My life on YouTube

I am pretty active on social media, all mostly focussed on the thankless task of flogging my book, Floating in Space, to the unsuspecting book reading public. Here on WordPress my output is mostly short essays about my life, the books I read and the classic films I watch on TV. Over on YouTube my output is slightly different, mostly short videos that extol the virtue of my equally short novel but I do get pretty creative in the video element too.

My hobby as a video producer began in 1986 when I was given a VHS compact video camera for my birthday. It was pretty much the same camera that Marty McFly used in back to the future, shooting video onto small VHS tapes that you play on a standard VHS player by inserting the small tapes into a VHS converter which was just the size of a standard VHS tape. When I got the camcorder, as soon as I had exhausted the usual stuff, filming weddings and christenings and so on, I starting trying to make something more professional and the first time I felt like I had succeeded was when my friend Steve and I made a film about Manchester Airport.

We had both spent lots of time at the airport as schoolkids and we both had ideas about what we wanted to show on the video, particularly the back lanes of the airport and the old war-time pill-box we used to visit on our bikes. Almost as soon as we began to shoot Steve just switched on his life time love of aircraft and started talking, which apart from some brief discussions earlier, was basically unscripted. When I consider now how hard it is to speak on camera, even when I have a script, I take my hat off to Steve.

Not so long ago I took the airport video and added some copyright free music, tidied up some bad cuts and added it back to YouTube. I did think of deleting the original but when I looked at all the views it has had (8.3K views at the time of writing) and all the comments, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Another re-edit was a video about a rail trip from Manchester to Porthmadoc in Wales made on a weekend trip Steve and I made in 1986. The original used a lot of contemporary music and was not very visible on the Internet, in fact a little caption used to come up saying ‘blocked in Europe due to copyright infringement!’ So again with this other re-edit I added copyright free music and tidied the film up a little. I re-voiced part of the narration which was a mistake because my voice is so much more confident these days than it used to be and the old and the new narration don’t really go together. Perhaps I just need to go the whole hog and re-voice the entire narration!

Back in the 1980’s I was a great motorsport fan and spent every other weekend down at Oulton Park, the Cheshire racing circuit. Here’s a video that was a compilation of some of my best video at the track complete with titles made on my Sinclair Spectrum!

Getting to some of my more recent videos, here’s me reciting some of my poetry, in fact this poem, The Long and Dusty Road of Life, is one of my favourites.

One of my usual themes in this blog is second-hand books and I’ve done quite a few posts on the theme of my Holiday Book Bag. Every time so far I’ve managed to convert the post into a video version. Here’s the first from 2016 with me dressed as Bruce Willis in Die Hard fashion.

I’ve used the online editing website Animoto for a while now and here’s one of my favourite short promo videos for Floating in Space. One of the great things about Animoto is that you don’t necessarily need video, you can create a video slide show using still images or combine video and still photography.

Here’s another one but instead of just pictures and music I’ve tried to do something slightly different. Floating is set in 1977 so I’ve tried to bring up some interesting things from that year as well as some interesting personalities to make the watcher start to think about the late seventies and perhaps how interesting a book set in that time period might be .

Here’s something different again. It’s actually still a plug for Floating but also a spoof on the opening of the Woody Allen film Manhattan, only instead of talking about New York like Woody, I wax lyrical about Manchester. Once the watcher has been lulled into a false sense of security, then comes the link to Floating!

Having got the hang of this narration business I decided to step back and add a narration to a video that just had captions when I first put it together. Even though at first glance the video seems to be about cycling, it’s actually about video editing. Click here to see the original.

One of my favourite videos is this one. The narration has been put together from my blogs and text from Floating with some new additional thoughts on Manchester. I revisit the sites of some of the locations used in the novel and talk about how things have changed, take a ride on the town’s new tram system and generally wax lyrical about Manchester.

Talking to camera and trying to make your book sound interesting isn’t as easy as it seems. In this video I’ve tried to show how difficult it is and produced what is generally called a bloopers reel. It’s nothing brilliant, just a bit of fun.

When I travelled to France in 2018, I clipped my action cam to the window and filmed pretty much everywhere I went. On several occasions, especially when travelling long distances, the cameras ground to a halt when their battery charge ran out. Anyway, this short video takes in the village of Parçay les Pins where we stayed, my favourite town of Saumur, brocantes and barbecuing.

Here’s one last video. Earier this year, 2019, I was invited to the radio station Salford City Radio 94.4 FM to talk about books, writing and blogging. I was hoping to improve my media profile and pick up a few more followers and perhaps even flog a few more books. Naturally, I took along my video camera and here is the result.


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

Cary Grant, Peter Sellers and Home Movies.

The BBC does do a good documentary and the other day I settled down to watch a documentary about the film star Cary Grant; Becoming Cary Grant.

Grant was the smooth talking and sophisticated star of many a Hitchcock film, indeed the documentary revealed ‘Hitch’ to be his favourite director. Grant and Hitchcock were both immigrants from the UK.

Cary Grant was born Archibald Leach in Bristol in the south of England. He had a rather sad childhood during which his mother disappeared. Various explanations were put to the young Archie including the lies that she had gone on holiday and later that she had died. In fact his father had his wife committed to an asylum where she languished until her rich and famous son returned to her much later. In fact, Grant did not learn that his mother was still alive until he was thirty-one years old.

Archie’s father remarried but Archie was not included in the new family. Instead he was sent to live with his grandparents. At school he developed a love of theatre and spent much time helping and later working at small theatres in Bristol. When he was only 11 he began working with a small troupe known as the Pender Troupe and when they went to undertake a new tour in the USA, the young Archie went with them, following in the footsteps of other performers like Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel.

In the USA, Archie toured the vaudeville circuit with the Pender Troupe and decided to stay on in the USA when the troupe returned home. He and some others formed their own troupe and Archie spent a lot of time doing various acts like stilt walking and unicycle riding. Gradually he moved on to better roles in various theatre productions and even had a screen test in the early 1930s, which was shown on the documentary. Archie, now using the name Cary Grant comes over as a loud-voiced individual, making many faces for the camera. Of course, as a vaudeville actor he was used to talking loudly and making exaggerated expressions but he soon learned to tone down his performance for the cameras.

The documentary uses text from Grant’s unpublished autobiography and it is clear an experience in later life had a great effect on him. Grant took part in a form of psychoanalysis using LSD which enabled him to confront issues from his early life which the actor felt had unduly affected his relationships as an adult, particularly with women, in fact he was married five times.

The film was interesting but focused mainly on the unpublished autobiography and many of his friendships and relationships that I have read about in other books were not even mentioned. A great part of the film also was Grant’s collection of home movies which were used throughout the film although many times what we were seeing was not properly explained. Towards the end of the film Grant’s daughter was interviewed and visits Cary’s old home. In one scene we see her visiting the patio shown in a earlier shot on one of Cary’s home movies. More interviews and perhaps some more location footage would have benefited this film enormously. Still, it was interesting and can be found on the BBC i-Player if you missed the original broadcast.

The Peter Sellers Story: As He Filmed It.

A similar and much superior film to the Cary Grant documentary is this one, The Peter Sellers Story: As He Filmed It, made by the BBC Arena team in 1995. It was created largely from cine film shot by Sellers himself, who was a lifelong camera enthusiast. If I remember correctly, Sellers’ widow, Lynne Frederick had died and left behind a lot of Sellers’ effects, including his home movies which is how the film came to be made.

Normally, I’d say that you have to be interested in movie people and how movies are made to like this documentary but this film is so special I don’t think that rule applies.

The original film was in three parts and began with Sellers’ early days, and his early films. The first cine films we see are black and white movies and as Sellers’ career takes off, his cine equipment also improves and he upgrades to colour and then on to sound. His own images show his young self as a sort of ‘spiv’, a Flash Harry sort of character with his double-breasted and shoulder padded jackets. An uneasy relationship with his mother emerges, as does a rather spoilt and volatile personality. His first wife talks about their early days and their life together and friends like Spike Milligan talk happily about successes like the Goon show and their beginnings in show business. Milligan had a 8mm camera and Sellars a 16mm one. Of course ‘Peter was richer,’ comments Milligan. ‘Richer by 8 millimetres!’

Sellers’ cine film is blended with interviews from various people who played a part in Sellers’ life.

A fascinating section concerned Casino Royale, the spoof James Bond film. Various directors were involved but Joe McGrath shot one segment with Peter Sellers and Orson Welles. McGrath was a TV director relishing the move into feature films, that is until Sellers told him he didn’t want to be in the same shot as co-star Welles. A heated debate ensued which became physical. Sellers said he was going off to calm down. He never returned and if you ever see the completed movie, you’ll understand why Sellers’ character abruptly disappears too!

Sellers claimed to have no personality of his own and ‘borrowed’ them from the characters he impersonated. It’s interesting to watch the TV interviews included in the film where Sellers seems to mimic the Yorkshire tones of Michael Parkinson and again, in other snippets he is taking on the accents and style of his interviewers.

The film overall has a sort of melancholy feeling which I feel accurately represents Sellers’ persona. He was a sad character, disappointed in his life and loves. He was not happy with his last wife, Lynne Frederick and he even junked many of his cine films prior to his death as they didn’t seem to match his expectations. The mood of the film is further enhanced by a wonderful soundtrack full of sad saxophones and jazz tones.

There are some that put down documentaries that are full of so-called ‘talking heads’ but personally, if the talking head has something interesting to say, I like to hear them. However, in 2002 the BBC re edited the film by taking the soundtracks from the ‘talking heads’ and combined them with Sellers’ self filmed visuals. The result is now available as a BBC DVD. The original is much better though.

If you are interested the original is available in three parts on vimeo.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three


Floating in Space, a novel by Steve Higgins and set in Manchester, 1977 is available from Amazon as a Kindle download or traditional paperback. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

(Almost) Unseen TV

tv documentaryIt’s interesting that on TV, the same movies come at us time after time. The Great Escape, wonderful film though it is, has been broadcast so many times I know the script off by heart. The Bond films are a staple of UK TV. They and the Die Hard films, the Carry on series and a hundred others–they are all constantly on British TV. Old TV shows are another staple of the new free view channels.

In fact, just lately a lot of my favourite shows from when I was a school boy are currently being shown on TV: The Saint, Land of the Giants, The Invaders and many more. (Wish they’d get around to showing the Time Tunnel though!) Some things that rarely, if ever, are repeated, are old TV documentaries and old made for TV movies. Here are three of my favourites, two documentaries and one made for TV movie, preserved for my viewing pleasure on trusty old VHS video tape.

The Peter Sellers Story: As He Filmed It.

The BBC Arena team made this film about Peter Sellers in 1995. It was created largely from cine film shot by Sellers himself, who was a lifelong camera enthusiast. The original documentary was made in 1995 and if I remember correctly, Sellers’ widow, Lynne Frederick had died and left behind a lot of Sellers’ effects, including his home movies which is how the film came to be made.

Normally, I’d say that you have to be interested in movie people and how movies are made to like this documentary but this film is so special I don’t think that rule applies.

The original film was in three parts and began with Sellers’ early days, and his early films. The first cine films we see are black and white movies and as Sellers’ career takes off, his cine equipment also improves and he upgrades to colour and then on to sound. His own images show his young self as a sort of ‘spiv’, a Flash Harry sort of character with his double-breasted and shoulder padded jackets. An uneasy relationship with his mother emerges, as does a rather spoilt and volatile personality. His first wife talks about their early days and their life together and friends like Spike Milligan talk happily about successes like the Goon show and their beginnings in show business. Milligan had a 8mm camera and Sellars a 16mm one. Of course ‘Peter was richer,’ comments Milligan. ‘Richer by 8 millimetres!’

Sellers’ cine film is blended with interviews from various people who played a part in Sellers’ life.

Sellers as Group Captain Mandrake in Dr Strangelove.

Sellers as Group Captain Mandrake in Dr Strangelove.

A fascinating section concerned Casino Royale, the spoof James Bond film. Various directors were involved but Joe McGrath shot one segment with Peter Sellers and Orson Welles. McGrath was a TV director relishing the move into feature films, that is until Sellers told him he didn’t want to be in the same shot as co-star  Welles. A heated debate ensued which became physical. Sellers said he was going off to calm down. He never returned and if you ever see the completed movie, you’ll understand why Sellers’ character abruptly disappears too!

Sellers claimed to have no personality of his own and ‘borrowed’ them from the characters he impersonated. It’s interesting to watch the TV interviews  included in the film where Sellers seems to mimic the Yorkshire tones of Michael Parkinson and again, in other snippets he is taking on the accents and style of his interviewers.

The film overall has a sort of melancholy feeling which I feel accurately represents Sellers’ persona. He was a sad character, disappointed in his life and loves. He was not happy with his last wife, Lynne Frederick and he even junked many of his cine films prior to his death as they didn’t seem to match his expectations. The mood of the film is further enhanced by a wonderful soundtrack full of sad saxophones and jazz tones.

There are some that put down documentaries that are full of so-called ‘talking heads’ but personally, if the talking head has something interesting to say, I like to hear them. However, in 2002 the BBC re edited the film by taking the soundtracks from the ‘talking heads’ and combined them with Sellers’ self filmed visuals. The result is now available as a BBC DVD. The original is much better though.

Barry Sheene. Photo courtesy Wikipedia

Barry Sheene. Photo courtesy Wikipedia

Barry Sheene. Daytona 1975.

This is a film about the late motorcycle racer Barry Sheene. He was a star of the 1970’s motorcycle racing scene. A long-haired, chain-smoking racer who had Donald Duck on his crash helmet and who famously gave the V sign to one of his opponents, I think it was Kenny Roberts, at a race at Silverstone in 1979. In this film Sheene goes to Daytona and is flat-out testing his bike when the engine locks up. He yanks in the clutch but is still sent hurtling along the track breaking several bones in the process. The film follows him to hospital where he joked with colleagues, even saying to his team manager, ‘the staff really hurt me. I’m glad I didn’t tell them about that pain I’ve got in my shoulder.’ His manager looks confused for a moment and says, ‘well, don’t you think you should tell them?’

Sheene is pinned back together with various metal rods and is later seen hobbling away from the hospital but even so, later in the film, we see him back on his motorbike once again.

The film was produced and directed by Canadian documentary maker Frank Cvitanovich and is a fascinating insight into the world of Barry Sheene. It is clear he lived and breathed motorcycles. In later life he retired and became a sports commentator in Australia. He died of cancer at the age of only 52

Across the Lake.

Across the Lake was a BBC film made in 1988. It starred Anthony Hopkins as speed king Donald Campbell in the final days of his life as he tried to raise the water speed record to over 300 miles per hour. Hopkins gives a lovely performance as Donald Campbell, a man who believed himself to be living in the shadow of his father, record breaker Sir Malcolm Campbell. He decided to take his old Bluebird boat, update her and try to break the 300 mph mark on Coniston water in the lake district. The jet boat flipped over and Campbell was killed. His body was not found until 2001.

The film shows the unglamorous side to record-breaking. Waiting in poor weather, the endless delays, the mechanical issues, the press waiting for something to happen. Something drove Campbell onwards in his pursuit of records. He was short of money and had sold all sorts of rights to his name, his films of record-breaking and so on. This was all before the days of big time sponsorship in the speed and motor racing industry and Hopkins shows us a Donald Campbell undefeated, perhaps even a little desperate but still with considerable style.

The record-breaking team disperse for Christmas and then return after the holidays. They begin their preparations again until a fine January morning appeared. Campbell powered up his speedboat and did a run of 297 mph but lost his life on his second run.

Having written this post about three old films I watch now and again on my old TV with the built-in VHS cassette player, it was interesting to find, during research, that all three can be seen online.

The original three-part version of The Peter Sellers Story: As he filmed it can be seen on vimeo. Click here to watch it.

Frank Cvitanovich’s Barry Sheene Daytona 1975 documentary is on you tube. Watch it here.

Across the Lake is also on youtube. Watch it here.

Perhaps those old films are not as unseen as I thought!


If you enjoyed this post, why not try my book, Floating In Space, a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page for more information, or the picture below to go straight to my amazon page.

Floating in Space

If Only I’d Gotten in the Taxi!

Taxi

image courtesy wikipedia

Back in the nineties I decided to pack my job in and have a last ditch attempt to break into TV by enrolling on a video production course in Manchester.

It was at a place called the WFA which, if I remember correctly stood for the Workers Film Association. It was a rather left wing place too as you can guess from the name, and certainly it wouldn’t have been a good idea to say you admired Mrs Thatcher!

To get a place on the course I had to give a presentation on a media subject. I chose working class representation in film and television and spoke about the kitchen sink movie dramas of the sixties and seventies, (Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, A Kind of Loving, Alfie, and so on) the TV soaps of the nineties (Coronation Street, Eastenders, and Brookside) and how contemporary British movies were then, and now I suppose, very middle class, (Four Weddings and A Funeral and Notting Hill for example.)

On the very first day we had to introduce ourselves and explain why we were on the course. I gave a quick resume of myself and my career, a re-hash of the above presentation and a quick mention of my film making heroes from Billy Wilder to Oliver Stone. I was somewhat surprised to say the least when the next candidate said he had just bought a video camera and wanted to know how to work it and then someone else said they knew nothing about video but wanted to know more. Well, I wonder what film making subject they chose for their presentation!

Our movie was about taxi drivers and after a brief introduction to the camera we were off into Manchester to start interviewing taxi drivers and filming the comings and goings of cabs in the City Centre. A big issue for Manchester cabbies at the time was that the city council was enforcing a new ruling about cabs being wheelchair accessible which meant either a new cab or a costly conversion. Every taxi driver we spoke to mentioned this and they were clearly upset about it. Another thing they pulled me up on was when I dared to call a private hire vehicle a taxi! Dear me no! Didn’t I know taxis and private hire vehicles were two entirely different things? Apparently not!

Another issue that came up was when we screened our rough cut for the whole media school. One taxi driver mentioned that certain places in the city were dangerous to go to as there was the possibility of passengers making off without paying or even robbing the drivers. The cabbie mentioned Moss Side, close to the city centre. One member of the audience complained that the driver was racist as Moss Side is a predominantly black area. I didn’t think he was racist; he just didn’t want to be robbed or lose a cab fare whether the passenger was black or white. My co-directors wanted to cut the offending moment but really the cabbie was just trying to highlight the risk factor in his job.

At the end of the course I took away my video and started pestering documentary producers for the chance to make a full length broadcast version but I didn’t seem to be getting anywhere until I wrote to channel 4. I went down to see them, they watched the video and the first thing they said to me was ‘Why didn’t you get in the cab with your camera?’

Well, we had asked taxi drivers if we could do that and they did say ok but if a passenger wanted us out then we would have to get out, no matter where we were, so rather than risk being stranded somewhere we didn’t take any rides in the cab. On hearing this the Channel 4 producer looked at me and said ‘If you were a real film maker you’d have got in that taxi!’ After that, despite my protests and assurance that I would get in the taxi when fully commissioned, numerous assistants arose, handed me my video and quite quickly I found myself out on the street!

That was my part of my brief foray into television. I’ll let you know more in another blog, however if you’re interested in seeing my Taxi video; here it is;


If you enjoyed my blog, why not try my book, Floating in Space? Click the links at the top of the page for more information or to buy!