The time has got to feel right to work on a project. I came across Avro Manhattan during Summer 2012 in the Local Studies Department of South Shields Library. There are a couple of large cabinets, inside are files with photographs and cuttings from local newspapers. All in alphabetical order.
At the time I was researching South Shields born Eileen O’Shaughnessy, wife of ‘1984’ author George Orwell. I flicked through to the O’s but landed in the letter M’s and came across a name which was unusual for Tyneside.
Manhattan was born in Italy in 1914, he was a Writer, Poet and Artist. He had met Picasso, had homes in London and Spain, and a plot of land in the Bahamas. In his will he left over half a million pounds. Impressive story for someone who ended their days in a terraced house in South Shields.
A week later I was in a charity shop when I came across a small book ‘Poems by Manhatten’ – he was still about. At the entrance of South Shields library there was a small plinth about 5ft tall with a bust of Manhattan on top. I used to tap his head a couple of times for luck.
Eventually I gathered a lot of information about him but it wasn’t until June 2015 when I went to the Blackhill cemetery in Shotley Bridge and found the grave and headstone for Baron Avro Manhattan. His wife’s parents lived in Shotley.
There was more information on various websites but a lot more digging was needed – talking to his ex-neighbours and friends. I put a request in The Shields Gazette and received a few calls in response.
The story was on their website and a woman from Germany called Gunda Kraepelin got in touch. She sent over photo’s of Avro when he was a young artist in Italy. She also told stories about him when he was young as her mother knew him well.
A visit to London was arranged as I got in touch with an art dealer from Sussex who has an extensive collection of his framed artwork. Another response was from somebody closer to home.
A woman had bought the South Shields house that he died in. Inside were carpets, curtains, old bits of furniture and in a spare room upstairs was a box of artwork, books, letters and photographs – full of personal stuff. Lucky she kept hold of it and handed it over to me – it was a goldmine of information about Avro’s life.
After months of research and writing the script, I was ready to record and make a documentary of his life. North East actors Jonathan Cash with his wife Helen were going to be the voices of Avro and his wife Anne. We recorded the narration and musician’s John Clavering and Dom Santos added music and sound.
In The Customs Space studio in South Shields I was sitting with the sound engineer Martin Trollope and Helen Cash in the control room. In the studio Jonathan was sitting next to a microphone with a copy of the script.
After reading all the material on Avro, writing the story and looking at his photo’s I imagined what he might sound like. I was looking down at the script when Martin said ok let’s go for it. Jonathan read the first sentence and immediately I turned to Helen and said ‘Avro’s in the room’. The rest of the session went really well and I was confident that I had the narration for the documentary.
During a project leaving plenty of space and time can allow more information to be collected – a positive aspect of not having to work to a deadline. So it was left for another year as I worked on other projects. I received a couple more leads from interested people but nothing that would add to the film. Then in June 2018 I decided to prepare the documentary to upload onto You Tube. The search isn’t over to find out all the Secrets and Lies.
Watch ‘Secrets & Lies’ here and check out some of my other films on You Tube and subscribe to the channel.
Gary Alikivi July 2018.