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South Central MediaScene 2005
- The Year In Review



Below are some of the media developments that made the news in 2005.

 

Authors & Books
The Olive Readers cover 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 hotel). The Water’s EdgeDocuments 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.
Much Ado About Nothing 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.)

Reality TV
Looking For LoveReality 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.
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall 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 Responsibilities
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.

Runaway Production
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 location Under The Greenwood Treefavourite 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.”



Edu-Programming Hits Prime Time
CoastBBC2’s 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.

Centenaries
The Small Back RoomThe 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.)Robert Newton
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 Is Done
Ken Russell Southampton-born 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
James Purefoy 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.
Tony Hancock in The Punch & Judy Man 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 BBCMy Family & Other Animals had adapted as a series in 1987), followed by a BBC Four documentary profile of Durrell.
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.

Madonna Unseated
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 end.

Curse Of The Furry Things?
Curse of the Were-RabbitThere 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 up.

In Development
The Dam Busters, original Pan cover 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 Awards
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.
Bournemouth’s Waterfront buildingVoted 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....

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