David Tennant actor

Is that who I think it is?

Yes, David Tennant, 10th Doctor Who, stand-out Hamlet and voice of the narrator in BBC Television’s comedy drama W1A lives in Chiswick. The Scottish actor is often seen going about his business in Chiswick and has been a judge at the Chiswick House Dog Show.

He’s probably best known in this country for his roles as Doctor Who, the detective Alec Hardy in Broadchurch, Giacomo Casanova in the TV serial Casanova, Kilgrave in Jessica Jones and Barty Crouch, Jr. in the film Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. In January 2015 he received the National Television Award for Special Recognition.

He’s known internationally for more recent series on Netflix and Amazon Prime. Good Omens, based on the novel by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, boasted an all-star cast, including Michael Sheen, Adria Arjona, MIranda Richardson, Michael McKean, Jack Whitehall, Jon Hamm and Frances McDormand. David played Crowley, a demon who has lived on Earth since the dawn of creation. The series was a co-production between Amazon Studios and BBC Studios.

Criminal, released on 20 September 2019, is a 12-part Netflix series which takes place entirely within the confines of police interview suites in four different countries. A number of people are brought in for questioning in police stations in the UK, France, Spain and Germany. Each episode tells a different story and is written and directed by the top writing and acting talent from one of those countries. As the episodes are recorded in the language of the country in which they are produced, viewers can choose to watch it in the original language. with the speech dubbed or subtitled as they prefer.

David announced on the Graham Norton show in May 2019 that he and his wife Georgia were expecting their fifth child. He said:

“We have number five child on the way. It’s very exciting. There is a big spread of ages, with a 17 year old at one end. When he found out about the new baby, he was like, ‘You’re having another one?’ It’s odd when a 17 year old is giving his parents a lecture on birth control!”

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Vanessa Redgrave actor

Is that who I think it is?

Yes, Vanessa Redgrave CBE, who turned 80 in January 2017, lives in Chiswick. She made her directorial debut in December 2016 in Hammersmith Town Hall with her documentary film about refugees ‘Sea Sorrow’. She’s almost as well known for her political activism as she is for her acting and she has a very long list of film and theatre credits.

She rose to prominence in 1961 playing Rosalind in As You Like It with the Royal Shakespeare Company and has since starred in more than 35 productions in London’s West End and on Broadway, winning the 1984 Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Revival for The Aspern Papers, and the 2003 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for the revival of Long Day’s Journey into Night. She also received Tony nominations for The Year of Magical Thinking and Driving Miss Daisy.

On screen, she has starred in scores of films and is a six-time Oscar nominee, winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for the title role in the film Julia (1977). Her other nominations were for Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment (1966), Isadora (1968), Mary, Queen of Scots (1971), The Bostonians (1984) and Howards End (1992). Among her other films are A Man for All Seasons (1966), Blowup (1966), Camelot (1967), The Devils (1971), Murder on the Orient Express (1974), Prick Up Your Ears (1987), Mission: Impossible (1996), Atonement (2007), Coriolanus (2011) and The Butler (2013). Redgrave was proclaimed by Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams as “the greatest living actress of our times”, and has won the Oscar, Emmy, Tony, BAFTA, Olivier, Cannes, Golden Globe, and the Screen Actors Guild awards.

One of her recent parts was the narrator, the older Jenny in Call The Midwife. She also played the overbearing mother of painter L.S. Lowry in Mrs. Lowry & Son, with Timothy Spall playing Lowrie.

A member of the Redgrave family of actors, she is the daughter of Sir Michael Redgrave and Lady Redgrave (the actress Rachel Kempson), the sister of Lynn Redgrave and Corin Redgrave, the mother of actresses Joely Richardson and Natasha Richardson, the aunt of British actress Jemma Redgrave, and the mother-in-law of actor Liam Neeson.

Sea Sorrow was produced by her son Carlo Nero, who also lives locally, and she describes it as “a requiem for the thousands of refugees who have died through lack of support and protection”. Filmed in the Calais refugee camp known as the ‘Jungle’, as well as Greece, Lebanon and Italy, the documentary mixes poetry and commentary with interviews and reportage and highlights the awful conditions and the anxiety refugees face on their journey across Europe. Vanessa Redgrave herself was a two-year old evacuee from London during World War Two.

She talks about the film here in this interview with the Guardian.

Lynn Barber interview in the Guardian here.

As well as living in Chiswick, Vanessa Redgrave has also filmed here. The 2006 mini-series Shell Seekers, which starred Vanessa Redgrave and fellow Academy Award winner Maximilian Schell, was partly filmed in Chiswick Town Hall. Hounslow’s film officer Dennis Firminger described the scene in our video feature about the films made in Chiswick.

Chiswick has been the location for many films, TV series and adverts over the years. Hounslow’s film officer Dennis Firminger, whose office is in Chiswick Town Hall, took Bridget Osborne on a tour of the favourite locations where TV series like Downton Abbey, Minder, New Tricks and Lewis have been filmed, and feature films such as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Vanity Fair. He also voiced his concern that if Heathrow builds a third runway, Chiswick will lose its film industry.

Colin Firth actor

Is that who I think it is?

Yes, Colin Firth, the actor who has starred in films such as The English Patient, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Shakespeare in Love, Love Actually and Mamma Mia has a house in Bedford Park.

Women of a certain age think of him most fondly as Dr Darcy in the 1995 television adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, but his most acclaimed role to date has been his 2010 portrayal of King George VI in The King’s Speech, a performance that earned him an Oscar and multiple worldwide best actor awards. In The Mercy, (released February 2018) he played amateur sailor Donald Crowhurst making a solo attempt to circumnavigate the globe. He plays opposite Benedict Cumberbatch in WW1 thriller 1917

Probably best left in peace if you should see him in M&S. As this Guardian profile suggests, he is something of a reluctant heart throb. As his wife Livia is Italian, they also have a house in Umbria and in 2017 he took Italian citizenship, but he has kept his British passport. The couple separated in 2019 after a high profile court case involving another man with whom Livia had had an affair, who she then accused of stalking her.

One of his films, the spy thriller Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, based on John Le Carre’s novel, was partly filmed in Chiswick. Colin Firth played Bill Haydon (“Tailor”). Watch the video to see where in Chiswick some of the scenes were shot.

Chiswick has been the location for many films, TV series and adverts over the years. Hounslow’s film officer Dennis Firminger, whose office is in Chiswick Town Hall, took Bridget Osborne on a tour of the favourite locations where TV series like Downton Abbey, Minder, New Tricks and Lewis have been filmed, and feature films such as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Vanity Fair. He also voiced his concern that if Heathrow builds a third runway, Chiswick will lose its film industry.

Clare Balding OBE TV presenter

Is that who I think it is?

Yes, Clare Balding OBE lives in Chiswick with her wife, former Radio 4 news reader Alice Arnold. Clare made her career as a sports presenter with the BBC, starting as a sports journalist on Radio 5 Live and as a racing presenter. She reported on several Olympics and Paralympics before becoming one the BBC’s main presenters and she has also presented Rubgy League and the Wimbledon Championships for the BBC.

She does racing for Channel 4, her own show on BT Sport and Good Morning Sunday on BBC Radio 2. She also presents big set piece outside broadcasts for the BBC such as the Lord Mayor’s Show and the Trooping of the Colour.

She has written about her upbringing in her highly successful autobiography My Animals and Other Family, in which she described growing up around a racing stables. Her father Ian Balding trained Mill Reef, the 1971 winner of the Derby, Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. She also writes children’s books, including The Racehorse Who Wouldn’t Gallop, The Racehorse Who Disappeared and The Girl Who Thought She Was a Dog.

Clare has appeared at the Chiswick Book Festival, given a talk for the RNLI in Chiswick and been a judge at the Chiswick House Dog Show. She is also a big supporter of the yearly free sport event on Turnham Green, Super Saturday of Sport and has opened the event several years running.

clarebalding.co.uk

Clare Balding spoke to Nick Raikes at Super Saturday of Sport in 2016 about the importance of encouraging people to have a go at sport.

Ant & Dec TV presenters

Is that who I think it is?

Ant & Dec presenting the Brit Awards

Yes, your eyes do not deceive you. Declan Donnelly lives in Grove Park with his wife Ali Astall. Ant McPartlin used to live next door, until he split from his wife Lisa to move in with his former PA Anne-Marie Corbett. They have been a familiar site in local pubs and restaurants for years.

Anthony McPartlin, OBE and Declan Donnelly, OBE first met as teenage actors on children’s television show Byker Grove. Out of that developed a short career in pop music before they embarked on their hugely successful career as television presenters.

When their careers brought them to London they first bought adjoining terraced houses in Strand on the Green, then built larger houses beside each other in Grove Park.

As well as I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! They’ve presented SMTV Live, CD:UK, Friends Like These, Pop Idol, PokerFace, Push the Button, Britain’s Got Talent, Red or Black?, Text Santa and Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway. They also presented the annual Brit Awards in 2001, 2015 and 2016.

In January 2017 they collected their OBE awards ‘for services to broadcasting and entertainment’. They have also bagged many TV awards in their career together, including Best Reality Show for I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! and Best Entertainment Show for Saturday Night Takeaway in the 2017 TV Choice Awards. They have their own TV production company, Mitre Productions.

In 2017 Ant McPartlin had a spell in rehab for treatment for addiction to painkillers following a knee operation and in April 2018 he was convicted of drink-driving. He took a bit of time out of the limelight. Holly Willoughby replaced him on I’m a Celebrity in 2018 and Saturday Night Takeaway was cancelled.

He made his comeback In 2019, returning to Britain’s Got Talent in January and I’m a Celebrity in September.

antanddec.com

Jeremy Vine broadcaster

Is that who I think it is?

Photo credit BBC

Yes, Jeremy Vine, BBC broadcaster and journalist, lives in Chiswick. Having trained as a journalist on the Coventry Telegraph, he joined the BBC as a News trainee. He was the youngest reporter on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, a political reporter in BBC Westminster and the BBC’s correspondent in South Africa. He has presented Newsnight and Panorama on TV and now hosts his own show on BBC Radio 2. In the summer of 2017 when the BBC published details of the salaries of its presenters it became public knowledge that he was the BBC’s best paid journalist.

Jeremy has published two books about his career, the first It’s All News to Me covers his time in news and current affairs. In the second What I Learnt: What My Listeners Say – and Why We Should Take Notice he talks about his more ‘showbiz’ career, taking part in Strictly Come Dancing, presenting the popular quiz Eggheads and his Radio 2 show The Jeremy Vine Show.

jeremyvine.tv

When he took part in the 2017 Chiswick Book Festival to promote What I Learnt, he spoke to the editor of The Chiswick Calendar Bridget Osborne about his career and what he’d learned from his listeners.

Sophie Ellis-Bextor musician

Is that who I think it is?

Yes, singer-songwriter Sophie Ellis-Bextor lives in Bedford Park. Daughter of Blue Peter presenter Janet Ellis, who also lives locally, she first came to prominence in the late 1990s, as the lead singer of the indie rock band Theaudience. After the group disbanded she went solo, achieving widespread success in the early 2000s. Her music is a mixture of mainstream pop, disco, nu-disco, and 1980s electronic influences.

Here she is performing what is probably her best known song Murder on the dance floor at the Bedford Park Festival.

Her solo albums include Read My Lips (2001), which won the Edison Award for “Best Dance Album”, Shoot from the Hip (2003), which produced two Top Ten singles, Trip the Light Fantastic (2007), Make a Scene (2011), Wanderlust (2014), and Familia (2016).

The best of all of these have been re-recorded with an orchestra for her Orchestral Greatest Hits boxset. The Song Diaries was produced by Ed Harcourt, (as was Wanderlust and Familia) and many of the tracks have the full 16 or 18 piece orchestra. Sophie performed some of them at Pub in the Park at Chiswick House in September 2019. Apart from her prolific music life, she also represents Save The Children, going on a tour of India for them in November 2017 and raising money also for the BBC’s Children In Need appeal.

Sophie lives in Bedford Park with husband Richard Jones and their five children. She often shares images of their house on Instagram and describes her interior decor style as “colourful, eclectic and eccentric!” It looks absolutely beautiful, homely and fun from the feature she did for sofa.com in March 2019.

sophieellisbextor.net

Sophie talked to The Chiswick Calendar about her music and about taking part in Strictly Come Dancing in December 2014.

Nick Raikes met her at the Park Club’s own version of Strictly.

Cara Delevigne model & actor

Is that who I think it is?

Cara Delevingne has one of the best known faces in Britain, so if you think you see her in Chiswick, you are not losing your sanity; she has a house in Stamford Brook. One of the world’s top models, she was born in Hammersmith and grew up in Belgravia. She signed with Storm Model Management in 2009 when she was 17. Her breakthrough as a model came when she was chosen to represent Burberry and went on to win the “Model of the Year” award at the British Fashion Awards in 2012 and 2014. Fashion houses in whose shows she has appeared include Burberry, Chanel, Mulberry, Dolce & Gabbana, Oscar de la Renta, Donna Karan, Rag & Bone and Jason Wu.

Since 2012 she has been forging a career as an actor. Roles include Margo Roth Spiegelman in the romantic mystery film Paper Towns (2015), Kath Talent in London Fields, and the Enchantress in the comic book film Suicide Squad (2016).

In October 2017, she also made her debut as a novelist. Mirror, Mirror is young adult fiction with an LGBT theme, co-written with Rowan Coleman. She told the New York Post that she wanted to “tell a story that gives the reader a realistic picture of the turbulent roller-coaster teenage years”. She describes herself as bisexual.

In October 2019 she was signed as the face of Dior Fine Jewellery.

Interview with Glamour magazine June 2017

Architectural Digest tour of her West London home

Wayne Sleep dancer

Is that who I think it is?

Photo credit BBC

Yes, dancer Wayne Sleep – “the greatest virtuoso dancer the Royal Ballet has ever produced” (Dame Ninette de Valois) lives in Strand on the Green and is often to be spotted in riverside pubs.

In a story which parallels that of the fictional Billy Elliott, he started dancing aged eight and at 13 won a scholarship for the Royal Ballet School. It meant that he was able to live away from home and away from a stepfather he disliked. Ninette de Valois, one of the most influential figures in the history of ballet and regarded as the “godmother” of English ballet, took a shine to Wayne because of his talent. Talking to Bridget Osborne, Editor of The Chiswick Calendar In Conversation at the Tabard Theatre in 2016, he described their relationship.

Small victory

His breakthrough came at 17 when the Royal Ballet needed a small man to play the part of Napoleon. At 5ft 2ins his height had always been a concern, but it gave him his first contract.

He toured America for the first time in 1967 and became a Principal Dancer in 1973, appearing in more than 50 major roles created for him by Sir Frederick Ashton, Sir Kenneth Macmillan, Dame Ninette de Valois, Rudolf Nureyev, Joe Layton and John Neumeier. He knew both Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov intimately. Among the many famous people Wayne Sleep has got to know during his long career was dancer, actor, theatre director and choreographer Robert Helpmann.

Acting with Judi Dench

In 1980 Wayne formed his own dance company DASH, which after many seasons in the West End toured the world, concluding back in London at the Coliseum. The concept for DASH was to present dance to a wider audience using a mix of styles including ballet, jazz, tap and contemporary. Wayne Sleep has also had an acting career in parallel with his dancing career. He talks here about acting alongside Dame Judi Dench and her generosity as an actor.

Dancing with Diana

To the majority of the population who aren’t particularly ballet fans, he is probably best known for his friendship with Princess Diana. It was 1985 when Wayne Sleep danced with Princess Diana at the Royal Opera House. The public were enchanted and the dance made Wayne into a global celebrity. He talked to Bridget Osborne, Editor of The Chiswick Calendar In Conversation at the Tabard theatre in 2016 and described what dancing with Diana was like.

Stars of the ArtsEd

ArtsEd students are very much in evidence in Chiswick, usually in an exuberant gaggle hanging out in the coffee shop on the corner of the Bath Rd or the kebab shop in Turnham Green Terrace at lunchtime and after classes. Next time you run in to them, bear in mind it might be a future 007 or the star of a West End musical that you’re dripping your decaff latte onto, because the schools’ alumni are a phenomenally successful bunch, and you are likely to come across them again at the cinema, the theatre and on TV.

Current students of ArtsEd Day School and Sixth Form have recently performed in numerous West End productions, including The Lion King, Matilda, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and Kinky Boots alongside countless ArtsEd alumni. Here are a few former ArtsEd students who are making a big name for themselves.

Lashana Lynch. publicity shot for No Time to Die, her Instagram photos filming in Jamaica and her portrait shot when she was at ArtsEd

Lashana Lynch

This summer, a former graduate of their BA (Hons) Acting course made the headlines when she was named ‘by an industry insider’ as not only the next 007 but the first female and the first Black 007 in the James Bond franchise.

Lashana Lynch, who graduated in 2010, has had a stratospheric career since completing her degree. Having had a part in British TV drama series The Bill in 2007, her debut film Fast Girls (2012) saw her playing runner Belle Newman in a British drama about female athletes. The story was about two women on their path to becoming professional sprinters and the director chose young actors who could be credible as their team mates. Over the next four years she played roles in several well-known British TV series including Silent Witness, Death in Paradise and Doctors and she played Ashanti in BrOTHERHOOD, film sequel to Adulthood and Kidulthood – ‘a day in the life of a group of troubled 15-year-olds growing up in west London’.

From the gritty gang culture of London’s mean streets she stepped into the main cast list of an American period drama television series Still Star-Crossed, (2017). In a contemporary take on Romeo and Juliet, Lashana played Rosalind Capulet. Following the deaths of Romeo and Juliet, she is betrothed Benvolio Montague. While she’s busy trying to prevent the marriage, a war between the two families erupts around the unhappy couple. Still Star-Crossed was dropped by the network after one series, but it represented a major boost to Lashana’s career, as it was produced by Shonda Rhimes, creator of Grey’s Anatomy and the political thriller series Scandal.

This year she has really hit the big time, as the ‘breakout star’ of Captain Marvel, alongside Brie Larson (in the title role), Samuel L Jackson, Annette Bening and Jude Law. The film is the third biggest grossing film of the year so far and is the first female-led superhero film to pass the billion-dollar mark. Her character Maria Rambeau is a mate of Captain Marvel’s, a single mother and an Air Force pilot who goes by the call sign “Photon”, who Lashana describes as “an incredible badass” and someone “that you don’t feel like you need to help”.

What better training for her role as 007? Quite what that means we don’t yet know, as Daniel Craig is still the star of the 25th Bond movie. Reportedly, he’s brought back from retirement in Jamaica to fight a new villain. The Mail reported in July: “There is a pivotal scene at the start of the film where M says, “Come in 007”, and in walks Lashana who is black, beautiful and a woman … It’s a popcorn-dropping moment. Bond is still Bond but he’s been replaced as 007.”

Filming No Time to Die in Jamaica is in one sense going back to her roots, as Lashana is of Jamaican heritage. But in another way, appearing alongside Daniel Craig, Ralph Fiennes (M), Naomie Harris (Moneypenny) and Rami Malek (villain) in one of the most successful film franchises ever must seem a long, long way from growing up in west London with ambitions to be an actor. No Time to Die will be in UK cinemas from 2020.

Jac Yarrow publicity shot, on stage with Jason Donovan and Sheridan Smith in Joseph and portrait photo taken while he was at ArtsEd

Jac Yarrow

While Lashana is 31 and already twelve years in to her career, Jac Yarrow hadn’t even graduated from his degree course at ArtsEd when he walked into a lead role in the West End. He found out on his 21st birthday in March this year that he’d got the part of Joseph in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Palladium. The show opened in July and he is due to graduate this month.

Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber joined Jac and fellow cast members Jason Donovan and Sheridan Smith on stage on the opening night, as the production marked the 50 year anniversary of his first collaboration with lyricist Tim Rice. They were developing Joseph and Jesus Christ Superstar more or less at the same time. Joseph may have made it on to the stage first, but Jesus Christ Superstar was their first collaboration to be performed professionally, on Broadway in 1970. It won Lloyd Webber the Drama Desk award for ‘Most Promising Composer’. I think we can safely say he fulfilled his potential, as nearly 50 years later, this summer he has had no fewer than five musicals playing in London. ArtsEd is lucky to have him as their President and benefactor. The Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation made it possible for their fabulous state of the art theatre opened six years ago, owing to a generous donation of £3.5 million and his Foundation is dedicated to encouraging participation and nurturing talent.

It must be quite intimidating for Jac Yarrow, a 21 year old in his first professional gig, to stand on stage as Joseph beside Jason Donovan, who made such a success of the role in the same theatre in 1991 (and now plays Pharoah in the current production). Jac is grateful to the ArtsEd for the thorough grounding they gave him, telling The Stage: “It nailed every element of training. I feel so prepared going into the show.” He’s also been revelling in having the biggest dressing room, which was once occupied by Judy Garland.

Jac has had rave reviews:

LondonTheatre.co.uk – ‘it is newcomer Jac Yarrow who is the stand-out star’ of the show.

The Guardian – ‘Sheridan Smith and Jason Donovan bring charisma to a jubilant revival – but neither can match the young dreamer at its centre … He stops the show with his rendering of Close Every Door, which he delivers with rising anguish’.

The show ends 8 September.

Billy Nevers performing at Arts Ed and posing for his agency

Billy Nevers

Billy Nevers has also gone straight from the ArtsEd to the West End. He completed his studies in the Sixth Form this summer and started work in July, making his professional debut as part of the Ensemble cast of Jesus Christ Superstar, which has just finished its run at the Barbican. The multi award-winning production played there in July and August following two sell-out seasons at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre.

A “gorgeous, thrilling, heavenly musical” proclaimed the Guardian.

“A mass delirium of amplified agony and ecstasy” wrote Dominic Cavendish in The Daily Telegraph.

‘A hot take on what could easily have become a tiring classic’ said What’s On Stage.

What a fabulous start to a career in musical theatre. In the last week of that production he was already rehearsing for his next professional engagement. He is about to open in &Juliet – Her musical, a brand new pop musical opening in Manchester on 10 September and transferring to London’s West End on 2 November. ‘If music be the food of love, play pop’ says the promo. ‘What would happen if the final scene of Romeo and Juliet changed?’ Audiences are welcomed to the 21st century revamp of this tragedy, in which Juliet lives. ‘Making attempts to get over Romeo, Juliet travels to Paris with the Nurse and her best friends, going on a journey of self-discovery’ which involves songs by Britney Spears, The Weekend and Ellie Goulding apparently. Not one for Shakespeare purists, but I’m sure there’s an audience out there who will love it. Booking currently until Saturday, 28 March 2020.

Thomas Dennis in War Horse, Wireless Operator, a photo from his Instagram account of him meeting a veteran wireless operator, his agency profile shot and appearing in a play at Arts Ed

Thomas Dennis

Thomas Dennis also went straight from the Arts Ed to performing in the West End, direct from the sixth form to the lead role in Simon Stephens’ brilliant play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time three years ago. Thomas, who had come up through the day school at Arts Ed, was the youngest actor to play the part of Christopher Boone, the autistic teenager whose attempt to find out who killed his neighbour’s dog during the night marks the start of an uncomfortable journey.

Even while at school Thomas had played Michael Darling in Peter Pan at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, going pretty much straight from the wrap party into his A Level History exam. “I was squeezing in revision around rehearsals and performances. It was a hectic time but I’m so grateful that the school didn’t make me choose between performing or my studies – they made it possible to do both.”

He has also played the lead role in War Horse, touring the UK in the moving tale of Albert and his horse Joey and their terrifying experiences during the First World War. Playing the role throughout the centenary of the end of the First World War made it a very special experience. He told a journalist last year: “I am honoured to be able to tell this story at such an important time. I am passionate about history and I believe this to be a once in lifetime opportunity. Performing this show during the First World War centenary will be an experience I never forget”.

When he finished touring with War Horse in the summer, he went straight to the Edinburgh Fringe, where his one man show Wireless Operator has had great reviews. When a real wireless operator, a veteran of the Second World War came to see the show, he Tweeted: ‘Having a Veteran Wireless Operator see the show was special. He spoke more about his experiences with me than he ever has before, 75 years later! What an Honour! We could never thank you enough’.

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: ArtsEd wins award for supporting students

See also: ArtsEd centenary film

ArtsEd is a member of The Chiswick Calendar Club Card scheme. See all our current offers here

Miss Marple to Hamilton: the centenary of ArtsEd

Based in the heart of Chiswick, ArtsEd has been setting the world alight with extraordinary talent for almost 100 years.

The school kick started 2019 with two lively musicals: Cry-Baby and Disney’s Newsies, performed by their third year BA Musical Theatre students. Then later this year, their third year BA Acting students will be performing World Premieres of new plays by playwrights, Torben Betts and Atiha Sen Gupta.

In September 2019, ArtsEd will launch their centenary celebrations, marking 100 years contribution to the creative industries; nurturing national treasures, including Dames Julie Andrews and Angela Lansbury and bold new talent like Tuppence Middleton, Finn Jones and Laura Haddock.

Former ArtsEd Alumni, Martin Clunes, Julie Andrews, Tuppence Middleton and Arlene Philips

How did it all begin?

Established 100 years ago, ArtsEd originated from two schools, founded by Grace Cone and Olive Ripman, educational pioneers who believed in the value of combining a general academic education with a specialised training in dance, drama, music and art.

Dame Alicia Markova and Sir Anton Dolin drew almost exclusively on ArtsEd students to help them create their revolutionary company the London Festival Ballet in the 1950’s – which went on to become the English National Ballet.

Prima ballerina Dame Beryl Grey became Director of the Schools in the 1960s and ArtsEd continued to innovate, introducing both professional acting and musical theatre courses before many of their competitors.

In 2007, Andrew Lloyd Webber (featured pictured above with ArtsEd student Mollie Melia-Redgrave) became President and remains so to this day.

The Stars who paved the way….

Over the last 100 years, ArtsEd has produced some of the most exciting talent of our time. Miss Marple star, Angela Lansbury attended ArtsEd, during its tenure in Baker Street in 1939. She sent a handwritten note (pictured) saying: “Everything I learned in those early years of my life paid off and prepared me for life in the dramatic arts.”

A card from Angela Lansbury to staff and students at ArtsEd

Since then, performers of great promise have continued to hone their talents. Most recently, BA Acting alumna Lashana Lynch won the Capri Hollywood award for Breakout Actress of 2018, and will be in the upcoming film, Captain Marvel. Last year, 2018 BA Acting graduates, Islam Bouakkaz and Thaddea Graham broke into the industry in an exciting new Netflix series, The Letter for the King, which will be released later this year.

Meanwhile, BA Musical Theatre alumna, Miriam-Teak Lee, won The Stage Debut Award for her first professional performance in 2017, followed by a year in the West End musical, Hamilton, prior to her next big adventure, the titular role in the brand new musical, Juliet, where she will be joined by another ArtsEd alumnus, Oliver Tompsett.

In July 2018, 12 ArtsEd alumni, six of whom were 2018 graduates, were cast in Les Misérables on the West End.

In addition, ArtsEd Day School and Sixth Form produces bright young talent across all the disciplines. Thomas Dennis is currently playing the lead in National Theatre’s War Horse, and stars in Les Misérables both on and off screen, and Samantha Barks, is now starring in Pretty Woman on Broadway.

ArtsEd today

ArtsEd provides world-class, contemporary training that is focused on the constantly evolving needs of the performing arts in the 21st century. It is unique in combining a performing arts secondary school, degree provision in Musical Theatre and Acting and a broad range of evening, weekend and holiday courses. Read more about what the schools have to offer.

Arts Ed is a member of The Chiswick Calendar Club Card scheme

It is expanding and refurbishing their Chiswick home so both ArtsEd students and the wider community can benefit from world class facilities. Look out for their expanded programme of evening and weekend courses. Arts Ed offers a discount to Club Card members signing up for part time and holiday courses.

Supporting ArtsEd

You can support ArtsEd by attending courses, going to see a show or becoming a Friend.
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The Mystery of Edwin Drood – Photographer: Robin Savage

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Stars of the Arts Ed – Arts Ed’s most successful artists in 2019

See also: Centenary of the Arts Ed video 

Bedford Park’s famous historical figures

Bedford Park’s famous historical figures

In the 1880s with its church, parish hall, club, stores, pub and school of art, living in Bedford Park was the height of fashion. The artistic and political life of Bedford Park included artists, aesthetes, occultists, retired army officers and anarchists, the latter immortalised by G K Chesterton. Bedford Park is Saffron Park in G. K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday and Biggleswick in John Buchan’s Mr. Standfast. W. B. Yeats, the actor William Terriss, the actress Florence Farr, the playwright Arthur Wing Pinero and the painter Camille Pissarro were all residents at various stages of their careers.

Painting of Bath Rd by Camille Pissarro

Camille Pissarro (1830-1903)

Camille Pissarro spent his final visit to England (1897) at 62 Bath Road, Bedford Park – the last house in Bath Road before the railway crossing and Stamford Brook. His son, Lucien who later moved to the Brook Cottage, had just moved there from Essex, having suffered a severe stroke. During this time he produced several oils described as being of Bedford Park, Chiswick, but six were of the nearby Stamford Brook area, painted from the front and back of the house. His Chiswick paintings included one of Bath Road, Match de Cricket à Bedford Park, Londres and Fête de Jubilé de la Reine à Bedford Park.

His eldest son Lucien (1863-1944) also lived in Bedford Park at 62 Bath Road from to 1897 – 1902. He produced 30 paintings of west London including Chiswick. Ludovic Rodo (1878 -1952) another son, was also an artist as well as producer of the definitive catalogue of his father’s work and he lived at 3 Blenheim Road 1921-22.

WB Yeats (1865 – 1939)

William Butler Yeats’s time in Chiswick was an important period in his development as an artist. In the second spell in the Bedford Park area he composed his best known poem, the Lake Isle of Innisfree, he met the woman who was to be the object of his unrequited passion, and made the acquaintance of people such as Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw and William Morris.

The Yeats family had been forced to adopt an itinerant lifestyle after his father’s (John Butler Yeats) decision to abandon law for his art. They moved between Sligo, Dublin and London making their first move to Bedford Park in 1879. They took a two-year lease on 8 Woodstock Road at a time when the area was considered cheap.

After returning to Ireland for a period the family came back to London in 1887 and moved to 3 Blenheim Road in Bedford Park in March 1888. He met Maud Gonne at this house, and went on to propose to her several times. She always said no but Yeats held out hope for many years and she became an important influence on his writing. The house remained in the family until 1902 when they moved back to Ireland and now bears a blue plaque.

Sir Arthur Wing Pinero (24 May 1855 – 23 November 1934)

English actor playwright and stage director, Pinero, lived in 10 Marlborough Crescent from 1883 -1885 after he married actress Myra Holme (Myra Emily Hamilton). He was a successful playwright, authoring fifty-nine plays. These included social dramas, some dealing with social hypocrisy surrounding attitudes to women in second marriages, including: The Second Mrs Tanqueray (1893) and The Notorious Mrs. Ebbsmith (1895). He was best known for his comedies, most notably; The Magistrate (1885), The Schoolmistress (1886) Dandy Dick (1887) The Cabinet Minister (1890) The Amazons (1893) The Princess and the Butterfly (1897) Trelawny of the ‘Wells’ (1898) The Gay Lord Quex (1899) The Squire (1905) and The “Mind the Paint” Girl (1912).

Florence Farr (7 July 1860 – 29 April 1917)

Florence Beatrice Emery (née Farr) was a leading actress, composer and director. She was also a women’s rights activist, journalist, educator, singer, novelist, leader of the occult order, The Golden Dawn, and one time mistress of playwright George Bernard Shaw.

She was also a friend and collaborator of William Butler Yeats, poet Ezra Pound, playwright Oscar Wilde, artists Aubrey Beardsley and Pamela Colman Smith, Masonic scholar Arthur Edward Waite, theatrical producer Annie Horniman, and many other literati. She was an early Feminist, publicly advocated for suffrage, workplace equality, and equal protection under the law for women, writing a book and many articles in intellectual journals on the rights of “the modern woman.”

Florence did not own a home in Bedford Park (she had several addresses in the Hammersmith area) but in early 1890, moved in with her sister, Henrietta, and brother-in-law, painter and stage designer Henry Marriott Paget, to 1, The Orchard. While in Bedford Park, Farr starred in the play A Sicilian Idyll: A Pastoral Play in Two Scenes by John Todhunter (an associate of Yeats and fellow member of the Golden Dawn).

George Bernard Shaw was in the audience to review the play and was greatly impressed with Farr’s performance. Within a year she became his mistress. Both he and Yeats wrote leading parts in their plays for Farr, who used her influence with theatre patron and manager Annie Horniman to have them produced.

William Terriss (20 February 1847 – 16 December 1897)

William Terriss born as William Charles James Lewin, was an English actor, known for his swashbuckling hero roles, such as Robin Hood, as well as parts in classic dramas and comedies. He was also a notable Shakespearean performer. He was the father of the Edwardian musical comedy star Ellaline Terriss and the film director Tom Terriss.

He lived at 4 The Avenue from 1884 – 1890 and at 2 Bedford Road from 1893 – 1897. He had major successes in Robin Hood and Rebecca, and was as one of Britain’s most popular actors. In 1880, he joined Henry Irving’s company at the Lyceum Theatre, appearing in Shakespeare plays.

In 1885, he met 24-year-old actress, Jessie Millward, and they subsequently toured Britain and America together. In 1897, he was stabbed to death by a deranged actor, Richard Archer Price, at the stage door of the Adelphi Theatre where he was appearing.

The information on Bedford Park’s most famous historical residents has been provided by Kate Bowes of the Bedford Park Society

bedfordpark.org.uk

Image below: View across Stamford Brook Common, Camille Pissarro

Read about the Bedford Park Society

Read more about the history of Bedford Park and how it came to be build as the fist Garden Suburb.

Read about poet laureate John Betjeman’s involvement in the Battle for Bedford Park.

W B Yeats Nobel prize winning poet

W B Yeats, Nobel prize winning poet and one of the foremost figures of 20th-century literature

Profile by Lucinda MacPherson

January 2019

Chiswick-based Irish poet, Cahal Dallat, is a man with a mission: to remind Chiswick, in a tangible and permanent fashion, of its major role in the history of English Literature in fostering the poetic/dramatic genius of early Bedford Park resident WB Yeats, the only poet writing in English and brought up in Great Britain to have won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Yeats died 80 years ago ( January 28th 1939) and while his place as one of our most popular poets has never been more assured (his poems When You Are Old, He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven, The Lake Isle of Innisfree and Easter 1916 always feature in ‘best-loved’ lists) his standing as theatrical innovator and founder of a national theatre, and his reputation as a Modernist poet, a political poet, and a visionary, has increased exponentially in international academic circles over those eight decades.

A number of Yeats favourites were actually written in his Bedford Park years. Though born in Dublin he spent two-thirds of his first three decades in London, the majority of that time at two addresses in Woodstock Road and Blenheim Road.

And his interest in drama began with amateur dramatics in the Bedford Park Club (now the London Buddhist Vihara) and became a reality with his first West-End-staged play, Land of Heart’s Desire, written as a favour for actress Florence Farr, a Bedford Park neighbour.

Most Yeatsian academics and biographers are aware the Yeatses lived in Bedford Park, variously described as the first garden suburb or that Bohemian artists’ colony: but most concentrate on his Irish background and his interest in the landscape, legends and lore of his mother’s native County Sligo, side-lining the significance of Bedford Park in the development of this major international literary figure.

That’s something that Cahal’s WB Yeats Bedford Park Artwork Project will put right, he says. Known to BBC Radio 4 audiences for his regular Saturday Review contributions, to the literary world as a critic, poet, and resident musician at London’s famous Troubadour Earls Court Coffee-House #poetrymondays organised by his wife, poet Anne-Marie Fyfe, (a former chair of the nationwide Poetry Society and both of them also well-known for their jointly-hosted Bedford Park Festival Poetry Nights) Cahal has explored, and expounded on, the impact on Yeats of Bedford Park’s aesthetic, avant-garde and occasionally anarchist attitudes, at academic and literary conferences, festivals, universities and colleges all over Britain, Ireland and the USA over many years. It’s a story of Chiswick influences and interconnections that he also re-tells regularly on foot, on what Yeats described as London’s pavements grey around the many Bedford Park, Chiswick and Hammersmith locations that played a major part in the poet’s early poems.

But Cahal does admit to a personal angle: most people discover Yeats at school, he says, but Cahal had already grown up with the poems and songs before realising they belonged to the world of the A-level syllabus. His maternal grandfather, like Yeats’s, was from Ballisodare in County Sligo, and when Cahal and Anne-Marie first visited London after a Paris trip, it was to call on Glens of Antrim friends who were, as it happens, cousins of Yeats’s famous love-rival Major John McBride, who married the beautiful Maud Gonne who had troubled Yeats’s heart since their first meeting in Bedford Park in 1888.

As Irish writers choosing to bring up their family in London, Cahal says, he and Anne-Marie can understand why Yeats’s painter father, John Butler Yeats, wanted to be at the cultural centre of things. Hence his move to Bedford Park where, with the development of the new Turnham Green District Line Station allowing him to pop into the West End or Westminster to paint portraits of actors and aristocrats, his young Irish family could enjoy a healthy pastoral atmosphere, walks by the river and, in the case of the young Willie Yeats, when he wasn’t walking to Godolphin (then a boys’ school) in Hammersmith, the chance to play at cowboys or pirates among the foundations and half-built houses of the world’s first garden suburb, or simply to dream in winding, leafy avenues.

What John Butler Yeats can’t have imagined is quite how much this new speculative housing development (dreamt up by Dublin-born Jonathan Carr) would influence his growing sons, Jack, who became Ireland’s leading twentieth-century painter and Willie, for whom Chiswick’s incredible cultural diversity (Indian gurus, Russian anarchists, German socialists, American Utopian philosophers, Scottish story-tellers, Icelandic folklorists…) and his father’s well-placed Bedford Park friends (including, poetry publishers, newspaper editors, engravers, actors, set-designers, playwrights, translators, and political thinkers) would foster his early poetic ambitions.

It’s a complex, fascinating, multi-faceted story, Cahal admits, and in his two-and-a-half-hour walks, from Hammersmith by way of William Morris’s house and Old Chiswick Churchyard to the winding avenues, artists’ studios and Queen Anne architecture of Bedford Park, he can only sketch the many fertile interconnections and relationships in what was the hub of an dazzling nineteenth-century social network with amazing implications for twentieth-century politics and art.

A multi-faceted project too, as the story, and the proposed artwork, aren’t simply about acknowledging Yeats’s genius or celebrating Bedford Park’s pride in the progressive and aesthetic ideas and aspirations that fostered that genius, but about recognising, for example, how a supportive community can bring out the creative best, especially in the young; how well planned neighbourhoods – even trendy, speculative nineteenth-century housing developments – allow individuals to achieve their full potential; how migrants like the Yeatses have found in cities, in multi-cultural London in particular, not just economic opportunity but the cultural networks that have allowed them to enhance the host culture – London’s creativity being a microcosm of world culture – and to give something back to their own culture as Yeats’s poetry and drama, flourishing in a West London garden suburb, sparked a major cultural revival in Ireland, a key part of his home country’s growth to political independence in the twentieth century.

Not least among the artwork’s aims is to suggest to tomorrow’s schoolkids and college students, heading from their Bedford Park or Chiswick homes to tube station or bus stop en route to school, that like one young local schoolkid 140 years ago, they might dream of becoming an artist, a writer, a poet, might even win a Nobel Prize and be remembered as Yeats will now be, properly remembered!

With a committee of Bedford Park residents including Chiswick Book Festival Director, Torin Douglas, St Michael and All Angels Vicar, Fr Kevin Morris, councillor Gerald McGregor and author Polly Devlin, together with academic Matthew Fay whose great-grandfather, actor Frank Fay co-founded the world-famous Abbey Theatre with Yeats, and with patrons including Rowan Williams, poet and former archbishop, Chiswick journalist Fergal Keane, actor Ciarán Hinds, Marie Heaney, poet Eavan Boland and Sligo’s Yeats Society Honorary President, Martin Enright, the WB Yeats Bedford Park Artwork Project has already begun receiving donations and commitments from a number of organisations, and can be contacted via info@wbyeatsbedfordpark.com.

The committee have spent recent months looking at potential artwork locations at the entrance to Bedford Park, viewing recent public art in Britain and Ireland, especially examples associated with literary figures and major heritage sites as Bedford Park certainly is, and discussing with likely artists how the complex synergies and synchronicities of Nobel-Prize-winning WB Yeats’s Bedford Park life might be expressed visually. So watch this space!

[Line-up for November’s lecture, On the Pavements Grey: WB Yeats in Utopian Bedford Park, the official launch of the WB Yeats Bedford Park Artwork Project, hosted by the Embassy of Ireland in Grosvenor Place and sponsored by the Irish Literary Society (estd. 1892, in the Yeatses’ Blenheim Rd, Bedford Park home, and still going strong!)

From left, lecturer, project founder/organiser, and local Chiswick poet/musician, Cahal Dallat; with his wife, poet Anne-Marie Fyfe, who read excerpts from Yeats’s letters and autobiography; actor Ciarán Hinds (centre, fresh from his National Theatre run in Brian Friel’s Translations but also well-known to Game of Thrones fans) who gave moving and impassioned readings of some great Yeats poems; Irish Literary Society chair, Shevaun Wilder; and Ireland’s Ambassador to Great Britain, Adrian O’Neill, who hosted the lecture, launch and reception after having taken the annual WB Yeats Bedford Park Walk last summer with Cahal and having become, along with a number of Chiswick and Bedford Park organisations, as well as poets, artists, actors, historians, politicians, writers and academics, a keen supporter of the project.

The poet WB Yeats was the subject of a session at the 2019 Chiswick Book festival, to mark the 80th anniversary of his death.

Timeline of Chiswick writers

Chiswick writers

A timeline of Chiswick writers and books

Painting: The Library

‘Everyone has a book in them and that, in most cases, is where it should stay.’

The line is attributed to the late journalist Christopher Hitchens, well-known for his sardonic wit and devastating put downs, but may have been recycled from an earlier acerbic cynic.

It’s an argument which cuts absolutely no ice in Chiswick, whose population, undeterred by such negativity, seems to think they all have a story to tell and the ability to tell it. That may be a slight exaggeration but there does seem to be a remarkable glut of authors in a relatively small area.

Anna Klerfalk, who used to run Waterstones bookshop in Chiswick, started a new literary agency, Intersaga in January 2019. Within a week of its launch on The Chiswick Calendar website, she’d received ten manuscripts from people who just happened to have at least a first draft just ready to send. “Chiswick is a unique community with a real cultural pulse to it” says Anna.

This comes as no surprise to Torin Douglas, Director of the Chiswick Book Festival. Every year, before the main festival there is a local authors’ event at which writers who live locally get a minute to make an ‘elevator pitch’ about their book, many of which are self-published. It’s always well attended and there are usually thirty or so writers presenting work which ranges from children’s stories to biographies, historical novels to science fiction.

“From the very first Festival, the writing and ‘how to get published’ workshops have been very popular and have led directly to books being published. Our last local authors evening at Waterstones was packed out” says Torin.

Images: Alexander Pope by Jonathan Richardson the Elder; WM Thackeray by Jesse Harrison Whitehurst; WB Yeats by George Charles Beresford

Literary history

The area has history in this respect. The eighteenth century English poet Alexander Pope lived next to the Griffin Brewery. Victorian novelist WM Thackeray went to school in Chiswick; in fact the opening chapter of Vanity Fair is titled ‘Chiswick Mall’, the location of the school where we first meet the social climbing Becky Sharp. In the 1870s and ‘80s Irish poet WB Yeats lived in Bedford Park, then considered a Bohemian artists’ colony. He remains the only poet writing in English and brought up in Great Britain to have won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and you can raise a glass to him in the Tabard pub, which would have been his local and is still going strong.

EM Forster, GK Chesterton, Harold Pinter, Dame Iris Murdoch, Anthony Burgess, Patrick Hamilton, John Osborne, Sir John Betjeman, playwright Sir Arthur Pinero (The Second Mrs Tanqueray) and famous socialite Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire are all writers who have connections with Chiswick.

Photographs: Blue plaque on EM Forster’s house; house where Harold Pinter wrote The Caretaker – photograph by Jim Linwood; Dame Iris Murdoch; John Osborne

Timeline

Torin has put together a timeline of writers who have lived in Chiswick and written about the area. In the first six months of working on the project he discovered there were more than 200 published authors who either live or have lived here, and the more research he does, the longer the list grows.

Borrowing the idea from the Chiswick Timeline creators Karen Liebreich and Sarah Cruz, who did a similar thing with artists when they unveiled the mural under the railway bridge by Turnham Green tube station, he has also designed a trail featuring 21 acclaimed novelists, poets and playwrights.

This select group includes two winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature (and one nominee) plus one Booker Prize winner, three Oscar winners (and one nominee), a Poet Laureate and several blue plaques. Ralph Griffiths, the publisher of Fanny Hill is in there, (redeemed perhaps by the fact that he was also the publisher of London’s first literary magazine), but not E.L James. Perhaps she was considered beyond the Pale – not because 50 Shades of Grey was too smutty but she was literally beyond the Pale in Ealing.

Photographs: Sadie Jones; Rebecca Frayn; Colette McBeth

Did you know that Sergius Stepniak, the Russian writer who lived at Stamford Brook 1851-1895 is thought to have been the model for the Russian exile in The Railway Children? That Dame Iris Murdoch grew up in Chiswick? That John Osborne wrote Look Back In Anger while living on a houseboat at Chiswick Quay? Or that Harold Pinter wrote The Caretaker when he lived in a flat here? These interesting snippets and the locations where they lived are all marked on the trail map.

Current residents in the timeline include novelists Sadie Jones, Rebecca Frayn and Colette McBeth, comedians Al Murray and Dara O’Brien, journalists Peter Oborne, Julia Langdon and Tim Marshall, and TV personalities Tom Mangold, Clare Balding and Jeremy Vine.

Find out more about it on the Chiswick Book Festival’s website

chiswickbookfestival.net

Cressida Cowell children’s author

Cressida Cowell, children’s author

Interview by Bridget Osborne

September 2016

Cressida Cowell, author and illustrator of the How to Train Your Dragon books, lives locally and is a regular contributor to the Chiswick Book Festival. She wrote the first book in 1998 and completed the series in 2016 after twelve books. The stories were inspired by childhood holidays with her father on a remote island in the Shetlands which were once inhabited by Vikings – “the kind of place where dragons really could have existed” she says. The series tells the tale of Hiccup, who starts out as a small boy and grows up throughout the series, and his dragon Toothless – “a small, disobedient Common-or-Garden dragon, who speaks to Hiccup in Dragonese (with a stammer).”

The books have been made into hugely successful films by Dreamworks. In the film version Toothless is “a large, frightening Night Fury, who cannot talk” but she says: “Both Toothlesses have a sweeter, gentler side to them than is at first apparent” and both Toothlesses were inspired by cats, in both look and in character”.

Her aim throughout the series is to answer the question “What if dragons really existed, and if they existed, what happened to them?” She spoke to  me when she appeared at the Chiswick Book Festival in 2016 and had just finished the last book in the series: How to Fight a Dragon’s Fury, which is about the ‘great war’ between humans and dragons.

What if dragons really existed, and if they existed, what happened to them?

Cressida Cowell works in her garden shed-cum-studio, where she draws her characters. She showed me how she draws them, in a very quick, fluid style, because she says, she wants children to feel as if the illustration is something they might be able to do themselves.

How to Train Your Dragon books

  • How to Train Your Dragon
  • How to Be a Pirate
  • How to Speak Dragonese
  • How to Cheat a Dragon’s Curse
  • How to Twist a Dragon’s Tail
  • A Hero’s Guide to Deadly Dragons
  • How to Ride Dragon’s Storm
  • How to Break a Dragon’s Heart
  • How to Steal a Dragon’s Sword
  • How to Seize a Dragon’s Jewel
  • How to Betray a Dragon’s Hero
  • How to Fight a Dragon’s Fury

cressidacowell.co.uk

Marthe Armitage artist and patternmaker

Marthe Armitage, artist and patternmaker

Profile by Bridget Osborne

September 2019

“Strand on the Green is a hard place to move away from”. Marthe came here as a child, when her parents moved across the river from Kew, and she has never left, apart from a period spent as a wartime evacuee in Oxfordshire, a spell at boarding school in her teens and a couple of years in India as a young woman when her husband was working there. “The river is so amazing, nobody can build on it, the tide goes up and down, there are the boats, the bird life, it’s endlessly fascinating” she told me. The river is a source of inspiration for an artist and many of her motifs include plants, birds and animals.

As a nine year old she saw houses four and five Strand on the Green being built and as a young mother she walked her three children to school At Strand on the Green school. She now lives in a modern house designed by her architect son Jeremy and his wife, and the old family house now accommodates her studio, where she designs and produces her prints with her daughter Jo. In her book The Making of Marthe Armitage Artist and Patternmaker there is a chapter devoted to life by the river. “Strand on the Green is an oasis within the bustle of London” writes Jeremy.

Arts & Crafts influence

“I left a very expensive school with nothing” says Marthe, nothing that is except her School Certificate and “vague artistic leanings”. Fortunately the family’s neighbour at number five was the head of the Chelsea School of Art, who encouraged her to pursue those vague artistic leanings. She studied at Chelsea but always considered herself somehow less of an artist than others she studied with. “The people I’ve always admired could only draw; that’s what they wanted to be doing all the time. I wasn’t like that”. She counts herself very lucky to have studied there and says it was “an exciting time”, but as was the custom of the era she married and wasn’t expected to pursue her own career.

As a young mother at home, with no money to spend on luxuries, she designed her first wallpaper for her own house, then some for an acquaintance and gradually built up a small but faithful clientele. Her her first design, Angelica, was produced as a simple floor print. Having observed Indian printers using block prints in the early 1950s, she experimented with her own. Inspired by the pattern making of William Morris and CFA Voysey, she found that linoleum was the perfect material for creating her printing blocks. She still uses lino in preference over other materials developed later, and still follows the same process of drawing, tracing, cutting out the pattern, inking and printing that she has all through her development as a pattern maker.

The way she works is to start with a grid of four boxes and draw her design in each, building it up bit by bit. I watched as she sketched out first a flower in each quadrant, then a swirl. Essential to do it that way, she explained, to see how the pattern flows across to borders of the grid. The drawing is key and though for a long time she undervalued herself as an artist, it is her talent at drawing, honed at Chelsea Art School, which enables her to be such a good patternmaker.

After the drawing, the print-making: ‘Then the real stuff began’ writes Jo, ‘with the smell of the turps, the stickiness of the ink and the magic of the impression left behind when the block was pulled away from the paper’.

“Drawing is very different from print” says Marthe. “The first time you take a print off it’s such a shock because you can’t tell what it will look like. Usually I think it’s a failure and put it away. But then I get it out again and I show it to someone else and I think maybe it’s alright”. The whole process from initial sketch to printing takes about two months and about one in seven designs she abandons.

Her success has come about slowly, partly because she had so little faith in herself, but also because she says it’s only recently that hand crafted designs have become fashionable again. “I took one or two of my designs to interior designers in Fulham Rd but my designs weren’t fashionable”. Fortunately Hamilton Weston took an interest in her work in 2004. They showed it in their showroom and the features editor from World of Interiors wrote a feature about it. Hamilton Weston sell her wallpapers while Marthe and Jo’s own company handles the sales of fabrics.

“Pattern is not talked about enough”

“Would you prefer to be described as an artist or as a craftswoman?” I asked her “I’m an artist – patternmaker” she says. She quoted me the English philosopher RG Collingwood: “the difference between craft and art is that a craftsman knows what he’s aiming at. Artists don’t know where it’s going to end”. She first did lino cuts at school, but at art school she learned drawing and painting. “Pattern is not talked about enough” she told me. “The composition is all-important – the satisfactory balance of things”.

“Abstract art has a pattern. Music has a pattern. It’s the abstract part of figurative work. With abstract art you start from balance and rhythm and composition. There are some lovely paintings which have been very badly composed”.

Marthe is a member of the Art Workers Guild, ‘a body of more than 350 artists, craftspeople and architects working at the highest levels of excellence in their professions’. You have to be elected as a member by your peers. She is one of only four female past masters.

She is also a born again Christian. She worships at Christ Church on Turnham Green, where you can see one of her designs etched into the glass doors of the church. One of her pieces is also permanently on show on the Chiswick Timeline mural, on the railway bridge over Turnham Green terrace.

Her book The Making of Marthe Armitage Artist and Pattenmaker is absolutely gorgeous, with far more pictures than writing, which is important in an art book. The publishers Graphical House haven’t stinted on full page, beautifully printed, very detailed designs as well as old family photographs and images of her studio. It’s available in a variety of covers – all hand blocked prints in her trademark muted colours. She would be pleased to think of it being used in art schools and hopes it might give some inspiration to young artists just starting out.

You can buy Marthe’s wallpapers from Hamilton Weston – hamiltonweston.com

The book from marthearmitagebook.selz.com

and the fabrics from Marthe Armitage Prints Ltd – marthearmitage.co.uk

Artists at Home

Artists at Home

Painting by Joanna Brendon

A long established tradition of Open Studios in west London

If you’re at all interested in art and you live in west London, one of the nicest things to do in the summer is to spend a happy weekend wandering around visiting artists in their homes and looking at their work.

Every year the ‘Artists At Home’ open their doors on the third weekend in June, during the Bedford Park Festival,  to show off their work over one weekend, starting on Friday evening and continuing until Sunday afternoon. Artists At Home 2020 will be from Friday 19 – Sunday 21 June.

Within three square miles, between Brook Green and Strand On The Green, Uxbridge Road and the Thames, there is a surprising diversity of artists – painters, sculptors, ceramicists, photographers, print-makers, textile and fashion designers and glassworkers. Many of them come together under the umbrella of Artists At Home to open their doors to the public in this annual open studio scheme. Some show alone, some with one or two others.

Glass by Francesca-Boyd; necklace by Felicity Gail

To help you find your way round, each year Artists At Home publish their studio guide in the form of a colourful little booklet which you can pick up in many of the shops in Chiswick. They also show the map of all the participating artists’ studios – as many as 60 locations – on their website. The studio guide will help you narrow the field of interest and personalise your very own art trail.

What makes this special is that you get to meet the artists in their natural habitat as it were and talk to them about what they do, learning about their process, how and when they first began and what inspires them. The idea of course is that you buy something but there’s never any pressure and if you do make a purchase you can be sure you’ll be paying less than you would in a gallery.

Artists at Home always takes place over a weekend in June, from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon, during the Bedford Park Festival. To see which artists are taking part this year, to go the Artists At Home website.

artistsathome.co.uk

Photographs: Mary Fedden and Julian Trevelyan 

The first local artists to open their studios to the public

The Open Studio scheme was started by Mary Fedden and Julian Trevelyan (arguably the first in the country) in 1973, at Durham Wharf on the river. On the 30th anniversary of Artists At Home Mary Fedden (then 88) wrote:

“We never realised we would be starting a local tradition. We had been asked to open by Hammersmith and Fulham Council, who enticed us with a £5 grant for tea and biscuits. Much to our surprise the day was a great success … and gradually more and more artists joined in the scheme”.

Mary Fedden OBE studied at the Slade School of Fine Arts, London from 1932 to 1936 and developed her own style of flower paintings and still lifes, reminiscent of artists such as Matisse and Braque. A chairperson of the Women’s International Art Club and teacher at the Royal College of Art in the 1950s and ‘60s, her pupils included David Hockney and Allen Jones. Fedden exhibited in one-person shows throughout the UK every year from 1950 until her death in 2012. She also received commissions for murals, notably the Festival of Britain in 1951 and Charing Cross Hospital in 1980 (along with her husband, Julian Trevelyan).

Julian Trevelyan RA read English Literature at Cambridge and studied art in Paris, where he found himself working alongside artists such as Max Ernst, Oskar Kokoschka, Joan Miró and Pablo Picasso. He spent much of the Second World War painting camouflage to confuse the Germans in the North African desert (successfully). He bought Durham Wharf In 1935 and married Mary Feddon in 1951. Trevelyan taught history of art and etching at the Chelsea School of Art in the 1950s. He had many exhibitions in galleries such as the Lefevre Gallery, Bloomsbury Gallery and Messum’s and 105 of his artworks are now held in the collection of the Tate Gallery. He became a Royal Academician in 1987, a year before he died.

Mixed media by Suz Hartman and Jane Price

Where else to find art in Chiswick

Many of the artists are happy to sell their work direct to the public not just during Artists At Home weekend but throughout the year. Search their details on the Artists at Home website. artistsathome.co.uk

Or have a look at The Chiswick Calendar’s Directory of Artists which is an online showcase for artists who live locally, some of whom open their homes during Artists At Home week, some don’t.

The Chiswick Calendar also puts on an exhibition every autumn at the Clayton Hotel Chiswick, where you can buy paintings at reasonable prices. As the name suggests, Chiswick In Pictures is a collection of work which reflects the artists’ interpretations of where we live. We also have an exhibition of photography: Chiswick Through the Camera Lens in the spring.

There is also the Summer Exhibition, which takes place every year as part of the Bedford Park Festival.

Meet some of the local artists who take part in Artists At Home

Jill Meager

Jill Meager is an artist who specialises in drawing animals and birds and portraits of children. She’s an award winning artist whose work is much sought after by galleries. She opens her house every year to show her work over the Artists At Home weekend.

jillmeager.com

Bobbie Kociejowski

Bobbie Kociejowski is a weaver whose exquisite scarves and shawls are inspired by the richly colourful landscapes of her native Canada.

bobbiekociejowski.com

Ben Johnson

Ben Johnson’s work depicts his response to the built environment. A retrospective at Southampton City Art Gallery in 2015 – 16 showed how over 50 years he has evolved as a painter but has always had an interest in architectural forms. His recent work includes meticulously detailed studies of buildings like the Dome of the Rock and cityscapes.

benjohnsonartist.com

Eileen Coyne

Eileen Coyne is a jeweller who describes her style of jewellery as ‘contemporary ethnic’.  She often uses antique elements in her work, combining them with a strong sense of colour which makes unusual objects into statement pieces.

eileencoyne.com

Jenny Price

Jenny trained in textiles and print making at Camberwell. She paints abstract landscapes inspired by the River Thames, using acrylic and loose open weaves.

jennyprice.gallery

Laura Gompertz

Inspired by found objects, natural forms and colour, Laura uses many different mediums – oils, inks, experimental natural pigments and photography.

lauragompertz.com

Sally Grumbridge

Sally is a painter and printmaker. Personal, cultural or historical subjects are usually the inspiration for her work.

sallygrumbridge.co.uk

Tania Beaumont

Tania paints and prints and makes ‘stuff’. She also collects ‘stuff’ which she uses in collage. Having lived an expatriate life for 30+ years she draws on a fabulous database of memories and ideas for her work.

taniabeaumont.squarespace.com

Antonia Young

Antonia is an artist specialising in sculpture and pottery. She has a particular interest in portrait heads cast in bronze, as well as heads and figures in terracotta. She also make ceramics in stoneware, porcelain and raku, as well as garden figures and fountains.

Caroline Mauduit

Caroline mainly makes light oil sketches of still life, domestic interiors and furniture. As a trained architect, she also likes to make ink and watercolour details and drawings of buildings.

Henrietta Parsons

Henrietta is a garden designer by profession and only started painting in her fifties. She learned about working on paper and canvas when she joined the late Anthea Craigmyle’s painting group in Chiswick Mall. She now experiments with different styles, painting in various media on canvas, board, paper and wood.

Caroline Winn

Caroline Winn’s highly individual ceramic sculptures are inspired by the landscapes of west Cornwall and the Thames in London, between which she splits her time.

carolinewinn.co.uk

Tristan v Christann

Tristan is a designer of men’s fashionwear: ‘coats and capes made to measure & ready to fly’.

tristanv.com

Rennie Pilgrem

Rennie’s work crosses the boundaries between digital and traditional. Selected for the Royal Academy Summer Show 2013 and shortlisted several times.

renniepilgrem.co.uk

Isobel MacLeod

Isobel makes paintings in oil and tempera on wood – mainly figures and abstract impressions of places visited.

artistsathome.co.uk

Louise Richards

Louise is a jeweller who works with enamel and precious metals. She uses transparent enamels and incorporates different combinations of wires, foils and engraving to create movement and depth.

lerjewellery.com

Alice Sheridan

Alice is a landscape painter who creates images which are a balance between abstract and representation. Inspired by contrasting shapes and colours, her compositions evolve with a series of re-drawing that leads to layers of overlapping.

alicesheridan.com

Rachel Busch

Rachel’s background is as an illustrator. Now a print maker, she uses her drawing skills to make hand-made lino cuts, cardboard cuts and mono prints.

buschstudio.com

Linda Bloomfield

Linda is a potter who has sold her range of porcelain tableware through Liberty and Harrods. She likes soft, simple forms and uses porcelain for its smoothness, whiteness and translucency.

lindabloomfield.co.uk

Clare Belfield

Clare makes drawings and paintings of still-lifes.

Louise Kaye

Louise was a restorer of painted and gilded wood, before focusing on her own work as a painter. She works in oils, ‘taking delight in the texture of brushstrokes on canvas’.

louise-kaye.com

Romaine Dennistoun

Romaine draws animals and birds directly from life, working in pen and ink or sometimes directly in watercolour on site. Some she paints again in her studio in acrylic on canvas and often on a much larger scale.

drawnfromlife.co.uk

Jill Revie

Jill paints still-lifes and and views inspired by travels around the Mediterranean and the English seaside. She uses her large collection of jugs, pots and fabrics to create oil paintings which are full of pattern and colour.

jillrevie.com

Madeleine Marsh

Madeleine is an artist, writer and broadcaster who creates unique sculpture and jewellery, handmade often from bits and bobs found on the Thames shoreline. All items are one-off, or made in strictly limited numbers.

madeleinemarsh.com

Steph Curtis Raleigh

Steph paints abstract compositions, having fun with colour and shape in acrylic and oil. She collects old and interesting frames to set these abstract paintings off. When she was interviewed in 2016 her focus was more on representational landscapes of the River Thames.

facebook.com/stephcurtisraleighpaintings

Alicia Stroud

Alicia is a maker of paintings, sculptures and ceramics, drawing on dreams, humour, places and found objects which surface as recurring motifs in her work. She creates art ‘spontaneously and emotionally, using a wide variety of mediums playfully mixing fiction with make belief’.

Artists At Home area

This is the area over which you will find open studios during Artists At Home weekend. Studios marked are those which were open in 2019.

Prints: Chiswick Park tube station by Rachel Busch; Rowing Coach on Holiday by Rennie Pilgrem; Hammersmith Bridge by Keith Davidson.

Peter Oborne journalist

Peter Oborne, Journalist

Profile by Bridget Osborne

April 2017 (Updated September 2019)

“I became a journalist because I was so unsuccessful at everything else.”

I suspect he wasn’t as bad at it as he makes out, but for whatever reason, Peter Oborne didn’t flourish as a financier. Having been educated at Sherborne School and read History at Christ’s College, Cambridge, he landed a job at NM Rothschild’s corporate finance division in 1981 and stuck it out for three years. “I was hopeless at it” he says. Not a complete disaster though, as he met his wife Martine, now vicar of St Michael’s Church Elmwood Rd., Chiswick, then a high flier in the City. They are still together (an achievement in itself) and now have five children. He also picked up some skills useful to a journalist; he understands how money works and is not afraid of financial spreadsheets or mystified by the City’s arcane vocabulary.

Aware though that he had zero experience or training as a journalist, he decided to go and live with a striking miner’s family for a week during the 1984 miner’s strike and write about it. The article got him work at a magazine called Financial Weekly (now defunct). “As a financial journalist I became very capable very quickly” he says, which got him hired by the Evening Standard. His big break came when owner of the Mirror newspaper Robert Maxwell died: “I had splashes every day for three or four days.”

“What saved me was my ability to write an Op-Ed piece”

Once he’d experienced the glory of having the main story on the front page there was no stopping him. Then editor Paul Dacre asked him to go over to the political desk, where Peter admits to having been out of his depth, especially when the incumbent political editor had a heart attack, leaving him as acting political editor. “What saved me was my ability to write an Op-Ed piece” he says. He doesn’t consider himself to be a very good news journalist. The lack of shorthand and the basic grounding in funerals and flower shows, chasing fire engines and court reporting, left him at a bit of a disadvantage in covering breaking news, but if a statesman died he was in his element. “I could turn in 1100 beautiful words for a page 8 Op Ed in 50 minutes”. (Imagine trying to do that now without the benefit of Google!)

I think it’s fair to say he’s compensated. He’s had more scoops and splashes than most journalists have had hot breakfasts. He broke the story that John Major was talking to the IRA, at a time when talking to terrorists was supposed to be unthinkable. His career took off in all directions – newspapers, books, television – in and around core jobs as political columnist for the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph and associate editor of the Spectator.

Leaving the Telegraph

He was himself in the limelight in 2015 when he resigned from the Telegraph. He took issue with the way the paper was conducting its relationship between the editorial and commercial arms. Specifically, Oborne outlined how the paper downplayed negative stories about HSBC bank, a major source of their advertising revenue. In his opinion that compromised the journalistic integrity of the paper, which he called a “form of fraud on its readers”. Since then he has written for the Daily Mail and the Guardian and he takes himself off to places like Yemen and Syria, working on stories he wants to tell. I asked him how he did it, given that these are regions where even the most experienced and successful journalists on the ground struggle to get their stories aired. He said his income from his years at the Telegraph had given him the financial independence to go where he likes and sell the story afterwards. As a result, he has total independence and often writes about injustice ignored by the mainstream press – stories about British Muslims or Palestinians for example.

Television

When asked about the journalism he’s most proud of, he goes to television. He’s made three trips to Iraq reporting on the Iraq war, undercover trips to Zimbabwe at the height of Mugabe’s murderous regime and a succession of programmes for Channel 4’s Dispatches. Among the best he counts the 2011 programme: ‘Inside Britain’s Israel lobby’ which showed how the Israeli lobby bankrolled politicians and influenced policy. “One Tory MP privately taunted me to make a film about the pro-Israeli lobby. He said: ‘You don’t have the guts. They’re the biggest lobby in Westminster and it’s a big story’.” Another of his favourites is ‘It Shouldn’t Happen to a Muslim’, a Dispatches documentary investigating the impact of the 7/7 bombings on the lives of British Muslims.

Opinionated and ebullient

The thing about columnists is that they have a view on everything. Whether it’s natural confidence which begets the arrogance to think you should write a column or whether writing a column forces you to have strident views on everything, I’m not sure. But Peter is certainly not backward about coming forward. He pops up all over the place, at conferences, on Question Time and he outlines his views as he pursues stories, with passion and ebullience.

How is he so certain of his opinions? On what does he base his views? The answer is many years of talking to powerful people, decision makers, either off the record in the bars and corridors of Westminster and on the fringes of high level meetings, or on the record in set piece interviews. Not just that but time spent in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, seeing at first hand the havoc wrought by Western policies. That and hours and hours of meticulous research following money trails, emails, bank accounts, documents and amassing evidence from witnesses to important decisions, which uncover how power is exercised. That said, during 2019 he ate humble pie very publicly for changing his mind about Brexit.

The Chiswick Calendar Events

Peter Oborne took part in The Chiswick Calendar’s first Media Club event: ‘Do ‘journalists’ still do real journalism?’ and often takes part in our discussions on politics and world affairs. Read more about The Chiswick Calendar’s Media Club here.

He chaired The Chiswick Calendar’s 2019 general election debate between Brentford & Isleworth constituency candidates Ruth Cadbury (Labour), Helen Cross (Lib Dem) and Seena Shah (Conservative), which you can see here.

Carrie Reichardt artist

Carrie Reichardt

Profile by Lucinda MacPherson

July 2019

Carrie Reichardt’s mosaic covered home of art and craftivism stands loud and proud in an otherwise quiet and unassuming suburban street on the fringes of Bedford Park. A visual provocation of colour, wit and subversive slogans resides in Fairlawn Grove making this unremarkable street extraordinary, its incongruity giving Carrie’s political messages more clout.

A London cab outside the house raises awareness of Kenny “Zulu” Whitmore who was held in solitary confinement in Louisiana State Penitentiary, Angola for nearly thirty years. “When I was a student my art was very personal about being female. Then I got involved with other activism, and campaigned to release political prisoners. Now I have come full circle and just done a project about witchcraft and suffragettes in Aberdeen. There is not much work that celebrates women in public art. Now my public art is about everybody’s history but my personal art is about mine.”

“I’m an artist your rules don’t apply”

Carrie has done a lot of community work, like the South Acton Tree of Life, which involved digging out stories and making them permanently visible in what she calls “a ceramic tapestry” interweaving the lives of the people of South Acton.Her home has been an ambitious and personal work in progress for many years and she explains why there’s a sign on it for The Treatment Room,“ My art is a form of therapy. The sign is from a disused mental hospital in Hackney where I was filming, so I put it on my studio door”.

“I have a first class degree in sculpture and had done stained glass but only started mosaic when I had my first baby and felt confined to the house. I was very attracted to craftwork. It’s very meditative, you get lost in the repetitive process which was good for someone like me as I have a frantic mind. It was very soothing and I became kind of addicted to it. Also, people appreciate the work that goes into a craft like mosaic and are more open to what I want to express.”

Carrie has lived in the house on and off since her teens when it belonged to her father who rented it out as bedsits. The interior retains signs of its multi-occupancy heritage with small metal numbers on the doors and a convoluted system of pipes winding into the rooms from the days when they each had a gas stove and sink. Some friends lent Carrie scaffolding so she and her partner, a graphic designer, could decorate the outside, and enjoy the freedom to express their own ideas.

“Then I split with my partner and my mother died and I struggled trying to cope as a single parent. I suffered with mental health problems. I’d always got stressed, but this was clinical depression. The house felt like an impossible task, so the scaffolding stayed up for four years.”“I must have been the neighbour from hell. In fact, one guy over the road said “I’ll pay you just to finish that house and get the scaffolding down.””

The Big Push

But in 2017 Carrie’s fortunes changed when her friend Isidora Paz Lopez, a renowned South American mosaic artist, offered to come for a week to help. This attracted 30 more artists to take part in what Carrie calls The Big Push.“It was amazing! Isidora worked around the window creating a scarab beetle to represent rebirth and Tamara from Catford did the Cheshire Cat and Karen, my oldest friend did the columns. I’ve got at least 30 flying eyeballs representing a subconscious collective, all seeing all, around watching us.”

“It was the best experience ever because my friends came along and did the catering, and some came to look after the kids, so there was this wonderful energy with all the people, mostly women, helping us finish.”“You forget what it’s like if you live with scaffolding, I hadn’t had light coming in through the front for four years. It was a gorgeous sunny day, when it came down. It was magical, a new beginning.”

At time of writing Carrie is currently juggling multiple projects including a large public artwork in Finsbury, a book and two exhibitions at the Saatchi Gallery this summer. Inside the house is littered with vignettes of anarchic customised ceramics, fetish objects, dolls’ faces, ceramic aerosol cans, embroidery, transformer robots, skulls, kitsch and piles of innocent looking tiles and vintage tea cups just waiting to be subverted into one of Carrie’s irreverent creations.

“I like playing around with old china, its got so many connotations. I reinvent and refire it. I love icons that are deeply symbolic such as skulls and babies’ heads. There is something a bit creepy about them. I am a classic hoarder so have collected thousands of these old porcelain dolls. I like the idea of loads of little ladies making these, a whole cottage industry using their little moulds and made them into dolls. I’m hoping to cut them in half and make the mosaics a lot more three dimensional.”

When I visited Carrie, she opened some post to do with a sequel to a book she is co-curating with her partner and local Chiswick artist Bob Osborne, featuring defaced banknotes. In the late 18th century it was a capital offence, punishable by death, to forge or alter a banknote and it is still a criminal offence. Artists are sending her doctored banknotes from all over the world, although they don’t always make it through Customs, “One guy’s notes got stopped from coming here from Brazil.”“ They are an act of subversion”.

carriereichardt.com

Sadie Jones Costa prize winning novelist

Sadie Jones

Interview by Bridget Osborne

September 2019

Author of The Outcast, Small Wars, The Uninvited Guests, Fallout talks about her latest book The Snakes

I am thoroughly enjoying Sadie Jones’ excellent book The Snakes. It reads a bit  like a thriller, but is deeper, examining the unwholesome relationships within a family and unravelling their dark and destructive secrets. Alice O’Keefe, in The Bookseller, wrote, ‘I was expecting this to be good. But, I have to tell you, I was awestruck… I may not read a better book this year.’

I’ve interviewed Sadie once before and she said then how difficult it was to write her second novel Small Wars, because her first book The Outcast won the Costa prize for Best First Novel, so the pressure was immense. She tells me now that “with every book” (this is her fifth) “the pressure increases. It gets harder as you go along”.

The Snakes is about a couple who are recently married and living in London with all the usual pressures of paying the mortgage and not being able to escape from a job you’re not enjoying. At least that’s the case for Dan, who works as an estate agent but really wants to be an artist. Bea on the other hand is fulfilled by her job as a psychotherapist and feels slightly guilty that she enjoys her work when he doesn’t. Their backgrounds are very different too. He’s from a mixed race, ordinary London background and is completely used to worrying about where the next penny is coming from, all the time. She is from a family who are immensely wealthy, who she never mentions and very rarely sees. They didn’t come to their wedding and she refuses to take their money.

They go on a three month trip, driving across Europe, and on the way through France call in on Bea’s dysfunctional ex-junkie brother Alex, who is supposed to be doing up an old building as a hotel but, as they find out when they get there, is clueless as to how to achieve it. It’s when Bea and Alex’s deeply unpleasant parents turn up out of the blue that things really start to unravel.

It struck me that in The Snakes, as in Outcast, the drama stems from a traumatic event in childhood. “Childhood is traumatic by definition” says Sadie, “growing up is an agonising process” so not only is childhood trauma a good source of drama for a writer, but it is “a universal and essential truth”. Sadie’s books are not easily pigeonholed, so I ask her what she wants to achieve, what she wants her readers to take away from her books. “I want people to be moved” she says, “to feel”. She describes The Snakes as “a reality tale, specific to our era; a political book but not a cold book”. Explaining that further, she says she doesn’t want to be political in the journalistic sense but “we live in very tough times; there’s so much outrage; people need to feel their anger expressed”. The result, she says is that some people have described her book as ‘political’ while others have likened it to a Greek tragedy.

To say that her books are about the essential human condition sounds glib, but they are about human nature. Reading The Snakes I fall into the world she creates, totally immersed in her story and not thinking about structure or character development or dialogue. So well crafted is her work there’s nothing that stands out to call you back to the reality that it is an artificial construct, which is of course the effect she’s aiming for.

“Because I feel that story is so important I always try and find the place where story and writing meet. As a reader I get angry with books that are all about the style and I get bored by stories which are badly written. When reading a story it’s annoying if you can see the bones and the skeleton. I like the glass between the reader and the story to be as thin as possible”.

Does she write for herself or her readers? If she had no readers would she do it anyway? “Yes” she says. “I have an imaginary platonic reader in mind, a version of myself, but I’m sure all writers have this compulsion to write”. Her difficulty is to “turn off the inner critic” and free herself to write. She is always “scared”, only becoming more confident once she’s got in to her stride and is beginning to feel she’s saying what she wants to say, at which point she begins to be a bit happier about turning it over to her readers.

She writes in the mornings and finds four or five hours at a time are enough of a stretch. Her children have reached adulthood, so as an empty-nester, without the confines of the demands of family, she finds she has to be even more disciplined than she used to be. She’s already working on the next novel. She finds it easier to break off and deal with the demands of the real world, such as phone calls from people like me so she can publicise her latest book, if she has that cushion of fiction and of knowing the next project is safely under way.

Sadie appeared at the Chiswick Book Festival in 2019. The Snakes is published by Harper Collins.

chiswickbookfestival.net

Polly Devlin journalist

Polly Devlin

Interview by Bridget Osborne

July 2019

Irish journalist and Bedford Park resident Polly Devlin talks about her memoir Writing Home

I had the great pleasure of meeting Polly Devlin this week. The Irish writer has a new book out, just published, which is a collection of her writings from throughout her life.

Writing home is a glorious serendipitous mix of material ranging from the fierce history of the Devlin clan and the treacherousness of Irish bogs to life as the features editor of Vogue in London in the Swinging Sixties. Head-hunted by the American editor Diana Vreeland to work for her in New York, Polly writes about meeting Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Barbara Streisand, John Lennon and Yoko Ono but also about the instantly relatable – the joys and frustrations of motherhood and the fulfillment of a lifelong desire to sleep outside in the open (‘I hadn’t known about dew. I thought dew was a light misting …’)

One of the impressions I get very clearly from Writing Home is that Polly remains true to herself and unaffected by power and status.

Writing home to her sister, describing the offices of Vogue in London, where she landed a job at 19 by winning a competition, she is impressed, but not overawed. ‘Think of the shapelessness of home (Ardboe, Northern Ireland) and what shines there; the sun on the lough, the reflection of a brass harness on a horse’s neck, the gleam of leaves in the chestnut tree. Here, it’s the arc lights in the studio, the shine on the pearls that nearly all the girls wear, the gleam on their faces, the sheen on a satin ball dress … I feel very atavistic somehow, as if I were wearing a shawl.’

Photographs below: Polly in the Sixties; Writing Home book cover; Polly in a recent photograph taken by Jonathan Goldberg 

 Princess Margaret was ‘a madam’

When she met Princess Margaret it was not a grand occasion, but a small informal dinner at her own flat. Her then boyfriend Andy (later her husband) was a close friend of Tony Armstrong-Jones. The evening was ‘an unmitigated disaster’ she says. ‘They arrived in a little Mini and the first thing was: I didn’t curtsy. I wish I could say it was because of my integrity to my republican sentiments but the truth is I didn’t know I was supposed to curtsy … so I had a black mark against me from that moment on’.

Princess Margaret. She says, was ‘a madam’. I’m sure she now knows how to behave in whatever strata of society she finds herself, in several continents, (she curtsied to the Queen when she received her OBE for Services to Literature in 1992) and she’s acquired a liking for good champagne and a fair amount of wealth along the way, but she seems unaltered by rubbing shoulders with the great and famous. She retains a very clear voice that is her own and when you meet her, comes across with a directness and honesty which is immensely refreshing.

Maybe it was the two years having weekly lunches with Diana Vreeland so Polly could channel the London youth zeitgeist which gave her confidence: ‘I had absolutely no idea; but terror … loosened my tongue, and a fair few of the items in that famous Vogue column ‘People Are Talking About …’ sprang straight from my crazed verbal inventions as I sought to unclamp my teeth from a piece of pastrami without her noticing’.

Photographs below: Polly with daughters Rose, Daisy and Bay 

Estee Lauder ‘a piece of work’

She’s also a fantastic writer. She manages to convey a huge amount with a few well chosen words, so that after reading her book I feel I know her intimately and like her tremendously.

She admits to vulnerability. One searing entry is about having been abused as a child. She doesn’t remember it but found out many years later that the STD infection she suffered from all her young life could only have been caused by penetration. She realized then why she had been profoundly miserable for many years, despite the gilded career. She had suffered from anorexia as a young woman and her abuser had done such terrible physical damage to her that she had to have her children by caesarean.

The chapters weren’t designed as an autobiography. Her publisher, Pimpernel Press, asked if they could publish a collection of her writings. It was her good friend Carmen Callil, founder of the Virago Press, who suggested she arrange them chronologically, so they hang together as a memoir.

Her comments on the famous people she interviewed are revealing an insightful. ‘I once watched Estee Lauder – there was a piece of work – test new aftershaves for men; there was a cross-looking Frenchman there who I think had concocted the smells. Every time La Belle Dame Sans Merci uncorked a bottle, his face contorted with anxiety. After a few sniffs she announced ‘This is the only possible one, the rest smell of soap. I want sex.’ You never saw a happier Frenchman.

Abandoning Ursula Andress at Hogarth roundabout

She says she ‘hated’ interviewing. She actually abandoned an interview with Ursula Andress because she was so banal. Talking to her in the back of a Rolls Royce en route from Heathrow to fit in with the actress’s busy schedule, by the time they reached Chiswick, Polly had had enough. She  got out at the traffic lights at Hogarth roundabout and walked off.

Some interviewees of course she admired: ‘Janis Joplin, I adored her’ … ‘John Osborne was the most wonderful talker’ … ‘Barbara Streisand was a fantastic phenomenon, she was just rude’.

At 78 she says she’s now given up writing, although she finds it ‘as easy as a cow pissing’ and still responds to desperate entreaties from long term editors with gaps to fill. Her husband, whom she loved for 50 years, died a few years ago after a dreadful illness which meant he had to have both feet amputated. She still teaches writing in America though she spends most of her time here at her beautiful home in Bedford Park, as she wants to cherish the time with her six grandchildren.

Who does she admire in journalism now? Marina Hyde and Hadley Freeman in the Guardian “I think they’re two of the wittiest writers around”.

And what does she think of living in Chiswick? “Love it. I love walking down Turnham Green Terrace, chatting to the guys in Wheelers and meeting people in the street. I love the village atmosphere and I love the new benches. Who do I admire? Karen Liebreich (who organised the new benches by the railway bridge in Turnham Green Terrace). Philanthropist, genius, she ought to be a Dame. Write that.”

Photographs below: Polly in her garden at Bedford Park and inside the house, with her dog Queenie

Polly Devlin spoke at the 2019 Chiswick Book Festival. Writing Home is published by The Pimpernel Press Ltd.

chiswickbookfestival.net

David Juritz virtuoso violinist

David Juritz, Virtuoso violinist

Profile by Bridget Osborne

June 2018

Violinist David Juritz has lived in Chiswick for more than 30 years and has become a popular fixture at the Bedford Park Festival. He came to London originally from South Africa to study at the Royal College of Music and landed his first professional job with the English Chamber Orchestra. Moving on to become lead violinist with the London Mozart Orchestra, he went on to tour the world as a soloist.

In 2007 he took a career break to tour the world as a busker, raising money for music education charities. More recently he has been indulging his passion for tango, playing with the London Tango Quintet and has set up a series of occasional concerts with friends at St Peter’s Church in Southfield Rd. David Juritz talked to the editor of The Chiswick Calendar, Bridget Osborne on the eve of the 2018 Bedford Park Festival.

Read profiles of other Bedford Park Festival performers living in Chiswick – Milly Forrest & Sandy Burnett

Sandy Burnett bass player & broadcaster

Sandy Burnett, Conductor, Bass player & Broadcaster

Profile by Bridget Osborne

June 2018

Sandy Burnett is a conductor, bassist, broadcaster, author and lecturer with a passion for communicating music. A specialist in Bach and and a former BBC Radio 3 presenter, he is also passionate about Jazz and has put the two together, improvising on Baroque and Renaissance themes with fellow musicians David Gordon and Tom Hooper. Sandy Burnett talks to The Chiswick Calendar editor Bridget Osborne, before performing Tenor Madness – Bach Motets, Jazz Reflections II at the 2018 Bedford Park Festival.

Read profiles of other Bedford Park Festival performers living in Chiswick – Milly Forrest & David Juritz

Milly Forrest soprano

Milly Forrest, Soprano

Profile by Bridget Osborne

June 2018

Milly Forrest hit the headlines in 2017 as the cloakroom girl at the Wigmore Hall who was asked to stand in at short notice for a singer who was ill. The young soprano from Chiswick has now finished her studies and is embarking on her professional career. She spoke to The Chiswick Calendar’s editor Bridget Osborne on the eve of the Bedford Park Festival 2018.

Read profiles of other Bedford Park Festival performers living in Chiswick – Sandy Burnett & David Juritz

Torin Douglas MBE Chiswick Book Festival director

Torin Douglas MBE, Director of the Chiswick Book Festival

Profile by Bridget Osborne

April 2018

“Ask Torin” … “Torin will know somebody” … “The person you need to speak to is Torin Douglas”.

I think Torin invented Networking. There will be some American business guru who’s sold millions of copies of his book who claims that he did, but really it was Torin. He knows hundreds of people in Chiswick and if he can help you out by introducing you to someone within his circle of influence, he will do. The Director of the Chiswick Book Festival since it started in 2009, Torin has also run the Bedford Park Festival since 2002 – the two biggest events in Chiswick’s social calendar – and he was awarded an MBE in 2013 for ‘services to the community’ in Chiswick. “I’m not running it any more” he told me at least two years ago, talking about the Bedford Park Festival. “I’m trying to take a step back and let other people run it” but no matter how much he protests, people always point you in his direction if you need to know anything about it, as he is the man who knows.

The day job

Born in Cheshire and brought up in Surrey, Torin got his first job as a journalist on the Weekly News, a very popular paper which did lots of stories about showbiz and the royals. His column ‘Anne Muir talks shop sense’ was an early example of consumer journalism. The paper considered that readers wouldn’t take advice on shopping from a man, so ‘Anne Muir’ he became, which meant that when he road tested a £5 suit for a week he had to refer to himself in the collum as ‘my young colleague’ and do without his wife Carol’s company for the duration, as she refused to be seen with him in his cheap, shiny suit.

Having worked in Fleet St, written regularly for The Times, the Independent, the Economist and Campaign and been one of the founding editors of Marketing Week, it was his knowledge of the media and 5 years’ experience as a radio presenter with LBC which landed him the job of media correspondent at the BBC in 1989, a job which he did for 24 years.

Media Correspondent at the BBC

When he was appointed the role was new, created by John Birt, then Director of News and Current Affairs. The reception from colleagues wasn’t quite what he was hoping for. When he walked in to the Today Programme office for the first time and introduced himself with his new title, presenter Brian Redhead said: , “Oh well, I hope you get a proper job one day.”

Somewhat dejected after his first six reports for the Today Programme were not run, he began to think he’d made a mistake. But John Birt had rightly foreseen that the media world was expanding and changing. BBC Radio News no longer needed three Industrial correspondents as it had in the seventies and early eighties. What it did need was someone who could understand the Internet and its revolutionary potential. Birt was credited with preparing the BBC for the digital age and Torin was soon reporting on stories like the battle between Sky and BSB for supremacy in satellite broadcasting and the first newspapers going online.

By the time Torin left the BBC in 2013 he’d covered major stories such as the Hutton Report, the resignation of Greg Dyke as BBC Director-General, and the death of Princess Diana, when he was on air continually for two solid weeks. In the process he’d become a household name. When correspondents are that successful they can become a little grand and start refusing to do the 6.00 am turn on Radio 5 Live or a two-way with a local radio station. Torin’s reputation with producers was that of a hard worker who would always help you out if he could.

The hobby

Having moved to Chiswick in 1975 with Carol, whom he met at Warwick university, they got involved with St Michael and All Angels Church. Their three children Richard, Michael and Ellie were baptised there and Torin became more involved in the social life of the church when Ellie started singing in the choir and taking part in Bedford Park Festival events. He found a natural partner in Fr Kevin Morris, who wanted the church to be a cultural powerhouse and make a contribution to the whole community of Chiswick, not just the regular congregation. The two work together in organising both festivals.

Soon immersed in the Bedford Park Festival, Torin saw The Chiswick Book Festival as a natural development, as there had always been a book element to the festival. The first Book Festival was hugely helped by having industry insiders Jacks Thomas – then at Midas PR, now Director of the London Book Fair – and Malcolm Edwards, then deputy chief executive and publisher of Orion on board. (He was the editor of George R R Martin’s A Game of Thrones, amongst other things.) The first year’s line-up included Lady Antonia Fraser, Anthony Horowitz, Jacqueline Wilson and Michael Frayn and the rest, as they say is history.

The roll call of famous authors who’ve appeared at the Book Festival is pretty impressive: novelists such as Maggie O’Farrell, historians Max Hastings and Hugh Sebag-Montefiore, children’s writers Jacqueline Wilson and Cressida Cowell, comedy writers David Baddiel, Shappi Khorsandi and Andy Hamilton, adventurers, food and wine writers, people who’ve written their autobiography, such as Jo Malone and Mary Portas, and a fair smattering of journalists and politicians like Hunter Davies, Jeremy Vine and Vince Cable, reflecting Torin’s own contacts book.

I asked him which were the moments that stood out for him from ten years of directing the Book Festival. “The very first event” he said. “When Antonia Fraser filled the church for that very first event, I was so pleased – but what was even better was that she said to everyone at the end ‘What a wonderful church and what wonderful questions from the audience.’” Michael Morpurgo, who three years in got the biggest audience ever – more than 400 people. Torin remembers a little girl standing up and asking him “Why do so many people die in your books?” and the audience laughing when Michael Morpurgo asked her name. “Joy” she told him.

And the Bedford Park Festival? “I got to know Richard Briers quite well” Torin told me. “He was a lovely man. He could be quite grumpy. He didn’t like crowds”. Fr Kevin Morris presided over his funeral at St Michael & All Angels. He recalled how Richard Briers always said “I’m not religious”. Fr Kevin got the last laugh. “You are now” he told a packed church.

The line-up of celebrities for the opening of the 50th Green Days weekend also illustrates the pulling power of Torin’s influence. Downton Abbey actors Elizabeth McGovern and Phyllis Logan, singer Sophie Ellix Bextor and journalists Fergal Keane, Rageh Omar and Jeremy Vine were all there to celebrate the big anniversary.

Making introductions

Not averse to a little gossip, if there is one person with their finger on the pulse of the social and cultural life of Chiswick, it’s Torin. Being a big fish in a small pond can go to your head. Life and literature are full of people who wield a little influence and swan about, using it to triumph in petty rivalries. Torin doesn’t swan, he bustles. He bustles about in a cheerful and entirely productive way for the common good. The opposite of the caricature, he doesn’t seem to bear grudges or make enemies and if there’s a way of working cooperatively, he’ll find it.

He set up an annual networking event a few years ago with Jane Harrison, former Principal of the Arts Ed, because he realised that although he knew lots of people organising cultural events in Chiswick, they didn’t know each other. Providing a forum for the various organisations to meet each other has led to the blossoming of all sorts of productive relationships. The Dog Show talks to the Artists at Home, who chat to the Chiswick Playhouse theatre, who make plans with local writers and so on.

Fat chance of ‘stepping back’. I hate to tell you this Torin, but you are indispensable to the social life of Chiswick!

Karen Liebreich MBE Abundance London director

Karen Liebreich MBE, Director of Abundance London

Profile by Bridget Osborne

April 2018 (Updated 2019)

Dr Karen Liebreich MBE is so bloody prolific, I’m not really sure where to start. A doctor of History from Cambridge, fluent in four languages (five if you count just being able to read Spanish fluently) with a diploma in Horticulture, she just has ideas and does them, be it a public mural, a historic kitchen garden or a book exposing the paedophilic history of the Catholic Church.

I suppose the Chiswick Timeline is as good a place to start as any, as that is her most recent eye-catching achievement. She and designer Sarah Cruz, who together set up Abundance London (I’ll come on to that) decided that the grubby, poster strewn brickwork of the railway bridge on Turnham Green Terrace needed cheering up and set about researching, designing, funding and project managing a historic timeline of Chiswick in maps and works by local artists. Four years later they opened it, in January 2018, to public delight, with a street party involving live music, street food and interactive art projects.

Most people are fairly linear in their career; one thing tends to lead to another. Karen not so much. Her trajectory is more that of a compass in an electrical storm. Most people would have been happy with her first career: ‘Responsable des activités culturelles’, French Institute, London. ‘Ran theatre/cinema, art gallery, lectures etc. 1985-1988’. Or indeed her second: TV researcher and producer 1989-2001, which included producing The Royal Navy, three 60 minute documentaries for The History Channel (USA), presented by Prince Andrew.

Author

As well as the day job and raising two well rounded and successful children with husband Consultant Nephrologist Professor Jeremy Levy, Karen started writing books in the nineties, first of all with the BBC: Doing Business in Eastern Europe (BBC Books, 1991) and The Complete Skier: A Practical Guide for Skiers of all levels (BBC Books, 1993), helped no doubt by the fact that she and Jeremy are expert skiers and her brother is an Olympic skier. Then UneXplained: Spine-tingling tales from real places in Britain and Ireland (children’s stories – Macmillan, May 1997) and The London Baby Directory: An A-Z of everything for pregnant women, babies & under-5s, which became a flourishing business as an annual publication with an accompanying website, branching out into seven local directories, which she sold and which continues under new owners.

In 2004 she published a scholarly work, the result of years of research which she started in Florence at the age of 21 in the archives of an order of the Catholic Church known as the Piarists, as well as in the Vatican and the newly-opened Inquisition archives in pursuit of her doctoral thesis. Months of studying crumbling documents in dusty boxes written in seventeenth century Italian led her to ask why the Piarist order had been suddenly closed down by the Pope in 1646 with no explanation. The answer is an eerie echo of the contemporary abuse scandals which have rocked the Catholic Church. An order established to house and educate poor children became an enabler for leading priests to sexually abuse children and for the scandal to be covered up. ‘Karen Liebriech’s meticulous scholarship brings the whole sorry episode to light’ says Karen Armstrong, former RC nun and author of books on comparative religion. It is a ‘brilliantly accessible book … a piece of investigative writing that is relentless in its search for the truth.’ “The story that Liebreich can now unravel is as racy and full of machinations as The Name of the Rose” Guardian.

Another of her books, The Letter in the Bottle (Atlantic Books 2010) is a detective story of another kind. She found a bottle in the shape of a tear drop washed up on the Kent coast with a letter inside it written in French from a mother grieving for her lost child Maurice. Amazingly she found both mother and what happened to the child and the book is the story of how she found them and what happened next.

It should come as no surprise then that Karen writes for Private Eye or that her book The Black Page (McHugh Publications 2017) is based on interviews with Nazi Film-makers. The subjects of her books differ widely but there’s a common theme here of investigation and historical research and a desire to shine a light on evil and wrong doing. The Black Page offers a last chance to hear from key figures from the Nazi film industry; never before published interviews with those at the heart of Goebbels’ propaganda machine – the Nazi ‘Marilyn Monroe’, Lilli Marlene’s composer, Leni Riefenstahl’s cameraman, Goebbels’ secretary, and many more.

Horticulturalist

Then there’s Karen Liebreich the horticulturalist, a whole other persona who pops up around 2003 with a diploma in horticulture from Capel Manor College which specialises in studies based on the land, and Karen Liebreich the community crusader who founded the Chiswick House Kitchen Garden. More than a thousand children and young people work in the gardens each year, growing and eating healthy food and learning about plant science, horticulture and minibeasts. Around 40 regular volunteers keep it in order and sell the produce. The creative vision and organisational energy was provided by Karen. Having set it up and been a director and trustee for eight years, she moved on to set up Abundance London with Sarah Cruz, an award-winning charitable organisation which puts together people who have excess fruit in their gardens needing to be picked and pickers from local schools, harvesting the produce and making sure it doesn’t go to waste.

Karen’s interests in horticulture and in community activism in fact go way back. Her first community project was setting up a garden at the end of the road from her home in Ealing when she was 15. She asked neighbours for spare plants to reclaim a bit of public land and the garden developed from there. She considered studying landscape gardening at university, but went off the idea when they wanted her to go away and work as a gardener for five years first. She contented herself with an allotment and when she’d finished travelling and working abroad for long periods, then she gave horticulture and its applied community benefits her full attention.

She has been a trustee of Hammersmith Community Garden Association, a successful grassroots group which runs two small local parks, a couple of greenhouses, a large school farm on the White City Estate, and educational programmes in schools, and she has also been a trustee of Dukes Meadows.

Abundance London led to Cultivate London, an innovative charity using horticulture to train unemployed young people, using vacant spaces awaiting development, and to the refurbishment of the Salopian Garden, a National Trust property which was transformed in 2016 from an overgrown and abandoned wilderness to a beautiful garden with fruit trees, a herb garden, flower garden, vegetable beds, bee hives and a wood-fired cob oven. Another project which offered work and training for young people.

And so to the Chiswick Timeline, which was to have been a green, living wall and only became a vitreous enamel mural when Transport for London turned the initial idea down. The MBE was awarded in 2013 for Services to Horticulture and Education, but Karen is not resting on her laurels, or her Orange Pippins or her Maxstoke Nibbler pears. There’s always another project in the offing …

Update 2019

Not one to let the grass grow, Karen has redesigned the ‘piazza’ at Turnham Green Terrace, organising new benches, bike racks and planting and a community art work, the ‘W4th Plinth’ (which isn’t a plinth at all, but a two dimensional art work unveiled at the piazza launch party in September 2019).

Read more about the development of the piazza at Turnham Green Terrace here.

Read more about the Chiswick Timeline here.

karenliebreich.com

abundancelondon.com

See Karen’s piece on Black Page in the London Review of Books: lrb.co.uk

Cllr John Todd Chiswick’s favourite Tory

Cllr John Todd, Chiswick’s favourite Tory

Profile by Bridget Osborne

May 2018

Cllr John Todd has become something of a Chiswick ‘treasure.’ In a hard fought local election campaign not always characterised by good humour, his canvassing style was relaxed and amiable, bantering with his Labour challenger, university student Caoimhe Hale like they were old friends. As an older man with 12 years’ experience of being a councillor speaking to a young woman on her first campaign, it could have come across as patronising, but his political style is not sneering and dismissive; he listens to people and engages with them, respecting their views and passion and countering with fact and argument. The two of them seemed to get on like a house on fire.

It’s a style which paid off at the ballot box, making him the most popular of Chiswick’s Conservative councillors with 1,737 votes in his Homefields ward, but has also paid off within Hounslow council, where since 2010 the Tories have been in a small minority. Plumb jobs are usually given to the majority party, but the council leader Steve Curran gave John the job of commissioning a pedestrian bridge to go underneath Barnes Railway Bridge, continuing the riverside pathway on the Dukes Meadows side. It’s a project which excites him. “It’s a fantastic design” he says. Previous attempts to design a bridge there have failed, not meeting the requirements of the Port of London Authority. This time his committee accommodated all the stakeholders: Network Rail, the PLA and the London Wildlife Trust’s set of very stringent conditions, to make it through planning permission and on to the next stage. “I love working with experts” he says.

Photographs above: Labour local elections candidate Caoimhe Hale, with fellow councillors elected in Homefields ward, Patrick Barr and Gerald McGregor; CGI of proposed footbridge beneath Barnes Railway Bridge

What exactly do you do as a councillor?

When I spoke to him on Saturday after the election, he was glad the campaign was over. The votes this time were hard won. “The Labour Party haven’t campaigned here before with the energy and commitment they showed this time” he says. “The Labour candidates were as determined to win as we were… The campaign was prolonged and at times acrimonious, especially on social media and on the (W4) forum.” On the doorstep he found the most difficult question to answer was “what do you do?” because so much of what a councillor does, particularly one in a minority group, is hard to quantify in terms of direct results.

John is big on ‘Scrutiny’. He says he spends four or five hours a day on council business, in addition to the many meetings, reading Cabinet notes and reports, with particular attention to Scrutiny reports. These are the local government equivalent of Select Committee reports – a cross party committee whose job is to hold the council to account and check that the executive, the officers and the politicians are doing their job properly. As a former policeman of more than 30 years’ experience who was in charge of the police unit of the Serious Fraud Office for a period and who worked for a year for the UN in Kosovo on the anti-corruption squad, this is where Cllr Todd comes into his own. In one of these Scrutiny reports on the provision for mental health, he was shocked to see that the accepted norm for a child with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) to wait to be seen by a mental health professional was 20 months. He researched the records of surrounding boroughs and found they did significantly better. He is now campaigning within the council for it to make this more of a priority.

Councillors are ‘corporate parents’ meaning that they have a legal duty to children in council care, and this is a role which John takes very seriously. After the Rochdale report, an inquiry by Professor Alexis Jay which found that that 1,400 children were sexually exploited in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013 and highlighted failures by 17 agencies who were meant to protect them, John followed up to check on Hounslow’s procedures. “I felt I should test the waters” he says and as a result of his probing he claims that the council has moved from an attitude of “secrecy” to one of “transparency” concerning the wellbeing of the 300 or so children in the council’s care and he maintains “a very good relationship” with the council’s Director of Children’s Services Alan Adams and his deputy Jacqui Shannon. How does this new ethos of transparency manifest itself? “I go and meet the children in both the children’s homes in the borough”. As a result he’s picked up on small things which have made these children’s lives just a little bit easier – a computer keyboard with bigger buttons for a disabled child who was having difficulty using a smaller one; private access to a phone for another. “Dignity is important to me” he says. He has long campaigned also for the Hogarth youth club, which in his view has provided essential support by enabling young people to get together in a safe environment.

When the Conservatives were the majority on the council he was able to be more effective as chairman of the pension fund, a job he held for four years. He says proudly “we won best pension fund for income and growth (in the whole of the UK) and our record hasn’t been beaten since”. What is refreshing, talking to John, is that he has admiration for the council officers: “the people who run the council are effective and professional.” It’s something you don’t often hear from councillors in opposition, whose default setting usually seems to be that the council and all who have dealings with them are useless.

Photographs above: Hounslow Council headquarters at Lampton Rd

Vacuum between the Council and residents and businesses

The main part of a councillor’s job is to act as intermediary between the voter and the council. He says council officers actually like helping people but they get a bad rap as there is a “vacuum” between the council and residents and businesses. Take planning for example, probably the biggest single issue in his in tray. “People are daunted by the process. The online portal isn’t very user-friendly”. As a councillor he gets direct access to the planning officers and normally gets a response within seven days. “We have the ability to fast-track stuff” he says, even if the response isn’t always what the constituent wants. “Parking issues are a tremendous source of grievance” he says. He intervened successfully when a woman whose mother had died wanted space for the cortege to park without getting tickets. He says the council officers were only too pleased to help. But can he get traffic wardens to pop a note under the windscreen wipers warning that a resident’s parking permit is about to expire? No. They go straight for the nuclear option, a ticket.

Tommy Cooper’s blue plaque

What is his biggest achievement in the past 12 years? Not a council matter at all as if happens, but a dialogue with English Heritage which resulted in a blue plaque on Tommy Cooper’s house in Barrowgate Rd.

Other highlights? “I loved knocking down the decaying toilets on Turnham Green” he says, which was a joint venture with Rebecca Frayn and the Friends of Turnham Green. (The toilets were replaced with a rockery). Getting the money to cobble the dry dock at Chiswick Mall was another. Pursuing the installation of heritage lighting throughout the borough too.

He welcomes the new blood in the Conservative ranks in Chiswick as “a wonderful fresh injection of ideas, vigour and commitment”. With his record of tackling case work (449 pieces of case work logged in the 2014 – 2018 session) they might take note of what can be achieved even in a minority of 9 to 51 with hard work and a bit of old fashioned courtesy.

Jo Pratt chef & Cookbook Festival co-founder

Jo Pratt, co-founder & organiser of the Cookbook Festival

Profile by Bridget Osborne

August 2018 (Updated August 2019)

Talking to Jo Pratt I realise her book is exactly what I need. The Flexible Vegetarian is for cooks who want to try out vegetarian recipes but may want to add a bit of meat or fish if they feel like it. In any family gathering you’re quite likely to have a teenager taking their first steps to becoming vegetarian and a diehard carnivore who doesn’t consider it’s a proper meal unless there’s meat involved. Jo’s book solves that problem.

Vegetarian dishes are no longer the preserve of wild-eyed zealots hell bent on saving the world. Now that there are interesting vegetarian recipes available, there are plenty of non-vegetarians who like good food, want to eat healthily and are as likely to choose a vegetable dish for a main course as they are a meat dish, and this is being recognised by mainstream cookery writers.

Jo is a TV chef who has worked with big name chefs such as Jamie Oliver, Gary Rhodes, Gordon Ramsay, and John Torode. She’s also the author of six successful cookery books before this one and has recently taken a step into the restaurant world by collaborating with three female chefs, Sophie Michell, Gee Charman and Caroline Artiss to launch The Gorgeous Kitchen, ‘a contemporary restaurant specialising in beautiful global cuisine made with British-grown produce’ at Heathrow’s Terminal 2: The Queens Terminal.

She has always been interested in making food. She went back to her primary school recently she told me and is fondly remembered by the school cook as a little girl always in and out of the kitchen asking for recipes. She didn’t want to work in a restaurant when she finished her Home Economics degree at John Moore’s University in Liverpool. It’s very male dominated she says and the hours are anti-social “you finish at midnight or one am and you don’t want to go straight home so you go out with your co-workers”. It also takes a long time to reach a position where you are able to be at all creative.

Top right – Jo with Melissa Hemsley, Cookbook festival 2018; Middle: Jo with Trine Hehnemann, Cookbook Festival 2019; Festival marquee 2019. Photographs by Charmaine Greiger – charmainegrieger.co.uk

She contacted the BBC’s Good Food Magazine, managed to get work experience there and to stay on. One thing led to another, working behind the scenes on food programmes until she was asked to be on camera. Now she has the experience and reputation to be as creative as she likes and finds that a lot of her ideas come from cooking at home for her husband Phil and two children , who at time of writing are 11 and 9. “The kids are getting more adventurous with their food. We can eat together without the adults having to compromise”. They eat at a restaurant like Wagamama’s and then come home and try and create their own versions of the dishes.

Jo lives locally and met co-organiser of the Cook Book Festival Lucy Cufflin when she wandered into Lucy’s cookery school Ginger Whisk off Turnham Green Terrace a couple of years ago. They became friends and collaborators and in 2018 the Cook Book Festival was born.

Read profile of Cookbook Festival co-founder and organiser Lucy Cufflin

The Flexible Vegetarian by Jo Pratt is available to buy in Waterstones or online here.  Published by Frances Lincoln, an imprint of The Quarto Group.

2019 UPDATE

Jo followed up a year later with The Flexible Pescatarian, available to buy in bookshops or online here.

cookbookfestival.org

Jo’s recipe for Creamy mushroom, leek and chestnut pie

The combination of mushrooms, leeks, chestnuts and thyme are bound together in a silky smooth sauce using fortified Madeira wine, porcini mushroom stock and Jo’s ‘wildcard’ – tofu. ‘Not only does the tofu keep the fat content lower than if you use cream, it also gives a big hit of protein too’. Food Photograph by Susan Bell.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]

Ingredients:

20g dried porcini mushrooms
300g silken tofu
40g butter
2 tbsp olive oil
250g chestnut mushrooms, halved
250g portabella mushrooms, thickly sliced
2 large leeks, sliced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
200g ready to eat chestnuts, roughly chopped
approx. 2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
2 tbsp cornflour
80ml / 1/3 cup Madeira wine
2 tsp sherry vinegar
375g all-butter puff pastry block
flour for dusting
1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tbsp milk (egg wash)
pinch poppy seeds (optional)
flaked sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Time taken 1 hour 15 minutes + 30 minutes soaking. Serves 4

Heat the oven to 200 degrees C / 400 degrees F / Gas 6.

Place the porcini mushrooms in 400ml  boiling water and leave to soak for 30 minutes. Drain and reserve the liquid.

Put the tofu and reserved porcini liquid into a blender or food processor and blitz until completely smooth and creamy. Set aside.

Melt half the butter with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large saucepan over a high heat and fry the chestnut mushrooms and portabella mushrooms until they have browned and softened. Remove from the pan. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the remaining butter and sauté the leeks for a few minutes until softened and just starting to colour.

Stir in the porcini mushrooms, fried mushrooms, garlic, chestnuts and thyme. Cook for about one minute. Mix the cornflour into the Madeira wine to make a loose paste, then add to the pan along with the tofu and porcini ‘cream’. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 3-4 minutes for the sauce to thicken. Stir in the vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a pie dish or individual dishes and leave to cool slightly.

Roll the pastry out on a lightly floured surface until just a little bigger than the dish / dishes. Brush a little egg wash over the rim of the dish / dishes and sit the pastry on top, pressing the edges to seal.  Brush the top with egg wash and scatter with poppy seeds (if using). Pierce a hole in the centre to allow steam to escape when cooking and sit on a baking tray.

Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until the pastry is puffed up and nicely golden. Rest for 5 – 10 minutes before serving.

Stephen Foster antiquarian bookseller

Stephen Foster

Profile by Lucinda MacPherson

March 2019

Photograph: Foster Books, 183 Chiswick High Rd by Ian Wylie

Step through the oldest shop front on the Chiswick High Road and you enter one of the most delightful shopping experiences in London. The listed bay window, which dates back to 1790, is painted bright green and is piled high with vintage books while outside there are £1 paperbacks, maps and assorted paraphernalia giving it the air of a Dickensian curiosity shop. Stephen Foster, the owner, ran his own shop in Marylebone for 25 years before buying the historic premises on the old Bath to London route from his parents William and Mary in 2007. The family have been selling books in Chiswick for almost 50 years. “Amazon and charity shops were making ordinary books worthless. The market became polarised, and I decided to focus on collectors’ items and nicer things.”

“The great thing about this area is that we have lots of local customers who break from their grocery shop on a Saturday to browse, but 25% plus of our business is on the internet. There are so many anonymous retailers on the Internet, people like to know we have a shop.”

Photographs: Foster Books; Stephen Foster by Lucinda MacPherson

It’s reassuring to know that a wonderful shop like Fosters can continue to thrive in a competitive online marketplace, when so many retailers in Chiswick have failed.“Internet business models don’t have people checking for faults, making sure it is complete, or damaged, or should have a book jacket. All our internet stock is in Chiswick, so a number of people who see a book on the net come in to see and touch it in the shop. It enhances the internet business as it gives people confidence that we have been established for so many years and, of course, it’s helpful that it’s such a beautiful shop, with lots of character.”

Stephen’s clients are as diverse as his books, tending to be enthusiasts on a particular subject. The day I met Stephen a man had driven all the way down from Sheffield specifically to pick up an art book. It was a relatively expensive, so he wanted to see it for himself.

Fosters on Film

Clients also include film makers – he recently supplied volumes for the sets of the soon to be released Cold War title, Ironbark, the locally filmed Vanity Fair and a clerk’s office in Peterloo. He also helped with another of Mike Leigh’s films, furnishing Mr Turner, which was Oscar nominated for its sets. You may recall the infamous scene, for which The British Board of Film Classification received the most complaints the year of its release, in which the artist JMW Turner, grunting loudly, takes his long-suffering housekeeper from behind as she clings doggedly on to a bookcase. For any Chiswick literati who failed to focus on the books, Stephen explains they were an interesting selection of good 18th century literature and art. Stephen also hunted down gynaecological medical texts for The Danish Girl and accepted a mission to work on the last two James Bonds “I provided the books for his flat, so my claim to fame is I made 007 look well read!”

Photographs: Rare copy of Harry Potter; page from a 1560 surgical anatomy book of engravings

What makes a book expensive?

“Scarcity and demand. For the first edition of Harry Potter they printed 500 copies, half of which were paperback, with half of the print run going into school libraries. So there are, perhaps, 100 copies in good condition extant of the first edition of that book available to sell to collectors worldwide.”

What devalues a book?

“Condition and incompleteness. If the bindings are damaged by age, it might not be worth restoring it, as it would not be in its original condition. If something is very rare, or has an extraordinary attribution people will forgive it if it’s not in perfect condition; for example, if it’s from Lord Byron’s library. There are plenty of dull, academic books printed in small numbers, but there is no demand for them.”

How to care for your books

Stephen’s advice on caring for books is to keep them away from sunlight, moisture, and excessive heat, and don’t install bookshelves over a radiator, as it will dry the glues out that are holding the spine together on modern books. “Victorians had far draughtier houses, they didn’t have central heating, hung big, heavy curtains to stop the books fading and put their libraries on the North side of the house.”

“The best thing you can do with older books with leather bindings is handle them with clean hands because the natural oil in your hands feeds the leather so it does not dry out. We apply hide food used for saddlery to put suppleness back into the leather of our 18th century calf bindings. There are very few instances when you need to wear gloves, a painted binding or Japanese books on rice paper, for instance, where sweaty fingers could cause damage.

Photographs above: Mick Jagger from the Book of Pinups by David Bailey; Madame Bovary; page from a 1560 surgical anatomy book of engravings

Books range from a £1 for paperbacks, to £4,000 for a 1560 surgical anatomy book of engravings. Other rare collectors’ items are a Book of Pinups by David Bailey with Jagger on the cover which they are having restored and a first English Edition of Madame Bovary for £1600.

The book Stephen would most like to come across?

“The Kelmscott Chaucer must be one of the most beautiful books printed in England. I have had lots of lovely books over the years, but I would love to handle a copy of that book, particularly on vellum. (Full disclosure, I work for The William Morris Society, but swear on the big red bible Stephen is holding here that no money changed hands or pressure was placed on him to say this) Ed. “I’ve come across other titles from the Kelmscott Press, and seen the Folio Society’s beautiful limited edition facsimile, which is on nice handmade paper which sells for £1,000.*

Photographs: Stephen at the bookshop; Suffragettes title

Are any books banned at Fosters?

“It’s a hot topic! And an interesting question….What is it OK to sell? I’ve always felt it’s not our job to censor. If I ever find any c19th anti-Semitic caricatures, for instance, my main collector for those is a Jewish Hasidic collector. If I am doing a book fair in America, if I have anything related to golliwogs I take those with me and American libraries buy them. It’s a terrible part of history, but it is still part of their history.”

Stephen recently sold a two volume set of the speeches of Adolph Hitler which were published by Oxford University Press in England in 1942, printed by the Institute of International Affairs to be given to senior diplomats and senior military, so they could “know thy enemy”.

“That’s an important book, it’s an important academic document. People’s gut reaction is “You shouldn’t be selling that”. But my answer is “No you should, because it shows the mind-set of the time and is an historic document. You navigate stuff on a case by case basis.”

Photographs: Hockney’s Alphabet; illustration for Norman Mailer’s contribution

So what’s on Stephen’s top shelf?

“I’ve never sold filthy mags, but you have to use your judgement. A good example is when Playboy came out in the 60s. You had authors like Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal writing for it. Ian Fleming published some of his Bond within it.

Stephen showed me a copy of Hockney’s Alphabet, a creative and charitable endeavour with the poet Sir Stephen Spender who invited a number of British and American writers to contribute original texts to accompany letters of the alphabet specially drawn for the AIDS Trust by David Hockney. Here’s an extract from Normal Mailer’s response to the letter F, shown above.

“I am working on a novel and it’s acting like most such creatures – insists upon being a wife. You poets don’t know how lucky you are with your one-night stands. This novel is a most possessive matrimonial partner and won’t let me out of her sight for even two days to let me have some fun with the letter F. Incidentally, I am sure you are aware what a compliment you are paying me with that letter – ahhh, the fonts of fucking. Ah, well, some pleasures one must wave to from afar.”

Stephen’s says his other more racy material are books like The Subterraneans and A Clockwork Orange “but don’t put them where children can see them and wouldn’t publicly display them or post photographs on the website that would deliberately offend people.”

I’ve sold 19th Century French erotica, which is fine, but, if I’m honest is strong stuff!”

Foster Books 183 Chiswick High Road London W4 2DR

fosterbooks.co.uk

*A facsimile of The Kelmscott Chaucer and the original printing press on which it was made on can be seen at The William Morris Society Museum – it’s free to visit on Thursdays and Saturdays 2-5pm.

Lucy Cufflin food writer & Cookbook Festival co-founder

Lucy Cufflin, Co-founder & organiser of the Cookbook Festival

Profile by Bridget Osborne

August 2018

There are food festivals up and down the land, but Chiswick has the distinction of being the only place, as far as we know, which has a Cookbook Festival. Organisers foodie entrepreneur Lucy Cufflin and TV chef Jo Pratt wanted to create something  more than just a food festival. They wanted to offer fabulous food but also to celebrate the creators. Lucy feels very strongly that in these days when we can just pull a recipe off the internet, if we don’t buy cookbooks we will lose them. Chiswick already has a well established Book Festival, so under the umbrella of the Chiswick Book Festival they have launched a unique event where not only can you see the authors and hear them talking about their books, but you can also take part in workshops, watch cookery demonstrations and taste the recipes.

Cookbook festival founder and organiser Lucy Cufflin tells the editor of The Chiswick Calendar Bridget Osborne what got her interested in cookery initially and what motivates her to share her passion.

A Cordon Bleu childhood

‘I remember my childhood mealtimes as exciting and delicious. We would be eating Cassoulet , Beef Bourguignon and veal when my school friends would be eating fish fingers and chips. My Mum had a passion for food and had subscribed to the Cordon Bleu Cookery magazine and each month a copy would come through the letter box with a glossy picture on the front of a ridiculously tall and complicated pudding or an exotic savoury. I think this is where my real love of food came from. We all need to eat, so to be able to enjoy eating and take great pleasure in sharing food with friends and family as part of everyday life is a true gift.

On the Piste

‘A change of direction after Art College saw me following my love of food and enrolling at the Cordon Bleu cookery school in London after which I became chef to the British Ambassador in Sweden. After an Embassy weekend ski trip and first time ever on a pair of skis I was hooked, handed in my notice at the end of a year and set off for the French Alps to do a ski season. One thing led to another and the French Alps became my home for the next 15 years running my own ski chalet. The joy of feeding hungry skiers, finding new and interesting local ingredients fired my passion further and I became the go-to person in resort for recipes and food information. I teamed up with Skiworld, a large ski chalet operator, to create a recipe book for their staff and realised what we needed were recipes that worked every single time for every single person, which maximised every minute spent in the kitchen but had fabulous results – and so my fool-proof recipe ethos was born: how to simplify a traditional recipe or how to re-write a classic or simply create and invent my own new recipes.

‘Driven by my belief that everyone can cook and that everyone should be able to enjoy the loveliness of sharing food with friends I adapted, created, collated and wrote hundreds of recipes for Skiworld and each season over 35,000 skiers staying in their 150 chalets across the Alps and in USA would eat my food. No recipe ever made the menu unless it had been tried and tested many times by me, many others, tweaked and re-written and only the most popular recipes made the grade. It has been a labour of love and although I am no longer hands-on with the recipes each year the ethos of the fool-proof recipe has stayed with me and I never publish a recipe without cooking it many times and get at least a good crowd of folk to cook it.

Sharing the love

‘I just want people to feel the joy I feel when I share home-made food. I talk about food all the time and if I am not shopping for it, actually cooking it I must be dreaming about it so I think I am really just a self-confessed foodie.

‘I started my food production company Lucy’s Food when I returned to the UK in 2000 and we produced cakes and sweet goods for cafes, bars and restaurants including the then new style Debenham’s café. I sold the business when it became less artisan due to demand and after writing a couple of cookbooks teamed up with the photographer on my second book (Lucy’s bakes) to start Ginger Whisk Ltd – food photography studios and prop hire adding a small cook school alongside’.

Lucy is now focusing on the Cookbook Festival, which raises money for charity.

Group photograph of the Cookbook Festival committee by Dinis Cruz. Other photographs by Charmaine Greiger  – charmainegrieger.co.uk

The first Cookbook Festival in September 2018 took place in and around Lucy’s cookery school Ginger Whisk off Turnham Green Terrace and St Michael & All Angels Church, Bath Rd. W4. The second one in 2019 spread out on to Turnham Green Terrace with a marquee on the ‘piazza’ and a street party held in collaboration with Chiswick-based community project Abundance London.

Read more about the Cookbook Festival here.

Read profile of Cookbook Festival co-founder and organiser Jo Pratt

Read Lucy’s guest blog about the 2019 Cookbook Festival here.

cookbookfestival.org

Collaborations with Abundance London

In October 2017 Ginger Whisk held a chutney making day with Abundance London, a not-for-profit whose original purpose was to harvest fruit from local gardens which would otherwise go to waste, and make use of it by making preserves and juices. Abundance London has since branched out into creating the mural under the railway bridge over Turnham Green Terrace, the Chiswick Timeline, and to refurbishing the piazza beside it.

Read more about Abundance London here.

Read more about the 2019 Turnham Green Street Party here.