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Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Barging in to the Cinema!

This month's (April, 2017) Bygones column for the Derby Telegraph concerns the chance find of a 'Look at Life' film from the early 1960s.

If you would like to see Uxbridge Juniors in the early 1960s in glorious technicolour, this link will take you there without the faff of wading through 18 mins or so of preceding documentaries: Look at Life

And this is the article content:

I do love the internet!  Having so much information at our finger tips is astounding.  Sometimes it seems that everything you can think of is there, if you know where to look.  For example…

Out of the blue, I received a message from an old school friend, who now lives in Australia (which, again, is pretty amazing.  Years ago, if you had emigrated to the antipodes, you might as well have died for all communication intents and purposes, now you can have a real-time chat by text!)  Some of you may have heard of Kevin Spiers, a very talented professional musician, well known on the Burton music scene?  Well, Kevin retains an interest in Burton and its heritage and occasionally finds something squirreled away on the internet.  This message was about just such a find and I couldn't have been more amazed.

Regular readers may recall a story from my days at Uxbridge Junior School, around 1964, when our class was taken on a canal trip.  This was pretty exciting in itself, but it was made more so by the presence of a film crew from the 'Look at Life' team.  Do you remember 'Look at Life'?  It was a sort of ten minute documentary review of life in Britain which helped to fill the gap between the B movie and the main feature.  The film crew remained with us all day and shot quite a bit of film of what was a glorious and very interesting event.  Like most of my contemporaries, my previous experience of canals would have been walks along the towpath and futile attempts at fishing, resulting in the watery demise of a few maggots.  On this day, we experienced the joys of canal travel and marvelled at the mechanics of ascending a huge flight of locks.

Some months later, further excitement followed when the whole school was invited to an exclusive showing of the relevant 'Look at Life' episode at the Odeon in Guild Street, which was opened especially for us.  I guess we all expected that our canal trip would dominate the episode, given how long they had spent filming us.  Of course, in reality, nothing could have been further from the truth.  I'm not even sure if I actually saw myself on the big screen, I may well have been retrieving a sweet from the floor at the time.  It was definitely a case of "if you blink, you'll miss it".  I think we were all rather underwhelmed, but it was still something to tell our grandchildren.

I never expected to see this footage again (always assuming that I'd seen it the first time) but Kevin's message revealed that he had found it!  There, once again, we can see Mrs. Strong, our teacher, leading a class out onto our school playground to follow the contours of a chalked map of the Midlands, proudly showing the mighty power stations along the banks of the Trent.  Kevin makes the point that it must have been a Monday, as you can see washing lines full of sheets in the gardens of Oak Street, which backed on to our playground.

Then we cut to the canal trip and there, if you look really closely, you can see, at the front of the picture, me sitting between my two friends David Topliss (by the window, looking disgruntled) and Alan Lewsley (looking bemused)  Directly behind Alan is Mr. Adams, our headmaster (which may explain the bemusement) resplendent in overcoat, jacket and waistcoat.  Then the film moves on to another class (not us) timing objects floating down a river. 

I can't begin to describe the sheer pleasure of finally being able to see this well remembered event again after all of these years.  Mrs. Strong and Mr. Adams of course seemed as old as Methuselah to us at the time, but I can see that they were considerably younger than I am now. 

Were you at Uxbridge Juniors in 1964?  Perhaps you're in the film?  You can find out by visiting the exact excerpt via this link -  Look at Life or go to You Tube and find BBC Britain on Film, Series 2 Episode 2 Children - Look at Life FULL, this particular documentary is at 18:25.

You can find this story, and a whole heap of others like it, in the new bumper collection of 'nostalgedy' stories "The Things You See..." available now on Amazon.