Sunday, 23 June 2013

Legend of the Cheetah girl - An interview with Zola Budd

“Come on Christina” Betsy shouted in a shrill voice, “Or we’ll miss seeing the Spider fish!”
I ran down the cliffs to meet her.

It was summer on our Uncle Harry’s private island, we had finished school and were here on a working holiday. Spider fish were famous on the Island, they were an exquisite blue, with a body of a fish, but 6 long fins, hence their unusual name.

Betsy and I had taken on a summer jobs as our Uncles assistants, he was a world famous marine life expert and we were there to help him by watching and documenting the Spider Fish.

It was a beautiful day on the island, the sun was shining and a cool breeze rippled through our hair and made our cheeks ruddy. “Show’s you’re hard workers” Uncle said.

We got to the edge of the cliffs and started cautiously down onto the beach, we had heard tell tale of the Cheetah girl, who ran bare foot like the wind and we didn’t want to get eaten.

“Quick, let’s get to the sea, look at these ruddy fish and scarper” whispered Betsy, too afraid to speak allowed for fear of the Cheetah girl who would hear us and rip our heads off.

But, just as we started across the wet sand, we heard a faint pat, pat, patting behind us, we gasped and held our breaths, they were so fast approaching us, were we just about to die???

Frozen with fear we stood on the beach, too afraid to turn around for fear of snarling jaws behind us, when suddenly….
… I felt a tap on my shoulder, my head would not turn no matter how much I wanted it to. Then a voice, “Hi guys, I’d watch out if I were you, someone dropped a glass bottle over by the rocks and you don’t want to hurt yourselves” The voice was not what we expected, it had an accent, from what I learnt in my cultural studies classes, I’m guessing it was South African and it sounded friendly. Both Betsy and I turned quickly to face this creature.

But what we saw shocked us more than if we had been faced with the Cheetah girl, no furry face, no spots, no pointy teeth, just a pleasant  smile and a mop of wavy hair, this couldn’t be the Cheetah girl? We eyed this stranger up and down, it was then we noticed, goodness! she had no shoes! Betsy and I looked at each other, could this be…? Was it true…? That this girl, who ran like the wind with no shoes was the Cheetah girl?

We laughed relieved at our survival and at the revelation that the monster of legend was just a human.

Then she introduced herself.

“Hi,” She said, “I’m Zola”

“Zola Budd!” we both gasped!!

Zola Budd, former Olympic track and field competitor! Zola Budd, who in less than 3 years broke 2 5000 metre races and was the winner of the world cross country Championships! Zola Budd, who raced barefoot, which caused controversy but whose achievements were sadly often overshadowed by political issues during her short stay in the United Kingdom. Zola Budd, the myth!

“Crikey!” we both cried.

She seemed very friendly and I had a pen and paper in my hand, so I though why not ask some questions? I would be such a bally scoop for our school newspaper and it felt rude not too. I started with a tough one…

“How did you feel about the controversy around your arrival to Britain? Did you ever imagine that it would happen and Were you prepared for it? Did it annoy you that it seemed that the focus seemed to be more on your nationality than your running!”
“It was a very difficult time.  I took the political abuse very personal because I feel i was unfairly targeted.”  

I looked at her feet, “I have to ask,” I said, “But why bare foot? Did you imagine how much focus would be on you because you ran shoeless?”
“Everybody in SA runs barefoot as kids. Was strange that people in the rest of the world do not go barefoot.”

I thought of what she had warned about the glass.

“Did you ever hurt yourself whilst running barefoot in training?”
“No, never got injuries, stepped in a few thorns.”

“How did you keep stride after Mary Decker's spike had cut you in the 1984 3000 meters in LA? Do you remember the pain? What kept you going?”
“When u are in a race u don’t feel anything, so i did not feel her spiking me.”

“I considered my 500 meter swimming badge and wondered what it would be like to break a world record? It must be incredible!”
“It feels good because you have accomplished something, but it is only temporary.  It becomes a target for other people.”

“David Coleman famously said "Zola Budd is no myth", how did this feel? You still very young and you were being referred to as a myth!”
“It feels like it is happening to someone else.  I have never seen myself as a running star or anything.”

I remember that feeling, I had once been presented with the head ink monitors job, it felt glorious… Until Elizabeth Allen dared me to eat the masters spam sandwiches and I was stripped of my title. It made me think of school and being young and messing with my chums.

“You were so young when thrown into the limelight, how do you think you coped with it, then and looking back now and what advice would you give your teen self now?”
“It is difficult because people expect so much of you.  I cope by having my own goals and being responsible for myself.  You can never appease everybody, so i just try and be true to myself.  When i think of myself i am still that little girl who ran barefoot on farm roads.”

Betsy chirped in with a question…

“How do you feel the sport, or sport in general, has changed? Do you think the terms 'sports person' and 'celebrity' have begun to merge?”
“Running has changed a lot.  You have the top runners who are very competitive and race internationally which is good, but then you have lifestyle runners who carries the sport.  More and more women are running which is great for running and for women.  Running empowers a lot of women and give them goals and help them live a healthy lifestyle”

Pushing Betsy aside I carried on with my questioning.

What do you think of the new trend of 'barefoot running'? Were you decades ahead of your
“Yes, I was ahead of my time ( joke).  It is good for running but runners have to be careful. It takes years to run barefoot and i never ran barefoot on the road. It is just too dangerous.”

“You still run today, as do your children, how often do you train? Do you train with them? Are they tempted to go shoeless? Do you still?”
“My kids run but i am not their coach, I just run with them.”

And with that and a brief wave she was off… As fast as the wind… like something had startled her.

We rushed to finish our duties, “Uncle will be terribly cross if we don’t get this finished and we are so late already!” cried Betsy “But what a simply wizzer excuse, eh?”

But as we watched the water, waiting for a glimpse of the Spider fish, we heard it, a soft pat pat, pat… But this time there was no happy hello, no friendly smile or chit chat, this time all we heard was a soft, extended growl…


Sunday, 16 June 2013

One of the most famous V's in British cinema - An interview with David 'Billy Casper' Bradley

I saw the bird first, it swooped and swayed on the wind. It was majestic, I held my breath as it spotted something in the hedgerow and dived at such speed and accuracy it made my head spin.

She was a Kestrel, a beautiful brown kestrel with piercing eyes and a beak that looked like it could tear through my skin.

Then I heard a voice below, a thick Northern accent shouted at the bird, “Come bird, come t’ me you stupid bloody bird.” 

The voice seemed familiar, a little older perhaps, but familiar. Images were jumping through my mind… a small boy, football, canning, school and a bird, a kestrel…Yes, yes, yes…  This was Billy Casper from the 1969 classic ‘Kes’, a cinematic beacon that other British film makers look to for inspiration, five stars and 100% on Rotten, number 7 on the BFI top 100 films of all time, based on the novel ‘A Kestrel For A Knave’ by Barry Hines, and directed by a luminary of British cinema, Ken Loach… This was David Bradley.

I watched him for a little while longer, he seemed transfixed by the bird. She was a beaut, and as she landed on his gloved hand I saw my chance. I walked up to him and introduced myself. After a while of watching the bird fly, I found the confidence to ask him some questions…

Kes was your first film role, what was your acting experience before then?
“School productions; I was a few months away from my 15th birthday when I played Billy Casper.  St. Helen’s Secondary Modern had gained a reputation for staging Christmas Pantomimes from its first production of HUMPTY DUMPTY in 1966 (my character: one of two brokers men – Lounge & Scrounge in charge of safeguarding egg): which played to capacity houses through eight performances every year.”   

Wow, I thought, plucked from obscurity… I wondered if he understood the gravity of what had just happened?

Did you understand who director Ken Loach was and his cinematic back catalogue of gritty realism? Had you heard of him before this?

“No, I had never heard of Ken Loach at the time, who had gained a reputation on BBC TV with what was then known as ‘The Wednesday Play.”  His celebrated TV film, CATHY COME HOME wouldn't have featured on many young teenagers radar, including mine.  My interests were mainly sporting at the time – unlike Billy’s.”

How did you parents feel about you landing the role and the language in the film?                        
“My parents were a little overwhelmed by the whole experience, of having their son playing the lead role in a feature film.  As far I can recall, they weren't particularly offended by the explicit language, because it was intrinsic (not gratuitous) to the story.  And attending the premier then witnessing the positive response nationwide, they were extremely grateful I’d been given the opportunity, and proud too.”

That was a comforting thought, his parents seemed perfect, not pushy like a lot of famous kids parents today… no ‘parent divorcing'!

I had read the book ‘A Kestrel For A Knave’ many times, and Billy’s character is so defined, it got me thinking…

Did you read the Barry Hines book before you started filming?
“I did begin reading the novel prior to filming, but Ken Loach asked that I refrain from going any further, for fear that the ending might affect my portrayal.  However, my old school friends were quick to tell me that JUD kills my beloved bird!”

So how did you create Billy? Could you use any parallels in your own life to form the character?
“My understanding of Billy’s life was symbiotic to an extent with my own life; my Dad was a coal miner, we shared the same accent and we were both from working class stock.  Although there were differences between us, I felt reasonably confident to be able overcome them with the support of Loach and Hines.”

Today, we wouldn't think twice about using computer effects and CGI to create the illusion of Billy with the kestrel, but this was 1969. So how much did David actually learn?

What did you have to do to learn how to hold and instruct a real kestrel? Or was that a bit of camera trickery? Was it more than bird? 
“Each day after filming I would visit Barry Hines’ home to work with the kestrels (there were three).  I knew nothing about rearing birds of prey, but under the guidance of the Hines’ brothers (working with the birds from when they were chicks), I’d learn all of the steps in accordance with what we’d be shooting a couple of days later.  What you saw on screen was real; no trickery whatsoever.  Chris Menges (cameraman) told me only a few months ago that much of what we shot was ‘first take’ stuff; there was little money to have the luxury of shooting second and third takes; but of course we’d rehearse a couple of times before filming it.  There was no CGI back in 1968! “


The next question just had to be asked. Ken Loach is a national hero, producing such classics as ‘Poor Cow’, ‘My Name Is Joe’, ‘Looking for Eric’, as well as ‘Kes’…

So, what was it like working for Ken Loach?
“Besides having a tremendous talent for capturing social realism on camera, Ken is a genuinely decent person who really cares about the disenfranchisement of ordinary people, and through his numerous films challenges the Status Quo laid down by the establishment.  In my opinion, he is the most influential director this country has ever had, and it was fitting that he received the BAFTA Fellowship Award several years ago for his lifetime achievements.  What amazed me when we worked together was the faith he endowed in myself and others who were not professional actors, and to issue forth memorable performances – even from cameo characters.”

In 1971, Kes was obviously a tip for awards and won - together with others – a BAFTA for both Colin Welland who played Billy’s school teacher and a BAFTA for 'Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles' for David. So the next question was a no brainer…

How did it feel to win a BAFTA? Do you remember much about that night? Where do you keep your award? 

“I do recall it; a memorable evening at the Royal Albert Hall.  Jack Hawkins (who was recovering from throat cancer) announced the nominations / winner in my category, with Princess Anne presenting a beautiful statuesque award – unlike the ‘mask’ they present these days.  I also remember that all the previous winners before me barely gave short shrift to their guest announcers, whereas I made a point of shaking Jack’s hand and thanking him; and after receiving the award I went back over to him to walk off stage by his side.  At this point the capacity audience gave us both a standing ovation that went on and on.  A leading newspaper of the day reported that this was the moment when the BAFTAS became something meaningful rather than hyperbole.  Jack Hawkins: what an honour and a privilege for a young working class lad from Barnsley!  I keep the statue in her Perspex case for safekeeping; she still looks as good as new, and of course it’s a prized objet d'art in our family.”

Did you ever imagine how Kes, together with your portrayal of Billy would endear itself to the British public to the extent it does? Even after all these years? 
“It’s extraordinary that after forty plus years since KES was released, it remains a firm favourite with the public at large and one’s peers.  As you’ll probably know, it was voted 7th Best UK film of all time, and 28th in a World Film poll – not bad for a movie made on a budget of less than £200,000.  Most pleasing of all is how it has inspired the youth of several generations, and I hope it will continue to do so – lest we forget that they are young people who need support and encouragement / motivation.”

Kes is a quintessentially British film, what reaction do you get from abroad?
“Apparently it’s acclaimed all over the world – beyond English speaking countries.  The French adore it, as do the Japanese; Hungry too.  It was recently showcased in America (by Victoria Wood) as one of her three favourite films representing what is epic about the English Film industry.  And only a little while ago, a young woman in Mexico emailed the KES / BILLY web site to say it’s her favourite film.  Billy’s story connects beyond the racial, religious, colour and class divide, because it could be any young kid – male or female.”

What was the reaction from your peers when you returned back to 'normal' life?
“Thankfully, there was no negative feedback from my peers at school, of whom many appeared in the film.  I met up with a group of Billy’s classmates a couple of years ago and with the exception of David Glover (aka Tibbutt), all said it was a highlight in their lives.  After the film company had wrapped and packed their equipment away, we all returned to a new autumn term – and began rehearsing that year’s panto, which was called THE PIPER OF TROONE… I played lead comedian Charlie Dimple (not the brightest button in the box) who falls hopelessly in love with Mistress Mary – the town’s schoolteacher.”

You must have had a great time filming, do you have any amusing anecdotes you can share?
“In the library scene where Billy is arguing with the librarian about borrowing a book without becoming a member, we shot with a hidden camera.  On one take, just as the scene neared conclusion, an elderly woman came through the doors and was so upset with my attitude that she started hitting me with her brolly – sadly, the camera ran out of celluloid otherwise it would’ve been in the film.  In the Headmaster’s office, director Loach promised we wouldn’t be caned, but as you know he gave us a right beating.  We were so angry, that all of us decided to go on strike, and refused to do it again.  Ken Loach needed several different angles on the scene, and after a quick word with the producer Tony Garnett, he offered us 10 shillings extra (50 pence) per caning.  We made £3-50 more that day – and ought to have been credited in the Guinness Book Of Records for being the youngest non-union group to ever go on strike!”

Wow, I thought… and my mind started wondering, thinking of those scenes… Thinking of watching this film as a child, and as an adult, showing it to my child for the first time and wishing I could feel that exhilaration of watching it for the first time too…  

When suddenly the bird started flapping it’s wings and I took it as a sign that this should be the end of our chat. But I had to ask just one more question, about the film and that iconic picture of Billy ‘flicking the V’s’ and felt compelled to ask…

You must be the one of the most famous people in history 'flick the Vs'... How many times do you get asked to do it now? 
“Quite a lot; people like me proffering a ‘V-sign’ as wallpaper on their mobile phones; and often they’ll call out good humouredly in passing.  There’s even a Billy Casper Facebook Page (under Yorkshire Legend) where fans quote various bits of dialogue in conversation.”

And with that - and a two finger salute - he was gone. I had talked to a hero, a legend and a pretty beautiful bird.

For more information on the film go to: or more on David visit

Sunday, 9 June 2013

John Bulmer's photo album - An Interview

John Bulmer, Photographer and filmmaker, famous for his gritty depictions of northern life in 20th Century Britain, was born in Herefordshire, UK in 1938. A great admirer of Bresson, Bulmer studied engineering at Cambridge but his love was for photography and while still studying he published photos in 'Varsity', 'The Daily Express' and 'Life', in fact it was the article on Nightclubbing for Life that saw Bulmer expelled just six weeks before his finals, but by now he had established himself as a photographer and sky was the limit. Bulmer also worked as a cinematographer, using his talent for the visual image to create programmes for the BBC and the Discovery channel.

What camera did you first use? And what do you use today? What are the parallels -if any- between the formats? Are you a traditionalist or do you embrace new formats and techniques? 
            "I used Leica’s and Nikons.  Leica M2 or M3 for wide angle lenses and Nikon F for longer lenses. I never liked the square format of a Rollei- I felt I needed to compose the frame as I took the picture.  I was not going to find a composition later in the darkroom.
I am not at all a traditionalist. Now I use a Canon 5D MkII and a Fuji X10 and also an IPhone I have always believed in using the latest techniques."

 A lot of your images portray the youth of the 60s and 70s, what was your childhood like?   
"I had a secure good childhood in the country, which was then shattered by being sent away to boarding school. I think the misery at boarding school may have given me the determination to succeed at my own thing."

           What made you want to be a photographer? Did you parents influence you in any way?
 "Photography was the last in a line of childhood crazes, like toy trains, Mechano, radios etc.  It stuck as I found the imagery an added dimension to the technique.  My parents wanted me to study engineering which I did, but were supportive when I became a photographer."



            Where there any times you recall that you thought 'if I only had 
             my camera!'?

            "Yes, though on the whole tended to separate Assignment time from Off duty 
             time, and I am not one of those photographers who always had camera – 
            Till now when I have an IPhone in my pocket"




           Which photograph do you think is your greatest work? And why?
            "Possibly this one...
            It was a very difficult thing to capture – pitch dark and a very human situation. I solved the problem by bringing a banana leaf into the hut, tucking it under the roof poles and bouncing a flash off it."


            What do you think makes a good photograph/photographer? 
            "It needs an interesting subject, a good composition and decisive moment so that the photographer has something 
            to say."

            Do you think you can learn to take pictures, or do you believe it has to be in your blood?

            "Like being a ballet dancer, you need natural ability and training.
I don’t mean you have to go to college – you have to work at it to learn and understand how to make pictures that move the viewer."


            If you could photograph anyone, dead or alive, or any time or place in history, who or where would it be?
            "Phew that’s a hard one.  I’d rather look into the future, but how do we know what is going to happen for that great picture."



 What do you think of mobile phones and 'instant' 
            "I’m a great believer in ”Instant” photography, my great 
            hero was Cartier Bresson. The problem with mobile 
            phones is that they are not instant enough, and all phones with electronic viewfinders suffer from image delay.  
            In some ways we have moved back more that forwards."



            Who do you see as a great photographer? Is there any picture that you think "I wish I'd taken that"?
            "My heroes were Cartier Bresson and many photographers who took pictures for “The Family of Man” – quite a long list.
For me most photography has lost the immediacy it had and become to contrived and static."

For more information and works go to: and