Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Reviving Jack's TV films

Took the train down to London with Richard to have lunch at Seafresh fish and chips near Victoria Station with Charles Webster to explore ways we might make and distribute more of Jack Hargreaves' original Out of Town and Old Country episodes. Back in Birmingham I wrote to Charles:
With Charles Webster at Seafresh
Dear Charles. Thank you for lunch. I think the JH project has taken a move forward after a hiatus when all of us involved were willing, but unsure how to proceed. As a result of our meeting today we’ve agreed to see if you, with the resources of Delta, can assemble a satisfactory pilot episode of Out of Town or Old Country, using a 16mm film and 1/4in sound tape from SWFTA – appropriately paired, plus the studio extracts (my stepfather speaking from his 'shed') that may exist in the collection of off-air recordings I hold that were originally recorded on VHS by a generous fan as they watched them 20+ years ago.
I'm going through my list of these, comparing them with Roger’s excellent list of what is held at SWFTA, with a view to finding a matching set of studio clips.
We’ve agreed the quality of these latter clips leaves much to be desired, but they seem to be all we have, and in one way or another, may help us create an entertaining reproduction of episodes not seen for over twenty years. The alternative is to do something like this – the exploding bait box episode - where the shed sessions are replaced by stills and explanatory text.
I’ve already phoned Jennie about this and she understands and will discuss with colleagues the possibility of digging out the single reel of film and tape that you can try to turn into a feasible pilot episode with the addition of my clips.
If this proves acceptable, all parties can seek agreement of the best way to proceed with creating and retailing a larger number of episodes by next Christmas 2011 (to set a conditional target). This requires me, in the first instance, to draw up a list from my tapes (one of which you saw during our meeting today) that can help SWFTA to select an ideal matched film and tape.
I’ll have a go at this on Wednesday and let you know how I’m doing. To give a quick example, just running a finger down Roger’s latest list and mine, I came up with these: (Roger’s titles differ in places from mine but the reel numbers are ones he’s noted):
Bantams JH752, Brassey Searle Circus JH616, Cape Cart JH660, Cider-making JH564, Coopering JH626A, Breeds of cattle JH631, Cutting up a pig JH636, Duncliffe Hill JH651
If I can do that in 5 minutes, an hour should produce an even more promising list of potential episodes for reconstruction. I must also allow for the fact that in some cases the ‘shed’ intro isn’t complete as the person recording off air didn’t get their video recorder switched on in time. On other occasions they stopped the video recorder too early. Take this for example (not all of these match Roger’s films) – 'breeds of cattle'. This shows quite a long session (08.48') of JH in the shed but no opening titles, though there are some at the end, or this 'butcher' or 'cutting up a pig', showing shed, OB film, shed again, with titles each end, or this – on the history of fishing rods – first half all in the shed, second half OB of fishing on a gravel pit pool with a finale in the shed which ends mid-sentence, but might be edited to serve our purpose, or this one of Brassy Searle’s Circus with no shed to start but one to finish, or this one of the Blagdon Horse which starts in the shed and ends without a shed going straight into the commercial break, and finally this, which has no starting titles but goes straight to shed, then OB with shed again, and titles. I hope this is helpful. I hope to be able to contact you again tomorrow evening. Best wishes, Simon
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After lunch Richard and I took the underground to Embankment, walked over the river towards Waterloo and along the south bank to Tate Modern to enjoy gazing at Ai Weiwei's grand project Sunflower Seeds - 100 million ceramic hand-painted sunflower seeds strewn across the floor of the Turbine Hall. Wow! We so wanted to steal a few of these but were scared off by a mix of respect for the place the artist wanted his work and fear of the amiable security guard overseeing the work.
Information is that 1600 artisans from Jingdezhen, in south east China, famous for ceramics and porcelain created these 'seeds', which Richard, using his iPhone found were already being sold on eBay which explains the security, despite the public reason being health and safety.
The sculptural installation is made up of what appear to be millions of sunflower seed husks, apparently identical but actually unique. Although they look realistic, each seed is made out of porcelain. And far from being industrially produced, 'readymade' or found objects, they have been intricately hand-crafted by hundreds of skilled artisans. Poured into the interior of the Turbine Hall's vast industrial space, the seeds form a seemingly infinite landscape. The precious nature of the material, the effort of production and the narrative and personal content make this work a powerful commentary on the human condition .... 'From a very young age I started to sense that an individual has to set an example in society', he has said. 'Your own acts and behaviour tell the world who you are and at the same time what kind of society you think it should be.' 
Q: Hello Simon, Thank you for your message. Firstly, I have to tell you the seeds I'm selling were not stolen. I purchased them from the original workshops in Jingdezhen Town who made all those Ai Weiwei's porcelain sunflower seeds in Tate Morden. So they are all legal :). How much seeds do you want to buy? Except the items I'm listing on Ebay, I do have quite a few of seeds for single selling, coz there are some people don't like my packages and just want the rough seeds. Regards...
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Last night I was phoning my friend Dhiaa "There's programme on BBC2 about the marshes...that is making me cry with joy. It reminds me of that picture you sent me last year of the school teacher in the marshes before they were destroyed." "We shall go there together" he said.

Recovery of the Mesopotamian Marshes from Simon Baddeley on Vimeo.
I picked up my little video camera to capture at third hand a heart-stopping moment during the documentary when thousands of teal wheel back and forth over the slowly recovering marshes of Iraq, drained by Saddam Hussein in the 1980s in order to remove the threat of insurgency from their inhabitants - the Marsh Arabs. Two hunters appear hunting the teal. A metropolitan reaction might be one of apprehension, but this restoration project is led by Azzam Alwash, the CEO of Nature Iraq. He observes that these marshes are where these hunters and their families are returning to live. The duck they want are for the pot. They are a part of the ecosystem, unlike armies and men seeking to drill for oil. The greatest threat to the environment is seldom hunting (though it can be of course) but destruction and blighting of habitat, first by British administrators who saw the marshes only as breeding grounds for mosquitoes ideal for agricultural land, and more recently by Saddam and now by Turkish policies involving the damming of feeder rivers reducing water supply, and consequent salinisation amplified by a long drought. Security remains the greatest risk to human visitors; solutions waiting on the restoration of government with the power to restore stability to Iraq. Despite these challenges the endeavour of Nature Iraq is enormously heartening. If the birds return, the people will and if their peace can be restored so can Iraq's.
Iraq in peaceful times - an old picture sent me by my friend Dhiaa
21 Jan '11: Mark who knows the Kalamos Marshes opposite Corfu sent me this link to a US 60 minutes film (lasts about 15 minutes) which starts after the ad at 0103. Good maps and background on Azzam Alwash on the terrible destruction of the Madān - معدان - and their inhabitants, their reed homes and the wildlife of the Iraq marshes. Azzam says this is not about the inhabitants loving the birds or the reeds but about their livelihood. Despite the Turkish dams and oil exploration in the area, Azzam would like to see the marshes made into an area for eco-tourism. This is the familiar challenge of the contemporary, that one can destroy, rediscover but never remake exactly because humans can't be captured in amber except in films or fantasy. The challenge then is what values - what shared values - can be negotiated about the future of this incredible place.

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