WHEN MILLER MET CUNNY documentary about workingmen’s clubs

During late 2015 I made a documentary about workingmen’s clubs on South Tyneside and  most of the filming took place in the Royal British Legion Club in South Shields. After initial research I approached Club Steward Pam Carrol about filming in the club ‘What will be your best time ? I’d like to film when there is some entertainment on’. Expecting a Friday or Saturday night she returned with ‘No son, Monday is best. We’ve got a singer on and an afternoon bingo session. The club will be packed’. It was, and musician Alan Knights provided the entertainment.


Wayne Miller and Iain Cunningham, still picture taken from the ‘Home from Home’ documentary 2015.

Included is a transcript of the interview with two of the contributor’s to the documentary, North East actor’s Wayne Miller and Iain Cunningham, both regulars on stage at The Customs House theatre, South Shields. A couple of points (or pints) before the stories, filming had to be stopped a few times because I was laughing so hard and if you don’t speak Geordie it’s written in the Tyneside dialect.

Miller: We were part of a travelling pantomime company that did the club’s for 15 years.

Cunny: Yes 1997 we started. We were just bairns.

Miller: Yeah just young bairns from college drafted in to do touring panto that we thought was a one year thing ended up being 15 years. It was a great training ground for us as actor’s.

Cunny: Really is where you learn your trade, where you don’t know what to expect. Was always fun to do. One thing I didn’t realise was how important it was to the people at the clubs you know the whole family day out sort of thing. They save’d up and it was a big deal wasn’t it. The kid’s always got a selection box, the dad always got a beer.

Miller: Mam always got a Babycham.

Cunny: Ya know no expense spared.

Miller: Yeah you are right it was that big massive day out all the kid’s dressed up in their Christmas outfits and Santa of course. All the club’s provided a Santa to come out after the pantomime. Which always reminds me of the story when the concert chairman came in he was like ‘Lad’s, lad’s, we’ve got Santa comin’ in right, so if you tell us when the panto is ending we’ll bring out Santa, kid’s are gonna love it, they’ll gae crackers’. I said alright mate it generally runs for this length of time, we’ll defeat the villain then we’re gonna sing Reach for the Stars. If you listen for that then get Santa ready to come out.

Cunny: We’ll make a big deal of it, a massive thing so all the kid’s get very excited shouting yeah Santa.

Wayne: That was the plan.

Cunny: It was.

Wayne: Lo’ and behold we defeated the villain and right boys and girls were gonna sing Reach for the Stars now so if you’d like to get on yer feet and… where you goin’ where you goin’ !

Cunny: There was a jingle and right at the back there was Santa.

Miller: 400 kid’s just get up off the floor and run towards the back. We’re just singin’ Reach for the Stars in front of this only kid that’s scared of Santa and is cryin’ his eyeball’s out.

Cunny: Christmas Eve show’s were brilliant. The excitement.

Miller: Yeah they knew it was comin’. Santa’s on his way. But come Boxing Day it was like chalk n cheese.

Cunny: Nobody wanted to be there. Including us. To be fair me and Miller had to go on and whip the crowd up to a frenzy, get them joining in. Remember doing one club in Gateshead and I came running on first, the music started I shouted Hiya gang. I looked out and the kid’s were (looking down) just playing with the new toy they had brought.

On concert chairmen…

Miller: Going in the club the concert chairman would greet ya’… ‘I’ll show ya’ round the club lad’s, show yer round the club. There’s yer stage, there’s yer stage right. See that…that’s yer organ.

Both together: Can’t move that. Nah can’t move that.

Miller: There’s the drumkit ower there.

Both together: Can’t move that. Nah can’t move that.

Miller: So do you think yer’d get yer set on there ?

Cunny: Most of the time we couldn’t. We’d have to scale it down to one bit of scenery and a cloth. And the dressing rooms. Every dressing room ya’ can gaurentee some turn would have wrote a note on the wall.

Miller: Turn back lad’s. Unplug yer gear. Get in the van and get yersel away.

Cunny: Yeah don’t bother. It’s rubbish here.

On the demise of the workingmen’s clubs…

Miller: It is quite sad and people aren’t goin’ in and learning their craft. Like group’s, singer’s, acoustic act’s, stand up comedians.

Cunny: There is no better place to learn.

Miller: Comedy isn’t in the club’s anymore it’s going into the theatre’s, upstair’s of pub’s. You are seeing now comedian’s don’t know how to handle a crowd. That’s what the club give ya’.

Cunny: Yeah they don’t know how to handle the drunk man hecklin’ them (laughs).


‘Home from Home’ 25mins (2016).

Narrated by Tom Kelly. Music by Derek Cajaio.

9min edit at


 Interview by Gary Alikivi.



WHEN JOE MET MAD DOG – documentary about workingmen’s clubs

In late 2015 I made a documentary about workingmen’s clubs on South Tyneside and  most of the filming took place in the Royal British Legion Club in South Shields. After initial research I approached Club Steward Pam Carrol about filming in the club ‘What will be your best time ? I’d like to film when there is some entertainment on’. Expecting a Friday or Saturday night she returned with ‘No son, Monday is best. We’ve got a singer on and an afternoon bingo session. The club will be packed’. It was, and musician Alan Knights provided the entertainment.


Michael ‘Mad Dog’ Davis and Joe Peterson in the Royal British Legion, South Shields 2015.

Included is a transcript of the interview with two contributor’s to the documentary, North East club entertainer’s Michael ‘Mad Dog’ Davis and Joe Peterson, both regulars in the club. A couple of points (or pints) before the stories, the filming had to be stopped a few times because I was laughing so hard and if you don’t speak Geordie it’s written in the Tyneside dialect.

 Joe: I tell yer what they used to do, they used to bring their own food.

Mad Dog: They still dae it.

Joe: They bring cheese, crackers things to eat put them out on the table and they would share.

Mad Dog: And everyone used to have their own seat. You can’t seat in that seat. You go into a strange club and sit in a seat. You can’t sit there that’s Harry’s seat. He isn’t here. Doesn’t matter. That’s Jackie’s seat. You can’t sit there. And big fight’s if yer did.

 Joe: We were in the club’s for a long time but the ‘70s were different where there was a boom  and there was money to be made an’ I remember people from mechanics to taxi drivers deciding to play instruments and do stuff on stage, to go and make a living.

Mad Dog: It was yer apprenticeship that’s what it was.

Joe: For the young un’s aye.

Mad Dog: You find out now that everyone who done that apprenticeship in the clubs are a different type of musician that you have now.

Joe: A lot of them in the North East, good players start in the clubs and learnt the trade. It was one of the most hardest club area’s in the country, it was renowned for it. So if you could do it here.

Mad Dog: Same with comedians, any top comedian probably started off on the club’s first. Then the good one’s went onto bigger things.

Joe: We used to have regular meeting places like The Crown at Tyne Dock which is a bingo hall but a nightclub as well. Often we’d go there after gig’s and there’d be a musician’s scene. There was so much work about people were working most nights you’d finish a gig and end up there. If yer were a bit of a distance you would hurry to get back for a couple of pints in The Crown.

Mad Dog: We’re talking Tuesday or Wednesday night you could have 10-15 people playing on stage who made it back to The Crown after their show. There used to be a resident duo of organ and drums, next thing you know there’s a guitar, bass, three singers, brass section. Everybody heading back to The Crown.

Joe: After that everybody head off to..

Mad Dog: The Shah Jan

Joe: Yeah The Shah Jan for a curry. It was renowned. The room was full of musicians.

Mad Dog: I counted once,  in a year I had a curry 7 days a week (laughs).


On concert chairmen…

Joe: The thing about the concert chairmen is looking back now they were down to earth solid fella’s, lot of them tradesmen.

Mad Dog: Managers in the dock’s.

Joe: Aye in the dock’s, shipyards, then they were part of an entertainment night with a microphone in front of them and Ladies and Gentlemen. Things they weren’t used to. So as musicians we used to look from the outside in and think that’s crazy. Someone with experience just wouldn’t do.

Mad Dog: They’d get a microphone, and the bingo’s on. They used to have sockets on the wall that you plug into the house system and on many occasion the microphone hasn’t worked so they actually started talking into the hole in the wall (laughs).

Joe: Once there was a whistle noise in the background from the p.a and they were trying to find out where the noise was coming from. We had a listen to our speakers it’s not our gear. Then someone in the lounge shouted up to the concert room where’s that feedback come from, what’s that whistle ? And the concert chairman put the microphone to his ear well it’s not our gear (laughs).

On the demise of the workingmen’s clubs…

Mad Dog: The cheapest place in town to drink was the social club and it still is in some of them. Don’t think the kid’s these day’s follow in their father’s footsteps like we did in our era. But it was things like the no smoking, wasn’t a community thing anymore, karaoke, all little things together. Cos it used to be a live thing, you’d go to clubs to watch a live band.

Joe: What’s different about now is people were out most nights. Now it’s once or twice but then there was things on most nights and if there wasn’t you could sit in the lounge with family.

Mad Dog: If yer travel around there used to be thousands of club’s and now there is so many boarded up and haven’t made it. They haven’t moved on, they haven’t tried to change.


‘Home from Home’ 25mins (2016).

Narrated by Tom Kelly. Music by Derek Cajaio.

9min edit available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vSBp5XD242U

Interview by Gary Alikivi.

WHEN NED MET JACK – documentary about workingmen’s clubs


Ned Kelly and Jack Berry in the Royal British Legion Club, South Shields 2015.

During late 2015 I made a documentary about workingmen’s clubs on South Tyneside and  most of the filming took place in the Royal British Legion Club in South Shields. After initial research I approached Club Steward Pam Carrol about filming in the club ‘What will be your best time ? I’d like to film when there is some entertainment on’. Expecting a Friday or Saturday night she returned with ‘No son, Monday is best. We’ve got a singer on and an afternoon bingo session. The club will be packed’. It was, and musician Alan Knights provided the entertainment.

Included is a transcript of the interview with two contributor’s to the documentary, former North East club entertainer’s Ned Kelly and Jack Berry, both regulars in the club. A couple of points (or pints) before the stories, the filming had to be stopped a few times because I was laughing so hard and if you don’t speak Geordie it’s written in the Tyneside dialect.

Ned: There was plenty o’ work and we used to do 10 shows a week. Sunda’ to Sunda’ then put in a niteclub an’ that to make up to 10 show’s ya knaa. It was non stop. I’ve seen us finish after a 10 day run for one of the most famous agents in the world. A guy called Andy Green, ex Sergeant Major. He’d put us in starting at Dalkeith just before Edinburgh, the last show was Fraserburgh right up on the coast. Then the next next day was at Swansea. Next job was Germany so we had to go to Harwich to catch a ferry to Zeebrugge then up through Holland.

Jack: Aye that bloody time we were in Wales. We were in Neath, is that right ?

Ned: Swansea.

Jack: We were in Swansea and he say’s I’m gaan to put pigeons in the piana. This is 10 o’ clock in the morning. He bought some pigeon food, coaxing the pigeons alang, took his coat off, managed to get a few of them. Straight back to the club, lifted the lid up of the piana put the pigeons in. This is about half past eleven time. Buggered off back to the digs, then come back about 7 o’clock (for the show). Aal you cud hear was coo, coo, coo. Anyway lifts the lid up the pigeons fly oot they’re shyting aal ‘ower the audience, on their claes, in their booze. The curtains are shut, they’re trying to open them to open the winda’s. Well the mare they wu’ flappin’ the mare they wu’ shyting.


Ned: It was the 70s Gary and it was one of the Giovanni’s big do’s at a restaurant. They were al’ scrap men. It was Christmas time and the scrap yards were shuttin’ for the Christmas and New Year period. There was a buffet on, a big long table full of gear. They brought their dogs and tied them to the railings on the bar cos you can’t leave dog’s near food. There was Bulldogs, Alsations, Rottweilers al’ kinds and they’re al’ gaan for each other. Well they’re shakin’ and there’s oil an’ diesel aal ower the place, it stunk. It was like midnight at Minsky’s.

We had to gaan up stairs to get changed and bein’ a restaurant there was a geet big fridge where they put aal the gear ya knaa, the ducks, fillet steaks, aal kinds, and there was this great side of beef. You’ve seen the lorries getting loaded with the beef and the two legs on the front. We said what we’ll dae is nick the side of beef, chop it up at yem and share it oot.

(Pointing at Jack) He filled his guitar case full of ducks and steaks but we thought How we going to get the beef out the door past the doorman ? I said what we’l dae is put an overcoat on him and if a doorman say’s owt we’ll say it’s the roadie he’s pissed. That’s exactly what we done. We walked a side of beef oot the door past the doorman and put it in the back of the van. Next morning everyone had choppers choppin’ chunks of beef off it was great. He finished off aal the ducks and never shared with anyone. I shared my fillets with everyone yea never give anything.

Jack: Yea bugger I never got the chance cos the bloke phoned up and said all the meat was condemned.


Bingo in session at the Royal British Legion, South Shields (pic from the documentary).

Jack: A club in Darlington right. Get’s in there. Five nights. On the last night, now bearing in mind the bloke who owned the place put a new glass stage on with lights comin’ up ya knaa.

Ned: Aye. I remember it.

Jack: Aye. We asked the fella in charge can I put this piana on fire? The roadie will come on and put a sprinklin’ of lighter oil on. For wu’ encore wu’ll do Great Balls of Fire. Ya knaa’ Goodness gracious great balls of… then flick the lighter. The keyboard will go up but I said the roadie will be ready with the fire extinguisher.

Well he went an’ put the whole bloody tin on it! Flicked the lighter an’ it’s a blaze. They’re all bloody killin’ themselves in the audience they think it’s part of the show. The band are standin’ like tatties, his fingers are on fire. So I shoved the piana like that (kicks leg out). It went straight through his new glass stage. Polystyrene tiles up a height are al’ bloody comin’ doon. The cortins are alight an’ everything. When all the flames were put oot ya’ shuda seen the state of that stage. He (Ned) said well you’re the man for the money kid gaan get paid (laughs).

Ned: Yeah looked like he was gonna bost yer face.

Jack: I said who do I see to get paid ? Paid !He said. Are you stupid you’ve caused £10,000 pound worth of damage (laughs).

On the demise of the workingmen’s clubs…

Ned: No smoking started it.

Jack: It didn’t ya knaa. In the ‘80s the debacle between Thatcher and Scargill, the miners strike God knaa’s what. You gotta remember that in Scotland there was loads of miner’s welfare clubs. A lot of them shut doon. A lot of them shut in this country. I think that was the beginning of the end. And then is what you said kid.

Ned: In those day’s most people smoked, nearly everybody smoked. The majority of the club’s were upstairs in them ‘50s style buildings. They would come aal the way doonstairs for a couple of puffs off a tab, then aal the way back up the stairs. And gettin’ aulder they were knackered they couldn’t dae it anymore. They started shutting concert rooms first, finish the act’s, ring the agents, not enough people in.


‘Home from Home’ 25mins (2016).

Narrated by Tom Kelly. Music by Derek Cajaio.

9min edit available at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vSBp5XD242U&t=8s&fbclid=IwAR2cbMn0A8aLDPe2Ps725KbTitCwmfsYVVzZLsdjkzO55WJDC-8eht8lhrQ

Interview by Gary Alikivi.



It’s all quiet. Nothing happening here. Then a sudden burst of energy that carries through a day, a week or longer. But a deep low follows. What brings it on ? Probably a number of things but in 2013 I was in a high/low that lasted for most of the year. 

I was making a documentary about Eileen O’Shaughnessy, to cut a long story short Eileen was born in South Shields and was George Orwells first wife. Research and filming were going really well with one lead connecting to another. When filming around the country even delays and cancellations on the trains weren’t too bad. On long train journeys random thoughts and memories would pop in. The notebook come out. New page. 


Everton and Republic of Ireland international Kevin Sheedy.

Whenever 80s Everton and Republic of Ireland footballer Kevin Sheedy was mentioned, football commentators and pundits would talk about his cultured left foot. And what is the best Girls Aloud song ? Is it Call the Shots with the lyricFull of twilight, dreams that glitter  or Untouchable with the lineLike beautiful robots dancing alone’. 

Go on have a listen. It’s neck and neck. Looking back through my 2013 diary I worked on a number of different projects. During Spring I was working on ‘Wildflower’. I was also editing ’Tyne Harbour’ and had a couple of meetings in April for a new project. Late May through to June were busy producing ‘Lizards’. There was a visit to Greystone House near Stockton where Eileen and Orwell lived for a short time, so piecing that together. During July 1977 three big events happened in Shields and somewhere I must have seen a newspaper cutting about one or all of them. King, Queen, Punk. It stuck. 


Artwork by Neil Simms.

Then on the 8th of August I walked into Inkredible Ink (now Body Art) in South Shields. The Tattoo studio run by artist Neil Simms and we arranged some filming. Below is some diary entries from August until late October including dates of screenings. ’The King, The Queen & The Punk’ originally called ‘1977’ was finally edited by early November and by the end of the month final work on ‘Wildflower’ was done. 


15th 10.30am Neil Simms filming at Inkredible Ink

16th 10am Neil Newton interview/camera for Designs for Life

20th 11am Darren int. House of Ink

24th 4pm Angus McDonald int. Designs for Life

September  2nd 1pm Gav Gray int. Designs for Life

7th – 11th  edit Designs for Life

12th 2pm screen Tyne Harbour & Tyne Stories Library Theatre, S/S

13th  11am screen Vanished & Tyne Dock Borders at The Customs House, S/S. 

16th 7pm Colin Smoult, narration Designs for Life

17th 2pm Decca Wade int. 1977

20th 10am Neil Newton int. 1977

20th 2pm Mond Cowie int. 1977

28th 10am Caroline Vincent int. Designs for Life

29th 10am Derek Cajiao int. Sea Hotel,  1977

30th 1pm Mensi int. Alexander Hotel 1977

October 1st 1.30pm Pat Robinson int. Whitburn 1977

2nd  2pm  screen Lizards & Tyne Harbour at Central Library 

3rd  2pm Richard Barber int. Bents Park Cabin 1977

14th Neil Simms artwork for Designs for Life

17th 10am Valonia Tattoo int. Frederick St Designs for Life

19th 11am screen On the Front Line & Jarrow Voices at Armstrong Hall, S/S 

The quiet lasted through a cold winter until a new idea popped in. Said hello. And here we go again.

Gary Alikivi October 2018


Secrets & Lies, Baron Avro Manhattan documentary, 17th July 2018.

Westoe Rose, Amy Flagg documentary, 19th July 2018.

Zamyatin, Tyneside-Russia documentary, 7th August 2018.

Why not subscribe to the ALIKIVI You Tube channel for more North East stories.

WILDFLOWER – documentary about George Orwell’s wife, South Shields born Eileen O’Shaughnessy

SEPT 25 1905 copy

First reaction when I tell people about Eileen O’Shaughnessy is ‘Who…really!’ I tell them a bit more. ‘Orwell the writer. THE Orwell. 1984 and all that ?….Yep, that’s him’ I reply. S’pose everybody’s got to come from somewhere right ? But I had the same reaction when I found the connection between George Orwell and South Shields. In May 2012 I was in the Local Studies library when the librarian showed me a birth certificate with the name Eileen O’Shaughnessy. She thought Eileen was the wife of author George Orwell. (Real name Eric Arthur Blair). A few weeks passed and I was doing some research in the library when I saw a display at the back of the room. There were three large boards. On the left was a birth certificate and census records. To the right was a photo of George Orwell, a newspaper cutting and a picture of a cemetery in Newcastle. This looks interesting. In the middle was a large black and white photograph featuring about a dozen men standing near sandbags and a machine gun at the front. It was obviously a war image. Then I noticed a dark haired woman crouching behind the machine gun. I looked closer. Hair’s stood up on my arms. Goose bumps. I needed to know more. 

close up copy

Their wasn’t much information out there about Eileen, just a few bits and pieces that had been mentioned in Orwell books. So there was extensive research over the next year or so. Phone calls, letters, checking and re-checking details. Interviews on camera were arranged around the country. One lead to another and to another. It felt like being gently nudged along to find more about her. Weeks and months passed by while information was gathered but I never come across any obstacles. Everybody I asked wanted to be part of the documentary. During Summer 2013 I put the research to one side and started working on a film ‘Designs for Life’. The short film was about the growing demand for tattoo’s and that women are increasingly becoming part of the tattoo’d tribe. I’ve found having a couple of projects at different stages helps in the film making process. Spending time on something else gives you space away from the other project and finally return to it with fresh eyes and ears. ‘Designs for Life’ kept me busy until Autumn 2013 and further sales of previous documentaries funded my time to start piecing together the film about Eileen. 

Who knew that a library visit in 2012 would take me and my camera, from South Shields to Sunderland, Newcastle, Stockton, Warwickshire, Oxford, London and finally Barcelona. I remember I had the camera in my backpack walking through Barcelona Airport thinking how did I get here. It seemed so effortless, the whole process just fell into place. On 26th March 2014 I screened for the first time, Wildflower the documentary about Eileen O’Shaughnessy. Her son Richard Blair, and friends from The Orwell Society came up north to watch the film.

A short clip from the documentary edited this year. Why not check out other ALIKIVI films on You Tube and subscribe to the channel.


Gary Alikivi June 2018.


Secrets & Lies, Baron Avro Manhattan documentary, 17th July 2018.

Westoe Rose, Amy Flagg documentary, 19th July 2018.

Zamyatin, Tyneside-Russia documentary, 7th August 2018.

Why not check the ALIKIVI You Tube channel for more North East stories.

WE SOLD OUR SOUL FOR ROCK N ROLL documentary on South Tyneside rock music.


In February 2017 I transcribed interviews from the documentary and decided to put them out on a blog. I added some new interviews and updated the originals. Then more musicians got in touch. The blog has snowballed from North East bands like Beckett to worldwide musicians like John Dalton in California. To date it has reached nearly 40,000 views.

But how did I tackle this documentary and pull it all together ? Firstly I talked to a few musicians who passed over some of their archive of demo tapes, video’s and photo’s. Plus I already had a number of photographs I had taken through the 90’s. Then a lot of research was done in the Local Studies Library, South Shields. I remember during the 80’s reading a feature called Young Weekender in the Saturday edition of local newspaper The Shields Gazette. It featured interviews, releases by local and national bands, plus a list of gig dates around Tyneside. The library had all the Gazette’s on microfilm. It took a few visits but in all it was a good start. Then during May 2007 filmed interviews were arranged at The Cave in South Shields, formerly Tyne Dock Youth Club, where in the 1970’s some of the bands had rehearsed and performed as teenagers. 

I was surprised at the amount of people who turned up to tell their story, and what excellent stories they were. The title of the documentary is from a Black Sabbath compilation album and perfectly sums up the feeling I got when people were telling their story. Some bands even got back together after 30 odd year. After working on a few other commisioned projects, finally in 2010 a 30 minute version of the documentary was screened in South Shields, it was shown a few month later at The Cluny in Newcastle along with a film about the New York Dolls. In September 2011 a full version was shown at the Library Theatre in South Shields. 

‘We Sold Our Soul for Rock n Roll’ is on the Alikivi You Tube channel. To check out other films why not subscribe to the channel.

Gary Alikivi  2018

NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK in conversation with Unified Media


Ryan, Phil and Jon.

Sitting in the HQ of Unified Media at 7 Beach Road, South Shields  I’m talking with Jon, Phil and Ryan about how I had an office downstairs in this building over 10 years ago. The stairs didn’t seem as steep then. I first met Unified Media two years ago when I was looking for a team to help produce a DVD of folk musician Benny Graham and friends singing old Northumbrian songs. The DVD was screened in The Word, South Shields, as is their latest project about the author Catherine Cookson…

Ryan: ‘South Tyneside Council commissioned ‘Our Catherine’. They wanted a film to showcase as part of their new exhibition to commemorate the death of Catherine Cookson, which is twenty years ago this year. We didn’t want to make a piece with just historical images in a sort of documentary style – instead, we wanted something that was more dramatic, and moving’. 

Phil: ‘Yeah, we wanted to make something that would really pull people in. We worked with playwright Tom Kelly, which he ended up co-writing with Jon in order to adapt his writing for the screen’.

Jon: ‘The intention was to inform people about Catherine but also take them on a journey that as emotional as well as educational. It was important to us that even if you didn’t know who she was, or even if you weren’t from the North East, you could watch the film and still be moved and entertained’.

Ryan: ‘We knew that if we made a historical, documentary piece it may well only appeal to people who knew her, or her existing audience. None of us had any connection to Catherine Cookson and her work when we were commissioned to make the film. We had to discover her for ourselves when we began pre-production, because up until then we only knew her as someone our Mam’s read when we were kids. When researching, we were taken on a journey of discovery about a very talented and resilient individual. I think we wanted to take the audience on that same journey of discovery, whilst still appealing to her fans and readers’.


The film has a fairly young cast….

Phil: ‘It does. Catherine left South Shields in her 20’s, and and so we wanted the film to focus on her coming back at that age and seeing her home from a different perspective’. 

Ryan: ‘Fortunately, we found the extremely talented actress and Catherine Cookson fan, Kerry Browne, who did a phenomenal job. It was really important to her that she got it right’.

Phil: ‘She’s from Glasgow, but understands how important Catherine is to the people of Tyneside. She wanted to get it right and gave 110%. It was wonderful working with her’. 

Jon: ‘We also had Rachel Adamson, who provided Catherine’s voice. She was brilliant, to. It was a labour of love for everyone. An experience none of us will forget, to be honest’.

Phil: ‘It seems to have struck a chord with a lot of people’. 

Jon: ‘The response to the film has been overwhelming. I think that’s a testament to everyone involved, and how much they gave for us’.   

How long did the whole process take? 

Ryan: ‘We did script amendments and voice overs right up to the wire. It took probably three weeks in total, if you tallied everything together. Filmmaking is something we’re still working out, as this is the first drama we’ve done together. It’s very much a learning process’. 

You had great weather for the shoot…

Phil: We certainly did. We had scheduled those 3 days for filming a few weeks beforehand, and were blessed with perfect weather conditions. We were very fortunate with that’.

Jon: The blue skies, the sun, swans, insects, mist, you name it – nature was working with us on those days. Nature was working in conjunction with South Shields and Jarrow on those days, and showed up for us in a very big way’. 

Have you got a family background in creative work? 

Ryan: ‘Not that I know of’.

Phil: ‘I’ve never been asked that question before, but no don’t think so. Maybe i’m the first’.

Jon: ‘There is a John Burton in the family actually, late 1800 to early 1900’s, and he was a Poet. He was local, didn’t sell millions of copies of his books, but he was certainly creative. That’s the only connection I can go back to’.


Why in one of the most deprived areas of the UK for employment, education etc… did you choose a creative job which is way down the list of priority for funding ?

Jon: ‘We didn’t think too much about that. You can make excuses for not taking action, and I certainly have done that before in my life. We just thought maybe if we do what we love to do, as good as we can, it’ll work out. You could say that was naive, but the proof is in the pudding. I think we just believed in our ability to make it work, if that doesn’t sound too twee’. 

Phil: ‘I think we thought that we might as well risk failing doing the thing we love than carry on doing something we don’t enjoy for the rest of our lives. Sometimes you can’t help what location you’re in for jobs unless you decide to move, which we couldn’t do. We just let ourselves gravitate to what we love doing and give it our all. We still are. It seems to be working’.

Ryan: ‘I think we had faith and belief that we could do what we wanted to do. There wasn’t a job out there that fit what we wanted, so we just created that job. We started the kind of business we would want to work for. We were coming across a lot of the advice of successful entrepreneurs and business-owners who suggested as much, and it made a lot of sense’.  

Phil: ‘If it doesn’t work, I can always get a normal job and know that at least I’ve had a good go. Or maybe I’d try creating a different business. At least then I’d know for sure, and know that I tried, instead of it always being a pipe dream I could never quite bring myself to make a real go of. It could have went that way, but it didn’t, and I like myself a lot for having the balls to do that’.

Jon: ‘It helps we didn’t have kids when we started and nobody was financially depending on us. I felt it was my responsibility to try it for that reason among others. I guess also that starting the business wasn’t based too much on blind faith as we observed that despite where you live, it’s a good time to be a filmmaker or a creator of video content because of the absolute surgence of social media. There’s a huge desire for video content as a result of that. We’re riding a wave it would seem, that you don’t need to move to London to take advantage of’.  

Tell me what Unified Media is, and what the name means?

Jon: ‘Unified Media was about coming together and doing something that would be the combined, unified vision of all of us. We’d already been creative with each other for years prior. Phil and I made films together at University and Ryan and I were in a band together for a long time. We were always at our best and most fulfilled when creating stuff together. We wanted to do that as a way of life instead of just something we did on a weekend, or whenever we could get away from our day jobs’. 

Phil: ‘Unified isn’t so much a job in that respect. It’s living your life the way you want to, and being supported for that, financially and otherwise, because you’re good at what you do, and you love it. You take your work home with you because it isn’t work, it’s just what you do. It can be challenging, but the challenges are always making you better. They’re the kind of challenges that help you learn and improve, in a rapid way’. 

Jon: ‘It’s not like, ‘there’s my job over here and my life over there’ in separate places. It’s broken down the barriers between those things. It’s made them one and the same. That feels more organic and right for us’.

Ryan: ‘It’s not a cakewalk by any means, if this all sounds a little too good to be true. It’s not handed to you. You have to say yes to the responsibility of making something like that work and doing what it takes to make it work. The challenges come thick and fast, and you’ve got to meet them head on. We’ve realised from that just how much we can take. Starting a business like this teaches you a lot about what you can handle, what you can endure. There were months where we had no idea were the rent was coming from. We know we can handle that now. We can take the uncertainty. It certainly chips away at how fearful you are, because you know what you can handle. We stuck together and faced it together. The name Unified came from that, too. We supported each other through those times, which were tricky, to say the least’. 

Phil: ‘We’ve also got amazing partners and family who’ve always supported what we’re doing. Choosing an adventurous, risky lifestyle like this shone a light on those things and made me more grateful in general. People seemed to believe in what we were doing, and that was amazing. The Unified name then seems to stretch beyond the three of us’. 

Jon: ‘Yeah. There’s a Terence McKenna quote that says “hurl yourself into the abyss and discover it’s a feather bed”. It’s been something like that’.

Ryan: ‘And we’ve just built on top of that since the start. Initially it was all about the passion and creativity, all the gooey stuff – but there’s structure now, which is implied in ‘building’ a business. You can build on that passion, on that principle, on that idea’.

Jon: ‘We’re still building, and the structure is getting stronger. It makes us very proud and fulfills us more than we could have imagined. Unified Media is a dream that is becoming a reality. Let’s say that as a roundup to your question’.

Is it not crowded when you are editing a project? 

Ryan: ‘I prefer when we edit together. That’s what makes something a Unified film. It’s all very dynamic. Editing is never the same process from one job to the next, which I like because it keeps things fresh. It’s not like a factory line thing’. 

Jon: ‘Yeah, it’s very dynamic. You can’t box the process up. For example, if we’re working on something sports-related, Phil will have the initial drive to get it going, because he was inspired to and is the more sportcentric one of us, so we let him go as far as that inspiration took him, then we started co-editing together. But it’s different for every project. Each of us is good at different things, and interested more or less in different areas. The set up helps everyone play to their strengths. Though that’s not to say we never have creative differences, or even… ‘debates’.

Ryan: ‘Learning how to disagree and negotiate in a civil way is a constant challenge’. 

Phil: ‘I can get protective over my work, and I’ve had to let go of that and realise it’s not ‘my’ work, it’s our work. The lads challenge me to be better, and always push me to do the right thing for the project. Jon and I can be pretty stubborn’.

Jon: ‘No I can’t! Haha. Yeah, I absolutely can. We’re always all just trying to do the right thing, though, what the ‘right’ thing is isn’t always obvious, and you get in to the whole subjective/objective thing. Editing is a philosophical quagmire. Think about it too much and you’ll have a brain-burnout. There’s infinite variables, so you often have to learn to balance your intellect with your intuition. Though of course, you’re balancing all those things with that of two other people! It can get tricky, so it demands that we all be our best and learn how to be more civil’.  

Ryan: ‘We’re reading some books about editing now and it turns out they’re as much about philosophy as the technicalities of editing. In terms of our process, we’ve all got to be happy with something to sign off for the customer to see it, so getting there can be a challenge. You don’t want a ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’ situation, but you don’t want anyone being dictatorial either. It’s a balancing act, and judging from the response to our work so far, we’re managing well enough! ‘

Phil: ‘We haven’t killed each other yet, so’.  


What has been your most challenging project?

Phil: ‘It hasn’t been released just yet, but maybe the project for England Rugby?’

Ryan: ‘Yeah, they hired us after we made a women’s rugby promo video for the Durham County RFU. It did really well, so they approached us to make one for them, but, with a much more specific aim and outcome’. 

Jon: ‘The brief was ‘make a film that makes refereeing rugby appealing to women, and it has to be very emotionally engaging’. That’s the most specific brief we’ve had yet, and it was definitely challenging. England Rugby wanted to use it for an event in which it had to convince women that authority and rule-keeping was not only appealing, but something they should want to involve themselves in. In the end, it surpassed the brief and was a massive success for the client’.

Ryan: ‘One of the most fulfilling things yet was getting that right. It might have closed a lot of doors for us if we’d messed it up’. 

Jon: ‘I honestly feel like if we succeeded at that, we can succeed at anything’. 


Within the 3 years of Unified Media, have there been any memorable moments?

Phil: ‘Too many to name. Though, perhaps the Home Alone music video for Boy Jumps Ship? We were tasked with recreating entire scenes from the Home Alone films using the band members all within like, two weeks’.

Jon: ‘Yeah, everything miraculously fell into place for that one in such a scant timeframe. We had two weeks to plan, shoot and edit the film, and the prop/location list was massive, and the set ups were elaborate. We accepted the job with a ‘we’ll make it work’ attitude, but really had no idea how we would. At the time, we needed a music video on our portfolio, so just bit that particular bullet’. 

Ryan: ‘Somehow, one by one, everything we needed just presented itself to us. The two weeks were an absolute whirlwind, and the universe just seemed to let us ride that wave, with each ambitious prop and location serendipitously revealed to us. It was an absolute adventure from start to finish. People talk about the ‘flow state’, and that’s really what that was’. 

Jon: ‘It was in many a ways the embodiment of why we started Unified in the first place. It was us throwing caution to the wind, doing what we love together and having a great time creating stuff as a team. Challenging, yes, but extremely rewarding, too’. 

Ryan: ‘Maybe we could also mention your involvement, Gary, if we’re talking about notable people as well as moments?’

Jon: ‘Yes! It was because of your support and help that we got our first office, and one of our first jobs, and whatever led on from there’.

Phil: ‘Get in, Gary, lad’. 

Jon: ‘Gazza, what a legend’. 

Ryan: ‘That was notable for lots of reasons, but it’s worth mentioning that all of us have worked in the industry before, and encountered a lot of ego, and vibes that almost put us off this work altogether’. 

Jon: ‘Yeah, but when we started Unified, we met people like you Gary, who showed nothing but enthusiasm, support and all round good vibes’. 

Phil: ‘And here he is again, writing a blog about us and getting us out there!’

Jon: ‘You’d think he was on the payroll’.

 Ryan: ‘Nah, just a class lad with a heart of gold’. 

Jon: ‘What a belter’.


To find out more go to the official website : https://www.unifiedmedia.org.uk 

Interview by Gary Alikivi August 2018. 

TYNE DOCK BORDERS documentary about an area in the North East of England.

Growing up in the shadow of the arches, bombing around Tyne Dock on my Grifter bike, playing football on St Mary’s field and when I was a teenager a member of Tyne Dock Youth Club in South Shields. They had a film night every Sunday. No matter what film was screening I’d get a chair and plonk myself down at the front. The film was projected from a room at the back of the hall. The pictures, colour and sound were amazing. Three films stand out from those Sunday nights – Carrie by Stephen King, Monty Pythons Life of Brian and Duel by Stephen Speilberg.  


On my Grifter in front of Tyne Dock Arches being demolished in October 1977.

About 10 years ago I started researching my family tree. The Local Studies Library in South Shields was a great resource to find information. Putting the story together I knew of a family connection to Ireland, but never realised the full impact that the Irish had on the North East and in my case, Jarrow. The research led to making a documentary Little Ireland. Since then I have filmed a lot around South Tyneside recording stories by local people talking about memories of their home town. Skuetenders, War Stories, Home from Home, Westoe Rose and Secrets & Lies. It’s been interesting to uncover and record stories that would have been lost or forgotten. This link is to a documentary filmed late 2011 ’Tyne Dock Borders’ including interviews with local residents and featuring Writers Catherine Cookson and James Mitchell as they were born in Tyne Dock. 


’Tyne Dock Borders’ was originally 70 minutes but for the purposes of uploading the documentaries on You Tube and sharing them on social media I have recently edited the films down to short stories. 

To view the film go to the ALIKIVI You Tube channel and subscribe to watch more.

Gary Alikivi 2018

SKUETENDERS – documentary about The Lawe, South Shields.


Over 7 years from 2009-16 I produced over 20 documentaries around South Tyneside. I never received any funding to produce the films, each DVD was sold to help fund the next one. ‘Little Ireland’ sold well and was sent to ex-pat’s around Europe, Canada and Australia but ‘Skuetenders’ was the most successful. I’ve lost count the number of copies sold, but it’ll be around 800. 

The length of any programme can differ from very short adverts to full length films of 100 minutes plus. It just depends on the story that you are telling. An interesting documentary on tv can be turned into just a number of soundbites. They can tell the story but rush over some really good bits with the interviewee talking for less than 10 seconds. I’ve watched a few. When I had the idea to make a documentary around the Lawe Top in South Shields I didn’t want it to be full of soundbites. I wanted the interviewee’s to have enough time to tell their story. Not only was it important what they had to say but it was all in the Geordie accent. The idea was to wander around The Lawe Top collecting stories from residents. Plus a narrator explaining the history of this oldest part of South Shields, it even has a Roman fort.  

As with all documentaries made over the 7 years, arrangements were made with Hildred Whale at the South Shields Heritage Club to screen the film in the Library. Downstairs had a great theatre with over 100 raked seats, a stage, large screen, video projector hanging from the ceiling and projection room with various VHS and DVD players. It also had an audio mixing desk and mic’s for invited speakers. A great set up. A date for the first screening on 2pm 19th October 2011 was arranged and that quickly sold out. A later show at 7pm was added. That sold out. Another date was added. Same again, a quick sell out. This was repeated until the film was shown six times. Further evidence of a thirst that people have to see and hear stories from their home town. The documentary had a running time of 70minutes and was repeated in the next documentary ‘Tyne Dock Borders’. Another area of the town with a long history. 

For the purposes of uploading the documentaries on You Tube and sharing them on social media I have recently edited the films down to short stories.

To view the film go to GARY ALIKIVI You Tube channel and subscribe to watch more.

Gary Alikivi August 2018.

LITTLE IRELAND – documentary on Irish immigration into Jarrow, UK


Sarah McFadden, (7th from left) my Great Grandmother, at Haggies Rope Works, in Willington Quay, Wallsend. A long way from Donegal.

Little Ireland came about after I’d been researching my family tree. It was late 2007 when I started. I knew I had mostly Irish background but not sure of the exact locations where they lived. The Local Studies Library in South Shields was a great source for information. The filing system with the old press cuttings and the brilliant photographs by Amy Flagg and James Cleet of Tyneside in the 1930’s. The area’s where some of my family lived. The old maps were really interesting. I could see where my Great Grandfather Dawson Downey from Derry lived. A house in Bell Street, East Jarrow. Across the road was the chemical works where he worked. Next door was The Alkali pub and just up the road was St Bede’s Church. I thought thousands of families would be exactly the same. Never having to go very far. Living a small life.

I never realised the full impact that the Irish had on the North East and in my case, Jarrow. The population had grown so much that the village became a small town. I started to jot down a few notes when I read an article in The Shields Gazette about Irish immigration. It was written by Tom Kelly (Jarrow born playwright) so I got in touch and we met up at The Customs House in South Shields. Quickly a plan was made, a structure for a documentary and interviews with Jarrovians with Irish ancestry fell into place. It wasn’t forced, it was easy to put together. 

Tom Kelly and I started filming at St Paul’s in East Jarrow. Tripod up, camera ready, Tom reading the opening lines from the script but it didn’t feel right. We stopped and went back to my studio. Had a cup of coffee then went out in his car again to Jarrow. I started filming and Tom started talking. This was more like it. Hand held felt more comfortable, being part of the film. As though an old Irishman had come back and was searching for his town. ‘Like driving into the past’.

Over the next few weeks I filmed interviews with people who had Irish relatives. For one interview I arranged to talk to singer Leo Connolly at his home in Jarrow. I turned up, knocked on the door but got no answer. I knocked again and heard someone in the house. I looked through the front window and there they were. Two blokes with acoustic guitars and Leo in the middle singing his heart out. That was Little Ireland right there. The documentary was successful it was screened for the first time to two sell out audiences at The Customs House on St Patricks Day 2009. The film has been shown at various venues including St Bede’s Church Hall where most of the Irish attended when they first came to Jarrow over 100 years ago.

Link to the documentary and to check out other films on You Tube subscribe to my channel. GARY ALIKIVI.

Gary Alikivi August 2018.