Tag Archives: UK

Meeting Jack Duckworth

In 1992 I went to Manchester to research Coronation Street for a CBC Radio Ideas documentary on British and American soaps.

Vera and Jack Duckworth in RoversAt Granada, I watched the taping of a scene on the street and interviewed writers, production people and cast members.  When I was told the names of two actors I was about to meet, I was struck dumb with awe and terror – Bill Tarmey and Elizabeth Dawn aka Jack and Vera Duckworth.  Like pretty much everyone who has watched during the past 30 odd years, for me, Jack and Vera were Coronation Street.

Vera DuckworthI went first into Elizabeth Dawn’s dressing room.  She and Bill had just finished their scenes for the day and she had to leave soon for a family function.  She was sitting in front of the mirror taking off her makeup when I kind of stumbled my way in the door.  “Sit down, dear, and don’t mind me.  We can talk while I do this.”  Instantly, I felt at home, felt like I was with someone I’d known a long time.  And I was in a way.  She was wonderful – not Vera, yet Vera.  She took off Vera’s makeup and put on her own.  She brushed out Vera’s hair into her own.  She looked Elizabeth Dawn in real lifedifferent.  We talked a long time, then she said she had to run.  She told me where Bill’s dressing room was and just to go on there when I was ready, then with a ‘ta-ra’ she was out the door.  Before I got everything picked up, she was back in laughing.  “I’ve got Vera’s coat on.”  She shucked off the familiar looking black cloth coat, grabbed another more stylish one, laughed, waved and was gone again.

Then to meet Jack.  My nerves came back.  Hand shaking, I knocked on his door and a familiar gruff voice told me to come in.  He too was Bill Tarmey 2010removing Jack and becoming Bill.  He leaned back in his chair and just talked.  He asked me a lot of questions, where I lived, what I did, about my family.  He told me about his family, pointing out who was who in the photographs around his dressing room.  It was nice.  He was an easy man to talk to.  So much so I would forget why I was there – to get him on tape talking about being Jack.

Amazon link for Bill Tarmey cd Incurably Romantic
Click for Amazon link

So he told me about Jack and him – how he came to be on the show, first as a short-term bad guy, then brought back as Jack when the writers created the Duckworths.  He told me about his career as an actor and primarily as a singer.  He said when the writers had Jack sing once – badly – he, Bill, found his singing gigs drop off and even bookings cancelled.  If that’s how Bill Tarmey sings, he laughed, they didn’t want him performing.

He wasn’t likely telling me anything he hadn’t told hundreds of interviewers before, but he made it seem personal.  Just him and me talking about stuff.  It wasn’t slick, like a performance piece, just good conversation.  He talked straightforwardly and was engaged in the discussion, talking and listening.

He reminded me of my father, as Jack Duckworth always has.  “Rough, tough and hard to Bill Tarmey, outside Rovers, upon retirementbluff” as my dad would say about himself.  That’s what Jack is like, with a lovely soft heart.  That too is what Bill Tarmey is like.  And my dad.  I can think of no higher compliment to any one of them than being compared to each other.  Bill, if you are reading this, you and Jack will be greatly missed.  I hope you have a wonderful retirement.  Cheers!

Amazon link for Bill Tarmey book on Jack DuckworthClick the image to left for an Amazon link to Bill Tarmey’s book on being Jack and the ‘Incurably Romantic’ image above for link to his music.

 

Hats off (or on) to the past few days!

Princess Beatrice and her hatIt’s been quite a four days – perhaps best summarized with The Hat.  Everybody’s had a go at this new game.  Friday was the birth of The Hat.

Friday was a bank holiday in the UK so that everyone could watch The Royal Wedding.   Millions of us elsewhere also watched.  The Hat made its first appearance.

White House, with hats, from FacebookBut while we were watching the fairy tale wedding, in the White House other events were being watched.  Friday, so we learned, was also the culmination of 10 years of The Hunt for Osama bin Laden.  The Hat was there, helping.

Patrick Chan, doing victory lap at WorldsAlso on Friday, Patrick Chan won gold at the World Figure Skating Championships in Moscow – hurray Patrick, hurray Canada.  (no hat)

Sunday, Celebrity Apprentice was pre-empted in the last few critical moments (would Nene pleasepleaseplease be fired?  No – she Star, Hope and Nene in the boardroomwasn’t, ohno!)  The Hat should have been there – this is its natural habitat.  Some of the outfits worn by these “celebrity” women would fit right in those worn by the Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice.

Donald Trump, with The Hat, from FacebookWhy did President Obama interrupt The Donald?  Osama bin Laden had Osama bin Laden, in The Hat, from Facebookbeen killed by US troops.  Before this news was made public, The Hat had already found its way to bin Laden’s head.

Monday, Canada’s election produced an odd result.  A Conservative majority with (for the first time ever) the NDP as official Opposition.  The Liberals and Michael Ignatieff, with The Hatthe Bloc were pretty much wiped off the political map.  Gilles Duceppe said his goodbyes to his party Monday evening, Michael Ignatieff waited until Tuesday morning.  The Hat talked him into it.

Brilliant Speed, with The HatAnd coming up on Saturday, hats will be big in Louisville.  It’s the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby.  Having done my bit at photoshopping The Hat, I’m definitely rooting for Brilliant Speed who kindly loaned me his head.

The Hat on Princess Beatrice is an AP photo from Friday’s wedding.  The Hat on Michael Ignatieff was done by Jim Stewart.  The others of The Hat are from Facebook.  The photo of Patrick Chan is by AP and the boardroom photo of Team ASAP is from buddytv.

The Royal Wedding

I stayed up all night and watched the Royal wedding pre-pre-coverage, pre-coverage, main event, balcony scene and after coverage.  I switched between CBC and CBC NewsNet, CNN, an entertainment news show and went online to BBC.

Piers Morgan & Anderson Cooper at Buckingham Palace CNN bureauInterestingly, my husband and I stuck with CNN for the actual wedding.  Both of us usually choose CBC or CTV over any American channel for political, sports or ‘significant event’ coverage.  But Piers Morgan was great.  He, Anderson Cooper and their guests were informative and witty in their commentary.  Donald Trump did a good thing with Celebrity Apprentice in introducing Piers Morgan to US media.

The wedding was beautiful, the dress was fabulous, the singing of God Save the Queen brought tears to the eyes, the balcony kiss was sweet and funny.  I wish she’d ridden in the glass carriage to the Abbey, but it still was a total fairy tale wedding.  Just one observation about the music in the ceremony – the lovely choir piece that was composed as a wedding gift sounded to me very similar to Disney’s Beauty and the Beast theme song.

Royal Wedding Style

In the pre-coverage talk about the dress, there was a lot of emphasis on Kate’s sense of style.  I was thinking huh?  She’s got all the money in the Queen’s realm and all the Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice at royal weddingadvisors in the fashion industry and the palace to ensure that this dress is the epitome of elegance and high-style.  How could she not look absolutely fabulous?

And then I saw the Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice.  I saw you can have all the fashion mavens and money in the world and still look like you got dressed from a Salvation Army clothes bale.  I liked their shoes though.

In my fashion assessment of the event, I divided the family women into two categories. (Kate and her sister Pippa, both stunning, were in their own category.)  On the ‘regally elegant’ side were the Queen, Mrs. Middleton, Camilla and the Countess of Wessex.  On the ‘WTF?’ side were Eugenie, Beatrice and the Princess Royal.  Now, Anne I can accept – she generally always looks as if she grabbed whatever was clean and not wrinkled from her closet.  She’s never been an icon of fashion; she has other things she’d rather do.

But those girls!  I think that they’d like to be fashion plates, and they have the looks to do so.  If they’d take half the owl eye makeup off and not wear clothes that are jumbled and way too busy and not flattering to their faces or figures in any way.  And they sat right behind their Gran!  So you couldn’t even look at the Queen without being distracted by the costume party escapees behind her.

Best Wishes

Duke and Duchess of Cambridge balcony kissI wish the new Duke and Duchess the very best.  I don’t envy them though.  One commentator said something like ‘this marriage cannot fail.  There is no reason it can’t last:  they’ve lived together, she’s been part of his world long enough to understand her role, they’re both mature enough.  If it doesn’t last, the British monarchy will end with it.’  Gee, that’s not much pressure is it?

Royalty

In June 1983 Charles and Diana, Prince and Princess of Wales, came to St. John’s on the Royal Yacht Britannia.  Two Britannia, at sea in Scotland after decommissioningyears before, I had woken up early or stayed up late, can’t remember which, to watch their wedding on television.

I was very excited that they were visiting and couldn’t wait to go to the harbour front to see them.  I didn’t want to go alone – it felt like an event that should be shared with friends.  Turned out the only people I knew who were going were Irish Republican supporters going to protest.  Well, you have to make the best of things, I thought.

So when the yacht arrived, I walked down to the waterfront with about ten people carrying placards and a rolled-up banner. We found Royal couple on Britannia deck - Charles and Dianaa good spot as near the yacht as we could get, with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary staying near us, keeping a watchful eye.

Placards were distributed and the banner unfurled.  Ten feet long, it read “England Out Of Ireland Now”.   I have no idea why they gave me one end of it to hold.

When the Royal couple came on deck, the crowd went wild.  Diana sparkled – well, like a princess.  Even at the distance we were, you could see her astounding beauty.  I too clapped and cheered and jumped up and down.  The banner bounced awkwardly so I tucked the stick under my arm to keep it steadier while I clapped.

Sinn Fein banner, in IrelandI turned around to look at my companions.  In this huge crowd, only they were standing stock still, with long morose faces.  Oops!  I tried to curb my enthusiasm, but it wasn’t enough.  One of the guys came to me and said, “stop clapping!  We’re not here to clap!”  Well, I was, and I hadn’t made a secret of it!  Still, I tried to keep still and look serious.

The Yacht without the Royal Couple

A few days later, the yacht was in port without the Royal couple.  Friends and I were in a downtown bar and some of the Royal Navy crew came in.  They sat with us.  Much later that warm summer night, going swimming seemed like a good idea.  So we did.  A sailor, fooling around, grabbed a girl’s ankle.  She twisted and the ankle was seriously sprained.  We had no car and she couldn’t walk.  Thankfully, we had fit young men to carry her.

Britannia gangwayThey felt bad for what happened, so invited us aboard the Royal Yacht the next day along with St. John’s dignitaries.  Unfortunately, the injured girl couldn’t navigate the gangplank with crutches.  The rest of us did and told her all about it afterwards.  Our sailors showed us the salons, kitchens and bridge – everything but the Royals’ private quarters.

I was sad when Britannia was decommissioned as a Royal vessel.  She was magnificent and deserved royalty.  In 1997 I also got up early or stayed up late to watch the funeral of Diana, former Princess of Wales.  This Friday I’ll do the same to watch her son marry Kate Middleton.

I have no pictures of my own from this time.  These came from: HMS Vanguard, Charles and Diana, indymedia and gangway.  Thanks!

The King and Us

George VI portraitColin First as George VI, in The King's SpeechWallis Simpson makes me think that there may well be a God, and that He is on “our” side.  I cannot imagine what the world would look like had Edward VIII remained on the throne.  And it’s thanks to Wallis Simpson that he didn’t.

He came to the throne in 1936 when the build up to WWII was already taking place.  Hitler had firm control of Germany and was looking to expand that control further in Europe.  Neville Chamberlain, British PM at the time, believed the best way to handle Hitler’s Germany was through “appeasement” – let him have what he wants and he’ll leave us alone.  Edward VIII, it seems, went even further than appeasement.  He and Wallis were pretty close to Nazi-sympathizers.  They enjoyed socializing with high-ranking Nazi officials.

Edward VIII, Duke & Duchess of Windsor, at home with pugsNow, maybe that was Wallis’ choice more than his.  It seems that she did the thinking in that family.  But I believe that if it hadn’t been her, it would have been someone else leading him around by the nose.  The one thing that seems very clear from reading history from that time is that Edward was a fun-loving man who really didn’t want to be bothered with heavy matters of state.  So he may have fallen in love with another woman who was marriage material, but based on assessments of his personality she probably wouldn’t have been any more competent as a war-time Queen than he would be a war-time King.

"We Four" at home, with dogsAs unsuitable as Edward was to inherit his father’s crown, so too seemed Albert, his younger brother the Duke of York.  As second in line, he’d never really had to worry about wearing the crown.  An introspective man, he wanted to pursue his own interests.  As Duke of York, that was just fine.  He married a strong woman, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon.  She, a perfect home-grown match for a royal marriage, had been long courted by him and had refused his proposals.  She didn’t want a life anywhere in the Royal Family.  At that time, life as the central Royal didn’t seem a likelihood!

Edward VIII to Duke of Windsor

Poor Bertie stuttered badly, but it didn’t really matter – he wasn’t going to be in a position where public speaking was a major part of the job.  Then the unthinkable happened.  After George V’s death, David became Edward VIII and he refused to give up the American twice-divorced Wallis Simpson.  Parliament refused to waive the rules about divorced persons joining the Royal Family and there was the abdication crisis.  That was a crisis for the country.  Succession to the Throne had to be a familial crisis for Bertie and Elizabeth and the two Princesses.  “We Four”, as the Duke of York called his family, had a good and comfortable life mapped out near the limelight and with benefits, but not in the limelight.

Coronation photo of George VI and familyBut step up he did, and became George VI.  Elizabeth became a stalwart Queen consort.  Britain, still under Chamberlain as PM, engaged in war with Germany and won.  George VI truly lived up to the oath that England’s monarchs take in that being King probably cost him his life.  His daughter Elizabeth has gone on to be one of the two longest-reigning British monarchs ever.  And she has seen the Royal Family through some spectacularly rocky times during those decades.  She’s done it with grace and wisdom, just like her father and mother.

I haven’t yet seen the movie The King’s Speech, but I hope Colin Firth wins the Oscar for Best Actor – for his sake and Queen Elizabeth’s.


Resort Towns (Feb. 2/11)

Brighton, in December, although still a fairly bustling city, bore little relation to Brighton in June or August.  Jury often felt there were few things bleaker than a seaside town in winter.

– Martha Grimes 2002, A Richard Jury Novel, The Blue Last

resort towns Port Stanley, on lake ice bankI usually agree with Scotland Yard Superintendent Richard Jury on everything, but not this one.  You could call summer resort towns bleak in winter, but it’s a beautiful bleakness.  I like summer resort towns much better in their off-season.  They can also be lovely in their season.  Sun, sand, fun – that’s why we go.  But, for me, too many of us go.

I went to Brighton once, in April.  It wasn’t as wind-swept and, yes, bleak as it would be in December.  It was cold; there was no bathing in the sea.  But there were the arcades, the beach walks – and, best of all, there were no crowds.

Port Stanley beach in summerI live near a lakeside resort town.  Port Stanley on Lake Erie is beautiful in summer.  Wide expanse of sand beach, wide expanse of fresh water warm for swimming.  Small downtown streets with interesting shops.  A pier with fishing boats tied up or chugging into port.  Teeny cottages cheek by jowl in a rabbit warren of lanes near the beach.  Mansions on the beach and up the hill, built as summer homes for wealthy merchants of a century and more ago.

Lifeguard station in JanuaryI rarely go to Port Stanley in summer.  But I love going in winter.  The beach is empty.  The wind howls in off the lake.  On a good cold day, when your ears are ringing and your eyes streaming from the wind, you can run into Mackies on the beach and warm up with a hot drink or a cheeseburger or hotdog with the famous Mackies sauce.  Walk another block or so and go in the shops, most still open in winter.  Go into a bar and it’s local people, fishermen and schoolteachers, talking about next year’s fishing quotas or whether there’s going to be a ferry or not.  They’re drinking ordinary beer from bottles, not asking for fancy stuff on tap.

Mackies on the beach in resort town Port StanleyGet a take-out pizza or go to a fancy dining room.  There are a lot of good restaurants in Port Stanley, more than in the average small town.  That’s because it’s a resort town, I guess.  The volume of business is there in the summer to support a year-round operation.  That’s nice for the winter visitor – excellent food and no one waiting for your table, wishing you’d hurry up with your crème brûlée and get out of there.

I’ve been in a lot of summer resort towns.  I’ve found I prefer them in their off season.  It’s not that they’re better; they’re just different.  Port Stanley Harbour winterThey’re sleepier, cozier, nicer.  They’re hibernating, getting their strength back to deal with the hordes of sunworshippers, wannabe models, families with overexcited children, slow-walking pensioners.  The off-season is when a town is what, and who, it really is.  And the added bonus, of those in cold climes, is the wind whipping at you, making you feel alive.

(winter photos by Jim Stewart, beach in summer from Environmental Defence.)

The Boat House, Laugharne

Portrait of Dylan Thomas by Augustus JohnWhen I was in high school, I discovered the beauty of Dylan Thomas’ writings.  I first read Under Milk Wood and then moved on to his poetry.  In community college, I was lucky enough to get an English teacher who let me pick my own course content.  I picked Dylan Thomas and read everything he wrote and everything about him.

So much later, when I was in Wales for a few days, I wanted to find the places of Dylan Thomas.  Laugharne was within easy driving distance of where we were staying.  So off we went in our rental Mini to spend the day in the footsteps of the great Welsh poet.  I was so excited I had tears in my eyes as we drove into town.  We walked the streets, found the houses he and Caitlin had lived in.

Found our way to sign at Browns Hotel, Laugharne, WalesBrown’s Hotel where he spent a lot of time.  We went in, spent a lot of time.  Pictures of him and Caitlin on the walls, lots of ambience.  Locals looking askance at the tourists looking at everything as if they were in a place of worship.  For me, I was.

Another wander through town, then a look at my watch and at my pamphlet.  “We gotta go, the Boat House is going to close soon.”  The Boat House, on the water at the bottom of a cliff, is where he and Caitlin last lived in Laugharne.  Nearby, atop the cliff, is the “writing shed” where Thomas worked.  Both are a museum about him.  They are a fair walk along the cliff from downtown, where we were.  We started walking through town, leisurely looking around as we went.  I was keeping an eye on my watch and realized time was running out, and I sped up. I The Boat House, Laugharne Waleskept looking back, saying “hurry, hurry”.  My partner strolled along, with a “don’t worry, lots of time”.  I was getting panicky and the Boat House was farther away than I thought.  I should have just run ahead.  I did finally, but I got there ten minutes too late.  The Boat House had closed for the day.  I cried.  I was angry at myself for having not Exterior of Dylan's Writing Shedjust gone on ahead in the first place.  At him for dawdling, for not realizing how important this was to me.  The town’s atmosphere was indeed lovely, but it would still be there after the Boat House closed.

So I looked in the windows trying to see as much as I could.   You can see almost everything inside the writing shed, with his table set up as if he’d just walked away for a minute.  But it wasn’t the same.  I wanted to be inside the rooms in which Dylan Thomas had spent his time.  I wanted to touch the walls, breathe the air poetry - Interior of "Writing Shed"inside his place.  I wanted to absorb the space of a poet I’d had a crush on for two decades.

My partner felt bad for causing me to miss this.  I guess the sight of me with my hands cupped around my face pressed against the window glass while I sniveled must have been pretty pitiful.

We walked back to town, went to the church graveyard where Dylan is buried.  A white cat walked up to us and lay across a nearby gravestone, stretched and rolled, batted at blades of Dylan Thomas' gravegrass.  She wanted somebody to play with her and scratch her belly, so I did.  There were no flowers on Dylan’s grave, but there were some plastic flowers on another gravestone.  I felt bad about what I was about to do, but did it anyway.  I took one flower from the bouquet and stuck it in the earth in front of the white cross marking his grave.

We patted the cat good-bye and drove around Laugharne for a farewell look, then left.  That visit has stuck in my mind, for what I didn’t see and what I did see.  It was devastating to not be able to go in the Boat House, but the cat at the graveyard felt right.  It was like she was greeter of Dylan Thomas fans and keeper of the grave.

 

Lifeboys: Reality tv before “Reality TV”

In the spring of 1992, I heard an interview with Pat O’Rourke, of Liverpool, on CBC Radio’s As it Happens. It was about Lifeboys, a television show that he was making, based on the real lives of real people. O’Rourke and his wife owned and ran the Shipperies, a long established Lifeboys Shipperies Pub, Durning Road, Liverpoolpub in Wavertree, part of Liverpool in the north of England. In it, they were making Lifeboys, based on their pub and its patrons.

I went to visit the O’Rourkes at the Shipperies when I was in England soon after, while researching Coronation Street for a radio documentary. I liked what they were doing: making art out of their reality, or portraying reality through the art of being Liverpudlian, “Scousers.” Either way, it was blurring the lines between reality and entertainment.  It was neither documentary nor fiction. Now we would call it reality tv; then it was comparable only to continuing serials like Coronation Street and East Enders.

I wish O’Rourke had met another producer in England who, at that time, was also thinking of how to change the stories told on television. Charlie Parsons had an idea for a different kind of show based on reality. He wanted to put ordinary people into extraordinary, and stressful, situations and tape what happened. His idea eventually came to fruition on Swedish television in 1997 as Expedition Robinson. It enjoyed some success there and was produced by broadcasters elsewhere. The idea exploded when Mark Burnett sold it in 2000 to American audiences as Survivor.

Competition or “Real Life”

Since then, there has been every kind of reality show imaginable. Some are competition of stress and manipulation, like Survivor. Some are talent shows.  Others are daily lives of regular people doing whatever it is they do, like a television diary. Some have huge prizes for the winners. Some have only the prize of having your life documented and aired.

UnStable website (CMT) horse and womenI started thinking about the “record of life” type of reality show when I watched one called UnStable. Being interested in horses, I’ll watch anything with the word stable in it. I still can’t figure the show out, other than it seems like a “reality” version of CBC’s Alberta-set horsey drama Heartland. I thought to myself, somebody in Alberta must have watched Heartland and said, “this isn’t what our lives are really like, I bet I could tell better stories about what it means to be a rancher in Alberta.” And, with a proliferation of cable stations looking for cheap programming, they indeed found a buyer in CMT (Country Music Television). They’ve got a nice website and presumably lots of fans who want to see “real” families running “real” horse ranches instead of, or as well as, the fictional ones on Heartland.

So that’s what made me think of Pat O’Rourke and what he had put his heart into. But he was thinking of it in terms of continuing serials like Coronation Street and Liverpool’s Brookside. A couple years later, when reality television began flooding the airwaves, I think his eavesdropping on a Liverpool local would have been a hit.

Lifeboys and Wrinklies

What O’Rourke wanted to do was produce a tv show about his pub patrons by his patrons for his patrons. He had worked in television and film and was an actors’ agent. He borrowed and bought equipment and set up the upstairs of the pub as a production studio. There he and writer Paul McKane wrote and produced scripts based on the stories and lives of the people in his neighbourhood, the people who frequented his bar.

The bar is divided into two – a large public room on one side, bar in the middle, and a smaller parlour on the other. The younger people tended to congregate in the larger bar where the music was loud, the older people in the smaller room. The ones in the large room, at least the men, were known as “Lifeboys”. The people in the smaller room were generally known as “Wrinklies”.

The stories O’Rourke wanted to tell were those from both sides of the bar, but the name he liked for the whole was “Lifeboys”. So the real lifeboys and wrinklies told their stories, and Pat videotaped and took notes. He then edited the tape into short episodes and aired them in the big room for the patrons. Everybody loved it.

Watching at The Shipperies

Evenings when episodes were shown began drawing capacity crowds from the neighbourhood. Lifeboys began getting a lot of media attention too. UK, European, even Canadian tv, radio and newspapers wanted to know about the “pub soap”. O’Rourke and McKane had hopes to get Lifeboys picked up by a network for national broadcast. They thought their product told the real stories of Liverpool. They thought they could go up against Brookside, Emmerdale and, yes, even Coronation Street.

It didn’t happen.  I don’t know why. O’Rourke, McKane and all the actors wanted to make a good product that entertained and reflected their reality, and did. I spent a wonderful three days at the Shipperies, with the real lifeboys and wrinklies, and with the actors and production crew.

Lifeboys didn’t make it into my radio documentary on soaps. But it did inform my look at Coronation Street and the other British network serials. Little things like how local are the actors, are the accents authentic for the characters, are the stories believable for these characters in this place? These are questions that also concern Coronation Street and the other UK serials. But opinions vary on how well they succeed in recreating a realistic picture of their environment. Lifeboys is a section of the book on soaps I later wrote. There I could explore the questions of authenticity of voice that O’Rourke had raised as well as issues of reality and story narrative, accuracy and entertainment.

Authenticity of Story

Historic Fire Station and Shipperies Pub LiverpoolPat O’Rourke cared about seeing Liverpool accurately presented, and Manchester and Yorkshire (homes of the other Northern serials). But his concern went further than that. His question was why create fictional people and situations when such richness of character and lifestories is all around you. The real stories are just as entertaining and moving, and to the greatest extent possible, the best people to tell them are the real people themselves.

He found it’s hard to actually do, with time and budget constraints. Especially if you are aiming at well-oiled machines like Coronation Street as your competition. Also the networks had their continuing serial roster pretty well filled up. With home-grown major products, smaller regional soaps in Scotland, Ireland and Wales, and Australian imports giving a shot of sunshine and skin, there wasn’t much room for another one. But there might well have been room for a real-life look inside a Liverpool pub and the lives of its patrons in a couple years. By then, pretty much anything that could be made into a reality show was, and was being bought and aired.

Reality TV

In the years since the original Survivor, there have been every kind of reality show imaginable, and then some. In contest form or storytelling, all (except celebrity ones) are “ordinary” people acting in “real” ways.

Perhaps the genre that Lifeboys should have been a part of is the “reality tv” one, not continuing serials. Yes, the latter are a representation of daily life but are clearly fictional. Like a good novel, they reflect reality but don’t intend, or pretend, to replicate it. Pat O’Rourke wanted to document reality and present it as entertanment. In that he had more in common in Charlie Parsons and Mark Burnett. From what I saw of Lifeboys compared to what I’ve seen of reality shows, I much prefer Pat O’Rourke’s vision.

I still don’t know what I think of UnStable. I watched a couple episodes but haven’t felt moved to watch again. The stories didn’t grab me. But that’s pretty much how I feel about Heartland too. I Heartland website mastheaddon’t care about the people that much, and they always seem so clean even after mucking out stalls. I like the horses, though, on both shows and wish they had bigger roles.

flickr photos of the Shipperies by Caroline & Phil Bunford, top, and Jim Malone, bottom. UnStable and Heartland photos are from their websites.

 

Remembering

George C Anger RCEME for Remembrance DayI think of my father every Remembrance Day.  George Anger was a WWII veteran.  In December of 1942 he went overseas and he returned home in October 1945.  He was a mechanic in the RCEME, a Lance Corporal.   He was not a willing soldier, he didn’t leap up to volunteer as soon as Britain, and Canada, declared war on Germany in 1939.  Twenty-two in that year, he was old enough.  But soldiering had not been a part of his family for many years.  They were farmers and they, and the government, thought they could do the best for their country by feeding it.

The Draft

The Second World War became one of conscription, and in 1942 Dad was drafted.  At the time, he was recently married with a brand new baby.  He knew what happened to conscriptees, or Zombies as they were called.  They became cannon fodder, front line infantry.  He had his papers as a mechanic* and knew his skills were more useful to the Army than his body alone.  So he got to Wolseley Barracks in London and voluntarily enlisted before the due date on his draft papers.  He was assigned to the Electrical and Mechanical Engineers Corps (RCEME).  He was stationed in England at Camp Borden and Scotland at Motherwell.

Dad came home and met the 3 year old son he’d last seen as a 6 month old and left the war and the military behind him.  He rarely talked about the war, other than funny stories about “test-driving” Jeeps in ways the Canadian Army hadn’t thought of.  He never joined the Legion and never, to my knowledge, went to the Cenotaph at Remembrance Day.  “Old farts jingling their medals,” was his description of remembrance ceremonies.  But he was “an old fart” himself with some medals. And every November 11th he was a little quiet, a little far away, a little sad.  His own remembrance.

He hadn’t wanted to go to war, but he was proud of his service and, I think, glad he went.  He knew the right thing had been done by Canada and the Allies and felt good for having contributed.  I never knew what his thoughts on the Korean War were.

Another Draft

I did know his thoughts on the Vietnam war.  He didn’t agree with America’s actions, but he also didn’t agree with those young men who refused to honour their country by going when required.  At least that was his initial stance.  At the time, I was dating a draft dodger.  “Yellow-bellied coward” was the mildest of what Dad called him, and he meant it.

But with another year of that war, the protests and getting to know more about why young men were coming to Canada to avoid the draft, it seems Dad’s opinion was changing.   I found out about his change of mind, and heart, on a trip to the States with him and Mom.  Dad, the dog and I were walking along a riverbank in Ohio.  The dog and I were dilly-dallying behind when Dad began talking with two teenage boys.

I caught up to them just in time to hear Dad say, “well, if you cross at Detroit, just look for the 401 signs in Windsor.  Stay on it past London and you’ll see the exit for our road.”  He then wrote down his name, address and phone number for these two kids who he’d never seen before in his life.  As we walked on, he called back to them, “remember you’re welcome at our place if you have to come.”  I asked him what on earth he was doing.  “They’re trying to decide what to do next year.  They’ll be done high school and if this war’s still going on they don’t know what to do about the draft.  I told them they could stay with us until they get sorted out.”  Well!  Nothing more was said about it.  Those kids never called.  I’ve often wondered what they did.

Remembrance

George and Ruby (Burwell) Anger 1942 on troop trainWhen I was old enough to look at my Dad dispassionately, as a person instead of just my dad, I realized his outlook on war and his own service was a good model for life.  He didn’t seek war out, he saw no benefit in people lining up to get themselves blown to bits.  But when such duty is asked of you, think it through, make the best choice of action, and do what is necessary to get the job done.  Then leave it behind you and move on.  But never forget the sacrifices made by so many.

*My brother corrected me. Dad did not have his mechanic qualifications, just ability. An officer he met suggested that might be enough to get him enlisted as a skilled tradesperson.