily Mail’s
"An Inspector Calls" mystery hotel-guest columnist promptly rubbished
it as dowdy.
the worst, and a candidate for demolition in the public interest, was Bournemouth’s
Waterfront building. This contains the closed-down Sheridan IMAX cinema, now
only open to suggestions as to future use as a venue – hotel, casino,
swimming pool, ice rink? This depressing five-year saga had just ended predictably
with news [Oct] of its being foreclosed by its leaseholders (for failing to
re-open once again), when it featured on C4’s Demolition [Dec].
In this Saturday-night TV series polling the ugliest buildings in Britain,
Janet Street-Porter was bussed in to gawk at it with horror at how it looms
over the Pier approach, spoiling the view of the bay, which won it the title
Worst Building In England.
Another form of anticipated demolition failed to materialize. In November, press photographers from around England converged on Bournemouth town centre, after drunken street rioting was predicted in England’s ‘Clubland’ capital when 24-hour drinking came into effect.
What Has The Da Vinci Code
Ever Done For Us?
The most interesting ‘non-story’ was how what is called eso-tourism
or Esoteric Tourism has failed to develop locally. This is the latest variation
of the fad for ‘set-jetting’ --where people visit locations of
films or novels they’ve enjoyed. Eso-tourism, inspired by novels like
The Da Vinci Code, with visits to ‘esoteric’ or mysterious
sites involving Knights Templar etc, failed to happen here, despite the region
possessing a wealth of mystery sites and associated legends....