Wednesday 6th April 2011
WHEN dramatist Dennis Potter, contemplating forthcoming death from pancreatic cancer, gazed upon the plum tree of his final April, he beheld what he called ‘the whitest, frothiest, blossomest blossom that there ever could be’.
Potter is one of my almost-met men. His wife, Margaret, died nine days before he did. Neither celebrated a sixtieth birthday.
Chance once led me deep into the Forest of Dean to witness a day’s filming of a Potter television serial. My companion, Chris, was there to take photographs for the Radio Times.
“If anyone asks, you’re my assistant,” he explained, reluctantly entrusting me with a tripod and shoulder-bag containing spare rolls of film.
In the morning, I observed from the distance as Cheryl Campbell and period-costumed schoolchildren strolled down a path into a clearing – five or six times. I’d never been on location before. The broadcast footage of that sequence is no more than fifteen seconds long.
Lunch was served from a BBC Catering van, eaten at those wooden tables-with-benches you now see in all pub gardens. Wasps everywhere. Discretion told me not to join the lighting crew to whom I’d spoken briefly earlier, but to take my plate over to a vacant table.
“Oar right to sit ear, mate? Farkin wasps, eh? Get in farkin every thin. Ova ear, Cheryl.”
They sit, she demure, he broad of grin. We talk of wasps, the forest, my hat, which he tries on.
“Corker that ‘at. Nick it from wardrobe, did ya?”
For the afternoon, we’re in a glade. The lighting is what an engineer calls ‘day-for-night’. Cheryl smiles in my direction. We watch our lunch-mate and actors dressed as miners. They lip-synch the words of a popular 1930s song.
Several months later, Chris’s image of Bob Hoskins is the front cover of the Radio Times.
I was the assistant to another photographer today: my friend Ben. We worked indoors, but when I popped out for a smoke, I gazed up at the trees, dressed for weddings.
Memories descend like plum blossom petals, like pennies from heaven.