Central MediaScene 2006
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Pilcher Country Starts … Here The most-viewed film-TV drama
series shot in the region remains the least-known locally.
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.
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.
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.
A recently published document concerning the poet's
private life proves to contain a secret code with a warning for
Poet Laureate John Betjeman, whose centenary is being
commemorated by various media events, had various local links.
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
Film Production Scene, Ten Years On In
1996 I wrote a report about this. But now, a decade on, what has
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.
Austen 2006 Various media
events are being based on Austen's work, including the first film
based on her life.
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.
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.
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.
Russell - Altered Fates New Forest's resident veteran filmmaker
Ken Russell back in the headlines after a life-changing event.
Daylight On The 'Gentlemen Of The Night' A new local-interest
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.
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.
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.
Cinema's Bad Boy Carries On, Student Filmmaker-Style
With an onslaught of new projects, Ken Russell refuses
to go quietly.
Dorset Goes To China As Ripley used to say, Believe It Or
Half-Life There may be more to come on the comedian's life
and how it all went wrong.
Pilcher Country Starts … Here
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.
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….
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 Due
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). For those interested in press-freedom issues, and the
legalistic shenanigans government resorts to suppress influential criticism, I've put my feature
The 'Tuppenny Press' And The Birth Of The English Newspaper.
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Bournemouth To Bestsellerdom And Back
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 memoir 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
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.
Betjeman Centenary And The De Harben Code
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
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
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,
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)
Hillier, which have been appearing since 1988, on the complex character behind the "nation's
teddy bear" public image.
And The Da Vinci Code
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
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.)
- The Secret Life?
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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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
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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Film Production Scene, Ten Years On
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
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.
Typical 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.
Coast For The Armchair Traveller
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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Austen's final completed novel (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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From The Madding Crowd On DVD
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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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.
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.
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.
Russell - Altered Fates
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
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.")
Daylight On The 'Gentlemen Of The Night'
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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Romantics Slept Here?
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. (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.
Wollstonecraft – A Woman For Our Time
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 expect 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:
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…."
is also a new biography of her out this spring, by Lyndall
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The Bends Near Lady Madonna
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. The 1987 made-for-tv remake starring Anthony Andrews in the Cary Grant part was filmed
in the region, but the climactic speeding-car scene [not in the novel] was filmed
at a cliff-edge location in what looks like South Devon.
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.)
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.
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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Cinema's Bad Boy Carries On, Student Filmmaker-Style
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.
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.
Dorset Goes To China
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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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. [Update: the BBC documentary The
Unknown Hancock did cover this, and in 2011 there was a BBC4 biopic, Hattie, covering a related
menage-a-trois situation involving co-stars Hattie Jacques and TH's friend [and 'The Punch &
Judy Man' co-star] John Le Mesurier, whose relationship had been portrayed in an earlier BBC
biopic with Alfred Molina playing TH.]
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