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Cycling was the reason writer and broadcaster, Trevor Ward moved to Auchmithie, in the north east of Scotland.

“I’ve always dreamed of having miles and miles of quiet country roads on my doorstep,” says the writer and broadcaster about his home, a former fishing village near Arbroath.

“When I lived in London or Manchester, you’d have to drive or get the train with your bike before you could start cycling on quiet roads, but here I get on my bike outside my front door and have seen barely any other traffic other than the odd tractor by the time I get back 30 or 40 miles later.”

Trevor is now somewhere over the Alps, preparing for the grueling final stage of the Tour de France bike race, Etape du Tour. By Monday 11th July, he hopes he will be smoking a Cuban cigar and drinking a bottle of Gigondas, having “cycled 109 km over three big brutes of mountains – the Telegraphe, Galibier and Alpe d’Huez. Altogether, I will have climbed more than 3,000 metres in temperatures nudging 30 degrees.”

His aim in taking on this challenge is to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support. He also hopes the experience will give him material to write a book:

“As a means of motivation, I’m trying to turn it into a book, the story of a middle-aged, marginalised, unemployed victim of the recession trying to give his life some meaning by cycling a stage of the Tour de France.”

Why Trevor is unemployed and marginalised says much about how the industry he has worked in has changed, since he began as a presenter in the 1980’s with Network 7.

Network 7 was a love it or loathe it series from the 1980s, which revolutionised television. Launched in 1987, it aired on Sundays between 12 and 2pm, running for two series until 1988. There had been nothing like it then, but there have been plenty of copies since.

Devised by Janet Street-Porter and Jane Hewland, Network 7 gave a voice to British teenagers and twenty-somethings, sowed the seed of Reality TV, and put “yoof culture” at the heart of the TV schedules.

Strange to think now, but back then there was no youth TV, outside of the music shows Top of the Pops and The Tube.

Set in a ramshackle warehouse in London’s Limehouse, Network 7 changed all this by taking its audience seriously and offering feature items, news stories, music and interviews on issues that were topical, relevant and often ground-breaking: from exposes on bank card fraud, to Third World debt, AIDs, bulimia, bullying and gangs. Network 7 was also radical in that it was presented by “yoof”, and made stars of Sebastian Scott, Magenta Devine, Sankha Guha, Jaswinder Bancil and Trevor Ward.

They were all good, but Ward had an edge as was a maverick, who brought a steely journalistic edge to what was, in effect, a magazine show presented by bright young things.

“I was working for Mercury Press agency in Liverpool in 1987 under the brilliant and inspirational Roger Blyth when I was 26. Network 7 was a brand new Sunday morning show, like a thinking-man’s Tiswas. About halfway through their first series, they said they were looking for a reporter.

“The following week, they repeated their appeal, but this time they said the applicants had to be Northern. So I sent in my CV and was invited down to an interview on the set – a load of reconditioned caravans in the middle of a big warehouse in East London. Janet Street Porter and Jane Hewland gave me a merciless grilling and I drove home convinced I hadn’t got the job.

“The next day, a researcher rang me and said I was on the final short list of three, and that we would be expected to come down to London the next Sunday to do a live audition on that day’s show. The viewers would vote in a live telephone poll for who got the job.

“I thought it was a brilliant idea, even though there was a one in three chance it could end in nationally-televised humiliation for me.

“That week’s show was coming live from a Rock against Racism festival in Finsbury Park, and we each had to find a story during the programme’s two-hour running time to present to camera in under a couple of minutes about half an hour before the end.

“I thought it was pretty obvious that it would have to be a PTC rather than an interview if we were to successfully sell ourselves to the viewers in such a short timespan, so I harvested a load of juicy anecdotes from a bunch of bouncers and turned those into a script which ended with about six of them carrying me off camera. I was unaware of what the other two were up to, and later found out they’d chosen to interview people from worthy causes represented at the festival.

“Anyway, I got almost half the votes, so was declared the winner at the end of the show.”

Ward’s first live story on the programme was about the Death Penalty.

Network 7 was brilliant for pioneering viewer interaction, and viewers were regularly asked to vote on a range of issues. That week it was the death penalty and whether a particular Death Row inmate –whom we had a live satellite link with – should die. I was handed the London, studio-end of things. It was incredibly nerve-racking. My first piece-to-camera – at the top of the two-hour programme – was a two—and-a-half-minute walking/talking shot – an eternity in TV time – referring to various modes of capital punishment – all without autocue.”

Ward was soon a star, part of the Network 7 gang who turned up Café de Paris and Groucho’s, but while it made him “feel famous”, he was well aware that it “didn’t mean the public necessarily liked you or thought you were any good at your job.”

Janet Street-Porter went onto to win a BAFTA for Network 7 and was then appointed head of “yoof” TV at the BBC, where she appointed ward as one of the main faces on her new series Reportage – the BBC’s version of Network 7.

“I got all the big gigs – hosting a live studio discussion between British and Russian teenagers from Moscow (this was 1988, time of Glasnost and Perestroika) and being sent to do stuff in Australia. She’d also given Sankha Guha and Magenta de Vine their big breaks on Rough Guides.

“At the end of the first series of Reportage, she offered me a job as the third presenter on Rough Guides, the idea being that I, as a gobby Scouser, would put the “rough” into the programme alongside the smoothness of Sankha and Mags.

“I thought about it and was quite excited, but in the end didn’t really fancy flying several times around the world economy class (that’s how they did it, with free or cheap flights blagged from airlines), so declined.”

Instead Trevor took a succession of freelance presenting jobs for the likes of Thames TV and TVS. By 1990 he decided television was:

“…the most over-rated medium going – a view I still hold – and decided to do VS0. In September 1991 I flew out to Guyana for a stint with a quasi-governmental agency giving out grants to worthy causes.”

It looked like the glittering career was over, but Ward’s life was about to shift back to journalism.

“In late 1992 or early 1993 I got a call out the blue from a complete stranger who claimed he was putting together a new type of men’s magazine. This was James Brown. A mutual friend had mentioned to him a saloon bar story of mine involving me travelling around Mexico alone, a one-night stand and a man-eating shark. James wanted a different type of travel writing in his mag, more Hunter S Thompson than Judith Chalmers, and I duly obliged with my story for his first issue.

“Thus was forged the start of a great relationship. I was living back up in Liverpool at the time, so just worked for Loaded on a freelance basis. I managed to persuade James to send me to all the places I’d wanted to go – including a return visit to Mexico where I became one of the first foreign journos to meet the Zapatista rebels. After a two-day solo hike through the jungle I got photos of a load of heavily armed, masked guerrillas reading copies of Loaded with Elle MacPherson on the cover, and a shark-diving trip off San Diego.”

Loaded was the “original lads’ mag”, with the tag line, “For men who should know better”. Under Brown’s editorship the magazine was a kick in the balls to the publishing industry in 1990s, reaching a circulation peak of 457,318 in 1998, and inspiring a host of lesser imitations.

But the lads’ mag wasn’t enough for Trevor, who was soon employed as a presenter and producer for Granada TV.

“I had much fun producing and presenting for Granada Tonight, the local nightly news programme for the North West of England under the auspices of the brilliant Head of Regionals Susan Woodward.

“Amongst other things, I devised, co-produced and presented a weekly, live half-hour studio based entertainment show called Something For The Weekend (which predated the C4 Denise Van Outen show of the same name by several years) which was great fun (of course it was, it was live). It included a weekly, three-minute soap opera called The Kiosk based around the mundane transactions at a tobacconists across the road from the Granada offices.

“I also turned around a half hour documentary about the economic and cultural rivalry between Manchester and Liverpool to coincide with the 1996 Liverpool v Man Utd FA Cup Final. From inception to broadcast was less than a week. I produced, directed and presented, including an overnight edit on the night of the Cup Final to get it broadcast the following afternoon. I was due to co—present with the legendary Tony Wilson, but he had to pull out at the last minute and I had to make do with some muppet from a local radio station. When the show was broadcast, I was at home trying to stay awake when my phone rang. It was the muppet. I thought he was ringing to congratulate me for a job well done. Instead he wanted to know why I had chopped 20 seconds off one of his pieces to camera. It’s c**ts like that who have contributed to my disillusionment and general disdain for TV as a medium.”

This disillusionment was capped after he worked with a well-known presenter who “personally and comprehensively introduced me to all the traits and characteristics that make Idi Amin or Pol Pot look positively sympathetic.”

“Part of my problem with mainstream media is personal. I don’t fit any known demographic. I’m not a woman or a parent, which makes most of the content of the Guardian, Daily Mail and daytime TV completely irrelevant to my life. I currently don’t have a job, I live relatively off the beaten track (physically and spiritually), so 90 per cent of what’s out there in newspapers, magazines or TV means nothing to me. I am marginalised. I have to resort to the nether regions of the internet to find content that stimulates me.

“And as for the celebrity-obsessed era we live in, where the f**k did that come from? When did the messenger, i.e. Martin Clunes or Amanda Holden, become more important than the content?

“Even as recently as the 80s, when I got my first job in TV on Network 7, there was no such job description as “TV presenter”. The people you saw on the box were bone fide journalists like Alan Whicker, experts such as David Attenborough or seasoned entertainers like Michael Palin or Bruce Forsyth. They were all natural role models, not fame-hungry reality show contestants, sh*t actors, or WAGs with ideas above their station.”

The intelligence and skill that made Ward special as a presenter, a reporter and a producer, are no longer needed. Instead the TV world is cluttered with those who prefer the veneer of lifestyle than the shared experience of a life.

“My last job in TV was when a good friend of mine who has always admired my slightly maverick tendencies set up his own indie TV production company and employed me as his head of development. I tried to warn him that my ideas wouldn’t fit the templates of most of the idiots running mainstream TV, but he gave me the job anyway.

“During my year there, we got access all areas with Detroit Gang Squad and filmed a taster with them, but no-one was interested, despite it being the murder capital of the US and home to all sorts of universally-loved pop culture references ranging from Motown to Motor City.

“I also personally tracked down and secured access to all the (still-living) key protagonists from “the New York Subway Vigilante” shooting of 1984, including the vigilante Bernie Goetz himself. The 25th anniversary was imminent and the incident is still regarded as a significant milestone in the history of race relations in New York and the city’s transformation from most dangerous in the world to one of the safest.

“By the time it became clear that commissioning editors were only interested in us providing vehicles for their stables of celebrity presenters rather than original content – most indie production companies are glorified taxi providers – I decided I’d had enough. So I left, but not before I scored us our only commission, a one-off doco for BBC about Glasgow airport hero John Smeaton’s doomed attempt to stand as an MP in the Glasgow NE by-election in November 2009.”

Trevor Ward deserves better. He’s too intelligent, too good, and his loss from our screens says much about what is wrong with TV today. But that loss hasn’t stopped Ward from evolving.

Each time Trevor quit TV, he chose to work at something different, whether in VSO, as a postman, studying to become a qualified football referee, or training as a Cordon Bleu chef, as he did a decade ago, which led to “a couple of low level cheffing jobs.” Yet all through this, writing was still crucial to Ward and he turned his experiences into magazine articles.
 

Last Christmas Ward started training for the Tour de France, in a snow covered Auchmithie.

“Training was hampered by the snow. I didn’t have the luxury of an indoor turbo trainer and wasn’t able to get out on my bike for over a month, so I dusted off my 20-year-old Concept 2 rowing machine which is the most evil piece of fitness apparatus known to man.

“I had to stop myself becoming obsessed with target heart rates, basal metabolic rates, calorific intakes, etc. otherwise I’d have spent more time with a slide rule than on my bike.

“I’ve cycled all my life, since I was about five. This is the biggest cliché in the book, but nothing else gives you the sense of freedom.”

On the eve of his last day cycling the Tour de France, Ward posted the following on his Facebook page:

“Just drove the route and wish I hadn’t. The descents are scary as f**k, never mind the climbs. Some things are best left unknown.”

If you would like to sponsor Trevor Ward’s Tour de France cycle for on to Macmillan Cancer Support, then please click here.
 
Extracts from this interview originally appeared on Dangerous Minds
 

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Via Anne Billson

If investigative journalist Mark Ebner had three wishes, his first would be for a paid-off beach shack in his home-state of Rhode Island.

For the record, Ebner is the best investigative journalist since Hunter S Thompson. If you visit his web page, ‘Hollywood Interrupted‘ you’ll see the long list of his accomplishments.  An award winning investigative journalist, Mark Ebner has covered all aspects of celebrity and crime culture for ‘Spy’, ‘Rolling Stone’, ‘Maxim’, ‘Details’, ‘Los Angeles’, ‘Premiere’, ‘Salon’, ‘Spin’, ‘Radar’ and ‘New Times’.

If that isn’t enough, then please note that for his journalism Ebner has put himself at some considerable risk, when investigating subjects as diverse as Scientology, Pit Bull fighting, the Ku Klux Klan, celebrity stalkers, drug dealers, missing porn stars, sports groupies, college suicides and Hepatitis C in Hollywood.

Now add to that his best-selling books – the now classic ‘Hollywood Interrupted’ (co-written with Andrew Breitbart) and ‘Six Degrees of Paris Hilton’.

Okay, if you’re still not impressed, let’s briefly mention his TV work as host and writer on the ‘Tru TV’ show and working with Trey Parker and Matt Stone on the Emmy nominated episode of ‘South Park’, ‘Trapped in the Closet’.

With such blue chip credentials, you begin to appreciate the talent that is Mark Ebner.

Born in Rhode Island in 1959, Mark’s earliest memories are of his mother, Eleanor, bathing him in a stainless steel sink.  She died at the age of 28.

One of Ebner’s literary favourites is the Demon Dog of American crime fiction, James Ellroy.  There is a connection here between these two distinctive and talented writers.  Firstly, both lost their mothers at impressionable ages: Ellroy’s mother was murdered when he was 11, and her slaying has been an obsession and a focus for his writing since.

Unlike Ellroy, Ebner has kept quiet on his loss, and one can only wonder at the effect it has had on him.

Secondly, both had ambitions kicked started by television series. Ellroy was given a book ‘The Badge’, a compendium of true-life crime tales, which included the murder of Elizabeth Short, aka the Black Dahlia, written by ‘Dragnet’ star Jack Webb.

While Ebner’s ambitions to become a newsman were rooted in his childhood liking for the old b&w ‘Superman’ TV series. But unlike most kids of that age, Mark was more impressed by geeky newshound Clark Kent than his alter ego, the man in tights.

Ebner went on to attend the liberal-arts Bard College, whose notable alumni include the director Todd Haynes, actor Larry Hagman and Hollywood screenwriter Howard Koch, winner of the Academy Award for ‘Casablanca’, and lofty ambitions are reflected its motto ‘Dabo tibi coronam vitae’ (‘I shall give you the crown of life’).  It was here that Mark first fulfilled his Clark Kent ambitions, as editor of the ‘Bard Times’.

After Bard, Ebner spent: “everything possible to avoid my calling until I got my first paid magazine gig at 25, for 25 cents-a-word.  I could only fool myself into thinking I could write marketable screenplays for so long.”

He came up old school in his bid to start his career as an investigative reporter.  The long hours putting together a “clip file” of published work, which he often did for free, then sending it on to editors with original story ideas.  Okay, he received a lot of knock-backs and rejection letters, but ultimately, his nose for a good story won out.

And it was his dogged determination for a good story that paid off in 1996, when his now legendary undercover story on Scientology appeared in ‘Spy’ magazine. From its opening lines to its obvious that a maverick talent had arrived.

“I am an ex-drug addict who has solicited prostitutes in my day. I’ve also masturbated and inhaled at the same time, and I have been arrested more than once in my life. I dropped out of high school, and I’ve been under psychiatric care. Oh yeah, and I owe the IRS roughly six thousand dollars that they are well aware of.”

To steal a line from what a critic once wrote about John Lennon‘s first post-Beatles’ album, ‘The Plastic Ono Band’, Ebner had put his balls on the railway track and the train had stopped out of respect.

But there was method in his words, as he explained:

“In the language of Scientologists, the above information reflects what they include in their “Dead Agent Packs”-dossiers of all the dirt they dig up on people critical of their “religion.” Often they disseminate damaging information like this to the friends, family, landlords, and employers of anyone who dares speak of–or worse, publish anything derogatory about the “church.” So what I’m doing here is Dead Agenting myself before we begin, beating them to the punch.”

When he wrote this article most people didn’t know much about Scientology or that they were an organisation you didn’t f–k with. I asked Mark was he concerned about the consequences of investigating such a cult?

“When my first-person Scientology expose dropped in Spy magazine in 1996, I wasn’t worried about the cult as much as I was concerned about my ability to navigate Hollywood circles.  You see, in this town of hypocrites and back-stabbers, most of the powerful bunch were still blindly siding with cash cows like Travolta and Cruise.  These people would pat me on the back for a job well down on the side, and then run from me at dinner parties.  F–k them.  I told them so, didn’t I? Scientology did threaten to sue me on publication, and Spy magazine wound up paying a good deal on 1st Amendment lawyers, but my attitude was, “You’re going to sue me?  Bring it on, because I have a subpoena in my back pocket for all of your celebrity adherents, and I’ll serve them myself.”  In the States you have to prove damages to succeed in such a lawsuit. I made it clear that I would open the books on everyone in that cult if I had to, and they knew to back off when they realized I was serious.”

Undercover work is a tough and lonely business, and Ebner has kept only a few close friends who know the man behind the hard-nosed journalist.  It is to these friends that Mark gives his second wish of “Health, wealth, prosperity and joy for my handful of true friends.”

One friend is former film actor and now writer Douglas Steindorff, who describes Ebner as “incorruptible,” and “The unwitting voice of reason and truth. Despite himself he champions the weak and disenfranchised. He is what good cop wishes to be and a bad cop lives his life in fear of.  A journalist, the kind of writer Mencken would like.”

Ebner lives in Los Angeles, a city that seems to be always reinventing itself, yet generally remains the same.  A city of transience, whose oldest buildings are hotels, and a cultural inheritance inspired by Hollywood and its palaces of dreams.

H. L.  Mencken was the ‘Sage of Baltimore’, who exposed frauds, ignorance and intolerance.  In 2004, Ebner co-wrote a book with Andrew Breitbart, that did something similar with a now classic study of Tinsel Town.

Hollywood, Interrupted: Insanity Chic in Babylon – the case against celebrity’ is possibly the best analysis of the crass stupidity of modern Hollywood written, examining the excess and folly of Robert Downey jnr, Courtney Love, Michael Ovitz, Robert Evans, John Travolta, Angelina Jolie, Winona Ryder, Barbara Streisand and Heidi Fleiss amongst other.    Of course, some of these tales are now infamous, but it was Ebner and Bretbart who put them in print first.  The books beginnings came from an online correspondence between the two writers.

Hollywood, Interrupted started writing itself via AOL Instant Messenger.  Breitbart and I were so awestruck by Barbara Walters allowing Ann Heche to literally break down, jabbering in an alien language on national television, that we decided to define ‘celebrity’ as a disease and prescribe the antidote for it.

“Breitbart handled the moral outrage end of the book, and I shoveled in some investigative chestnuts.  We kept filing chapters until our editor told us to stop. There is, was and always will be a grudging respect between me and Breitbart.  He is one of the funniest, generous men I know.”

The book launched Ebner and Breitbart into their own celebrity, with appearances on network television and a nationwide book tour. While Bretbert went onto forge his own ambitious and controversial career with Breitbart.com, Ebner returned to his first loves – writing and reporting.

After the success of ‘Hollywood Interrupted’ some may have been tempted to opt for the easy option as guest pundit on the ubiquitous day-time chat shows.   Not Mark, he stuck to his own rules, his own personal code that makes him exceptional, and brings together the style and nature of his life and work

“My life experience is my style, and my vision.  I sacrificed every alternate ideal (white-picket and otherwise) to do what I do as a way of life.”

Returning to investigative reporting Ebner turned up another trump card with his next book ‘Six Degrees of Paris Hilton‘.

“I had written a story for ‘Radar’ magazine about a break-in at Girls Gone Wild goon Joe Francis’ home in Bel Air.  Once the dildo-wielding perpetrator Darnell Riley had settled into prison life alongside Charlie Manson and Sirhan Sirhan, I started writing him letters – knowing there was more to the story.  Darnell agreed to tell me everything, “and then some.”  The “then some” became ‘Six Degrees of Paris Hilton’.”

The book reads like a factual account of James Ellroy’s fiction, exposing the connection between low-life criminals and high-end celebrities.

A typical work day for Ebner involves endless phone calls, a lot of door-knocking, and waiting. And waiting…  He still keeps a reporter pad to hand, and has only recently upgraded to a digital tape recorder.  His life is his work  – period.  Something that becomes obvious when you realise over 85% of his most successful story ideas have been self-generated.

“My research is old school, gumshoe-style reporting.  I hit the ground running, and immerse myself in the scenarios of my subject matter.  Crime writing has its hazards, but I have good survival instincts, and I treat all my interview subjects with respect and transparency – unless of course I’m undercover.”

And as for the future?

“I am currently finishing up a non-fiction book for Berkley Books/Penguin on a high-profile kidnapping, developing a documentary television series called ‘Kill File’, and working on an unusually sexy drug trafficking story emanating out of Buenos Aires, Argentina.”

It’s seems a hard and often thankless occupation, but one that delivers books, articles and stories of such quality and insight, that we should all be thankful for Mark Ebner.

The dedication that he has to his talent and craft, is perhaps captured in a small life changing moment form his childhood, when he watched his father bring a dead tropical fish back to life with a heart massage.  It  was a great, if not perplexing moment for him, one that made him realise the fragility of life and that every moment is a life-changer.

Mark’s third and final wish is a wish for all of us: that we may have freedom from debt and financial insecurity.  It says something of the man that he thinks of others before he thinks of himself.

Derek Marlowe copyrght Paul Gallagher 1984

Someone, somewhere, has probably written a thesis on fan letters, showing how the turn of phrase, spelling, sentence structure and language, reveal the psychology of the writer.  I can guess the flaws my intense three or four fan letters reveal about me, both good and bad.  That said, the replies were always pleasing – a signed photo, a message from a secretary, a written response.  The reply that meant so much to me, in my mid-teens, came from the brilliant author, Derek Marlowe.

Marlowe inspired me to see the beauty of writing and the power a novelist has in telling their tale.  His books took me away from the comfort of Sherlock Holmes, Alistair MacLeans, and dog-eared ghost stories, into a world of shifting ambiguous, complex relationships, through dark, witty stories told in beautiful language.

Marlowe’s response to my Biro scribbled missive was a typed, two page letter, in lower case and capitals.  It is a letter I still cherish, for it gave me a sense of what can be made of a life – for Derek Marlowe was more than just a novelist, he was a successful playwright, a screenwriter, and an award-winning writer for television.   In the letter he explained about his life and career, how he had started after being sent down from University:

“I was thrown out of Queen Mary College, London, for editing and writing an article in the college magazine.  The article was a parody of ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ reflecting the boredom of college seminars.  Not very funny or special but times were odd then. Besides, I hated University and I think I’d made that rather too clear.

“I began writing plays since I had started a play for the College which took a surprising course.  Continued with plays for about four years, went to Berlin, came back and then I realised, after writing DANDY (I was then a clerk) that I preferred prose to theatre. Besides, the person I was sharing the flat with and had done for six years, seemed better at theatre than me.  He was and is Tom Stoppard.”

‘A Dandy in Aspic’ was Marlowe‘s first novel, and the one that launched him onto his successful career.  It was the story of a double-agent, Eberlin, sent on a mission to assassinate his alter ego.  ‘Dandy’ was made into a a so-so film starring Laurence Harvey, Mia Farrow and Peter Cook, of which he wrote:

“Regarding the film DANDY.  The director, ANTHONY MANN died during the filming (a superb man and great director) and it was taken over by Laurence Harvey, the badly cast Eberlin.  He directed his own mis-talent, changed it and the script – which is rather like Mona Lisa touching up he portrait while Leonardo is out of the room.”

Rather than follow the expected path of genre-writing, Marlowe followed up his debut novel, with ‘Memoirs of a Venus Lackey’, the disturbing tale of a roue, who examined the sins of his life from Hell.

Next, an historical novel ‘A Single Summer with L.B.’, which focussed on the fateful meeting in 1816, when Mary and Percy Shelley spent a summer with Lord Byron and his doctor, Polidori, a gathering that inspired the writing of ‘Frankenstein’.  In the book, Marlowe gave thanks to Ken Russell (amongst others), who would later make his own particular version of these events in ‘Gothic’.

Marlowe returned to thrillers with ‘Echoes of Celandine’, which dealt with the loves, infidelities and obsessions of a melancholic hitman.  Of this he wrote:

“ECHOES OF CELANDINE has just been filmed, starring Donald Sutherland and John Hurt (as Atkinson), David Warner (as Burbage) etc.  It’s very good but held up by squabbling producers.”

The film wasn’t what I had expected, its location moved from Britain to Canada, and I found it too ponderous, and filled with an imposed alienation. Yet, there was still something of Marlowe in the film.

“About the novels.  All characters are close or have been observed in some element of truth.  One book went too far and I was sued for libel – but I shan’t reveal which one it was.  Loner and anti-hero?  Loner, certainly – even though I am married with four stepchildren and one son of my own – but not anti-hero.  I’m for heroes, though if not Lancelot or Tristan, heroes appear out of the mould of the time.”

He followed ‘Echoes’ with ‘Do You Remember England?’ – a haunting novel about a doomed love affair.  Reading it, I thought this book closest to who Marlowe was.  The character of Dowson had the mix of his parentage – a Greek Mother, a Cockney father -and I sensed that like Dowson, in some way, Marlowe was a man who belonged to a different century. For Marlowe seemed a true Romantic, and to an extent a dandy, but I doubt he would have agreed with that.  Yet, it should be noted that one of his heroes was Beau Brummell, whose biography he penned for the Dictionary of National Biography.

Another hero was Raymond Chandler, and it was Chandler who inspired Marlowe’s 1974 homage ‘Somebody’s Sister’, about a washed up PI, Walter Brackett.  Then the haunting ‘Nightshade’ in 1976, about a mis-matched couple on a dark and disturbing holiday to Haiti.  Of the central character, Marlowe wrote:

“Edward in NIGHTSHADE is an aberration in my character.  I was going through stage of mysoginism (sic) and even misanthropy.”

At the time of writing he had just completed ‘The Rich Boy From Chicago’ and a 9-part series on Nancy Astor for the BBC:

“My next novel to be published in the winter in hardback, is called THE RICH BOY FROM CHICAGO – a five hundred pager, I’m afraid – but I think in this novel you will see the quintessence of all I have written.

“If you read RICH BOY FROM CHICAGO, you might detect in the charcater of Freddie, the protagonist and the life of Bax, a combination that could be me, good or bad.”

‘The Great Gatsby’ was Marlowe’s favourite book, and Fitzgerald’s influence can be seen in ‘Rich Boy’ and, more importantly, throughout Marlowe’s work.  Both writers were incredible stylists, both were Catholics and both captured the time they lived in perfectly.

After his divorce, Marlowe moved to Los Angeles, where he wrote for TV (series and films as diverse as ‘Sherlock Holmes’ and ‘Jamaica Inn’).  His final work for TV was an episode of ‘Murder, She Wrote’ – ‘South by South-West’.  Tired with LALAland, Marlowe planned to return to England to finish his tenth novel, ‘Black and White’, but he contracted leukemia and tragically died of a brain hemorrhage at the age of 58, in 1996.

Sadly, Marlowe’s genius as a writer has been nearly lost, as none of his novels have remained in print.  But through the internet, it is easy to find second-hand copies of his work, and I urge you to do so.

I kept in touch with Marlowe for the next five years, eventually meeting him for an interview in 1984.  The cliche is never meet your heroes, but I am glad I did, for Marlowe was more than any fan could have expected – kind in his attentions, generous in his support, and always funny.

In his advice to a teenage wannabe writer, he wrote:

“Remember books last longer than reviews and the most boring part is typing the damn thing afterwards and planning beforehand.  Never think too hard about what you are going to write – just jump in.  I’ve never known the end of my book, nor even the middle until after I am halfwat through.  And ignore anyone who says you can’t make a living out of writing.  You can if you don’t limit yourself to novels in England alone and don’t want a Rolls immediately.  I have never known a writer over thirty who has got the stamina to be poor.  Talent doesn’t make for success.  Courage does first.  But above all, if you want to survive, heed Nabokov’s remark: I write for myself – but I publish for money.”

Derek Marlowe 1938-1996

Rob Spence, a Toronto based film-maker lost his eye in a shooting accident when he was a teenager.  Nearly twenty years later, Spence has replaced his eye with a miniature camera that records all that he sees.

The protoype eye was named by Time magazine as one of the best inventions of 2009.  Spence calls himself ‘Eyeborg Guy‘ and blogs about his experiences.

Spence uses the electronic eye not for sight, but to record and document what he sees.

This brings to mind Bertrand Tavernier‘s superior, 1980 film ‘Death Watch’ (‘La Mort en Direct’) based on the novel ‘The Unsleeping Eye‘ by David G Compton.

In the film, Harvey Keitel played Roddy, a man who has a camera implanted in his eye, in order that he may film a documentary about a terminally ill woman, Romy Schneider, who he follows, for a top rated TV show called ‘Death Watch’, in her day-to-day existence as she prepares to die.

Shot on location in a grim and foreboding Glasgow, ‘Death Watch‘ has withstood its initial poor reviews to remain a highly relevant and important film for our age. Long before Ob Docs and Reality TV, this darkly moving and disturbing movie, has proved itself far more prescient in its criticism of media intrusion into our lives than any contemporary film.

If you have a question and don’t know who to ask.

Then check out Propecia, an alleged former crack-addict and prostitute.

Propecia the crack ho orginally appeared on The Damn Show, and now her wise advice videos are available on YouTube and Vimeo.

You have to ask, what were they thinking?  What was going through their minds?

By what process did the admen behind this advert think of using ‘Invictus’ – William Ernest Henley’s beautiful short poem – to sell a Bank?

Did they not understand what the poem was about?  Did they think banking would somehow make us master of our fate?

‘Invictus’ told of the author’s nobility and courage in his near-death fight with tuberculosis.  How this could ever be confused with the dubious ethics that inspire financial greed, shows how much literature and art is ultimately used to maintain the status in the quo.

Henley was 12 when he fell ill with tuberculosis of the bone.  By his late teens, the disease had spread to his foot.  Though Henley coped bravely his life was ultimately marked down by the disease.  By the age of twenty-five, physicians told Henley the only way they could save his life was to amputate his leg below the knee.

His leg was amputated in 1875, and Henley successfully went on to live a full life until the age of 53.

But as the young poet lay in his hospital bed, suffering the pain, considering the loss of his limb, and the continuing threat of death, Henley wrote a poem that took his own personal suffering and sacrifice, as an example for others to follow, in order to achieve self-autonomy.  That by courage and strength, we may all be captains of our souls.

Originally titled by its dedication ‘To R. T. H. B.’ (the patron Robert Thomas Hamilton Bruce), Henley’s poem was retitled ‘Invictus’ (Latin for ‘unconquered’) when it was included in ‘The Oxford Book of English Verse’.

Sad to say, Henley’s noble sentiment is considered out of date in our self-serving and litigious world, but its true meaning is a something we should all take to heart.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gait,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.



An explanation as to how and why the World’s Top Economies are Bust.

From his notorious first appearance, with fellow Sex Pistols, on Bill Grundy’s ‘Today’ programme, John Lydon has always given good copy.

For Lydon has never hidden his intelligence, his talent or his annoyance with some of the stupidity and vanity of the media.

In these interviews ranging from an early revealing walk and talk with Janet Street-Porter in London (where we can see Lydon dressed like some Dickensian character);  through a tense Public Image Limited press conference, with Keith Levene, for PiL’s first tour of the USA; to a press launch for the 1983 film ‘Order of Death’; we see the wit of Lydon’s intelligence and the passions that fuel his anger.

Apart form being Scotland’s other National Drink, Irn Bru consistently makes some of the best and most original adverts around, even when these have been allegedly banned.

Irn Bru’s latest (above) continues in that well-honoured tradition.