Monday, 20 February 2017

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Goodbye" to its courageous Prince of Media, Steve Hewlett

Britain is a country which is diminished by the fact that Steve, who would have been 59 years old this year and was receiving paliative care for cancer in the Royal Marsden Hospital, died this morning. He faced the fact that his remarkable career in the Media, which had spanned 35 years, would soon be over with a matter-of-fact fortitude which was an inspiration to those readers and listeners who followed his fight.

In March 2016 Steve was told by doctors that he was suffering from a very aggressive form of cancer and art of his strategy to manage his condition has been to write 'My cancer diary' for the Guardian and have a regular slot on 'Eddie Mair's Interview' on BBC Radio 4's PM Programme. Many thousands of readers and listeners have taken fillip from his courage and public response to his openness had been overwhelming, with him saying that it never crossed his mind it would have had that effect on audiences.

Steve's career in the Media : 

Steve was born in Birmingham in 1958 and was transferred to a nursery at 9-10 months, ready for adoption and when he was placed in the hands of his adoptive parents, Vera and Larry Hewlett, it was all down to his new Nan because, as he recalled, she was the one who picked him out from the "rows and rows of babies, rows and rows of cots in a childrens' home" because he had the rosiest cheeks and fair curly hair and the "reason I had the rosiest cheeks was because I was coughing my guts up with whooping cough."

A bright lad he attended the Harold Malley Grammar School in Solihull and then the local sixth form college and, in 1977, having passed his 'A' Level exams, took himself off to Manchester University to study a 'Liberal Studies in Science' degree which combined Biology with History, Philosophy and Economics, a relatively new discipline, which it was hoped would lead to a more imaginative linking of teaching and research in the physical sciences and social sciences, providing science students like Steve with a broader 'liberal' education.

As a student activist and briefly a member of a far left group, he was involved in Student Union activity which involved a rent strike and a campaign against the increase in fees for overseas students and, without knowing it, came to the attention of M15.

After graduating from university in 1981, he both taught at the new Manchester Polytechnic and at the same time dabbled in the world of journalism, selling tips to the BBC’s regional researcher for £15 a story. His first big break came when the BBC's 'Panorama' phoned him up about the huge explosion which ripped through the Chemstar Chemical Processing Plant in Stalybridge which caused the death of a lorry driver, injuries to two people and the evacuation of more than 300 families. Steve, who had got the phone numbers of the two men connected to the incident from an old journalist called Ken Ferguson and passed them to the Panorama team, gained their regard and later mused : "They obviously thought they'd stumbled across this great investigative talent."

Employed on a temporary contract with the BBC, at the age of 24 he became the 'de facto' producer of a piece, which turned into a full 'Nationwide' Special with a David Dimbleby introduction. It focused on the police cover up of the rape of a woman who committed suicide. He recalled : "No one would believe her because the rape had been committed by Saudi Arabian Army officers who were King Fahd's Personal Guard." However, "that night the Argies invaded the Falklands and this story just disappeared."

Meanwhile, Steve's activities as a student had come to the notice of the BBC’s notorious Special Assistant to the Director of Personnel, former army officer, Brigadier Ronnie Stonham. whose job was to vet BBC staff. Three years later in 1985 two reporters from the Observer spoke to Steve about his experience with the 'Christmas Tree', the BBC's security file and reported in the article : 'In 1982 a similar attempt was made to blight the career of a young journalist-the only one we traced who is too worried to be named. A former student activist and briefly a member of the small and eccentric Maoist group, the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist), he joined the BBC on an informal three-month contract and reported an incident, based on leaks from policemen, that a rape by a Saudi in Britain had been concealed for diplomatic reasons.' 

At the time his contract was not renewed because he was labelled as 'subversive', but by the time the Editor of 'Nationwide', Roger Bolton, told the Personnel Department that was not going to let them dictate who he hired as a researcher and forced the renewed offer of his BBC contract and  a job on the new BBC1 consumer show 'That’s Life', Steve had already decided to work in independent production on Channel’s 4 trailblazing 'Friday Alternative' and 'Diverse Reports.'

In relation to the new Channel 4 he later reflected : "When I was there, right at the beginning, there was a clearly defined purpose, which was : Whenever you find a liberal consensus, probe it, probe it, probe it. If there's another way of looking at it, broadcast it and we did all sorts of things on the right and the left. I think I may positively the only person I know in the whole of television, even today, whose ever made a programme that advocated capital punishment, which is something, I have to say, I don't believe in for two seconds."

One of the first programmes he did for 'Diverse Reports' was entitled 'Peace Convoy' and focused on the alternative lifestyle of the hippies and began with Series Editor saying : "In the last week the press and the politicians have been waging war on the Peace Convoy, the hippies have been hounded and vilified, but very little effort has been made to find out who they are and what they believe. Tonight in 'Diverse Reports', members of the convoy answer the critics and explain why they chose their alternative life and what they think of the way we live."

Apparently, his programmes caused friction between between the Chief Executive, Jeremy Isaacs and Chairman, Edmund Dell who objected to what he considered to be their left wing bias.
Returning to the the BBC and up until 1994, he worked as Executive Producer / Producer on 35 episodes of its documentary film strand, 'Inside Out' with its focus on investigative journalism. The 'Special' he produced in 1991 with Peter Taylor focussed on life in Northern Ireland's prison, 'The Maze', at the time when it was Britain's maximum security terrorist jail, with eight 'H' blocks holding 450 Loyalists and Republicans, bombers and gunmen of the conflict in Northern Ireland. He spent 8-9 weeks working in the Prison with Peter and recalled : "It was a bit like the view that the prison could be a crucible for the kind of things it might be possible to reproduce on the outside and I can remember well that inside the prison the Medical Unit was accepted as 'No Man's Land', so when the leaders had to go and chat about this and that, their medical excuses would be made and they'd turn up in the Medical Unit and they would chat."

Steve found it amusing that the only interview in the prison which had to be dubbed by an actor's voice was when the prisoner who was the 'IRA food Representative', met with officers and said : " You see them there sausage rolls, they're not big enough," because at that point he was deemed to be representing a proscribed organisation, despite the fact that "other people were talking about killings, the IRA, the UVF, the UDA." 

Peter Taylor recalled, when filming in the prison : "The atmosphere was incredibly intense and it was absolutely exhausting doing it. What happened at lunchtime is that the prison officers would go to their lunch and we had the choice of being locked inside a cell with a particular individual for a couple of hours while the prison officers went off and had their lunches and I did it quite a bit, but Steve religiously insisted on being locked up." "He had this amazing capacity to build trust with people because they believed him whether they were Loyalists of Republicans."

The 'Inside Out' episode went on to win major awards from both the Royal Television Society and the Broadcasting Press Guild but it was his 'Remember Bloody Sunday' that he was most proud.
It was made in 1992 to mark the 20th Anniversary of the event on 30 January 1972 in the Bogside area of Derry, Northern Ireland, when British soldiers shot 26 unarmed civilians during a peaceful protest march against internment and as a result 14 died. Peter Taylor took the testimony of both soldiers and civilians and left the viewers to draw their own conclusions. Steve remembers the programme as the one which gives him the most professional pride.

Colonel Wilford commanding the Parachute Regiment : and :
Father Edward Daly : and :

Steve had moved from 'Inside Out' to 'Panorama' when the journalist Martin Bashir said to him : "Look, the Royal marriage is obviously on the rocks, something's going to happen. Do you think we should have a look at it ? in a very 'panoramy' sort of way" to which he replied : "Royalty's not my main interest, but I can see that there might be constitutional consequences of any potential breakdown." He gave Martin the go ahead and allocated resources and as Executive Producer he was present during Martin's subsequent filmed interview of Diana in an Eastbourne on a sunday evening in 1995.
Steve recalled that shortly afterwards : "the production team had come to talk about it at my house in Shepherd’s Bush. The minute they left I felt the bottom drop out of my stomach. I thought it will be shit. The only thing that was worse than not having this interview was that it would be fawning nonsense. I felt that could be career ending.” Yet, after those initial misgivings, he was encouraged when the editor phoned and said : "I think you've got a film." He expressed his exhilaration when he later said : "The journalistic world would give most of their arms and legs, all of them, to get this interview and we've bloody well got it. It was an extraordinary feeling."

He kept the programme secret from the rest of the Panorama team, which employed some of the world’s best investigative journalists, when he said : "we were doing a top secret story about police corruption and that shut them all up.The hardest thing was to keep it from Alan Yentob (then controller of BBC One). Everybody knew that if Yentob got the faintest whiff of it, it would be everywhere.” The Director General, John Birt, didn't tell Mamaduke Hussey, the Chairman of the BBC about the interview and "was absolutely committed to the BBC doing this programme and showing it. There was no interference of any description. Birt took a huge personal risk.”

It was 6 months before the programme was broadcast and in that time Richard Eyre, a BBC Governor, said of Steve : "He was running teams investigating about 20 big stories from the sale of second-hand X-rays machines causing cancer among patients; the smuggling out of Russia, plutonium for selling in London; secret filming inside Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons facilities, an amazing array of really difficult, really important journalism, which is what Panorama under Steve was about."

The broadcast, 'An Interview with HRH the Princess of Wales' was viewed by an audience of 23 million and has taken its place in television broadcasting history.

At this point in his career, and still only 40 years old, Steve was considered for the position of Controller of BBC 1, which in the event was given to Peter Salmon and in 1998, he left the BBC, moved to Channel 4 and then to Carlton ITV, where he remained for six years as as Director of Programmes / Production and at the age of 41 in 1999 he commissioned 'The Second World War in Colour' narrated by John Thaw.

The series featured disturbing images and he took this as an opportunity to warn that broadcasters were sanitising the horror of war because of a mistaken fear of a backlash from squeamish viewers and said : "There is a general sense that we are becoming more restrictive. The drift needs to be recognised; there is a danger that if you are not careful you change the journalistic impact and the sense of what happened."

Steve courted controversy when he was prompted to speak out after comparing BBC World's coverage of the Kosovo Conflict with its international rivals. On a visit to France, he saw local versions of the aftermath of Nato's bombing of a refugee convoy. "Without exception it was absolutely ghastly; it was not what I am used to seeing. Undeniably, an appalling tragedy had occurred." By the same token he thought that the BBC's coverage of the event was dramatically different : "It was so sanitised that it made me question whether the event had happened at all in the way I had previously seen."

Steve was critical of Carlton where he recalled he : “ended up in the bizarre corporate politics of an ITV company where people don’t understand television.” In 2004, Carlton Communications was taken over by Granada and Steve was made redundant, but not for long, since in the same year he was appointed the new Non-executive Director of 'Tiger Aspect Productions.'  At the time the Company Chairman, Peter Bennett-Jones, said : "What excited us was Steve's direct experience of working for all the major UK broadcasters he knows the UK broadcast landscape inside out and has extensive knowledge of the international market. He has expertise and contacts across the board of programming and will be a great asset to Tiger Aspect."

He remained with Tiger Aspect for three years and then put together what might be called 'a portfolio career.' He wrote a weekly Media Column for The Guardian and in 2008 started presenting 'The Media Show' on BBC Radio 4 and was billed as 'Visiting Professor of Journalism and Broadcast Policy at the University of Salford.'  With its focus on the fast-changing world of media in all its forms :  print, television, radio, online and telecommunications, it was tailor-made for Steve who said : "I hope the programme will be able to lift the lid on many of the current stories within the media, offering genuine insight and intelligence, making this show a must-listen for both those within the industry – but always accessible to a wider audience of those interested in a subject that affects all our lives."

In addition, he also continued to make TV programmes through his two independent production companies, 'Big Pictures' and 'Genie Pictures', which included 'Rupert Murdoch - Battle with Britain' which he based on the premise that : "Rupert Murdoch, the most powerful media mogul in the world. He is accused of dragging Britain's press into the gutter, of having contempt for the law and of contaminating our politics and public life. That is the conventional view, but let me offer you another : Think of Rupert Murdoch as an agent of change that struggling post-war Britain urgently needed and whose impact has been little short of revolutionary." Steve went on the analyse Murdoch's relationship with Britain and Prime Minister, Tony Blair."

In 2009 he acted as Executive Producer for 'Scenes from a Teenage Killing' made by Minnow Films and aired by the BBC, a documentary directed by Morgan Matthews, it was nominated for a BAFTA for 'Best Single Documentary.'

In 2015 he was in the news again with 'Reinventing the Royals', his two-parter which he wrote and presented for 'Panorama', which explored the family's relationship with the media and attracted controversy before it was aired when it was claimed in the 'Radio Times' that Clarence House had refused to release archive footage and had tried to stop it from being aired. It seems appropriate that Steve's last story for the BBC, which became front page news, ruffled Establishment feathers, just like his first had done in police and Saudi circles as a 24 year old reporter 33 years before.

An old media maestro to his roots; Steve has said with perfect self-effacement :
"The only thing I felt absolutely confident about was how to make films and how to run cutting rooms and how to get the best out of their material."

Steve's fight with cancer : 

In October last year Steve wrote : 'I’ve got cancer. It’s a Stage 4, advanced adenocarcinoma located at the junction of my oesophagus and my stomach which has spread to nearby lymph nodes and to my liver. I never imagined seriously that I’d get cancer. I don’t mean I didn’t recognise it as a possibility – after all I smoked until 20 years ago and enjoyed eating and drinking – occasionally to traditional journalistic excess – and I know that many of us will get cancer at some point in our lives. But it was always going to be someone else. That is until it wasn’t.'

His prognosis wasn't favourable, but because of his tenacity and his admission that : "in navigating the system a little bit of journalistic nous comes in handy", he was able to discover a treatment option, albeit an expensive one that he had to pay for himself, which until last week appeared to be defying the odds. On the 8th February, however, he told Eddie Mair, who interviewed him in hospital, that he had asked his consultant : "What are we talking about ?" to which she had replied : "We're now in a phase where you'd better live every day as it comes."

Looking back on his life Steve said : "I feel incredibly lucky to have had the career I've had. I've met Colonel Gadafi. I've spent eight to nine weeks in the Maze Prison. I made a film about Bloody Sunday, which to this day, I think is one of the best things I've ever done. It was about as close to 'the' story about Bloody Sunday, both human story and what happened, I think any one's ever got. I've made films in Africa. I've done loads of things and met loads of people. I feel I've been pretty lucky."

Last week, in answer to Eddie's question to Steve when he visited him in hospital :
"Do you have anything you're itching to get off your chest about the media world ?" He voiced his concerns about the institution he clearly cared for deeply and had first worked for as a 23 year old cub journalist 35 years ago and worked for on and off ever since, producing programmes of which he was justly proud, namely, the BBC : "I worry about the BBC's leadership. There are quite a lot of things going on in the world of the BBC. The scale of the savings they've got to make are truly gargantuan and I see no real evidence that they are up to the challenge in a sufficiently strategic way and that is going to create moments of severe vulnerability. I worry about the BBC for that."

He once described a quality he had, in relation to his career in the Media, that is perfectly applicable to the calmness and tenacity with which he has approached his struggle with cancer :
"In situations where you might be forgiven for panicking because everything's at stake, I never really felt that."

The BBC's tribute to Steve based on Eddie's interviews :

Britain is a country where Scotland's Shetland Islands say "Farewell" to their erstwhile lighthouse keeper of Muckle Flugga and storyteller from Yell called Lawrence Tulloch

Lawrence, who was the teller of traditional stories from the Shetland Islands, appeared at many folklore festivals throughout the world and was also a familiar voice to islanders tuning into BBC 'Radio Shetland', has died at the age of 74..

Lawrence or 'Lowry' Tulloch was born half way through the Second World War in 1942 at Midbrig on, what Lawrence called, 'the beautiful sands of Brekon' on the Island of Yell in the Shetlands Islands, the son of Eliza and Tom, who worked on the croft before daylight and as a road builder by day and took 4 years to build his new croft to replace the Old Haa at Midbrig.

Story telling was in Lawrence's blood, for his father, born at the start of the First World War, had a reputation as a story teller and historian and in later life was also known as the 'Cullivoe Skald', after the village of 'Cullivoe' on the north coast of Yell and 'skald' the old Norse name for 'poet.' No doubt Tom told his son about the "belief among the Shetland men that if they ever had the chance to spear a polar bear they would have supernatural powers.";jsessionid=6636A7A10958B1F2707445B7A6F891DF
and 'Da Backstane' a story of benevolent witchcraft : "This was in the days when the haff fishing
was going out of Netherton and Gloup."

The croft he lived in as a boy in the 1940s was occupied by, in addition to himself and his Mother and Father, his Grandmother, her sister, Netta and his cousin John and he recalled : 'In our house money was scarce.' Family life centred on the kitchen, 'the most important room, It was here that the food was cooked and eaten and it was in the kitchen that folk sat around the fire in the evenings.'

Lawrence's recollections of celebrations at Christmas when he was a boy gave insight into traditions on the Herra Peninsular which dated back many hundreds of years. Christmas itself was known as the 'Owld Jül', based on the old viking concept of 'Jül', a period of time which stretched from Mid November to mid January from which the English 'yule.' Christmas Eve was celebrated on the 5th January as it is in many Scandinavian countries and in preparation his mother 'would undertake a very thorough clean. Paintwork was washed down as was the ceiling. Often paintwork was renewed and the ceiling given a coat of distemper.' His Father 'would kill the fatted hug. This was an adult sheep, as a ram lamb it had been castrated and reared. Several of these could be food on any croft.' 'No part of this beast was wasted; some of the entrails were eaten as tripe and some were stuffed and made into fruit puddings to be fried. The head was considered the tastiest part and all of the meat from it would be shared.'

It was not until Lawrence was 22 in 1964, when the the question of keeping 'Owld Jül' was put to the vote that the Herra folk decided to switch to the celebration dates in the rest of Scotland, partly to stop the children, who were at school in Lerwick on the south of the island, who were going back before 5th January, missing out on all the festive activities. haff fishing

On Christmas morning he always got : 'fruit, sweets, a cheap toy and perhaps things that were needed in any event, like new boots, a new jumper, mittens and socks. I remember my Uncle Bobby struggling to find the words to describe his excitement the year he got a torch and batteries.'

Dinner was preceded by some kind of competition and for many years in North Yell, for the boys, this was football with the home-made ball consisting of a salted and cured pig's bladder inserted into hand-stitched leather quarters. There was no limit on numbers and the match followed after the two captains 'drew knotty' or straws and the 'rules were pretty basic, but it was a foul to cross the opponents bye line.' For the men, home-made model yachts would be 'sailed by pairs of men, one or either side of the loch. Every man would have a hip flask or half bottle.'

Later in the day 'Christmas dinner would be served in the early part of the afternoon, perhaps around 2 pm when the daylight would all but be gone. Roast mutton, root vegetables, followed by steamed pudding.' As the day unfolded it was also a time of 'great excitement for the youngsters seeing how the older men behaved when they had a few drinks. Christmas was the only time of year when many of them had a drink.' As a boy he observed a ritual which harked back to its Norse roots : 'There was a kind of code that a man drank what he was offered all at the one go. If a glass of whisky was accepted, then something like this was said : "Since dus kom sae neer me nose, A'll tip de up an doon do goes."'

In addition, 'there would be singing and dancing and anyone who could play the fiddle would be encouraged to do so.' In fact this north part of the Island of Yell was noted for its fiddlers and a survey carried out in 1978 found that of the 70 residents who were 16 and over in the area, 21 played and had played the fiddle, 5 the melodeon or accordion, 4 the guitar and there were 8 singers.

He remembered that his Grandmother, who was very religious and generally took a dim view of drinking : 'always set a bottle of whisky on the breakfast table' and 'children were not banned from tasting alcohol. poor folk had so little of the stuff, that it never posed any threat to them.' When Lawrence looked back he found the relationship between the Kirk and Christmas 'interesting and somewhat puzzling.' 'In my youth, Christmas had no religious aspect whatsoever. In those days the Church of Scotland was very influential in the community, but there was never such things as Watch Night or Christmas Day services. Sunday observance was of paramount importance, so if Christmas Day fell on a Sunday, they simply shifted Christmas Day into the middle of the week.'

New Year's Eve was also governed by tradition with all the men gathered at the village shop, a licensed grocer, to buy the necessary dram. Almost without exception they would buy 2 bottles of whisky, a bottle of port and one of sherry. One half stayed with the man and the rest was drams in the house for visitors. 'This was followed by the men dividing into groups and visiting as many houses as possible.' Lawrence reflected, in what is an amusing statement, that 'women stayed at home. It was not that there was any taboo. It was just that it meant no home was empty of people.'

As a teenager in the 1950s, Lawrence went out 'guising', when he and the other lads 'would dress up, sometimes cross-dress, wear masks and go visiting' and 'sometimes girls would go too and they all considered it great fun if the folk in the houses did not know who they were.'

No doubt the lads also played their role in the islander's homage to the sea gods. Lawrence observed that 'Christianity came to Shetland to stay around 1000, but older beliefs lingered' and given the importance of the sea to Shetlanders, 'even in the midst of festive celebrations, they felt that they had to acknowledge the sea. On New Year's Day every year every householder would go to the shore and bring something back. It might be no more than a bucket of seawater to use in cooking or a small quantity of crushed shell to give to the hens for grit, but it said in a loud, clear voice, that we could never survive without the bounty the sea provides, year on year.'

In 1957 at the age of 15 Lawrence left Junior High School and was still without a job, when, at the Regatta dance in Cullivoe the following year, when Peter Spence the Sub Postmaster in the hamlet of Gutcher, took him to one side and asked him if he would like to work for him, He recalled : 'I had no clear idea of what I was going to do or, indeed, wanted to do. I spoke to my parents but lost little time in accepting Peter’s offer. When I started I found that he wanted me to do a variety of jobs. I was to work behind the counter in the Post office and work the loom, also look after the telephone exchange. In the area there were very few subscribers, less than a dozen, but it had to manned from 9am until 7pm when it went on to what was called ‘night service’. Phone numbers were singles, 'Gutcher 2','Gutcher 3' etc. but they had to be connected on demand and there were two outside lines connecting to the Mid Yell exchange. Anyone looking after it had to be ready to answer it at once.' It wasn't surprising that he was berated by impatient subscribers.

The weaving loom in question was a 'Hattersley Automatic' Peter had bought to set about producing Shetland tweed and it wasn't long before Lawrence had to learn to work Peter's Adana Printing Machine 'capable of printing bill heads, letterheads, raffle tickets with perforated counterfoils, wedding invitations etc. He had a number of different fonts, Time New Roman, Gill Sans and Palace Script.'  He said with perfect understatement : 'It all added up to a job that had plenty of variety, it was never boring, the only snag was the pay, the princely sum of £2 a week.'

Peter’s mother was in poor health and he found 'looking after her when he was away on holiday was the most taxing of all my tasks.' In addition to this 'She has suffered a stroke and she found it very difficult to speak. I could understand her but once, when he was away, she collapsed and I had to carry her to bed. Her sister in law was a nurse and her help was something that I badly needed. Nursing a sick old lady, as well as all the other things I had to do, and I had to try and cook as well, was more than should be expected from any 15 year old boy.'

Lawrence was 18 in 1960, when Peter left Gutcher and the post office and Lawrence's Father, Tom, became the the new sub-postmaster and the family moved to Gutcher and initially Lawrence stayed on, but became redundant when the telephone system was automated and 'there was not enough work for all of us. I went off to do my own thing and my parents started a tearoom in the part of the building that used to be the shop.'

Over the next 10 years Lawrence had a succession of different jobs until 1970 when, at the age of 28 he was taken on as a trainee lighthouse keeper, his application to join the service, triggered by the fact that he and Margaret Henderson were getting married. As a trainee, one of the Principals Lawrence served under when he was at the Muckle Flugga Lighthouse was Magnie Leask of East Yell, musician, a songwriter, a poet and an inveterate joker he had two stuffed dummies in the lighthouse named Boki and Grulie which used to startle trainee keepers and unwary visitors and on one occasion, one of  them fell through a trapdoor on top of young Lawrence while he was making his way up to the light room in the middle of the night.

Over the next 9 years and despite his incurable seasickness, Lawrence, as a keeper, had more than his share of isolated 'rock' lighthouses and was, at various times, “on the rocks” at 'Muckle Flugga', where he was serving when his daughter Elizabeth Anne was born, 'Out Skerries', 'The Bell Rock', 'Rubh Re' and 'The Calf of Man'. In between he served at 'Sumburgh Head', his least isolated posting, 'Fair Isle North', 'Ailsa Craig' and the dreaded 'Cape Wrath', which some reckoned worse than a rock.

Muckle Flugga, can be found on a map, a tiny, storm-thrashed speck off the top of the Shetland island of Unst, the last one - if you don't count the little rock of Out Stack, home only to a few seabirds. It is over 100 miles north of John O’Groats and farther north than Oslo, Helsinki or St Petersburg. It was working here, listening to cricket on the radio that he got in touch with Brian Johnston at the BBC : "I told him I lived on Muckle Flugga. It's a little rock with a lighthouse on it. There isn't anything after that" and he was proud of the letter he had from Brian "acknowledging that I was the most northerly listener of Test Match Special."

Lawrence maintained that his roots made him temperamentally fit for his work : "A lot of lighthouse keepers came from Shetland. We're used to living in remote areas, we can stand the isolation a lot better. Basically we're Norse people, used to surviving long winters. The Vikings used to hole up for the winter, and just get drunk and socialise. Winter isn't something you dread; a lot of people like it, there's more time to relax."

He maintained that his relationship with the weather was also in his bones : "People like me who were born and brought up here are shaped by the weather. You'll never find a farmer or a fisherman who isn't an amateur weatherman. They tend to look at the television forecasts with derision, because the weather's so unpredictable. Tourists sometimes ask me what the summer was like up here. I tell them it was on a Tuesday."

On a 'rock' Lawrence's life was dictated by the routines imposed by temperamental, diesel-powered generators and ingenious clockwork machinery that kept the light shining and rotating and the seasons because : "you have precise times when to switch the light on and off. Five hours and eight minutes, that's how short the day was in mid-winter."

In 1971 Lawrence was recorded talking with his father, Tom about the Shetland dialect :

His 9 year stint in lighthouses came to an end in 1979, when Lawrence was 37 and his parents retired and he moved into and took over the post office in Gutcher with Margaret and was now the father of a 4 year old daughter. They developed a cafe, sold soft drinks, sweets, cigarettes and Fair Isle knitwear made on their knitting machine and then converted the lower story of the post office and offered bed and breakfast.

It was during these years that he built up his reputation as a storyteller both in Shetland and beyond and appeared in international in Sweden, Faroe, Iceland, Slovenia, Austria and the USA, as well as festivals in Ireland and Scotland : 'The Four Swans', 'Isle of Skye Festival', 'Tales at Martinmas', 'Woodend Barn', 'Orkney' and appearances at the prestigious 'International Storytelling Festival' in Edinburgh. In a addition he also recorded three cassette tapes of his stories on the Veesik label of which Maille was one : "Maille was a widow and she lived with her three sons. Her hausband had been lost at sea....."

BBC Radio Shetland manager John Johnston said: “Lawrence was a stalwart of Radio Shetland. He was involved in the station right from the start, presenting many programmes including 'Give us a Tune'. He was a regular contributor, and our main contact for stories in Yell." Lawrence also served as Chairman of Shetland Tourist Board, Vice-Chairman of the Mid Yell School Board, a member of the Community Council and in 1980 was the Cullivoe Up-Helly-Aa' Guizer Jarl.

In 2006 Lawrence published 'The Foy : And other Folk Tales' which related stories he had learned from his Father and those he had collected himself, concentrating on the unique tradition of Shetland folklore of with its 'selkies', mythical creatures which looked like seals in the water and assumed human form on the land as well as invading giants and Vikings. He followed this with his 'On The Rocks' in 2010 and 'Shetland Folk Tales' in 2014 which included 'The Boy Who Came from the Ground' and 'Norway's First Troll.' By this time he and Margaret had left Yell and had moved to the Island of North Roe.
experience as a light keeper in

In 2010, on his first visit to London where arrived fresh from a storytelling trip to Slovenia he made his way to the fourth test between England and Pakistan at Lords where he recalled : “I was led into the Test Match Special box where they were doing the commentary. I could not believe that I was in this place that I had listened to for so long.When teatime came I was introduced to Jonathan Agnew, Henry Blofield, Christopher Martin-Jenkins as well as the producer and Rameez Raja." Interviewed and broadcast live, he recalled : "Aggers is a very pleasant man and asked gentle questions but his knowledge of Shetland and lighthouses was scanty to say the least. But he was very willing to allow me to say what I wanted." "As well as the commentators on TMS we saw Geoff Boycott, Ian Botham, Nasser Hussain, Michael Atherton, Andrew Flintoff, Bob Willis and Phil Tufnell and we shared a lift with Gladstone Small.”

In 2012 related the story of a bear and young boy called Wally at the 'Celtic Connections Festival' :

Lawrence said : "I was extraordinarily lucky in my young life to meet and hear so many wonderful storytellers. During my youth we lived in three different houses and each one seemed to be a magnet for interesting visitors."

Lawrence tells the story of 'Joen Tait and The Bear' and the story of Windhouse, house of ghosts on Yell :

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An earlier post :

25 January 2015
Britain is a country where a town called Lerwick and its Festival called Up-Helly-Aa in Scotland's Shetland Islands, bid "Farewell" to an old Jarl called Willie 'Feejur' Tait    

Monday, 13 February 2017

Britain is a country and no country for a feted, old Film Director called Ken Loach, still angry after all these years

Ken, who is 80 years old and has been making films noted for their social realism and driven by his left-wing views, for over 50 years, has finally been granted the kind of accolade he has received for decades in Europe, but been denied in Britain. Last night at the BAFTA Ceremony he received the 'Outstanding British Film Award' for 'I, Daniel Blake.' It stars stand-up comedian Dave Johns in the title role and was written by Ken's long-time collaborator, Paul Laverty. 

The film documents what happened when Daniel, an older man living in Newcastle, had a heart attack; could no longer do his job; was declared fit for work; had his benefits stopped and began to go hungry; met single mother of two Katie, who had moved to Newcastle from London, 300 miles away and being re-housed with her children and was also a victim of welfare. It is a film which rages at the injustice which afflicts the weak and downtrodden in Britain in 2017.

Paul Laverty researched job centres, benefit sanctions and food banks to create the story of Daniel, the joiner and Ken himself has said: "If you get out among the people who are in the food banks, who would not eat unless there were people providing charity, I think you'd find there's a great disgust and despair that we live like that in this country now."

Ken is angry at the "conscious cruelty" of the situation "where the most vulnerable people are told that their poverty is their own fault." Where "bureaucratic inefficiency is vindictive and hunger is being used as a weapon" and "people are being forced to look for work that doesn’t exist.”

Last night Ken said : "Thank you to the Academy for endorsing the truth of what the film says, which hundreds of thousands of people in this country know and that is that the most vulnerable and the poorest people are treated by this Government with a callous brutality that is disgraceful. And it's a brutality that extends to keeping out refugee children that we have promised to help and that is a disgrace too. But films can do many things; they can entertain, they can terrify, they can take us to worlds of the imagination, they can make us laugh and they can tell us something about the real world we live in. And in that real world, it is a bit early for a political speech, I am sorry, it is getting darker, as we know and in the struggle that's coming between the rich and the powerful, the wealthy and the privileged, and the big corporations and the politicians who speak for them, on the one hand, and the rest of us on the other, Then filmmakers and we are all filmmakers here , the  filmmakers know which side they are on, and despite the glitz and the glamour of occasions like this, we are with the people." 

Ken's anger first manifest itself when was 28 when and made ten'Wednesday Plays' for the BBC, including the docudrama 'Up the Junction' in 1965, recounting the experiences of three young women in North Battersea and Clapham Junction, one of whom was pregnant at a time when abortion was illegal. It caused a major uproar in Britain due to its rough language, racist characters, graphic depictions of sexual promiscuity and a harrowing abortion scene.

The following year his 'Cathy Come Home', dealt with the issues of homelessness, unemployment and the working of social services and he saw his film have such a  massive impact that it led directly to a change in the Homeless Laws.

In 1967, for the cinema, he directed 'Poor Cow' about a young woman who married and had a child with an abusive thief who quickly ended up in prison and left alone, took up with his mate, another thief, who seemed to give her some happiness, but who also ended up in the nick. She then took up with a series of seedy types who offered nothing but momentary pleasure until her son went missing and she briefly came to grips with what was most important to her.

Also in 1967 Ken made 'Kes' , the story of a troubled boy and his kestrel and saw it listed as Number 7 by the British Institute in the list of 'Best British films of the Twentieth Century'  

In the same year his documentary, 'The Save the Children Fund Film', was so disliked by the charity that it attempted to have the negative destroyed and it wasn't screened in public until 2011.

In 1981 he was commissioned by Channel 4 to make 'A Question of Leadership', a documentary series on the response of the British Trades Union Movement to the challenge posed by the policies of Margaret Thatcher's Government and concluded that the decision not to screen the programme was 'politically motivated'.

Four years later saw his 'Which Side Are You On?' about the songs and poems of the 1984-85 Miners' Strike commissioned by ITV's, 'The South Bank Show', also withdrawn from transmission, only to see it broadcast after it won a major prize at the Berlin International Film Festival.

In 1991 his 'Riff Raff'', which won the 'Felix Award for Best European Film', received less acclaim in the USA where it was shown with subtitles because of its English dialect.

He was 69 in 2006, when he won the 'Palme d'Or' at Cannes for 'The Wind that Shakes the Barley' focused on thWar of Independence against the British during the 1920s. 

Three years later in 2009, his 'Looking for Eric', which featured a depressed postman's conversations with the ex-Manchester United football star, Eric Cantona, played by himself, failed to get wide release and only made £12,000 profit, despite receiving critical acclaim.

In 2012 his 'Jimmy's Hall' was selected to compete for the European 'Palme d'Or' which Jonathan Romney in the Guardian described as, finding : 'the director in lyrical, but typically angry form' with its true story of an Irishman of Jimmy Gralton who was deported from his own country without trial in 1933. His crime – to have set up a public hall in County Leitrim, a venue for education, community events and musical shindigs both traditional and featuring the jazz that Gralton had brought back from America.

Ken has said : "A movie isn't a political movement, a party or even an article. It's just a film. At best it can add its voice to public outrage"