90s Kids’ Shows – BFI Southbank

Screenshot of Maid Marian and Her Merry Men

I visited the BFI Southbank to attend a panel discussion about 90s Kids’ TV shows. This is exactly my era so I was incredibly excited.

First of all we were treated to a montage of TV shows including Chucklevision, The Queen’s Nose, Art Attack, Power Rangers, Clarissa Explains It All, and many many more, including shows I know and those I wasn’t familiar with. Afterwards, there was a panel discussion featuring actor and writer Sir Tony Robinson, performer Francis Wright, and producer Catherine Robins.

Naturally enough, the discussion focused on the shows that the panel members were involved in. This began with Maid Marian and Her Merry Men (my personal favourite), and it was interesting to hear Sir Tony’s stories and anecdotes about the production of the series. I was particularly excited when Marian and Robin from the series, Kate Lonergan and Adam Morris, made an appearance and came up to the front to talk about their experiences. Another show we heard about was Five Children and It, as Francis Wright was responsible for operating the puppet Psammead.

It was interesting that all three panellists seemed to think the 90s were something of a golden age in childrens’ television: I’ve always thought so but I lived through it, I wondered if it was just nostalgia, but apparently not. It seems officials were more willing to take risks back then, and to educate as well as entertain.

I left the event with my only regret being that I chickened out of asking Kate and Adam for a picture.

Jensen’s Gin Experience

Bemondsey Distillery

I love gin, so was very excited about picking up a Time Out voucher for a gin tasting session at the Bermondsey Gin Distillery, home of Jensen’s Gin. I went with a friend, and we headed down early, which is just as well because it took us a while to find it. The space is built into one of the railway arches not far from Bermondsey station, and there is a door built in to a corrugated shutter.

Bemondsey Distillery

One free drink was included, and we sipped this as we were introduced to the history of gin and to Jensen’s Gin in particular. I’m fairly familiar with the history of the drink (and felt quite smug that I was able to identify Hogarth’s picture Gin Lane) but not of this particular brand. It was founded by Christian Jensen, City worker and gin enthusiast who, in a bid to recreate the gins he loved in his youth, at first commissioned another distillery to make it and then set up his own in order to make and sell it commercially. The small company now makes two gins, the original Bermondsey Dry Gin and an ‘Old Tom’ variety that is deeper and more flavoursome. We got to sample both of these as well as the individual ingredients that make up gin, including juniper berries which give gin its distinctive taste.

Bemondsey Distillery

I had a really good time at the gin tasting: I learned things about gin I didn’t know, and got to sample some delicious gins. I would definitely recommend Jensen’s Gin, and am planning to head down to the distillery shop to buy a bottle of my own. On Sundays you can also pop down to Maltby Street Market and sample a G&T for just £5, which is pretty good for London.

Bemondsey Distillery

What Does the Antarctic Mean? – British Library

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I went to a fascinating talk at the British Library, entitled What Does the Antarctic Mean?, part of the Cook’s voyages exhibition season. The talk was chaired by journalist Julia Wheeler, who has written books on both the Antarctic and the Arctic, and featured Jane Francis (Director of the British Antarctic Survey), Damon Stanwell-Smith (Executive Director of the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators), Jane Rumble (Head of the Polar Regions at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office) and Klaus Dodds (Royal Holloway University of London).

The talk began with a discussion on the significance of Antarctica. Jane Francis emphasised the importance of Antarctica to science, and explained how the continent influences the world: the climate, sea level rises and tides. Klaus Dodds said that 200 years ago, people tended to see as ice as sublime, awesome, terrifying, and now that relationship has been flipped on its head as we have become aware of the human power over ice. He also talked about the imaginative aspect of Antarctica, and mentioned the Antarctic Treaty, which inspired other treaties including those involving space.

Jane Rumble pointed out that 200 years ago no one knew Antarctica existed: its importance has increased in a very short space of time. It is the only place in the world with no wars, no territorial claims. Damon Stanwell-Smith confessed to amazement that a continent larger than North America hasn’t been colonised, and talked about how Antarctica is something you feel – there is nothing like being there.

The group then discussed the Antarctic Treaty. Dodds explained that this treaty was negotiated over 6 weeks in 1959, and involved the 12 parties who had participated in the International Geophysical Year 1957-58. This was during the middle of the Cold War – there was a worry that such collaboration would not continue.

There were many issues. The UK, Argentina and Chile claimed the same territory – could they come to blows? The Australian president was convinced that Russian communists wanted to establish bases in Antarctica, while the USA had seriously considered nuclear testing. The treaty nearly didn’t happen – especially thanks to Australia, France and Argentina. The treaty would only happen if all 12 countries passed it; there was a deliberate decision to avoid mention of mineral resources or there would have been no agreement.

Rumble then discussed the UK’s territorial claims in more detail, starting with the 1908 claim to the Antarctic peninsula region. There was some discussion on whether the UK should claim the whole thing; in the end they didn’t, but they did cajole the Commonwealth nations Australia and new Zealand to claim. France joined in, then Germany tried in the 1930s, following which the British supported Norway’s rival claim. As a Norwegian, Roald Amundsen, was first to the South Pole, that country’s claim should really have been considered earlier, but at the time Norway was a small newly-independent nation and nobody really took them seriously.

Chile and Argentina placed their own claims during World War II. In 1943 the UK set up the first permanent presence in Antarctica – Operation Tabarin. The US put their base at the South Pole, while Russia put theirs in the Australian bit and refused to move. Despite all this, there is still one unclaimed sector, the most remote.

Rumble discussed the huge amounts of scientific collaboration taking place in Antarctica among scientists, who tend to ignore politics. Shared science programmes abound, including a new joint UK/US project investigating a glacier. If it melts, there will be a sea level rise of over 5 metres. Francis pointed out that when the climate changes, it changes at the Poles first, so Antarctica is the perfect place for this research.

Stanwell-Smith talked about the sometimes-controversial business of modern commercial tourism. This began in the late 1960s and has gone from strength to strength ever since. Most visitors are from North America and other anglophone countries, but there has been an increase in Chinese visitors. In the last year there have been more than 50,000 visitors (of whom 9,000 were on cruises – and did not get off the ship), a rise of 17% from the previous year.

Stanwell-Smith argued that allowing visitors is important, albeit in an appropriate way. Most people who visit have a fascination with Antarctica; perhaps they are older and have a long-held ambition to go. Visiting Antarctica also allows the importance of the continent to be emphasised. Francis pointed out that far more than these visitors, the main problem is people who treat the continent like an adventure playground: such as Guirec Soudee, a French man who is travelling around the world with his pet chicken, Monique. It sounds like a fun story, but there was a very real risk that the chicken could have passed on avian flu to the native penguin population.

Dodds spoke about the challenging relationship between tourists and scientists: some scientists see tourists as a distraction, but public outreach is now recognised as an important part of a scientist’s role. Dodds also pointed out that Antarctica still has a very small number of visitors for such a large place.

Finally, Rumble was asked about the most important aspect of Antarctica to the UK government, and responded, ‘Peace and stability.’ A strong treaty system is very important and science is a clear priority.

I really enjoyed this fascinating talk.

A Moomin Winter’s Eve / Tove Jansson (1914-2001) – Dulwich Picture Gallery

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This year I read the Moomin books for the first time, and I also visited the Adventures in Moominland exhibition at the Southbank Centre. Continuing the theme, Dulwich Picture Gallery announced a Tove Jansson exhibition for 2017-2018, covering her artwork and illustrations from self-portraits to the Moomins and beyond.

Some friends and I booked to attend the special December event, A Moomin Winter’s Eve. This was an after-hours event that offered activities as well as a chance to look around the exhibition. When we arrived – after spending a while waiting for a bus at Brixton – we headed straight into the exhibition before it got too busy.

Tove Jansson (1914-2001) begins with the artist’s early work, striking self-portraits sitting alongside magazine illustration and magical landscapes. Her later work incorporates more traditional painting, before she turned to illustration in a bigger way. I had no idea Jansson was responsible for illustrating Swedish versions of The Lord of The Rings and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – her work is distinctively her own but also clearly captures the atmosphere of the stories.

Then comes her Moomin work, which forms around half of the exhibition. I love her wonderfully expressive drawings of these fantastical creatures, and it was fascinating to see them close up. As the daughter of two painters, Jansson saw herself primarily as a painter even while the world revered her for her work as a writer and illustrator, but while this exhibition helps to paint a wider picture of the artist, she is likely to remain best known for the Moomins. And why not? Her illustrations are certainly classifiable as art, and her books are children’s classics.

pom pom table

After the exhibition, we decided to check out some of the activities. First we went to make flower garlands in a Pom Pom Blossom workshop, run by Pom Pom Factory. We ended up wearing them for the rest of the evening.

My Moomin masterpiece

We then went to join the table drawing Moomin self-portraits. I am certainly no artist, but having a framework of a Moomin silhouette to work on, I managed to produce something passable.

Moomin collage

Finally we went down to the Moominvalley Photobooth, the idea here being to create a collage inspired by Moominvalley and have your photo taken, then superimposed onto your background. Sadly the camera battery ran out while we were making our collage, but it was still great fun.

The exhibition and the evening were lovely and a nice relaxing way to spend a Friday night.

An evening in conversation with Arne Dahl – North Finchley Library

Just a quick note on an event I went to at North Finchley Library – a talk by Swedish author Arne Dahl (real name Jan Arnald). I love a bit of Nordic noir and I’ve enjoyed several of Dahl’s books as well as the TV series they are based on.

Dahl spoke a bit about his most popular series, the Intercrime books, as well as his upcoming work. At the end there was a question and answer session, which I didn’t contribute to (I never do, to be honest). It was definitely worth the trek to North London after work, though.

Magnum Photos Now: New Approaches to the Archive

I went to this New Approaches to the Archive talk, part of Magnum Photos Now, a series of lectures about Magnum Photos in this year of their 70th anniversary, because I work in the field of libraries and archives and was interested to learn more about a photographic archive. I expected the talk to be more about the archives themselves, but actually the evening was fascinating even though it wasn’t really what I had expected.

The evening was made up of two talks. The first was delivered by Diane Dufour, director of Le Bal, Paris, who recounted her experiences with exploring the Magnum Photo archives and exploring the concepts behind the photos taken, as well as looking at the differences in opinions of the photographers involved. One section was particularly telling, with pictures of Jewish people settling in Israel, while another photographer’s work showing displaced Palestinians was not published anywhere.

Dr Mark Sealy, curator and cultural historian, then talked about the Eurocentric gaze of typical photography archives and made the important point that the first photographs appeared at the same time as slavery was just coming to an end in the UK – as part of a wider point that a photo shows just one aspect of the world at a particular time. He showed us photographs by and of black people during the twentieth century and emphasised the importance of having diversity among the people who are able to search the archives in the first place.

As someone who works in the field of libraries and archives, the talk was an interesting look at the varied uses which can be made of those archives, and their importance in terms of culture and history.

Secret Cinema presents: Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge!

Entrance to Montmartre
Entrance to Montmartre

I’d never been to a Secret Cinema event, although I’d heard of them. It was always at the back of my mind as something I’d like to do, but I never got around to it… until they announced Moulin Rouge! as the next film, at which point I knew I would just HAVE to go. This modern classic, released in 2001, happens to be one of my favourite films of all time.

I ended up going by myself – at first I was nervous at the prospect, until I reminded myself that I’ve been to plenty of immersive theatre alone in my time, and this probably wouldn’t be that different. As the day approached, I visited the website, filled in all the forms I needed to and gathered my outfit together. You are meant to register with the website once you’ve bought your ticket and you are allocated a character, complete with a backstory and outfit guidelines. My character was Nina Boucicault, a comedian. Here I hold my hands up and frankly admit I completely ignored my character’s suggested outfit. It involved trousers, but I haven’t worn trousers for years, and I wasn’t going to start now.

Full-length outfit photo

I don’t know what it says about me that I didn’t actually have to make any special purchases at all in order to dress up. I wore a dress I got from ASOS (mega sale bargain) a couple of years ago, with a corset over the top. I took a fan (that I think came from Accessorize) and wore my ‘She Walks In Beauty’ earrings from Alchemy Gothic.

Close-up

I got changed in the toilets at work (classy) and then I had to get the tube to Canning Town station. Now I was a bit nervous about the prospect of having to get on the tube with all those commuters, but one of the reasons I love London is that no one pays any attention to you on the Underground (unless you’ve got a dog. Everyone loves dogs), so no one looked at me twice the whole way there. At the station, I began to see other people dressed in a similar way to me, so I knew I was in the right place.

The venue was really close to the station. It was supposed to be top secret, but to be honest, any locals or anybody passing through would notice the queue of people building up at around 6pm. We didn’t have long to wait, we were soon invited to enter the world of the Moulin Rouge. No phones or photos allowed, naturally.

Wow. Inside it was incredible, like stepping into another world. There were bars and storefronts, cafes and stalls, all designed to draw you in to the fin de siècle world in which the film is set. Costumed actors added to the atmosphere, and sometimes it was hard to tell the actors from the ordinary ticket-holders. I only saw one person without costume, and I felt quite sorry for her as she really stood out!

Everyone was so friendly. I didn’t talk to many people – I didn’t need to – for most of the event, but I got chatting to people in the queue to get in and in the ladies’ loos, and I even danced with some people at one point. There’s something about immersing yourself in something like this that makes you forget yourself and act much more confident than usual – I guess that’s true for me, anyway.

I spent the time before the film started just wandering around, exploring as much as I could, and sampling the drinks on offer (which included absinthe). I also won a bet on some lesbian wrestling (don’t ask). There were performances and songs and I was almost sorry when it was time for the film to start.

Almost, that is. There was still loads going on while the film was showing, with actors performing key scenes in front of the screen. I never did see Moulin Rouge! at the cinema, as no one wanted to go with me and at sixteen I was much less inclined to do things by myself than I am now, so it was so good to actually see the movie on the big screen.

By the time it finished I didn’t want to leave. I’d had SUCH a good time and it was an unforgettable experience. I wonder what Secret Cinema will do next year?

Salon No.43: London Murder and Melodrama (The Theatre of Death) – Westminster Arts Library

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Salon for the City is a series of events taking place in London, covering various historical and cultural topics. I attended Salon No.43: London Murder and Melodrama (The Theatre of Death), held at Westminster Arts Library. The ticket included gin, which is always a bonus.

This particular talk was delivered by actor and writer Julie Balloo, and was concerned with the murder of actor William Terriss outside the stage door of the Adelphi Theatre on 16 December, 1897. It began, appropriately enough, with a scene from a Victorian melodrama, and then went on to discuss the histories of the key players in the tragedy.

Terriss was born William Charles James Lewin on 20 February 1847. His family did not want him to become an actor, so he originally pursued a variety of different careers: he joined the Navy, became a tea planter in Bengal, and tried sheep farming in the Falklands. He also tried breeding horses in Kentucky, and married Isabel Lewis (stage name Amy Fellowes) in 1870, but he still had ambitions to go upon the stage.

During the 1870s he established his acting career and performed in many popular plays of the period. His first big role was alongside Ellen Terry and he also got on well with Henry Irving, famous actor-manager of the Lyceum. In 1885 he met actress Jessie Millward and embarked on an affair with her that lasted until his death. Terriss was liked and admired by both fellow actors and the general public: he was known to be extremely generous to the former, and was hailed as a hero by the latter when he saved some people from drowning. The New York Dramatic Mirror described Terriss as one of the most popular actors in England, second only to Henry Irving. Supposedly, Terriss was told by a palm reader that he would die a violent death; his mistress Jessie Millward also had threatening dreams.

His murderer, Richard Archer Prince, was born in the slums of Dundee and grew up in abject poverty. He loved the theatre, and had ambitions to become the ‘Terriss of Scotland’. Prince moved to London and got an agent, but never managed to gain the same level of success as his hero. Terriss had assisted the struggling young actor in finding work, but over the years Prince took to alcohol abuse and grew increasingly unstable. Terriss sent several sums of money to Prince via the Actors’ Benevolent Fund, and continued trying to find him acting work, but on one occasion when Prince was refused money from the Fund, he blamed Terriss.

Prince bought a knife from a shop on Brompton Road and headed to the Adelphi Theatre. He waited in a doorway for Prince to arrive. Jessie Millward, who was in the same play, arrived first and Prince gave her a scare. When William Terriss arrived, Prince stabbed him, twice in the back and once in the front. Terriss died shortly afterwards.

Prince loved the attention he got during his trial at the Old Bailey in 1898. He was pronounced guilty, but insane. He was sent to Broadmoor and became quite involved in the dramatic scene there, putting on plays for the inmates and acting as the conductor of the prison orchestra until his death, which occurred in 1936. An interesting footnote to the story is that the ‘Covent Garden Ghost’ is supposed to be William Terriss. The ghost haunts Covent Garden station, which sounds strange until you learn that there used to be a bakery on that site, much frequented by the actors.

Thus concluded the first half of the Salon for the City event. The second involved the performance of certain scenes from Balloo’s play Gods of the Adelphi, which were entertaining and made me want to see the full play. Another dram of gin was served, and the evening drew to a satisfying conclusion.

Anatomy Museums: Past, Present and Future – Barts Pathology Museum

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As part of my visit to Barts Pathology Museum, I attended a talk by Professor Will Ayliffe from Gresham College on the history, purpose and present of pathology museums. He explained that the purpose of such museums has changed over time. Initially, resperentations of anatomy used to be common sights, with relics, bones and wax models widely visible in churches and beyond. These days, anatomy is often viewed with suspicion – especially after the Alder Hey scandal of a few years ago. In northern Europe particularly, we don’t habitually see the dead: there is no culture of relics, and no open caskets. Museums like this have been used for comparative anatomy, criminology and phrenology.

Dissection has been viewed with suspicion from classical times right through to medieval times. Galen dissected apes, but human dissection was usually used as a punishment; autopsies were only allowed if foul play was suspected. The papal bull of Pope Sixtus IV of 1482 allowed unclaimed corpses and executed criminals to be dissected. Da Vinci and Vesalius increased knowledge of anatomy, while William Harvey’s work discovered more about the circulation of the blood. One purpose of dissection was to desensitise the doctor, so they could be clinically detached when working on “real” patients.

By the mid-eighteenth century, criminals sentenced to death could also be sentenced to dissection. There was an insufficient supply of bodies – only 8% of those hanged were killed for murder, which meant that they could potentially be dissected – and yet there were more and more medical students who would need them. This was despite the difficult and dangerous nature of the work: Charles Darwin’s nephew died the day after cutting a finger and dissecting a child. The need for bodies led to the growth of the “Resurrection Men”, who dug up bodies from cemeteries and sold them to the surgeons. Dissection was therefore often viewed with suspicion: the dissection at Bart’s of the hanged murderer of the then Prime Minister in 1812 was accompanied by screaming crowds threatening to murder the dissectors. The skull of this man, Bellingham, is still kept in this museum.

Nowadays, the specimens in this museum are fairly old, but we can still learn from them, and the museum is still used by medical students today.

The Gulch: An Amateur Symposium – Barbican

The Gulch

At the end of November I attended an afternoon of talks at the Barbican taking Bedwyr Williams’ exhibition in The Curve, The Gulch, as a starting point. Held in the Fountain Room, I thought the talks sounded quite interesting and I’m always up for learning new things.

The first talk, on taxidermy, was delivered by Errol Fuller, whose topic was inspired by the presence of a taxidermied goat in the exhibition. He suggested that taxidermy is one example of the smudging of boundaries between life and death. During the Victorian era, taxidermy was used to strong effect in science – for instance, Darwin’s finches which demonstrated the differences between species – but it was also fashionable to use it as decoration in the home. Creatures were often posed and arranged as though in performance: playing cricket, making music.

Taxidermy has been out of fashion for many years, but recently it has started to increase in popularity, with a growing interest in natural history and the ethical sourcing of dead animals to use. Courses are particularly popular among young women aged 15-30, while taxidermied animals have begun to appear in artworks, such as the suspended horse in the Guggenheim.

The golden age of taxidermy spanned from the nineteenth century up to the outbreak of World War One. Every town had its own taxidermist, and nowadays many are famous according to their name and town, such as Hancock of Newcastle. George Ashmead, who created a case of 300 hummingbirds, had business premises in Grosvenor Square, while Roland Ward, famed for his lion biting a bison, had premises in Piccadilly. Between the 1930s and the 1970s many good examples of taxidermy were destroyed, even by curators, as they were out of fashion and seen as valueless.

What was nineteenth-century taxidermy about? Two aspects were particularly popular. One was anthropomorphic taxidermy, primarily for amusement, such as tableaux of fencing mice. Another was the use of animals now extinct, such as the passenger pigeon, native to North America and once the commonest bird on earth. Another example is the Great Auk, of which around 65 examples remain stuffed in museums. Hooiers from New Zealand are the only birds in which the males and females have different beaks, but they became extinct in 1907. The heath hen was common when stuffed in 1880 but has since become extinct: it was stuffed to look dead, and Fuller ends his talk by suggesting that it has now become conceptual art deeper and more profound than actual conceptual art.

The second talk, on magic, was given by Jon Armstrong. He started off with a card trick involving members of the audience, and pointed out that a deck of cards has multiple meanings, with cards relating to the days of the year, the seasons, and more. He discussed the practice of magic as performance art, citing the Davenports, late nineteenth century magicians who had a black box theatre, and the magician Kirby who wrote as far back as 1972 on the relationship between magic and theatre. He discussed The Conjurer by Hieronymus Bosch, a work which portrayed magic as an ancient art, and the theatrical tricks that could be seen as magic, such as flying machinery and the ancient mystery plays that had a “hellmouth” on the stage.


At this point there was a break in proceedings, and I took the chance to go and check out the exhibition, The Gulch. This immersive exhibition in The Curve started with a moonlit beach, on which a sole shoe rested beside a camp fire. It then moved into a small gallery space with a couple of displays, including a chair with a winding road drawn on the back. Next I entered a “backstage area” of boxes, drums and beanbags, that could be before or after a performance.

A boardroom, with a long table and a large screen, followed, with a video of a self-confessed depressed hypnotist followed by a taxidermied goat in a bare room with a microphone. The exhibition ended with a curved stretch of race track on which another shoe could be seen.

I have no idea what any of it meant, but I liked it – I got the sense of someone having just left, an empty space that had been in use until a few seconds ago. I felt as though I was stepping into a story each time I moved into a new space.


The third talk was delivered by Dr. Georgina Guy, who compared aspects of the exhibition to other art exhibitions and installations, relating theatre, exhibition and curation to one another as they are displayed and performed. Unfortunately a lot of her talk went right over my head – as an academic I don’t think I was the right audience for what she was trying to say.

The final talk was possibly my favourite: Christopher Green spoke about the science and showbiz of hypnosis. He read about Victorian hypnotists in the British Library and investigated the relationship between hypnosis, theatre and healing, and how many “serious” hypnotists who want to help people end up using the tricks of “stage” hypnotists. I was particularly interested to learn about the famous female hypnotist, Anne de Montford, the daughter of a millworker, though there were plenty of other fascinating characters, including Henry Blythe the stage hypnotist, who hypnotised his daughter to pass her driving test – and she failed. Green was an incredibly engaging speaker and really sparked my interest in a topic I’d never paid any prior attention to. Overall, a fascinating afternoon.