My Pop Life #245 : Double Barrel – Dave & Ansel Collins

Double Barrel – Dave & Ansel Collins

I am the magnificent  W   O   O   O

*

This blog is stretching my memory to breaking point.  A few weeks ago (September 2020) I was trying to recall one of the surrogate family experiences I had as a teenager, sheltering at a friend’s house while mum had a rest, or became homeless, or in this particular case, had a termination.  I’d spent a few weeks – maybe just a week I can’t remember – with Simon Lester’s family in Chiddingly in deepest Sussex in this instance and had vivid memories of learning to drive a battered car in the field behind the house.

I contacted Simon to see how much he remembered, in particular about when it occurred.  I sent him a blurry Polaroid of him at school in the hope that it would jog his memory.

Simon Lester at Lewes Priory with Jenny Yewlett – but when?

I also sent the picture to Simon Korner because he has specialised in his writing in remembering this intense period of our schooldays.  Controversy ensued.  I thought it was around 1973, last year of Middle School because of the fence.  (Wrong – Middle School was 3rd & 4th years) Simon K. thought that the fence was where we smoked in Upper School – 5th, 6th forms.  And Jenny T. didn’t arrive at the school until the 5th year apparently.  So why were we smoking in Middle school?  It went on.  Simon Lester and I have another mutual friend, John Hawkins who was imaginatively nicknamed Billy at school and who was a regular at the Goldstone Ground on Saturdays along with Sherlock, Crod, Simon Lester and I.  It was a football ground in Hove where Brighton & Hove Albion played.   Last time I saw John was at an away game at Bolton Wanderers when we had some pints and watched legend Bobby Zamora’s first game for us for 12 years.  It was 2-2 final score.   John lives up that way, in Lancashire, and I was working in Liverpool.  Turns out that John has a better memory than all of us and confirmed that it was indeed the Middle School fence.  See the picture below of me on the same day

This doesn’t show the tunnel in the background that ran from Middle School to Upper School past the Chapel.  But you can just see Mountfield Road behind that.  All very fascinating I’m sure if you’re not from Lewes Priory in the 1970s.  So the photo appeared to be from 1973 – I was right about the date.  Maybe the School Festival.  But but but.  I asked my sister Rebecca what she could tell me about this mysterious sanctuary moment of mine – and why did I do that? She would have been one year old at the time.  But amazingly enough, she remembers a conversation that she’d had with Mum (whom I wasn’t talking to this summer otherwise I might have asked her) when Mum said that yes, a year before Becky was born she’d had a termination.  We did the sums.  Becky was born in April 1972 so my moment driving around the field with Simon Lester was perhaps spring 1971.  That did seem very early.  I’d be thirteen years old.

Meanwhile Simon Lester was asking his sisters Katie and Gill if they could remember anything, and blow me down, Katie remembers their mum picking me up from Hailsham and finding the house really hard to find.  We had just been rehoused on this new-build council estate on the freshly-dug outskirts of Hailsham after spending nine months apart, discussed in various posts such as My Pop Life #84 All Along The Watchtower.  I was 13 years old, Paul was eleven, Andrew six.  We’d all been in different locations for most of 1970, and moved into Salternes Drive, later called Town Farm Estate, and known as Sin City to all the locals in the early weeks of 1971.  I cannot be more precise than that because I suspect time fogs the memory, and trauma sometimes wipes it completely.  At some point in the spring of 1971 I’d taken a record into my Music class – discussed in My Pop Life #141 Jig-A-Jig which takes place largely in the pre-fab classroom just behind that fence.

And at some other indiscernible point that spring, Simon Lester’s mum had somehow found her way to our new house and picked me up with my schoolbag and some spare clothes and taken me back to Chiddingly.

532 Salternes Drive, Hailsham in 1973

Simon Lester’s sister Katie reckoned it was 1971, before their father left.  Simon’s version of this detail would mean that he would drive to work in Hove every morning where he was a dentist, and drop Simon and I off in Lewes High Street to walk to school.  Before the bypass was built.  Sounds about right.  Simon’s mother was very kind to me – that I do remember very clearly.  She asked me what I wanted to eat one day and I said “a peanut butter sandwich please” because that was my favourite, and she then asked me how I would like the peanut butter on the bread, separated alongside the butter or all mushed together, an extraordinary detail which has stuck with me to this day.  How shall I make your sandwich.  I don’t think anyone had asked me that before or indeed since.  Very special lady.  When she showed me “my” bedroom and I thanked her she then said that if she found any of my clothes on the floor while I was at school, she would wash them, so if I didn’t want something washed not to leave it on the floor.  It was the only rule I can remember, also because I hadn’t come across it before !!  A kind way of encouraging tidyness.

The Lester’s house in Chiddingly

I had my own bedroom which was amazing because I shared with Paul at home.  Incidentally I do not remember where Paul or Andrew went during this period, it is one of the shadier corners of our family history, by which I mean “not remembered” rather than shameful.  Abortion shouldn’t be shameful at all, it is part of the human story.  But it was whispered about at the time as I recall, and discussed as termination, the word I’ve used in this blog.  This episode as a teenager was the closest I’ve ever been to an abortion, as far as I know, none of my girlfriends or friends ever talked to me about it, if indeed any of them experienced it.  I’d imagine some of them did.   But there’s no moral high ground in bringing unwanted children onto this planet.  I certainly knew the reason why I was at Simon Lester’s house at the time, although he didn’t.  It all felt reasonably normal to be honest.  I vaguely remember watching TV with the family, 1971 style, it would have been It’s A Knockout!, The Golden Shot, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Blue Peter and Banana SplitsGrandstand on Saturday.  The Big Match on Sunday.  Simon and I would have kicked a ball around his garden too because we both played football for the school team – Simon had a better touch than me, a more cultured right foot I should say, more accurate, capable of stroking the ball wherever he wanted it to go.  Football is where we’d bonded, and it was in 1971 that I went to my first Brighton & Hove Albion game, but I cannot recall the opposition I’m afraid.  Maybe Bury?  I remember the Brighton team which included brothers John & Kit Napier, John Templeman, Eddie Spearrit, Alan Duffy, Norman Gall, Peter O’Sullivan, Willie Irvine, Nobby Lawton, because after that first visit I was hooked.  We used to go after we’d played on a Saturday morning, you could just pay on the turnstile and then stand behind the goal in the North Stand Shoreham Road, singing songs, strolling down the Shoreham Roooooaad… to see Pat Saward’s Aces, bouncing up and down on the stone terraces, waves of bodies plunging forward during moments of excitement then heaving back to more or less your original spot as the moment passed.  Extraordinarily exciting.  Cameraderie.  Togetherness.  Family.  Playing at home.  I was an instant convert to Saturday afternoon football, and am still addicted now some fifty years later.  The anticipation, the scarf tied around your wrist, in later years the replica shirt, the pub, the singing, the laughing, the fear of opposition fans, the hatred of the referee, the wit, the profound primal eruption of triumph when the ball hits the back of the net, the staggering gutless mortification as we concede.  Football has taught me many things – loyalty, defeat, acumen, singing pour encourager les autres, grace in victory.  Thirteen was a good age to start finding some of that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We played Reading and Aston Villa on successive days at home over Easter – extraordinary really – in front of sell-out crowds of 35,000 – in the Third Division !  Our PE teacher Tony Alexander (whom we all loved) was a Villa fan, and managed the school football team. We ragged each other but happily both teams went up that season and my lifelong love of Brighton & Hove Albion was sealed: win, lose or draw, sunshine or rain, in sickness and in health, til death us do part. The other lads at football were essentially the ones from the school team – Conrad Ryle (Crod), Andy Holmes (Sherlock), Martin Cooper (Coops), plus John Hawkins (Billy) and Simon Lester who never had a nickname plus me snap.  We’d lose each other in the mayhem of the North Stand and rediscover each other amid the bouncing bodies.

Knock Knock  –  Who’s there?

Ivor

Ivor Who?
I’ve a knock kneed chicken and a bow-legged hen
We ain’t lost a fight since we don’t know when
We don’t give a widdle and we don’t give a wank
WE ARE THE BRIGHTON 
NORTH STAND
Lalalalalalalalala Lalalalalalala lalalalalalalaaaa
WE ARE THE BRIGHTON
NORTH STAND
 
 
 
 
 

I can’t pin down the date exactly and photos from this era seem non-existent but was it around this time when I flirted with the skinhead look?  It was certainly fashionable by then thanks to the rude boy culture imported from Jamaica – the ska beat, pork-pie hats, sta-prest trousers, button-down collars, braces and boots.  Short hair obviously, but not shaved.  More Suedehead to be honest, the name of a book which was passed round too.   Kind of sex and violence and fashion YA stuff.  I saved up for my first Ben Sherman shirt, precious status symbol of the early 70s.  White socks were cheaper.  Braces too.  Didn’t own a Fred Perry til I was in my 20s.  It was about being smart rather than scruffy and grew out of mod culture, Tamla Motown, bluebeat.  A year or so later I was wearing make-up and blouses as glam rock took over, proving that for me it was another uniform, I was a pop tart, a dedicated follower of whatever took my fancy that year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A truly awful song called Johnny Reggae pins the era down to 1971 – that was a Jonathon King cash-in turd, but at the other end of the scale was the real deal – Jamaican ska and reggae.  Reggae was a new word (Do The Reggay by The Maytals was released in 1968).  The music had slowed down from the choppy ska beat by the late sixties when rocksteady ruled the Jamaican charts and made an impression on the UK.  Desmond Dekker had charted in 1967 with 007 (Shanty Town) then made number one with Israelites (See My Pop Life #102) in 1969 when the Kingston sounds really tickled the UK charts with some classic stuff : The Liquidator, Long Shot Kick De Bucket, Return of Django and yes Skinhead Moonstomp the latter from a local act Symarip (Pyramids backwards!! almost!!!).  And being the UK, it was the fashion as much as the sounds – totally against the hippie look as the 1960s spun to their disillusioned finish with Altamont, Vietnam and the student uprisings forming a TV backdrop to heroin, cynicism about selling out and the break-up of The Beatles.  1970 brought us Young Gifted & Black (written by Nina Simone) by Bob & Marcia who would also hit with Pied Piper and The Maytals released Pressure Drop. Then in 1971 the Year of Our Lord brought us, and me, the mighty Double Barrel by Dave & Ansel Collins.

I. Am the magnificent.  I’m beg for the sheck of a so bose, most turmeric, story, sound of soul!

Thus begins the mightiest number one hit of 1971….

I am W O O O.  And I’m certain here again. OW!

Good god.  Too much I like it!  Huh? 

I still have no idea what the lyrics are.  The mystery of it is powerful to be honest, like a mantra chanted for secret power.  Where did I hear it?  On the radio of course, it reached number one in March 1971 and Radio One played it regularly.  It was a revelation.  It still sounds immense.  Dave did the vocals, with Ansel (spelled Ansil on the single) on the keyboards. After one LP and another hit single called Monkey Spanner (the heavy heavy monster sound!) they split up.

Oh yes, and the car in the field.  The highlight of this era perhaps (although the football and the reggae are gonna run it close).  There it was in the field behind the house in Chiddingly – a battered old motor car.  Simon, perhaps 14 by now (I was young for my school year) had the key, and he would drive round in circles mainly – big circles I mean – around the field.  Then he taught me how to do it.  How to turn the key, depress the clutch, rev the engine, release the handbrake and whoooosh power speed thrills.  We devised a kind of Escape From Alcatraz scene which involved us running to the car which had two open doors then jumpin in and each having two jobs, Simon turned the key and did the clutch, I released the handbrake and maybe pulled the choke out, so we could achieve lift-off in seconds flat.

The house is bang centre behind the white tree, the field is the great swoop of green to the right

I didn’t stay at the Lester’s house for very long but that became a vivid memory burned through me.  A few years later Simon left school and started work, and on weekends would go to the Arlington Speedway track near Hailsham and drive in Stock Car Races with his souped up and painted old banger.  Not sure if it was the same car.  Stock Car racing is like racing around a dirt track 30 laps (?) with no rules. Simon would skid and drive his Stock Car around the track, bashing into the other drivers, backending them, sideswiping them, skidding through the dirt and exhaust smoke in his reinforced old banger.  I went a couple of times to watch, and it was of course completely thrilling.  Cars deliberately driving into each other to gain an advantage in a race.  Yup.  I should stress this is completely separate from NASCAR or any American style car racing.  This was more down and dirty for one.  More local.  There’s some footage of this fabulous phenomenon here:

We lost touch after I moved to London, but we would see each other now and again at Brighton games, and we have kept the lines of communication open.  I was back in England in late summer 2019 to fix up the house, and went to see the Albion twice, meeting friends in The Swan in Falmer – Crod, Sherlock and Simon Lester along with my sister and her boyfriend Lee another huge Albion fan.  Now old geezers reminiscing about the days gone by, survivors of cancer and other scares, still friends drinking Harvey’s finest on the way to the game.

IMG_4603

Andy Holmes, Simon Lester, Ralph Brown, Conrad Ryle 2019 The Swan

I wasn’t very reflexive at 13 – I didn’t think about what kind of person Simon Lester was for example, he was just there, a companion, easy-going, enjoyed a chuckle.  In retrospect now I see him as shy, gentle, bright and very kind with none of the edge that I imagine I had.  But back in those days I was still growing, as was he.   I’m hugely grateful for his help in piecing this memory together.  

So from the age of ten to 18 I had at least six surrogate Parenting experiences that I can recall.   Philip and Mya in Brighton aged 10, Sheila Smurthwaite in Ringmer aged 11, then again in Lewes aged 13, Mrs Lester in Chiddingly aged 13, Mrs Korner in Lewes aged 14/15, Mrs Ryle in Kingston ages 16/17/18.   Then I was grown up and found my own way, went back many times to the Ryles and the Korners over the years.   All have now sadly passed.  I’m forever grateful to all of these generous beautiful big-hearted people for if not for thee and thine, I would certainly have spent some years in foster care or worse.  They made my physical and psychic survival possible.  The rest was up to me. 

the original single:

The Top of The Pops appearance with Dave extemporising because he is the magnificent

My Pop Life #227 : Paranoid Android – Radiohead

LicheinsteinintheskywithDiamonds

Paranoid Android – Radiohead

Please, could you stop the noise
I’m trying to get some rest
From all the unborn chicken voices
In my head

*

New Year’s Day   :   Drowning The Baby

*

this is verbatim the diary I wrote between January 1996 – July 31st 1998

Part Two

March 25th 1998 contd

We travel up after the workshop to London together.  I meet Jenny at Beverley and Paulette’s and tell her my news.  There is chaos and weeping and anger and fury. I am grateful that two of my oldest friends who understand from all sides are there to help us through this incredibly difficult time. I have a calm fury, a murderous shine to my eyes, Jenny’s are black. I resolve to insist that Suri meet Jenny for lunch face to face.  He will not get away with this.

[However he is directing my screenplay, my baby, and I have at the very least a morbid fascination about the bubbles and the exact time of death. So on the train journey I remain tight-lipped and decide Not To Undermine Not To Punch In Face Not to Kill quietly in Notting Hill side street Not To Disagree Violently because I sense that if I champion certain things strongly in an aggressive sulky moralistic way Suri is quite likely to do quite the opposite.  If I become visibly his enemy in face, my opinions will rebound against me. I have to keep my lip zipped (as far as Suri is concerned) for one year.  Any honesty, any real honesty at this point will not help me (I probably cannot be really honest with Shekhar either). A long game is preferred now, a painful steep learning curve called “How To Make A Film” (I will choose and re-choose to stay with my baby wounded and twisted and mis-shapen though it is I will not abandon it entirely I will choose the difficult path the learning curve that curls up and over my head in a perfect arc toward my shoulder blades where it embeds itself firmly in my back, sharp and piercing and drawing blood but not killing me) so I will be at Production Meetings, castings etc I will take Mark Stevenson production designer round Lewes to original locations so that he can double them in Surrey I will hold the baby’s head underwater for as long as I fucking can!  At the time of writing it is not dead yet.]

I go to the Production Office next day and have an hour or two with Charles Steel our associate producer.  Suri is talking to Mark. He thinks Marianne will be offered the part and that Jenny will not even be seen.  Well he should fucking know !!  I tell him that he must call Jenny ASAP and meet her for lunch and make out that my marriage is on the line.  It actually was a month ago because Jenny of course was way ahead of it all and smelled it out and knew deep in her bones.  Her bag was ready and packed until she could see that my pain was equal to hers that I was on her side that I was losing too.  In fact I want Jenny to tell him what we both need to tell him but for reasons explained above, I cannot.  My learning curve bends again and I feel nauseous at the extent of human selfishness.

Over the weekend Jenny and I are immersed in pain.  Lightened somewhat by seeing Thomas Jules Stock perform in front of 12000 screaming teenage girls at Wembley Arena, supporting Backstreet Boys.  He is fantastic, and Jenny and I both secretly claim authorship and feel proud. All the family come and feel the buzz.  On Tuesday night we see Lyndon David Hall on Jools Holland and meet Spiritualized properly (at the Royal Albert Hall after a fantastic gig of Ladies & Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space), and Wednesday is dinner at Noel Greig’s with Mala from Delhi who works with the Street Theatre Movement in India, and all of these social events smooth the rough edges of our days – good people – good music – good conversation and love.  The love seems to have disappeared from NYD.

IMG_3680

       The Magic Circle in Lewes behind the castle – holy ground for me                –   a ‘cathedral of the imagination’ for Cleary.  Well exactly.

On Tuesday Mark Stevenson came to Lewes and I made him fall in love with it. He loved the space – Hamsey in particular, the castle, the Downs, the schools. We got on tremendously well but I am seeing bubbles all day as we are down to 2 weeks shooting in Lewes now in The Schedule.  The soul of the film starts to leave me, there is a funeral every day and the thought of jumping off chalk appeals as it must.  NYD is a story about a teenage suicide pact which is set partly on the chalk cliffs where the South Downs meet the sea, famously at Beachy Head near Eastbourne.  

IMG_3694

But the baby stubbornly refuses to die.

Evening Same Day

What’s that?
(I may be paranoid, but not an android)
What’s that?
(I may be paranoid, but not an android)

Another great betrayal is at hand.  Weakness and the centre & accountants bullying are leading to the internal collapse of this film.  Not green lit yet, with few outstanding candidates for the lead boys on offer, now a location panic resulting from Granada insisting on a five day shoot in Lewes (!) and the production team squeezing two weeks out of them – not enough time to shoot the exteriors so it would be mix and match. I would rather it wasn’t in Lewes than be a bastardization of my town, and so would Suri clearly.  He and Mark are planning a jaunt to – yes – The Isle of Wight – next Wednesday to see if it can work there!  Well readers what a turnabout we have here then. Writer provides director with vehicle for his ego. Cuckoo pushes eggs out.  Small man flexes. It is ugly this loss of love this appropriation this betrayal.  I explain to Frances Tempest (costume designer and neighbour) on the train that Suri asked me to set the script on the IOW three years ago – we visited the island and I came back and decided to set it in Lewes. why didn’t I see the signs why didn’t I see the signs  I am reminded about conversations about bonfire night and the cliffs, the castle and the river.

IMG_3689

This sucks.  This is like Wimbledon moving to Dublin. (this was proposed before the club was moved as a franchise to Milton Keynes in a hugely controversial relocation). Location matters. NYD is SET IN LEWES.  If this fact is overlooked and altered in the next week then we have a war my friends.  A war. My benevolent neutrality must be sought for the soul of this movie to fly.

When I am king
You will be first against the wall
With your opinion
Which is of no consequence at all

Jenny has a meeting with Suri tomorrow.  I must ask her to tape it. I am incredulous at these events and must only wonder at the state of mankind for these things to be possible. To be defended. If I had written dots instead of words I would be revered now, but the director in this case, not content with taking the credit for my movie, wants to shit on me from a grat ehight at the same time, piss down my back and tell me it’s raining, and for that, revenge will be administered. And I will leave this fiasco to its doom.

Note: Suri called to cancel the meeting with Jenny this morning as I left to fly to Shetland.  We expected that he would.

Tuesday March 30th midnight

IMG_3675

After a peaceful empty sane weekend in Shetland with Mark Williams, Flora Avery and Simon Day I return to life in my life – Paulette’s birthday which we miss because of prior invitation to Catherine Wearing’s to see the final episode of Our Mutual Friend which I pronounce to be the best one.  McGann is excellent, as is David Bradley, Tim Spall, Pam Ferris, Peter Vaughan, Anna Friel and Ken Cranham.  The Jules’ family dog was put down today at 18 years of age (good innings!) so the idea is to give Mandy some support but we don’t get in until 2.15 and she is asleep and unhappy.  Jenny and I are a bit up our arses to be honest.

Ambition makes you look pretty ugly
Kicking, squealing, Gucci little piggy

Back in the office next day I meet Steve and Suri in “sorry we haven’t called you” mode.  We have lunch in The Giggling Sausage on Great Suffolk Street. There seems to be co-production money from France, the U.S. and the BBC, but how much we will find out this afternoon.  Green light expected in the next “29 hours”.  Steve and I have a private conversation after Suri has left and the Isle of Wight is laid to rest – just between us (oh no it wasn’t – just between us).  The fact of its contemplation by Suri though is enough for me, but I shall not let him know anything while he is making the film.  One day he will find out how I feel. As far as he is concerned my position is this :  “if you don’t shoot in Lewes that leaves the town for me, for my film projects, it remains virgin film territory”.  And indeed, that is partly my position.

“we’re going to make a great film” Suri says to me. “Once you have discharged your duty to Jenny I will be able to have a proper conversation with you” I reply.  It’s something he understandably doesn’t want to do.  But he will have to meet her.  This has all been handled very badly and people must own their lives and choices.  One thing is certain, Jenny has insisted (quite correctly) He will Never be Invited to my House Again.

We now have an Art Director, a Production Supervisor, Runner, Location Manager and Director’s assistant alongside the already employed Production Accountant, Production Manager, Costume Designer and Producer’s Assistant.

I tell Charles Steel that my title is not Writer but Writer/Co-Producer.

Every step of the way.

Bubbles

Oxygen

Please god, let me start soon on whatever will be next, then next, then next.

Friday April 3rd

Great drunken Brighton evening last night at the Zap Club the launch of Surf 107FM with free beer and Malibu all night.  Hungover today. Went into the office a couple of times this week.  Had a short chat with Steve Cleary – he is mental on the money raising side – no green light yet – the BBC (David Thompson) can’t decide how much money to put in which is holding everything up.  Designers can’t work, crew can’t do proper breakdowns of the script and schedule and every department’s budget is way over the top.  Current budget = £2.4million.  I reckon it will need nearer £4million but we’ll never get that.  Therefore more horrible decisions to be made – more cuts and slices and chops.  Dead baby food. Suri never calls me now. Avoids me in fact.  Has no interest in my opinion, or is scared of it.  Collaboration over.  Cunt. Hate him now more than I can say.  Give us your screenplay and Fuck Off. Well, we have at least one more draft to go and we’ll see what happens there – I know already how Suri wants it to go ie here are the script changes, now go and write them. I haven’t been party to any of these meetings, discussions or conversations.  Every time I changed the script or storyline over the last three years I phoned Suri to run it by him. That’s the kind of fellow I am. I am sick to my guts that I have made this basic error of judgement regarding the character of this disloyal weak unimpressive swine.  Jenny goes to meet him at six today in Browns, St Martin’s Lane.  The sword of justice and the shield of honesty are her weapons.  Watch out Krishnamma!!!

Sunday 5th April 1998

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Suri called just as Jenny was leaving to cancel the meeting again. Asked me how I was because I’d answered the phone (pre-mobile days pop fans). Said I’d been better. He asked why. Long story I said, we’ll talk about it one day. He then talked to Jen, cancelling, leaving us in this unresolved limbo for another weekend, then we spoke again. Asked me about the long story.

You don’t remember
You don’t remember
Why don’t you remember my name?
Off with his head, man
Off with his head, man
Why don’t you remember my name?
I guess he does

I gave him some of it, diluted:  I don’t feel welcome, I feel you want to make the film all on your own, where is the collaboration, I gave you this film as a gift and you don’t want me around anymore. He said Frances Tempest had talked to him, and he wished I hadn’t been party to the information about “location”. What do you expect me to do, I said, I have an opinion.  It’s just an opinion, that’s all it is. I was silenced, neutralised over the Veronica issue – no you weren’t he said, you took yourself out of the debate by writing “no comment” on the fax to Jane Deitch against that character.  A subtle rewriting of history occurs whereby it is all my fault. I hang in there though. because i have decided to be a limpet and stick with my baby and protect it where i can because i can and i will not walk away and hand it over to this cunt  We discuss the end, Katrin Cartlidge, the jump, Shelley.  I decide not to go to Paris to see Thomas sing with Backstreet Boys, so they can’t have another production meeting behind my back.  No more of that. I also decide to forego skiing with Michael this year for the same reason.  This is too important.

Tonight we went to see Kundun at the Duke of York’s in Brighton.  That’s how to make a movie…

Monday April 6th 1998

Jenny finally met Suri tonight.  For probably the last time.  Haven’t spoken to her properly about it – she was drunk with Doraly but said “it was horrible” and I believe her. A fundamental moment for us all.  Steven and Suri have a production meeting tomorrow at 7.00am.  Doubt I’ll be at that then.  Or the one scheduled for 6.00am on Wednesday. At some point in the next 12 hours Granada will, or will not greenlight the project.  At which point I will pierce my face, symbolically and actually.

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Good Friday

Good friday arrived, the sky darkened on time
‘Till he almost began to negotiate
She held his head like a baby and said “it’s okay if you cry”
What shall we do, what shall we do with all this useless beauty?

All this useless beauty

Well well.  It wasn’t greenlit I finally discovered on Thursday afternoon.  In between times I developed an eerie cool about it all as a result of Jenny’s blood-letting with Suri. Apparently she ended the meeting saying that he was weak, disloyal, a coward (to which he replied Fuck You) and that he wasn’t her friend.  She then walked off. I achieved a strange serenity regarding the project. Cool.  Suri called Tuesday to say he had a tape for me to watch of possible Jakes and Stevens and that the Jenny meeting had been constructive (!) what a fucking coward he was what a fucking jerk Steve Cleary also called for a chat. I spoke on Wednesday to them both after learning that they had been ensconced in script meetings together at 6.00am and that I wasn’t to be invited in to the office until Thursday late afternoon.  I arrive to see office workers leaving for a break.

Steve & Suri tell me that we don’t have a greenlight, that Pippa Cross’ job may be on the line at Granada, and that a scenario for saving the shoot is as follows : cut back to six weeks, lose the avalanche and the trip to France, replace with another tragedy. This is the opening sequence, more or less, of the screenplay. Their favourite was the mad gunman scenario – Dunblane or Hungerford.  I react coolly to this – we haven’t done the research, the film doesn’t discuss this.  Cleary “We are now in the crucible of production and we must redouble our efforts to get this film made”.  Suri “We must get this film made now, we can’t lay all these people off They’ve been working on the film for weeks (!!)”  A 6-week shoot based at Bray Studios with 4 days on location in Sussex including Beachy Head, Brighton and maybe some river. The gunman will make it more powerful – that’s why Jake wants to commit suicide !  I listen, and now and again suggest another way of doing the avalanche – radio, darkness, all sorts.  Steve & Suri keep looking at each other.  We go to the pub. I leave after half an hour to meet Jen.  More tomorrow on my plan….

Easter Sunday

Rain down, rain down
Come on, rain down on me
From a great height
From a great height, height
Rain down, rain down
Come on, rain down on me
From a great height
From a great height, height

My plan is making me ill.  Or am I just ill? A Psychosomatic flu has enveloped me – I can’t think straight, ache all over, tired, very very hot as if the raging fury cannot be contained by my mere body. I feel like I am exploding within all day.  Temptation is not to write anything at all and sink this version of the project with all hands on deck.  I would not contemplate this had I been included in the process up to this point, I would have proper relationships with all the crew and would do whatever I could to save the project.  Bit I feel left out. Overlooked. Uninvited. Excluded. Ariyon called last night and talked to Jen, let it slip that Andrew Lee Potts had been offered the part of Jake.  I haven’t even been informed of this.  What is their problem?  Are they really so scared of me that they can’t tell me when the lead character has been cast? Unbefuckinglievable.  I leave a message for Clear Eye to tell him that I cannot proceed until we have had a face to face meeting.  I actually want to hole this thing below the waterline because it doesn’t feel like mine anymore. How childish is that?  Catherine supports this point of view – it’s already a bastardization, kill it off.  Then I spoke to Stuart Orme on the phone (he directed me in Ivanhoe and other TV shows, a father figure to me in the industry)  and he said is that what you really want to do?  It will sour forever and be difficult to get off the ground again. But I don’t want to change the beginning and I cannot continue to work like this. Steve needs to know what a bully Suri has become.  Fuck it all I’m going back to sleep.  Feel like crap.

Radiohead.okcomputer.albumart

Radiohead released OK Computer in June 1997 just after Jenny and I had filmed A Respectable Trade.  It was a dystopian soundtrack for the ugliness which was to come, twisted lyrics reminiscent of Nine Inch Nails over stunning music that had veered unmistakably into prog, especially on this song, a three-part nightmare in technicolour and black & white interference. They were still students, morose angry bitter students and we loved them for it –  they weren’t students obviously and neither were we but the bond there was tight.  Fuck the world it’s all shit.  The key song was Fitter, Happier. The disgust expressed throughout the LP seemed to be the only honest reaction to how the world had become so lacking in compassion, so full of dishonesty corruption and greed. The album was a perfect soundtrack to my struggle.  Exit Music was actually written for a film – Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo & Juliet, and Paranoid Android is just what is says on the tin.  thanks for reading

That’s it, sir, you’re leaving (Rain down)
The crackle of pigskin (Rain down)
The dust and the screaming (Come on, rain down)
The yuppies networking (On me)
The panic, the vomit (From a great height)
The panic, the vomit (From a great height)
God loves his children
God loves his children, yeah

My Pop Life #226 : Exit Music (For A Film) – Radiohead

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Exit Music (For A Film) – Radiohead

We hope that you choke
That you choke
We hope that you choke
That you choke
*

New Year’s Day   :   Drowning The Baby

*

this is verbatim the diary I wrote between January 1996 – July 31st 1998

Part One

January 1996

Almost exactly a year since I first took NYD public, pitching it to Suri in the Atlantic Bar before jetting back to LA for one last month to write the screenplay. I suppose I have spent 6 to 8 weeks of the year since then writing and re-writing the script.  On Monday I delivered the official 3rd draft (actually the 6th but that’s how it works).  On Tuesday producer Steven Cleary left a message on the ansaphone saying “I need to edit this draft so would you please send me a disc so I can show you what I mean – it needs to lose 6 or 7 pages”.  I was so furious that I didn’t even reply for two days and Steven eventually called Suri to ask where I was. When I eventually returned his call he was in a temper and didn’t understand why I wouldn’t send him the disc.  He is becoming quite irritating. We still haven’t got a contract even thought the money has been agreed. Mine is 2 & a half % of the budget, minimum £30K, max £75K, 25% of producer’s budget at back end.

At each script meeting the project – my baby – is placed on the table between Steven, producer, Suri, director and myself, writer.  We take it in turns to cut it, twist it, pull it, open it up, mend it, wound it, kill it.  In this way it gets better because it gets stronger.  Once the 3 of us have punched it in the face a few times, stabbed it and held it underwater until the bubbles stop, why then, it has become almost invincible…

July 1996

I have no desire to write the next draft – officially – believe it or not – the 3rd draft (I know) despite the eight I have written so far.  I actually have 5 separate drafts on the hard drive (we are pre-computer and pre-internet here) but Clear-eye felt I had only written two. I was repulsed by this betrayal having been writing this film now for 18 months, and as a result my interest in the screenplay has almost vanished. (See My Pop Life #75).  I no longer give a shit about the story or the characters, couldn’t care less whether the film is made or not, whether I’ll be involved or not. I feel totally drained of juice, enthusiasm, interest, buzz, creativity.

December 1996

A million pounds has evaporated – indeed, it was never there in the first place.  A next draft in the offing. I read the 1st draft again recently thinking in my arrogance that it would be better than the “3rd draft”.  It wasn’t.  The screenplay has steadily improved since it was first thought of, and can improve again.

Steven Cleary has moved house, been burgled, and had a baby (Stephanie has) as he attempts to sew Granada/Rank into the deal.  Suri now committed to “A Respectable Trade” with the BBC until April – as are Jenny and I.  NYD slips back to autumn 1997…

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A Respectable Trade…

October 1997

Ten months later and Steven is married.  Granada and I are still negotiating my contract – I am now to be credited as co-producer separately from screenplay. They have a clause about giving any new writer credit on the screen – ‘screenplay by Ralph Brown and…’ well bollocks to that.  I’ve been stalling them anyway as I am not that happy with the whole set-up.  The last draft was met with silence. I eventually received a copy of my script typed up by Steven’s secretary, edited by Steven. Which was, as you can imagine, quite hilarious.  Irritated by these developments, I kept my cool and sold Steven on a new draft based on a book review I had read in Bristol ‘The Importance of Disappointment‘. He bought it.  I rewrote the character of Veronica going back to draft 5 for the structure.  This of course annoyed everyone, but that’s the current draft and battle will be resumed when there is Money On The Table and not before.  I have refused all requests for script meetings this summer.  Simon Channing Williams is still interested and I am meeting him this Thursday October 9th.

I felt at this point and others that script meetings were being used to create energy when there was no movement on the money front.  Rewrites to keep us all energised.  Slightly patronising, sometimes useful, more often just chewing over stuff which had been shaped perfectly well.  When there is no movement on the money let’s get Ralph to write another draft. 

January 20th 1998

We appear to be in pre-pre-production. A small shared office on the 17th floor at Granada on the South Bank with a beautiful view over the Thames and London.  I saw the sun setting over the Houses of Parliament today while chatting to Suri about Barry Ackroyd who seems to be shaping up as the DP.  Good.  Kathy Burke seems to have fallen through as an idea as she is slated to shoot David Kane’s movie at the same time .  Shame.  She would have been perfect as Shelley.  We have a casting director – Jane Deitch who worked with us all on A Respectable Trade.  An open audition is planned for Feb 11th in the Theatre Royal Brighton for prospective Jakes and Stevens (lead characters in the film, two 16-year old boys).  Very exciting stuff.  Tomorrow is the Premiere of Up’N’Under in Leicester Square with Mums Dads Brothers Sisters coming.  Interview with Andy Oliver at GLR in the afternoon, then Thursday up to Hull for the Northern Premiere.  Hoorah !

Original Cinema Quad Poster - Movie Film Posters

(in keeping with the bellyaches and gripes herein I merely note that my agent failed to negotiate my name on the poster)

February 1998

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Great week in Brighton with Jane and Suri and Jenny going to schools and drama groups then holding an open casting at the Theatre Royal then another at Granada Studios in Manchester.  500 kids turn up in Brighton – we are overwhelmed but manage to see them all.  The quality is low, but the hunger is fantastically exhilarating.  Highlights of the week were : 1. Varndean – great class with lots of talent and very strong potential ‘Jake’, 2. The Academy – almost all young girls (12-15) who blew us away with their improvisations and their production of the Orestia – all credit to their teacher Mel, 3. Going back to Priory in Lewes to audition the 6th form – some talent here too.  Great production of Guys & Dolls by Blatchington Mills School at the Gardner Arts Centre and disappointment at Falmer and Shandy Stage School which was in fact quite Moonie-like and spooky.  A very enjoyable week indeed – spoiled for Suri only by the local Argus headline “500 queue to audition for Ralph’s film”.  He is very competitive, silly thing.  Jane was wonderful with the kids, spoke her mind, and we all loved her and her husband Mark who came down to help at the Theatre Royal.  The hunt for ‘Steven’ goes on.

March 3rd

Bad day.  Suri has gone seriously paranoid about me and refuses to invite me to casting sessions or casting discussions with Jane.  Shoot planned for 4th May, time spent worrying about snow, ski-ing, avalanches.  Today Suri manages to disagree with everything I say, regardless of what it was about – contrary to the Nth Degree.  Very disturbing indeed and all thoughts of collaboration, friendship, protecting my film go out of the window.  I meet Charles Steel who is our Associate Producer (friend of Steve Cleary) who is great, friendly, positive, lovely.  We get on immediately.  Steve is in Paris talking to potential French co-producers, and doing a workshop for Arista.  We need him full-time now. I spend the day looking through Spotlight – the whole thing – and run up my shortlists for the principal cast.  This is what Jane and Suri did on Friday.  I simply do not understand why Suri would not want me in one of these discussions.  I cannot get my head round it at all.  I can only assume that he is really insecure and needs to flex his status as much as possible.  He is behaving like any weak director who feels threatened by a writer. He is also perhaps (as Catherine Wearing suggested) a stick-in-the-mud, rather inflexible about how he works and how he has always done it, ignoring our relationship and my experience in film because in some way to change his working method is to undermine him. I am deeply worried about Suri for a number of reasons – not least of which is that he is now going out with Nikki again who does not approve of NYD, or doesn’t like it, and with whom he spends as much time as possible rather than on the film.  This will get increasingly irritating as we go into pre-production (starting Monday) and fucking outrageously annoying while we shoot.  Oh dear.  I start to take the sanguine long view, I start to plan my short film, my next full-length screenplay and the rest of my life without a good friend who has become an arse.

8th March Sunday night

Life has become empty without New Year’s Day in it.  I made one call to Suri the next morning – paged him “I WON’T BE IN AGAIN THIS WEEK. DO YOU WANT TO SEE MAN UTD GAME WITH ME?”.  He called back immediately said he couldn’t see the game and we had a chat about things, tried to improve the atmosphere and I think we were both relieved. Cleared the air. But the truth is he doesn’t need me now. He has work and so does Nikki. She will help in increasing his confidence which i good but there’ll be no more cosy chats over a big spliff.  It’s a shame but I really have to let it all go.  I feel as if I am going mad. Gwen (o seed – gwaine in patois) in Los Angeles brilliantly understood it all as an authorship problem and and insecurity/potency problem to be resolved through authorship and advised me to breathe the air and wait.  Good advice.  I need to start writing again, something new, and more than that I need to spend a week getting stoned out of my face.

25th March

A horrible fortnight.  After faxing my forthright casting comments up to Jane Deitch a silence ensues for over a week.  I later learn that this is when I am betrayed by all.  Granada want a star name in the Veronica part and I am not invited to offer my opinion – first betrayal.  It will be embarrassing for Pippa (Granada producer) if I’m there because I’m married to Jenny, for whom I wrote the part of Veronica, and who is under consideration.  This all starts to stink bigtime bigtime.  I spend a week being furious and gutted.  Wednesday I lunch at Quo Vadis with Fiona McGloughlin my new acting agent but not before Ian Amos (my Literary Agent) beckons me quickly into his office to inform me that he is leaving ICM to set up a music agency.  Oscar Wilde springs through my mind – to lose one agent is unfortunate (Michael Foster having left in December) – to lose two looks rather like carelessness.  Over spinach leaves and stuff I tell Fifi my whole life story for some reason and explain why writing is so important to me. I go to the Production Office where Suri is busying himself with something or other and we greet and hug stiffly. “Do you still hate me?” I ask like an ingenue. “No” he replies, but it ain’t right.

Steve and I go downstairs for a meeting where he tells me that Suri needs a clear run at the casting and it’s the area which is causing the most problems and I tell Steve that I understand the authorship issue and that’s why he’s insecure and precious but no – it turns out that Marianne Jean-Baptiste is being sent the script for the Veronica part (at least she’s black I think to myself) and Granada insist and Jenny won’t get a look-in – although this doesn’t transpire until much later.  The writer always dies three times intones a frankly unsympathetic Steve Cleary doing an unpleasant dirty job, or rather half of it, that Suri hasn’t the balls to do himself.  It is an awful moment.  I am left in the canteen of LWT with a knife protruding from between my shoulder blades.

The next few days are spent analysing this turn of events and the extra piece of information that Sting has been sent the screenplay for the Mr Diamond role.  I discuss with Jenny.  We shred blankets with our teeth and smash crockery and karma is summoned and charlatans and cowards and the knife is still there.

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Fuck me I want to kill someone now.  This feeling persists all weekend as Conrad and I go to watch Barnet 2 Brighton 0 and singalongahoolie with the Albion away contingent which is therapeutic.

On Sunday I decide to send Suri my pain, all wrapped up in love.  A fax to his house.  We wait three days for the reply but in a strange way I feel calmer.  I know he must reply.  I call mutual friends Meera and Shekhar and discuss.  Shekhar is brilliant and I love him.  He promises to “have a word with Suri”.  I feel as if I may have miscalculated many times over with Suri, particularly in relation to my friendship with the man. This hurts the most – the possibility (!!) of being wrong in a personal judgement haunts me terribly and I keep pushing it to the back of my mind, but I cannot help thinking that Something Is Up and Suri cannot face me, cannot talk to me, would rather I wasn’t there probably.  I think every day about turning my back and walking away, letting three years three years or more of my life be colonised invaded changed altered crucified sold out massacred a droned infant keeps appearing in my mind. I feel perhaps I should help to hold its head under the water until it stops breathing.  But to date it has refused to expire.  And I cannot leave yet.  New projects appear in front of me and I grab at them for sanity as I must – Groucho meetings twice a week with young writers, cinematographers, directors, friends.  No solace there though.  The monkey must be faced down.

Suri eventually replies to my fax.  (damn I wish I had it, or could even remember what I wrote !) He had to, and for his own sense of worth, had to invite me back.  But the worst is yet to come.  On Thursday 19th March we hold a workshop in Varndean School for the creme of the Sussex kids.  It is a beautiful sunny day with a fresh breeze blowing off the sea when I pick up Jane, Suri and Theresa from the station.  I had arrived early and bought myself a nice wake-up coffee, after all it is 8.45a.m.  As my now full Jaguar swings round the Seven Dials roundabout my cappucino tilts karmically into Suri’s lap and he is drenched with hot coffee.  The rest of it ebbs away into the carpet and we both apologise – me for burning his leg and wetting his trousers – he for not saving a drop of coffee as it emptied onto the floor – a snap decision made in shock and anger I felt.  We arrive at the school and run through the workshop.  The kids are fantastic and I am really proud of them – original, individual, colourful.  Some fine actors stand out and I have my first inkling of problems with Jake and Steven as Suri doesn’t like the boy who stands out for Jane & I.  We lunch in a pub, we continue in the afternoon. It is a very successful day although perhaps without leading contenders (except the aforementioned Joe).  I drive Suri to the station via my house, which is empty.  We roll a joint and smoke it.

He then informs me that he has met Marianne Jean-Baptiste and she is heavily pregnant but that Granada have insisted she is cast in order to raise the money for the film.  I feel instinctively wrong about all of this. First I am neutralised, then excluded, then Jenny is cast aside. All out of my viewing.  A kind of defiant skulking quality appears in Suri – apologetic, but Marianne will be “terrific”.  I can scarcely contain my shock and disappointment (at him and indeed at myself for not seeing it earlier, years earlier, for why indeed had I asked this man to direct my screenplay?  Because I trusted him, because I felt that he would understand the material and the vibe of the story, that we were friends.  But no.  We never were.  In fact, just before the contracts were signed I changed my mind about everything and decided that I would direct it myself.  I called Suri and told him so.  He was furious.  He said he would initiate another project which would be his version of this story.  I said he could do what he wanted and we left it there.  But for SOME FUCKING REASON I changed my mind the next day and surrendered to someone else’s ego and sacrificed my story, my screenplay and my marriage to my woman to this worm of a human being who now held my finest hour in his grubby little hands the utter fuckwit) and indicate as I had done to Steve a week earlier that the other grown-up characters should be cast first, in deference to me, so that we can see where we get to vis-a-vis names, money-raising names.  Kathy Burke as Shelley, James Wilby as Robin, Paul McGann as Mr Diamond – then the way is clear for Jenny to play Veronica.  But no.  To head straight for this part and secretly cast it so obviously against my wishes is a high level betrayal which everyone has colluded in.  When we get back to the pub Jane asks Suri if he is “all right”.  I am the bully.  I am not asked if I am all right.  In the great scheme of film-making it is less important.  I start to believe, to realise, that Suri has not actually fought for Jenny to be considered.  It’s difficult to know because I wasn’t there was I?  Despite it being in my contract as associate producer that I am to be invited to all meetings etc etc.  I was carefully neutralised at the critical moment.  Suri’s weakness becomes immediately transparently apparent.  The way he switched so quickly, isolating me.  Jenny suspects that he wanted Marianne all along which is quite possible, but then he shouldn’t have said to me IN FEBRUARY (oh yes, quite recently) that he wanted Jenny to play the part.  There is no one better in England to play it.  No one.  I start to think long term again.

I have to for my sanity.

The bubbles come out of its mouth and its legs are kicking

I’ll never do this again

Ever

Suri is not

in fact

my friend

At this point Jenny and I had a series of extremely painful and raw heart-to-hearts which I did not diarise in any way.  They are private conversations.  They are about how much we mean to each other.  They are about her (and my) public humiliation at the optics and the actuality of what is happening.  They are about how we survive these betrayals without resorting to murder.  We question everything that we are doing, have done, will do.  What is the point of it all?  We – the idea of we – is under serious attack.  Who is betrayed?  Who is fighting?  Who is hurting?

We are being rent asunder.  

*

Wake from your sleep
The drying of your tears
Today we escape, we escape

Pack and get dressed
Before your father hears us
Before all hell breaks loose

Breathe, keep breathing
Don’t lose your nerve
Breathe, keep breathing
I can’t do this alone

Sing us a song
A song to keep us warm
There’s such a chill
Such a chill

And you can laugh a spineless laugh
We hope your rules and wisdom choke you
Now we are one in everlasting peace
We hope that you choke, that you choke

We hope that you choke, that you choke

We hope that you choke, that you choke