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BBC West

Review the work of a working class poet – The Hammerman and PR.

I don’t think people often think of Swindon as being a hub of the arts – yet it most certainly is – and in one small way I can prove it.

Yesterday, on BBC West‘s Inside Out programme, a film I’d made with colleague and friend Graham Carter about an almost forgotten poet and author, Alfred Williams, was aired. It was the result of work dating back to autumn last year when we decided to attempt to get a commission about this man’s work. He was a working-class writer who achieved a degree of national recognition in his life-time but who is barely remembered by the majority of people in Wiltshire and beyond. Yet, his most famous book Life in a Railway Factory, is a gem for glimpsing life in a Victorian factory.

Brave cast members of The Hammerman wait for us to get on with it on Uffington White Horse

When I saw it aired, if only in our region, it was thrilling and yet sad in some ways. Sad because that project is now over and secondly because there’s so much more we could do on him and his travel writing! What an interesting man he was. Born just outside the town in South Marston he went into the railway factory – the Great Western Railway works – to earn a better wage as Swindon boomed. But it was a drudge of a life, six days a week, 12-hour shifts in a hot, noisy, unforgiving environment. Even today, we are reaping the consequences of not caring enough for our men who worked in the railways – with asbestos-related deaths. But would we have made the same choices as Alfred?

Once he’d walked the four miles to work, done a 12-hour shift, walked home, said hello to his wife, he would sit down and write, delighting in the world around him. He was a master observer of his community, its characters, its quirkiness and its beauty. He recorded his travels around local villages – probably done on his one day off each week (I’m sure his wife didn’t get much of a look-in).

We re-created a very small part of his journey in 1912, which was recorded  in one of his books, Villages of the White Horse, and yes, it can still be bought on Amazon.

What surprised me is the local media interest in the film – so if an lesson can be learned in terms of PR, it’s that you can never tell when something will generate interest.

It could have been a slow news day, considered light relief from heavier news, or it could have been a combination of those facts plus the one really important point – LET PEOPLE KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING! Apathy is such a major factor when it comes to getting your good news out there. Never think that what you are doing isn’t of interest – make the effort. Sometimes it will fall on deaf ears, but at other times it will lead to surprising results.

When BBC Wiltshire asked me to go up for a short interview to talk about the film, I jumped at the chance and re-arranged my plans to do so. It only took ten minutes but those were minutes well spent. Graham had been up earlier in the day so there were at least two radio interviews in the county yesterday about this poet. That was on top of a strong page lead in the local Swindon Advertiser as well as social media snippets all day.

Fitting the bike cam - ignore my rather lovely pink wellies.....

The publicity, by association,  also advertised a musical, The Hammerman, about Alfred and his life which is being staged in the town later this month and yes I’ll be going. We interviewed the composer John Cullimore in the film along with other contributors.

Making this film has been an absolute pleasure and I’m now ordering other Alfred Williams’ books for my birthday so I can learn a bit more about this town, and its industrial and rural heritage.

For more details about Alfred Williams, try www.alfredwilliams.org. uk and if you want to see how interested my children were in my BBC Wiltshire radio interview, here’s the link –  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXozWZq4sZU

 

Bristol’s gorillas are up for sale? Want one?

Gorillas with style......

In the south west tonight there’s a little fundraising event going on in Bristol –  gorillas are being auctioned off.

Price tag – up to £10,000 each. 

What? I hear you exclaim.

Yes, this is one of several very successful ‘stunts’ that this area has seen over the last few years.
This involves an organisation in need of money, building up the tension by commissioning the creation of colourful models of animals.

These are dotted around the relevant area for quite a long time and then auctioned off to local businesses or individuals to raise money.

Tonight it’s all about gorillas, to raise funds for Bristol Zoo Gardens – a marvellous organisation for us living in the region.

These models have been dotted around for several months.
Watching the news tonight, the target of raising £100,000 by auctioning them off has been far exceeded.

The former swimmer Sharron Davies has bought a wonderful purple gorilla gilded with a silver leaf design. Where will she put it? I’d love to know.

Sounds mad – but I love it.

I recognise that the gorillas, all identical in size but all colourfully different, are not new.

We’ve already had pigs and lions in Bath.

And I’m sure someone somewhere has done the same with horses. But I think they are absolutely wonderful.
In Bristol, the gorillas popped up all around the city and captivated people, especially children.
They were not placed always in obvious places, though some were outside of particular business – perhaps those which sponsored their creation.
I regularly saw the dotty one outside the BBC signed by the DIY SOS team, one with colourful handprints outside Waitrose and a beautiful one in green pyjamas outside a city hotel.

Without fail, every time I saw these creatures at random times of day, photographs were being taken. It’s a gem for social media pr as well as traditional stuff.

They just brightened up the day when wandering round the city.

Even last week when attending an auction house near Bath, I walked into reception and there was a lion from a similar campaign. It was wonderful to see, you just have to touch it, feel it and enjoy it.
The PR value of these objects – which from a practical point of view could be seen as completely useless – has been powerful for the Bristol locality.
And for Bristol Zoo it may be a happy coincidence that one of their gorillas, Salome, gave birth to a new baby just this week. So gorillas are good, strong, local news this week.
The model gorillas will be a talking point for years to come for any business which snaps them up.

At the same time a local facility which carries out research into conservation of wildlife will now be at least £300,000 richer. Some people paid £10,000 for their gorillas.

My only wish – that I could afford to buy one too!!

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