Antony Thomas was making documentary films at a time in film and TV when leading producers and executives were backed by their organizations, could stand by their principles and get films made. Three very different commissioners – Charles Denton, Sheila Nevins and Tony Essex – gave him a free rein to make defining, bold films. They were not dominated by the obsession with ratings and chasing “subscriber loyalty”, or hampered by lawyers making risk-averse decisions to protect the brand, as is the case for factual entertainment today.
“You don’t travel in order to deck yourself with exoticism and anecdotes like a Christmas tree, but so that the route plucks you, rinses you, wrings you out, makes you like one of those towels, threadbare with washing that are handed out with slivers of soap in brothels. You leave far behind you the excuses or curses of your birthplace, and in each filthy bundle lugged about in crowded waiting rooms, on little station platforms appalling in their heat and misery, you see your own coffin going by. Without this detachment and lucidity, how can you hope to convey what you have seen?” — from Nicolas Bouvier’s The Scorpion-Fish
The Swiss writer and photographer, Nicolas Bouvier, (1929-98) was a traveller in the real sense of the word, navigating different worlds and writing about forgotten people and changed places. He gives us alternative perspectives on places like the Balkans, Iran, Azerbaijan, Japan, China, Korea and the highlands of Scotland.
He is unusual in the way he writes, at times, in a stream of consciousness about the world around him and how he feels in the instant so directly and openly. In The Scorpion Fish, his description of a bomb blowing up a bus and the grisly aftermath is not only very beautifully written but mirrors his inner collapse and sense of physical decrepitude. Continue reading Review | So It Goes – Travels in the Aran Isles, Xian and places in between, Nicolas Bouvier | Eland Publishing
An article about sparring with Hemingway and the stamina required to be a writer fell out of Gael Elton Mayo’s copy of Robert Ruark’s Something of Value while rearranging the overfilled bookshelves in the hallway this morning. Gael wrote about 1950s Spain in the 1950s in her memoir The Mad Mosaic.
The American writer Robert Ruark was a friend of hers: “He wrote not (yet) bestsellers, but sports columns, that were syndicated and appeared in twenty newspapers at once all over America. We went to see him with Dennis, in his villa near Palamos. The atmosphere was very different from our village. Friends of the Ruarks had houses with floodlit lawns, beach houses, booze and boredom. But Ruark was as hospitable as Dennis, having people to stay, offering meals, drinks, leaving all his guests for a few hours then returning, rubbing his hands together, to announce he had just had someone killed off. He was referring to the novel that he was working on, about the Mau Mau, Something of Value. He had many Tahitian primitive paintings and played Hawaiian music. He drank mainly rum with Coca Cola, and much ice and lemon. He had two boxer dogs who went swimming with him, and a wife called Ginny who looked as if it had all got beyond her long ago.”
To box with Hemingway when he was in his prime was a rather unusual experience for a reporter who had been sent to interview him. I went to cover the arrival of the Pan-American Airways Clipper across the Pacific via Manila to find Hemingway buoyant with the success of his Spanish Civil War novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls. He had just sold the film rights to Paramount for a record sum. Some months before the balloon went up at Pearl Harbour he had been sent to China to cover the Sino-Japanese war for Marshall Field’s now defunct paper, PM.