Friday, 10 April 2009

Mitch Sydner Story, Charles Chilton, My Boy Jack and Remembrance Day

The sun was shining when I left to walk down my hill and then up the long hill to the Town Hall for the assembly of the Remembrance Day Parade and then continue up the hill to where the Cenotaph is inappropriately located for a large gathering of service and ex service and other citizens to assembly. During the service there was a rainbow in the distance and some splattering of rain. Later there was a plethora of programmes, many overlapping centred on this Remembrance day which appeared to be having renewed significance as the numbers in Whitehall and locally have grown during the past two years as the number of casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan have increased.

The programme schedules included choice of programme with two plays on at the same time and Life and Nothing But on BBC4. I can watch one and record the other, Earlier there are similar spoilt for choice problems.

5.50 6.50 BBC 1 Wilfred Owen

6.30-7.30 Not Forgotten Channel 4

6.50-7.50 BBC 2 Cenotaph Highlights

7.00-800Verdun Descent into Hell repeated midnight

7.05 The Girl and the General TCM World War film

8.00-9.00 What did you in the Great War Daddy BBC4

9-11.00 My Boy Jack on ITV

9-10.30 Life is nothing BBC1

9.00 Digging Up the Trenches

9.00-11.00 The Last Tommy Uk History

01.00 Ypres Gas Hell

12.10-12.40 Chelsea Pensioners

Before all this I discovered an interesting biographical film, The Samaritan The Mitch Synder Story, Mitch (1946-1990) appears to have been outwardly a conventional American who was married with two children and working in advertising in New York when sometime before 1970 he abandoned his work and family, and went in search of his true self, but in 1970 he was arrested and imprisoned when it was discovered that the vehicle in which he was travelling with a friend was stolen. In prison he became a born again Christian and a believer in non violence and joined the Community for Creative Non Violence in Washington DC. This organisation which was involved in non violent direct action in relation to the Vietnam War, also provided a medical clinic, a pre-trial house, soup kitchen, thrift store and half way house.

There was a growth in the number of homeless destitute people in the later 1970's and 1980's and Mitch Synder was a major figure in the campaign to obtain official help and support for the provision of accommodation and other services, involving demonstrations, public funerals for those freezing to death and fasting as well as, other direct action which involved illegal activity. The motion picture film is very sympathetic toward Mitch who had many critics, because of his background and methods which included a tendency to exaggerate figures. Nevertheless Jesse Jackson, Cher and one of his two sons walked in the march honouring his life after he committed suicide and the conveys that he was a man wracked with self doubt and self criticism with his campaigning years as a form of atonement

My plan was to record the programme on Wilfred Owen in another room while watching Ian Hislop's visual essay on the social impact of the war, but having decided to watch the opening of the Jeremy Paxman film on Owen, I abandoned the Hislop. I became affected by the poets of the Great War at the very time I was campaigning against the development of weapons of mass destruction, the inevitable progression from the mechanisation of war commenced by Germany in the years leading to 1914

As a young man I came across his poems together with those of Rupert Brooke where I have two volumes, and Siegfried Sassoon and in 1997 I saw the film Regeneration based on the book by Pat Barker which concentrates on the relationship between Owen, who had shell shock post traumatic stress, and Sassoon who had been banished to Craiglockhart hospital because of his criticism of the military leadership and approach to the continuation of the war. Owen recovered sufficiently to return to the front and the letters to his mother reveal the changes that he had undergone and which had led to the creation of poems which are now the most venerated in the English language after Shakespeare. The programme revealed the extent of the influence and involvement of Siegfried Sassoon on his writing, and which in the examples given showed that he helped to make the writing more direct and powerful. Having made the decision to watch the whole of the film I continued by watching the official recording of the morning's national service of Remembrance. The South Shields Member of Parliament represented the government together with the Prime Minister.

After this there was a moving programme about the children of some of the men who did not return with a major voice of influence from my childhood, Charles Chilton recounting that he never knew his father, and that his mother died when he was six, leading to being raised by his grandparents. Charles joined the BBC when he was 15, as a messenger, and after becoming an assistant in the record library commenced to produce a weekly jazz programme, the Radio Rhythm Club before the commencement of World War II.

During five years of War service in the RAF he ran the Forces Radio station in Sri Lanka with David Jacobs, and on return he was responsible for two programmes which dominated my adolescence and first period as a young man in work, the time when I discovered the world of big band jazz, and the traditional jazz revival in around Soho, modern jazz and classical music through the Promenade concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, buying a season ticket. The First radio programme which influenced me greatly and lasted five years was Riders of the Range based on the history of Western America and between 1953 and 1959 he wrote and produced Journey into Space. Having achieved professional success Charles commenced to investigate the reality of the World War in which his father had died and together with Joan Littlewood they created what was regarded as controversial at the time, the musical Oh What a Lovely War at the Theatre Royal Stratford in 1963 transferring Wyndhams Theatre. In 1969 Richard Attenborough directed and produced the film which has that extraordinary image of an endless field of crosses and which starred John Mills, Laurence Olivier, John Geilgud, Michael Redgrave, Maggie Smith and Susannah York.

I am convinced that I saw the production at the Theatre Royal and that I have a programme but can I find, it although I have collated all my programmes from for forty years in one box, Having yesterday written about visiting a show at Great Yarmouth the ticket confirms that I sat in row K12 of the stalls at 8.40 on Sunday August 30th for Grace Kennedy in Concert at the Britannia Theatre, but further research will be required to establish the year. Charles Chilton who is an active 90 was only one of bereaved children whose memories of their brief contact with their fathers remains as alive to day and it was when that had the experience.

These included the daughter whose 15 year campaign led to the pardon of her father executed for shell shock. Others visited the war graves including one who not finding a grave with his father's name was directed to a monument on which are listed the 35000 men missing presumed dead who remains were never found. This was but one of the 200 cemeteries
These programmes were the right build up for an excellent new film Drama My Boy Jack based on the fact that Rudyard Kipling fixed for his son to become a Commissioner Officer, in the Irish Guards at the age of 17, despite the inability to see without glasses, and he approved that his son could go to the front and into battle before his 18th birthday. He died that day in 1915 but it was four years before the parents accepted that he had died, .and Kipling is believed to have felt guilty by writing the lines "If any question why we died, because our fathers died."

Kipling who went out of fashion in the sixties was part of my Childhood. His poems were taught at school and I grew up with those made into films watching recently for the umpteenth time the film Gunga Din made in 1939 staring Douglas Fairbanks Junior and the earlier 1937 Captains Courageous with Spencer Tracey and Mickey Rooney, remade for television in 1977 and again 1996. There was also Kim Errol Flynn in 1950 with Peter O'Toole for TV 1984. His poem Mandalay was used for the Song On the Road to Mandalay, but perhaps the best known and loved have been the Jungle Book stories with films made 1937, in 1942, 1994, 1997 and 1998 with a new two year project commenced this year and perhaps the best known film being the 1967 animated version ,recently released as a special DVD edition, His just so stories have also been enjoyed by children for a century. He received the Nobel prize for Literature in 1907. His belief and commitment in the British Empire as positive development, his distrust of Germany intentions, like Churchill subsequently, led him to campaigning for rearmament, 150000 men against 1.5 million at the time and that he was a key part of the propaganda committee during the war.

It would be surprising if tonight's film did not attract a major audience because the part of his son was played by the young man who the present generation has witnessed grow up on screen from the ages of 12 to 18 years as Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliffe. It is worth underlining that the Harry Potter books are now the greatest international best sellers of all time and that the films have so far earned over four thousand million dollars at the box office, greater than James Bond films of which there have been 21 and the six Star wars together. The contrast between the two roles could not be greater and such was the level of performance that it was only after watching the film that I worked out who the young actor was, although I accept I was probably the only viewer that did not know. The performance is likely to be awarding winning and already Imperial War Museum and Sussex University have mounted exhibition about the story of the Kipling's son, and the parental search for what happened to him which lasted four years after he disappeared at the battle of Loos. I can understand this need to establish the precise circumstances and if established the fear and the pain which their child experienced. It is a personal need, although at times it is coupled with a compulsion to ensure that others also understand what happened and why. Most learn or know that it will not help to prevent similar situations arises such is the true nature of human behaviour, although if the individual stories touch and influence others in a small way then that is a bonus. I hope I begin to go someway in explaining that memory in all its forms is the meaningful art experience of today.

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