Sunday, August 29, 2010


[Prime Minister David Cameron released the first pictures of his new baby daughter this weekend]

Despite the fact that it’s his fourth time round the block, I guarantee that David Cameron will be finding Florence Rose Endellion quite a handful. No hands-on father with a day job could possibly find it otherwise.

I’m assuming he is hands-on, of course, and that Florence isn’t being looked after by a phalanx of nannies. After all, the importance of parenting was one of the Tories’ main election platforms. Didn’t they even have some proposal for child-sharing, with both parents enjoying periods of paternity and maternity leave so that each could experience the thrill of rearing? I doubt that idea will find itself on the statute books in the near future, else we’d be seeing rather too much Clegg on the television for Mr Cameron’s liking.

However there are reports that our prime minister is taking his parental responsibilities very seriously, even preparing himself for the ordeal by enlisting the help of a specialist father-to-be trainer. What a wonderfully modern notion: I wonder how you get a teaching job like that – do you have to have lots of children to qualify, or can you learn it at evening classes? If such a fathering guru had been available in Morpeth, there’s no doubt Jo would have sent me on an intensive course. Although she is always very loyal to me in public, I’m sure my wife could never have predicted how utterly useless a man with five children might be when faced with just one baby daughter.

There’s a website in the United States called, established because, they claim, “Dads don’t always think like Moms”. They’re not kidding. While supermums live in a world of neat sock drawers, baby wipes and set bedtimes, underdads like me don’t worry about little things like cleanliness or safety, precise times or putting on the right clothes.

We love throwing chocolate-covered babies high in the air and hearing them giggle; we dress them in yesterday’s pyjamas and demand a medal when we’ve changed a nappy, which we’re happy to do so long as it’s only one and doesn’t contain the wrong sort of effluent. Sometimes we forget bathtime altogether and treat our babies like teenagers, letting them watch TV till late, eat pizza, and open dangerous kitchen cupboards at will. My notion of discipline is to say no until Izzy cries and then immediately say yes: it works every time. Dads like me wouldn’t know how to sort out a sock drawer if we knew where it was – which we certainly don’t.

After so many children, I shouldn’t really plead ignorance as an excuse, except that, try as I may, I can’t seem to remember a single thing about childrearing. Although she politely asks for my advice on everything, Jo has learned to ignore the learned voice of experience, largely because it’s invariably wrong. The mysteries of controlling, feeding, and generally keeping alive a one-year-old remain secret, despite having observed the entire process at close quarters on four previous occasions.

Meanwhile the Californian rock chick I met seven years ago has, without any training or prior knowledge, transformed into the world’s perfect Mum.

I’m not saying this because it’s our first wedding anniversary today (yes, against the odds and to the bewilderment of some of my oldest acquaintances, Jo has agreed to stay married to me) but because I’m astounded that I could have been so unbelievably lucky as to have fallen in love with two perfect girls, my wife and my daughter.

As for Mr Cameron, once he returns to work after his paternity leave, he could do a lot worse than spending some of the money saved from NHS Direct on supplying free daddy-trainers for every new father. That would certainly win him the mums’ vote at the next election.

{All photos copyright Pam Hordon}

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Picture Perfect

Well, actually it’s far from perfect, but rather better than I looked two months and 20 pounds ago. Here’s the proof:

It was a close run finish. Dr Dukan always conceded that followers of his diet regime might need a little wholewheat to get the system moving from time to time. He’s not kidding.

I rather panicked at the last moment because I weighed myself last night and was still well over a pound short of the target. I suspected this was because of the constipation caused by my relentless diet of morning cardboard (see recipe in an earlier posting) and dry lunchtime chicken. However much fresh garden salad I consumed, nothing shifted the bloating.
So I opened my first loaf of bread since June and it did its stuff within half an hour. Sorry to be so basic, but they say blogs should be truthful – and some of you have shared this journey with me for the whole 64 days. I've also had several emails from people who've been inspired to join the regime. Good luck to you all.

As the photographer arrived I weighed in at 195.4 lbs. This is the lightest I’ve been since I was going out with Anneka Rice in the mid-90s. Even then Ms Rice complained about my weight (in fairness, during the relationship I had expanded from 185 pounds, which was, and is, my “true weight” for my height and build). I remember her saying one morning, rather cruelly, but I confess accurately, that I was looking pregnant: this, just as I got out of the bath. That could well have been the beginning of the end.

I began a diet that day, but failed as miserably as I have in subsequent attempts, including the one where Michael Grade and I competed with the Controller of BBC1 and sent each other cakes and messages to try and put each other off. I’ve described that journey, and my failed 2008 attempt to emulate it, in another post.

Alright, a more cynical reader, or indeed an ex-girlfriend, might point out that I look as pregnant now as I did then, but I do feel that my YuKan diet has been a resounding success. I genuinely feel better, lighter, healthier and everything else I promised myself. More importantly, I’m proud of my family snaps, the first of which is published here and more of which will appear later this week on this blog.
They were a nightmare to shoot.

The talented photographer, Pam Hordon, was an angel. Unlike Izzy, who had no desire to be part of the polite and formal family group shot that Jo and I had envisaged. She insisted on sprinting round the garden instead of sitting quietly on my lap. Thus the “sitting” became a running.

The shoot reminded me of a film I made about the Walton Sextuplets, which included a photo session with Lord (Patrick) Lichfield attempting to take a family portrait in a formal garden on their second birthday (here's one of the more successful pictures which has been scanned onto a fanzine site). The shoot was a glorious nightmare, with Lichfield waving a little bird at them, which they all studiously ignored. Just as he was set to take the picture, one of the six would run off into the distance. Miraculously, Patrick managed to get all six looking at the camera at the same time, and the Waltons were far better behaved than Izzy. It was fortunate that Pam was more than a match for her.

The pictures show a leaner, more sprightly man than before: still just as old, of course, but perhaps more ready to enjoy the next round of fatherhood with my beautiful young wife and my gorgeous, if rather exhausting, daughter.

I shall be attempting to remain at this weight for some time, despite Dr Dukan’s exhortations for me to carry on down to my “true weight”. Jo doesn't want me to carry on: she thinks I'm just fine as I am. Or maybe she just wants her life back.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sheep-Jumping At The Olympics?

My wife Jo is not someone you’d normally describe as a country girl. She claims to have seen neither sheep nor cow during her childhood in Beverly Hills. I can well believe this, judging by the screams of wonderment when she first spotted a herd of cattle shortly after her arrival in the UK. “They’re absolutely huge”, she told her mother.

The fact that Jo has survived four years of living on an isolated farm in Northumberland is testimony to the strength of our relationship. She’s still pretty wary of approaching the animals directly, particularly cows, whom she (rightly) suspects of being moody, unpredictable and downright dangerous. “The only good cow is medium-rare”, she says, and, having had the neighbour’s herd force themselves through a gate into our ripe hayfield last week, I agree.

Jo has endured bats, mice, bulls and all manner of rural indignities during her time in the UK, but I don’t think she’s ever quite forgiven me for the sheep-jumping incident. It was five years ago, during our first summer in London. We were driving through rural Cambridgeshire to lunch with my half-brother when we passed a paddock laid out with pony jumps; in the corner of the field a few sheep were lazily grazing. “Look!” I said excitedly, “Sheep jumpers.”

Jo made me slow down as her brain took in this information. “You’re not telling me they have to jump over those hurdles?” “Yes, it’s a big sport in this part of the world – the land’s flat and dull and so are the people. It’s how they liven up their weekends, training their sheep to jump. They even have championships: animals come from miles around to compete.”

She was suspicious at first. But once I’d outlined the rules of the sport, explaining how they use sheepdogs to nip the lambs’ heels in training till they get the idea, she was hooked. I warmed to the subject: “You know how you wear woollen sweaters in winter? Over here we call them jumpers: they’re named after the sport.” It was a long journey.

One sly wink and my half-brother joined in the fun. “Oh, it’s such a shame you’re not here next week: we’ve got the European Sheep Jumping Championships in Kimbolton just down the road. Thousands of them are coming from all over the continent, including the Greek champions.” “I hear the Jerseys are pretty strong this year”, added my nephew… and so on, for an entire lunch. By the end of the meal, we couldn’t contain ourselves and confessed through fits of giggles.

My wife’s gullibility is one of her most endearing features, but I had to swear never to tell that story in public. However this week I couldn’t resist. Because yesterday morning we were just pulling out of our driveway when we spotted our neighbour carrying a piece of foam and some string.

“What’s that for, Dick?” I asked. “Sheep racing”, he said gloomily. “I’m measuring up for the saddles.”

Apparently a friend of his had come up with a bright idea for the Whalton Village Show on the 18th September and Dick, being one of Britain’s most distinguished sheep vets, has been designated race organiser.

“I’ve no idea how to make them run”, he moaned. “How about sheep dogs running behind to nip their heels?” I suggested, just managing to dodge the side of Jo’s fist as it whistled towards my cheek. “Presumably they’ll have names like Sheargar and Red Ram? Will it be a Sheeplechase?” Dick nodded: “Sheep are pretty good at jumping.”

In Waitrose’s car park in Ponteland there’s a poster advertising the event. I reckon it’s going to be the sporting highlight of the year. I wonder if I should invite my half-brother? No, he’d never believe me.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Not All Fat Ladies Are Pregnant

I have a terrible confession about a major weakness of mine – a paranoia, even. I can spot a close acquaintance on the other side of the street and, mid-hail, will stop myself from saying his name – just in case I’ve confused him for someone else.

So, to avoid potential embarrassment, I utter a strangulated “Hi there” and wait for him to acknowledge me. Often confirmation of the person’s true identity takes several minutes. I can’t just say “How’s Dorothy?”, or “Are you still with the Gas Board?”, just in case my friend isn’t the friend I think he is, or isn’t married to the right person, or in the right job. So I tend to come out with phrases like “How are things?” and wait for a clue in his reply to reassure myself that I’m both talking to the correct person and that I really do know what he does, who he lives with and all the other essentials to ensure safe ongoing discourse.

This long established fear of awkwardness and humiliation would keep a psychotherapist in new couches for life, I’m sure. Something in my childhood, some terrible mortification long hidden behind a mask of uncertainty, will have prompted this terrible discomfort. My two years of therapy in California failed to grapple with it: I had bigger skeletons from my past to uncover.

In the 1980s I made the world’s worst talk show producer because I could never recognise any of the guests. I once told a well-known artist in the Groucho Club how much I liked his movies. He replied “I like Lindsay Anderson’s work too, but sadly I’m not him”. I was so distraught, he sketched a portrait of me which he gave me “to remind me who I am”.

So, as a result of this perverse obsession with identity, I’ve always been very careful about what I say to anyone. Most of all, I keep quiet about their appearance. I’ve even stopped saying how well people look since a former work colleague whom I did recognise (also in the Groucho Club) revealed, after receiving my congratulations on his slim physique, that he’d just been diagnosed with cancer. Sadly I read that he died last Sunday.

So imagine my surprise when three people in the last 24 hours have had the courage to come straight up to me and declare, bold as brass, how much weight I’ve lost. I’m full of admiration – for them, not me. I’d be too scared to say that to anyone for fear of the consequences. But why only three, and why in the last 24 hours, when I’ve been hovering around this weight for a week and a half? Maybe they are secret readers of this very blog?

Tomorrow I’m going to wear a big badge with “The Diet's Over – Yes, I’ve Lost Nearly 2 Stones - Congratulate Me!”. But first let's take the photographs: so I can carry the proof with me forever.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Fashion Victims

Like the discarded heroes of Toy Story 3, for years my Size 34 jeans had been lying neglected at the bottom of a dark drawer, underneath the unworn jogging shorts. Yesterday I yanked them into the sunlight.

It’s been almost two months since I started my diet. Shamed into action by a trip to Thin City – Los Angeles – I embarked on a weight loss programme by Dr Pierre Dukan (whom I call Dukant, because that seems to be his sole mantra).

My aim was to lose 22 pounds by next Saturday, when a photographer is coming to take a family portrait. This was a clever Father’s Day gift from my wife, who knows full well that I wouldn’t want my lardy lines immortalized forever in a photo.

So began the protein-only nightmare that I’ve been summarising in my other blog With less than a week to go, I can happily report that I am just a couple of fat-free yoghurts away from my target.

I’ve lost over 20 pounds in 7 weeks: I started at 15 stone 5 pounds, but I’m now exactly 14 stone. Compared to a premier league footballer I’m still more Lurpak than six-pack, but, apart from the evidence of my bathroom scales, the tangible proof is the four inches that have disappeared from my waistline. The result: nothing fits.

So this week I’ve been searching out the clothes I carefully stored away when I finally admitted defeat in the battle of the bulge. I didn’t officially graduate from size 34 until 2005, though I should have done so ten years before. Since then, the girls in the jeans shops have looked at me disbelievingly when I demanded 36. They were right: it’s amazing how tight you can pull a belt when your waistline hangs over the top. Forever in denial, I refused to dump the old ones, ever hopeful that they might come in useful. But then, I never throw anything away.

I’m an incorrigible hoarder. There’s a drawer in the kitchen with all manner of useful things. This morning’s inventory comprised:

4 packets of unpronounceable prescription drugs well past their sell-by date
2 dried-up tubes of glue
4 plastic napkin rings
3 tiny screwdrivers and a keyring – all from Christmas crackers
4 torches with dead batteries
20 new A4 batteries, mixed up with 20 old ones (I’ve no way of telling which is which)
3 ancient mobile phones, without chargers

1 brand new carbon monoxide alarm (bought in 2007)
5 sets of chopsticks from Chinese takeaways
31 keys from long-forgotten houses, cars, sheds and bicycles
1 half-empty packet of broad bean seeds, expiry 2009
8 packets of unopened cut flower food
1 Farrow and Ball paint chart
7 picture hooks without nails

They’ll all still be there a year from now.

That’s the contents of just one drawer. I have stashed useless junk all over the house; the garden shed is an embarrassment, my tool-box overflows with spare bits, and the bathroom has a cupboard piled with shampoo from every hotel room I’ve ever visited.

All this is based on the philosophy, doubtless learned from my mother, that nothing should ever be thrown away. Well, she was wrong. Because this morning I put on the jeans and strutted downstairs to show Jo.

“Look”, I proclaimed proudly, pointing down to where my stomach used to be. She looked horrified. “Take those off immediately”, adding darkly, “and never, ever, wear them again”.

I looked in the mirror: she was right. Tight thighs, flares: I must have bought them in the 80s.

I’ve put them back in the drawer, just in case 80’s Retro comes back or we get invited to a fancy dress party. They’ll lie there beside their size 36 cousins, who are convinced they won’t be there for ever. Rejected for now, as Jo and I go off to the mall to buy me a new wardrobe, they’ll be waiting smugly for the inches to go back on once this wretched diet fades into history. I just hope they’ll be completely out of fashion by the time that happens.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Saving The Film Industry

In 1993 I was invited to become chairman of PACT, the body that represents every film and television producer in the UK. Although my experience was limited to the small screen, I had to write to the membership setting out a strategy for helping both sides of the production spectrum.

TV was easy: as someone who’d left the north east after school and spent his entire career in London, I wanted to help my colleagues who’d remained in the regions. So we started a campaign that led directly to the BBC and Channel 4 quotas for programmes produced outside the M25: they exist to this day, and have resulted in thousands of hours of regional production.

Film policy was tougher to get my head around, because I knew nothing about the politics of the industry. I asked the chief executive of PACT, John Woodward, what British cinema needed most. He said simply, “More British films”. Apparently more than 95% of all films shown in UK cinemas were American. “What we need are tax incentives to bring money into UK film production”.

“Well, that’s easy”, I said naively, “all our MPs will find it appalling that we’re feeding our children a diet of American movies. It’s a cultural argument.”

John shook his head. It wasn’t as simple as it looked. The Conservatives had never looked kindly on film luvvies: many of our stars names were openly left of centre and frequently showed up at Labour fund-raising events. And the cultural argument was a non-starter: one only had to look at the isolationist French film industry, producing esoteric films at a huge cost in public subsidy. Nor could we use anti-American sentiment: our cinemas were controlled by the American distributors, so we had to carry Hollywood with us.

This needed to be a commercial, not cultural, argument. There were huge financial benefits to the economy from film production, and we had to convince the government that our industry was capable of making big profitable blockbusters as well as art house classics.

So one morning in 1994 John and I hosted a press conference in the Savoy Hotel, with Michael Winner on one side, Tim Bevan of Working Title on the other, and men in ties from Warner Brothers and Paramount nodding tacit approval; together we launched a campaign for tax breaks for British films.

It was the first time the entire film industry had come together with a united voice. But it took many years of lobbying and a change of government before the campaign succeeded. To persuade Gordon Brown, we produced a complex financial model that showed the economic benefits that would derive from a relatively modest tax concession.

We got our sums right. Since the breaks were brought in, the proportion of UK films shown in our cinemas has more than tripled to 17% and British films now contribute £4.3 billion a year to our economy.

So it’s not surprising there’s been such a universal outcry to the knee-jerk decision of the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to axe the body set up to make the whole thing work: the UK Film Council. Run by the very same John Woodward who masterminded our original PACT campaign, the organisation was set up in 2000 as the cornerstone of the revitalised industry. Since then box office takings have increased by 60%, and, more importantly, over 8% of that revenue has been spent on British “indie” films. Currently 44,000 people are directly employed in film, with a further 95,000 working on ancillary services. It’s a multi-billion industry that’s the envy of the rest of the world.

Now, thanks to one ill-judged government announcement, the future of British film is in jeopardy. It’s no wonder that stars, technicians and film-lovers everywhere are up in arms.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

No Saga Holidays For Me

[This week the government announced a change in the retirement age law. Companies will no longer be allowed to automatically retire people at the age of 65.]

So now I don’t have to retire when I’m 65? Phew, that’s a relief. I wasn’t looking forward to having that awkward conversation with myself in 7 years time when I’d have had to say apologetically that I wasn’t needed any more – not because my ideas had become old-fashioned or my brain too slow, but because the law said I could be sent out to pasture like an old horse. Like most people who run their own businesses, I have no concept of what retirement actually means.

On the day I joined the BBC in 1973 I expected it would be a job for life. The pension scheme promised you two-thirds of your final salary when you finally handed back your ID card at the age of 60. I kept mine as a souvenir (Staff Number 155658) when I quit to start my own business at 32. Technically I’m already a pensioner, because the BBC now pays me a pittance based on the final salary I was receiving back then. It would just about buy a subscription to Saga magazine.

Of the five trainees who joined on the same day as me, most stayed much longer and did amazingly well: one is even a Lord. I guess their BBC pensions are worth a lot more now.

Me? I’m back where I was in 1984: trying to earn a crust as an independent producer. The problem is that all the editors I pitch to are young; many are younger than my son. They’re commissioning programmes for their bosses the licence payers, half of whom are considerably older than me. Most viewers are over 50, so I think I have a right to carry on making programmes, if only for them. And my own life expectancy gives me another 23 years of potential production.

Besides, with maturity comes a better understanding of what life is about. I was so busy in the eighties and nineties that I raced through my children’s growth and my marriages, never stopping to take a breath. I lived in London, which is no place for a real human being. In those days I would no more have considered relocating back up north than the current BBC staff who are making such a fuss about moving to Salford.

Right now I’d like nothing more than to stop and savour a million things I’ve not made time for. I want to learn the names of all the plants and birds in my garden; I want to read all my unopened books and have one of my own join them; I want to cook more, learn to play jazz piano, and laugh and love through another lifetime of experiences with my wonderful wife. Above all, I want to enjoy every moment of Izzy’s childhood.

Retirement would give me the time, yet I know that none of these things are incompatible with holding down a full time job. It’s all a question of balance. Like the spokes on a bicycle wheel, all the elements of life – career, health, family, love, fun, community and spirituality – are equally essential. Sadly it takes a lot of mistakes to realise that.

My father couldn’t retire either. He was “let go” in his sixties (“Sorry, Bert, we simply can’t carry you any more”, ran the curt letter I discovered with horror one day in a drawer). Soon bored with his allotment, he became a part time bookkeeper. He clearly knew a great deal more about business than any of the people who were hiring him. One of his clients, a restaurant, was losing money and Dad quickly worked out why: the manager was squandering the profits. So they offered Dad the job instead. That’s why, when most people his age were mowing the lawn, he was a happily full-time restaurateur till the day he died.