I am a Camera

I was an advisor to the British Board of Film Classification for ten years, bridging the twentieth and twenty first centuries, a member of a lay panel that debated public concerns regarding children’s viewing habits, trying to establish guidelines that might help parents. Everyone’s life has threads that only become apparent in retrospect. This one began when my parents brought me to England from India where I was born. Apart from losing half of my bilingual skill on the boat trip and having the undoubted trauma of leaving my personal Ayah behind, the equivalent of half a mother, we arrived in a very cold Leeds to stay with my grandmother. The winter was so severe and rationing so limited our ability to heat the house, that I was taken every day to an Odeon cinema to be put next to the hot projector. What did I see, a short-sighted four year old not yet in spectacles? What did I hear? I can’t remember but can only imagine the coloured flickerings and loud, echoing voices and thrilling music. Hot celluloid, occasionally bursting into flame. Oily whirrings. The laying down of a lava bed of dimly-discernible, melding worlds.

Where the thread went next is more clearly caught on the hook of remembrance. My father bought a Rover. It was his pride and joy. It smelled of leather and the scents of the landscape we trundled through. By now we lived near Durham in the north east of England, in a village recorded in these scribblings; Shadforth. Around us were the pit villages above their coalfields. Within twenty miles, a half dozen of these linear developments each boasted a cinema. My father was typical of the ex-military. Austere and unable to show too much emotion except when closeted in the darkness of a Gaumont or an Essoldo where none could see his face. He took us to musicals with Grace Kelly, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, films like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and religious epics such as The Robe.

Later again, as a seventeen year old, living six miles from Newcastle now, I took the bus to watch foreign films at The Tatler News Cinema on Northumberland Street. None of my footballing and fishing friends did. I was a Martian to them, a weird otherworldy fellow. I had to walk home along Scotswood Road at 11.00 at night past the yellow-lit, piano sound-tracked, boisterous pubs, disgorging their drunken revelers, my head full of the Nouvelle Vague.

Since then I have gone to cinema to watch everything and anything with any pretension of quality, from the popular to the esoteric. Film has competed with literature all this time. Its encoded realities have taken me into weird and wonderful worlds, into the psyches of strangers, into near-death experiences, into heroism and cowardice, into sentimentality and tragedy. It has always encouraged me to think and go beyond. I am still ready to be as spell-bound as a four year old as the lights go down and the Pearl and Dean jingle swells.

When I became a research professor, it was little wonder that I directed an early British project about video and computer games in the home. This successful study of the ways families related to each other around their televisions and the cheaply available images, was a tying of knots. It took me to the advisory role at the BBFC.

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