Workshop 8th December 2015

Jimmy Stewart, hey ?  James Maitland Stewart.  Nicest guy in Hollywood, married just once for over forty years, builder of model airplanes and all-round philanthropist.  Even watching his performance in Bandolero where he plays his one-and-only villain just seems to add to his charm.  So how could he possibly be even sweller ?

By being a poet, that’s how.  And better yet, a poet on the QT, never even publishing until late in his life.  Of course, there are the inevitable knockers who claim it is nothing but doggerel, but one suspects they rather miss the point: his poems have to be read in his familiar, stuttering drawl, and suddenly they fall perfectly into his rhythm – as if he’s having a cosy chat with Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show or dispensing a homespun homily from our favourite uncle.  A lesser poet would have worried about having to live up to a middle-name like Maitland, but ‘ah shucks Jimmy’ was content to scribble away just because…well, just because.

This week’s workshop was full of down-home gals and good ol’ boys.  Enter bit-part player Martin Choules (against a psychedelic backdrop), bracing up to an ongoing viral invasion that refuses to settle on any metaphor for long, followed by matinee-idol John Hurley’s close-up as he delivers a eulogy to a deceased four-legged friend, (cut to a nearby squirrel looking much relieved).  National treasure Daphne Gloag is seen in a desolate field exploring a ruined cottage and peering through its window (thanks to a fine matte painting), while in a flashback we see leading lady Christine Shirley peering through from the other side at the Autumn technicolours.  Next, a stream of consciousness is beautifully played by character-actor Peter Francis as he wrestles with the true meaning of the season, which fades into cinematographer Owen Gallagher’s scene of a birthday party (complete with deep-fried pizza from the props department, and a sneaky product placement for Irn-Bru.)

After hearing Mr Hurley’s theme, it led the archivist present at the meeting to recall another take on that subject by Mr Stewart, and after a little digging it was a real treat to turn up details of a visit by the man himself one Tuesday in the 1980s, when he was in town for an appearance on Wogan.  He listened courteously and gave some gentle yet insightful critique, and then treated the group to a recently-penned verse lamenting the loss of his golden retriever Beau: touching, heartfelt and a little naive in the best possible way.  Ted Hughes read next with his own canine poem, The Thought-Fox, but somehow it now seemed overly urbane and stilted. But then, James Stewart always was a hard act to follow.

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