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Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Review - Simon W. Golding: Life After Kes

Simon W. Golding
Life After Kes (3*)

I bought this about the making of the 1969 film Kes after reading the novel, A Kestrel For A Knave (earlier review). I got the Kindle version: the first Kindle book I have paid for in eight years of ownership, a very reasonable £2.99. It seems to have first appeared in hardback in 2006, but this Kindle version, dated 2014, contains a lot of additional material, as does presumably the 306-page paperback published in 2016. This gives it at times a somewhat repetitive, cobbled-together nature.

The book tells the story of the making of the film and how it changed the lives of all who participated, both during and after. The author, Simon Golding, sought out and interviewed just about everyone involved, including production staff and those who had minor parts such as the girl who delivered the reading in school assembly and the boy who was unjustly caned by the headmaster. In other words, although fascinating, it tells you far more than you could ever want to know.

The only professional actor in the film was Colin Welland who played teacher Mr. Farthing. Duggie Brown, the milkman, was a professional entertainer. Other characters were played by local people. For many of them it opened eyes, broadened horizons and changed lives. David (Dai) Bradley, the local schoolboy who played Billy, went on to television and theatre roles, notably in Equus. Brian Glover, the sports teacher, a games teacher in real life, became an acclaimed actor and writer, and also a wrestler. Freddie Fletcher who played Billy’s brother Jud, and Lynne Perry (real-life sister of Dougie Brown) who played their mother, also went on to successful acting careers. Even for those who had more ordinary jobs and careers, taking part in the film was a valuable educational experience. I guess that nowadays it would be outside the national curriculum.

Their memories of the film and what subsequent became of them are, at times, fascinating, and there are some amusing anecdotes. For example, Bob Naylor who played the bully, McDowell, remembers Glover as his real-life games teacher being just like he is in the film. He recalls him once showing off his “fantastic” new Adidas ice-white trainers to the boys before a football lesson, and them then trying to scuff them in tackles. Naylor later remembers being mocked at the bakery where he worked every time Kes appeared on television, until he told everyone, untruthfully, that he was paid £200 in royalties every time it was shown.

Life After Kes also has a great deal about director Ken Loach’s scriptless working methods, such as how he set up the football and classroom scenes giving different instructions to different characters. The script supervisor describes both Ken Loach and cinematographer Chris Menges as totally ruthless, very much at odds with their gentle personas. The book is also social history, detailing how northern schools and the town of Barnsley – its economy and community – used to be. It was something of a marathon to get to the end but for anyone captivated by the film Kes and the book on which it is based, it is good value. 


Key to star ratings: 5*** wonderful and hope to read again, 5* wonderful, 4* enjoyed it a lot and would recommend, 3* enjoyable/interesting, 2* didn't enjoy, 1* gave up.

Previous book reviews 

18 comments:

  1. Sounds a good book Tasker. Brian Glover was a brilliant actor. I remember him wrestling on World of Sport. Rita, Sue and Bob Too, Billy Liar and Little Voice and Brassed Off are great films yet in Yorkshire too.

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    1. It is a good book for 'Kes' fans but possibly not for everyone, and it could do with a bit of editing, but I enjoyed it and found it interesting.

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  2. I wonder what Brian Glover, Lynne Perry et al would have gone on to become if it had not been for that film?

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    1. I suspect those two would have found a way, but it seems unlikely that others, especially Dai Bradley, would have had acting careers. There is a chapter called "The Billy Casper Syndrome" about people with unrealised potential, of which there are many, which is in effect critical of the education system then, and not much has changed really. Although, as I commented before, I think the fictional Billy Casper could well have become Chris Packham the wildlife presenter.

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  3. Although I have not read it, I enjoyed your earlier review of "A Kestrel For A Knave". Thank you for this review of "Life After Kes". It does sound like it could use a bit of editing but your description is enough to make me interested in this book. I enjoy books that give behind the scenes information on the making of films. Thanks for your review!

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    1. You certainly get plenty of behind the scenes detail with this one.

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  4. Ken Loach lives here. I see him a lot in the pub and the supermarket, but I am sorry to say that his films are just too political and socially conscious for me to enjoy without some sort of worthy involvement which I cannot muster up enough enthusiasm to keep up. Nice bloke, but not for me.

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    1. I agree the recent ones are political and angry. Kes isn't overtly political in the sense of I Daniel Blake and Sorry We Missed You, although it is critical of the education system, at least as it was, and how it used to waste so much talent.

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  5. I just finished the book, on your recommendation. It was a jarring read for me; I needed something good to happen to Billy after his teacher saw his training of the kestrel. The ugliness of life at that time for a kid like Billy is real enough to me; it was my dad's life in a coal mining town. I've set aside the book to read again, and I'll check for the movie on YouTube.

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    1. It's flattering my review had so much influence. I think it's a tale of almost any underprivileged upbringing. 'Jarring', yes, but somehow didn't find it entirely devoid of hope, possibly because it made one realise there were teachers who cared, like Mr. Farthing.

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  6. When I like a film, I enjoy reading up on it and knowing more about its background, even if it is such seemingly irrelevant information such as who made the sandwiches for the extras when they were on a break.
    I am also one of those people who watch ALL the bonus material on a DVD.

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    1. I'd describe it as more relentless with its information than irrelevant. Some of the detail about, for example, the continuity errors and how the boys in the caning scene did not expect to be caned for real (abeit wearing mittens) is fascinating.

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  7. What is so good about history are the books people write about the circumstances in their present history. This book, so beautifully reviewed by you, is one. Hilary Mantel is having an outing with her new book on the news at the moment, not sure I would read it though at 1000 pages long.

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    1. Thank you. I read an extract from the first chapter of Hilary Mantel's new novel and the detail and realism are staggering. Perhaps I'll look at Wolf Hall one day. A Kestrel For A Knave is real in a different way and definitely more poetic.

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  8. I've met Ken Loach and he is indeed very laid back and calm. Hard to imagine him being ruthless

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    1. It was possibly a reference to the way he is prepared to manipulate people in order to set up a scene. Usually there is no script beyond a few suggested phrases, often not even that, and the characters are told different things to play them off against one another. He led Dai Bradley to believe he had really killed one of the kestrels in order to create one of the last scenes, although in reality it was a bird that had died naturally.

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