Tuesday, 7 July 2015

That Summer day

Somewhat inevitably, I was running very late on the morning of 7 July 2005. At the time I was working near Waterloo station, so my usual commute was to take the Piccadilly line from Bounds Green to Piccadilly Circus, then change to the Bakerloo line to Lambeth North. I caught the BBC London travel bulletin around 08:55, which said that there were ongoing severe delays with the Northern, Piccadilly (there had been an earlier fire alert at Caledonian Road), and Bakerloo lines, and so decided to walk to Bounds Green to see what the situation was. If it was a non-starter, I'd back-track to the nearby Bowes Park National Rail station for my usual "Plan B" route via the West Anglia Great Northern service into Moorgate.

Just after I left home around 09:10 - by which time I'd switched the TV off - I got a text from a friend from Manchester asking if I was already at work, which I thought was a bit odd. Around 09:25 I turned the final corner 50 metres from Bounds Green, but could see that the station gates were closed, so immediately turned around and headed back to Bowes Park. I didn't rush because I knew that while I'd just missed the 09:23 train, the next wasn't until 09:38, but reaching the top of the stairs leading down from the bridge over the tracks to the station, I could see that there was a train already standing on the platform. Having run down the steps and virtually dived through the open doors, however, I was informed by another passenger that the train hadn't moved "for ages."

I then texted a work colleague to say that I was going to be more than usually late, but she replied to the effect that she herself was stuck on a train at Clapham Junction, and otherwise didn't know what was going on, leaving me with a growing realisation that something must be very wrong. A couple of minutes later the driver of our stationary train came on the PA to inform us that not only had the entire London Underground had been shut down, but that our train would only be moving on to the next station - Alexandra Palace - where it would terminate. Faced with no reasonable way to get to work, I got off and headed home. As I walked back, I got a call from the friend in Manchester who'd texted earlier, asking if I was okay, what with all these "power surges" and stuff....

My arrival at home at about 09:45 woke my then-flatmate, Claire, who was having a lie-in as she'd already finished Uni for the summer. Blearily, she asked: "What's going on? Why are you back?" I said she'd better turn on the TV in the lounge, while I went to my bedroom to change out of my work clothes, switching on the set in there at the same time. I eventually joined her on the couch, and we ended up watching the live coverage of events in a state of numbed horror until well into the afternoon, our own bewildered speculation about what could have happened punctuated by texts and calls from worried friends and relatives in London checking in, and from those further afield making sure we were OK.

I ahve always been very philosophical about the possibility that I could eaasily have been on the Piccadilly line train that was bombed, especially when it became apparent that the explosion had occurred at the front of it. Because of the position of the passageways between the Piccadilly and Bakerloo lines at Piccadilly Circus, I usually got on at the back of the train at Bounds Green (that part of the platform ironically being marked with a plaque commemorating the civilians killed there when the station was bombed on 14 October 1940). On the other hand, if I had just come down the escalators and there had been a train already waiting, I would have got on in the middle of it. The absolute worst case scenario as I saw it was that, yes, I could have been on the train that was bombed, but not in or near any of the cars directly affected. For Claire, though, this wasn't enough reassurance. We'd been sharing the flat strictly platonically for three years, but the events of that day were a significant part of the process of her realising how she really felt about me, not that she said anything at the time (to cut a long story short, we became a couple in early 2006, and married in September 2008).

On the evening of 7 July, I recorded that night's Channel 4 News, more simply as an historical document as anything else. I'd long had an interest in the history of the London Underground, especially events relating to it during the Second World War, a side effect of that day's events being that my website on the subject received a sudden and massive spike in activity, the inevitable result of it containg the words "London," "Underground," "bomb," and many of the affected station names.

The next morning, while the bus network and much of the Underground was operating at least in some form, commuters were being strongly advised not to travel into central London unless absolutely necessary. Although working for the National Health Service, my job was hardly "frontline," and yet I didn't have much doubt about going in to work. Whether the bombers themselves were alive or dead (it still wasn't clear at that stage that they were actually suicide bombers), there were undoubtedly others - helpers, sponsors, or even just sympathisers - who would have wanted nothing more than seeing the capital crippled and cowed for yet another day. I wasn't going to be a part of that, even a tiny passive one.

The Piccadilly line was only operating at its extreme ends, the line blocked in the middle by the wreckage of the bombed train stalled between King's Cross-St Pancras and Russell Square. Replacement buses were operating from Bounds Green, taking passengers either west to the Northern line, or east to the Victoria. Many people could be understandably excused for wanting to avoid trains in general and the Underground in particular as much as possible that day, but I decided that I'd go straight to Bowes Park and get the train to Moorgate, reflecting on the fact that the tunnelled section between Drayton Park and Moorgate had - as the "Northern City Line" - been part of the Underground network until 1975.

Arriving at Bowes Park, I found the scene more akin to a Saturday afternoon than a weekday rush-hour, with barely a score of people waiting on the southbound platform. Hardly anyone was talking, but there seemed to be a tangible sense of defiance in how the few of us who were there held ourselves. As unobtrusively as I could, I used the compact 35mm camera I always carried with me to take a photograph of the scene for posterity. With a few minutes to spare, I walked idly to the northern end of the platform, and as I moved closer something caught my eye. At the bottom of the slope down to the track bed, amongst the broken and weedy earth, a clump of vivid red poppies had taken root, swaying gently in the breeze....

For me personally, 7/7 will always been that day I didn't get on a train, but so many people died, or were injured, or suffered in other ways because they did. Ordinary people, going about their normal everyday lives.

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Not forgotten

Monday, 7 July 2014

Not forgotten

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Retroactive timey-wimey influence thingy...

Rather desperately, a number of newspapers have been trying to suggest that the crackpot Workers' Institute of Marxism–Leninism–Mao Zedong Thought (WIMLMZT) were the "insipration" for John Sullivan's BBC1 sitcom Citizen Smith.

The Guardian, for example, claims:

"The group's beliefs were regularly mocked in the diary column of the Times newspaper, bringing speculation that it became the part-model for the Tooting Popular Front, the ludicrous political movement set up by Robert Lindsay in Citizen Smith, a BBC sitcom that began broadcasting in 1977." Source

The problem here is that the first diary column in The Times to mention the WIMLMZT was the one of 19 April 1977, under the heading "Now the good news from Brixton" - exactly a week after the transmission of the Citizen Smith pilot in the Comedy Sprecial strand on BBC1 on 12 April! It was the case that Sullivan first showed the script to producer Dennis Main Wilson in a BBC bar eight weeks before that transmission,[1] but obviously it certainly hadn't been written overnight. The unfortunate reality is that there was plenty of inspiration for Wolfie Smith's hapless and hopeless would-be revolutionary, but the WIMLMZT is highly unlikely to be among them.

[1] Television sitcom production at the BBC 1973-1984: an integrated approach

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Sunday, 7 July 2013

Not forgotten

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Not fogotten

Friday, 6 April 2012

Just who does Samantha Brick think she is?

That's a question that a lot of people have been asking in the last few days, but I'm going to look beyond the ostensible issue of whether its specifically her self-declared beauty alone that is the root of all her problems.

Appearing on This Morning on Thursday, Eamonn Holmes asked her: "Is this all just a publicity stunt, and we've all fallen for it... Three days ago nobody had heard of you." Brick demurred: "I live in the middle of France. I live in the middle of the countryside, with my husband and our dogs. I'm a housewife first and foremost, I write part-time around my chores at home...."

That, it seems, is not much of a back-story, and one could be forgiven for thinking that the neophyte image may explain what some have taken to be naïveté on her part. She doesn't know what she's got herself into, because she's "just a housewife," right?

Or is she?

Brick actually has a fair bit of form when it comes to articles for the Daily Mail, which seem to hide self-loathing in a cloak of arrogant indignation. Apart the diet and beauty tips, these range from her bad times with "man-child" first husband "Jack" or "Damian" (depending on which story he's mentioned in), to an idyllic life in France with new French husband Pascal, even though he happily says he'll divorce her if she gets fat (and said as much to her parents on their first meeting!), and that he calls the shots on what she wears. So far, so control freak.

"Pascal Brick" - as he has frequently been referred to - looms large in Samantha's work for the Mail, and much humour has been been aimed in his direction, mainly due to his Village People-esque moustache, the visible podge hanging over his own belt in the piece about him not wanted her to get fat (!), and the fact that one photograph sees him in camouflage and brandishing a rifle, ready to lay waste to the local wildlife. But what of Life Before Pascal?

The top page of Brick's own website labels her a writer, journalist, and "award-winning producer." The latter, in fact, ties in with a couple of her pieces for the Mail. The first - "Catfights over handbags and tears in the toilets" - back in April 2009 describes the failure of Brick's independent TV production outfit, which she had hoped would be, "a female-only company with happy, harmonious workers benefiting from an absence of men." Although this sounds like an industrial tribunal waiting to happen (being a practical illegality, I would have thought), this failure was blame-absolvingly down to "the recession." In the article, Brick says that previously she, "was working as a TV executive producer making shows for top channels such as MTV, and based in Los Angeles."

In another piece for the Mail, from July 2010 - subtly titled "How TV is run by sexist pigs who only want one thing (and it’s not ratings)" - Brick describes in rather vague terms a long career in television, culminating in the aforementioned failure of her own company. The salient details include:
"My first job in TV was at the then London Weekend Television in 1993 - as a researcher in the current affairs department."

"My own career trajectory was down to sheer hard work and, despite the rejection of my boss’s friend during my time at ITV, by 1999, at the age of 29, I was appointed head of entertainment at Sky One."
Returning to Brick's website, the page on her television work states:
"Samantha is an award-winning producer and has worked in television for nearly twenty years, producing TV shows in the UK and the US. She has worked with global names, including; the Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson, David Beckham, Jordan/Katie Price, Sadie Frost, Pearl Lowe and the Primrose Hill set. She has made documentaries and reality shows for every major channel, including ITV, BBC and Channel 4 in the UK and in the US MTV, Fox and Bravo – amongst others."
It goes on to state that she, "ran Sky One’s successful entertainment department," gave the likes of Tess Daly and Russell Brand their TV breaks, followed by a stint in Los Angeles, "devising, pitching then exec-producing TV reality shows," before returning to the UK to start her own company. Amidst all that, though, there is only one programme she worked on identified by name: "producing, directing and co-creating the award winning series Ibiza Uncovered."

This sent me rummaging for my VHS tapes of said series, but reviewing the credits for the first episode revealed that the producer/director on it was Daniela Neumann. Persevering, I worked out that "Sam Brick" was actually the producer/director on episode 3 and 8 of the first series (with four others in the rôle on the remaining five episodes), although there was no creator credit on either it or the second series.

Armed with the version of her name that Brick had used professionally, she proved easy to find. Her IMDB page provides a fair few credits corroborating her own name-dropping, whilst elsewhere her meteoric rise through TVland is documented stage-by-stage.

Brick started at LWT, which made Ibiza Uncovered for Sky in 1997. In November 1999 Broadcast reported that while working as a producer for Hat Trick Productions, she was poached by Sky, "to become an executive producer with commissioning responsibilities for Sky One output." According to Music Week, by 2000 she was head of factual and entertainment programming for Sky, and in November 2001 it was reported that she had been poached by September Films. After working for September Films USA in Los Angeles, she returned to the UK to set up Sam Brick Entertainment Ltd. in mid-2005. Less than a year later, the company's first commission was Chubby Children for Living TV.

So what does all this tell us? Well, apart from the fact that we clearly shouldn't be calling hubby "Pascal Brick" (on balance, it seems highly unlikely he would have taken her surname!), it's pretty obvious that Brick herself is actually a hardened and seasoned media professional, rather than the naïve housewife writing part-time, as she has tried to suggest, and which sadly the rest of the industry seems happy to go along with. I mean, I'm assuming that her past career is known about, even if her fellow hacks and luvvies are choosing not to mention it as context to the whole story?

It also, of course, adds a very different dimension to Brick's apparent neuroses. Contrary to the impression of ordinariness she has tried to project (apart from her looks, of course), she has in fact spent the majority of her working like in an environment quite divorced from the everyday reality of the majority of the population, whether female or male. It is little wonder, then, that she has not only such a skewed view of the world, but also of how she thinks the world sees her....

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