Hastings Battleaxe and Sky Arts – not a telly star this time

Now for something completely different: Some people may remember us saying that we had another telly appearance coming up? Holman Hunt the painter? Sky Arts?  I wasn’t supposed to write about it until the programme was scheduled and have been meaning to write this for ages, but other things got in the way…. Here’s the story…..

Holman Hunt, Strayed Sheep – Our English Coasts

    It started when Philosopher was in hospital having his hip replaced last October. He was literally under the knife in theatre while I was collapsed at home, traumatised, after wrestling Digby the cat. eyes sealed shut with feline conjunctivitis, to the vet. Was just waiting for news from the hospital when the doorbell rang. It was a bloke called Mike Reilly, who said he was the producer of a series called ‘Tate Britain’s Great Art Walks’. He  had read Hastings Battleaxe on Clive Vale Farm and Holman Hunt. The programmes look at the stories behind famous paintings in Tate Britain. One of the episodes in the next series was to focus on Holman Hunt’s ‘Strayed Sheep – Our English Coasts’, hence Mike wanted to talk to me.
    Battleaxe felt a bit of a cheat because it is actually Philosopher who knows all about the Pre-Raphaelites in Hastings – he has done a talk on them for the Friends of the Country Park, and there he was on his bed of pain etc.  However, I was so manic with stress that I raved at the bloke like a lunatic. Far from being repelled, he was seized with enthusiasm.
    You may remember that Holman Hunt stayed at Clive Vale Farm, on the site of this house in 1852. He stomped off from here to the Country Park to paint ‘Our English Coasts’, and one version of the story says he used sheep from the farmyard here as models for the painting. Mike said he would return to film me, and the view from the house, with the presenter of the series, cultural/art historian Gus Casely-Hayford, and our allocated celebrity, actor Robert Lindsay.  (For those that don’t know, Gus is a high-class act – click on the link above). Here are Gus and Robert Lindsay – photo from the eventual production from the internet.

    Anyway, to cut a long story short, typical telly luvvies, the first day they were due to come, they didn’t turn up… got ‘distracted’ walking in the Country Park. I was then surprised to receive an apology and a big box of Fortnum and Mason chocolates in the post.
    Meanwhile, Philosopher and I had also watched some of the first series of Tate Walks – I hate to say this Sky Arts but we were not impressed – very superficial, bitty, trivial, celebrities largely clueless and Gus…. well, more than a little manic. (when I was little I loved a book called Horse Nonsense that spoke of horses getting the Epizootic Sniggers. Well, Gus is epizootic…).  No wonder the producer thought we’d get on… anyway, I thought that was the last we’d hear of them.
    Not so fast. Before long I received an email asking for another date. The crew rolled up chez Battleaxe in December last year – Mike, Gus (no Robert Lindsay) and an army of young men who seemed to take the house over… Fortunately I had done lots of cleaning. Philosopher, unsurprisingly slightly miffed, kept out of view.
    Gus was delightful and terrific fun and we had a very jolly morning shrieking epizootically at each other off, and very occasionally on, camera.  (How much time do telly people spend fiddling with their equipment? Battleaxe has been here before..) Gus was very keen on our retro Ercol furniture, pottery, glass – much less keen on my spaghetti poodles. Well, after all he is the Director of the Smithsonian in New York. Spaghetti poodles are unlikely to be his thing.

Gus admires the Ercol

   We had to stand for ages in the front verandah supposedly talking while looking at the view Holman Hunt would have seen while eating his breakfast – now somewhat cluttered up with housing. I don’t actually think the discussion went that well from the producer’s perspective…  Gus would say: ‘didn’t Holman Hunt bla de bla’ then I was supposed to agree but instead I was, e.g: ‘oh no, I don’t think so… Why on earth would he cart his own trained sheep round the countryside? That would be crazy etc bla de bla..’

    Then we spent what felt like another age doing the knocking at the door sequence thing you see on so many of these telly programmes – Gus knocks, I open, affecting surprise and pleasure at the sight of him etc etc….  you see that so often – who knew that it takes half a morning to get it right.
    Even after they left they were outside filming in the road. All in all, the process took from about 9.30 to about 1.30 – our time plus Gus, plus a crew of five all down from London.

    The series was finally shown in April/May this year.
    Philosopher and I resolved to watch ‘our’ episode before telling friends and family it was on – those Sky things have multiple viewings, and as I say above, we did have our doubts about what the programme would be like…..
     Well, we needn’t have worried. We settled down to watch and they had cut all mention of a visit to us. Just showed Gus and Robert Lindsay walking in the Country Park.
     Can’t say I was too sorry – it was actually shown at the time when Hastings Battleaxe was…errr… a little high-profile…. Also, the programme they finally came up with was mind-numbing. I don’t think we would have told anyone even if I had been on it…..
     I eventually got a letter from Mike… this is it. Nice of him to write but couldn’t he have found a better sheet of paper?

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