The Book of Wag

By Paul Sidey

A remarkable posthumous South London novel from a legendary editor

Friday, 5 June 2015

Failed Film Producer Seeks Work (1)

From Marianne: Dear Friends of Paul,  I have discovered another piece of memoir on Paul's laptop, which I shall share with you in instalments (I've taken the liberty to change some names)...


The title of this piece is not the headline from a card pinned on a board in a newsagent’s window. But I did need work. The company I ran, Horoscope Films Ltd, was doomed. The short film we made had not found a distributor. Creditors, from the Inland Revenue to De Lane Lea Development Services were knocking at the door. And Horoscope was registered at my home address, where I lived with my parents. There was nowhere to run…

In 1965, after three years at Selwyn College, Cambridge, I put on the fur-lined gown, managed not to trip over my feet in the Senate House and accepted a modest English degree, converted a couple of years later, for no additional fee nor work, into an MA. Instead of hunting down a job, I secured a grant to attend the London School of Film Technique, a ramshackle warehouse in Covent Garden, presided over by a man called Robert Dunbar. He had, so the legend went, worked with Carol Reed on THE THIRD MAN. I also happened to have been at university with his son John, who married Marianne Faithful.

It was a pleasant change to be doing something both theoretical and practical after a fairly testing period in the damp fenland area of Cambridge, where male students outnumbered female by ten to one. There was no sexual segregation at the LSFT. It was a relief not to have to climb over spiked railings, in or out of colleges, nor to be chased through the streets (if you were not wearing a gown to distinguish student from town) by an old man, called a proctor, in a mortar board accompanied by two more athletic college servants known as bulldogs, who wore bowler hats. It was good not to be the unspeakable in pursuit of the unbeddable.

I made a succession of films, with the same group of people, and, when the two-year course was over, three of us decided to start our own company. My main partner was an American called James. For some reason, we called each other Jack, and still do. The third member was called Peter. He was a lighting cameraman, and knew what he was doing.

There was a crucial element missing as far as the future was concerned. Finance.

But money, as it turned out, was not hard to find. My father, a retired employee of Barclays Bank, had been friends with an old client called Goldman. A Polish Jew, Goldman had emigrated to America as a young man. ‘You know, son…’ This preamble always preceded all his well-worn stories. ‘I was on deck. All I had was five dollars and the clothes I stood up in. My hat blew off as we passed the Statue of Liberty.’ Goldman eventually made his way to London and went on to become a millionaire, in walnut timber veneer.

He died as a tax exile in Monte Carlo, leaving his widow behind, a woman who never mastered the French language nor ceased to miss her old life in East London. She lived, isolated and unhappy in the aptly-named Hermitage Hotel. There was also a son, Max – twitchy, ambitious reckless. In the days before instant communications, back in 1968, he would drive into town every morning to check the state of the market with his broker.  He would leave me for a couple of minutes in the car on our way to breakfast. As he climbed back in behind the steering wheel, the response was always the same. Clapping his right hand to his forehead, he would cry, ‘Ruined!’

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