Coventry postcard no. 6

24th June 2021

John Wyver writes: First broadcast just over a fortnight ago, Coventry Cathedral: Building for a New Britain has now taken its place on BBC iPlayer where (for licence fee payers in the UK) it will remain available for a year. The response to it has been wonderful, and I’m working towards a summary of some of that, with links, on the Coventry conversation page.

I also want here and in subsequent posts to return to discussing the archive material in the film and other aspects of our approach to the production. There’s so much that I’m keen to explicate and explore, but it’s going to take some time to work that through into posts here. If this seems of interest, I hope you’ll stick with us.

Let’s concentrate here on the film’s fifth chapter, ‘Adorning with Art’, and in particular on one of the main archive sources, An Act of Faith. This part is the most substantial section, and the one that editor Todd Macdonald, designer Ian Cross and I worked on first. It was quickly clear that we had such riches that the film overall needed a longer running time than the 60 minutes at which it was originally commissioned. In discussions with BBC commissioning editor Mark Bell we settled on a 75-minute duration, which is relatively rare for a television documentary, but which continues to feel like a pleasing length.

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Monday links

21st June 2021

John Wyver writes: we’re a day late this week, for which apologies. Nonetheless, here’s a selection of interesting stuff from the past week or so, with my usual thanks to those who recommended items.

Janet Malcolm, remembered by writers: a beautiful, moving series of tributes from contributors to The New Yorker to one of the greatest of contemporary prose writers who died last week (above, from a portrait by Nina Subin), and…

Janet Malcolm: to mark her passing The New Yorker has here made all of her articles for the magazine open access for a while – you could do worse than read every one.

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Sunday links

13th June 2021

John Wyver writes: with Coventry Cathedral: Building for a New Britain out in the world and on BBC iPlayer, life is settling down (a bit) and I’m pleased once more to offer a selection of articles that he have engaged me over the past few days – and I’m going to add to a few more as the day goes on…

International football at the 1948 Olympics: terrific BBC Genome blog post by Paul Hayes about live coverage of international football during the tournament just two years after the television service returned after the war; illustrated with the front cover of Radio Times for 25-31 July which includes the very fine illustration above.

Gareth Southgate’s extraordinary letter says a lot about England: prompted by Gareth Southgate’s exceptional ‘Dear England’ letter, Michael Walker is very good for The Irish Times:

Southgate has the wit to understand that one generation might disconcert the other and that it is a good idea to listen to both. That was one of the points of his ‘Dear England’ address. As many said, it was the kind of mature letter you might once have expected from our politicians but no longer do.

The ‘war on woke’: who should shape Britain’s history?: exceptional and important reporting for The Financial Times from Alex Barker and Peter Foster.

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Coventry conversation [updating]

9th June 2021

John Wyver writes: I know that posting comments to blog posts is so late noughties, and as a consequence no-one does it anymore, but I did want to try this as an experiment – and I’m very grateful to those who posted below. Thank you!

Our new film Coventry Cathedral: Building for a New Britain was broadcast on 9 June on BBC Four and is now on BBC IPlayer for a year. The 75-minute documentary weaves together an account of the rebuilding of the Cathedral in the wake of a German bombing raid in November 1940 with the social history of post-war Coventry, and more generally of the country as a whole. We feel that it uses a wealth of archive sources in a distinctive and innovative way – and we’ve been absolutely thrilled at the positive response to the film.

I’m now updating this post to collect previews and reviews of the film, and to link to one or two resources, including my other blog posts. If you have watched the film and would like to contribute your thoughts away from Twitter, do please consider posting a comment below and help us develop a Coventry conversation. I am moderating what gets written but only to the extent of blocking anything offensive – I promise to feature the negatives along with any positives.

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Coventry postcard no. 5

8th June 2021

John Wyver writes: Ahead of tomorrow night’s broadcast (9pm, BBCFour), here’s the fifth post in a series about our new documentary Coventry Cathedral: Building for a New Britain. The first four are here, here, here and here. Like the others, this comes with the recognition that you may prefer to save up these posts until after transmission.

Tomorrow, Wednesday 9 June, from 7-9pm, and then after the broadcast finishes at 10.15pm, both I (@Illuminations) and our consultant Helen Wheatley, Professor of Film and Television Studies, University of Warwick (@hmwheatley) will be on Twitter to answer questions and hear your thoughts. I’m hoping that our wonderful graphic designer Ian Cross (@crossfaq) and equally wonderful DoP/editor Todd Macdonald (@toddmacdfilm) will be around for at last some of the time as well. We’re going to use the hashtag #CoventryCathedralBBCFour. Plus, I’ll do a post here tomorrow for similar exchanges. We really do want to know what you think.

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Coventry postcard no. 4

5th June 2021

John Wyver writes: Since my third post in this series about our forthcoming film Coventry Cathedral: Building fo a New Britain (the first two are here and here) I have been thinking about the eccentricity of writing moderately detailed commentaries to a film that people can’t yet see. Although it’s hardly appropriate to apply the idea of ‘spoilers’ to these notes, I recognise that people may think it inappropriate for me to determine responses ahead of a viewing. So perhaps the best thing to do is to save up these posts until after transmission (9pm, next Wednesday, 9 June, BBC Four). But indulge me publishing them now, please, since that feels for me the best way to get them written.

This post reflects on the archive in what I think of as the second and third ‘chapters’ in the film, following on from an introduction and then the first that details the night of the bombing of Coventry on 14 November 1940. The next chapter looks at the reconstruction of Coventry immediately after the war, and the one that follows outlines the debate about how the old cathedral should be rebuilt, the competition to select an architect, and the choice of Basil Spence.

One change from the previous posts is that I now have access to a better-quality version from which to take screengrabs – and eventually I’ll return to the previous posts to replace the low res ones there. Also, I intend to add notes about further reading to those earlier posts, and to these as I go along.

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Coventry postcard no. 3

2nd June 2021

John Wyver writes: As the headline indicates, this is the third post in a series about our new film Coventry Cathedral: Building for a New Britain. Following an introduction and a discussion of the opening sequence, today I reflect on the documentary’s second ‘chapter’ and of the archive featured in it. As I acknowledged yesterday, since you can’t yet access the film these posts may be frustrating and/or simply like inappropriate ‘spoilers’, and if you find them so, do please return after the documentary is first broadcast on Wednesday 9 June on BBC Four.

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Coventry postcard no. 2

1st June 2021

John Wyver writes: Having yesterday introduced our new film Coventry Cathedral: Building for a New Britain and promised a series of posts about the project, today I begin with a detailed discussion of just one section of the film and of the archive that it features. I recognise that since you can’t yet access the film itself this may be frustrating, and it may be that the post is something to return to after the documentary is first broadcast on Wednesday 9 June.

I’m also cautious about over-explaining the film and rendering too literal material that I hope retains poetic qualities. Forgive me if you feel that’s the case. All I can offer in reply is to say, stop reading. But it may just be that this and subsequent posts will both whet your appetite for the film and enhance your eventual viewing.

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Coventry postcard no. 1

31st May 2021

John Wyver writes: We’re thrilled to say that our 75-minute archive-based documentary Coventry Cathedral: Building for a New Britain will be broadcast on Wednesday 9 June at 9pm on BBC Four. Part of the BBC’s contribution to Coventry UK City of Culture 2021, the film tells the story of the rebuilding of the Cathedral after a German bombing raid in November 1940 reduced its medieval predecessor to ruins (above). At the same time, the film sets this story in the context of post-war Britain and of the reconstruction of the city of Coventry.

I first proposed this project to the BBC in 2011 and I’ve been working on it, on and off, for the past two years with a group of invaluable collaborators, most especially consultant Helen Wheatley, Professor of Film and Television at the University of Warwick, BBC commissioning editor Mark Bell, graphic designer Ian Cross and director of photography and editor Todd MacDonald.

For me the film is a complement – a kind of prequel if you like – to our documentary Drama Out of a Crisis: A Celebration of Play for Today, shown on BBC Four in October and still on BBC iPlayer. For Coventry Cathedral we have further developed the innovative use of archival moving images, and I’m going to explore aspects of this in a series of ‘postcard’ blog posts in the coming days. In the meantime, here’s the BBC press information for the film:

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Sunday links

30th May 2021

John Wyver writes: the last week has been taken up with completing Coventry Cathedral: Building for a New Britain, our 75-minute BBCFour documentary about which I will be writing here throughout the coming fortnight – so I’ve not had a lot of time for reading, but these were a (very) few of my favourite things…

Muriel Box – the government files on the work of Britain’s pioneering female director: great research here from Josephine Botting and Sarah Castagnetti via the BFI about state interest in two films from the feature director Muriel Box: Good-Time Girl (1948, above with Bonar Colleano, Jean Kent and Hugh McDermott), which she co-wrote, and Street Corner (1953), which she co-wrote and directed.

The disappearance of Kevin Jackson: a lovely short tribute by Matthew Sweet for Sight & Sound to the late critic and cultural polymath who died suddenly early this month.

Dim the lights – the spell of watching films in the dark: Peter Conrad for the BFI: “In Paris in 1927 the surrealist Robert Desnos sang the praises of “les salles obscures”. Less alarmed than Gorky, more happily licentious, Desnos thought that cinemas were dormitories or perhaps opium dens, occult places where you settled down to nod off in the company of strangers, confidently expecting that the images on the screen would duplicate your dreams.”

Five critics, one of them a killer: David Bordwell reflects productively on five recent film-related books.

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