blog items from previous years [2005-11], see links on home page.
Bournemouth, Arts Town By The Sea?
Locally, the main media event this past month has been Bournemouth's
Arts By The Sea Festival, which culminated this week with a focus on the Gothic side, which
may have more topical relevance than just a Hallowe'en tie-in.
A series of events - films, stage shows, and historic walks were put on under the banner 'Forever
Frankenstein - The Modern Prometheus.' The latter phrase was the subtitle of the 1818 novel
by Mary Shelley, who is buried here in Bournemouth, along with the reinterred remains of her
parents (both distinguished
writers) and the heart of her poet husband.
Russell's Gothic: One of the Arts By The Sea festival events was a showing of Ken
Russell's Gothic, the 1986 film on how Mary Shelley came to write Frankenstein one dark and
stormy night. (On Ken Russell's own local links and work, see our webpage here.)
The image shows the seashore funeral pyre of her husband the poet Shelley. The story is that
his heart was plucked from the pyre and brought to Bournemouth, where it was kept in a silver
casket in a candle-lit alcove in Mary and Percy's son's family home, Boscombe's Shelley Manor
- now a principal festival venue.
chief venue was Boscombe’s Shelley Manor, built by the poet's son and now billed as 'wonderfully
atmospheric and semi-derelict'. (This is putting a positive spin on it - there is a long and
depressing back story, some of which we have chronicled here in blog items over the years,
regarding the way the building was allowed to become dilapidated and the largely unsuccessful
campaign to restore the building as an arts venue.) The Manor did have an in-house theatre
when the poet's son was the young town's chief organiser of artistic events. One of his guests
was the invalid Robert Louis Stevenson, who wrote 6 books during his mid-1880s sojourn on the
other side of town, in Westbourne. He was able to do this because, rather than socialising
regularly, he wrapped himself up in his work, he said, "like a weevil in a biscuit." One of
these works was The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde, whose troubled creation
is the basis of the The Weevil In The Biscuit, a new play dramatising how the novel
came to be written, burnt, and rewritten. (Most of the play promos don't mention who wrote
it: it's by BAFTA Award winning veteran tv dramatist turned local creative writing professor
John Foster.) Although the Bournemouth Pavilion showing was cancelled at the last moment (grrr),
The Weevil In The Biscuit did run at other local venues as well as in in Edinburgh,
where RLS also had local links.
In Edinburgh the theme of dual nature, good and evil, coexisting within a single corpus has
long been recognised as applying not only to humans but to civic entities: the town or city
itself changes character after dark. It's occasionally mentioned that this is a phenomenon
which in the past decade or so has come to apply to Bournemouth (most recently this month,
That is, the town's traditional family-oriented resort identity has been supplanted by a new
one after the sun sets: the shutters go up and the night people come out. This is referred
to officially as The Night-Time Economy and is currently getting national media coverage [see
due to the independent ex-copper candidate for The Police & Crime Commissioners Election (mid-Nov)
saying the night-time disorder needs sorting out. Only the same-sex stag and hen party scene
and the proliferation of "too many" clubs and pubs (800+ in fact) are mentioned, though the
larger issues of drugs and drink related violence spilling out onto the streets may be implied.
(It's just come out in the press that Boscombe has around 60
rehab centres, something evidently kept quiet by the authorities.)
However, something special is being lost in this black or white debate between the forces of
hedonism and mercantilism on the one hand and on the other, what is largely nostalgia for a
vanished age (when the climate was better and it didn't rain most of the summer). As I've argued
before, that special something is culture. I've given the argument for this type of development
which has worked in other seaside resorts, at length here
in a piece which also said 2012 would be a good year to start if we were to go down that road.
The ABTS Festival had a respectable lineup of over 100 events, and the Echo headlined
its festival-announcement story, "Arts by the Sea Festival will put Bournemouth on the culture
map". The town is no doubt still in the eyes of many a "desert of materialistic Philistinism"
(that's an actual quote) as per the famous Gelett Burgess map of Bohemia I included with my
earlier article, but in terms of heading down the road to the town having a thriving cultural
'Bohemian' quarter, it's a start.
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Big Sky Bournemouth 2012
--This year, the town (and region)'s biggest annual media event, the Bournemouth Air Festival,
looks to be more media-friendly.
week [Th 30 Aug – Sun 2 Sep] sees the start of the town (and region)’s biggest annual media
event, the Bournemouth Air Festival. (Around a million visitors are expected.) As usual, this
kicks off [at 3pm] with the Red Arrows (down one pilot since last year’s fatal crash of an
RAF Hawk in a field in north Bournemouth - cause still undecided).
And as usual (see blog items for 2008, 2009, 2010), detailed info on what exactly
is flying when is being coyly withheld to try to make people buy the vague timetable printed
inside the official/Echo souvenir-guide brochure for £6 (+£1.60 p&p for online orders), listing
running order by hourly slot. (Sponsors such as established media outlets used to get a more
detailed minute-by-minute one, which they need for timed coverage to slot into live coverage
e.g. by BBC Radio Solent, Wave FM, tv newscasts etc., but the online Press section now suggests
media outlets should just buy the brochure, though the in-page link
for this is dead ; there is in fact a wider variety of outlets this year than before, list
There is a free Air Festival leaflet PDF downloadable here.
With the event being promoted as free (“Britain’s biggest free event”), the Council
evidently makes no attempt (perhaps for fear of their beach wardens being mobbed by a hostile
crowd) to impose the £80 ‘Event Fee’ for professional filming (£42 in Poole) that anyone setting
up a video camera tripod at other times may face. This results in a healthy amount of media
coverage, with mini-docs on YouTube (dedicated “channel” here
[page from 2011] and here
[2012 'preview' page] and commemorative DVDs on sale via these links some time afterward.
The media coverage is important, since - as with many a sporting event - the 'view' is often
better (with closeups of the planes) when it is seen on tv rather than in person, especially
with the clifftop walkways being jammed with with up to a quarter of a million spectators,
and the view from the beach spoiled by sports companies who plant in the sand unattended 'sail'
poles with their advertising logos printed on them vertically, evidently for the purpose of
getting their 'media presence' into every shot. The planes are often too distant to identify
right away (due to health n safety) and you can usually stand anywhere on the front and listen
to people arguing about which plane that was, until the nearest aviation buff - identifiable
by his peaked cap, regalia of badges, binocs, and long-lens camera - gets fed up and intervenes.)
Trying to listen to the aircraft engine sounds is also spoiled by the tannoy systems' incessant
commentary, which is usually incomprehensible due to the cliff-face acoustics and cacophony
of other sounds. (The only planes that can drown them out are the Vulcan, Typhoon and Vampire/Vixen
- which may be part of their popularity as 'headline acts'.)
What is it? (Actually, it was an RAF Eurofighter Typhoon, climbing vertically.)
printed timetable will likely need updating, given the vagaries of English summer weather and
technical problems with older planes. (Local weather forecast sites here
and here.) This year the
buyers of the official guide can use a voucher code to log in to the BAF site to check for
updates, though you have to go a Tourist Office or Festival booth to obtain the code, which
isn’t too convenient. Hopefully these updates will also be more immediate – in the past, events
like the Vulcan have continued to be publicised after they were cancelled. One headlined item,
the Sea Vixen, has now been cancelled officially. (In fact it had not flown since it crash-landed
at Hurn in April.) As lack of specific info about what is flying when is the biggest cause
of complaint about the event (the ‘Roar On The Shore’ fireworks fiasco was a one-off that made
the national news), expect some timetable info to appear on the day in the Echo as a concession,
probably after (going by past years) details being posted in the online Comments section by
These days, any major updates are of course likely to be shared on Twitter (official hashtag
@BmthAirFest/#bmthairfest). The organisers now also have a Facebook
page, though of course like Twitter this is only accessible to subscribers. As
last year, there’s also an official app
for iPhone and (new this year) Android smartphones, though it’s not free (£1.49 – “This
useful app enables you to access the full flying programme so you can keep up-to-date with
all displays whilst on the go.”) This sounds ideal, but there’s no download link for the
Android version on the official
BAF site page. The iPhone download link (to iTunes) however indicates this is
not a dedicated app, but a 'Bournemouth Official Visitor Guide', with suggestions for hotels
etc., i.e sponsored advertising. For Vulcan fans, the organisers have their own website listing
all the airshow appearances
of the restored nuclear bomber – the last of its kind still flying (XH558)
- and there is also now a dedicated app for iOS, Android and Windows Phones (“search for
‘XH558’ in your download store”.)
In any case, some timetable details for the 5th annual BAF are already out: the Red Arrows
(whose work as low-level stunt pilots you can see in Spielberg’s Empire Of The Sun
and Saving Private Ryan) will appear Thur at 3pm and return Fri 31st at 2pm and Sat
1st Sep at 1230pm, while the other ‘headline act’ or media star (cf Thunderball, 1964),
the window-rattling Avro Vulcan nuclear bomber, will appear twice this time, on Saturday and
Sunday afternoons. Again, there will also be the Battle
of Britain Memorial Flight (cue theme from The Dam Busters) [4pm Th etc],
assorted ground attractions, evening light shows etc, Royal Navy ships in the bay (including
for the first time a modern Type 42 Destroyer) you can go aboard (free timed tickets allocated
daily on a first-come, first-served basis), plus various other return appearances like the
RAF Tornado. (No sign of that other thunderous beast, the RAF Eurofighter Typhoon; apparently
their recent active service over Libya left them so short of spare parts many had to be grounded,
and the RAF Typhoon Display Team website typhoondisplay.com is down). There is no indication
yet of any major new aerial stars this year, except for the Vulcan, in the sense it was a no-show
the past two years in a row. However, there will be “a historic re-enactment of a daring
sea rescue of a downed pilot featuring a Catalina, Me109, P-51 and a Spitfire”, also sometime
Saturday and Sunday afternoons, which sounds like an episode out of a war film. (The area has
a long history of appearances in war films like The First Of The Few aka Spitfire,
listings page here.)
[Any major news updates will be posted as they come in, as the official sites often are so
busy they are hard to load, especially via mobile wifi connections, though links to the official
BAF site seem to take you to a 'mobile'-friendly version of the site, as the BAF
'What's On' page now has a button saying 'Switch To Desktop Version'. This may
be as there is free wifi access on the beach for the event.]
The area of course has a century-long aviation history, going back to Britain’s first airshow
in 1910 (unfortunately with another fatality, that of the Hon. Charles Rolls, of the firm that
would go on to put engines in the Spitfire etc), and there is a small aviation
museum across the road from the airport [with a booth in Bournemouth Square Wed-Sun],
that has various British jets as standing exhibits. For background on the development of British
jets, BBC4’s Jet! When Britain Ruled The Skies [downloadable or viewable on iPlayer
- link valid until Wed eve, 5 Sep] covers several jets on display locally - the Vulcan, the
Lightning, and the prototype of the Sea Vixen (and Vampire), the DH110, seen crashing at an
air show in 1952, killing the test pilot and killing or injuring nearly a hundred spectators
– the incident that put an end to pilots at airshows performing low-level manoeuvres close
to the spectators.
Update 1: The Echo now has a 'What's flying today?' schedules listing up here,
but as the cancelled Sea Vixen [see above] is still listed, this must just be an online copy
of the outdated printed version. The Echo also has a daily live-blog page with PR items [access
from news home page here].
The BAF site now has a page with the air-display running order, here,
and a page with programme changes, here.
There is an Air Festival Radio channel for the 4 days, which can be heard along the
seafront by anyone with a radio receiver e.g smartphone, on 87.7 FM, but apparently this is
not available online due to license restrictions.
Update 2: Schedule changes still not being notified on the relevant
pages, cf the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight no-show Thurs. (Still scheduled for 3pm today
i.e. Fri, as well as Sat and Sun aft.) And the 'Air
Festival TV' link on the BAF home page turns out be just to a static page linking
to a YouTube 'Preview' promo teaser page, not being updated.
Update 3: The Air Festival TV link now redirects to a
Wave 105 FM page, which seems oriented towards the NightAir music events. The
only live TV-type airshow coverage seems to be the closeups shown on giant electronic screens
on the seafront. Some schedule confusion continues. One potential problem is that the overall
showtimes are confusingly different every day for the main daytime event (Th 3-5.15; Fri 2-5pm;
Sat 2.30pm-4.15; Sun 1-4.30), with reports in past years of spectators appearing on the clifftop
at 10am - a standard start time of other airshows. The Echo and the BAF official site listings
both give the overall times but may differ on specifics, eg the Black Cats RN helicopter-duo
display [pictured below] is not listed on one site but is on the other, though on Fri the time
was out by an hour. There are also seems to be no online notification of ticket availability
[see above] to visit the main naval attraction, HMS York (the RN's fastest warship, parked
just off the Pier), only a sign at the Pier entrance (Pier admission fee in force) saying 'Navy
ship tickets sold out'. There's still no sign of the promised app for Android smartphones;
a Commenter's complaint appearing on the supposed download page seems to have prompted the
link to be redirected to a compact BAF links page suitable for smartphones, i.e. narrow, which
does not mention the app. There is however said to be free wifi on the seafront. Cancellations
are still not being flagged up online e.g. the Lanc was again a no show on Fri, this time due
to a tech problem. Day 3 headline acts appear to be the Red Arrows [12.30], Battle of Britain
Memorial Flight [2pm], the WWII-scenario 'Historic re-enactment' (a Spitfire and a P51 Mustang
seeing off an Me109 while a Catalina flying boat picks up a downed flier) [c2.30pm], and the
Vulcan delta-wing nuclear bomber [4pm].
Update 4: The Lanc did show up yesterday, and apparently there was a surprise
appearance by a DH Sea Venom, to compensate for the Sea Vampire's cancellation Thursday, though
since it was not advertised many must have missed it.
The media stars today are final appearances of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight around
230pm, the 'Historic Re-enactment' involving a Catalina, an Me109, a Spitfire and a P51 Mustang
(the 'cadillac of the sky' from Spielberg's Empire Of The Sun) at 3pm, and the Vulcan,
Final Update: The 'historic reenactment' was missing its enemy aircraft as
the Me109 did not appear 'due to the weather'. (This was at least flagged up beforehand, an
hour before.) The Sea Venom made another appearance, again not billed in advance. Otherwise,
the 4-day show finished without aviation mishaps.
Conclusion: Despite the increasing variety of media platforms, it remained
hard to be sure what was flying when, due to failure to provide or update timetable details,
or to coordinate info across platforms, leaving users searching for snippets here and there,
usually on slow-loading websites.
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Romantic Fiction & Drama For Valentine's
Since the press as usual at this time of year have been running travel features etc to
tie in with the Valentine’s Day weekend (and half-term week), it’s worth considering our own
area as a romantic setting for fiction and drama.
these settings can often still be visited; but given the current inclement weather with its
icy roads, perhaps we should focus here on DVDs as well as novels you can curl up with by the
fireside. (Watching a DVD as opposed to reading a novel lends itself easily to being a shared
experience.) And for those currently without a suitable relationship and spending the occasion
alone, works like these surely offer the next best thing. Of course, as in real life, not all
the stories end happily.
There is no scarcity of local-interest works with a romantic theme, our region having been
a romantic setting or an imaginative destination for over two centuries.
We can look back to the 18C 'bawdy' comedy of manners Tom Jones by Henry Fielding,
which has a self-consciously happy-finale ending with a romantic clinch between the somewhat
star-crossed pair of lovers; and for those who find the novel daunting, there is the rather
riotous 1963 film and tamer 1997 BBC serial, both shot largely in Dorset, as an introduction.
Towards the end of the Georgian Era, we have the work of Jane Austen, with her late (1818 -
actually posthumous) work Persuasion the work of greatest local interest,
and perhaps the most mature story also, with its theme of trying to recover from regrettably
missed opportunity. Here, we have both BBC and ITV feature versions for those wanting to watch
rather than read the novel. (The
Lyme Regis Cobb appears in every version - it has been an international literary-pilgrimage
destination ever since Austen’s time.)
Thomas Hardy developed the pastoral romance with a larger-than-life background in his Wessex
Novels, which began with his charming 1872 Under The Greenwood Tree (inspired
by his parents’ own meeting). His early work was less pessimistic in its outlook than his later
output, and here we also have his 1874 Far From The Madding Crowd, whose ending
if not conventionally happy is at least one of reasonable marital contentment. For this work
established the genre template where the heroine has dangerous involvements with one or two
unsuitable men (too wilful or too repressed) from whom she must be freed before she can settle
down with a gentler, more suitably steadfast mate. Here we also have film versions of both,
with a 2005 Xmas ITV movie version of the former and the 1967 widescreen version (shot at over
20 locations in Dorset and Wilts, from Durdle Door to Devizes) of the latter (already covered
Given the rise of Kindles etc, we should add these early works have gone out of copyright,
and can be downloaded as e-books without charge.
D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930) visited the Isle Of Wight in 1909, and his 1912 partly IOW-set The
Trespasser was the outcome. The novel has a genesis borne of romantic misfortune;
the story was based on the diary of an acquaintance of his, teacher Helen Corke. In 1909 –
while Lawrence holidayed nearby (at Shanklin with his mother and sister), Corke had a week-long
affair at Freshwater (on the opposite side of the island) with a married music teacher, who
then went home to his family and killed himself; Corke wrote a diary-style account, let Lawrence
read and use it; then Lawrence, himself ill and depressed, came to Bournemouth, where he rewrote
the work, it becoming his 2nd published novel (filmed 1981). As well as writing nonfiction
material about Lawrence, Corke later wrote her own fictional account of the
fatal affair, published in 1933 as Neutral Ground.
For a work where the heroine marries a charming wastrel in haste and gets to repent at leisure,
the classic first-person account Before The Fact (1932) by 'Francis Iles'
[Anthony Cox] is set in Dorset (and Bournemouth); it's the dark side of romance: the spinster
heroine is swept off her feet, too desperate for happiness, too loyal, too reluctant to believe
the worst, and finally feels too guilty and paralysed by indecision that in the end she can
only remain in her wifely place "till death do us part" - even though she expects
him to kill her for the insurance. Hitchcock filmed it in 1941 as Suspicion (with
Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine), but the studio would not allow him to use the original fatalistic
bleak ending, so a ‘happy’ one of misunderstanding was substituted.
Many people avoid the romance-novel series published by Mills & Boon as formulaic, but love,
romance and the idea of a ‘good’ marriage remain common themes in the mainstream non-genre
novel, which we’re focussing on here. (M&B romances seem often set nowhere in particular, with
no real sense of setting.) The big (wedding) day, often the finale of the conventional romance
novel, can be itself the whole focus of fiction or drama where the characters take a final
moment to reflect on their true feelings, before tying the knot.
A less well-known example, admired for its deft social observation and wit à la Jane Austen,
is the 1932 novella Cheerful Weather For The Wedding by Julia Strachey (1901-79).
JS was a member of the Bloomsbury set, who sometimes stayed with her uncle the biographer Lytton
Strachey at a friend’s house on the Solent-shore edge of the New Forest, where the novella
is vaguely set, near "Malton," (cf New Milton). Originally published in 1932 and finally in
paperback in 1978 as a Penguin Modern Classic, Persephone Modern Classics republished it in
2009. It was recently filmed, partly in SE Wiltshire. More recently, Ian McEwan’s Booker-nominated
2007 novella On Chesil Beach, now being filmed, is set at a fictional hotel
in SW Dorset c1962 as a study in pre-sexual-liberation psychology, its changing narrative viewpoint
detailing a honeymoon night turning into a debacle with no happy ending in sight.
For a work that encompasses both Victorian and modern narrative viewpoints, we have John Fowles’s
The French Lieutenant's Woman (1966), set in his home town of Lyme Regis largely
in the same decade as Hardy’s work, with a self-conscious 'Olympian' modern narrative framework,
in the 1980 film version was dramatised by Harold Pinter via a film-within-a-film showing modern
behind-the-camera scenes to contrast 19th and 20th century attitudes to relationships. (As
in Austen's Persuasion, the Lyme Regis Cobb is a key setting.)
For those who enjoy humorous
treatments of romantic complications, not to be overlooked are several Thurber-esque short
pieces in the collected stories of naturalist Gerald Durrell (1925-95), who was a Bournemouth
resident when not away on expedition. These are actually memoirs, but strongly enhanced by
his raconteur’s skill – of GD’s local misadventures in this area in the 1950s-60s: "Ursula"
in Fillets Of Plaice [sic] (coll. 1972) [part-set in Purbeck], "The Havoc Of Havelock"
in The Picnic & Suchlike Pandemonium (coll. 1979) [set in Bournemouth], and "Ludwig"
in Marrying Off Mother (coll. 1991) [ditto].
Reliving that passionate but doomed affair you had as a student seems common enough in genre
novels if not in life, and here we have The Summer Ghosts (1964) by the Athens-born,
Devon-resident poet and translator of French Surrealist novels Alexis Lykiard (1940-). The
narrator is half-Greek and a budding writer, and it may be the story had some autobiographical
roots. The affair takes place amidst the Bournemouth language-schools scene which (as Gerald
Durrell comments in a story above) began to transform the town in the 60s. This was, after
the Lady Chatterley trial, the time when more explicit physical descriptions of sex
could be included, and one edition [pictured] bills it as “The Uncensored European
Best Seller”, though this should be considered in historical context. Described on the cover
blurb as “the literary bombshell of the year,” this is a young author’s ‘literary’ first novel,
full of complexity and poetic descriptions, the narrative framework being the protagonist’s
drafting a therapeutic memoir while in a Bournemouth psychiatric clinic after a breakdown.
The novel is out of print but a few paperbacks are still available online, cf here.
Finally, for an up-to-date modern work we have Tamara Drewe,
which we covered
when it was released. Here we’re recommending the film, which is easier to find, has more local
scenes than the Posy Simmonds Guardian serial /graphic novel which is its source, and is shot
locally, at several villages around west Dorset. It centres on a writers retreat advertised
as being ‘Far From The Madding Crowd’, and is essentially a self-conscious modern take on the
same story as Hardy’s novel – here, the dashing redcoat Sergeant Troy is now a punk-rock drummer
called Ben Sergeant who wears black leather outfits and eyeliner, and so on. We could easily
add others, but that’s a good dozen anyway to choose from, for that weekend off. (More details
and cover images on our page listing selected works of all types by 100 local writers, here.
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