Central MediaScene 2017
blog items from previous years [2005-], see links on our home page.
UK City Of Culture 2025?
that Paisley has been shortlisted to become UK City of Culture 2021 prompts the thought that
if they can do it, so could we...
This made the news as it was obviously something of a surprise. Paisley, you see, is not actually
a city, but, like Bournemouth, only a town. Actual cities which entered the competition, such
as Coventry and Portsmouth, did not make the shortlist. It turns out the competition title is
misleading – the award offered by the Department of Culture, Media & Sport is open to any settlement
with a “clear central urban focus”. Bournemouth was of course built up around its central-gardens
chine, with its town centre where the old stagecoach road crossed the Bourne stream flowing down
the chine to the sea at the Pierhead.
Paisley’s bid is seemingly supported by its artistic alumni, at least in the press stories. These
are people who grew up in this once-prosperous Scottish mill town, since fallen on hard times
- and who in most cases moved away as soon as they could. (The double-edged saying about Paisley
is “it’s a good place to come from.”) One of these alumni is the film star Gerald Butler. A few
years ago, he was asked how he was able to portray tough guys so convincingly, and his reply
was that he grew up in Paisley and had to fight his way home from school every day. A local councillor
said this was an outrageous slur on the town and threatened to punch him out. (Bit of irony there,
if you like that kind of thing. He recanted when shown an image of the star as the ferocious
Spartan king in the film 300, and said he would ‘reason’ with him instead.) Gerald Butler
of course left the area a long time ago, like many of the other famous Paisley alumni pictured
in the recent press articles.
Bournemouth has long been regarded as something of a joke, or at least a lightweight, when it
comes to culture, though as I’ve tried to make clear on this website, this is simply snobbery
towards a younger town, and there is no need for a cultural inferiority complex. As far as the
competition’s “clear central urban focus” goes, the town’s central church is where lie the remains
of a famous literary family – Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, the heart of her
husband the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and her distinguished parents, the pioneer feminist Mary
Wollstonecraft and the radical freethinker William Godwin. And many other literary and artistic
individuals have lived in the town since then – not just grown up and left as soon as they could,
but lived here out of choice.
For the UK City of Culture 2021, the other current shortlisted competitors are Coventry, Stoke-on-Trent,
Sunderland and Swansea. The competition is held every four years, and the last winner was Hull.
To quote the BBC, “Hull has reportedly had over £1bn of investment since being awarded the
title in 2013.” This, and not any interest in culture per se, is what attracts hungry councils,
who have had 40% of their budgets cut by central gov’t in recent years. Also, with talk of 2
or possibly all 3 of our local councils amalgamating to save costs, there should be some consideration
given to a joint bid between the townships that make up the conurbation. (Joint bids were planned
in 2013 for the 2017 title by Portsmouth and Southampton.) Christchurch and Poole, too, have
had their share of creative types. It’s early days for any official action - luckily, since waiting
for our local council to actually do something about an issue is like waiting for a brontosaurus
to give birth. But before the next round in 2021, when the next round of contenders will announce
themselves as 2025 applicants, there should be a focus on our cultural profile, with more official
backing of cultural events to establish more of a track record than in the past….
Return To Top
Jane Austen Ever Done For Us, Anyway?
-In literary terms, quite a bit, actually.
The 200th "celebrations" of Jane Austen's death begun this month inevitably raise the question,
what did she really accomplish in her short life?
At present, there is general media coverage of this being the 200th anniversary of the death
of Jane Austen, who died aged only 41 in July 1817 and was buried in Winchester Cathedral on
the 24th July. There are officially-promoted tours, visits to sites of interest in Winchester
and elsewhere, exhibitions, talks and so on throughout the summer. A new commemorative £10
note with her likeness on it (the Queen apart, the only woman shown on an English banknote)
has just been previewed, to be issued in the autumn, and a £2 coin with her image will also
be minted as a collector's item.
Part of the media coverage is controversies associated with the image and quote on the banknote:
the former is from a romanticised engraving done for a Victorian biography, and the latter
a remark ("I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!") actually uttered
by a shallow female-rival character in Pride And Prejudice vainly trying to impress
a book-bound Mr Darcy. On the front of this £10 note, she is also shown in front of a huge
country estate and manor house, whereas in reality her family had an almost lifelong financial
struggle to maintain a modest lifestyle. (For a £10 flat payment, she sold her early novel
Northanger Abbey to a publisher, who then never published it, but offered to sell
it back to her for £10 - which she could not afford till near the end of her life, when she
had sold a couple of other novels.)
is what we today call an icon. In a statement to Parliament this week, the Leader Of The House
inadvertently referred to her as one of "the greatest living authors", and her work
is certainly alive, with a heritage industry including dozens of popular screen versions built
around the 6 novels. But we should still consider the question: what is her actual artistic
legacy for posterity?
Jane's real contribution tends to be glossed over, for it is an 'artifice which conceals
itself'. It is that she streamlined the novel in a way we now take for granted. It's an
aspect of her work not at all obvious from the many film and tv adaptations through which so
many of us become familiar with her works, as this is lost in the dramatisation process. What
Austen accomplished was to establish a new novelistic technique, now called free indirect speech.
It streamlined and enhanced storytelling in the then relatively new literary form of the novel.
Up till then, it had been dominated by the so-called epistolary novel, telling the story through
correspondence and related documents reproduced as the bulk of the text. (The word novel may
be related to 'new', meaning social news and gossip.) There is some indication Austen used
the epistolary approach herself at the outset of her career. The very first European novels
had come out of satirising the old mediaeval romances (starting with Don Quixote),
and the narrative style tended to satirical commentary, an Olympian discourse on the narrative's
events by an 'omniscient' narrator, as in Henry Fielding's Tom Jones . Jane
herself grew up at a time when the novel ran to the two extremes of the sentimental and the
'Gothick', both of which fashions she lampooned, and in her work she always retained something
of the Olympian viewpoint of witty disdain for pretence. But she mediated this into the narrative
in a way that had not been accomplished before. Take the famous opening of Pride & Prejudice:
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune,
must be in want of a wife. However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be
on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding
families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.
"My dear Mr. Bennet," said his lady to him one day, "have you heard that Netherfield Park is
let at last?"
With the first sentence, we get
a quotable bon mot of Olympian wit, commenting on the then-prevalent idea of 'mercantile
marriage'; the second explains how this is the mindset of the characters, their primary motivation;
the third sets the plot in motion - the news of the arrival of a highly eligible bachelor in
'Merytown'. (There's a satiric punning name for you, with 'marry' lurking behind 'merry'.)
In screen adaptations, such lines are usually ignored or delivered as dialogue; the 1995 BBC
version is the first I can recall where the heroine Elizabeth Bennet delivers it in a mocking,
self-aware manner, making it her own witticism, and making her an intelligent voice standing
out against conventional thinking. This independence of mind soon afterwards sets her rebellious
'pride' against Mr Darcy's staid classist 'prejudice' about her family's aspirations, where
daughters exist to be "married off" to a wealthy man for the financial security of
the whole family.
In Austen's work, events are recounted through the consciousness of the main characters. Here,
the characters' thoughts and words mix with the narrator's voice as the usual "she said" or
"she thought" distinguishing attributions are dropped. Literary critic John Mullan, in his
2013 What Matters in Jane Austen, comments:
the first novelist to manage this alchemy. She was perfecting a technique that she had begun
developing in her first published novel, Sense and Sensibility. It was only in the early 20th
century that critics began agreeing on a name for it: free indirect style (a translation from
the original French: style indirect libre). It describes the way in which a writer
imbues a third-person narration with the habits of thought or expression of a fictional character.
Before Austen, novelists chose between first-person narrative (letting us into the mind of
a character, but limiting us to his or her understanding) and third-person narrative (allowing
us a God-like view of all the characters, but making them pieces in an authorial game). Austen
miraculously combined the internal and the external.
As the protagonists are anything
but the traditional omniscient narrator, this opens the way for the first-person 'unreliable
narrator' of modern stories, where we are limited to the awareness of a protagonist who is
mistaken in their interpretation or misleading us in their version of events. It was as influential
as it is subtle. Here's a summary from an article by Carol J. Adams, an organiser for the Jane
Austen Society Of North America who is also co-author of The Bedside, Bathtub And Armchair
Companion To Jane Austen:
Austen is credited
with inventing what is called free indirect speech, a technique that allows us to overhear
what her characters are thinking. We are carried along with Elizabeth Bennet as she realizes
her prejudices, or Emma Woodhouse as she imagines the future wedded bliss of her naive friend.
…….. Her influence is found in writers as diverse as James Fenimore Cooper, Henry James, Barbara
Pym, James Joyce and E.M. Forster.
with any new technique, some writers just plain didn't get it, and saw only the genteel, circumscribed,
miniaturist country-village setting. Charlotte Bronte said JA's work was passionless and missed
the big events of the day, like the Napoleonic Wars. The American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson
said in his journal, "I am at a loss to understand why people hold Miss Austen's novels
at so high a rate, which seem to me vulgar in tone, sterile in artistic invention, imprisoned
in the wretched conventions of English society, without genius, wit or knowledge of the world.
Never was life so pinched and narrow." American Mark Twain, who had obviously had her
work recommended to him, retorted "Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig
her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone." Presumably he kept on reading
it as he was trying to work out what was so special - it is a subtle technique.
But others quickly grasped the innovative approach in her output, like Coleridge ('in their
way, perfectly genuine and individual productions'), Southey ('Her novels are more
true to nature, and have, for my sympathies, passages of finer feeling than any others of this
age.'), and even Sir Walter Scott, whose work was contrasted with hers. (She was told
she should consider writing books more like Scott's historical novels.) In 1826, Scott wrote
in his private journal:
and for the third time at least, Miss Austen's very finely written novel of Pride And Prejudice.
That young lady has a talent for describing the involvements and feelings and characters of
ordinary life which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with. The big bow-wow strain I can
do myself like any now going; but the exquisite touch, which renders ordinary commonplace things
and characters interesting, from the truth of the description and the sentiment, is denied
to me. What a pity such a gifted creature died so early.
Kipling was another fan, finding
her novels, when read aloud to his wife, offered solace amidst the tragedy of WWI (they lost
a son in the war) and wrote a short story about individuals at the Front who feel a bond via
a shared love of her work. One Austen commentator noted that while "Austen has become part
of the female gift culture, one curious thing is that 100 years ago, Austen was read mostly
Return To Top
One oddity in the media coverage has been the use of the word 'celebrations' rather than commemorations
in regard to the 200th anniversary of her death, as if the fact she died at only 41 was a happy
occasion. (She died of an unknown cause, which laid her low and robbed her of energy; her last
words were, when asked if there was anything she wanted, her reply, "Nothing but death.") If
she had lived, she could have finished a few more novels: she was already at work on one, known
as 'Sanditon', on the then-new Regency-era phenomenon of the seaside spa. As it was, two of
her six novels were published posthumously. Nevertheless, in respect of the way her own work
and style live on, in that her stylistic innovation transformed the novel into its modern form
as we know it, celebration is indeed the apt word.
-Links to our earlier coverage can be found on our Literary-Section home-page, here
, which has links to earlier blog posts and to our feature page Local-Interest
Guide To Jane Austen Novels & Screen Adaptations, now updated.
best-known bohemian-expat family, the Durrells, are back on ITV for a 2nd series. The first
series last year began with them living in Bournemouth just prior to making the decision to
emigrate to Corfu in 1935. There is a new biography out this month as well, by a friend or
acquaintance of the eccentric family. The Durrells Of Corfu, by Michael
Haag covers more of the family's adult personal problems than Gerald did in his rather
rose-tinted memoirs of his 5-year idyll age 10-15. His My Family And Other Animals was
the basis of two previous tv adaptations, an ITV series in 1987 and a BBC telefeature in 2005.
His 1956 memoir was criticised for sacrificing accuracy for comic effect. Season One of the
ongoing ITV series was also criticised for inventing incidents. The main character is Louisa,
the mother, played by a younger actress, and mini-dramas are scripted in for every family member.
(Cf the Season 2 Episode 1 synopsis: 'Louisa tries to raise some money by selling homemade
food, which attracts the attention of another Englishman. However, a former lover threatens
the family's idyllic existence. Gerry comes up with a plan to breed otters, Leslie accidentally
shoots Roger, and Margo considers becoming a nun.' )
Going by press excerpts and reviews, the new memoir gives more of the real background than
either the 1956 memoir or the 2016-7 series. Older brother Larry for instance was newly married
in 1935 and lived at his own place on Corfu, the White House - not a villa but a wealthy fisherman’s
house on the shore. Gerald in his memoirs simply put the family under one roof for literary
convenience, omitting all mention of Nancy. The memoirs’ older brother Larry of course
was, or became, the distinguished essayist and novelist Lawrence Durrell (1912-90), best-known
for The Alexandria Quartet (1957-60), which he had began during one of his return
stints to Dorset. Originally Larry had been living with the family in England, but had been
asked by Mother to move out and away after she found him in bed with Nancy, an art student
he would marry in January 1935. ("You can be as Bohemian as you like but not in the
house. I think you had better go somewhere where it doesn't show so much... I’m not having
Gerry corrupted.") Nancy later said Larry ‘dramatised everything —
mad mother, ridiculous children, mother drunk throwing fortune to the winds, hellish, foolish,
stupid woman... beetles in the soup’.
He moved up to London with Nancy and then he went on ahead to Corfu, Nancy and the others following
in pursuit, like many expats, of a cheaper, healthier lifestyle. The main problem was that
Louisa, the mother, had become an alcoholic since the death of her husband in 1928 and had
had a breakdown, and had little money left. In 1931 the family left London and bought a large
Victorian mansion, Berridge House on Spur Hill Ave [between Penn Hill Ave and Canford Cliffs
Rd] in Parkstone in Poole, and in 1935, a smaller house in Wimborne Road, Bournemouth. The
2005 BBC tv telefeature [screenshot left] only shows the one living room interior before cutting
to their Corfu arrival [where the 1987 series began]; but the new series has location filming
in Bournemouth and Poole [opening screenshot above]. As shown in Ep 1, Gerald’s unhappiness
at a [shortlived] Bournemouth prep school was one reason for their emigrating. (He never attended
another school, and after the war, first worked on a farm at Longham outside Bournemouth before
training as a zookeeper.)
Gerry’s own memoirs were accompanied by two by his first wife Jacqui (her 1967 Beasts
In My Bed and 1976 Intimate Relations offer a family portrait by an outsider),
while his older sister Margo (1920-2007) had a go with a 1950s memoir, though this was not
published until 1996, as Whatever Happened To Margo? Though she had not returned to
England with the family in 1939, the book deals not with her wartime adventures and marriage
in Greece and South Africa but with her time as a landlady in postwar Bournemouth. This was
where, with a small inheritance, in 1947 she bought a large house across the street from Mother's
house on St Alban's Avenue in Charminster as a boarding house. Her sometimes eccentric tenants
included her brother, to whom she offered free rent in 1951-2 when he was first married and
struggling. (Jacqui’s family cut her dead in disapproval of the marriage.) He wrote his
first book here, in the attic, on a rented typewriter.
Gerry would return here between animal collecting expeditions, which he documented in a series
of books and tv documentary series. Despite their publicized differences of opinion and lifestyle,
the family tended to live close to each other. Even the dedicated expat Lawrence (who called
Britain 'Pudding Island') had his letters to Henry Miller edited for publication by a Bournemouth
bookseller friend, Alan Gradon Thomas, whom he and Nancy would visit regularly on their return,
at war's end, at the bookshop he owned [1936-56]. This was Commin’s 5-storey antiquarian
bookshop [est. 1892] at 100 Old Christchurch Rd. (Gerry would also visit on his own return
trips and describes it in 'The Havoc Of Havelock'.) He and Nancy divorced but Larry returned
to live at Mother's with Eve his 2nd wife [of 4] in 1947. On his 3rd marriage, he and wife
Claude and their daughter Sappho in 1956 rented a small cottage outside Shaftesbury, then moved
in with their bookseller friend Alan Thomas. Only Leslie left never to return, told he was
unwelcome after a series of frauds, dying in a London pub in 1983, with family declining to
attend the funeral.
When not dwelling abroad, Bournemouth remained the family's base, with "Mother" and
Margo maintaining homes opposite each other on St Alban's Avenue until Mother's death in 1964.
After his first book's success in 1956, Gerald tried to set up a zoo in Bournemouth, then in
Poole at Upton House in Poole in 1957, with the animals kept in the meantime at Margo’s
boarding house (with predictably chaotic results). Railing at what he called 'the constipated
mentality of local government,’ he gave up, moving to Jersey in 1959. The Jersey
zoo’s captive breeding programme would continue to flourish, with Gerry’s 2nd wife
Lee, a zoology student, carrying on with it after his death from alcohol-related ailments in
Gerald wrote 37 books altogether, mainly humorous travel accounts somewhat in the style of
Thurber. After the success of My Family And Other Animals, he wrote two more books
on his Corfu idyll ("Like being pushed off the Bournemouth cliffs into heaven"),
all now available in one volume as The Corfu Trilogy . The town makes occasional
appearances in Gerald's memoirs, briefly in the opening of My Family And Other Animals,
which he wrote here, and in Menagerie Manor, when he tried to set up his local zoo.
Other local-interest pieces are "Ursula" in Fillets Of Plaice [sic] (coll.
1972); "The Picnic" and "The Havoc Of Havelock" in The Picnic &
Suchlike Pandemonium (coll. 1979), and "Ludwig" in Marrying Off Mother
(coll. 1991). "Ursula" features a visit to the Square & Compass pub at Worth
Matravers, and "The Picnic" has the family for a postwar getogether at Lulworth (where
Lawrence later wrote the first part of The Alexandria Quartet at a friend’s
cottage). Lawrence’s own account of his time on Corfu is found in his 1945 memoir-travelogue
Prospero’s Cell, which has an epilogue on how the island was devastated by the
war. Dorset Life magazine has a feature outlining the family's Bournemouth connections,
Air Festival 2017
(31 Aug - 03 Sept)
Said to be the largest event of its kind in the UK, this is the south-central region's
biggest tourism event (now in its 10th year), though here our mandate is to look at it as a
Once again, the official publicity makes it difficult to find out in advance what exactly is
flying when, which in turn makes it hard for spectators to plan visits. Even for someone keen
enough to stand on the seafront craning their neck at the sky like geese for 4 days, there
is no way to be sure of what you are really seeing or about to see, as the timetable is subject
to ongoing change. Only a constantly-updated online timetable, which spectators could access
onsite via their mobile devices, would remedy this. Unfortunately, the push to sell the £8
official printed programmes as the way to find out what is flying generates confusion every
year, for the 'timetable' lacks exact times, and is otherwise out of date by the time of printing.
To get official updates, you have to log in to the official
website and type in the 'code' ie coupon number from your printed souvenir-programme brochure.
There is also an app you can download onto your smartphone for updates, again provided you
can key in an access code. (We've dealt with this and other issues related to the BAF as a
media event in previous years, cf
The Echo, which prints the brochures, also has some details on a day-by-day basis in its print
edition; though its online version has a twitter-style live-coverage column, the Echo site
is now so top-heavy with ads that it is difficult to view on a PC, never mind a mobile device.
(Attempts to use an ad-blocker result in the site imposing a fullscreen notice blocking the
whole page. The only way to then view the page is to use Reader mode in Firefox, which renders
a basic version.)
Luckily, other online sources are not so shortsightedly tight-fisted, and you can access an
updated flying schedule via the Military Airshows site, here.
From there, you can discover that one of the star attractions, the Battle of Britain Memorial
Flight (a Spitfire, a Hurricane and a Lancaster) is cancelled on all 4 days, and what is replacing
it in the way of other WW2 aircraft. There are over a dozen changes to the official schedule,
even before the event has begun. (In the past, rain, wind and cloud have forced cancellations
of entire days.) The BBC's local weather forecast, hour by hour, is here,
and the Echo's 7-day forecast is here,
while their live-traffic report page is here.
(There is a park-n-ride scheme in place, as there is not enough parking to accommodate tens
of thousands of extra visitors, details here.)
Beside the BBMF, a new entry, the Norwegian Historic Flight, is also to be a no-show. The other
two big attractions from years past, the RAF's newest fighter the Eurofighter Typhoon, and
the 1960s-era Avro Vulcan delta-wing nuclear bomber, are also to be no-shows this year. The
usual flotilla of Royal Navy ships moored just offshore for visitors seem to have also gone
missing. The one other big attraction, the Red Arrows RAF aerobatic display team, will be here
3 of the 4 days as scheduled, and their flying times are independently published (Thurs 6pm,
Fri 330pm and Sat noon - in this last case, an hour and a half before the rest of the air display
begins). The official airshow site also has a Facebook page, here.
This has event updates as well as user-generated content ie comments which includes complaints,
e. g. about last year's beach party which was hurriedly cancelled in midstream, so to speak,
due to the sea swamping the fenced-off 'event' area when the tide came in.
As to this idea of site and event areas, a new wrinkle is an online notice that 'By entering
the festival site you consent to your image being captured and used for future marketing purposes.'
This apparently includes your children, who may be filmed by 'official event photographers,
in pink t-shirts'. As the seafront is a public space, with the land owned by the Council
and, below the tideline by the Crown, this 'implicit consent' idea seems dubious. On the same
online page is a notice that 'Organisers are under strict rules to cancel the flying display
programme if drones are flying in the dedicated approved air space.' In both cases, these
notices seem to be just asking for trouble: on the one hand, there is the idea that anybody
to photograph your children just has to put on a pink t-shirt, and on the other,
it advertises the fact that any joker who wants to get a flying display cancelled can put up
a drone. (As well as practical jokers, there are protestors who object to it as what one local
councillor has nicknamed the Bournemouth War Festival. This derives from the focus on warplanes,
which sometimes appear accompanied by war-movie theme-tunes, and the way the RAF treat it as
a recruitment opportunity - they are first onsite with their pier-approach recruitment stand,
usually a Chinook helicopter on 'static display'.) This is despite the mantra the organisers
[sensibly] 'do not discuss security arrangements', which will likely be enhanced this year
due to the danger of truck-style terrorist attacks on the crowd, who can number over 300,000
Once again, official BAF partner Wave 105 FM are providing not only an audio
commentary but a live video feed as well, accessible here.
And for anyone not familiar with the town, we have orientation-guide pages up to the The
Pierhead & Central Seafront Area and The
Square and surrounding area just inland of that. (They were done
for the new wave of 'digital creative' types interested in he town's officially-publicised
'Silicon Beach' aspect, but these guides, mainly to eating and drinking establishments, can
be used by anyone.)
Return To Top