Sunday, 9 November 2014

Private Herbert William Purser, 9th Battalion, The Royal Sussex Regiment

My grandfather, Herbert William Purser. 1898-1984
Grandpa's World War One service medal
Page 1 of 22 of Grandpa's personal account of his experiences as a prisoner of war (written in 1927)
Private HW Purser 18642
9th Royal Sussex Regt
37 Councillor St
Camberwell
SE5
Dear Sirs,
In reply to your letter, I have much pleasure in writing these few lines but, being a little depreciative of journalism, you will help in my case. Being captured at Démuin near Villers-Bretonneux on the 30th March at 10am after losing nearly all my comrades 250 strong, only three of us coming out unscathed and from that spot we walked a mile or so meeting a regiment of Prussian guards the officer in charge after questioning us for a minute or so, threatened us three with the point of a revolver to carry a wounded German officer who had been shot through both legs to their nearest dressing station, this being a church a mile or so further on, but after passing by the officer who had spoken to us, before attending the wounded German we got punched and kicked by the private soldiers as they passed by us. After seeing our wounded man safely at the dressing station we were told to carry on walking which we did for another 2 hours.
Still rather hungry, as we had had very little to eat the last 5 days, being mixed up with strays from other regiments and never out of the fighting, at the end of our weary walk which would surely have done us more good to have a rest as we were all dead tired having very little rest one night in 9 days. Eventually we were taken into a large house by a female soldier who was looking out for prisoners where we came across a score or more of our own comrades where we were searched. Rings, watches, photos & correspondence were taken from us. All photos with writing of any description were torn up, others were given back to us with the exception of rings & watches.
From this unknown place we were sent along to Rousel (?) where we were to bury dead for 3 days as fast as we could in bundles of items. From this place we were sent on to Péronne where we worked hard for 600 gms of bread equivalent to one food __ slice of bread with sauerkraut using shovel & pick for 8 to 10 hours a day breaking down a bridge that can open (?) The Somme.
After a fortnight and gradually losing weight oz by oz I was taller,  bad with dysentery and, after being unfit to work by their doctor, spent 3 days in bed. On the fourth I was out at work again only to break down on the walk from our hollen down camp "some houses barbed wire all round with no tops upon them about a mile away, every time I fell out of line I was told to loose(?)" with the butt of a rifle meeting the middle of my back and this is I got at least a dozen times before the day was out. I reported some at camp but nothing came from my complaint, my spirit and friendly telling to my fellow creatures were more than shattered and I swore that my revenge would come on our postern (guard) well within a fortnight or so after our hard task of manual labour had ceased (I being a clerk found this hard work). 
Page 22 of 22
 I thought a blog post about my grandfather's role in World War One would be fitting for today. He was a private in the 9th Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment. He told me he was a sniper and he used a rifle with a telescopic lens to shoot Germans in their trenches when they went to the loo. He also told me that if ever captured as a sniper, it would be instant execution. He was captured, in fact, but luckily managed to rip off his sniper badge just in time. Of his POW experiences, he fascinated me as a child by telling me how he escaped from his POW camp and was on the run for days. He said he hid in bales of hay, and the Germans even prodded the hay with forks but luckily missed him. He said he was still on the run for several days after the war ended but had no idea it was all over.

Yet, in his write up which I only recently read for the first time, it says nothing of the sort!  Now I don't know what to believe.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

BFI Screening of Brazil in the presence of Terry Gilliam himself

Terry Gilliam and me last night 
After our 3-hour lunch, discussing Brazil, back in 1991. Photo taken by Ray Cooper.
"In Terry Gilliam’s distinctly British ‘retro-futurist’ take on George Orwell’s nightmare prophecy, omniscient state bureaucracy runs mad. The film follows low-level technocrat and fantasist Sam Lowry (Pryce) as he attempts to rectify an administrative error that has seen an innocent man arrested while the real ‘enemy,’ Tuttle (De Niro), roams free. All the while, Lowry pursues Jill (Kim Greist), the girl of his dreams. The visual invention, social commentary and dark wit of Brazil still astonishes, in what may well be Gilliam’s masterpiece." James Bell, BFI
How often do you get a chance to have your favourite film introduced by its director, have him watch the film with you and then listen to him discuss it in a Q&A afterwards? Well, almost never, but that's exactly what happened last night for me!

When I saw Brazil for the first time in 1986, it was a major and significant event in my life. It was almost a religious experience for Pete's sake! Since then, the film has loomed large in my life. I've visited many of its filming locations and met many of its cast and crew (several by complete coincidence, including Terry himself back in 1991), but that's a pipe of a different colour. If I was ever to write an autobiography, the Brazil chapter would take up a lot of pages.

So last night was very special for me. I've met Terry many times over the years now, including a 3-hour lunch back in 1991 to talk about Brazil, and I had a nice chat with him last night too. I tried to listen to what he was saying, but it was difficult because of the voice in my head which was louder than his, saying,
"Wow, you're talking with Terry Gilliam! Can you believe that?"
I had to make sure he remembered me first. I was in the front row, clearly visible to him throughout the Q&A and he said that he had been looking at me, trying to figure out why he recognized me. I didn't tell him anything about winning the BFI competition as the biggest Monty Python fan, nor about appearing in Molly Lavik's book because of my Python Passion: "Going Supernova - The Bold Paths of 101 Superachievers", nor did I tell him about the fact that Python has shaped my whole life, influencing my marriage, and that I found my new love through the Monty Python dating Facebook group I set up. Maybe I should have done, but this was his show, not mine.

What I did ask him was where all the Brazil props have ended up. He told me he has one of the masks (I think he meant the one that Michael Palin wore), the flying Sam model and an Executive Toy ("Something  an executive") but he really didn't know where all the rest went. I told him I had heard that the film's producer Arnon Michan has the samurai warrior suit and he had heard the same, and he thinks maybe Arnon has more props too. So, I now want to contact Arnon. How the hell do I do that? Any ideas anyone?

The reason for the film's screening last night? It was part of the BFI's "Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder: Tomorrow’s World" season - which is ironic because Terry explained during the Q&A that he never intended Brazil to be a Sci-Fi film at all. He said it was really a political cartoon that was taking place in a time that was a combination of past, present and future.

I assume Brazil will be back on the agenda next year for its 30th anniversary. One question that never came up during the Q&A was whether Terry thinks Brazil is his masterpiece or whether he's fed up with people going on about it, wishing they would talk about his more recent work. Maybe I'll ask him that next time. What do you think?

The autographs and photos begins even before the film. It was such an informal event and Terry was so approachable.
Terry saying silly things before the film (he couldn't find his seat)


Terry taking his seat
Terry is invited on stage for the Q&A after the screening; he pretends to fall over on going up the steps, of course




Terry and I have a nice little chat


I get to meet Elaine Carew who was one of the make up artists on Brazil.
Ray Cooper was also present (but I've already got a photo with him)
BFI staff told me this rarely happens. The director or celeb usually disappear sharpish after a Q&A. He was so generous with his time. Everybody loves Terry Gilliam!

Thursday, 23 October 2014

The UK Premiere of "German Concentration Camps Factual Survey"




Dr Toby Haggith of the Imperial War Museum, Archive Researcher on the film, third from the left



13th October 2014 - BFI Southbank, London - Now finally complete 70 years late, "German Concentration Camps Factual Survey" is such an important document but it's extremely hard to watch.

Some links:


Thursday, 28 August 2014

I'm 94 years old... am I bovered?

I don't know if you saw it, but there was a news story recently about a 94 year man who still enjoys wing walking! Well, my father, Leonard Berney, happens to also be 94 years old, and he still enjoys a very active life, as you can see:






He says of the wing-walking nonagenarian, "Like me, he's just another silly old fart! Although, I’m not yet silly enough to walk out onto the wing of a plane!"

Friday, 8 August 2014

Monty Python Live (a 20th Century Vole Production)

"Meep!"
A once-in-a-lifetime experience x 4

How quickly the eight months passed from the day the Monty Python Live shows were announced last November to the first show on 1st July! With a little help from my friends, I ended up seeing it four times, and that included the first night and the grand farewell finale on 20th July.

Back in November on the day the tickets went on sale, I did 6 live radio interviews including The Jeremy Vine Show on Radio 2. And on 1st July, in addition to being on two more live radio shows, I was interviewed by the Belgian equivalent of the 9 o'clock TV News: VRT Nieuws.

Monty Python fan John Wood on Belgian TV
Me, mid interview, on Belgian telly! Click the image to watch the interview. Click here to see behind-the-scenes photos of the film crew in my home: https://it.thislife.com/KHXVD2t4

So the day of the first show had finally arrived. In the courtyard at the entrance of the O2 Arena, there was a whole lot of silliness going on. 

Click the image to see more Python Live Silliness photos, including some of Python devotee Emma Thompson and her family!
Just before the show, by chance, I bumped into my old chum André Jacquemin of Redwood Studios (who features heavily in previous posts in this blog), and Sonia Jones who sang the theme tune to Life of Brian. They were just having a breather before curtain up. André, Python's sound engineer since day one, was doing the sound for the show and Sonia was part of the choir and she also played Mrs Betty Teale on VT. It was wonderful to meet her!

Sonia Jones, John Wood and André Jacquemin
And so, I was lucky enough to see the show four times, and all wonderful it was too, although I definitely prefer Lark's vomit to Mouse poo (I'm a purist) and I'm so used to seeing 20-something year old faces doing those sketches. But it's 2014... what did I expect? I was very pleased that so much of the older material was included, as the closest I had previously got to seeing a live Python show was the Secret Policeman's Biggest Ball in 1989. I really loved the new stuff too; essentially the huge dance numbers and notably, the Vagina Song and the Bottom Song.

 Monty Python Live shows (4 nights)
Click the image above for a selection of photos I took of the four performances 
Along the way, I was also lucky enough to get some shots of me with a host of Python-related celebs: 

With Terry Jones' wife Anna Soderstrom
With Polly Parrot, the Norwegian Blue
With John Du Prez, the show's conductor, who composed the score for Monty Python's The Meaning of Life and is the co-author (with Eric Idle) of the music for Monty Python's Spamalot.
With Graham McDuff who has played both Sir Lancelot and Sir Galahad in Spamalot. We first met at the stage door of the Palace Theatre in 2007 and have met at many a Spamalot stage door since.

With Alan Yentob who recently presented the insightful BBC documentary Monty Python: And Now For Something Rather Similar
Over the four nights, I also met up with many Python fans, some for the first time in "real life", two of whom flew all the way from LA just to see the show! That's Professor Molly Lavik who is currently writing a very interesting book (much more on that later), and the up-and-coming actress BreAnna "Bo" Chérie Wittman who is one of the Monty Pythong players. It was so good to meet them both! There was also Sally Western, Chris Butcher, Gemma Harris, Jonathan Gash, Lee Blazer, James Gent (who's also writing a very interesting book) and Hanna Anevik. What a happy bunch we made!

 With Andre & Jamie Lisa Jacqueman
André Jacquemin and his daughter Jamie Lisa (one of the singers) kindly joined us after the show. Click the image above to see more photos. 
 Monty Python fan friends
Gemma Harris, Jonathan Gash and Lee Blazer. Click the image above to see more photos of my Monty Python fan friends
The most memorable night was, of course, the last ever show. It was actually quite a sad moment when Eric Idle, during the encore just before Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, asked the audience to join in to bid them farewell... and then seeing them walk off stage for the very last time. But it's not the end of Python as we know it, because the DVD of the show is coming out in November, and they are bound to release other spin-offs such as books and albums. And there is now at last, a Monty Python online store! Then there's Spamalot which is going on tour from January 2015. And next year also sees the 40th anniversary of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. So it's only Monty Python live which has gone to meet its maker; there's loads more to look forward to!

To conclude, Eric Idle did an incredible job putting the show together - it was a massive hit! And what a treat it was for me! The very thing I've been passionate about for 40 years is suddenly on stage at full blast right in front of me, and it's the talk of the town, not just in London but all over the world due to the live global broadcast of the last show. Pure indulgence.