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Tuesday, 17 September 2019

The march of time

Seven years ago in Spring, under Efi and Adonis’ walnut tree in their garden next door, my neighbour and friend Lefteris and I celebrated our 70th birthdays – he two months younger than I. It was a party of foreigners – mainly English plus my old American friend Tony, staying with us a week– and Greeks, neighbours in Ano Korakiana.
«Αγαπώ την Ελλάδα…αγαπώ την Άνω Κορακιάνα»

It was a perfect evening to mark our arrival at the biblical age for the proper duration of our lives. My friend Kim reminded me that its unseemly to grumble at the problems of being old when so many don't get to be old. All the same today I asked Lin, rhetorically, what justifies me being grumpy and sometimes sad.
“I’m closer to death. Although I’m healthy, I’m weaker and shall get more so. Lefteris is poorly." 
A few days ago he fell, a second time, off steps he’s been using all his life. His back's purple and black. We heard him crying out one morning and ran to try and help but Vasiliki was well ahead of us.
“People die. I’ve no older relatives to talk to. My mum passed in 2012 at 95, your Dad in 2016 at 98, your mum last year at 94. We’re the elders now ... One of our best friends is suddenly ill - diagnosis maddeningly uncertain - and won’t be back to Corfu this year. But it’s not just the elderly who are dying or sick but people in the prime of life. Y crashed his motorbike this July, widowing his young wife and leaving his young daughters fatherless. K and T suffered the worst catastrophe –  their only daughter, aged 28, about to be married, died without warning this March after drinking a morning coffee. A few weeks later my friend Dave phoned to tell me Trish his wife, hardly 50, had, out of the same blue, a fatal heart attack. 'She was meant to go after me' he said. There are other bad things affecting acquaintances. Martin who tripped over a low wall in Duikades a few months ago and fell three metres onto concrete; flown back to England unable to walk or think straight, stuck in therapy for months perhaps disabled permanently. B's wife in an induced coma in the island hospital, suffering sepsis. What a catalogue and there’s more. P, so full of life and wisdom, undergoing the ordeal of chemo following five hours surgery to remove suddenly discovered tumours. That doesn’t count unheralded separations of people we’ve enjoyed as couples – three, perhaps four, whose happiness together we’ve witnessed, whose exchange of vows – spoken and unspoken - was part of my hope for people living happily ever after, their children as banners heralding the out-dated pledge ‘so long as we both shall live’.  And look what's happened to our fecund orange and lemon trees, infested with scale insects and black mould, becoming barren of the fruit that fell into our hands in such abundance!"
Just before our grandchildren were born Amy and Guy bought a house, with our help, on the edge of the city. It was near the largest sewage works in Europe and under the flight path of Birmingham International Airport, but behind it, until the rising ground arrived at the woodland skyline, were fields; arable farmland laced with footpaths, three hundred yards from a canal that led north west from the heart of the city, along whose towpath I could cycle seven miles from Handsworth, via Spaghetti Junction, to visit them, often with Oscar dog running beside me, or, when he got too old to keep up a reasonable pace, and too blind to stay out of the water, sitting in my front pannier.  It wasn’t what you’d call a posh place. I’d say it was 'Minworth', though the post code implied ‘Sutton Coldfield’.
I thought it a brilliant choice; a walk from Minworth Primary School where Guy became a governor. There were country walks – indeed a gate like a magic door in the hedge at the bottom of their garden led into fields. Shops were close. They lived an easy drive on the Tyburn Road from our home in Handsworth.
 The children and Oscar in the fields behind Summer Lane

Two years ago, with much touting by the city of its contribution to providing 10,000 jobs to enrich the Midlands economy, Birmingham City Council was allowed by HM Government to breach the city’s constitutionally defined ‘Green Belt', permitting the construction of 6000 new homes, and, over the next five years, a factory estate on the fields behind the family home on Summer Lane.
Artist's impression of the new Peddimore industrial estate to be built north of our daughter's home

Footpaths were stopped. Signs showed the farm land awaiting concrete. The football field, on fallow grazing behind their house, was flayed and laid with wormless astroturf. A substantial clubhouse arose.
In his last year - 1993 - my stepfather wrote an ode to his love of the countryside that ended with the lines:
I said I must write a warning.  But I was angry and - as the
Japanese say - to be angry is only to make yourself ridiculous.
So we will live out our days in the cracks between the
concrete.  And then they will pour cement on top of us.
Amy and Guy, now with our grandchildren, Oliver and Hannah, and with our long term family friend, Liz and her husband Matt and their children, Sophia and Henry, didn’t wait. A year after the blighting of their edge-of-town countryside was announced, Amy and Guy put their house up for sale. Guy gave notice at the place he’s worked over 20 years, and Amy, with help from family, bought a house on the edge of the Forest of Dean at Drybrook in Gloucestershire – a few hours' walk through the woods to our cottage in Lydbrook. The sale of their house in Birmingham awaits survey and searches before exchange of contracts. They started moving into the new home the third week in August. On Monday 2nd September the children, in new green uniforms, started their year at a primary school in Lea, just over the Herfordshire border, 15 minutes drive north from Drybrook.

I’m pleased Amy had the resolution to make this move. We have mixed feelings. For the foreseeable future we shall see far less of our family. Richard’s been working in Istanbul for a year. Now Amy’s moved to an area that has the protection – though naught’s guaranteed – of a National Forest, a  place we’ve known and loved for over 35 years; buying Rock Cottage up a path on Bell Hill, Lydbrook in 1981.
Lin's mum Dot, Amy and Richard on the lawn at Rock Cottage, Lydbrook, about 1990

Above the Wye across from the Forest of Dean - a place we've known and loved over 35 years (photo 1995)
Amy and her family won’t have to wake in the morning to the dismal sight and sound of construction-destruction. It’s almost, but for the wild life, a win-win circumstance, since for many the  ‘exciting development’ on the edge of Birmingham adds to local property values, bringing what government PR calls ‘employment, retail and leisure opportunities’.
On one of the first days, the new house sale near completed, in the middle of August, I took a train to Lydney from Birmingham. Guy collected me from the small station to stay with the family at Rock Cottage. Next day I was driven four miles eastward, via Ruardean, to see their new home in the country. I walked around it inside and out and saw it was good. Amy and Guy went measuring for carpets in Cinderford. With Hannah and Oliver and a map I headed into the forest, few hundred yards from their new home, to walk to Lydbrook. We were without Oscar. Our 17 year companion had died of old age in our garden in Handsworth on the first day of August. I buried him on our allotment by the park – along with an episode of our lives.
Oscar's grave prepared by Winnie and I on Plot 14, Victoria Jubilee Allotments
Mum died at her home in 2012 aged 95 on 1st November. Oscar died in our garden on 1st August 2019 aged 17

It means the end of seeing our family in the city, taking buses, trams ...

 ... in and out town with Oliver and Hannah, cycling in the park and along the Birmingham canals, helping open and close lock-gates...
Helping a narrow boat up Farmer's Bridge Locks in the centre of Birmingham

...working on the allotment, helping split logs...
... working with some of Handsworth Helping Hands activities, dipping biscuits in my tea, visiting Handsworth Park ...
The wedded trees in Handsworth Park

Hannah, grandpa and Ollie litter-pick the pond in Handsworth Park and get a free boat ride

When I taught Oliver to row. Hannah's cracked her collar bone a few day back.
... strolling through the Birmingham markets together looking at wares, chatting to stallholders, having snacks at the baked potato van, watching me eating oysters, learning to spend small pocket monies, visiting St Philips Cathedral and St Martins-in-the-Bullring to light candles "for great Nan, for Jack Hargreaves, for Oscar"

 ... and dip fingers in holy water and listen to my stories about the stained-glass windows, meet people and ask questions of people with placards spreading political and religious messages,  take part in defending allotments...
Balbir, Oliver, Hannah and I in Victoria Square campaigning for the Walsall Road Allotments

...listen to buskers, spot a homeless man sat in the street – perhaps bring him a coffee or a soft drink, visit the big bookshop at the end of New Street and leaf through books in the children’s section and talk to staff, wander down the Great Western Arcade looking through shop windows, buying rich cakes from the Polish bakery at the Colmore Row End,

... sit together in the window of Pret a Manger trying to get smiles from those passing outside by waving and knocking on the plate glass, keeping score, and ever asking and answering questions – watching, observing, having small adventures to mull over at bedtimes. It means and end to the grandchildren staying overnight with us helping and chivvying their homework ...

... as well as studying the dramas of Titanic, Bismark, Graf Spee, Marie Celeste, and Nelson’s Victory, the battle of Waterloo and The Battle of Britain – with the aid of exciting films especially A Night to Remember and the films of Sergei Bondarchuk and Guy Hamilton. For the time being it’s an end to striving to answer Oliver’s questions about the universe, life and death, Aston Villa, and the nature of vampires, and Hannah’s interests in saving the polar bears and the existence of unicorns.
Hannah's 3rd birthday on Plot 14 by Jan Bowman

Saturday, 7 September 2019

'Recalled to life'

Jack Hargreaves 1911-1994 with his stepson Simon Baddeley born 1942 (photo: Barbara Hargreaves)
My stepfather delighted in reading Charles Dickens. He could recite first lines of the novels
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness...
"Opening lines are fascinating. They contain all that’s to follow”. I like the phrase 'recalled to life' from the first chapter. Dickens, after setting the scene - France and England in 1775 - for A Tale of Two Cities, describes the Dover Coach toiling up Shooter’s Hill. The night is stormy. To ease the horses, passengers have been asked to get out and trudge through the mud. Here's a place perfect for ambush and robbery. A lone rider is heard galloping in pursuit. It's Gerry Cruncher, messenger from Telsons Bank. Rider and coach halt, Jerry facing a wary driver's blunderbuss. Jarvis Lorri, banker, stands beside the coach. Jerry hands him an envelope.
He opened it in the light of the coach-lamp on that side and read - first to himself and then aloud; “ ‘Wait at Dover for Mam’selle.’ It’s not long, you see, guard. Jerry, say that my answer was, Recalled to Life.”
Recalled to life. Old 16mm film smells of vinegar. The cans in which it's stored are brown with rust - many over forty years old, films made by Jack's cameraman Stan Bréhaut for the Southern TV series Out of Town. at risk of wasting in our garage.
But by Christmas 2019, my licensee, Network on Air, will be publishing 6 episodes selected from the archive of recovered Out of Town material, sitting in our garage for ages, recovered by Jack from a warehouse some unknown time after Southern TV lost its licence in 1981. There were 100s of cans of 16mm film with added library sound effects and a similar number of flat cardboard boxes containing ¼” reel-to-reel sound tapes of Jack’s commentaries, which, left to Southern TV’s successor Meridian, had sat in their library, cherry picked as background – without Jack -  for country-themed programmes, becoming disordered. Jack had moved on, to do successful broadcasting on Channel 4 for three years, delivering sixty episodes of Old Country in the same style and format as OOT, using the same ‘shed’ – the set he’d used at Southern, set up in the Old Schoolhouse in Meonstoke.

The recovered OOT material was stored on racks in his workshop beside Raven Cottage. When domestic DVD players proliferated, Jack selected 28 reels of film from this archive. The film had magnetic sound strips containing the sound effects – fish splashing, hammering, wind, atmos, and so on - added post-production. See Dave Knowles, Jack's sound technician, on the next clip between 00.47 and 1.46 explaining the characteristics of the film in the archive.

Although an executor of my stepfather's estate, I knew nothing of the ‘archive’ until 2009. Well before he died Jack had entrusted the unwieldy collection of film and tape to his friend Nick Wright, a media academic. Thank goodness! In 1994, when Jack died, such a collection would have burdened me. I might have discarded it and surrendered all rights –  a condition for gifts - to the BFI.
I remained unaware, until Richard Hill, filmed for an OOT episode on sea angling in the early 70s, wrote and asked if he could have a copy of the episode in which he and his friends appeared.

His computer literate neighbour, with a touch of OCD, had traced the archive to Plymouth, then to Jack’s stepson, Simon Baddeley, as the likely owner of rights.
Some time after Jack died Nick Wright had moved house. Lacking storage in his new home, he’d passed Jack’s gift to the South West Film and TV Archivewhere it had stayed over 10 years. Via Paul Peacock, who was writing Jack's biography, Paul and I met Nick in Leeds. Over a meal and a pint, Nick explained the unwieldy nature of the JH archive.
“These are not complete episodes of Out of Town broadcasts, Simon. They’re Stan’s location footage with sound effects. You’d first have to match film with sound tapes of Jack’s commentaries. There are no titles, no theme tune, no credits. Footage where Jack spoke from his studio 'shed' have vanished”
I learned later that, until the end of the 1970s, the only way such footage would have been recorded was on v expensive swiftly re-used Quad tapes.
The mishmash nature of the OOT archive had one positive – it was generally perceived as useless. Nick said he’d looked through it and could do nothing with it. His gift to me was a signed letter he’d sought from a senior employee, Cathy Meacock, of Endemol International, declaring, in writing, that despite Endemol’s ownership of so much old Southern media (bought speculatively, overriding, so they claimed, Jack’s informal reclamation of OOT film), they had ‘no further interest in the material’. Nick was free to do with it as he - and therefore I - wished. Nick was clear the archive at SWFTA, passed to him by Jack, was mine.
I phoned Jenny at SWFTA and gave permission for Richard Hill’s episode to be assembled and sent to me to take to him on a DVD as an MPG file. By train and cycle I took a day trip to the edge of Southampton. Richard now grey-haired was over the moon. We enjoyed Wendy Hill’s cups of tea and fish pie.
“If it hadn’t been for you, Richard, I’d not have discovered my stepdad’s archive”.
I learned from Jenny the work her husband Roger Charlesworth had done to make Richard’s DVD out of the archive material available, finding the sound tape that went with the episode, digitising sound and picture, splicing them, inserting stills of Jack in the absence of studio ‘shed’ footage; pro bono.
I took a train from Birmingham and met Roger and Jenny in the old naval yard in Plymouth, viewed the ‘JH archive’ stacked on dexion, and met the manager of SWFTA. He put out feelers about rights in return for SWFTA making more episodes. I said I’d think about it, taking home his blank waiver.
Time passed.
What could be done with the archive if neither Nick nor the archive technicians could spin this treasured straw into an episode of Out of Town? Would still pictures or random footage run as background to Jack’s voice? A friend suggested, with a clever example, of how Jack’s voice could be added to his animated picture. Not quite recalled to life though.
Meantime I was supporting publication by Delta of those full episodes of Out of Town that Jack had made for VHS in 1987, speaking from his workshop at Raven Cottage – not even Southern TV broadcasts, though they contained the location footage Jack had recovered from the archive.
In 2010 SWFTA wrote to say that without my waiver giving them rights to any work they could not afford to store the JH archive. With my neighbour, John Rose and the borrowed use of a van, we drove to Plymouth and collected the films and tapes to store in our garage.
In 2012 Kaleidoscope’s David King unearthed 30 episodes of Out of Town broadcasts made in 1980-81. These were published by Delta as “The Lost Episodes”. Endemol had been about to throw them out. Once they realised my hopes for them, they claimed copyright, as for all the Southern TV media over which they claimed ownership. After several attempts to contact them, their CEO emailed me “Simon. You can have all OOT material we own for £10,000 ‘take it or leave it’”
I found the cash. I co-signed a novation agreement transferring their licence with Delta to me plus an addendum rights transfer for the OOT episodes saved by David. I went to Endemol's HQ in Shepherd's Bush and put the masters I'd bought on my bicycle rack
Collecting my OOT master tapes
After Jack’s death his solicitor with whom I shared the executorship along with Isobel of the will, said he had no doubt that Jack wanted this material to belong to me, that it almost certainly did, but “their lawyers have more time and money than you can afford”.
For about three years I was making train visits to London, cycling around the city to meetings. With advice from Charles Webster of Delta, now my licensee, I got a rights lawyer. James Greenslade of Simons Muirhead & Burton in Soho. £600 an hour! He cut me pro bono advice, going through Endemol’s contract with his platinum toothcomb.
I was about to recover my outlay in royalties from Delta’s sales of two OOT DVD box sets, when Charles texted me that Delta had gone into administration.
Charles and I had been working enthusiastically on ways of restoring the archive but seeing the way the wind was blowing he'd left Delta. He and I had meetings at a fish and chippie near Victoria Station to continue exploring ways to restore the archive. I hired Francis Niemczyk up Kilburn way to start restoring the films Lin and I had matched with their sound tapes, adding Frazer Ash, Digital Transfer Manager of British Universities Film & Video Council off Oxford Street.
Charles and I drifted apart, he, vexed that I’d made an agreement he’d cautioned against, with Chris Perry of newly formed Big Centre TV based in Walsall, to broadcast existing OOT episodes on a new local TV station, in return for getting the services of a reputable film restoration company in Wardour Street, Soho, restoring the archive. The long and short of that embarrassing episode, drawn out over a year of constant emails and excuses, was that the OOT episodes were broadcast in the West Midlands, but Perry failed to fulfil his side of our agreement, got summarily fired from the company he’d started, whose new director, after some wriggling, agreed to pay me a symbolic £1500 of compensation.  So few people watched this local TV company little was lost. I was an irritated fool.
After turning down offers for Jack’s material from a couple of the companies circling Delta’s administrators, there came, a surprise approach from Talking Pictures that went nowhere, and another from Network on Air. I liked their CEO Tim Beddows.
I signed an Acquisition Agreement with his company in 2017. Tim Beddows was keen to republish all that Delta had published plus extras featuring Jack. Even more pleasing was Tim’s offer to restore and publish the whole archive if I would fill in for Jack where his introductions had gone missing. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t spent enough time humming and haa-ing over options for filling in where Jack was missing. With trepidation I agreed. Tim drove a first batch of old footage with sound tapes to be restored by his company in Canary Wharf  where, after tapes and films had been matched and digitised, they were stored as HD – “better than when Jack saw them” said Tim. I relayed a link to the first batch of restorations to Ian Wegg, Southern TV’s amateur local historian. Ian dated them and alerted me to footage already published by Jack when he cherry-picked location film for his 1987 VHS issue of OOT. From this base selection, I picked 16 suitable 12 to 6 minute sequences which, put together, would give us 3 hours viewing in 6 half hour episodes, made up of 15 parts.
Tim assured me “That’ll be enough to start. This will be Network’s Out of Town Vol 3, ready for Christmas 2019”
Tim had contracted film-maker, director and producer, Paul Vanezis to make the film insets of me introducing each restored OOT episode. With the restored OOT footage, now digitised in HD, loaded to his hard drive, Paul and I met up on my allotment in Handsworth, where between my shed and fruit cage we spent two sunny July mornings filming introductions.
Paul Vanezis films inserts of me introducing Further Out of Town on the Victoria Jubilee Allotments in Handsworth

 I’d spent two months rehearsing after digesting Jack’s recorded introductions without picture and the location footage to be used - trying not to imitate Jack but to find a suitable version of Jack's relaxed style in front of a camera.

I practised for a day with my friend Michael Livesley at his studio in Liverpool ...
and spoke on my own to Photobooth on my laptop...
So, over 10 years after I learned of the existence of the ‘JH Archive’ we are lined up to publish, by Christmas, the following films introduced by me.
Episode 1. Garden Pests/Red Squirrels/Country Flowers
Episode 2: Planting a Vine/Sheep Fair
Episode 3: Southall Market/Fishing in the Hebrides/Peeler crabs
Episode 4: Andalusian Horses with Brassy Searle and son
Episode 5: Mr Cuckoo/Sea Bream/Stocking a lake
Episode 6: Butterflies/North wind fishing/John Bass lake
Before they are scanned, Paul Vanezis checks old opening titles of Further Out of Town

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

To a friend in the village

The sea of Corfu between Ano Korakiana and Mother Greece

Αγαπητή Αγγελική.
In Ano Korakiana bereavement has been heaped on bereavement. We are foreigners who have a home in the village, but even, far away, we grieve for the loss of two young people in the prime of their lives, for their absence. We have compassion for their families. We're sad for the whole village. I ache.
Now that T. has no heart to write more or create more images of Ano Korakiana for the village website (how, too well, we understand why!), the village story is not being told in public or on the internet. It's surely told inside the village, but not outside.
Now that Ano Korakiana’s wonderful Summer cultural events - concerts especially - have been formally cancelled to mourn the terrible loss of Melina and Yianni, who recounts the life of Ano Korakiana? Who reminds us of local history? Who tells of parties held? Who reports your work recycling our village waste? Who shows us the ceremonies, prayers and celebrations led by Pappa Evthokimos and his treasured congregation?

Ano Korakiana's Church of St George for the Epiphany on 7th January 2018

Who will write about the leadership of the new Mayor, Stavros Savannis, starting this September? Who speaks of christenings and marriages as well as deaths? Who records the events of Christmas and New Year? Who reminds us of village artists? Who records the playing of the Philharmonica Korakiana? Who describes how villagers commemorate Επέτειος του Όχι?
Korakianas celebrate Oxi Day on 28th October 2018 - the Greek equivalent of Britain's 11th November

Who is now the ‘town crier’ for Ano Korakiana? You may have an important part to play as the story-teller of Ano Korakiana, Angeliki. Μπορεί να διαδραματίζετε ένα σημαντικό ρόλο για να παίξετε ως ιστορικός της Άνω Κορακιάνας.
Much love from Linda and Simon
Forgive us for these comments if we have offended. Ano Korakiana needs to mourn. Φωνὴ ἐν Ῥαμὰ ἠκούσθη, κλαυθμὸς καὶ ὀδυρμὸς πολύς· Ῥαχὴλ κλαίουσα τὰ τέκνα αὐτῆς, καὶ οὐκ ἤθελεν παρακληθῆναι ὅτι οὐκ εἰσίν.
Πολλή αγάπη, Σαίμον και Λίντα ΧΧΧ
Awaiting the Resurrection - την Ανάσταση - in Ano Korakiana
*** ***
In 1995, after 30 years, I came back to Greece with my family...
Bringing my family to beloved Greece

Standing in the cockpit of our Airbus (full of screens and no joystick) where passengers could – pre-9/11 – still be invited for a pilot’s glimpse of the world ahead, I stood behind my family, as with Linda, Richard and Amy, we flew high over the border of Greece; able to see, to port, the glow of Thessaloniki; ahead the greater glow of Athens; to starboard a moonlit Ionian Sea and far below, in inky blackness, clusters of tiny glittering diamonds - villages in the foothills of the Pindos.
“Children! There’s Greece”
In the dim cabin tears welled from my eyes with the delight – and the idea – of sharing ‘my’ Greece with my wife and children. I could not speak for a moment, and Linda, more English than I, was irritated at me. 

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Simon Baddeley