Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Mersey Memories

Earlier this year I accosted one of the producers at BBC Radio Merseyside in the Philharmonic pub on Hope Street. What, I enquired, was the BBC's remit during Liverpool's year as Capital of Culture.
She delivered little more than a paean of praise for the station's more parochial presenters & their egos.
No, no, no, I interjected, I meant the BBC as a whole, you know, BBC Radio 4, BBC 4, etc.
She looked at me as if I'd just asked her about Jonathan Ross' salary.
Don't really know, she stammered, that's not "our patch".
I hope she watched BBC 4 yesterday evening. Its programmes under the heading "Liverpool on the box" were inspired.
First to be broadcast was an intriguing look at Liverpool photographer Edward Chambre Hardman. The programme was a repeat from a couple of years ago, but it was nice to see it a second time. Narrated by Merseyside's own John Peel shortly before his ridiculously early death, the programme looked at the images caught by Hardman. As well as portrait photography for Merseyside's middle classes, there were startling images of Liverpool throughout the 30s, 40s & 50s.
This was followed by Passport to Liverpool, a look at the port, its role & development & its myths. It also featured the city's people, ranging from the Scousers who are sometimes overlooked (a woman proud to be an Afro Scouser), the "Mary Ellens" (elderly women who sum up much of the city's matriarchal culture), to the cliched stereotypes (the characters who'll crack a corny gag while extolling the virtues of Scousedom).
It made for a diffuse & rounded picture of the city, refreshingly honest about a troubled past & current ills.
Rounding off the evening was a gem of a curio from 1968. Ken Loach worked for the BBC before becoming one of the greatest film producers in European cinema. It was as a producer at the Beeb that he worked on a docu-drama as part of the then Wednesday Play slot.
"The Golden Vision" (a nickname given to Everton footballer Alex Young) looked at the lives of a group of fanatical Everton supporters. I must admit that even as a Liverpool fan I found it totally absorbing. It also served as a remarkable social document. Filming took place on the Goodison terraces (this was 20 years before Hillsborough brought terrace culture to an end) & in back to back terraced houses, many of which have long been bulldozed into history. There were also stark reminders that even in the late 60s large parts of the city still showed the damage of the Luftwaffe in World War Two.
Shot in black & white (normal filming conventions or Loachian realism?), the city seemed to be bathed in sepia & fog, the horizon never quite distinct. It may have been the 60s, but most of the mores, manners & conventions (a visit from the local Catholic priest to enquire about non-attendance at Mass) firmly belonged to previous decades.
Loach being Loach, the wider social questions were only a dialogue away; an elderly Evertonian reminisced about previous players & hunger marches from Liverpool in the 30s as if to connect the seemingly disparate themes in the context of working class culture.
Scandalously, only the Passport to Liverpool programme is available to watch again on the BBC's iPlayer (http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/search/?uri=%2Fiplayer%2F&go=toolbar&qPassport+to+Liverpool ).
Come on, guys, give us full value for our licence fee & add the other two programmes.

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