Total Pageviews

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Visiting Marion Bréhaut

I took the train south on Monday to visit Marion Bréhaut. Stan Bréhaut who died in 2005 worked as a cameraman with my stepfather for over twenty years.
There were ‘major signalling problems at Weybridge’.  At Basingstoke, where I left a Bournemouth train for a connection to Eastleigh, people were on their mobiles to explain delays, milling between platforms, rejigging their travel plans, chatting to strangers, and, for those with internet connection, sending emails and checking alternative schedules, gazing at electronic timetable boards, interrogating station staff, listening for information from the platform loudspeakers issuing “sincere” apologies for “any inconvenience to your journey”. Once I get cheery about this; once I accept my fate, I improve my respect for the platform staff trying to sort frustrated passengers like me, towards alternative routes.
I phoned Tony Herbert, on his way by car. I phoned Marion to say we’re delayed. In minutes I’m on another train speeding south. Tony will meet me at Southampton Parkway. The train’s crowded - standing room only. Coming into Parkway I make my way to the internal coach doors, pushing my folded cycle ahead. A slim girl picks up my bike and threads it through standing passengers for me. I follow with my bike bag. The train slows and lurches. I’m thrown sideways in the narrows, and reaching out find I’ve grabbed another young woman, my helper’s travel companion, by her profuse raven tresses, pinning her momentarily to the wall.
“Sorry, sorry”
She smiles at my dismay.
“I really wasn’t making a pass” I plead as I recover my balance
That old chestnut” she laughs.
I swell with pride at the wit of strangers. It’s a counter corollary to Primo Levi’s shame at witnessing their brutality.
Tony and I met at last, having been emailing each other nearly a year. He’s collecting all the information he can about Southern Television, and been wonderfully helpful in a shared quest for original copies of my stepfather’s broadcasts.
Tony Herbert check's Marion's list of her husband's films on tape
Marion was waiting for us with tea and coffee and a rich medley on VHS of her husband’s location film for Out of Town. I watched entranced, seeing material I’d not seen before. The picture on Marion’s widescreen was fuzzy by modern standards. Tony said “I usually watch this material on an older cathode screen – so it looks more like the original.”
Three hours went in no time as we switched between watching the plasma screen showing broadcasts from thirty years ago and chatting with Marion about Jack and Stan and how they worked together over twenty one years.
“In the later days” said Marion “they didn’t speak while on location. Jack chose a place to fish or shoot or watch something, Stan filmed – 16mm, no sound."
Last May the novelist Graham Hurley who'd worked for Jack at Southern wrote to me about Stan:
Simon...I knew Stan Brehaut and George Egan very well.  Stan was the first cameraman I ever worked with. He was a loner and a buccaneer,  which I guess is why Jack rated him so highly, but he had a hatred of tripods which - towards the end of a great career - became a bit of a handicap.  He used to work with an old handheld Ari,  which limited him to 100ft rolls of film (just over two minutes),  but this kind of discipline bred a fiercely economic shooting style and meant that rarely a shot was ever wasted. Nowadays,  of course,  most video cameraman graduate straight from the Fire Brigade school of location work and simply hose the thing around on the assumption that post-production might salvage a shot or two from the wreckage.
The film clip shows 'hatred of tripods' doesn't mean Stan never used one. When broadcasting Jack would add the commentary to what Stan had filmed with a few library sound effects thrown in – white noise, a tap with a billhook, a splash, a gate clicking, the song of a blackbird. Sounds left out brought JH’s voice into the foreground.

Next day Tony, having been given all her tapes by Marion, who’d transferred them for her family to DVD, phoned me on the Hythe ferry.
“What we’ve got – basically – is three three hour VHS tapes plus Marion’s list of contents.”
“It’s more pieces in the jigsaw, isn’t it.”
“Ian will probably be able to date most of these.”
“Yes. I’ll put them on DVDs with titles so they’re available”
 “Yes to the rest of the JH Committee who would like to have a look at them”. Meantime Tony’s returned Mark Taylor’s VHS of Old Country broadcasts, its content on 6 DVDs.
By six I was cycling out of Southampton Central down to the Town Quay to catch the Hythe Ferry – a 15 minute ride over Southampton water to a narrow half-mile jetty. I cycled along its smooth planking, each donated by people whose names or clubs are carved in the hard wood, beside a miniature electric railroad, its trundling toytown train, doing penance for having served in a WW1 mustard gas factory.
Approaching Hythe Pier

David Knowles founded Lacewing which produced Old Country, the successor to Out of Town that Jeremy Isaacs had invited Jack to do for the new Channel 4, in its founding years and before it started to go down market in the 1990s.
We discussed over an evening, sat in Dave’s conservatory, the prospects for digging up original material, either from SWFTA or from the internet, and how TV needs audiences of millions to pay, while on the web an audience of 10000 is more than adequate, and even one of a thousand or less is enough to stir a niche of specialists, experts, hobbyists, enthusiasts.
“How many people read your blog, Simon”
“A loyal four or five plus my family - sometimes - and I get lots more hits from people who were probably looking for something else.”
We agreed that perhaps we should focus on the Old Country episodes held at Plymouth - seemingly on beta tapes and possibly containing studio insets as well as location film.
“Those are not Stan’s films. They were by our cameraman Steve Wagstaff at Lacewing. It may be easier to establish ownership given you have royalties and my company produced these.”
I cycled off in drizzle to Hythe, took the trundle train, crossed over the water again and caught a 1215 train to New Street.
** ** **
In the early evening Edmund came round and I was at last able to sign some of the vital CHPCP cheques needed to pay the inland revenue, pay wages to Krzysztof and Edmund. Tomorrow we will try and get access to on-line banking at Barclays so that we don't have to phone to whoever received the last statement - in this case Charles up the road.
We are maintaining our complaint against Barclays, but I have also sent off an on-line commendation to Sophie Begum who fast tracked the third lot of mandate forms after Barclays had mislaid the previous ones we'd brought them in March and May.
** ** **
Later in the evening I was at a meeting of the Friends of Black Patch Park at the Soho Foundry Pub. We all knew that the Awards for All application to the Lottery that we'd submitted three months - mainly the work of Andrew Simon our Secretary, but we were all able to check it before submission, had been turned down. This has meant that our plans to organise a centenary celebration of the founding of Black Patch Park will have to be postponed until the same time next year.  The general assumption is that the economic crisis plus the need to draw funds for the ever-expanding costs of the 2012 Olympics in London has sucked grant money away from small organisations like ours all over the UK. Nonetheless the feedback from the Lottery told us that we had failed to give sufficient evidence of what local need would be met by holding a 100th Anniversary celebration; that we had included requests for things not covered by the grant e.g. sports equipment hire like a trampoline and other sporting kit for the day; that we'd not made it clear how our 'project' differed from the previous successful celebration we'd organised in the Black Patch in May 2005. In other words the information that we were able to run successful events ended up being held against us in the competition for a grant.
We started morose, but within a fee minutes had picked ourselves up and had agreed that we'd all meet for sandwiches at the pub on the 18 June - the day on which we had intended the centenary celebration - and start planning in earnest ways to get grant aid for a celebration the same time next year. "Handsworth Park was always a year behind in its anniversary celebrations - having opened a year late, opened a second part 10 years later, but a year after the relevant Jubilee. So we have a local precedent!"
*** ***
I'm trying to avoid paying for new stuff for the allotment. The other day I cleared twenty medium sacks of coarse sand that have been sitting on a verge in Beaudesert road for over two years, abandoned by an absentee landlord about whose rubbish in the road we've been complaining - to no avail -  on FixMyStreet.
On the way home from Smethwick in Lin's car, which I'd borrowed to make up for being late to Soho Tavern, I stopped by a skip of building rubble and recovered more slabs for the allotment. A friendly householder seeing a skip-vulture at work came out and said "Come back tomorrow evening and there'll be more."
** ** **
And this looks interesting - Agora Kerkyras - the more so as people seek ways to live with austerity. A June 6 piece in the New York Times reports that 'as the debt crisis in Greece hits male-dominated sectors like construction and thousands of men lose their jobs or suffer from salary cuts, Greek women are making a brave effort to become the breadwinners....'

No comments:

Post a Comment

Back numbers