Saturday, July 9, 2011

What A Bloody Environment For A Man Of Imagination


The above quotation is from the late Joseph Tomelty - the Northern Irish actor who starred in the movies Moby Dick and A Kid For Two Farthings and was the author of many works such as the novel Red Is The Port Light, the play All Soul's Night and the classic Ulster radio comedy The McCooeys which provided James Young with his commercial breakthrough. He was also the former father-in-law of Sting. These immortal words are enshrined on the ground of the Writer's Square facing St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast city centre.

I was reading about Tomelty this weekend with regard to Carol Reed's classic Odd Man Out film starring James Mason as an IRA man on the run in late Forties Belfast and in which he also starred. The movie attracted attention from contemporary censors because of the violent content and was certainly a brave attempt at that time to analyse the complex dynamics of political violence. The Irish Republican Army's S-Plan of 1939-40 having entailed a bombing campaign on the mainland which killed five people in Coventry in August 1939 and for which two Irishmen were subsequently hung at Birmingham Prison.

Some extraordinarily insightful pieces of British social history have been published over the past decade that raise similarly interesting question marks about the political and economic state of our nation in the 35 years after World War Two.

It can now be clearly seen that the swinging reforms on abortion, sexuality, censorship, divorce and capital punishment were running well ahead of what was still a deeply conservative British society in the mid-Sixties. Likewise that life during the Seventies was - unless you were in Studio 3 of BBC Television Centre watching The Sweet, Mud, Sparks, The Glitter Band or The Wombles miming to their latest hit record while eating a packet of Spangles or Rancheros - essentially pretty shit. I eagerly await analysis of the complex and insidious developments of the subsequent three decades that have left our society in such toxic, demented and irreversible straits.

If there was a moment in recent years however when I did fall back on some residual hope for the valiant life spirit our once great country it was during a recent trip to Northern Ireland. Normally every weekend when buying my Saturday morning paper here in New London I receive not a single recognition from the female shop assistant for my relatively upbeat weekend demeanour and friendly informality.

In Ulster by contrast I recently bought a copy of the national university's rag magazine in the local newsagent - the said publication full of the ubiquitous dirty jokes and soft-core sexual images. On returning the following morning to buy my Sunday newspaper I was met by the cheery greeting from the same newsagent "So were you abusing yourself over that yesterday then?"

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