Don’t let the BBC grind you down

The Sillitoe trail on the Space is visiting five key locations and themes from the novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958). Derrick Buttress has just had his fifth and final essay about the Old Market Square published. Now we move along to our theme for this location: ‘Don’t let the bastards grind you down.’

My initial idea was to see who the ‘bastards’ were in 2012 but this created absolute dread from my mentor at the BBC, Stephen James-Yeoman. He was concerned that I might open myself up to potential libel claims if people started ranting on about corporate conspiracy theories. Instead I adapted Arthur Seaton’s personal credo to the literary establishment, explaining how Alan Sillitoe and Derrick Buttress had transformed the literary landscape by representing working class people on their own terms. Half a century on from the publication of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, the establishment faces a new challenge as authors happily work away at their own digital lathes, setting their own word-counts and publication targets thanks to that publishing button on Amazon.

Nottingham has a long history of rebellion against authority, particularly in the Old Market Square. The most recent visitor to show discontent here was the Occupy Movement. So I commissioned Christy Fearn, a local historical fiction writer, to talk to them before they left and see if she could find a correlation between their cause, Arthur Seaton’s and the Stocking-knitters’ demonstration of 1811/2 that she is currently writing about. She did this through vox pops interviews which were then put together as a short 4 minute film by Tony Roe of Inside Out. The film will now be shown through our social media channels to engage debate. This, again, was not planned. Originally it was meant for The Space itself but because they were moved on shortly before we started the project it felt a little disjointed. I was also concerned that the film didn’t accurately portray the movement due to the quality of people interviewed and therefore may have done more harm to their cause than good. But by using it through our social media channels we have widened the scope of our campaign and hopefully we will be able to continue the debate through Facebook.

I recorded a podcast with Christy Fearn and ‘Tash’ – a photographer who has documented protest movements for the past forty years. I thought the conversation was really interesting and raised some important points, most notably that the media does not provide an effective space for debate and that Occupy were filling that gap. Tash named a specific newspaper and suggested the reason for this was because they were so understaffed that they were forced to rehash PR briefs. I think he’s right but my mentor was worried that this was slanderous. He also felt that I didn’t interject enough to question Tash and therefore it was a biased interview. Consequently, the podcast got scrapped. This will only fuel further conspiracy theories from the Occupy movement that the mainstream media don’t provide a proper outlet for their opinions! This may be true to an extent but I have to take this one on the chin. It’s all John Humphries fault.

The final part of our first event sees Arthur Seaton reacting to the featured writers and themes. I had great pleasure writing this with Neil Fulwood and opted to call it ‘Seaton Rifles’ seeing as he would be firing off his discontent. But again the BBC were overly cautious, expressing concern at Arthur’s desire to blow up the Council House rather than camp outside it. This, of course, is a direct reference to the novel where Arthur mentions he would like to blow up Mortimer’s Hole. To lose this would completely dilute his character and render it unbelievable. I was sent a link to a BBC article about a man who was imprisoned for tweeting he was going to blow up a plane. I felt like I was in a Chris Morris mockumentary.

I don’t think for one moment that the BBC are actually that cautious. It was probably more the case that Stephen wanted me to properly think out every possible worst case scenario. His job is to scare the shit out of me so that I think before I speak. It works, sometimes. We receive mentoring on the Space in the hope that it will equip people with the necessary skills to go on and do future projects. It’s an absolutely fantastic opportunity, as long as you don’t let the BBC grind you down…

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About James

James is the Literature Editor of LeftLion magazine. He is also an academic and a writer who has been published in various magazines and books. This means he spends most of his time in front of a computer screen writing about life instead of living it. Therefore, do not trust a word he says.