Wednesday 28 December 2011

The Hour.BBC.

The Hour is a 2011 BBC drama series, starring Ben Whishaw, Dominic West and Romola Garai, with supporting cast including Tim Pigott-Smith, Juliet Stevenson, Burn Gorman, Anton Lesser, Anna Chancellor, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Oona Chaplin. It was written by Abi Morgan (also one of the executive producers, alongside Jane Featherstone and Derek Wax). The series centres on a new current affairs show being launched by the BBC in June 1956, at the time of the Suez Crisis - a period setting which has led to comparisons with Mad Men.

It premiered on BBC Two and BBC HD from 19 July 2011 each Tuesday at 9pm. Each episode lasts 60 minutes, with Ruth Kenley-Letts as producer and Coky Giedroyc as lead director. It was commissioned by Janice Hadlow, Controller, BBC Two, and Ben Stephenson, Controller, BBC Drama Commissioning and produced by Kudos Film and Television.

Following the airing of the final episode of the first series, it was announced that a second series had been commissioned.

Ben Whishaw as Freddie Lyon
Dominic West as Hector Madden
Romola Garai as Bel Rowley
Anton Lesser as Clarence Fendley
Julian Rhind-Tutt as Angus McCain
Joshua McGuire as Isaac Wengrow
Lisa Greenwood as Sissy Cooper
Anna Chancellor as Lix Storm
Kelly-Jayne Adams as Alice the PA
Burn Gorman as Thomas Kish
Juliet Stevenson as Lady Elms
Tim Pigott-Smith as Lord Elms
Andrew Scott as Adam Le Ray
Oona Castilla Chaplin as Marnie Madden

In the autumn of 1956, Freddy Lyon (Ben Whishaw) is a reporter unhappy with his job producing newsreels for the BBC. Desperate to get onto television, which he feels offers greater immediacy, Freddy is unaware that his best friend Bel Rowley (Romola Garai) has been selected by their mentor Clarence Fendley (Anton Lesser) to produce a new news magazine, the titular "The Hour". Rowley selects experienced war correspondent Lix Storm (Anna Chancellor) to head the foreign desk for the program, leaving Freddy to run domestic news, a position which he considers inferior. For anchor of the program, Clarence selects the handsome and patrician Hector Madden (Dominic West). They are joined by Thomas Kish (Burn Gorman), a mysterious and taciturn translator for the BBC who helps them cover the developing Suez Crisis.

As the team struggles to put the show together, Freddy is approached by Ruth Elms, the daughter of a member of the House of Lords who had employed Freddy's mother. She asks him to look into the murder of Peter Darrall, a college professor whom she knew. Soon after, Freddy finds her dead in her hotel room, an apparent suicide.

As the Suez Crisis escalates, the production team struggles to report on British involvement in the crisis, despite pressure from the administration and in particular Angus McCain (Julian Rhind-Tutt) to present a sanitized narrative for the public. Freddy becomes more and more convinced that Peter Darrall and Ruth Elms were killed for some sinister reason. He discovers a secret message that Darrall tried to pass on before he was murdered "revert to Brightstone" and finds a movie reel depicting Ruth, Darrall, and Thomas Kish on vacation together. When confronted, Kish intimates that the government is behind the murder of Darrall and Elms, but he is killed in a struggle with Freddy before he can learn much more. Bel begins an affair with Hector, whom she discovers to be married. However, they carry on seeing each other and eventually Hector's wife, Marnie (Oona Castilla Chaplin) finds out, telling Bel that she wasn't the first woman to have been with him since they married. Bel then calls the affair off.

As the Suez Crisis flares into armed conflict, Freddy learns that Darrall had been a communist spy and had been involved in a program to recruit bright and susceptible young people, referred to as "Bright Stones" to the Soviet cause. Ruth had been one of these Bright Stones and Kish had been sent by MI-6 to keep tabs on them. He also discovers he is marked as a "Bright Stone" As British troops move to seize the Suez Canal, Freddy does a live interview of Lord Elms, Ruth's father, who denounces the government. However, as the interview goes out Clarence, angered by the controversial nature of the programme, orders it to be taken off air half way through the show. Bel is then fired by the BBC and Freddy confronts Clarence, who tells him that he had put him on the Bright Stone list, and that he is a communist spy. He then tells Freddy to run this information as a news story. Freddy leaves the studio with Bel, telling her that they have a story to write

Critical reception of the first episode was mixed, with Sam Wollaston of The Guardian expressing scepticism over a popular comparison with Mad Men, calling the episode a "slower starter" and "a bit of hotchpotch – Drop the Dead Donkey meets Spooks", but overall stating that "there's enough intrigue there to whet the appetite for more". However, AA Gill in The Sunday Times called it "Self satisfied guff" with "a script that would shame a Bruce Willis movie" and Michael Deacon of the Telegraph criticised it as "an exercise in upbraiding the past for failing to live up to the politically correct ideals of the 21st century", although he praised Morgan's writing and concluded by stating "I wouldn’t want to give up on The Hour too soon". Even so, there were some criticisms of the script as being insufficiently strong with the show's writer Abi Morgan admitting some lines "haven't worked".

The show was well-received in its American premiere on BBC America, receiving an 81 on Metacritic, indicating "Universal Acclaim." Reviewing it for The New Yorker magazine, Nancy Franklin wrote that it is "almost absurdly gratifying. With its casting, its look, its unfolding mysteries, its attention to important historical events, its sexiness, “The Hour” hits every pleasure center." In the full printed version of the same article, she adds "[It is] as if it were a space containing chocolate, gold, a book you've always wanted to read, your favorite music, and the love of your life, who desires you unceasingly."

Michael Deacon isn't convinced by the BBC's new drama series, set in a 1950s newsroom, that's being touted as the British Mad Men.

By Michael Deacon in The Telegraph 19 Jul 2011
Until three weeks ago I’d have said that the problem with representations of journalism in TV drama is that they make it seem far more exciting than it is. Take State of Play, Paul Abbott’s 2003 thriller starring John Simm: terrific entertainment, but it makes it look as if a reporter’s life is a cyclone of violence, Holmesian deduction and affairs with MPs’ wives. The reality is nowhere near as eventful – or so I thought. But now we find out that some reporters allegedly spend their days hacking the voicemails of dead schoolgirls and making Gordon Brown cry. Poor old John Simm is left looking pretty dull.

I don’t think I would accuse The Hour – BBC Two’s new serial about a TV newsroom – of making journalism look excessively exciting. To be fair, Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw), a young reporter, has what looks like a fascinating murder to investigate, but so far he seems more interested in the launch of a drearily worthy current affairs programme, squawking pretentiously (“We are calcifying in television news!”) and sniping at Bel (Romola Garai), a female producer he obviously fancies.

But it isn’t Freddie’s pomposity I mind, so much as the drama’s. At times it appears to be less a story than an exercise in upbraiding the past for failing to live up to the politically correct ideals of the 21st century. The Hour is set in the Britain of the 1950s, when sexism and racism were more commonplace – or at any rate, more overt – than they are today. But The Hour isn’t content merely to portray this unpleasantness. It has to keep pointing at it and tutting.

“Martin Luther King [talks about] the birth of the new negro, one driven by dignity and destiny. But we don’t even challenge the fact that in every hotel window we still without shame say, ‘No coloureds, no Irish’,” scolds Freddie. Bel delivers similar lectures on male chauvinism. “Beyond that door [of the bar she’s in], women are not allowed. What is it about you men? You always need a tiny corner where we can’t reach you.” When Freddie suggests being a woman will hinder her career, she is incensed: “I can actually do this. Watch me.” She is also, she reminds him, “not your secretary”. It would have been no less subtle had the producers flashed up a sign on screen saying, “This is an example of sexism, which was rife in the 1950s. Sexism is bad. Root for the woman.” A male colleague (Dominic West) praises Bel for working “twice as hard as any man”, but no doubt he’s just trying to chat her up.

Most of the publicity for The Hour has likened it to Mad Men. The two are set in different decades, different countries and different lines of work, so I suppose the comparison is based on the observation that the men wear suits and everyone smokes. Mad Men is full of sexism too, but it tends to handle it more deftly: it allows you to tut for yourself, rather than trying to tut on your behalf.

Incidentally, I read that the character of Bel was inspired by Grace Wyndham Goldie (1900-86), the BBC’s Head of News and Current Affairs. Wyndham Goldie joined the BBC at the age of 44. Garai, the actress chosen to play Bel, is 28, blonde and voluptuous. Even attacks on sexism, it seems, have to cast a young and pretty female lead.

I wouldn’t want to give up on The Hour too soon. Abi Morgan, its creator, wrote 2003’s Sex Traffic, which won eight Baftas. Maybe next week’s episode will jettison the waffle about broadcasting and prejudice, and turn into a gripping thriller focused on Freddie’s mysterious murdered man. I hope so, but I have a bad feeling we’re in for more 21st-century sermonising. “You know, we really oughtn’t to be smoking all these cigarettes – we’re creating a cancer timebomb. Oh, and do stop patting my bottom, sir, or in 55 years period drama audiences will look upon you most unfavourably.”

Espionage in the Government and Shenanigans at Work
Published: August 16, 2011
.Americans are beginning to obsess about decline, but the British long ago turned brooding over fallen empire into an art form.

“The Hour,” a BBC America series starting on Wednesday, is among the best of the genre. It’s a six-part thriller that blends the Suez crisis, one of Britain’s sharpest intimations of loss, with a more intimate look at sex, ambition and espionage in the workplace.

Any period piece set in the 1950s is bound to look a lot like “Mad Men,” and this narrative also unfolds through an amber haze of cigarette smoke, whiskey and social taboos. Yet unlike the many sterile “Mad Men” knockoffs that American networks are bringing out in the fall, like “The Playboy Club” and “Pan Am,” this BBC series isn’t a pale imitation of anything else on television. “The Hour” does borrow from the movie “Broadcast News,” as well as the 2003 BBC mini-series “State of Play,” but with a style and intelligence all its own.

The series opens in the offices of the British Broadcasting Corporation in 1956, only five years after the first Cambridge spies were unmasked as double agents, and just as President Gamal Abdel Nasser is consolidating power in Egypt. It’s a time of unsettling change, except at the BBC, where even driven reporters are assigned to do feel-good newsreels about debutante balls and royal visits.

No one is more impatient with what he calls the “brisk banality” of television news than Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw), a brilliant, irascible and rebellious reporter. He grouses about the coverage, sneering, “Martial law may have been imposed in Poland, and we have footage of Prince Rainier on honeymoon with his showgirl.” (Some things never change.)

Bel Rowley (Romola Garai), a beautiful, well-educated producer, is Freddie’s best friend and protector. She’s one of very few women in so high a position. (He calls her Moneypenny, a reference to the secretary in James Bond novels that she only occasionally finds annoying.) Bel has a promising career and a stunted social life; she keeps having affairs with unavailable men.

When Bel and Freddie are assigned to help create a daring live news program called “The Hour,” their rapport is threatened by the arrival of Hector Madden (Dominic West), a handsome, brashly confident newcomer who, through family connections, gets the plum job of chief anchor of the show.

The three journalists quickly find themselves in a triangle, only there is more at stake in it than their feelings or even journalistic integrity. Their new venture is shadowed by the mysterious death of a young woman who happens to be Freddie’s childhood friend. The program also seems to attract slippery interference from the powers that be. And there are signs that British intelligence has a mole or two within its inner sanctum.

The more Freddie is advised not to pursue the circumstances of his friend’s death, the more he insists on investigating it on his own.

World War II ended a decade earlier, but there is nothing particularly triumphant about this Britain, which seems too exhausted by the past to lead the future effectively. Class privilege is still intact but is under assault from all sides. In the United States, President Dwight D. Eisenhower favors decolonization, while immigrants flooding into Britain from newly independent former colonies expect to be welcomed. A new generation of angry young men is emboldened to challenge the system, and so are some of the women who learned self-reliance when their men were fighting overseas.

Even the landscapes are shrinking. Seen from a distance, country estates owned by the rich and titled look majestic and almost magical; inside, the wallpaper looks dingy; the grandest halls, lined with portraits and suits of armor, seem claustrophobic.

Bel is respected by her colleagues and is only occasionally reminded that, as a woman, she is considered a second-class citizen, a reminder most often delivered by Angus McCain (Julian Rhind-Tutt), an upper-class snob who is a media adviser to the ailing prime minister, Anthony Eden. Angus openly snubs Bel, and she retaliates by asking after the prime minister’s health.

“Such maternal instincts,” Angus replies cattily. “I do think you are rather wasted in news.”

Mr. West, who played McNulty on “The Wire,” is almost unrecognizable here as a well-bred charmer whose ambition is flecked with self-awareness. Ms. Garai, who was the star of a 2010 production of “Emma” on PBS, is alluringly not conventionally pretty: Bel has a sense of humor and a grave demeanor, delicate features and a sexy figure verging on the Junoesque. Her healthy physique accentuates Freddie’s fragility.

Mr. Whishaw, who played Sebastian Flyte in the 2008 movie of “Brideshead Revisited,” has the unnourished body of a London youth reared on wartime rations. There is a sexual chemistry, but it’s a three-way street.

Engaging secondary characters bolster these three, particularly Lix Storm (Anna Chancellor), a former war correspondent in charge of foreign news who stays alert — and sardonic — on a prodigious and steady supply of cigarettes and whiskey.

“The Hour” is so good that it seems far too short, and that makes its six-episode arc just right: Some of the most promising series, like “The Killing” on AMC, lose steam midway, slowing down too much ever to recover the initial exhilarating pace.

The plot twists of “The Hour” can at times be puzzling, but the series is never dull. If only there were a few more minutes in “The Hour.”

The Hour Trailer - New Series - BBC Two

"The Hour": Hector teaches Freddie to dress

Dominic West interview - 07.08.2011

The Hour: Meet BEL (Romola Garai)

Monday 26 December 2011

Harris Tweed: From Land to Street ... by Lara Platman

Review: Harris Tweed: From Land to Street
Written by Kirk, Saturday, July 23rd, 2011 in Fashion, Lookbooks in
Harris Tweed is unquestionably one of the most interesting fabrics in the fashion world. Still hand-crafted and hand-woven in the Outer Hebrides, Harris Tweed has been called the “champagne of fabrics,” and for good reason: it’s sturdy, comfortable, natural, and in most cases utterly indestructible. From Yves Saint Laurent to Nike, numerous designers and companies have used Harris Tweed, and it seems like every fabric company in the world has tried (unsuccessfully) to create fabrics that mimic the distinctively perfectly imperfect fabric.
Harris Tweed: From Land to Street is a beautiful book that attempts, through photographic vignettes and small bits of text, to capture the feeling of Harris Tweed. This is no small endeavor: part of the appeal of Harris Tweed is in its texture and feel, something difficult to represent on paper. Nonetheless, Lara Platman’s book does a phenomenal job of capturing a little bit of the essence of Harris Tweed, following it from its wooly beginnings to its finely crafted result.
Harris Tweed begins in the hills of the Outer Hebrides and follows the wool through all of the various production processes it encounters, along the way providing brief biographies of men and women who spend their lives making beautiful fabric. Make no mistake: Harris Tweed: From Land to Street is not about providing endless pictures of tweed blazers or fabric swaths. Rather, it is an adventure through the hills of Scotland, following the relative MacGuffin of tweed as it shows those who work their lives around it. The message, in short, seems to be that Harris Tweed is not just an amazing fabric: it is a lifestyle for many who live in a quaint pocket of the world that most of us will never see.
Of course, the real value in Harris Tweed: From Land to Street is in the photographs. With every photograph, you pick up a little bit of the Scottish tweed culture — the beautiful scenery, the unassuming buildings, the beautiful fabrics, the tough but skilled laborers, and the effects of the sartorial masterminds in Seville Row. One can almost smell the fabric through the pages. The book’s photos are rife with little details that really make the entire book shine — given a magnifying glass and some time, one could undoubtedly find all sorts of interesting details hidden in each photo of the book.
If I had any complaint about Harris Tweed: From Land to Street, it would be that the book fails to have the kind of payoff sartorial geeks like myself enjoy. While we see, in great detail, the crafting of the fabric itself, we rarely see it “in action” quite like we would like. I found myself pondering where some of the fabric followed in the book ended up — I wanted to see the finished product, not independent pieces of the product in making. With that being said, though, that’s simply not the message of this book: Harris Tweed: From Land to Street is about the process, not the product.
Images from the book Harris Tweed: From Land to Street by Lara Platman

28 October 2011
Article written by Phil Coomes Picture editor
in BBC News in Pictures

The harsh beauty of the Outer Hebrides is a landscape that has lured many photographers, yet the latest of those to explore the islands was not there to photograph the views, but to document a manufacturing industry that is known around the world.
Lara Platman spent seven months on the islands following the production of Harris Tweed, from the backs of the Blackface and Cheviot sheep to the suits on sale in Savile Row.
Harris Tweed has a rich history that stretches back to 1864 when Lady Dunmore, the widow of the Earl of Dunmore, had the Murray tartan copied by Harris weavers in tweed. The resulting cloth proved so successful that sales spread from the local area to a number of the major towns in the UK.
Improvements to the process and the development of new looms saw mills being opened in the early part of the 20th Century, and by 1911 the Harris Tweed Orb stamp, a mark of certification, could be seen on genuine products.
Though there were a number of challenges to the definition, by 1993 an act of parliament declared that the Harris Tweed Authority was the owner of the Orb: "The Harris Tweed is cloth that has been hand-woven by the islanders of Lewis, Harris, Uist and Barra in their homes, using pure virgin wool that has been dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides."
Today there are some aspect that are mechanised yet it remains true to its roots, with weavers working at home, sometimes in sheds attached to their crofts in the hills and villages.
Harris Tweed has known tough times, but the past couple of years has seen new weavers coming online and very healthy growth figures, due in part to its expansion into new areas. Though the tweed is still primarily associated with high-end clothing and is a regular on the fashion catwalk, it is also now used in many other products, such as upholstery, bags, lampshades and, if the mood takes, corsets.
Lara's project coincided with the 100-year anniversary of the Orb mark being registered and is a fitting tribute to both the past and the present workers of tweed. She was drawn to the project by the sustainable nature of the process, one that gives each member of the chain a living.
"While making my previous book, Art Workers Guild 125 Years: Craftspeople at Work Today, I met a few weavers and thought that these people have amazing patience," Lara told me. "With sculpture you can see it form in front of you, photography is instant and in architecture there are plans, but weaving is just one line at a time. It's an art form rather than an industrial process."
"Yet I was aware that there was a danger of producing a tourist view rather than the real picture. So that is why I spent as much time as possible up there and experienced all the seasons, though I managed to hit the worst winter for many years, some of it while I was camping out."
As the seasons changed it became clear to Lara that there was a relationship between the landscape and the fabric. Similar patterns and tones can be seen in Lara's close ups of heather and gorse as well as those of the finished rolls of tweed.
Today there are some aspect that are mechanised yet it remains true to its roots, with weavers working at home, sometimes in sheds attached to their crofts in the hills and villages.
Harris Tweed has known tough times, but the past couple of years has seen new weavers coming online and very healthy growth figures, due in part to its expansion into new areas. Though the tweed is still primarily associated with high-end clothing and is a regular on the fashion catwalk, it is also now used in many other products, such as upholstery, bags, lampshades and, if the mood takes, corsets.
Lara's project coincided with the 100-year anniversary of the Orb mark being registered and is a fitting tribute to both the past and the present workers of tweed. She was drawn to the project by the sustainable nature of the process, one that gives each member of the chain a living.
"While making my previous book, Art Workers Guild 125 Years: Craftspeople at Work Today, I met a few weavers and thought that these people have amazing patience," Lara told me. "With sculpture you can see it form in front of you, photography is instant and in architecture there are plans, but weaving is just one line at a time. It's an art form rather than an industrial process."
"Yet I was aware that there was a danger of producing a tourist view rather than the real picture. So that is why I spent as much time as possible up there and experienced all the seasons, though I managed to hit the worst winter for many years, some of it while I was camping out."
As the seasons changed it became clear to Lara that there was a relationship between the landscape and the fabric. Similar patterns and tones can be seen in Lara's close ups of heather and gorse as well as those of the finished rolls of tweed.
The colours of the tweed can be found in the landscape
Lara said: "The whole idea of the wool is to mash it up like a candy floss machine, then it is pulled and teased in the carding machine, so for example you might get an orange thread that has stayed there all the way through the cloth. Every piece of cloth is individual despite the fact that they follow recipes. It is a commercial business and this means they can match up historic patterns."
The project has been published by Frances Lincoln and result is part history and part snapshot of the industry and those who continue the tradition.
"I deliberately did not want a book solely of portraits, so it's a mixture. It's also important to see where they live and how the landscape is reflected in the product."

Harris Tweed fabric, mid-20th centuryHarris Tweed is a cloth that has been handwoven by the islanders on the Isles of Harris, Lewis, Uist and Barra in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, using local wool.
Traditional Harris Tweed was characterized by subtle flecks of colour achieved through the use of vegetable dyes, including the lichen dyes called "crottle" (Parmelia saxatilis and Parmelia omphalodes which give deep red- or purple-brown and rusty orange respectively). These lichens are the origin of the distinctive scent of older Harris Tweed.
The original name of the cloth was tweel, Scots for twill, it being woven in a twilled rather than a plain pattern. A traditional story has the name coming about almost by chance. About 1830, a London merchant received a letter from a Hawick firm about some tweels. The London merchant misinterpreted the handwriting, understanding it to be a trade-name taken from the river Tweed that flows through the Scottish Borders textile area. Subsequently the goods were advertised as Tweed, and the name has remained ever since.

During the economic difficulties of the Highland potato famine of 1846-7, Catherine Murray, Countess of Dunmore was instrumental in the promotion and development of Harris Tweed as a sustainable and local industry. Recognising its sales potential, she had the Murray family tartan copied in tweed by the local weavers and suits were made for the Dunmore estate gamekeepers and gillies. Proving a success, Lady Dunmore sought to widen the market by removing the irregularities caused by dyeing, spinning and weaving (all done by hand) in order to bring it in line with machine-made cloth. She achieved this by organising and financing training in Alloa for the Harris weavers and by the late 1840s a London market was established which led to an increase in sales of tweed.

With the industrial revolution the Scottish mainland turned to mechanisation, but the Outer Hebrides retained their traditional processes of manufacturing cloth. Until the middle of the 19th century the cloth was only produced for personal use within the local market. It was not until between 1903 and 1906 that the tweed-making industry in Lewis significantly expanded. Production increased until the peak figure of 7.6 million yards was reached in 1966. However the Harris Tweed industry declined along with textile industries in the rest of Europe. Harris Tweed has survived because of its distinctive quality and the fact that it is protected by an act of Parliament limiting the use of the Sovereign's Orb trademark to tweeds made in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland.

One high profile promotional success of Harris Tweed in recent years has been their use on several Nike running shoe designs including the Terminator, Blazer, and Air Force 1. Around 95 per cent of Harris Tweed production is from the mills of Harris Tweed Hebrides in Shawbost, Isle of Lewis, a company founded in 2007 and who have had success in extending the appeal of this "champagne of fabrics." They export to more than 40 countries and supply designers like Alexander McQueen, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and Steven Alan. While Harris Tweed has been mainly a fashion fabric in recent years, Harris Tweed Hebrides has broken new ground by supplying most of the interiors fabrics for Glasgow's first five-star hotel, Blythswood Square, said to be the biggest interiors project since Harris Tweed was used in the fitting out of the ocean liner QE2 in the 1960s. The company has picked up two major honours: Textile Brand of the Year for 2009 at the Scottish Fashion Awards, and premier award for Outstanding Style Achievement at the Scottish Style Awards, reflecting a renaissance of interest in the fabric and its use by cutting-edge designers.

Every length of cloth is stamped with the official Orb symbol, trademarked by the Harris Tweed Association in 1909, when Harris Tweed was defined as "hand-spun, hand-woven and dyed by the crofters and cottars in the Outer Hebrides."

Machine-spinning and vat-dyeing have since replaced hand methods, and only weaving is now done in the home under the governance of the Harris Tweed Authority established by an act of Parliament in 1993. Harris Tweed is now defined as "hand woven by the islanders at their homes in the Outer Hebrides, finished in the islands of Harris, Lewis, North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist and Barra and their several purtenances (The Outer Hebrides) and made from pure virgin wool dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides."

Contemporary expansion
A Nike shoe in Harris TweedIn 2004 the American company Nike used the fabric to produce limited edition runs of retro trainers originally released in the 1980s. They ordered 10,000 metres of cloth from mills on the Isle of Harris, using a design by Donald John Mackay, who lives and works in Luskentyre on the island. They have since used the fabric in other designs of shoe. Another company using Harris Tweed in their products is "The Healthy Back Bag Company" who launched a range of bags in August 2007

In December 2006 a Yorkshire businessman, Brian Haggas, bought Kenneth Mackenzie Ltd (KM Group) in Stornoway which by then accounted for about 95 per cent of Harris Tweed production. Textiles entrepreneur Brian Haggas, 75, who owns textile firm the John Haggas Group, also bought Parkend, a small tweed mill on the outskirts of Stornoway and closed it down. Haggas then reduced all the 8000 Harris Tweed designs down to four, refused to sell to any one else and started producing exclusively for his own garment production. In May 2008, Haggas announced the redundancy of 36 millworkers in Stornoway.

In December 2007, Harris Tweed Hebrides acquired the closed mill at Shawbost on the Isle of Lewis. Harris Tweed Hebrides is chaired by former UK government minister Brian Wilson and the main investor is his friend Ian Taylor, president of oil trader Vitol.

The fictional character Robert Langdon, from the novels Angels and Demons, The Da Vinci Code and The Lost Symbol, wears Harris Tweed, as does the fictional detective Miss Marple,[9] the second and eleventh portrayals of the fictional Doctor from the television series Doctor Who, and Glasgow University Rugby Football Club. Jasper Fforde also uses a fictional character named Harris Tweed in his Thursday Next series, most notably in Lost in a Good Book and The Well of Lost Plots.

British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood is a fan of Harris Tweed - her brand logo is very similar to Harris Tweed's logo. The Harris Tweed Authority pursued a long-running legal case to stop her using the Orb trade mark but Westwood won by being able to point to three minor differences between her logo and Harris Tweed's. While she has used Harris Tweed, the logo is often attached to products that are not made with Harris Tweed.

In 2009, British fashion designer Sara Berman designed a capsule collection of limited edition Harris Tweed coats sold exclusively through her online boutique

In 2010, fashion label Thomas Pink contracted with Harris Tweed to produce a line of sport jackets for their AW10 season.

The Hospitality industry is now also enjoying a Harris Tweed experience. The largest order of Harris Tweed since the commissioning of the QE2 has been delivered for the fit out of the new five-star Hotel Glasgow, called Blythswood Square. The hotel was the former Royal Scottish Automobile Club and has been renovated and rebuilt, in parts, to accommodate the new hotel.

Harris Tweed - Isles Fm Interview

Friday 23 December 2011

Bill Cunningham New York Trailer

Vincent van Gogh ... suicide or murder ?

Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith say that, contrary to popular belief, it was more likely he was shot accidentally by two boys he knew who had "a malfunctioning gun".
Van Gogh did not kill himself, authors claimVincent van Gogh did not kill himself, the authors of new biography Van Gogh: The Life have claimed.

The authors came to their conclusion after 10 years of study with more than 20 translators and researchers.

The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam called the claim "dramatic" and "intriguing".

In a statement, however, curator Leo Jansen said "plenty of questions remain unanswered" and that it would be "premature to rule out suicide".

He added that the new claims would "generate a great deal of discussion".

Van Gogh died in Auvers-sur-Oise, France, in 1890 aged 37.

The Dutch master had been staying at the Auberge Ravoux inn from where he would walk to local wheat fields to paint.

It has long been thought that he shot himself in a wheat field before returning to the inn where he later died.

Cowboy game

But author Steven Naifeh said it was "very clear to us that he did not go into the wheat fields with the intention of shooting himself".

"The accepted understanding of what happened in Auvers among the people who knew him was that he was killed accidentally by a couple of boys and he decided to protect them by accepting the blame."

Will Gompertz
Arts editor

Van Gogh: The Life consists of 900-plus well-written pages of intensely researched biographical detail about an artist who, in 10 prolific years, introduced an expressionistic style of painting that changed art forever.

In a short chapter at the end of the book, the authors start to make their case that Vincent van Gogh was shot by a 16-year old boy called Rene Secretan, who had a history of tormenting the troubled artist.

On why he would cover for a boy he loathed, the authors reasoned, "because Vincent welcomed death" and didn't want to drag the brothers "into the glare of public enquiry… for having done him this favour".

They lavish praise on their two main sources and pay little heed to the one person who was definitely there - Vincent van Gogh - when he quite clearly said: "Do not accuse anyone... it is I who wanted to kill myself."

As they admit in the book, the truth of the matter is that, "surprisingly little is known about the incident". Which leaves, of course, plenty of room for conjecture.

Read more from Will
He said that renowned art historian John Rewald had recorded that version of events when he visited Auvers in the 1930s and other details were found that corroborated the theory.

They include the assertion that the bullet entered Van Gogh's upper abdomen from an oblique angle - not straight on as might be expected from a suicide.

"These two boys, one of whom was wearing a cowboy outfit and had a malfunctioning gun that he played cowboy with, were known to go drinking at that hour of day with Vincent.

"So you have a couple of teenagers who have a malfunctioning gun, you have a boy who likes to play cowboy, you have three people probably all of whom had too much to drink."

He said "accidental homicide" was "far more likely".

"It's really hard to imagine that if either of these two boys was the one holding the gun - which is probably more likely than not - it's very hard to imagine that they really intended to kill this painter."

Gregory White Smith, meanwhile, said Van Gogh did not "actively seek death but that when it came to him, or when it presented itself as a possibility, he embraced it".

AdvertisementGregory White Smith and Steven Naifeh describe some of their findings for the book
He said Van Gogh's acceptance of death was "really done as an act of love to his brother, to whom he was a burden".

He said Van Gogh's brother, Theo, was funding the artist who, at that time, "wasn't selling".

Other revelations claimed by the authors include that:

Van Gogh's family tried to commit him to a mental asylum long before his voluntary confinement later
Van Gogh fought so furiously with his parson father that some of his family accused him of killing him
Van Gogh's affliction, viewed as a mix of mania and depression, was a result of a form of epilepsy
Gregory White Smith said the biography, published on Monday, helped to give a greater understanding of a "frail and flawed figure" and that his art would be seen "as even more of an achievement".

Thousands of previously untranslated letters written by the artist were among documents studied by the authors to create a research database containing 28,000 notes.
in BBC News.

Van Gogh: the Life by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith: review in The Telegraph.
Martin Herbert enjoys a brilliant new biography of Van Gogh by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith.
28 Oct 2011

Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith are the big-game hunters of modern art history. Their previous doorstop biography of a legendary painter, Jackson Pollock: an American Saga (1989), was fact-packed enough to win a Pulitzer yet also riotous enough to inspire a Hollywood biopic. Van Gogh: the Life, which similarly rushes along on a tide of research, could do the same. Yet if it does – and unlike all previous films about the iconic, splenetic Dutchman – it won’t end with Van Gogh shooting himself.

Vincent van Gogh: The Life by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith
For in a revelation that has already efficiently publicised this 912-page opus, Naifeh and White Smith’s tireless investigating suggests that Van Gogh’s “suitably tragic” exit – his suicide – isn’t factual. Nor, apparently, did he die in the wheat field of his final painting. The writers tally up weird angles of bullet entry and Van Gogh’s apparent movements after the shooting – which was most likely a near-accident that resulted from an encounter with one René Secrétan, “a reckless teenager with fantasies of the Wild West”, whose denials are inconsistent, who carried a gun everywhere and who liked to tease the painter when he was drunk. The story, Naifeh and White Smith conclude, planted “a seed in the Van Gogh legend that could not be uprooted by logic or lack of evidence”.

However, in other ways, the writers don’t disturb that legend but merely deepen it. Their Van Gogh is remarkably consistent: at the outset, his character is described as that of a “fanatic”, and everything we see him do fits the template, and every turn of events seems to ensure a more screwed-up central character.

In what amounts to a massive study in psychological profiling, Naifeh and White Smith set up a tragically flawed figure, obsessive but unable to stick at anything: school, jobs, a religious vocation. A strict, guilt-filled upbringing, hitched to progressive rejection by his parents, leaves him wanting to play the prodigal son. Yet his father tries to have him committed to an asylum in his twenties and, when the father dies, his sister tells Vincent that he has effectively killed him.

Grown from a “strange boy” to a friendless, intimacy-starved, repeatedly suicidal emotional knot of a man, Van Gogh passes through a fearful identification with Christ and human suffering to produce an art of rough-edged humility. Through compulsive mania – drawing through the night, relentlessly pursuing models (“locals began to avoid the ‘peculiar’ parson’s son…”) – he becomes a clandestine master of it. In so doing, he finally, though with painful impermanency, finds something controllable in a world apparently and implacably against him.

He becomes, then, a model modern artist – against convention, against the world – through utterly unenviable circumstances: arriving there after everyone has turned away from him, adopting an oppositional pose to salvage some self-respect. This book is not called The Life for nothing, or in hubris. For the authors, clearly, the life shaped the art. “Oh, if only nothing had happened to mess up my life!” Van Gogh yelps, near the end; if so, the authors insist, we wouldn’t have had the paintings.

The book’s structure is a grimly predictable see-sawing: Van Gogh is raptly hopeful about something; then it founders. This rhythm structures his development, keeping a reader on edge. He first discovers oils – painting a seascape in a lashing storm – and it’s wonderful, then he loses confidence. He makes repeated allies only to embark on titanic quarrels with them; not least Paul Gauguin, with whom he dreams of a creative brotherhood but then, inevitably, has blazing fights. “Every surge of hope was followed by new obstacles,” the authors write on page 608, by which time you feel like you’ve heard that phrase a hundred times.

The Van Gogh summoned here is, in effect, at once hugely detailed and two-dimensional, an intricate cut‑out: always lashing out – you wouldn’t want to have known him – and extreme in his responses to the world.

Naifeh and White Smith begin by saying that “no one believed in the importance of biography” – the life explaining the maker – “more fervently than Vincent van Gogh”. That’s their rationale, apparently, for producing this engrossing but in some ways fiercely old-fashioned book.

At once a model of scholarship and an emotive, pacy chunk of hagiography, Van Gogh: The Life swallows archives whole to argue that the tempestuous, tragic, romantic figure of the artist we always had was the correct one, the main difference being that his exit was probably in keeping with the majority of his terrible, yet impossibly fruitful, three-and-a-half decades on earth: beyond his control.

Van Gogh: the Life

by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith

Splendor in the Stars
Published: November 25, 2011 in The New York Times

Vincent VAN GOGH tends to be remembered as an art saint whose radiant paintings of sunflowers and starry skies seem somehow imbued with moral valor. He identified with the poor and marginalized, and looked upon art as a humanitarian calling. He died unknown, at age 37, and you suspect he will always be a shining hero not only to people who worship art but to those who feel their own talents remain insufficiently acknowledged by their peers — meaning, most everyone.


The Life

By Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith

On the other hand, is it possible that we have him entirely wrong, that he was just a creep and selfish user who felt that a life in art basically meant never having to say “Thank you”? Such is the portrait that emerges from Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith’s energetic, hulking and negatively skewed “Van Gogh: The Life.” The artist, as they see him, was bitter and manipulative, more of a perpetrator than a victim. The eldest child of a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church, he grew up in a rural corner of Holland and was not exactly an easy son. For part of his adulthood, we are told, in “a campaign that seemed intended to mortify and embarrass his parents,” he moved into their parsonage in Nuenen and shocked the congregation by swearing, smoking a pipe, drinking ­Cognac from a flask, dismissing the locals as “clodhoppers” and loudly proclaiming his atheism.

His financial dependency on his brother Theo is already well known, but it is not until now that anyone has publicly accused him of being lavish. Although he pleaded poverty and was forced to cadge, in reality he lived beyond his means, “never budgeting and never saving,” at least according to the authors. They itemize his purchases: art supplies, novels, reproductions of other artists’ work, the services of a “little girl he paid to sweep his studio” as well as models who posed for him. “The problem went beyond simple profligacy,” the authors write. He had a “delusional sense of entitlement.”

From such comments, you might think that van Gogh harbored an epicurean predilection for Bordeaux wines and foie gras. It is true he lived on borrowed money, but you cannot accurately call him profligate. He used his money to finance his art, and the paintings that resulted, most of us would agree, were worth the expenditure.

In some ways, “Van Gogh” resembles the authors’ previous biography, “Jackson Pollock: An American Saga,” which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1991. As an example of what might be called Extreme Biography, the Pollock book is extremely long (more than 900 pages) and larded with extreme theories (e.g., Pollock’s famous drip paintings originated in a childhood memory of watching his father urinate on a rock). The van Gogh biography, while free of any attempt to link the advent of Post-Impressionism to the workings of the urethra, does float at least one sensational theory. It strongly suggests he was murdered.

In this it challenges the version of history offered by everyone from professors like Meyer Schapiro to performers like Kirk Douglas in “Lust for Life.” It asks you to delete from memory the image of van Gogh lying alone in a wheat field in Auvers-sur-Oise, bleeding from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his stomach. The authors argue that the bullet was fired elsewhere in town by a French punk, a teenager who had made a summer sport out of teasing the artist. Although based on decades-old hearsay and unaccompanied by forensic evidence, the claim has impressed at least one journalist: Morley Safer recently devoted a segment of “60 Minutes” to the book, without inviting any art historians to respond. The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has stated that it does not accept the verdict of murder.

The new biography runs to 953 pages but is actually longer. The footnotes, which “ballooned to roughly 5,000 typewritten pages,” as the authors say, have been divorced from the hardcover edition and relocated to an online site. When you click on, you learn that the footnotes have expanded to “more than 6,000 typewritten pages.” Apparently they’re growing as we speak, perhaps as part of a fun experiment to see whether a biography can be too big to fail.

But length alone does not render a book definitive. In this case, gaps abound. The authors seldom slow the rush of facts to offer analysis or raise even the most basic questions. For starters, what illness was van Gogh suffering from? Naifeh and Smith, inexplicably, do not weigh in on the debate. Some psychiatrists have made the case for paranoia. Others believe he was manic-depressive. It goes without saying that no diagnosis can begin to explain the origins of van Gogh’s art. But it would have been helpful to have a page or two summarizing the current medical ­consensus.

Asked about van Gogh’s illness on “60 Minutes,” the authors cited “temporal lobe epilepsy.” They see no reason, they explained, to revise the opinion of ­Félix Rey, who treated van Gogh after the hideous incident in which he sliced off a substantial chunk of his left ear. It is not surprising that Dr. Rey, a 23-year-old intern at the hospital in Arles, felt van Gogh was afflicted with nonconvulsive epilepsy — the concept referred to invisible fits believed to occur in the brain. It provided doctors, in the pre-EEG late 19th century, with a convenient label to apply to every­thing from schizophrenia to ordinary obnoxiousness. Such a diagnosis hardly seems persuasive today.

Another question that remains unanswered: When and how did van Gogh become interested in art?

The authors trace his awakening to July 1869, when, at age 16, he left the family parsonage in provincial Zundert and moved to The Hague to begin his working life. He was hired by his Uncle Vincent, who, as it happened, was an art dealer with Goupil & Cie, a fashionable Paris-based firm. “In his enthusiasm for his new job,” the authors write, “Vincent took a characteristically sudden, feverish interest in a subject toward which he had shown no particular inclination before: art.”

Not true. As the authors well know, van Gogh drew copiously throughout his childhood. Their book reproduces a stiffly detailed barnyard scene sketched in pencil shortly before he turned 11. Although van Gogh spoke of his childhood efforts as “little scratches,” naturally they hold great interest today. It is hard to know why Naifeh and Smith opted to disregard any art biographer’s obligation to look at juvenilia and identify themes and preoccupations that recur in an artist’s mature work. In van Gogh’s case, his early drawings represent more than a vestigial glimmer of his later accomplishments. He was, of course, a master letter writer, and many of his early drawings were landscapes inserted like so many illustrations into the body of his letters. His instinct for combining text and images is fascinating, because you might say that the chief struggle of his art was to integrate the two forms. How do you inject the immediacy and charisma of your personal letters into a painting?

In the end, he did find a way to make his paintings as alive as his correspondence — significantly, his marks as a painter are reminiscent of handwriting. In his masterpiece “Wheat Field With Crows,” for instance, a profusion of short, blunt, parallel lines of cadmium yellow slant strongly to the right. The strokes of his brush come in a sequence, like words in a sentence. He transformed the trademark unit of Impressionism, the buttery brush stroke, into a calligraphic, confessional presence.

But that came later. His early stint at Goupil & Cie was important because it acquainted him with a vast array of 19th-century prints, many of them photo­gravure reproductions of popular French paintings. A close observer, he remembered images that other people forgot and came to possess a deep, nearly erudite knowledge of art history. Or, as the authors clumsily put it, “Vincent kept a salesman’s open mind about the images passing across his ­desktop.”

For all its put-downs and grating cynicism, the book is highly readable and lavishes welcome attention on van Gogh’s lesser-known middle period. Other studies, especially those by art historians, tend to concentrate on the last four years of his short life, when he made the paintings that changed art history.

But the bulk of this book is taken up with his pre-Arles adventures, the meandering years when he was trying to find his artistic bearings. He did not care for the newly ascendant French Impressionists, with their fixation on the shifting effects of sunlight, and accused them of elevating cleverness over substance. He preferred, in his own work, the smudgy atmospherics of black chalk and narratives involving lumpen weavers who subsisted on potatoes.

For inspiration, he turned to weekly British magazines like The Graphic and Punch and cut out affecting illustrations, scenes attesting to poverty and illness. He eventually amassed thousands of images and saved them in portfolios that were among his most cherished possessions. Although Naifeh and Smith deride his taste for social realists like Jean-François Millet and “the sentimental, cliché-driven world” of popular prints, van Gogh had an admirably daring eye. He found the line separating high and low culture entirely phony, and preferred to divide the world’s images into those that move you and those that merely pretend to sophistication. Magazine illustration no doubt played a role in helping him formulate a pictorial style that is singularly direct and accessible.

After all that has been written about van Gogh, there is still no agreement on who he was. Whether he was a high-I.Q. aesthete (yes!) or an intellectual simpleton, a frugal-minded bohemian or a miscreant squandering spare resources, whether he was the Ingrate From Hell or an achingly sensitive artist, or whether he was none of these — clearly, it is a sign of his greatness that so many people feel so proprietary about him. Yet not all interpretations are created equal. Perhaps only in an age that distrusts the notion of genius could we wind up with a life of van Gogh that treats his iconoclasm as an expression of anger-management issues. Hasn’t he suffered enough without this?

Deborah Solomon, a frequent contributor to the Book Review, is the author of “Utopia Parkway: The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell” and a forthcoming biography of Norman Rockwell.

The Life and Death of Vincent van Gogh, pt. 1 - 60 Minutes - CBS News

Tuesday 20 December 2011

Villa Diodati ...

The year is 1816.
Up in the Swiss mountains Lord Byron rents Villa Diodati,
to spend time with his friend John Polidori.
Among his guests are Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley and Clare Clairmont.
While outside the storms tortures the old walls of the villa, inside by the fireplace the guests dare each other
to put their most frightening nightmares to paper. In this inspiring environment the classics of the Gothic genre were born;
Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein' and Polidori's 'The Vampyre', to name but a few.

The collection had its origin in Das Gespensterbuch ("The Ghost Book"), a five-volume anthology of German ghost stories. The original anthology was published in Leipzig between 1811 and 1815. The stories were compiled by Friedrich August Schulze (1770–1849), under the pen name Friedrich Laun, and Johann August Apel (1771–1816).
A selection of short stories from the first two volumes received a French language translation by Jean Baptiste Benoit Eyries (1767–1846) and was published in Paris during 1812. The French title was Fantasmagoriana, ou Recueil d'Histoires d'Apparitions de Spectres, Revenans, Fantomes, etc.; traduit de l'allemand, par un Amateur. The title is derived from Étienne-Gaspard Robert's Phantasmagoria

Fantasmagoriana has a significant place in the history of English literature. In the summer of 1816 Lord Byron and John William Polidori were staying at the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva and were visited by Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and Claire Clairmont. Kept indoors by the "incessant rain" of that "wet, ungenial summer", over three days in June the five turned to reading fantastical stories, including Fantasmagoriana (in the French edition), and then devising their own tales. Mary Shelley produced what would become Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus and Polidori was inspired by a fragmentary story of Byron's to produce The Vampyre, the progenitor of the romantic vampire genre. Some parts of Frankenstein are surprisingly similar to those found in Fantasmagoriana and suggest a direct influence upon Mary Shelley's writing.

The Villa Diodati is a manor in Cologny close to Lake Geneva. It is most famous for having been the summer residence of Lord Byron, Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, John Polidori and others in 1816, where the basis for the classical horror stories Frankenstein and The Vampyre was laid.
Originally called the Villa Belle Rive, Byron named it the Villa Diodati after the family that owned it. The family was distantly related to Italian translator Giovanni Diodati, uncle of Charles Diodati, the close friend of poet John Milton. Despite the presence of a plaque at the Villa heralding a supposed visit of Milton in 1638, in fact the villa was not built until 1710, long after Milton's death.
In the twentieth century, the Villa was owned by the Washers, a prominent Belgian family of industralists. It was sold in 2000 to an American businessman.

In popular culture
The villa is featured in the film Gothic and in Chuck Palahniuk's novel Haunted, where the frame plot takes place in a modern version of the Villa Diodati. Also, Tim Powers's novel The Stress of Her Regard has several scenes set there featuring Byron, Polidori and the Shelley's.
In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, which she began writing in the Villa Diodati (ne Villa Belle Rive), Victor Frankenstein's home is called "Belrive".
In the comic book The Unwritten, published by DC Vertigo, the Villa Diodati is the location where reclusive novelist Wilson Taylor was last seen alive - and where he planned and wrote his bestselling series of books about the boy wizard Tommy Taylor. The comic's protagonist, Wilson's son, refers to the fact that Tommy Taylor thus shares his place of birth with Frankenstein.
Villa Diodati is also the name of a speculative fiction writers' workshop founded by Ruth Nestvold, dedicated to providing English-language feedback for writers in continental Europe. Notable participants include Benjamin Rosenbaum and Aliette de Bodard.

Monday 19 December 2011

Dickens and London exhibition ...until 10 June 2012 at the Museum of London

Dickens and London exhibition
Exhibition until 10 June 2012 at the Museum of London

To mark the bicentenary of Charles Dickens’ birth, the Museum of London will be holding an exhibition celebrating his work. London was Dickens’ ‘magic lantern’ providing the setting and inspiration for some of his greatest works.
This atmospheric and multi-sensory exhibition will explore his love/hate relationship with the city and will examine London life through his words and the contemporary social issues he threw under the spotlight. It will include manuscripts of some of his most famous novels, his writing desk and chair, artefacts, paintings and audiovisual effects to create an immersive and exciting journey through Dickens’ imagination.
The exhibition will support and enrich the study of Dickens for English Literature from Key Stage 3 upwards as well as 19th century social history.
Schools will be able to book self-directed visits to the exhibition or take part in one of our specially tailored study days listed below. Teachers’ resources to support school visits to the exhibition will be available to download from the pages linked to below from October 2011.

Exhibition in focus: Dickens and London, the Museum of London
Indelibly bound to London, Charles Dickens had an unparalleled ability to capture the joy and despair of life in the city.

By Alex Werner, Head of History Collections at the Museum of London
09 Dec 2011 in The Telegraph

Dickens and London at the Museum of London reveals how Dickens and London are indelibly bound together. Dickens can be viewed as the first, and arguably greatest, urban novelist. His contemporaries identified him as the author best able to capture the new urban consciousness and the experiences of city dwellers. Walter Bagehot in 1858 observed how Dickens’s ‘genius’ was ‘suited to the delineation of city life’ and noted how he described London ‘like a special correspondent for posterity’.
Rather than taking an autobiographical approach, the exhibition is arranged thematically. William Powell Frith’s famous and arresting portrait of the author, painted in 1859 and commissioned by Dickens’s close friend and biographer John Forster, is given pride of place at the entrance to the show. Describing the work, the artist felt that he had depicted a man "who had reached the topmost rung of a very high ladder, and was perfectly aware of his position". Alongside it, small ‘carte de visite’ photographs bring one face-to-face with Dickens’s family, friends and acquaintances.

The central display space builds a city of the imagination through projections and subtle lighting. Dickens called London his ‘magic lantern’ and visitors glimpse the world that the author might have seen or imagined as he walked the streets at night. Dickens described his mind as a "sort of capitally prepared and highly sensitive [photographic] plate". As he walked he mapped out the intricate storylines of his novels. Just as his fictional characters make their way from one place to another, so he followed in their footsteps across the real city. On the walls, coloured to reflect the dirt and grime of the Victorian city, paintings and drawings capture the appearance of London and Londoners. A few key objects inhabit this space including a watchman’s box from Furnival’s Inn, one of the old Inns of Court where Dickens had chambers as a young man, and a door from Newgate Prison associated with the Gordon Riots. Floating above are signs from London shops and taverns and alphabet letters that are beginning to shape themselves into words and phrases. They lead towards the manuscript of Bleak House, open at the very first page with its evocative description of the fog that has enveloped London. The exhibition includes other manuscripts including Great Expectations, Dombey and Son and David Copperfield which give a fascinating insight into how Dickens worked creatively.

If Dickens had not been a writer then he would have been an actor. He saw London’s theatre scene as a "fairy land", an escape from the toil and drabness of everyday urban life. As a boy, his imagination had been fired up by a visit to a Christmas pantomime at Sadler’s Wells where he saw a performance by Grimaldi, the most celebrated clown of the age. The only surviving Grimaldi stage costume is displayed here. The theme of ‘home and hearth’ was central to Dickens’s fiction. We investigate how Victorian Londoners saw the home as a sacred place and Dickens aspired to this ideal as well. His fictional writings, however, often present domestic life in a less favourable light. Many of his families are dysfunctional, embittered and labour under a general air of unhappiness.
Dickens felt that he was living in a special age of progress and improvement, which he called ‘this summer-dawn of time’. His writings are shown to reflect the scale of global trade flowing through Victorian London and the impact of the British Empire on people’s lives. The manuscript of The Mystery of Edwin Drood is open at the opium den scene.

The exhibition’s final section focuses on childhood and death. It was only after Dickens’s death that the traumatic events of his childhood became known to the world. He experienced profound ‘grief and humiliation’ as a boy when he was taken out of school and sent to work at Warren’s blacking factory. Dickens’s novels are charged with death and tragedy, often involving children. It is difficult for us today to comprehend how the death of Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop sent the nation into mourning. The remarkable painting Applicants For Admission to a Casual Ward by Luke Fildes is displayed on the final wall with its haunting depiction of those queuing up to enter the workhouse. It is set alongside some words by Dickens that uncover the appalling state of one such institution in Wapping. In many respects Dickens seems an incredibly modern author. He still challenges us today.
When: until June 10, 2012
Where: Museum of London, London Wall, London EC2Y 5HN
Tube: Barbican, St Paul's Moorgate.

Dickens and London
Museum of London
9 December until 10 June 2012

It's a good idea to begin the new Dickens and London exhibition right at the end, where William Raban's short film The Houseless Shadow runs on a 20-minute loop. To the accompaniment of Dickens' haunting essay "Night Walks", we see shots of modern London at night. There's no Dickensian kitsch here, no gas lamps, carol singers or jolly fat men, just drunks and homeless people sheltering from the rain, with the shops' mannequins looking cosy inside and the security cameras staring down. They are familiar enough images and yet made unfamiliar by the meditative, noticing gaze of Raban's camera, which matches the solicitude of Dickens' text, where sympathy is pushed to the point of identification with London's poor and homeless.
As his bicentenary year begins, there is going to be a deluge of Dickensian publications, adaptations, celebrations and marketing opportunities. Only the Olympics will be able to stop it. For the most part, it should be fun: two sparkling biographies by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst and Claire Tomalin have led the charge, and the BBC will soon be following with new adaptations of Great Expectations and The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Dickensians' diaries are filling up, as everywhere from Teesdale to Segovia rushes to play its part in the festivities.
The Victoria and Albert Museum has nearly all of Dickens' manuscripts and proofs, generously given to the nation by his friend and biographer John Forster. It is strangely quiet this year but the Museum of London has stepped into the breach with a major exhibition, the first devoted to Dickens' work in nearly half a century. It's a busy, bustling, fluid show. Divided in two by great screens, the exhibition wraps around itself, with a Thames-like flow. On the screens we see projections of streets and characters emerging and disappearing, ghosts of a world we have lost.
Some strange survivors of the places that Dickens knew arrest the flow: the porters' box from Furnival's Inn where he had his first home; a door from Newgate Prison; street furniture and pub signs. There are little things too, full of pathos: pots from Warren's Blacking Warehouse where Dickens worked as a child; broken crockery dug out from Jacob's Island where Bill Sikes fell to his death; a child circus-performer's tiny shoe. The posher side of Dickens' life is here, too, in the shape of a vast ledger of his bank account at Coutts and a generous cheque to buy jewels, almost certainly for his lover, the actress Ellen Ternan.
It is good to remember how significant London was to Dickens, and how important they both are to us. London was the place he returned to most often in his fiction, the home of the Micawbers and Little Dorrit, David Copperfield and Silas Wegg. The unparalleled chronicler of its lives and voices, he was its "special correspondent for posterity", in Walter Bagehot's phrase. Over his lifetime, the city changed into a world of commuters and telegraphs, omnibuses and underground railways, as Victorian London forged a path that every city in the world has followed since. Dickens saw it first, and registered, as no one else could, its strangeness, suffering and laughter.

Any back alley or greasy chophouse could be the stage for an unforgettable drama in his work. He was fascinated by the shabby-genteel clerks and street children that he saw and, like his great contemporary Henry Mayhew, captured their chaff and blague for eternity. He would see everyone from the 13-year-old prostitute on her way to prison in Sketches by Boz to the "sleek, slobbering, bow-paunched, over-fed, apoplectic, snorting cattle" troughing their faces at a City of London dinner. Trying to write in Switzerland, he yearned for the spectacle of London streets: "A day in London sets me up again and starts me. But the toil and labour of writing, day after day, without that magic lantern is immense!!"
He hated it too, of course, more and more as he grew older, keeping a base there but spending more and more time away, in Kent or France or just travelling. So it is right that the celebrations this year will be global, with conferences and lectures, exhibitions and festivals not just in the France and Switzerland that he loved and the America he quarrelled with, but also in India, Sri Lanka and Ukraine. Dickens has always been global Dickens.
He has always been adaptable Dickens, too. Victorian stage managers turned his novels into plays before he had half-finished them. A good amateur magician, he loved the theatre and magic-lantern shows, and his work adapts readily to the world of cinema, graphic novel and iPhone. There's an exhibition app and the British Film Institute is running a retrospective of Dickens films. Spanning almost the whole of the 20th century, they are testament to a visual imagination that, as Sergei Eisenstein showed, anticipated the grammar of modern cinema in its use of close-up and montage. A copy of the "Death of Nancy" from Oliver Twist is in the exhibition, open at her death. "Action", Dickens has written in the margin when Sikes strikes the blow, and a little later "Terror to the End".
It is moving to see the manuscripts and proofs close up. Several come from the Victoria and Albert Museum; Great Expectations is on a rare excursion from its home in Wisbech. The exhibition is not too reverent, though, and makes a brave shot at capturing the side of Dickens that goes beyond his social documentary and social reforming sides. As if eager to fly away from the cramped handwriting and crossings-out below, phrases from the manuscripts swirl above in giant letters: MONSTER; VANISH; LASCAR; HE SPEAKS.
There is a strong suite of pictures from the Museum of London's own collection, by Gustave Doré, David Roberts and others. They are an invaluable record of the visual culture that Dickens knew but none of the paintings come near to his prose in evoking the fantastic - in every sense - novelty of the new urban world.
Probably the most famous image of Dickens of all is Robert Buss' unfinished posthumous painting Dickens' Dream (pictured above), of the author in his chair, dreaming of his creations, who flutter in outline around his head, oblivious to him and to each other. Next to the painting is the desk and chair at which he wrote and which Buss drew. We see the relics and pay our homage; but there is a cheeky animation of Buss' picture, too. Dickens rolls his eyes and grinds his teeth like a Monty Python cartoon as Barnaby Rudge jives above him and Oliver asks for more.
The most arresting moment of the exhibition comes at the very end in the shape of Luke Fildes' great 1874 canvas, Applicants for Admission to a Casual Ward. Huddled against the cold, the wind knifing through their clothes, a group of paupers press against the workhouse wall, a frieze of misery. In the cases around are some of the sadder fragments of Dickensian London - a child's white coffin, blacking pots, mourning paper.
In one way, of course, it is an immeasurably distant world. London today, a century and a half on, is unrecognisable from its Victorian ancestor, an altogether bigger, richer and brighter city. But we are closer to Dickens' world than we were at the last great celebration of his work in 1970, at the high-water mark of full employment and the welfare state. The gap between rich and poor has grown bigger with every decade since then, and is rapidly returning to near-Victorian levels. As we leave, Raban's film is still running.

John Bowen is professor of 19th-century literature in the department of English and related literature at the University of York.
in "Higher Education".

Friday 16 December 2011

The Pocket Square

A handkerchief, also called a handkercher or hanky, is a form of a kerchief, typically a hemmed square of thin fabric that can be carried in the pocket or purse, and which is intended for personal hygiene purposes such as wiping one's hands or face, or blowing one's nose. A handkerchief is also sometimes used as a purely decorative accessory in a suit pocket.

The material of a handkerchief can be symbolic of the social-economic class of the user, not only because some materials are more expensive, but because some materials are more absorbent and practical for those who use a handkerchief for more than style. Handkerchiefs can be made of cotton, cotton-synthetic blend, synthetic fabric, silk, or linen.

When used as an accessory to a suit, a handkerchief is known as a pocket square. There are a wide variety of ways to fold a pocket square, ranging from the austere to the flamboyant:
Folding styles
Men in Suits with hankerchiefsThe Presidential, perhaps the simplest, is folded at right angles to fit in the pocket.
The TV Fold looks similar but is folded diagonally with the point inside the pocket.
The One-point Fold is folded diagonally with the point showing.
The Two-point Fold is folded off-center so the two points do not completely overlap.
The Three-point Fold is first folded into a triangle, then the corners are folded up and across to make three points.
The Four-point Fold is an off-center version of the Three-point Fold.
The Cagney is basically a backwards version of the Four-point Fold.
The Puff or the Cooper is simply shaped into a round puff.
The Reverse Puff is like the Puff, except with the puff inside and the points out, like petals.
The Astaire is a puff with a point on either side.
The Straight Shell is pleated and then folded over to give the appearance of nested shells.
The Diagonal Shell is pleated diagonally and then folded.

in "Pochette-Square"

There are about a million ways to wear a pocket square. There are very less ways to be elegant wearing a pocket square.
Pocket squares are worn by young hipsters, middle age actors, old school dandies, fashion’s and details’ lovers, politicians, classy executives, my grand-dad, you and me. And that makes as many possibilities on how to wear the tiny piece of fabric.

As far as tastes are involved, I would say it is down to you to choose the colour, the pattern, the fold, and clothes you’re going to wear your square with. It can depend on your mood, the occasion, your style, and many other aspects.
However I can give you some recommendations on how to wear a pocket square and how NOT to wear a pocket squares.

1. DO wear a pocket square every time you wear a jacket.
2. DO NOT wear a tie every time you wear a pocket square.
3. DO NOT MATCH YOUR POCKET SQUARE WITH YOUR TIE. Unless you wish to look like a porter or a caretaker. Not that I have anything against those occupations, only the guys who design their uniforms… If you really want to do it, use a subtle colour of your square, matching a subtle colour of your tie, as on the picture above.
4. DO have several fabrics on your collection of pocket squares, such as cotton, linen and silk. It allows you to bring different effects depending on the fabric of your jacket, your tie or bow tie.
5. DO match your pocket square with your shirt, your shoes, your socks, your belt, your hat, your gloves or your trousers, not all at once though…
6. DO wear your pocket square with confidence. Or else leave it in your wardrobe.
7. DO NOT wear too complex folds, it looks like you are trying too much. Master 2 or 3 folds, the rest is for bored people.
8. DO NOT follow these rules word for word. Be creative and always remember, simple is best.

If you are not confident with the mix of colours or fabrics, go for a cotton or linen white handkerchief, flat fold it. You cannot be wrong with that one.