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South Central MediaScene 2006
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Rosamunde Pilcher Country Starts … Here The most-viewed film-TV drama series shot in the region remains the least-known locally.

So, Mister Bond, We Meet Your Family At Last…. With the new 007 film out this week, the press has been running tie-in features on Bond and his creator. One aspect of 007's creation still not widely known is that Fleming - and thus James Bond - had local roots down here on the south coast.

‘King Leer’ Gets His Due The figure some regard as the  father of crusading journalism in Britain is finally receiving biographical recognition, over two centuries after he died. Locally, he is remembered by some as the man who drove the Prime Minister to seek refuge down here.

From Bournemouth To Bestsellerdom And Back Compared to the Betjeman centenary, the 50th anniversary of Gerald Durrell's autobiographical bestseller My Family And Other Animals has received little media coverage, but remains an anniversary worth noting here for its local interest.

The Betjeman Code A recently published document concerning the poet's private life proves to contain a secret code with a warning for future biographers.

Betjeman Centenary Poet Laureate John Betjeman, whose centenary is being commemorated by various media events, had various local links.

Winchester And The Da Vinci Code Winchester has become part of the Da Vinci Code tourist ‘trail’.

Hardy - The Secret Life? Due to its title, the new Hardy biography has been reviewed as to what to it reveals of the private life of the region’s greatest novelist and poet.

Restoration And Renovation Not many films get made in Bournemouth, but one that did has a link to the town's Gothic past.

Our Film Production Scene, Ten Years On In 1996 I wrote a report about this. But now, a decade on, what has really changed?

Jurassic Coast For The Armchair Traveller A complete traverse of the 95-mile World Heritage Jurassic Coast is now possible for the armchair-traveller, via a new DVD/video series.

Jane Austen 2006 Various media events are being based on Austen's work, including the first film based on her life.

Far From The Madding Crowd On ‘Widescreen’ DVD Another locally-shot film has been issued as a newspaper giveaway DVD, this one considered by some the best ever filmed in Dorset.

The Sex Manual That Changed the World The TV version of Twelve Books That Changed the World begins with a work by another local-interest author.

Picture Yourself In A Boat On The River … The River Frome, That Is Long-unseen photos surface of John Lennon’s local boating trips, which may have inspired his song Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.

Ken Russell - Altered Fates New Forest's resident veteran filmmaker Ken Russell back in the headlines after a life-changing event.

Casting Daylight On The 'Gentlemen Of The Night' A new local-interest smuggling documentary.

The Romantics Slept Here? The BBC-TV/Open U. series The Romantics focused on Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, Clare, and Keats - all of whom had local connections.

Mary Wollstonecraft – A Woman For Our Time One of Melvyn Bragg's Twelve Books That Changed the World is by a writer whose family tomb is in Bournemouth.

Getting The Bends Near Lady Madonna Good news for filmmakers looking for that steep road with hairpin bends closer than the Alps (or the Highlands) ... there's one in Madonna's back yard.

Cavalier Dorset On DVD Dorset locations go on view as backdrops to Regency and Cavalier romances.

British Cinema's Bad Boy Carries On, Student Filmmaker-Style With an onslaught of new projects, Ken Russell refuses to go quietly.

Hardy's Dorset Goes To China As Ripley used to say, Believe It Or Not!

H-HHancock's Half-Life There may be more to come on the comedian's life and how it all went wrong.


Rosamunde Pilcher Country Starts … Here
Corfe and Stonehenge both appear in Rosamunde Pilcher TV adaptations.The filming of TV dramas in an area often boosts tourism. It's ironic that the series that draws the most tourists to southwestern England is the least known locally. During the past two decades, dozens of TV adaptations of the romantic novels of Rosamunde Pilcher OBE have been filmed in Dorset, Devon and Cornwall. This fact remains relatively unknown no doubt partly because these are foreign-language adaptations, and partly because TV romance-dramas do not attract critical notices, except of the derisory kind. But Pilcher, who is originally from Cornwall, remains less well-known in Britain than in Europe even as a novelist. (Her breakthrough novel, after three decades of obscurity, was her 1987 The Shell Seekers, which was filmed in Cornwall in 1989 and again this year.)
A few of the TV productions (Nancherrow, Coming Home etc.) were filmed for British and US TV, largely on location in Cornwall, but most of these TV dramas have been made by Frankfurter Filmproduktion for ZDF (German state TV), who used British company Steamship Films to handle much of the location work. The International Movie Database listing has over 60 German/Austrian and UK TV productions, stretching back to 1993. The ZDF productions are now a staple of Sunday-night German TV, viewed by up to ten million people. These are feature-length single dramas apparently filmed entirely on location, with locations in Dorset, Devon and Cornwall sometimes representing actual named locations and sometimes fictional 'generic' ones. Often directed by Rolf von Sydow (son of Max, the famous Swedish actor), they use German actors speaking German, with the odd English word such as 'cheerio' thrown in for local colour. (The approach is reminiscent of those WWII films where German officers when alone speak English to each other - though of course with a German accent.)
There are now German guidebooks to, and calendars of, "Rosamunde Pilcher's Cornwall," and German tour companies run week-long coach-trip packages around southwest England on the strength of the TV versions. This phenomenon is known as 'The Pilcher Factor' and it's said that even the author is at a loss to explain it. The tourism potential however is evident enough when you watch a few of the TV episodes. It lies in the fact the stories are romances of the 'heart-warming' sort, with family reunions as well as male-female romantic entanglements. For example, in the 2002 Morgen Träumen Wir Gemeinsam (literally "Tomorrow We Dream Together", also given as Let's Think About Tomorrow), taken from the second part of a Pilcher story called A Home For A Day, an attractive thirty-something mother visits Dorset (Bournemouth, the Purbecks, Milton Abbas, etc.). There, as well as being reunited with an old flame, she is reunited with her long-lost teenage daughter (who we see practising archery at a country college).
Everyone in these TV versions (except for the odd gardener) seems to be well-bred and well-groomed, dressed in expensive knitwear from the Marks & Spencer catalogue, and drives expensive sporty cars around an England with no litter, no lager louts. The English country types seen often own horses, which they ride along the clifftops for scenic effect. The skies are usually sunny (ZDF seem to have been luckier than many with their production schedule), except where the script calls for a climactic storm of the Thomas Hardy sort, which knocks trees down, trapping characters in their cars or giving the heroine a chance to show off her horse-riding skills. It's a romantic fantasy of an England of white cliffs and cream teas. Local authorities like Poole are actually now in effect paying to have Pilcher films shot in their areas, brokering deals to offer the filmmakers free accommodation etc worth tens of thousands of pounds, as the 'Pilcher factor' has brought in an estimated £14 million in tourist revenues to Cornwall.
Old Harry Rocks, Studland peninsula As usual, the south-central region doesn't get proper recognition here, with the tourism focus on Cornwall and Devon. This is despite the fact the film company is fond of using Old Harry Rocks or Corfe Castle as a gateway-to-Pilcher-Country aerial opening shot even if the drama is set much farther down the coast, as with Flamme der Liebe (2003). Frankfurter FP New Media GmbH (as they now are) actually shot two productions back-to-back (a practice they've followed before) here this summer. One is called Die Liebe ihres Lebens ('The love of her life'), (from her story “The Happy Feeling”). I haven't been able to confirm the other title yet (it may be Wo die Liebe begann - Where Love Began). For the former (shown on ZDF in October), the production filmed scenes at Old Harry peninsula, Studland (Manor, Church and village), Corfe Castle [pictured], Clavel Tower and the Purbeck Coast Path, the inn at Plush, Cerne Abbas village, Salisbury (Cathedral and street), Minterne Magna house and estate, Bournemouth (Dean Park cricket pavilion), Poole, and Stonehenge [pictured - hover your mouse over the Corfe image].
If you want to view any of these ZDF 90-minute Pilcher TV adaptations, most are now on video and DVD (in German, not subtitled), and you can order these from ZDF's own online shop page. (Unlike France, Germany is on the same electronic standard as Britain.) The recent Die Liebe ihres Lebens isn't listed yet, but the Dorset-filmed Morgen Träumen Wir Gemeinsam (plot summarised above) is. Another locally-shot production was Der Preis der Liebe (The Price Of Love) (1997), which reportedly (haven't seen it myself) used Corfe Castle, Bournemouth Arcade, Bournemouth Airport, and Somerley House outside Ringwood. There is also Und Plotzlich War Es Liebe (roughly, "And Suddenly There Was Love") adapted from her 1958 novel Family Affair, which uses the Purbeck cliffs, Wimborne Minster (Cornmarket, Minster Books, etc), Studland, Swanage Pier, and Old Harry rocks (for an evening picnic scene).

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So, Mister Bond, We Meet Your Family At Last….
Compass Magazine cover showing Daniel Craig as 007With the new 007 film out this week, the press has been running tie-in features, the keynote being that with this film version of the very first Bond novel, the film series is finally getting away from the flippant playboy routines and back to the roots of the character as Ian Fleming created him. In Casino Royale, we get a Bond who bleeds, who is human in ways we have not seen before. One aspect of 007's creation however that is still not widely known is that Fleming - and thus James Bond - had local roots down here on the south coast.
After his father died in WWI, his mother packed young Ian and his older brother Peter (who became a travel writer) off to a boarding school outside Swanage, called Durnford. Fleming's biographer John Pearson says it was the most unusual prep school in England, encouraging boys to roam the Purbeck hills, carry knives, and go on 'raids'. Young Ian went in something of a mummy's boy (his letters home survive), but there he was able to cultivate a sense of boyish adventure. The headmaster had created the rock-cut swimming pool at Dancing Ledge where the boys swam naked. Young Ian became interested in swimming and snorkeling, something that would feature in the 007 novels, with their regular underwater scenes. (Ian himself would go on to become a school sports champion at Eton.)
The name of Fleming's hero may have suggested itself at this time. His own explanation that he chose the name for its plainness, taking it from an American author of a book on birds seems, from a lifelong snob like Fleming, more a cover story. The Purbeck hills where young Ian roamed were also home to one of England's grandest families: the Bonds of Bond Street in London. In On Her Majesty's Secret Service, 007 researches his family tree for a case, and is told he may be related to them. He adopts the old family motto, taken from the Roman writer Juvenal's epithet for Alexander the Great: Unus pellaeo iuveni non sufficit orbis - 'For a young fellow, the world is not enough.' It could easily have been Fleming's own credo for his fictional hero, and was used as the title for a later 007 film.
There were also local sources of literary inspiration. The headmaster, whose daughter became a novelist (Hester Chapman) encouraged the boys to read adventure novels. In the evenings the headmaster's wife would read aloud to the boys while one of them massaged her feet. The choice of reading matter went from the locally-set smuggling adventure Moonfleet to Bulldog Drummond, who Fleming would later name as his literary inspiration for 007. (Drummond was an ex WWI officer who conducted vigilante operations against 'subversive' groups.) Young Ian still had to 'report' to his disapproving mother (who always regarded him as a disappointment), and who he addressed as 'M'.
Fleming was also encouraged by the novelist Phyllis Bottome (1882-1963), who grew up partly in Bournemouth, where her father served as curate at St Peter's downtown. Fleming met her later, when to "finish" him, his mother sent him to a language school in Kitzbuhel run by her and her husband Forbes-Dennis. She herself was a successful novelist (50 novels, 4 filmed), and unlike his real mother, offered him maternal encouragement to develop his interests. It was for her the 19-year old Ian wrote his very first story. She was a follower, and later biographer of the psychologist Adler. As therapy for his inferiority complex (he was always overshadowed by older brother Peter), she encouraged him to create gothic adventures with fantastic villains. She maintained her maternal interest in his work, keeping up a lifelong correspondence. There in the Alps, Fleming also took up skiing, driving fast cars, womanising, and so was born the playboy side of Fleming that James Bond 007 would cater to as a fantasy alter ego….

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'King Leer' Finally Gets His DueDetail from etching 'John Wilkes Esqr.' by William Hogarth, 1763
The figure some regard as the father of crusading journalism in Britain has finally received proper biographical recognition, over two centuries after he died. John Wilkes (1725-97) is probably best remembered today for one example of his political repartee: when the Earl of Sandwich told him, ‘you will die either on the gallows, or of the pox,’ Wilkes replied, ‘That must depend on whether I embrace your lordship’s principles or your mistress.’ Wilkes was a colourful character involved in a remarkable chain of events that had lasting consequences for press and parliamentary freedom. In America, where his writing helped inspire the Bill of Rights, he became such a hero towns were named after him, as were individuals (including Lincoln's assassin John Wilkes Booth), but in England where he lived and worked, he remains relatively unknown. Earlier this year I wrote a feature about him, inspired by the discovery the story had a local connection, which I'd found while working on an earlier feature (Our Forgotten Regency Resort). For in 1763 it was Wilkes's crusading press campaign which virtually drove the PM of the day, Lord Bute, into resigning and fleeing London. Bute moved down here and built the stately home which the present Highcliffe Castle replaced … after both the house and its owner had fallen victim to the collapsing clifftop.
Opinion on John Wilkes's place in history has always been divided, and one can understand the difficulty history might have in writing him up. The Dictionary Of National Biography's entry on Wilkes has recently appeared as one of their featured online lives-of-the-week. These entries (like obits) are written long before they are published, the DNB putting them online if possible when there is some contemporary tie-in. The entry follows a new biography, Arthur H Cash's John Wilkes: The Scandalous Father Of Civil Liberty. The DNB send out copies of their lives-of-the-week entries by daily email to subscribers, with a custom subject-line similar to a news headline; the one sent out last month for Wilkes read: "King Leer." This is no doubt a reference to Wilkes as a scandal-mongering newspaperman akin to today's tabloid editor. For instance, he published, as the Encyclopædia Britannica put it, “libellous innuendos about Bute's relations with George III's mother.”
Wilkes was not only an opportunistic newspaper editor, he was also an opportunistic opposition politician - an MP and later Mayor of London. Some historians suspect he was the inspiration for Dr Johnson's famous quote about patriotism being the last refuge of the scoundrel. We could add to the DNB's rough pun: just like Shakespeare's King Lear, Wilkes made major mis-judgements, outlived his moment in history and ended almost an exile in his own country. Yet his legacy would survive. Another new book, Vic Gatrell's City Of Laughter: Sex And Satire In 18th-Century London details how the age was a time when political cartoonists flourished alongside the newspapermen. This was despite the considerable dangers and difficulties involved, dramatized last week by a two-hour C4 docudrama on Hogarth. Wilkes's own 'King Leer' image was largely a result of Hogarth's caricaturing him [pictured above] as "a foolish grinning man with demonic horns formed by his wig" (to quote the official portrait catalogue description) after the two fell out over a Wilkes exposé. (He had an odd facial appearance, with a squint in one eye and a prognathous jaw.)
As I indicated in my feature, the better-known William Cobbett, often classed as the first modern journalist, was following in Wilkes's footsteps as crusading journalist-turned-MP. (Cobbett got his biographical due last year, courtesy of long-time Private Eye editor Richard Ingrams, who saw contemporary relevance in Cobbett's life.) Despite Wilkes's reputation as an opportunist his achievements were real enough. To quote the DNB: "For two decades Wilkes fought for 'liberty', whether freedom from arbitrary arrest, the rights of voters, or the freedom of the press to criticize government and report parliament. He suffered exile, financial ruin, and imprisonment for his principles, and by a combination of political courage and tactical skill won notable victories over government. … After Wilkes British politics would never be the same again: his career permanently widened the political dimension beyond the closed world of Westminster, Whitehall, and Windsor."

Anyone who thinks this is all just ancient history without contemporary relevance should take note of this week's report from the organisation Reporters Without Borders. They produce an annual report, the Press Freedom Index, with national rankings. Britain comes only 27th, while the US is now 53rd (having fallen nearly forty places since the post-9/11 clampdowns). F
or those interested in press-freedom issues, and the legalistic shenanigans government resorts to suppress influential criticism, I've put my feature onsite here:
The 'Tuppenny Press' And The Birth Of The English Newspaper
.

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From Bournemouth To Bestsellerdom And Back
Bournemouth seafront, stormyCompared to the coverage Betjeman centenary has received, the 50th anniversary of Gerald Durrell's autobiographical bestseller My Family And Other Animals has received little notice. A few press articles, a documentary on Radio 4's Saturday-night Archive Hour (Discover Your Inner Durrell, 16-9-06), and on TV a late-night BBC2 repeat of BBC4's Xmas special The Wild Side Of Gerald Durrell documentary (but no repeat of the BBC2 TV-movie length adaptation they put on at Xmas.) Nonetheless, it remains an anniversary worth noting here for its local interest.
As the opening of the book describes, it was seven years in rain-swept Bournemouth that the family were escaping in 1935, when they sailed to Corfu for those five magical years of bohemian living in the sun, which became the basis of his best-selling memoir. (There are amusing references to Bournemouth throughout the book and the 2005 TV adaptation, from the first scene on.) And the family returned here when war broke out, and postwar had various residences in the town. (These were mainly 51 and 52 St Albans Avenue, Charminster, addresses at one time on the Bournemouth Literary Festival Tour. For more info, see Douglas Botting's 1999 Gerald Durrell: The Authorized Biography.)
In one house, his sister Margo set up a guest house where members of the family could also stay on visits, while next door Gerry bought a house where in 1956-7 he tried in vain to set up a zoo, having already installed some 400 animals in the house and garage. He gave up in disgust at Bournemouth Council's interminable delays, and Poole Council's attempt to get him to pay £10,000 for repairs to their derelict Upton House, and remained scathing about 'the constipated mentality of local government.' (Instead he caught a ferry to Jersey, and established his now internationally-known endangered-species zoo there.)
The family nevertheless continued to have local links, with Gerry and his novelist brother Lawrence returning to visit Mother and stay at Margo's (whose own 1951 memMy Family And Other Animals, 50th anniversary edition coveroir of life as a Bournemouth landlady was published in 1995, the year Gerald died.) Lawrence helped Gerry with his writing, and in 1956 would himself complete the first book in what proved to be a major development in the 20th-century novel, The Alexandria Quartet (pub. 1957-60). There are anecdotal stories deriving from these other family stays in Bournemouth in Gerry's collections The Picnic & Suchlike Pandemonium, and Marrying Off Mother.
The best memorial for any writer is of course the continuing popularity of his writing. Never out of print since 1956, My Family And Other Animals has been though many editions, including being made a set book in the 1960s for English O-Levels. This August, it came out in a 50th-anniversary inexpensive paperback edition [pictured]. The book's first chapter, opening in rainy old Bournemouth, is reproduced online (for some reason in extremely large type) here. Despite Durrell's having worked with the BBC on documentaries since the 1960s, his work has received little release on home video or DVD. The BBC2 Xmas 2005 TV-movie adaptation is only out so far on Region One (US standard) DVD ). But the 1987 BBC 250-minute miniseries version of the book, long out of print as a video box set, was issued on DVD on September 18th.


The Betjeman Centenary And The De Harben Code
Hillier's biography, volume 3 As the Betjeman Centenary [see entry below] rolls on with its month-long programme of events, a number of literary reviews and TV documentaries claim or imply he was a snob, an issue discussed (and rejected) by a New Statesman essay [4 Sep] which says that JB himself was a lifelong victim of class snobbery by the upper classes, who regarded him as 'common' and later as an upstart who needed to be put in his place - a process which now seems to be extending beyond the grave. The rivalry between pro- and anti-Betjeman biographies has led to an incident that has left Britain's leading biographer looking foolish. At the Edinburgh Book Festival, biographer A. N. Wilson read a taster from his upcoming biography Betjeman which made headlines. "Betjeman Poet, Hero Of Middle England & A Very Bad Boy. The Secret Second Wife! The Gay Affair With A Labour MP!" was the Telegraph's. ("The idea of John Betjeman as the lyricist of Middle England - celebrating old churches, evensong and country tea rooms - suffered a considerable jolt yesterday when an extract from a forthcoming biography of the poet claimed he was "a compulsive philanderer who had a secret 'second wife' and boasted of a gay fling with a top Labour politician".) The scandal of it! Will these Poets Laureate never learn?
The capper to this, 'The De Harben Code,' got the story into the US press. Wilson's forthcoming biography is reported as one of those which 'draws on unpublished letters', and it soon emerged there was a good reason why one of them - supposedly a 'steamy' love-letter from a previously unknown mistress - was unpublished. It was an encoded fake created by Bevis Hillier, whose rival biography Wilson, wearing his literary critic's hat, had trashed. Wilson had also attacked Hiller personally, saying he was a sad case who didn't live in London but in a medieval almshouse in the country (in Winchester), where he no doubt wore a smock like a pathetic old peasant, and so on.
Hillier at first denied, then admitted, the revenge hoax. The Sunday Times was tipped off by a followup letter from the same source, Eve de Harben, which proved to be an anagram for "Ever been had?" The letter said the hoax was to avenge an attack the waspish Wilson had once made on another rival biographer, Humphrey Carpenter (who did biographies on Tolkien etc). Hillier then said it was newspaper reports announcing that Wilson's upcoming bio, done in only a year, will be 'the big one', when he himself had spent 25 years on his 3-volume work. The 'de Harben' letter contained a coded message in the form of an acrostic. That is, if you read the first letter of each sentence, it forms a message, in this case, "AN Wilson is a …" - well, you get the idea - for the rest, see The Sunday Times article or Hillier's own account of his reasons, "You Deserved It, AN Wilson."
The Times has since revealed that Hillier got the assignment of writing the poet's life in the first place by means of an earlier literary hoax, dating back to 1976. When the publishers gave the job to 'some American girl' (actually a young Canadian academic), Hillier wrote a poem called The Biographer lampooning her academic approach, in the style of JB. ('... Miss Grabwitz was there with her notes./"And did you win prizes at Marlborough? And were you the Captain of Boats?"... She fed her notes into computers /And chewed at her Wrigley's gum. '). JB liked the spoof and mischievously forwarded it to the publishers, who took it as a genuine JB poem signalling his dislike of 'Miss Grabwitz', and gave the job to the hoaxer Hillier.
Wilson's biog is now being reprinted without the hoax letter, while the original edition has become an instant collector's item, sold on eBay. (For an American-press take on the matter and London as a "fecund swamp for literary feuds and counterfeuds", see "London Literary Hoax Is Its Own Whodunit" here.) I suspect JB would regard all this as a grand literary prank, and roar with laughter, just as he is depicted on his bronze sculpture and in his official website photo.


Betjeman Centenary
St Stephen's, Bournemouth: Betjeman said in a radio essay it was worth visiting even if you were sick on the coach. Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman (1906-84), the centenary of whose birth (on August 28th) is currently being commemorated in various media, had various local links. In the 1930s, he helped come up with the idea of the Shell Guides aimed at encouraging motorists to appreciate the country's architectural heritage, and edited many of the now-classic series, including poet Paul Nash's Dorset (1936). From 1932-55 he was also a radio broadcaster, and his 1949 radio essay on Bournemouth later him led him to become Founding President of the new Civic Society in 1972. His friend, and onetime assistant, bookseller Reg Read, became the Bournemouth & District Civic Society secretary. (A dozen previously unpublished poems in his possession for thirty years have just been published this April.) He also did radio talks on William Barnes the Dorset poet, and on the New Forest. Regarding Bournemouth, he said St Stephen's Church [pictured] was worth going to visit even if it meant you were sick on the coach getting there.
Betjeman wrote poems inspired by local visits: his 'Hearts Together' "recalls a sunny day spent on Dancing Ledge," while his "Youth And Age On The Beaulieu River, Hants" was based on a 1960s stay in the New Forest. Earlier on, in 1932, he had written a famous poem just called "Dorset", which made play with its double-barrelled village names. ("Rime Intrinseca, Fontmell Magna, Sturminster / Newton and Melbury Bubb,/ Whist upon whist upon whist drive, /in Institute, Legion and Social Club.") He also wrote one called "The Heart Of Thomas Hardy." (He became Poet Laureate in 1972, after the death of C. Day Lewis, who himself had local links, and is buried next to Hardy in Stinsford Cemetary near Dorchester).
In the 1960s, he switched from radio to TV broadcasting and made a series of acclaimed travel documentaries focussing on architecture. His TV documentaries are mainly on the West Country where he was happiest, but there were also one closer to home, on Dorset. Part of a 1962 series by now-defunct West Country TV, this was believed lost until 1993, when the silent 16mm footage was located, and in the resulting 'Lost Betjemans' C-4 series, actor Nigel Hawthorne read the scripted original narration. These documentaries allowed him to combine his poetry, interest in architecture, and childhood nostalgia for seaside towns. (To give a flavour: "Farewell, seductive Sidmouth by the sea/ Older and more exclusive than Torquay/ Sidmouth in Devon, you're the town for me.")
Despite their humour, and the view of some academics he was an intellectual lightweight (he had been sent down from Oxford) who wrote doggerel, these documentaries were part of his lifelong campaign to promote conservation of pre-modern buildings. He is credited with helping create public awareness of the ugliness of utilitarian modernism. (In one of his poems he wrote "Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough! / It isn't fit for humans now," - something that today could get one arrested under the Terrorism Act.)
Media Coverage: ITV has been transmitting a retrospective series, Betjeman’s West Country, reprising some of the 1960s documentary footage (including one on JB's respect for Hardy). BBC2 has been broadcasting its 3-part Betjeman And Me (on JB's self-confessed impact on 3 other media figures), and a BBC4 documentary on the"lesser-known" Betjeman will no doubt be repeated there as well as on BBC2. For info on 'live' events, see his official website. For background on his life and work, see here. While his Collected Poems are in print, poetry should be heard, and there are various CDs (originally LPs and cassettes) of his work available (mostly with 'ragtime' style intro music by Jim Parker). His radio talks or essays don't seem to be on CD, but a book of transcripts of these has been published, as Trains and Buttered Toast. His documentary on Sherborne is on the DVD box-set 'Betjeman', which includes (along with Devizes, Bath, Sidmouth etc) "The Lost Betjemans" series two, which was called 'Betjeman Revisited'. These and other DVDs are available through DDHE. Anglia TV's Late Flowering Love (1981) aka Betjeman's Britain, with an all-star cast 'doing' his poems on location, was remade as a cinema-short version (which accompanied Raiders Of The Lost Ark), but neither of these films seems to be available as a a DVD. (The title 'Late Flowering Love' is used for a poetry-readings CD, while 'Betjeman's Britain' has been recycled for a different DVD. The most complete biography is the series of volumes by Winchester-based writer (and literary prankster) Bevis Hillier, which have been appearing since 1988, on the complex character behind the "nation's teddy bear" public image.

Winchester And The Da Vinci Code
Winchester Cathedral interiorWinchester, historic capital of Wessex and for most people the gateway to the south-central region, has become part of the Da Vinci Code tourist 'trail'. In fact it has a double link with The Da Vinci Code. First, the Cathedral has become a film location. It appeared in two scenes, and "doubled" as Westminster Abbey after Abbey officials changed their mind about allowing filming there.
For a flashback-style scene, the tombs of 19C 'worthies' (Jane Austen is there) were covered with 'fake ancient stonework,' and, as The Guardian reported, 'the glorious medieval building was flooded with special effects mist, through which ranks of armoured Knights Templar assembled to surround the Pope.' The Cathedral was paid a £20,000 facilities fee for this. This represents only about 3 days normal running costs for the Cathedral, and to raise further funds from this new revenue stream, it is appearing in other films. Crowd scenes have already been shot there for director Shekhar Kapur's follow-up to his award-winning 1998 Elizabeth (starring Cate Blanchett), called Elizabeth:The Golden Age. (Recent shcolarship suggests it was scarcely golden, but they obviously can't just call the sequel "Elizabeth II" .) The new film, this time to co-star Clive Owen will star as courtier (and Dorset MP) Sir Walter Raleigh, used hundreds of locals as extras.
The Cathedral has also subsequently been charging visitors a £4 entry fee (instead of a donation, as before), for it is now on 'The Da Vinci Code Trail.' According to a Telegraph article ['Winchester Cashes In On Da Vinci Code Film Fever'], some MPs have criticised this, but Cathedral officials pointed out it is not eligible for lottery funding. It is also using the opportunity presented for some CoE PR, by 'organising a series of event to dispel the myths.' There is an exhibition and a series of lectures by the Bishop and others, 'to seize the chance to address the huge market for the book and film' (i.e. the summer tourist trade), and giving 'a point by point demolition of the book and film.' (This is similar to what has been happening elsewhere, e.g. at London's Temple Church, where another scene was shot, and where the Rector gives weekly talks on TDVC.)
Secondly, the UK publishers of TDVC, Random House, were sued for copyright infringement by Holy Blood Holy Grail co-author Michael Baigent, who has lived there since 1976. He had been ordered to pay massive legal costs for his failed plagiarism suit, but as The Guardian [17-5-06] put it, "Contrary to the gleeful reporting of his defeat, he hasn't had to sell his nice house in Winchester." He and co-author Richard Leigh have not only paid their legal fees but obtained permission to appeal the verdict, since the judge said TDVC did use HBHG material. He will however continue to keep his Winchester address secret. Fundamentalist wrath over the 1982 bestseller led to death and bomb threats against the Holy Blood, Holy Grail co-authors and its publishers, and the book has enjoyed a spectacular increase in sales since the novel (which mentions it) and the international publicity over the trial. (For anyone interested in the legal case, the 'Da Vinci Code Trail', and related matters, these are covered in this blog.)

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Hardy - The Secret Life?
Hardy bio coverDue to its title, the new Hardy biography, Ralph Pite's Thomas Hardy: The Guarded Life [Picador] has been getting reviewed as to what to it might reveal of the private life of the region's greatest novelist and poet. For some years, there has been speculation of an illicit affair and possible illegitimate child. Hardy wrote his own biography in the third person, as if it were written by A.N.Other. His second wife evidently had a hand in it, and it appeared after his death under her name. Scholars refer to it impersonally as simply 'The Life.' There is some evidence Hardy rewrote private diary entries and letters for consistency with the version he issued for public consumption, but as Mrs H also burnt his papers to prevent posterity poring over them, it has been hard to tell what was what. However according to the Guardian Books review this new biography does not in fact plump for the idea there was a great secret or scandal that made Hardy so secretive. (This was the argument of earlier biographical accounts, by Lois Deacon and others, of a youthful affair with his cousin Tryphena Sparks and an illegitimate child raised by the family as a distant relation.) For further revelations of how Mr H transcended his humble beginnings in a snobbish Victorian age to become the man who put the English novel firmly on the map of England with his larger-than-life 'Wessex', we may have to wait for Claire Tomalin's upcoming Thomas Hardy: The Time-Torn Man
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Restoration And Renovation
There's not that many feature films get made in and around Bournemouth, much less one acquiring a cult reputation in its field. But Freak Out, a 2004 £30K student production became something of a cult item despite its rather limited theatrical release. It has been in the local press lately, as it is being revamped technically and issued on DVD, by Anchor Bay Entertainment. From a team of local filmmakers calling themselves Beyond Therapy, it is of the ultra-low-budget-campy-schlock-horror genre. (Quite a few of these seem to get made in Southampton for some reason, e.g. Sanitarium, 2001, Darkhunters, 2003 and Hellbreeder, 2004). It now has an official website including a QuickTime trailer, here. For background, via a candid interview, on its 'childish, English humour,' see here.
It was written in the late 1990s, and was (as they used to say in Hollywood) five years in the making. It was thus shot on 16mm film (rather than digital video à la Blair Witch Project), using a 2nd-hand BBC news camera the filmmakers bought via a free-ad in The Advertiser. It was filmed in and around Bournemouth, Poole (Sandbanks ferry), Swanage (seafront), and in the New Forest ('a lot of the spooky wood stuff'). For the police station sequence they used Boscombe’s Shelley Manor, which then stood derelict, used as a squat by homeless men.
They were able to use Shelley Manor because it was then leased to the Art College (now the Arts Institute) where the director was a student. Shelley Manor itself seems to be finally about to see its own restoration as a community centre come about after standing empty for over five years, due to a lengthy dispute between the property owner and its Arts-Institute tenant over responsibility for renovations. (The filmmakers in their online interview, above, describe the disgusting condition it was in, saying it was the worst part of the entire five-year shoot.) A local campaign group, the Friends of Shelley Manor, helped get a plan to demolish it set aside. (English Heritage convinced the government in 1999 the Shelley Theatre should be a listed building.) Following the Council's selling it off to a medical trust, the original restoration plan for the Manor was rejected by the Council last summer following various local objections, but a revised plan has now been accepted. Part of it is to be a major medical centre handling 10,500 patients. Starting next March, the Shelley Theatre and Shelley Museum are to be restored, the former as a daytime ‘performance cafe.’ This is to be largely funded by having the rest of it converted into flats, privately sold to generate income.
Shelley Manor has its own connections to the horror genre, being built for Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, who married the poet after his first wife drowned herself. Mary died in 1851, before being able to move here, but the family had her and her Bohemian husband William Godwin's coffins exhumed from their London graves (supposedly supervised by a young Thomas Hardy, who was always keen on graveyards). It also had a ghoulish aspect in that the poet's sole surviving son, Sir Percy Florence Shelley (after whom the Boscombe pub is named) set up a shrine inside to his father. It contained the poet's heart inside a casket, in an alcove lit by a red flame, where family and friends could pay their respects. Allegedly the still-damp heart was snatched from his funeral pyre on the beach after they found his drowned corpse, and brought back from Italy, where the Shelley Museum was originally located, in his former home, Casa Magni, before the collection was moved to Boscombe. The family remains are now together in the Shelley-Godwin family tomb in St Peter's Churchyard in central Bournemouth, with Shelley's heart in Mary's coffin. Shelley's marble memorial, showing Mary cradling the drowned poet on the beach, however went to Christchurch Priory when St Peter's refused it, as they didn't want to become a shrine to such a disreputable character as Shelley, who had been expelled from Oxford for co-writing a pamphlet titled 'The Necessity Of Atheism.' (The same thing happened with Mary Shelley's memorial, a blue plaque meant to go on the house where she last lived, in Belgravia. The church authorities held it up for 28 years, 1975-2003, in a dispute over the plaque's text mentioning 'Frankenstein' which they felt inappropriate to have on a house now a vicarage. They wanted it just to say 'Author(ess) and wife of the poet'. In 2003 English Heritage finally got to put up a plaque 'using the dreaded F word', reading "Mary Shelley, 1797-1851, author of Frankenstein, Lived here 1845-1851.")

The latest development here is that Bournemouth-based author Christine Aziz, who won the Richard & Judy Prize for her novel The Olive Readers has written a play about Mary Shelley to help raise funds for the Friends of Shelley Manor, being staged at the De la Salle Theatre in Southbourne the first week August.
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Our Film Production Scene, Ten Years On
1996 British Film Centenary logoTen years ago, for the British Film Centenary 1996, I wrote a report on the situation regarding the promotion of the Dorset area as a filming location centre since 1990 (when the British Film Commission was first organised). This was also a follow-up to my 1992 24-page brief for the Arts Council's "Towards A National Arts & Media Strategy" public consultation, for which I got a thank-you letter from them, as they had overlooked screen commissions in the list of arts organisations whom they had asked for input. Presumably they thought of these new commissions as purely economic agencies. What effect my solo Arts Council brief had, I have no idea - hopefully it was in gaining recognition for them more generally as agencies in support of the arts.
My 1996 'Dorset On Screen' report or brief was sent out at the time to the relevant local-government officers (both municipal and County), and there was also related publicity in the Echo, as mentioned in the text. I'm reproducing the report now online since in the past ten years I can't say matters have noticeably improved. We still have what the British Film Commission's original head Sir Sydney Samuelson called "black holes" of representation, one of these still being the Dorset area. (I had a letter from him agreeing with me on the importance of local knowledge being used in response to an earlier brief I had written pointing out BTA's The Movie Map was full of errors and oddities.) To me, it's part of the general problem which this website deals with, that the south-central region is squeezed out between the established South West and South-East regions.
1996 Movie MapTypical was the handling of a related information-database project for Dorset I proposed at the time, which the regional arts officers were keen to see happen. Neither the representative of Southern Arts (covering Bournemouth and East Dorset), or of SW Arts (covering points west) could even meet with me to discuss the idea unless the other was there - because Dorset sprawled between two jurisdictions. A meeting had to be set up where one would drive in from Winchester and the other from Exeter. In the event, one was unable to make the meet and the other had to cancel as she wasn't allowed to meet anyone without her opposite number present. It proved too complicated to set up another meeting, and I just gave up on it at that point. With the report, where necessary for the sake of clarity or greater accuracy, I've added footnotes alongside the original text, otherwise it is reproduced just as it was, except for the addition of film stills of local productions. (Warning: Contains depressing reading.)
[read full report]
Postscript: The BTA's inaccurate Movie Map is now gone - links to the relevant BTA webpage are dead. This is no doubt because so many towns and counties are providing their own information on film locations, which is itself likely to be more accurate. There is some representation of film location resources on local-government websites, but Bournemouth still has no municipal film office, Dorset has no separate screen commission, and the area continues thus to be neglected. At a recent SWFC seminar to teach local authorities how to ensure their jurisdiction is 'film-friendly', only one local-government staff member attended. For an indication of the continuing trend toward 'runaway productions' or lost shoots, see MediaScene blog entries from this year and last.

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Jurassic Coast For The Armchair Traveller
'Jurassic Coast' DVD cover Since it became a World Heritage Site in 2001, the Dorset-Devon 'Jurassic Coast' has been widely promoted, and has become the region's most high-profile tourism destination. Now, a complete traverse of the 95-mile WHS coast is possible for the armchair traveller, via the series Jurassic Coast, made by Colin Froud from Bovington for Divercol Productions in Wareham. This is issued as a set of 5 separately-available videos and DVDs, dividing the coast into five sections: Video/Disc I covering Old Harry Rocks to Chapman's Pool; II, Kimmeridge to Osmington Mills; III, Weymouth-Portland; IV, Chesil to Charmouth; and V, Lyme Regis to Orcombe (where the 'geo-needle' marks the end of the official WHS coast).
Also available is a 'Special Edition' 2-DVD compilation version. This contains three 52-minute 'films' (actually it's all shot on high-quality video). The three items are a multimedia version (with a split-screen setup, titles, map inset, and aerial shots), a traditional full-frame [4:3] documentary version, and an aerial-footage compilation (This one is ideal for film-location spotting.) All three versions are accompanied by the same music and narration. The information provided is almost all geological - presumably the series is aimed at the educational market. Unlike the BBC's surprise hit of last year Coast (now filming a 2nd series, including locally-shot scenes), there are no on-screen presenters - the only humans are glimpsed in the background. There is scenic aerial photography throughout, plus occasional underwater photography, and the company has set up a tie-in website. As they used to say in the old tourist brochures, views of great interest abound.

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Jane Austen 2006
Jane AustenJane Austen's final completed novel (it was published posthumously), Persuasion, is the basis for two unrelated media events this year. First, it is the choice for The Huge Hampshire Read, a Hampshire Libraries mass-reading event, with a series of events May to July - quizzes, guided walks, and exhibitions, with bulk copies of a Penguin paperback edition printed. For an e-text version, click here.
Secondly, it is being adapted for the screen again (the last time was 1995, with Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds), as part of an “ITV Austen Season.” This will consist of a repeat showing of Andrew Davies' 1997 adaptation of Emma (the one with Kate Beckinsale), plus a trio of new Austen adaptations. The season is designed to help ITV move upmarket, away from the focus on studio-audience shows that have been popular but have seen them criticised for abandoning any commitment to public service broadcasting. As part of this, they previously had a “no classics” drama policy. The other two new productions are Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey, which is also being scripted by Andrew Davies. Davies has also started adapting Sense And Sensibility for BBC One, as a set of half-hour episodes for those more used to the half-hour soap-opera episode format (the approach Davies used in his recent BBC Dickens adaptation Bleak House), for transmission in October 2007, again in the slot right after Eastenders.
A biopic is also being filmed about her as a teenage would-be writer, by London-based Ecosse Films, who made Mrs Brown, and Hardy's Under The Greenwood Tree, and who are producing Brideshead Revisited. Called Becoming Jane (the title of a recent biography of Jane), it was written by Kevin Hood and Sarah Williams and is being directed by Julian ("Kinky Boots") Jarrold, starring Anne Hathaway, the Brooklyn-born actress from Brokeback Mountain, as Jane, and either (accounts differ) Julie Walters or Maggie Smith as her mother. Columbia Pictures's production will focus on a teenage flirtation Austen had over Xmas 1795 with an Irish law student, which is presented here as her one serious romance, whose collapse left her to follow his advice and devote her life to writing. Hathaway claims that "It awakened her sexuality and inspired a lot of the relationships she later wrote about in her novels." Some 'Janeites' are offended by its presumption of a Life-Changing Romance and more generally by its claim to be biographically based, arguing her letters show the romance wasn't all that serious, and she had already committed herself to being a writer by then. The producer has said the inspiration was more their own Mrs Brown than Shakespeare In Love.
For anyone interested in keeping track of the various Austen TV adaptations, the BFI's relatively new ScreenOnline website has a "Jane Austen on Television" page, which has info and links to view clips or even complete episodes (for those on unlimited broadband.) The Jane Austen fan site Republic Of Pemberley also has a JA Adaptations filmography page. (Note that the Janeites use a strangely selective code for these, such as P&P1, S&S2, where some early adaptations are not listed and numbers seem to start at zero. )

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Far From The Madding Crowd On DVD
A film which some consider the best film made in Dorset became in May another newspaper 'free DVD' giveaway - the Daily Mail's issue of the 1967 John Schlesinger version of Far From The Madding Crowd. (It uses over 20 Dorset locations, from Gold Hill to Weymouth.) In fact, David Shipman's 2-volume The Story Of Cinema says of it "there has never been a better film about the British countryside." Certainly this Panavision film (shot by Nick Roeg) is one deserving to be seen uncut and in its proper widescreen ratio. This is where the problems have come in with the various home editions and TV versions of this very scenic and deliberately slow-paced film.
The earlier Region 2 [UK] DVD, a 2004 reissue of the American Warner Home Video release, was taken from a damaged print of a cut-down 2 hour US-TV version, with poor sound and the picture cropped to a 16:9 widescreen TV shape, despite the claim on the box it is the full 2.35:1 Panavision image. The Mail's DVD is not true Panavision (the complete image would have an aspect ratio of around 2.35:1 - which you can see, briefly, in the opening and closing credits.) But neither is it the squarish 4:3 'full-screen' image seen on BBC1 and on video releases, with the edges of the shot cropped off for viewing on regular TV monitors. It's in a 16:9 aspect ratio matching those seen on widescreen TVs, making this is a wider, more complete image than previously available here on video. (There was a 2001 US video 'Widescreen Edition' running 168 minutes, which is now withdrawn - it sells 2nd hand for $90 in the US, if you can find a copy. The Studio Canal DVD which claims to be widescreen, unfortunately isn't.)
And the print is not the usual tatty relic used for some video releases and even seen at film festivals, which even omitted the key pre-finale scene of final reconcilation. (I once complained to Alan Bates about all this when I ran into him at a film festival in 1994, and told him he had the clout to do something about this, by publicizing the fact no complete, undamaged 35mm print seemed to be available.)
The DVD runs 156 mins. The IMDB gives various original lengths from 155 to 170 minutes, but this would've included a 15-minute interval, and the 'PAL-speedup' effect, where films shot at 24 frames /sec are shown on UK PAL-standard video players at 25 fps, would mean 175 mins less 15 min interval = 160 mins x 24 fps/25 fps =153.6 mins. Also, running time should include any Overture, Intermission Music, and Act II overture where there is no image, only music is heard, recorded on the film's soundtrack.

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The Sex Manual That Changed the World
Update: Melvyn's Bragg's TV series and book covering his book and TV series Twelve Books That Changed the World, which we mentioned earlier due to its inclusion of local-interest author Mary Wollstonecraft began on 16/04/2006, after articles in many of the papers. It began with coverage of another local-interest author, Marie Stopes (1880-1950), a sometime Portland resident, whose 1918 textbook Married Love was the first sex-education manual. (The book is available online: click here.)
ITV was certainly not taking any chances on boring the late-Sunday-evening audience with details, the approach being strictly an introductory outline. This was despite Bragg's long-running radio equivalent, In Our Time, being a surprise podcasting hit for the Beeb. While each In Our Time devotes a half-hour to a subject, each book here gets its proverbial 15 minutes of TV fame, with three books per one-hour episode (the other 15 mins being ads). Marie Stopes's 1918 sex-education textbook Married Love was covered as item two of Episode One, after 15 minutes on Isaac Newton.
Married Love
began as a novel written after she obtained a divorce on grounds of non-consummation of her first marriage. The book was financed by aircraft industrialist AV Roe, who soon became her 2nd husband. It became an instant hit as a textbook, and the money allowed her to open Stopes Clinics in Britain and abroad.
Bragg mentioned that she disapproved of any practices outside of ordinary married sex, but then it was time to move on to the Football Association rulebook. Not discussed was her interest in eugenics - how she felt birth control could be used to prevent the birth of undesirables, a view which led Stopes to oppose the marriage of her son to the daughter of aviation inventor Barnes Wallis, on the grounds her 'genes were not good enough.' The daughter, Mary Stopes-Roe [née Wallis] recently published a book of letters from her father's own courtship - Mathematics With Love: The Courtship Correspondence Of Barnes Wallis, Inventor Of The Bouncing Bomb. (Wallis's testing of his 'bouncing bomb' off Portland can be seen in The Dam Busters.)
In 1921 Stopes took over, for holiday purposes, the Portland thatched cottage which Hardy had employed as the model for his heroine Avice's cottage in his 1897 novel The Well-Beloved, and which she later donated for its current use as Portland Museum. When married, she also rented the Old Lighthouse here. Over the years, she became a well-known local character, conspicuous with her red hair, hanging around with the young men she wrote of in her 1939 poetry collection Love Songs For Young Lovers, and swimming in the dangerous waters off Portland Bill, where her ashes would be scattered in 1958.
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Picture Yourself In A Boat On The River … The Frome River, That Is
The matter of scenes shot on the River Frome was in the press, and this time it was not the old chestnut about part of The African Queen being shot here, but a set of previously-unknown snapshots of John Lennon for sale. (The Echo had previously mentioned these boating trips in their Weekend Magazine in October 2000 for what would have been Lennon's 60th birthday - had he lived.) In 1965, the orphaned Lennon had bought his guardian, his Aunt Mimi, a bungalow at Sandbanks, and regularly came down to visit her. 'Of all the places I have travelled to, this is the most beautiful,' he said. A onetime acquaintance of Lennon's (they had met as Aunt Mimi had told Lennon he had a boat) had photos of these times spent on the river. At the time - the height of Beatlemania - boating was one way Lennon could escape his fans. Now he was selling off the photos he had taken of Lennon and family to pay for his daughter's medical treatment.
River Frome The local-interest aspect was the idea that the first line of the Sgt Pepper LP song Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, "Picture yourself in a boat on the river ..." was inspired by fond memories of idyllic days out boating on the Frome. Lennon certainly was - or became - a keen sailor, with his ship's log recently put up for auction, showing how he had sailed through a major storm out in the Atlantic. When the song came out in 1967, there were attempts to ban it being played on the radio, on the grounds it was about an LSD trip. This was based on its idyllic tenor, unreal imagery, and the initials of the main words in the song title. Lennon always denied this secret-code theory, long after there was any need to fend off attempts to ban its airplay, and it seems now that this was right.

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Ken Russell - Altered Fates
Ken RussellAfter appearing all washed up last year and then bouncing back, New Forest's resident veteran filmmaker Ken Russell was back in the headlines in April, making the front page of the Bournemouth Echo [4-4-06] after the nationals picked up the story of the fire that destroyed his 17C thatched cob cottage at East Boldre. As a press story, it certainly had enough to make an instant human-interest feature, and there was follow-on coverage (most recently a Daily Mail interview-based feature, 13-4-06).There was the tragic loss of not only home but the only copies of handwritten manuscripts, and the possibility of a link (since dismissed) to the recent series of arson fires in the New Forest.
There was the fact each thought the other dead, with Ken returning from the village to find the cottage ablaze and trying to break into the upstairs floor to save his wife, who in fact was out in the garden naked, having fled her bath. (KR said he wished he'd had his camera.) There was his rescue attempt proving to her she really loved him (since, she said, he was normally a bit of a coward). The cottage was 'gutted' and so were KR and wife, emotionally, but they still had each other. There was also the back-story of how the director of Altered States met his current wife. (She was a longtime fan he met while filming in the USA, and they were reunited when he advertised in 2000 for a soul-mate via his fan website, after his previous wife, actress Hetty Baines, left him.) And though they were left with nothing (not even car keys or passports) except each other, they were going to carry on regardless.
However he had lost the only copies of over 80 handwritten manuscripts including unproduced scripts, and the MSS for the already-announced book versions of his DVD documentaries on the sex lives of famous composers (Delius:A Moment With Venus, Brahms Gets Laid, and Elgar: The Erotic Variations). (No word on the survival of other half-completed projects, such as the trilogy Hotpants - "sexy shorts" - the website promoting his projects came down. (Update: It's now back again, and no projects seem to have gone, with an online shop to sell the [e-]books listed as "coming soon.") The stories ended with their mutual declarations of undying love, and a public-safety message from the fire chief that there might have been a fatality if they hadn't had smoke alarms fitted. (The blaze took 60 firefighters 6 hours to put out.) As a capper, the story noted KR's latest film is called Trapped Ashes.
Update: Ken's website is back up, and he is soon to be back onscreen, appearing as a mental patient who thinks he's Stanley Kubrick in the upcoming Kubrick-imposter biopic Colour Me Kubrick. And as a director he is not forgotten. Among The Da Vinci Code's many negative comments were several saying it would have been better if it had been directed by the man who gave us Altered States and The Devils (not to mention Billion Dollar Brain).(Cf Cosmo Landesman in The Sunday Times: "I kept thinking how great it would have been if an inspired loony like Ken Russell had been making this film.")

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Casting Daylight On The 'Gentlemen Of The Night'
smuggling film posterBilling itself as 'the first Christchurch film of its kind since 1938!'*, the smuggling documentary Gentlemen Of The Night has just completed its round of theatrical screenings with a showing at the Regent Centre prior to its release in April on DVD. For those with unrestricted broadband packages and the latest Windows Media Player (it uses the new Microsoft Media Server 'mms' protocol), the trailer is available online. (Note that clicking this link will open a streaming-video connection.) Produced by Raya Films and sponsored by overseas-property realtors Eugènie Smith International (for whom writer-presenter Caroline Spence and Raya have done online and other corporate videos), this is a look at the smuggling trade in Christchurch in its heyday. The hour-long documentary tries to get to the bottom of the legends that have grown up about smuggling since then, by interviewing a pair of local historians. There are no re-enactment scenes but there are scenic shots of various locations - Christchurch Harbour, the castle ruin, the Priory loft, the old smugglers' route inland from Chewton Bunny, along the old 'Smugglers Road' to their 'marketplace' in Ridley Wood near Burley.
* The 'first Christchurch film of its kind since 1938' reference would be to the 1938 travelogue (re-discovered in the 1990s) New Forest Borderland, which was also shown at the Regent screening.

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The Romantics Slept Here?
Keats readingThe BBC-TV/Open U. series (Jan-Feb) The Romantics dealt with the poets William Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, Clare, and Keats, most of whom spent some time in the area - though the series itself showed little of this. The Wordsworths stayed at Racedown in West Dorset, Coleridge visited there as well as the house called 'Gundimore' on Mudeford Promenade, Keats's last day in England was at Lulworth, and Shelley's family moved here, his heart being brought back to Boscombe from its Italian funeral pyre. (Memorials survive in St Peter's Bournemouth and in Christchurch Priory, but what was once the world's only Shelley Museum, in Boscombe, is now closed.) Robert Southey, who spent time in the Christchurch area, got passing mention. David Threlfall as Wordsworth(Of the other two, John Clare wrote of the Enclosure Acts which drove him insane - and were also the means whereby Bournemouth was founded -and his work has been championed by Bournemouth Uni lecturer Sean Street, while Blake's Prelude To Milton was set to music by Bournemouth-born cleric Hubert Parry, as 'Jerusalem'.) It’s surprising the tourism people don’t make more of these connections to promote Romantic breaks down here, as is done elsewhere. You can find more info on the Romantic poets’ poetry and their lives at the BBC's series web-page here.

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Mary Wollstonecraft – A Woman For Our Time
Mary WollstonecraftAnother writer of the same generation, Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797), is about to receive some fresh publicity courtesy of Melvyn Bragg: he has included her treatise A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in his latest work on English culture, Twelve Books That Changed the World. (For those who don’t know, she was a feminist writer, part of the Shelley clan whose tomb is in St Peters churchyard in downtown Bournemouth, her daughter Mary having married the poet Shelley.)
Mary Snr is less well-known than her daughter, who was the author of Frankenstein, and there is some confusion of names here between the two as both evidently used the names Mary and Wollstonecraft. Mary Snr is referred to under her maiden name as Mary Wollstonecraft or under her married name as Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, meaning more conventionally she was Mrs W. Godwin née Wollstonecraft.(She and free-thinker William Godwin did eventually marry, against his initial reservations.) Mary Jnr was sometimes known formally as Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley rather than Mary Godwin Shelley, identifying her with her famous mother rather than her famous father.
Personal Note: I was never sure if this variation was a modern feminist construct or if she adopted it herself. (Just as, for distinction’s sake, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s widow Jean Doyle somehow came to be styled Jean Conan Doyle on their shared New Forest gravestone.) So around ten years ago, when I was teaching a course on local writers, I went to the now-gone Shelley Museum at the Shelley family’s former manor house in Boscombe, and made a point of looking at how the author’s byline was given on the title page of the oldest edition they had of Frankenstein … it was ‘By Mrs Shelley.’ (I later discovered this was only how the 3rd edition was credited, the first edition being by 'Anonymous', and the 2nd edition by 'Mary W. Shelley'.)
Bragg’s book is now out, and there will be a 4-part ITV documentary tiein broadcast in April, so we can Bragg's Twelve Books That Changed the Worldexpect to see a scene of Bragg paying his respects at St Peters. A more immediate tribute came a few weeks ago when he mentioned in his Radio 4 ‘In Our Time’ newsletter he was including her, saying:

"Now there, I think, is a woman wholly to be admired. A true empress of thought. I’m writing this newsletter in a café in Paris, feeling mightily existentialist. Mary spent the most exhilarating period of her short and difficult life here in the 1790s and was taken up by Tom Paine and others as a true heroine of the Revolution. She was also taken up by an American adventurer whose illegitimate child she bore, a child which was to mark the first step of the descent of her reputation back in London, where she became known as a scandalous woman. Her early death, second illegitimate child and revelations by a well-meaning husband meant that her reputation got in the way of her intellectual achievements for generations to follow. It was only really in the mid 20th century that her true greatness was rediscovered. Poor Mary, scorned for honest passion…."

There is also a new biography of her out this spring, by Lyndall Gordon.

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Getting The Bends Near Lady Madonna
North Dorset is higher than Wiltshire, so roads between the two can be steepFor filmmakers looking for a steep road with hairpin bends of the sort so beloved of thriller directors since Hitchcock*, but more often found on the Continent, now they can easily locate a reasonable domestic UK version on the Dorset-Wilts border. The news services picked up on a clever promo by Continental Tyres naming Britain’s ‘bendiest’ roads, with the winner a stretch of our own B3081. Wasn’t the B3081 the road Hugh Grant was frantically looking for at the start of Four Weddings And A Funeral? They obviously missed a trick there – they could have the mini careening down the hill while Grant kept up his stream of four-letter words at their being late. In particular, it is the stretch of the B3081 near Tollard Royal in Cranborne Chase known locally as Zig Zag Hill, which takes you down, via several hairpin bends, the North Dorset hills into Wiltshire. The thriller director most likely to check out first is of course Guy Ritchie, who lives nearby with his wife Madonna on their country estate.
*
Didn't Hitchcock first use this type of scene in Suspicion, in the finale? If so, there is some extra local interest, for the novel is set in Dorset, though the film changes this to a generic south-of-England setting, with the south coast of England represented on screen by the white cliffs of northern California, as usual.

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Cavalier Dorset On DVD
Speaking of Hugh Grant (this should not be construed as an encouragement), anyone who happens to buy the Daily Mail on Saturdays or has seen the Mail's frequent Channel 4 adverts may be aware of their giveaway of a series of DVDs based mainly on Barbara Cartland stories. Anyone interested in films shot locally may want to watch out for two titles in particular: A Hazard Of Hearts (1987) and The Lady And The Highwayman (1988). (If you missed them on offer, copies should be appearing soon in a charity shop near you, and copies of the famously-grainy US DVD produced by WalMart regularly appear on eBay for the same price they sold for new - $1.25.)
The Lady And The Highwayman, with Hugh GrantThese were the first and second films made in a projected CBS series of 7 tele-features for American television, but shot on location in England by Gainsborough Studios. Gainsborough was a studio renowned in the 1930s and 40s for its rather campy costume romances like The Wicked Lady, and was revitalised in the 1980s by outside finance, somewhat in the manner of Dr Frankenstein bringing the Creature back to life.
It may or may not surprise readers to know these films were virtually the first and last screen versions of a novelist so prolific (an estimated 724 novels) her work continued to appear for years after her death. Cartland said at the time: "Everybody's gotten sick and tired of great lumps of lust and sex. I"ve waited years for the right climate to allow one of my books to be filmed." Now, Dame Barbara was a British institution (Princess Diana's stepmother), who could dictate an entire romance novel in an afternoon (Melvyn Bragg once said on-air he wouldn't hear a word said against her). As the world's best-selling author (a billion-plus books sold), the 'Queen of Romance' was obviously careful about selling film rights. But it has to be added the producers of these two films were evidently trying to hedge their bets by scripting them as straight cliche throughout and directing in a deadpan way so that anyone inclined to laugh at this sort of costume drama would be encouraged to think it was a parody quietly mocking Cartland's old-fashioned world-view.
The problem with this approach is that it ends up neither one thing or t'other. For the Romantic world-view is of course very much in the mind's eye. This works with the more interactive medium of literature due to the readers of this genre adding their own romantic imaginations to the scene, but not with the more in-your-face medium of film.
The Regency romance A Hazard Of Hearts was a £4 million production starring Helena Bonham-Carter and a supporting-cast including Dorset resident Edward Fox and former Bournemouth schoolboy Stewart Granger. According to Dorset Life, it has footage of a boat-landing shot at Seacombe and Dancing Ledge in Purbeck (including as extras a boatload of members of the Jolly Pirates Of Poole). More identifiable as a Dorset location is Stair Hole at Lulworth Cove, which portrays the manor's clifftop frontage, where the heroine walks in the final shot. West from Lulworth Cove headland, towards Stair Hole
When A Hazard Of Hearts was completed, Cartland pronounced herself "delighted with the film," and a second Gainsborough production was produced, The Lady And The Highwayman, a Cavalier-era romance from her novel "Cupid Rides Pillion." Here, Cartland’s young heroine is saved from A Marriage Worse Than Death by the mysterious Cavalier-highwayman hero known only as The Silver Blade - a fresh-faced twenty-something Hugh Grant. There is a locally-filmed opening scene. The Winspit quarry caves and Purbeck Downs are a backdrop to the escape of Charles II (Michael York) aided by The Silver Blade.(Though Grant has only a small part, the film was reissued as The Silver Blade after Four Weddings And A Funeral made him a star.)
Still, it's just the ticket if you’re interested in seeing Dorset on screen in period guise and, like Cartland, are also “sick and tired of great lumps of lust.
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British Cinema's Bad Boy Carries On, Student Filmmaker-Style
ken, 3 womenSpeaking of great lumps of lust (I don't think he'd actually mind Barbara Cartland's description), Ken Russell has been back in the news. With last year's BBC "at home" documentary, Russell finally seemed to be at the end of his career. He complained he was now forced to work like a student filmmaker, making jokey films in his garage, and had evidently become a self-caricature of the sex-mad enfant-terrible auteur he once was. But two recent stories indicate our 2005 report of his career demise may be premature.
First, there was an item [Jan 28] about how he was solving the problem that nobody would show or release his films. A Guardian story has him proclaiming that the 'future of film is on the net' - specifically online distribution of DVDs. The story says he is working, from his New Forest home, on several such projects, including his farcical shot-on-video featurette Brave Tart Versus the Loch Ness Monster, of which we saw excerpts last summer in the BBC1 documentary. The Ken Russell Enterprises website advertises two titles in his 'Mini Masterpiece Series on DVD - Revenge of The Elephant Man and The Murder of Mata Hari as 'Coming Shortly.'
Now, a feature in The Independent [15-3-06] describes how, after 3 divorces and 5-8 children (accounts vary), the 78-year-old director has a new lease on life. This has happened since marrying 52-year-old folk-singer and actress Elize Tribble - a lifelong American fan with whom he was reunited from years before, following publicity deriving from his placing a lonely-hearts SWM-seeks-music-loving-mate ad on the Web. Elize, alias Lisi, now stars in his locally-made films, recently playing Brave Tart to his Loch Ness Monster.
Elgar book cover This sort of interview-based feature is usually done by arrangement as PR for an upcoming book or film project, and Russell seems to have several of both coming up. He has just directed an 'erotic horror movie,' The Girl With The Golden Breasts, in Canada, to be shown at Cannes, and is to direct Pearl Of The Orient, a fact-based WWII-escape story set in the Philippines, co-starring Elize as a preacher's Filipino wife fleeing the Japanese invasion. (No sign of these on the IMDB site but his IMDB page does list several other projects in pre-production: Charged-The Life of Nikola Tesla, Kings X, and the Canadian project Trapped Ashes.)
He also has a set of books (e-books?) to be sold online via The KR Enterprises website, on the sex lives of his favourite composers: Elgar-The Erotic Variations, Delius-A Moment With Venus, and Brahms Gets Laid. He is also self-publishing, via Authorhouse, a novel called Violation-A Scary Novel Of The Future, a futuristic and perhaps 'pornographic' Orwellian satire set in 2030s Britain where football is used by the authorities as the national religion to control the masses, and the Isle of Wight is a penal colony. The legendary bad boy of British cinema has evidently decided not to go quietly into the night.

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Hardy's Dorset Goes To China
Under The Greenwood Tree, filmed on Jersey In the you-just-couldn't-make-this-stuff-up department, comes a followup story to the ITV Xmas production of Hardy's Under The Greenwood Tree. We originally covered this in the context that runaway production is still a factor, with films set locally being shot elsewhere - anywhere else but here, it seems sometimes. Now it's possible a future Hardy screen adaptation could be shot in the remote interior of China, on a ready-built standing set. A Times story reports the Chinese are building a full-size replica of the high street, plus some residential streets, of Hardy's 'Casterbridge' (=Dorchester) in central China's Sechuan province. This was the outcome of a local official seeing a Xmas card painting of it, which had been sent to China by Dorchester town planner Steve Pharaoh. The 250-acre development, to be named British Town, will have streets named after local places, such as Poole Promenade. One director who might be interested would be Ang Lee, who shot Sense And Sensibility in south-central England as well as scenes for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in Sechuan - he could film a followup in the desert and, back-to-back, a Casterbridge-set Hardy novel. (For those who think we're making this news up, The Times story is here and there is also a BBC History Magazine summary here.)
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H-HHancock's Half-Life
Tony Hancock, in characterThe two BBC TV Hancock documentaries on over the Xmas holidays prompted some followup press coverage, with his widow complaining in a two-page spread in the Daily Mail ("The War Of Hancock’s Women," Mail 14-1-06) that the BBC portrayal hijacked her own marital memories when it focused on one of his mistresses to promote a sad, romantic theme of lost love, which laid the groundwork for the Bournemouth- raised comedian's eventual suicide. One might add that this sort of item is often a prelude to a followup 'setting-the-record-straight' project kick-started by the aggrieved party, so there may be more to come on the comedian's life and how things went wrong too many times - as he put it in his suicide note.

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