A CENTURY IN STONE
Aug / Sept 2005
(A first draft was published in the Evening Gazette, Sept 2005)
From the very beginning, I wanted to push my luck as far as possible to get the film seen and get the story back on the map. After packing out the clubs, halls and UGC; and then the DVD/VHS sales going ballistic, people were asking me if the film had gone as far as it could go. The answer was not quite. I wanted to take it to Australia and show it in the shadow of the Teesside iron and steel industry’s most famous monument: the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The show would be an epic tribute and screening zenith for the film.
I began approaching independent distributors in Australia in April. None would touch it. Then the Sydney Film Festival rejected it. I tried a more direct approach to just call cinemas up. There was one I had heard about called Dendy. It was on the harbourfront opposite the bridge and next to the Opera House. I got through to the manager and gave him the hard sell of my life. He wasn’t interested at first but I talked him round and he got back to me with a hire deal: 4 days for 3 grand and I take all the door. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I bit his hand off and booked it.
I’d also had a fair few emails from Perth where apparently there was a large number of Teesside ex-pats. I called The FTI cinema in nearby Fremantle. When I told them I had a booking at the famous Dendy in Sydney Harbour, they offered me 4 days with a percentage split on ticket sales. I could live with that! That got me thinking…what if I did Melbourne and Adelaide along the way and made a road trip out of it? It was wildly ambitious but something on such an international scale, I was sure would bring in sponsorship, more publicity and more DVD sales. Whatever happened, it would be a great adventure! I stayed up all night calling indie cinemas in both cities. A mix of door splits and hire deals, that were easier on the pocket than Dendy, were on the table. By 5am, Melbourne and Adelaide in the bag and Brisbane too. I had a coast to coast tour! 5 cities in 5 weeks with the grand opening at Sydney Harbour on August 1st. I was so pumped, I skipped a whole night’s sleep. Like Praed’s famous quote “The iron of Eston has diffused itself over the world”, the film was going to have a go at doing the same!
My bold venture was going to cost about £12,000. I pulled in over £9,000 in no time from Northern Film and Media, UK Trade & Investment, Middlesbrough Council and the ISTC steelworkers union; and I put in the remainder.
I wrote to the Lord Mayor of Sydney as I wanted to present a DVD as well as some other Teesside cultural gifts. MFC kindly arranged for Sydney-born Boro keeper Mark Schwarzer to present us with a signed shirt. We were both interviewed on Boro TV. I was well impressed by Schwarzer who talked about how important it was for schoolkids in Sydney to know the story as well as those in Teesside.
Tony Poynter of the ISTC arranged a superb cast-iron blastfurnaceman figure that bore the inscription “Presented to the people of Sydney by the ISTC Steelworkers Union of Middlesbrough, England whose labour provided the steel for the Sydney Harbour Bridge”. Absolute quality. It looked better than an Oscar on my mantlepiece.
Harrison Flags in Darlington did us discount on a 13-feet long ‘Made in Teesside’ banner that I designed for a special photo opp. once we got to Sydney. I sent posters to all the cinemas, 300 DVDs to the Dendy to sell on the road and promo DVDs to the media in each city. Finally, after weeks and months of manic preparation, me and my compadre Ted Flint were ready for the off…
July 26th – Radio Cleveland called us live on the air for a quick interview seconds before we boarded at Heathrow. They wished us well and we were soon on our way. The 11,000 mile journey was a grueller. After 28 hours and a stop off in Japan, Cook’s Botany Bay finally came into view and we touched down on Terra Australis. We were met by our host, my old mate Andrea Simpson from Eaglescliffe, who lived just 10 minutes down the road.
The next morning, with brutal jetlag, we made our presentation at the Lord Mayor’s office in the splendid Sydney Town Hall. We received a warm welcome from Councillor Black and his colleagues. They in turn presented us with gifts to deliver to the Mayor of Middlesbrough on our return.
Our schedule was frantic. We had just a few days to chase up our press release sent a few days before we left. The response was disappointing! We had put an advert in the Sydney Morning Herald but getting editorial proved not so easy in such an epic city with so much going on. ABC Radio and another paper said they were interested and would get back to us. They didn’t. It was like starting over again. Dendy told us about a weekly film review show on national ABC TV called ‘At the Movies’. I called them up. They genuinely loved the story but told us we had missed the filming deadline by a day. We really should have been there a few weeks in advance to really bang on at them all.
We next went to check out the harbourfront and cinema. On arrival we were acosted by a young James Cook in full garb selling tickets for a harbour cruise. We quizzed him about where he was born…”Erm…erm…Great Ayton!” he spluttered in an Aussie accent. “Wrong!” we pounced and he said “Oh yes Marton thats right…I haven’t been back there for 200 years”. Great fun!
To finally be standing there with the bridge and opera house in front of us was an incredible sight but to turn round and see ‘A Century in Stone‘ up in lights was definitely one of the most surreal moments of my life.
We met some lads in Boro shirts buying tickets for the film and we took the banner photo (top of page). We wanted to get the banner onto the bridge but following a recent Anti-Iraq war protest on the roof of the Opera House there were security guards all over the place so we decided to leave it for the time being…
The Dendy was plush. The projection and sound equipment top class. The film had never looked or sounded so good. Seeing the old miners up on this huge screen, 11,000 miles from Eston, was emotional! We got about 90 in the first day which Dendy told me was good for a Monday. I dedicated the first show to the Dorman-Long miners of Eston, North Skelton, South Skelton, Lumpsey, Kilton and Lingdale; and the steelworkers of Britannia, Cleveland, Clay Lane and Redcar. I felt my voice crack a bit when I read them all out. I got a standing ovation at the end. There was a fair bit of emotion from the crowd too afterwards. People were so pleased that we had brought the film there. Most were ex-pats, some had left Teesside years ago and had never been back. Others were just curious Australians. “We’ll never look at our bridge in the same way again” said one of them. “The old miners should have had subtitles” said a few of them! There were familiar faces too such as my old art college mate Andy Devine who emigrated in the 90s and Peter Chapman, my old flat mate from Northumbria Uni, who I didn’t even know had emigrated. He told me he saw the advert in the Sydney Morning Herald and did a double take. After the film, we all sat on the patio outside the Opera House and raised a few jars. The bridge was all lit up and Captain Cook cruised by. Perfect !
On the opening night, there was a group of younger people in the back row taking notes as they watched the film. They were from ‘Bridge-Climb’ and they invited us to a VIP climb on the bridge – on the house!
What a trip it was. We donned the safety suits, were clipped onto the safety rail and began climbing the steps. That was emotional too! We reached the top of the arch to breathtaking views of the stunning harbour and city. The guides told us how every day they tell people about Dorman-Long and Middlesbrough and that they have actually had people from Middlesbrough unaware of the link! I wasn’t surprised one bit. When you see ‘Dorman-Long Middlesbrough’ stamped on the girders, it really hits you how utterly incomprehensible it is that Middlesbrough has failed to let the world know where this global icon came from. There is no monument or public art depicting the bridge anywhere in Middlesbrough. And it is the perfect theme for celebrating Middlesbrough’s past as well as making a statement that the place (symbolically at least!) is connected to a wider world and not just some isolated provincial town.
The shows were greatly received as always but the turn out could have been better but then given poor media response it was no suprise. Our breakthrough did come with national paper ‘The Australian’ doing a great feature but by the time it hit the streets, we were bound for Brisbane…
Teesside folk legend Vin Garbutt had been touring here for years. He put us in touch with his Brisbane publicist Middlesbrough-born Jan Nary. She and husband Gary picked us up from the airport. They made us feel right at home. Jan used to work for ABC radio and tried to get us on the air but even she had no luck but we did get on a local community station.
The cinema in Brisbane was The Schonnel. The crowds were smaller, about 25 a show but the reception still great. I met the sister of Boro Chairman Steve Gibson and several ex-pats trooping the colour in Boro shirts. A guy from Skelton called John also introduced himself. He told me he was visiting family in Northern Queensland and had flown down to see the film. Only 800 miles. Amazing!
The other Brisbane highlight was meeting 94-year old Syd Lincoln. He worked in Eston mine when he was a lad and emigrated just after the war. A month before, his daughter Barbara had sent me a VHS tape with a video message from Syd telling me how much he liked the film and that he wanted to meet me when I came over. How could I not? He lived a couple of hours North of Brisbane. We drove up, passing the superb Glasshouse mountains before finding Syd at a retirement home in the hills. It was great to meet him. We set up the camera and recorded him. He told us, in an accent undiluted after 60 years, how he had emigrated by boat and sailed under the Sydney Harbour Bridge on arrival. It was bizarre listening to him talk about Dormans and the pit so far from home and with wild parrots flying about our heads!
Our next stop was The Lumiere in Melbourne. As we were getting ready to leave for the airport we got a call from the manager. He told us that the place had gone bust and was now in the hands of the receivers! It was the day before opening and we were flying to no show. Ironically it did get us some publicity. We called the Melbourne papers when we got there and broke the news about The Lumiere and our predicament. The next day a piece appeared about “stranded British filmmaker needing a venue”. The mobile went nuts. We found ourselves on two radio stations amid debates (not that we were experts!) on the decline of independent cinemas across Australia. One bloke called the show and suggested we go down to the Comrades Bar at Melbourne Trades Hall. It sounded appropriate so we checked it out. We got a warm welcome from manager Paddy Garrity. It only turned out that he was born in Greatham near Seaton Carew! He was delighted to put the film on. He gave us two nights and printed us a load of posters for free.
The building was palatial, a bit like the old Royal Exchange in Middlesbrough but without the grime. The interior walls were bedecked with historic banners and murals. The place was a hive of trade union offices, community groups, left-wing theatre, art and film shows. On the roof there was a radio station broadcasting from a hut. There I met Comrade Jacob who interviewed me while the red flag and aboriginal flag flew above. Melbourne I discovered had a radical history. Back in the 1860s, the first successful campaign in the world for a legislated 8-hour working day was fought and won from this very building. I wonder if the Eston miners heard about it back then?
The next day we went to a public park called Fitzroy Gardens to see “Australia’s oldest house”. It was once lived in by a certain Cook family. That was because it stood in Great Ayton until the 1930s when it was bought by a bloke from Melbourne and exported there brick by brick and rebuilt. We told the two staff where we were from. They let us in for free and we in turn let them into the film for free. The shows pulled in about 40 odd each night. The Q&As were full on, veering from historical to full on political which was no surprise given the venue. It was a fascinating place.
After two weeks, it was time for my colleague Ted to head home and for me to get to Perth, over 2,000 miles away on the West coast. I hired a car in Melbourne and drove along the Great Ocean Road passing the spectacular ’12 Apostles’ coastline. I saw my first kangaroos bouncing around and lots of dead ones at the side of the road. I did plan to drive all the way to Perth crossing the vast Nullabor desert. But time was a bit tight so I flew from Adelaide…
The cinema was part of the Film & Television Institute in the bohemian suburb of Fremantle. FTI was a well established hub for the local filmmaking community. There were studios, courses, equipment hire and a media bus which was taken into the bush to make films with aboriginal communites. At FTI, I talked to my first aborigine, the actor David Ngoombujarra who was in ‘Crocodile Dundee’ and the Kenneth Branagh film ‘Rabbit-Proof Fence’. He asked where I came from. I told him, with a wry smile, from the same place as Captain Cook. He joked “Whoaaaa…a bad white fella!” It was in Fremantle that the aborigines were most noticeable. Incredibly they didn’t get the vote until 1967. White attitudes have radically improved in recent years, especially amongst the younger generations but problems of social exclusion, alcoholism and poverty prevail. (David Ngoombujarra was sadly found dead in a Fremantle park in 2011 aged just 44).
I had higher expectations for Perth plus we’d had a good write up in ‘The West Australian’. But the first night just 11 people showed. It was the lowest turn out for the film ever! What a downer. One good thing was another old boy from Eston turning up called Bob Carman. He told me he was the son of a miner and was actually born on Eston Nab at Quarry House back in 1918. This was a ramshackle old cottage up by the Nab that was demolished sometime between the wars. What a contrast to the fabulous modern city he had emigrated to!
The next morning, I made a determined effort to get on ABC radio. I called up the producer and he happened to be an ex-pat from Bolton. I promised not to mention Boro beating Bolton in the Carling Cup Final if he got me on the air. It worked and I was booked on for the next day. The presenter Russell Woolf was a celebrity round these parts and a hoot. This was a prime-time 5pm plug and it worked a treat. That evening we had people queuing out the door! We had a near full house for the remaining 3 nights and the DVDs were flying out. Not bad going for what I was told was geographically the most-isolated city on earth! The film was also shown again a few months after I left.
Next stop was The Mercury in Adelaide. Known as ‘The City of Churches’, it was a city of radio stations for me. I got on 6 including 3 community stations. These have been a big tradition across Australia for decades. 3D-Radio was the most well known. It broadcast from an ordinary house with suprisingly simple equipment. A diverse range of shows were put on by volunteers around the clock, 365 days a year. All ages and backgrounds got their weekly 2 hours in the hotseat. Why we don’t we have community radio like this in the U.K ?
I also got on ABC Adelaide with ease once I mentioned I had been on ABC Perth. They took calls from listeners and one woman described my accent as “Gorgeous, like Auf Weidersehen Pet” !
The Mercury, like FTI, was another excellent cinema and filmmaking hub. The poster for the film billed ‘Nick Hornby’ as introducing it. Nobody complained when the famous author didn’t show and they got me. The crowds over the 5 days varied between 20 and 60 a show. The Q&A’s were great and people took me out for drinks and showed me the city. Great craic was had.
Adelaide was supposed to be the last stop but an extra show was arranged at short notice in Newcastle, once Australia’s premier steel and coal town, two hours North of Sydney.
My old mate Andy Devine, who I caught up with at The Dendy, lived in Newcastle and he had arranged the show with Newcastle’s Industrial Heritage Association. On the train up there from Sydney, I passed signs for Gateshead, Wallsend, Morpeth and even Stockton. When I got off at Newcastle, the station was made of Dorman-Long girders!
Newcastle was more Teesside than Tyneside and its steel industry had gone the same way. The last blastfurnace was pulled down just three years before. I met Bob Cook, a former steelworker who ran the heritage association. He took me to a huge monument that they had built on the site of the former works. He told me how Newcastle was proud of its legacy and they were using it to inspire pride in the place today. You me both Bob!
The Newcastle show brought the tour to an end and in comical fashion as the DVD player conked out halfway through. We did get it going again and managed to shift another bunch of DVDs.
After a few days off at Andy’s, which included a novel trip to Stockton with its beach, surfers and pelicans, I headed back to Sydney. I sold the last of the DVDs to the Harbour Bridge giftshop and the job was done, well almost…
I met up with Andy Clark from Billingham who I first met at the Dendy. We made our way up to the pedestrian walkway on the bridge. When the security guy was about 200 yards away and staring into space…we unfurled the banner and gave the thumbs up to our man down below with a camera. Whether we were spotted by the CCTV I dont know but as the security bloke spotted us, we were on our way. Mission Accomplished!
And that concludes my tale. Looking back, it was pretty audacious and long before the age of smart phones and social media but we went for it and got a result. Not bad going for a homemade doco from Teesside. We flew the banner from one side to the other and made the papers and radio. If we had been luckier by a day, we would have made national TV and who knows what might have happened. Nonetheless, it was a fantastic adventure and an absolute privilege to be able to show the film so far from home and meet so many great people who were delighted that we took it there. So thanks again to all who came, bought a DVD or bought me a drink! Cheers, Craig Hornby / 2021
THANKS TO THE SPONSORS:
UK Trade & Investment
Northern Film & Media
UK Film Council
& THE PEOPLE, VENUES & MEDIA:
UK: Ted, Kate Cox-UGC, Tony Poynter ISTC, Simon Crosby UKTI, Mark Schwarzer, Dave Allen & Mike McGeary MFC, Vin & Pat Garbutt, Keith Newton & Barbara Argument-Evening Gazette, BBC Radio Cleveland, BBC Look North, Mike Morrissey. SYDNEY: Andrea Simpson, Dendy, Marianne at Bridge-Climb, Cllr. Philip Black, Andy Clark, Steve Chester, Peter Chapman, Danielle 2SCR Radio, Nick Cater-The Australian, Alex Brown, Dan Galloway, Tim Emmerson, Andrew Parsonage, Rob Richardson and folks and Debbie Deedee. BRISBANE: Jan Nary and Gary Rankin, Desley and Valentino at The Schonnel, Brisbane Folk Radio, Syd Lincoln, Barbara and Peter Layton & Sam from the Boro. MELBOURNE: Paddy and Mary Garrity, Jacob Grech & 3CR Radio. PERTH: Colin and Debbie Sawdon, Grant Watson, Helen, Phil & Paul Roberts at FTI, Mark Naglaszas-The West Australian, Russell Wolf and Damien Rabbit-ABC Perth, Kevin Windross, Bob Carman and Sons. ADELAIDE: Mark, Lisa, Dezzy, Grant, Imogen at the Mercury, Ian Armstrong and family, Roz Button & Di at the Y, Mark NFI, Suzi Ramone and Andy Bunny 3DR, Ewart Shaw EBR & Jane at ABC Adelaide. NEWCASTLE: Andy Devine, Kezza n Marley, Bob Cook and pals, ABC Newcastle, Curtin Radio.
COPYRIGHT PANCRACK PICTURES 2021
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. NO REPRODUCTION WITHOUT PERMISSION.
A CENTURY IN STONE
The Teesside DVD Bestseller
After the tour I headed into the outback…
2,000 miles in 10 days with 10 total strangers in a 4X4 🙂
“We carry in our hearts the true country and that cannot be stolen,
We follow in the steps of our ancestry and that cannot be broken”