Inspired by Bob, accompanied by his friend from Late Night Line up, Ian, with films from 40 years ago re-mastered by Stuart Orr, a small gathering of us ventured back into a time when these two film-makers were walking out into their lives. It felt intimate, edgy and expansive. It was the time when the BBC made a programme which no fixed time ending, (unbelievable now) when a young man of 23 was given the chance of going to Paris with his camera to film Ronald Searle.
Both Bob and Ian worked for Late Night Line Up – 1962-74, (Bob 7 years, Ian 30 years) a programme format that was revolutionary in those days, not only being open ended but also openly critical of BBC progammes, encouraged by David Attenburgh, and headed up, famously, by Joan Bakewell.
1. Ronald Searle. His grounding – for life and art – was in a Singapore prisoner of war camp. He and his ink drawings survived; the drawings became the base he lived off in Paris. Paris, from where he could view England as a stranger, and avoid his dread of being pigeon-holed. He talked about the pivotal role of a graphic satirist; cutting with a sword of humour in the main stream, not in some side lined left field singing to the converted.
We saw it here first: Terry Gilliman’s first animations, the precursors to Monty Python.
2. David Hutchings, a film of a week in the life, by Bob’s friend, Ian
An unknown celebrity, David Hutchings was the force behind the restoration of the Stratford upon Avon canal. He pioneered the use of voluntary labour, (used on many subsequent restorations), with assistance given by prisoners from Winston Green prison and the Army. The film showed the opening by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother – sounding exactly the same as her daughter does now – in 1964. Its restoration was a turning point for the waterways movement in Britain.
Hutchings gave forthright views on bureaucracy: ‘We got some small support from Government, and absolutely none from the local authority;. He would have liked to have been born in Brunells time, which felt less restricted by petit minded bureaucrats, bent on finding ways of preventing projects working.
Will the long lost commercial use of canals be resurrected, he was asked. Sadly not, although it is a very effective transport system. Todays pressure of commercialism with markets of tarmac, rubber, rail and road will dominate. But as an amenity, canals are vital: ‘we probably have less in psychiatric wards because of them.’
3. Appleby Fair (Bob)
A beautifully shot short film meandering around the horse fair, in Cumbria. The camera lingering on pretty young girls I notice. No human sentimentality over animals, leading them into the water, pulling pushing a young foal into the box. A quirky radio conversation in the background on how we veer between stress and boredom. Jazz number at the end – what was it?
4. The Face in the Window.
An early April 1st spoof, proposing Hitler came to England secretly as guest of Unity Mitford? In her diary calling him a pet. The picking of the nose sealed the spoof, which otherwise was almost believable, with authoritative architects solving window authentication.
I went with Gill, who’s company I never tire of. Her life, rich and colouful, her mix of compassion and assertion inspiring. She continues to clear out the pottery at Model Farm. Bob on good form, his faithful friends collected: Tayana, Bayard, PH.