Central MediaScene 2008
For older blog items from 2007 and earlier, click
The Elite Of Bournemouth
Bournemouth Council has managed to get itself into the national headlines again over inappropriate use of language.
Last year it issued an election pack which claimed "lunatics and idiots," and "deaf and dumb persons" were (contrary to the Disability Discrimination Act) banned from standing for local office, and then - when it wound up in the press - blamed
a legal document written in 1766. (They didn't say how they defined lunatics and idiots - presumably others can decide.)
Around ten days ago, the Telegraph reported that documents obtained from various local Councils, via the Freedom of Information Act, reveal they have a list of Latin phrases staff should avoid, as elitist and discriminatory. The given rationale is that use of Latin might confuse someone whose "first language is not English" According to BBC News, the list was backed by the Plain English Campaign as "some officials only use Latin to make themselves feel important." (I didn't know they needed Latin for this, but there you go, you learn something new every day.)
The Echo was happy to print [5-11-08] a denial, wittily headlined 'We've Explained Position On Latin Use, Ad Nauseum' to show what educated wags they are underneath. It was accompanied by a supportive Echo editorial on what it called "the strange Bournemouth Council mystery." This was written along the lines of the Just-William argument that "I wouldn't know what to say to a dead Roman even if I met one," arguing that studying Latin was a waste of time even at basic level. ("There are few things more pointless than a Latin O-level").
"We are really grateful to the Echo," responded the Council - as well they might be, since reading the fine print it was obvious a list of proscribed words did exist, just as the FOI request showed. (Apparently the quibble was over the word ban - the 2006 list was merely a set of policy guidelines for employees to follow.) The Echo editorial referred to one who use Latin phrases as a "pseud." Handy Greek term that, kept alive by Private Eye via (sorry - Latin word just crept in there) its monthly column Pseuds' Corner, quoting pseudo-intellectual - i.e. (sorry) pretentious and often meaningless - remarks made by people in the media (excuse my Latin - couldn't think of an English word).
The argument Latin would especially confound someone whose "first language is not English" is quite the assumption. (I should mention here that I spend five days a week copyediting texts produced by EU business people whose first language is not English.) For instance, the most high-profile immigrant group of recent years, the Poles, are mostly Catholics (their arrival in fact reversed the decline in Britain's RC congregation), a church which traditionally uses Latin in its services. Catholicism survived fifty years of Communist occupation, when Russian was the official language and churches had to be run surreptitiously. (My childhood friends were largely Polish, Britain's Polish community actually dating back to WWII and after, when Nazi occupation gave way to Soviet.) Catholic priests traditionally speak Latin when their native languages are different, a reflection of the fact Latin has been the international language of scholars for nearly two millennia. It doesn't matter where you come from, Latin is a standalone international language fulfilling much the same function the ad hoc (artificially created) language Esperanto was meant to.
Latin is part of an enormous language group known as Indo-European that long ago spread west into Europe and east into Asia. Latin is a (junior) cousin of languages both written and oral, as diverse as Sanskrit and Celtic. You can see charts in encyclopaedias comparing I-E words for father and mother (Latin pater and mater). Latin itself was imposed as the official language of many European and Mid-Eastern countries when they were occupied by Roman forces, which gave rise to the name "Romance" languages (originally Romanz i.e. Roman-ish) like French, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, and of course Italian. One reason to study Latin was to learn language structure, which helps understand English syntax, via a comparative approach allowing you to step outside your normal language framework. Latin is a more logical, less irregular language by far than English, which is full of peculiarities of spelling, pronunciation, and syntax. Latin makes you aware of issues such as sentence-construction logic and subject-verb agreement. As my old Latin teacher Dr Fanderlik (he was Dutch) used to say, you can use it as a pons asinorum, literally a bridge for donkeys or asses. This term also exists in other languages (e.g. German Eselsbrücke) due to its usefulness - it refers to a means whereby even a slow learner can acquire more complicated knowledge. Of course
donkeys asses who think Latin a "dead language" will not cross the bridge.
The notion these Latin phrases are only used to make the speaker feel important is quite perverse, for these words and phrases were chosen as terms in common use. (There are also more exclusive 'Latinisms' used in certain professions - historians dealing with mediaeval records, lawyers, scientists, doctors.) Familiar phrases like ad hoc, etcetera, and vice versa are a reminder of the role of Latin in western civilization. Even if you can't grammatically spell out or parse abbreviations like e.g. or i.e., you can still grasp their meaning. The reason they are in common use is they express an idea more concisely, partly because English long ago just adopted the Latin phrase as an imported term.
words are fundamental to western culture going back to basic literacy
and schooling, e.g. educate from educare (literally, to lead
forth or bring out). Rumour has it that Bournemouth University (motto
Discere Mutari Est - "to learn is to change") are, in all their
in-house documentation, replacing the 90s buzzword "learning" (as in
Self-Managed Learning) with "education." Not that they are entirely
international in their outlook: for the past decade, they've been quietly
dismantling their languages programme, so that anyone wanting a language
degree now either has to learn it via low-rent SML (basically, a CD-ROM)
or move elsewhere. A lot of this seems bound up with an underlying assumption
the answer is for all foreigners simply to learn English. Teaching "English
as a foreign language" is big business in Bournemouth.
English is so dependent on Latin terms that government would be difficult without them. The NY Times's International Herald-Tribune edition coverage
quoted classicists as commenting:
axing Latin phrases is an attack on the foundations of English - the linguistic equivalent of "ethnic cleansing." "Think of the number of words from Latin that are now part of the English language: alias, alibi, exit, terminus. Are they going to cut out those words? The English language is a hybrid animal that has adopted any number of words and phrases from other languages which have become a part of English," he added. "To deny the hybrid nature of the English language is almost like ethnic cleansing of English."
The IHT also noted that Bournemouth Council recommends using "improvised" instead of ad hoc - which of course doesn't mean the same thing at all. In the words of the Daily Mail column
titled Si fractum non sit, noli id reficere (If it ain't broke, don't fix it!): "Every single one of the 19 terms they have banned have become so embedded in our language that they have, quite literally, become English. Yes, you will find vice versa, ad lib and bona fide in a Latin dictionary, but you will also find them in an English dictionary. Banning them is the same as banning English words - because that is precisely what they are." The title of one blog item quoting the preceding is "Thought Showers Grip Bournemouth", a reference to other councils' proposed alternative to avoid the word "brainstorm" in case it offended epileptics - a reminder the real problem is not Latin, but bureaucratic euphemisms taking over English.
English is increasingly a foreign language among the British anyway, with the general literacy rate sinking, so that around a quarter of English people are now borderline illiterates, defined as being unable to complete official forms correctly. Official thinking, as expressed in forms, notices and policy statements, is meanwhile retreating into a set bureaucratic jargon based on Whitehall targets. As The Times commented in its column "All councils are daft. That's a sine qua non":
A Plain English spokesman suggested helpfully that the Latin ban could stop people confusing eg with egg. Well, quite. Who hasn't perused the back page of their council tax bill and found themselves baffled by the sudden mention of eggs? I'll tell you who: everyone. Everyone has managed to understand that unless eg has been spitefully included in a breakfast menu (which local councils rarely provide) it doesn't mean egg. Bournemouth council staff should have checked their English before taking potshots at Latin. An example of their commitment to the mother tongue can be found on the council website: "Current bylaws allow dogs to exercise on the seafront with the exception that during 1 May and 30 September they must be kept on a lead when on the promenade and cliff paths." Unless they really mean to ban free-ranging dogs on two solitary days of the year, they may want to rephrase that.
The creeping distortion of meaning in official English so that it only reflects Whitehall agendas (sorry) is the real problem. For example, the Council has been promoting as its current Library "Big Read" Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, on the grounds it is "one of the first novels to focus on diversity issues and other people's reactions to perceived differences". This is not a description you would find in any literary guide, or perhaps even recognize the book from, for it comes from a Whitehall diversity-agenda handout. (Disclosure: I used to work for Bournemouth Council, among others.)
This is the language of the new national elite of Council managers, sending out communiqués in a jargon outsiders can't understand, as part of its "transformative agenda". (Bournemouth Council has just hired a 100K-a-year "Director Of Transformation."). One could (provided one did not work for the Council) propose Frankenstein should be our Big Read as it is a metaphor about Mad Social Scientists and the consequences of their brainstorms (sorry, "thought showers") running amok as they transform society into their own image. Perhaps the next "Big Read" should be another "end-times" S-F classic, Orwell's 1984, a book partly inspired by his wartime experience trying to toe the official line in regard to writing topical material.
I took the title of this blog essay from a chapter in Isak Dinesen's Out Of Africa (the book title is from the Latin saying Ex Africa semper aliquid novi - "Out of Africa, always something new.") In her "Immigrant's Notebook" section, she has an anecdotal piece, "The Elite Of Bournemouth," referring to the town's early days when it was a health resort catering to the wealthy. When I googled "The Elite of Bournemouth" to check the reference, Google asked me, "Did you mean: 'The Last of Bournemouth' ?
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Bournemouth Festival And Party Season 2008
Now another damp squib of a summer has ended, this time with a bang (see previous item),
party and festival season is upon us again. In addition to our annual Architectural Heritage
Week just past (Sep 13-21), this time of year sees our annual autumnal political-party conferences,
which include Fringe programmes of public talks. These are often press-sponsored by a periodical
sympathetic to that particular party (such as the Guardian or New Statesman),
and hence often on media-related issues. This year both the leading parties (Con and Lab) have
"gone North" to try to secure better electoral footholds up there, which meant at least we were
spared the usual madhouse security of armed police looking keenly for 'suspicious' behaviour.
(Last year two disabled men in wheelchairs drinking at their local pub were taken away at gunpoint
after police claimed one had "stared"
at them and "passed a piece of paper" - his electricity bill.) This year we just had first UKIP
(Sep 4-6), which I didn't bother attending as they had no major media sponsors (the natural choice,
Compass Magazine, is being sold, their website down) and nothing media-related on offer
in fringe events. Then we had the LibDems (Sep 13-17), who did have a modest, New Statesman
sponsored Fringe programme (and will be back next year).
However, having attended a few of these Fringe events myself, and chatted afterwards with speakers
or party delegates, I can't say there's anything much of interest to report for local arts and
media practitioners. (Though I managed to miss "Arts Council England - Arms Length Or Arm Lock?"
- perhaps that had the answers.) More central to our cultural scene is our next event, at the
end of September, the week-long 4th Bournemouth
Literary Festival (Sep 29 - Oct 5). It's put on by what's called a self-funded organisation,
i.e one that does not rely on official Arts Council England funding to exist, being run by volunteers,
with events funded by ticket sales. This year's theme is "International Culture - A World Of
Words". There are talks and 'interactive' sessions by local and visiting authors, a fun "quotable
quotes" quiz on the Friday evening at the café off the Square where the BomoCreatives
social/business networking club meet. Of particular local interest is the guided Sunday afternoon
literary-Bournemouth walking tour, starting by the Shelley family tomb - tying in with the Library's
September "Big Read" - Mary Shelley's Frankenstein [click logo, left, to download
PDF of poster]. A festival programme is available
online, but anyone interested in staging an additional event can contact the organizers here.
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Big Sky Bournemouth
- "Day After" Update
The official claim was that three-quarters of a million attended overall, with around 380,000 on the one sunny day, the Saturday [photo above]. Overall, the event was adjudged a success, despite the Vulcan no-show and the weather, ending with rain as the Eurofighter [pictured in previous item below] reappeared Sunday 4pm. The disaster scenario created by Bournemouth's main rival, The Airbourne Festival at Eastbourne, was avoided, via the promo slogan “By the sea and completely free!” (Eastbourne decided this year to charge £5 "admission" to the beach, resulting in a drop in attendance from 750,000 in previous years to around 50,000. According to the BBC, Eastbourne Council blamed the fall-off on "the current economic climate and the Beijing Olympics.") The news today is the "first Bournemouth Airshow" was such a success there will be one next year (20th-23rd August '09), and it may become an annual event.
As far as media coverage went, the one potential £5 obstacle to success here, the policy of not publishing a timetable on the local tourism website, with the link directing you instead to buy the Echo's £5 official souvenir-programme guide, ended on Day Two. Someone in protest had published a general timetable (from the UK Military Airshows site) via the Reader's Comment facility on the Echo news site, and then reposted it on a followup-story page after the Echo moved the webpage. (By then, the Comments included further complaints about the way the evening events were left off the timetable.) The Echo itself also printed a partial timetable in a Saturday supplement, though still lacking the minute-by-minute breakdown we published here on the Friday. Media coverage seems to have led off with both amateur and professional videos which quickly appeared on You Tube, including an official Tourism promo, and there will likely be a DVD.
Photo-opportunities were limited by the weather, but if anyone wants a downloadable desktop-size souvenir-photo version of the image below (titled "Lancaster's Farewell Fly-by"), I've posted a 1600x1200-pixel version on my other local-interest site [dealing with local heritage], here.
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Big Sky Bournemouth
The ‘free’ 4-day Bournemouth Air Festival (28-31 Aug) is already a media event, billed as “the biggest event in the town's history,” expected to draw “up to a million” visitors.
(It already has its own movie-style “trailer”
as well as a bootleg one on You Tube
… With the event promoted under the slogan “By the sea and completely free!”, clifftop and adjoining town-centre roads are being closed off to traffic for 4 days. Street traders, entertainers and war-veterans charities are setting up along the 1.5 miles of sea front between the 2 piers – this being front row for the aerial displays. These will consist of civilian and military planes doing flypasts and aerobatics, plus glowing hot-air balloons over the Lower Gardens to light up the evening sky. To make it more of an all-round festival, there will be food and souvenir market stalls, fairground rides, live music and other outdoor entertainment in the evenings, and shops will be staying open late. There will be aviation-related book-signings and talks in Borders, and in the Square, a tent where boys and dads can assemble plastic Airfix model planes. On Saturday night, the RAF is putting on a ‘Big Bang’ firework display. (There’s also a £70-a-head charity ball with a ‘golden era of aviation’ theme.)
There is a strong RAF presence, in keeping with the fact it is their 90th anniversary. Of course there are the RAF Red Arrows aerobatics display team, in their Hawk jets. (You may have seen the team’s low-level work as film stunt pilots in Spielberg’s Empire Of The Sun and Saving Private Ryan.)
There are a trio of RAF pilot-training aircraft, and the RAF Falcons are doing a parachuting display (including“the no-contact canopy stack” - whatever that is). There is The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (a Lancaster, Spitfire, and Hurricane). And there is also a hoped-for reappearance of the RAF Avro Vulcan. This delta-wing craft was until 1991 part of Britain’s nuclear strike force of V-bombers. If you don’t know what it looks like, it was the type seen in Thunderball. This particular Vulcan has been the subject of a major restoration fundraising effort which began locally in 2004. (Update: flight cancelled due to technical problem.) Another delta-wing giant, the RAF’s latest supersonic high-tech strike plane the EFA or 'Eurofighter' Typhoon, is making two ear-splitting appearances.
The Army and Navy will also be participating, the Army with their Blue Eagles display team with various types of helicopter, and ground displays including a Challenger tank and mock assault course. (Oh yes, they’ll have a recruiting stands for likely lads.) The Navy’s Black Cats Helicopter Display Team will be there with their Lynx helicopters, and there will be boat trips out to a naval ship in the bay. The RN’s own Historic Flight will be putting on displays by a Sea Hawk, and a privately restored De Havilland Sea Vixen (the last of its kind still flying) will also appear. Civilian displays will range from a miniature Spitfire to formation wing walking to displays of real hawks and other ‘raptors.’
The event is already being referred to as the First Bournemouth Air Festival, implying the first of many to come. In fact, there used to be air shows, going back to at least 1910 here. (The online "trailer" also promises some WWI-era biplanes, the types seen in The English Patient, some of these being based in north Dorset, at Compton Abbas airfield.) Aviation has been part of the area’s heritage, with a historic role in British aviation right through WWII into the jet age. Indeed the local aviation museum began as the Jet Heritage Trust Museum, before branching out under the more general name Bournemouth Aviation Museum. The good news here is that, after being unceremoniously evicted after ten years from their airport site (to make way for another car park), the museum now looks to be saved, at least in a scaled-down display, relocating to the nearby Adventure Wonderland theme park.
While there may be ‘more planes and helicopters than you can shake a stick at’, the one thing missing is an accessible timetable of events. The official programme-guide is only available at a few locations, costs £5, and being a print publication, cannot be updated. Since it is the Echo selling it, no free schedule of events is being included in the newspaper. As the Fest is sponsored by a local bus company (it’s putting on a £10 Park-n-Ride service), there are already quips online that events will either be running late or not appear at all (or perhaps 3 will appear at once). And, as usual, the loudspeaker live commentary is inaudible. So below is a programme outline, taken from online sources.
[Timetable now removed to save space as no longer relevant.]
Airshow Further Info Links
BBC Dorset webpage
More Bus Bournemouth Seafront Air Festival - Official Event Site
RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight website
RAF Typhoon Display Team website
Red Arrows website
Vulcan To The Sky Trust
[info on cancelled appearance]
Compton Abbas Airfield [Dorset home of historic aircraft seen on screen]
Bournemouth Aviation Museum
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Now the "Complete Jane Austen season" on (both US
and UK) TV is over, with all her novels filmed and her own life (early and late) dramatised in
two feature films based on family private papers, where are we to get our vicarious fix of early
19th-Century English society manners and mores? Of course the criticism of Austen's world from
social historians and some literary critics is that it's a "dolls-house" world. That is, it ignores
the events of the era, such as fear of the political revolutions abroad spreading here, or the
Inclosures Acts and gradual drifting away of the population as labour for the new industrial
cities. And of course Jane never married, spending her entire adult life living-in with her family,
her surviving sister (as we saw in Miss Austen Regrets) burning her private papers.
Jane's only job outside the family was looking after and teaching some village children. Her
literary world is thus restricted to her own servant-owning class, and to life in what Americans
call a "white picket fence" world - an idealised small country town or prosperous village. The
rural folk who in that era still made up the bulk of the population simply do not figure in her
enclosed Regency world.
closest depiction that comes to mind is the folk living on the great heath in The Return
Of The Native, which (rumour has it) is to become an ITV drama serial. Biographers say Hardy's
1878 novel is set earlier than his other Wessex Novels as he was recreating the vanishing society
of the 1840s, when he was growing up on the edge of the heathland which then stretched from outside
Dorchester eastward towards Bournemouth. Hardy's novel covers a year and a day in the life of
the heathland 'natives.' But story-wise this remains a Gothic novel (originally a serial for
a popular magazine) of thwarted love. Clym, the 'native' of the title, is returning from Paris,
while heroine Eustacia Vye is not a heathland native and longs to escape to a more civilised
place like Paris. The rest of the 'natives' are little more than a Greek chorus of onlookers
and gossips who suspect she is a witch, etc. I've long suspected the authentic voice of the ordinary
folk of the time would be of a more plain and practical tone, and we now have a glimpse of this.
Newly online is the local diary of a year and a half in the life of another Jane, a newly-married
wife and mother. She was living on the eastern fringe of Hardy's vast heath, north of what would
become Bournemouth. It's a far cry from the world of our other, better-known, Jane. Born Jane
Brown in 1814, the year of Austen's greatest commercial success (Mansfield Park), our
diarist was not quite literate by modern standards. Her diary entries are full of misspellings
and run-on sentences, with little punctuation. A spinster living with her parents and brother
till she was nearly 30, she married her neighbour on the next farm, and had her first child nine
months later. The diary covers the first year and a half of her life as a new mother, including
the birth of a second child.
There's nothing remotely literary here, just a bare-bones account of daily life, with a terse,
1-2 line entry for each day covered, and conveying a lifestyle that seems at least a generation
earlier than Austen's. In fact the journal's 1843-44 timespan is over a quarter-century after
Austen's death. Here, there is no more historical background than in an Austen novel. And there
are no explanations as to who's who. (To add to the confusion, half the female characters in
it seemed to have been named Jane. Going by this account, Jane seems to have been the commonest
female first name of the era.) The diary was obviously never meant to be read by outsiders. One
has to read between the lines - hence the many annotations to the online version, representing
our best guesses as to what was going on. For example, the local historian who typed up the handwritten
diary entries felt that when Jane had visitors to "tea", what was in Jane's teacup was as likely
to be gin as tea - which would account for incidents like dropping the baby. Anyone whose image
of early 19th-C. England is derived from Jane Austen works is in for a few shocks... [Read
Jane Hicks's Diary]
Our Chief Literary Boy
Scout And Girl Guide
Today the children's adventure and the self-help book are two of the healthiest
perennials in publishing. Both genres got a major boost exactly 100 years ago, in an event with
local connections. This Centenary's local links are commemorated in Poole Museum's exhibition
[21 March -2 November] "Scouting For Boys... And Girls" which includes the original
hand-written, illustrated, manuscript of the best-seller, Scouting For Boys, the DIY
manual which launched the Scouting Movement a century ago, being exhibited in public for the
It was on Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour in 1907 that Chief Scout Robert Baden-Powell held
his first Scout Camp. Private Eye editor and broadcaster Ian Hislop presented a documentary
not long ago on 'B-P' as an under-rated figure, who improved the health of the nation by promoting
a healthier lifestyle among inner-city children. Baden-Powell's Scouting For Boys, published
in early 1908, became the handbook of the new Scout Movement, and would become the 20th century's
major non-religious bestseller, still in print though in updated form.
Baden Powell was in fact a pioneer of the self-help how-to book, completing over 30 works with
inspirational titles like Paddle Your Own Canoe and Life's Snags And How To Meet
Them. "B-P", as he came to be known, had begun writing in the 1880s to further
his army career, producing military manuals as well as acting as a newspaper correspondent on
colonial campaigns. He became a national hero in the Boer War with his imaginative defence of
Mafeking, which included the use of a cadre of young "scouts". In the years prior to
the creation of the Boy Scouts, he was back in England as a major-general, establishing a cavalry
training school at Netheravon on Salisbury Plain.
In 1912, to the surprise of many, the ascetic B-P married a much younger woman, Olave St Clair
Soames (1889-1977) at St Peter's, Parkstone in Poole. She became the first head of the Girl Guides
a few years later. The creation of the Wolf Cubs and the Brownies followed on to meet the demand
from younger boys and girls, using names like Akela from the Jungle Books written by
B-P's friend Kipling.
Olave being 32 years younger than he, as Lady Baden-Powell she was able to carry on after Sir
Robert died in Africa during WWII, through the 1960s. Olave later co-wrote a memoir, Window
On My Heart (1973), excerpts from which are online here.
She has a memorial on the Evening Hill viewpoint overlooking Poole Harbour and Brownsea, not
far from the closest she had to a childhood home, 'Grey Rigg,' in the Lilliput district of Poole.
Since the war, the spirit of children's adventure has flourished in literature, expanding into
fiction, away from B-P's rather repressed and militaristic worldview of clean living and selfless
service to Empire. It lives on in the literary adventures of the Famous Five (another literary
corpus with local links) and many similar escapes from parental supervision. Today, the wheel
has come full circle with the original 1908 Scouting For Boys being reprinted, and non-fiction
spinoffs like The Dangerous Book For Boys a bestseller, like the Famous Five now being
turned into a Disney TV series (and no doubt, marketing empire). The other half of the market
is being addressed with works like The Great Big Glorious Book for Girls. This literary
legacy is probably a more fitting memorial than Hollywood had in mind for the pair, when CB deMille
planned, just before he died, an inspirational biopic as a followup to his The Ten Commmandments.
Locally, he is to get a lifesize bronze monument on Poole Quay, where ferryboats depart for Brownsea,
showing him sitting on a log, to be unveiled this August.
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Revisiting England's Literary Heartland
mentioned earlier, one of our most visited site pages gives film locations in the region - hence
the recent revamp and update, as a professional service, of this page (last updated 12-4-08).
However the south-central region is also a major "literary location" with many types of literary
work set here, these being written both before and after the region's one well-known author,
Hardy did revitalise an old name for the region, Wessex, to create his "partly real, partly dream
country" in novels like Far From The Madding Crowd. This may well have encouraged later
writers to see the region as England's literary heartland, and use it for their own purposes,
but we seldom hear of this. The relentless focus on Hardy scarcely does justice to the extent
of imaginative writing about the region.
Even if many of these books do not have the same lasting interest when considered strictly as
literature, they have an historic interest, offering insight into the era. (Modern novelists
in fact often draw on such earlier works, to get a feeling for in-period dialogue etc.) The prevailing
snobbish view that everything Hardy wrote was genius, while everything else is rubbish not worth
bothering about is a dangerously simplistic world-view.
There's also a companionate and equally simple-minded view at work here that older novels have
an old-fashioned world view that may be 'unsuitable' today, in case such works are accessed by
younger readers. As a result, piles of Victorian and pre-WW2 novels have disappeared off library
shelves. I've managed to rescue a few hundred of these over the years by buying copies at library
discard sales, but many others I'd seen in earlier card catalogues have been purged even from
special collections, and are now lost forever.
Accordingly, I've created a new series to deal with this, which I call Setting The Scene In Wessex.
As we're talking about literary settings, and these imply a time as well as a place, I'm covering
the works according to which era they're set in, and within that, the order they're written in.
For example, The Regency Era would list first works both written and set in that era as contemporary
works (e.g. Jane Austen's Persuasion), and then later works, ending with the most recent.
Novels are included even if they are out of print. Sometimes these can be bought 2nd-hand, and
you never know - the library may not have got around to throwing out all their copies of it yet.
As the interest in these works today is not simply literary but part of our social history, I'm
also putting some historical background on each page. If the author had a known biographical
connection with the area (e.g. grew up locally), I've mentioned this. This is helpful where the
place names used are fictitious (probably for legal reasons) in the manner of Hardy's Wessex
Novels. Hardy himself in later life participated in creating maps matching up fictional and real
places, and this is now the basis of a regional tourism motif (e.g. Bournemouth is promoted as
"Hardy's 'Sandbourne' - gateway to ancient 'Wessex' ").
The number of authors besides Hardy who have set novels etc in the region is unknown but I have
a 3-figure listing going back to the 1990s (when I taught courses in local literature) and this
is still being added to. (For a sampler, see our page listing 100 local-interest literary works.)
I'll add coverage to it a page at a time, one page per era. The first page, A Guide
To Local-Interest Literature Set In The Pre-Historic Era, is already up. [click
here to view]
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Lark Rise To Bournemouth
new Sunday-evening ten-part drama serial Lark
Rise To Candleford is bound to prompt new interest in the writings of Flora Thompson. The
serial is adapted from her 1939-43 trilogy Lark Rise, Over To Candleford, and Candleford
Green, published together in 1945 under the now more familiar title. These were novelised
autobiography, recreating the already-vanished world of her youth in the 1890s, growing up in
various villages across southern England. (Born in 1876, she was 14 when she began working for
the Post Office.) Less well-known to her international following is her transition from rural
post-office worker to professional writer, in Edwardian Bournemouth.
Pictured: a plaque commemorating Flora's
sojourn here was unveiled in April '08 by the actress who played the lead in the BBC serial.
(Mouse over photo at right to see 2nd image.)
In 1903, age 27, she married another postal clerk, John Thompson, and they moved to Winton, a
district where the northern edge of the Bournemouth's expanding new conurbation was already encroaching
on the ancient heathland. She had to leave her job as the Post Office did not employ married
women, and confined to a domestic world, she began walking, and reading. Before her first child
was born, she would walk over the heath as far as Robert Louis Stevenson's former house in Westbourne.
From 1907 on, she was able to visit the new Winton branch of Bournemouth Public Library, which
- uniquely at that time - allowed users to browse the shelves (instead of just ordering books).
She says she read everything she could get her hands on, from the classics on: "For the first
time in my life I had access to a good public library, and I slipped in like a duck slipping
into water and read almost everything.…. The Public Library there was my Alma Mater…. The discovery
of each new writer, each set of new ideas, was the opening up of a new world. I went right back
to the beginning, read the Greeks and Romans in translations; read the English poets; the English
novelists; the English critics; nibbled at translations of the French writers; even tried my
teeth upon philosophy and mysticism! Read Ibsen, Shaw, Yeats and all the Celts."
husband allowed her to buy a typewriter to type his professional correspondence and in 1911,
she began submitting local-interest pieces to Ladies Companion magazine. Her first published
piece was a 300-word essay, done for a competition, on how Jane Austen changed the English novel.
She often wrote nature pieces - she wrote of the New Forest, of Talbot Woods (which she passed
through to reach Talbot Village from Winton), and the Isle of Wight, where her husband's family
lived. (Some of these pieces are available in a posthumous 1986 anthology, The Peverel Papers:
A Yearbook Of The Countryside.) Here, says her biographer Margaret Lane, "the first
echoes of Lark Rise could be heard." She said her husband was initially hostile to
the idea of her literary ambitions, and with children to care for, "my literary dreams
failed for a while." Margaret Lane's 1976 biography notes her new suburban social milieu
was also hostile: "the world of the white-collar working class was alien to Flora and she
was dismayed by its narrowness and prejudice. Her love of reading was now condemned as a waste
of time, her attempts at writing sneered at."
Nevertheless she persevered. She wrote poetry as well as prose, the north Bournemouth heathlands
helping inspire her 1921 poem collection Bog Myrtle And Peat. The Thompsons lived in
Winton from 1903 to 1916, at several houses (2 in Sedgley Rd, in Edgehill Rd, and finally Frederica
Rd). In 1916, the year her favourite brother was killed on the Somme, the couple moved to Liphook,
on the edge of Woolmer Forest in Hampshire. She continued working for the Post Office and became
known as 'the poetess-postmistress.' (Some of her 1920s nature essays were later collected by
Margaret Lane and published in 1979 by Oxford University Press, to whom she had sent her work,
as A Country Calendar & Other Writings, which also includes some of her ‘Bog
Myrtle And Peat’ poems. A complete chronological one-volume set of what Thompson called
her Peverel Papers is now in preparation.) She spent her final decades on the south coast of
Devon, at Dartmouth and Brixham. Despite wartime bombing and the loss of her younger son in action,
she persevered with her 'Lark Rise' trilogy of portraits of a now-vanished world. She died in
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Site Update - Filmography Page
of the usual ‘feature of the month’ on a local film, filmmaker or genre, over the
past few months, I've been turning the fairly basic film-listing chronology page into a proper
filmography, and have created a 10,000-word annotated version of it. This can still be the basis
of future, more in-depth feature articles, but in the meantime there is a bit more info available
online than previously. As I mentioned in the preamble, the basic chronology film-listing page
has been consistently getting a surprising number of weekly visitors, so this should make it
even more useful.
To complete it, I had to track down a number of films and try to recognise where they were shot.
I'm always hearing rumours about other shoots, but some leads inevitably turn out to be wrong,
and perhaps it’s appropriate to run down a few of these here.
It seems definite there's no substance to local newspaper claims that parts of Lawrence Of
Arabia, Four Weddings And A Funeral, Separate Tables, the Stewart Granger Moonfleet,
or Chariots Of Fire were shot locally. And I still have my doubts about The African
Queen, and have only left it in the listing as I know someone who knows someone who swears
he saw the claim in a Bogart biography. I have no idea if this includes the detail you can see
in the Echo sometime that Bogart practiced his boat-steering skills in Christchurch on the Wick
A few examples of films eliminated from the draft list will suffice. An early British talkie
with a plot foreshadowing that of Blow-Up, The Ghost Camera (1933), co-starring Ida
Lupino and John Mills (and edited by a young David Lean), which seems to have a key sequence
shot at Corfe Castle, proved on careful examination to be partly shot there and partly somewhere
else, probably at a similar West Country jagged, hilltop ruin like Okehampton Castle, where the
road access is different.
The 1950 Alec Guinness tragicomedy Last Holiday co-produced by Wight-resident J.B. Priestley
from his original script and a classic to match the Ealing comedies, sadly proved not to have
any filming in Bournemouth, despite its setting - the resort of "Pinebourne." (The
few location shots look like South Devon, perhaps Salcombe.)
Carry On Camping is set at a supposed nudist camp of the type that long existed near
Ringwood (shown in a real documentary, which the characters in the film watch!), and the dialogue
mentions Stonehenge being within walking distance, but it's the usual Home Counties the series
adhered to in order to keep budgets to a minimum.
The army camp in the Jack Hawkins heist drama The League Of Gentlemen (1960) is apparently
not any of the Dorset ones, as the script has it ('the Army Training Camp at Mulverton in Dorset'),
and message-board opinion is that the entrance is just the back gate of Pinewood Studios.
claim a part of Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket was shot at Poole has so far proved
There was a recent message-board
claim that Bournemouth Pier stood in for Margate Pier in the Michael Caine film Last
Orders. But a recent viewing suggests there is no substance to this, that the IMDB listing
(Canterbury, Chatham, Eastbourne, London, Margate, Rochester, Kent) is correct.
K19: The Widowmaker (2001) with Harrison Ford is said to have "used the
old naval base at Portland Ports for second-unit model shots" but I can't see any sign of
this – it may be the scenes were shot then cut out. On the other hand, I've left Pearl
Harbour in the listing, as I suspect Portland Castle was used for the scene, 38 minutes
in, where the Japanese plan their raid with model battleships in a pool inside a semicircular
fort overlooking a bay.
Of course, some references seem to be wrong, then prove at least partly right.
There was a claim the 1964 Michael Winner satire The System was shot in Bournemouth,
but judging from message-board views, this is generally wrong (opinion tends to Brixham / Paignton
/ Torquay). But the IMDB now also lists Bournemouth's Palm Court Hotel, so it seems the verdict
is still out on this one.
There are still stories that parts of other Norman Wisdom films besides The Bulldog Breed
were shot locally, specifically scenes shot on the roof of Bournemouth's Pavilion Theatre.'
The search goes on, but in the meantime, here’s what we have [view
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