27 April 2011


Almost exactly one year on from the original version, I re-filmed my first Graveyard Ditty (and indeed my first short film) on location in Hampstead Cemetery. The new footage was captured in one long take just a few weeks ago on a glorious spring afternoon - not by webcam this time but by video camera - and was first screened at Burgh House on the evening of my private viewing.

In the spirit of the poem, perhaps I will re-shoot my energetic cemetery run each spring.

23 April 2011


On this, the Bard’s birthday, I append an excerpt from the Shakespeare chapter of my book, Slim Chances:

We can’t revisit Whitehall to sit with King James at The Tempest, nor, despite Sam Wanamaker’s crusade, revisit the Globe. However, at one rainy matinée of Henry V in 1997, from high in Wanamaker’s reproduction of Shakespeare’s wooden O, I caught the essence. The rain ran directly off the thatch onto the necks of the groundlings who had ‘prime’ front-row positions with their elbows on the very stage, the gutter and drainpipe not having been invented in Shakespeare’s England. The purists have been defeated and gutters installed, and who knows if a Wimbledon-type rain roof may follow, but from my seat undercover in the second balcony round the side, the management of rainwear and even umbrellas was part of the show, and the age-old jokes by the French about the English weather can seldom have gone better since a wet afternoon in the Golden Age. There were cessations in the rain. It surprised me that there are no battle scenes at all; three comics take a Frenchman prisoner, as I remember, and yet one believed in Agincourt, merely on the strength of a beaten drum sounding from somewhere behind a door or curtain.

When Mark Rylance’s Henry prayed quietly and alone on the eve of battle, he walked to the very front of the platform and knelt with his head bowed and his fingertips placed at the top of his forehead. The lady in the trendy mustard-coloured rain cape, the couple who had been crouching under a broken umbrella so as not to block anyone’s view, in fact a small detachment of groundlings stirred themselves and, unobtrusively, stepped back from the centre of the platform to give due reverence and room to the King. Miraculously, I, leaning over the balcony, and slightly behind Mark, heard every word of ‘O God of battles! steel my soldiers’ hearts!’

The four-hundred-year-old play, history itself, the fabric of the theatre (some of it built of oaks that were saplings when Shakespeare was alive), the actors, the audience, all were held in one great theatrical NOW.

A very happy Easter to you all!

20 April 2011


I awoke to the weather forecast, 25 degrees Celsius was being promised for central London, that’s 77 degrees Fahrenheit! Did a bit of study on my part in Coco (one of this seasons Lost Musicals at Sadler’s Wells) under a sunshade in the garden, then, after a light lunch, carrying six signed copies of my book, each weighing a kilo, I took the Jubilee line direct to Green Park. I wheeled the books in one of those compact trundle cases and walked from the Tube to the Royal Academy to meet Hilary King of Antibes so that she could take my literary consignment back to our disappointed book-launch customers.

A revised version of the drawing you first glimpsed at the end of my Antibes film.
One of several executed on the 'Brushes' app on my iPhone.

To tell the truth, I sat on a step in the shade of the forecourt and did the signing. We had planned to see the Watteau drawings, but a hitch – the size of the wheelie case exceeded cloakroom rules. A uniformed concierge took pity on my age and plight and looked at the nearby door with the gilt letters spelling ‘Academicians’. Well I do have a white beard and was sporting an artistic-looking straw hat. Yes, he was actually suggesting the case could be stored inside that august door as a special favour and against regulations. I fear it was on the strength of the fact that he thought I had a resemblance to Rolf Harris (another artist/entertainer who wouldn’t mind being elected as an RA), though the concierge had the grace to say I was better looking.

Watteau, ‘Two Dancers’, ca. 1716-17.
Black, red and white chalks on cream paper.

A great bonus when we walked into the dimly lit rooms of exquisite drawings was that they were wonderfully cool. I felt as if I had landed in the most privileged place in London, but to tell the truth once more it was my second visit – the first being last week with Kathleen Riley who yesterday, sadly, went back to Australia, from whence she will continue to edit my short films and blogs, but not wield the camera as she did at Burgh House and in Antibes. The wonders of cyberspace mean she will still be at my elbow!

04 April 2011


Stay tuned for a longer film about my exhibition at Burgh House last week ...