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Kenneth More appearing in “Reach for the Sky” got me thinking

My late mum, Sheila Vernon and me as a ‘King’s Guard Special’ on the set of ‘King Arthur and the Spaceman’ at Alnwick Castle.

In 1978, though suffering from Parkinson’s, Kenneth More was working on one of his last films ‘King Arthur and the Spaceman’ at Alnwick Castle. Separated from his wife of 10 years he asked my mother out to dinner. My dear late mum, then 47 years old, had a ‘steady boyfriend’ and had dubious thoughts about what might be expected if she dined with the elderly Kenneth. I think they would have enjoyed each others company. Kenneth went back to his wife (or she had him back). He died a few years later.  I’m just reflecting. I was 16: it was not the start of any film career (though one assistant producer I became friends with did try to persuade me to run off to London to work on another film. I had A’ Levels and Oxbridge in my sights) Other aging actors on set included Ron Moody and John Le Mesurier.

I’m only dwelling on any of this because for the upteenth time (it would seem) I caught ‘Reach for the Sky’ on Channel 4 Films, or BBC Two, or Four, or somewhere, the other day. It’s dated, stilted and of its time. Badder has a closer relationship with his batman than his girlfriend. It is gosh and coy. Anyway, I like the few flying shots because it gives me an impression of what my grandfather must have experienced.

Flight Cadet John Arthur ‘Jack’ Wilson MM, RAF Crail December 1918

In 1918 my grandfather, then 22, was learning to fly with the RAF. He flew Avros and Bristol Fighters. My interest in Kenneth More’s film “Reach for the Sky” is that it features flying sequences using these planes (mostly from the Shuttleworth Collection), as well as planes of #WW2. So that’s what it was like? Just as I thought, a 2-stroke lawnmower with wings attached (and a Vicker’s machine gun).

So there you go. My daily drivel.


Here’s where to learn for free about filmmaking …

Explore Filmmaking: National Film and Television School [Six Weeks] (3 hours)

A very practical, grounded course where anyone with a smart phone and a computer can both take production tips from students and experts in the field, while having a go and penciling in a storyboard, adding sound, or shooting a cutting a scene. Thoroughly enjoyed and would recommend to anyone with an interesting in storytelling through film or video, or even interest in how series like Game of Thrones or films like Skyfall are made. The language of film is the same, whether you’re using 35mm film or a smartphone. Tell you nephews and nieces about this one. The next ‘presentation’ starts in June.

Dreaming of performing – what a performance

I call this blog ‘Mind Bursts’ for a reason.

A decade ago, curating thoughts and ideas and putting them online to share and simply to store it struck me that I was simply assembling things that had ‘gone ping’ in my brain. There are few greater such moments that a vivid dream … however vacuous, passing and potentially ephemeral they may be.

After many years of getting nowhere, in my late twenties, at a guess, perhaps early thirties, I go to three auditions and am quickly offered three parts: a musica, a play and a film: all require singing, each is a ‘breakthrough’ role and in the case of the film, as the female director who ‘discovered me’ tells me ‘is worth £35,000’ for the first weekend alone. This person offers the suggestion that I get an agent and manager, especially when I let slip that I have a major theatre piece to consider too. It is the producers of this piece who ‘take me in hand’ running me around in a frenetic whirl of introductions before making it to a read through. It is here that a crack begins to appear, not least I haven’t resolved that fact that I can only do one of these productions, but everyone at the read through smokes and for health reasons, whoever well managed my asthma, I don’t want to say. I try to talk this through with the director thinking that maybe we’d take the read through outside, or people would not smoke, but instead she offers me the remains of her joint – which at first I refuse. I then take it, pleasing her, and becoming relaxed, light headed and more accepting of the circumstances. I wake as a form of running away, as I know the only solution is to leave. I wake and leave the dream world knowing that wanting it all I will get none of it.

It is years since I cared to work with a dream, but they are a ‘mind burst’ of the purest form given that they are the creation of the subconscious. I have a way to work these through as a dream never means what it appears to be. They rarely even have narrative form, but are an expression of immediate feelings, sensations, experiences and thoughts. I want to be after watching two contrasting films of ‘Great Expectations’ – the moody, memorable black and white version of David Lean and the moodless, forgettable, muddy, messy and forgettable recent version by Mike Newell: wrong cast, wrong settings, wrong approach, wrong music, lack of tone, pace or mood. Dreadful script, clumsy acting, misdirected in the purest sense of the word. Had that anything to do with my dreamworld?

“Nights through dreams tell the myths forgotten by the day.” — C.G. Jung (Memories, Dreams, Reflections)

1: Who are you in the dream?

Still me. Though single. ‘Unsettled in London’ – so in a job, but not following my heart. At a guess 28 … and between relationships or floating away from yet another failing one.

2: Who are you with in the dream?

Alone, but quickly befriended, or adopted by each director in turn for the productions I’ve auditioned for: a musical, a film and a play. I think. Or two films and a musical? Does it matter! All my age, a male director, then two female.

3: What details stand out?

Being in a theatre in the morning when there are no members of the public about: the wonder of that and being behind the scenes and stepping away from the throng of a busy city street.

4: What do you feel about these details?

Nostalgia for involvement in theatre performing in my late teens and early twenties.

5: What are the various actions in the dream?

Attending auditions, or even turning up to hear the result of an audition and in each case, most unexpectedly, being the perfect person for the role. All things being equal it appeared to be my singing voice that the wanted – that clinched it.

6: How are you acting and behaving in this dream?

Bemused, enthralled and caught up in each director’s enthusiasm for their production.

7: What relation does this dream have to your personality?

Hankering after performance. A love for ‘doing’ theatre and play acting, rather than the watching of it. i.e. behind the scenes, in dressing rooms, going through read throughs and rehearsals, the other worldliness of it … the thrill and relief of being able to ‘join’ this merry throng of creators. The joy of being part of a big team under professional direction.

8: What does the dream want from you?

To deliver.

9: What are the various feelings in this dream?

Thrilled. But knowing, if the answer isn’t obvious, that I will have to let two people down. I want to go with the film. Each director is likeable. I know none of them. I prefer the film director. Like a young Virginia Makenner. Very practical, persuasive and supportive. She is the only one who suggests and wants me to get an agent or manager involved to bother with my life so I can concentrate on the part. I ask, as if I can’t quite believe it, if there are other skills they need that I don’t have such as dancing or tap dancing even? She laughs. It is very reassuring: I am what and who she wants.

10: What relation does this dream have to what is happening right now in your life?

For a period life really was a series of auditions – both for parts in plays and musicals, and job interviews. You do anything creative and there comes a time, whether as a singer, performer, artist, writer … or director that you have to be interviewed, show you work and even perform. I hanker after it still. Probably because I so loved the early days of a production and the natural progression to the first night … in this respect far preferring theatre to filmmaking which is very bitty, and for an actor involves a good deal of sitting around, the real ‘action’ being behind and around the camera.

11: Why did you need this dream?

A reminder that all forms of writing are potentially a blueprint to a performance of some kind? The joy of thinking about casting choices made when you compare how the same story is told.

12: Why have you had this dream right now?

Much of my time is spent thinking about the performance of a fictional character and the need for him to be taken up and loved by others. I suppose a fictional character, unlike a real one, could appear in the play, musical and film all at the same time as he can after all be played by anyone. It is refreshing, if not disconcerting, to have a dream as if I were 25 years younger – yet I feel that ‘things’ are as possible now as they have ever been. Though perhaps I am reminded that ultimately isolation is not my desire.

13: What relation does this dream have to something in your future?

It is about acceptance and recognition, even a kind of adulation and ‘must have’ desire in a team of creatives. I empathise with that moment an actor is courted and slowly embraced by a ‘company’ – it is a courtship. I know that my own mistake is or always has been, to try and have or do all three .. that I can never be happy with the decision I make, and that compromising, or leading others on without being realistic is a mistake. Maybe I need to have that agent making some decisions for me if situations like this are to come about, let alone if I am to settle, succeed and thrive.

14: What questions arise because of this dream work?

At some point the ‘art’ becomes bigger than you. Whilst an actor is a corporeal expression of a role, the role is bigger than them. Other actors can and would be found. You can enjoy the ride. It needs others to carry the tune, or to take up the story and to fuel it in the way they see fit?

15: Who or what is the adversary in the dream?

Me. Letting a problem develop. I cannot do all three. It is chance that on the same day I am offered three parts. It is very clear I cannot do all three. The fact that I share my dilemma with the film director is a kind of cry for help that she answers by saying that there are professionals to turn to. I know though that I don’t need to a professional to tell me I want to do the film, and not the play or musical … and the cast of smokers should have emphasised that. Who knows? An agent may say the film is unfunded, the musical struggling because lead players keep quitting … I am not to know and am too enthralled by that day of feeling as if you have won the Lottery.

16: What is being wounded in this dream?

The spoiling of the joy of saying “I’ve got it” – because by ‘getting’ three parts a significant dilemma presents itself.

17: What is being healed in this dream?

The idea that I might never again have that joyous feeling of being welcomed into a ‘team of players’ – I have always been thrilled by that moment.

18: What or who is the helping or healing force in this dream?

I don’t question the support and influence of others, in this case the two quite different directors, who happen to be female: one provides advice, understandably believing that she ‘has me’ – and when I admit to her there is another part I have been offered she pragmatically suggests a third party coming in to help me make the decision. The second director is so gung ho, takes me off to see people in her car with her co-director or producer and has me in a read through before I’m aware I’ve even said yes. I guess, if as young actor were offered three ‘dream’ roles after a career has been languishing each producer/director would naturally assume that they have their man?

19: Who or what is your companion in this dream?

Whomsoever I allowed to be … or no one.

20: Who are your helpers and guides in life as well as in your dreams?

Whomsoever I allowed to be … or no one. I am so bad at taking the right decision, or ignoring advice and doing the opposite, that I frankly relish that actors joy of being told what to do … just so long as it is a ‘good’ part rather than ‘man with spear.’

21: What symbols in this dream are important to you?

Behind the scenes in a theatre and at a read through. Being part of a ‘troupe’.

22: What actions might this dream be suggesting you consider?

Learn how to say no politely? If you can’t do that have someone else do it. Keep questing after the sensations that came from the dream: being welcomed into a throng of fellow performers and creatives.

23: What can happen if you work actively with this dream?

I do wonder sometimes how it is that I can end up, in a series of steps, so far away from the only world I wanted to be a part of since I was a kid and how despite on a number of occasions being embedded in such a world that it turned out to be so fleeting. I remember being on the stage for the first time and my love for the audience. I remember the joy of singing, even to a group of friends. I remember the pleasure of showing a drawing that thrills the sitter. I remember in wonder being on a film set for weeks. And casting actors. And directing them as they say many words. And being the one all turn to recreating a traffic accident where we had actors, extras, all the emergency services, flaming cars, make-up, film and video … Maybe I am so angry at how poor the Mike Newell film ‘Great Expectations’ is compared to David Lean’s version. Having recently re-read the book, seeing these back to back allows me to see all the joins, faults, and decisions. The wrong script, a poor understanding of the book … no ‘theatricality’ in the production beyond the costumes, even Ralph Fiennes being more of a Fagan than a Magwitch, the ham acting of David Walliams … or perhaps the familiar to have all the ‘characters’ played by character actors?! I’ve viewed with a critical eye every film or TV series I’ve seen since … forever. But I am, and have always been someone who never wants to be in the audience: I want to be in the thick of it. I’m not a spectator despite appearances or circumstances. I have seriously set about making myself available as a extra again … just to be on set.

24: What is being accepted in this dream?

There are still things I can do, or should do, that will have value to fellow creators? That I am repeatedly in denial of what makes me exceptional – not meant to be expressed in a big headed way, but rather sometimes none of us necessarily know what are skills are as we smother them by doing what ‘is expected of us’ or by the understandable drives of human nature: we marry, have and raise kids as a priority.

25: What choices can you make because of having this dream?

There is hope for me yet. I’m not that far away from aspects of this dream being a reality. I wouldn’t expect to be the performer, but I could imagine an actor taking a role that is my creation, that other ‘creatives’ latch on to and make into something. I did have the sense that all three of these productions were a similar thing.

26: What questions does this dream ask of you?

Get out there. Be part of a troupe. Be part of a creative team. Be with actors, directors, producers, artists, performers, stage hands, camera people ….

27: Why are you not dealing with this situation?


28: What do you want to ask your dream spirits?

Is it merely a compensatory dream? How can I sustain that joy of having or creating something that others want and are thrilled by? I got a kick from singing. I got a kick from people seeing my work in a gallery. I got a kick from being super fit and doing crazy things on a mountain!!! I am fed up being stuck at home, or ill (and ill). Despite the above, or it is part of it, I hanker after being on the ocean and under sail! Another team activity too. It is one thing to have a thrill on your own, it is quite another to share it – to have others enjoy your good fortune or to enjoy how thrilled you are about a thing.

Filming at Seaford Head, East Sussex

Fig. 1 Jeremy Irvine (War House) and Dakota Fanning (loads of films) on Seaford Head looking towards the Seven Sisters.

This gem of a film, ‘Now is Good’ is also from the director of “The Magnificent Marigold Hotel’ – it came out in 2012. Did you miss it? Get it on Amazon Prime for free right now. Dakota Fanning is a 17 year old dying of cancer with a wish list of things to do. Her performance is wonderful and she is totally credible as English girl. The list includes doing something illegal, and sex … which explains the boyfriend.

What’s odd in this image is that the bench is pointed away from the view towards some gorse bushes. The bench also lacks a dedication which all such chairs have up there. It also lacks a concrete base and a great deal of scuffed grass and mud, but that’s being pernickety isn’t it?

I walk the dog here often: I was down there this morning wishing I’d worn more.

Today I stumbled upon the largest camp of film lighting, catering, wardrobes and other support services I have yet seen. Are they filming ‘Iron Man IV’ down there? They use the concrete base, like a large roundabout, where there was once a Word War II searchlight and gun emplacement. There’s easy road access to the public car park. The ‘long hike’ Dakota Fanning complains of is a five minute walk.

Since moving down here in 2000 I have thus far stumbled upon the filming of a scenes for ‘Atonement’, what I was told was an East Enders special, a TV commercial and picking up shots for Harry Potter (It’s where the World Quidditch game is played). You will never be told what they are working on. Best to try and spot the actors and figure it out from there, or wait a year to 18 months to see what comes out in the cinema or on TV.

Do you live next to a regularly used film location?

As a boy growing up in Northumberland we had Alnwick Castle up the road. Long before Harry Potter they filmed something called ‘King Arthur and the Spaceman’ in which I was an extra all one summer. I was 16. I was the ‘King’s Guard Special’ to Kenneth Moor’s elderly King Arthur.

Much of Parade’s End was filmed in this part of East Sussex too. The laugh is to have shots along the River Cuckmere being used as scenes from the window of a train, the greatest error bring to have a coastal scene here doubling for Northumberland which is very different indeed, with sandy beaches and dunes, and sharp, low severe points of volcanic rock rather than the massive soft limestone cliffs we have down here.

I may go back to Hope Gap and have a look to see what they’re up to. Only three months ago there was a large film crew at Birling Gap. The cliffs here often double as ‘The White Cliffs of Dover’ as they are more dramatic.

Sir Douglas Haig’s Great Push


Whilst specialist second hand book shops may from
time to time have specific books or partwork on the First World
War, today one off reprints from digitized catalogues make it
increasingly possible for the amateur hsitorian to research online
then purchase a book that interests them and have it infront of
them in a day or two. It may not have the look or feel of something
that would otherwise be over 90 years old, but its contents are
nonetheless fascinating. Reading a variety of sources has become
like switching channels. In time I have spent writing this I was
able to locate an eBook that ident is som of the combatants and
reer to it directly myself. ‘The Great Push’ makes extensive use of
stills or ‘grabs’ from film footage shot by Geoffrey Malins of the
Battle of the Somme. Partworks such as these fed an understandable
hunger for insight and news, whilst the hidden agenda of seeking
support for the conflict and its justification is obvious from the
ebullient language. With 50th, 90th and now the 100th anniversary
if these events upon us new generations of historians and amateur
sleuths are able to add yet more to the images, both still and
moving, that were captured at the time. As well as revisiting and
identifying the spot where a picture was taken, every effort is
made to identify any of those featured in the pictures. With the
power of tens of thousands via the Internet it is reasomable to
believe, that even 95 or more years on that yet more combatants
will be named and in so doing, as the relevant archives are so
readily available, to say who more of these people are – where they
were born and went to school, where they worked and where they
joined up, what service they have seen to date and how the war pans
out for them. The national habit has been to remember those who
died in combat, but of course all are now dead and the opportunity
therefore exists to remember a generation, not only those who took
a direct part, but those on ‘the home front’ who faced their own
trials and tribulations. I believe it is in this spirit that the
BBC is marking the events of 100 years ago. 20131017-030335.jpg

Keep died on the 17th July 1917 in the Ypres,
Salient. He was 24. As we can identify him, we can surely provide the names of his platoon and in doing so might others look through newspapers as well as their own family photographs to see if more names can bedpntdtocfacesc97 or more years after the event?


Not only do you often come across images taken from the film ‘The Battle of the Somme’ that make false claims to their content, but authors try to confer their copyright to the material. Whilst it was common practice of the times to quite crudely add black or white highlights to a photograph in an attempt to improve clarity. In an era of Photoshop these efforts look clunky.


How Geoffrey Malins filmed episodes of the First World War

20131016-173459.jpg My immediate thought here is that over 100 years
capturing events such as this have gone full circle – we are back
to one person and his kit trying to see the action. It also strikes
me as someone who is so familiar with activity on the Western Front
and action in the trenches that he misses much of the key action:
he cannot film at night, nor can he get in amongst the action, nor
of course is there any sound. Colour adds clarity as you can
differentiate more of the detail. In any one day at the end of June
and early July, the months that interest me, how much did his
cameras see? An hour one morning, a couple the following afternoon?
It is worth thinking how much wad going on when he was mot turning
the film through the camera. The kit was cumbersome and heavy. It
weighed 5 stone. Then there were cannisters of film he strung
around his neck. He has a canny turn of phrase. He describes the
Howitzers he films as a ‘horrible frog squatting on its haunches’.
p120. I wonder if the cameraman has as much of a story to tell
given the difficulties and dangers he must face getting into
position. There are many times when he describes what he hadn’t the
means to record: the frying bacon, the boiling water, the chat
between soldiers … laughing, swaering and humming songs. p132
What does war really mean? Is this a question such filmmaking hoped
to answer. There appears to be a niavety about the entire

I’m familiar with The Battle of the Somme footage so am delighted that it is brought to life by Malins’s words describing people and events before, during and after his bouts of filming. The dressing station sounds far more horrific than he feels. He must surely have fekt sensitive about filming people as they died.

Happy as Larry

Fig.1. Directing a ‘Listening In’ – Super 16mm film – the real McCoy

Happy as Larry. Leading a creative of builders, helpers and doers – we all get something from the experience.

‘Listening in’ did festivals and Channel 4 shorts.

Celebrating 25 years in video production


How I presented myself to clients in France when I was working for French news agencies, animation houses, broadcasters and corporate producers. Once again actively seeking to blend video production with communications and learning.

The most iconic image from the 1916 film of the Battle of the Somme


The big push on the big screen of picture theatres across Great Britain in 1916


Do movies such as ‘Girl with a pearl earring’ inspire the desire to paint or study art history?

Fig.1. Images of the portrait ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ by Vermeer and stills from the film of the same name directed by Peter Webber

E–learning supposes that it is online and interactive, this doesn’t prevent the use of narrative.

If I watch the film, Girl with a pearl earring’ then a BBC 4 Documentary in Johannes Vermeer and I go online to interact with fellow viewers, undertake research and write a blog entry or two – this is interaction; it engages me.

Not that any learning institution has the funding to produce a movie that cost many millions. I wonder though how an executive producer might exploit the assets in this movie, certain scenes or still images.

Fig. 2. Girl with a pearl earring by Johannes Vermeer (1665-1667)

I like to paint and draw so the way the film demonstrates the skills of painting fascinates me, in this film, shot with the eye of a Dutch Master we get some key moments because of the way the  director shot the film, from first inspiration, to the first presentation, the first layers and the art of mixing paints.

On this score which films do I rate as showing the artist’s craft and which do not?

Titanic. Kate Winslet – Drawn by the director James Cameron. What do you make of it?

La Belle Noisseuse. Emmannuelle Beart – Brilliant

Stealing Beauty. Liv Tyler – OK? Or exploitative

There are many, many others. I’ll add to this list and fix any inaccuracies as I go along.

Please do offer your suggestions.

Back to the use of narrative, a story well told, that is memorable, relevant and inspirational. This takes craft skills that producers (production managers) and clients (sponsors) need to be reminded cost a good deal to get right. It matters that the words spoken ring true, that characters are cast with imagination, that the direction is subtle and professional. Even with a photostory scripting requires care if it is to appear authentic, and we must remember, as shown in ‘Girl with a pearl earring’ that we communicate a great deal through facial expression and body language rather than by what we say.

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