Byron’s former ancestral home, Newstead Abbey (well worth a visit if you’re ever passing), is close by although at the time of his death, from a fever – whilst fighting in the Greek War of Independence, he had already sold it to pay off his enormous debts!
Byron was, and remains, a national hero in Greece but, when his body was returned to England, internment was denied him at Westminster Abbey, due to his ‘questionable morality’, but there was no such pomposity from the good townsfolk of Hucknall who turned out in droves to see him buried in the parish Church of St Mary Magdalene, where, as it happens, I was baptized some years later.
Lady Caroline Lamb, a former lover, famously described Byron as ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know,’ and by all accounts he didn’t die wondering. He was famed not only for his poetry but for the eccentric, flamboyant and controversial lifestyle that led him to become the cult personality of his generation.
So where is this extended prologue leading, you might well ask?
As a young pupil at Spring Street Junior School, I knew nothing of Byron’s poetry nor of his tendency to bat for both sides, and that is nothing to do with the little known fact that he appears on the scorecard of the very first Eton v Harrow cricket match, held at Lord’s in 1805!
Chris still marvels at the fact that I can recall movies and movie stars with reasonable alacrity (although, rather worryingly, I’m at that stage where I can remember films from a bygone age more readily than recent releases!) and much of it derives from a childhood ‘hooked to the silver screen’ (lyrics courtesy of David Bowie – Life on Mars…)
The 50’s was an era of Saturday morning outings to the ‘flicks’ for me and my schoolmates. The chattering queue would stretch around the curved façade of the Art Deco edifice that was The Byron. Entering the foyer we would spend our pocket-money, agonising over choices – sherbet fountains, gob stoppers, licorice pipes, jelly babies and Rowntrees fruit gums (to name but a few) before finally reaching the ticket kiosk and excitedly entering the auditorium.
The morning’s entertainment included a medley of cartoons, frequently our favourite spinach eating sailorman Popeye, followed by the latest Pathé Pictorial newsreel (heralded by a crowing cockerel), and serialised episodes of our matinée heroes:
Flash Gordon, conquering the universe, or the masked men – the Lone Ranger with his faithful red indian sidekick Tonto (‘quimo sabe’, ‘Hi-yo Silver!’ and all that) and Zorro with his flashing rapier, slashing that trademark Z with three swift cuts.
Occasionally the film reel action would be supplemented by a live act such as the Brooke Bond, PG chimps, which always went down well. Perhaps that’s why I’m still so fond of ‘Monkey’!
For a while, in order to make ends meet, my Mum was as an usherette at The Byron. She didn’t like the night shifts but it was great for me as she received a weekly entitlement of complementary tickets. On one occasion I was even allowed to visit the holy of holies, the projector room!
I remember seeing, for the first time, one of my all-time favourites, a classic – The Magnificent Seven, and after its run at the Byron, Mum managed to get hold of the original movie poster and the promotional stills. They had pride of place on my bedroom wall for some time but mysteriously disappeared when we moved house.
I wish I still had them now as they are collectable items and worth quite a few bob!
I’m not a regular cinema goer any more, content to sit by the fireside with Sky Movies or a DVD, but occasionally a new release captures my interest and I take myself off to ‘Vue’ it at the local multiplex.Whenever I do I’m always impressed and leave thinking, I should really do this more often!
Things have changed a bit since my days at the Byron. For starters, it’s no longer 6d to get in but £8.50! But the whole movie going experience is so much more up market these days and the widescreen, surround sound format cannot be replicated at home.
So it was, last weekend, that having already selected and paid for the tickets on-line, Chris and I set off to Vue in Worcester to see the much publicised and critically acclaimed The King’s Speech. I am pleased to say it lived up to the hype.
The storyline is that of a reluctant King George VI (Colin Firth), thrust upon the throne following an abdication crisis, brought about by the Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson affair, and his personal battle to overcome a debilitating stutter, at a time when live BBC radio broadcasts were in their infancy and a nation, at war, was hanging on his every word.
The main action surrounds the working relationshp between King George, ‘Bertie’, and his unqualified Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), whose somewhat unconventional methods ultimately enable the monarch to control his stammer and cope with increased public exposure and the daunting demands of live radio.
An improbable blockbuster in many ways, but evocatively filmed in 1930s style, cleverly scripted and beautifully acted, not only by the two principals but a whole supporting cast of notables including:
Helena ‘crazy mismatched shoes’ Bonham Carter – excellent as Princess/Queen Elizabeth, Michael Gambon (George V), Anthony Andrews (Stanley Baldwin) Timothy Spall (Winston Churchill) and Derek Jacobi (the Archbishop of Canterbury); it richly deserves its twelve Academy Award nominations.
Prior to this performance I have to admit to being less than impressed by Colin Firth as a Hollywood Star (perhaps I’ve been forced to sit through Bridget Jones and Mama Mia too many times!) but his performance as George VI is well worth the Golden Globe he recently picked up, and I suspect there may be an Oscar to come.
As a film it is great, and to make it work there obviously has to be a degree of poetic licence such as the, perhaps, over familiar stance adopted by Logue towards his royal client.
And then there is also the big historical question mark over whether George VI was actually pro appeasement, as supposedly indicated by his private letters and diaries, which isn’t actually addressed as an issue in the film.
It did cross my mind as to what the Queen might make of this portrayal of her father, whether she was consulted about its content in any way, and what she thought of young Freya Wilson’s engaging performance as the young Princess Elizabeth.
And now as the sun begins to slowly sink, it is time to sign off in the time honoured fashion of all great westerns…
…’ But who is that masked man anyway?’
…’That was the Lone Ranger!’
Fade in theme music – the William Tell Overture- and roll the credits, as our hero gallops into the sunset…