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.
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.
I was walking down King Street in South Shields when I noticed a group of lads walking up the street laughing, joking and looking as if they didn’t have a care in the world. I wondered if any of them had jobs? Were they killing time until their next shift at work ? Or their next giro? This led me into thinking about the unemployment problem in my hometown.
I sat down on a bench where two old men were. I overheard them talking about how they had spent their working lives down the mines. Westoe Colliery used to be nearby. Listening to their banter, made me think back to when the strike began in March 1984. I was 18 at the time, about the same age as those young lads who passed earlier. It was always on the telly. Scargill, Thatcher, pickets and police. TV footage of the battle of Orgreave. Explosive scenes of a class war.
Reality was that thousands of men weren’t working. There was no money coming in to pay bills and feed kids. How did their families survive ? Whole communities were brought to their knees due to financial insecurity. Families torn apart. I thought it would be interesting to find how people coped in that time of crisis. People who were directly involved given a voice to record their cold, hard and bitter truths.
During research for the film the stories that I heard were laughter, sadness, courage and pride. Some people didn’t want to talk about the strike, or for any of their comments to be recorded. After all these years feelings still ran deep. Emotional scars.
The years have rolled on and out of the ashes of the pit’s new business’ and housing developments have appeared. But the mining industry will never be forgotten.
Link to the documentary and to check out other films on You Tube subscribe to my channel:
As the blog hits 35,000 views Journalist Peter French wrote in The Shields Gazette 7th August 2018….’The life and times of Avro Manhattan, an Italian born Baron whose artwork and writing made him friends and enemies throughout the world, and who chose to spend his final years, living with his wife in South Shields are truley fascinating. But don’t take my word for it – let the man himself revael to you all about it’.
To read the story go to…www.shieldsgazette.com/lifestyle/nostalgia/hit-man-s-target-settled-in-south-shields-1-9288202
Or watch the documentary ‘SECRETS & LIES’ posted on 17th July 2018.
Gary Alikivi August 2018.
Amy Flagg is fondly remembered as the lady in a hat and trench coat, who quietly went about photographing buildings and recording history of the town she loved. But who was Amy ? By the Second World War both her parents had died, plus the town she loved was falling apart from the German air raids. Her life was crumbling around her. When the bombs dropped she captured the scars with her camera. This is a story of courage and determination of a very unique woman who captured some of the most devastating images of South Shields in the 20th century.
Just some of the script from my documentary about South Shields photographer and local historian Amy Flagg. I came across her photo’s a few years ago when I was part of a group who volunteered to digitize the photographic collection held in South Tyneside Library. They were excellent photographs especially her record of the Second World War bomb damage in South Shields. A brave woman.
In my research I found that Amy had a darkroom so was able to print her own photograph’s. I know the magic that can happen there as I had my own set up during the early 90s. My darkroom was in a cupboard under the stairs where I’d print my black and white’s. Before I had the home set up I went on a short course in photography and darkroom techniques at a local community centre. If I was investing time and money I wanted to know my way around a darkroom first.
I’d go out with a roll of film and shoot some photo’s, develop them into a roll of negatives then put them into the enlarger and exposed the photographic paper to the light shining through the negative. Then put the paper through the tray of chemicals. The image started to come through – it was like magic. Real magic. Not the Paul Daniels showbizy stuff. This was the real thing… like voodoo. I knew I had to do more of this. And I did.
In June 2016 the time was right to make a short documentary about the life of Amy Flagg. Using archive information, diary entries and photograph’s from South Shields Library I put a script together. North East playwrite Tom Kelly provided the narration, local journalist and writer, Janis Blower, added the voice of Amy. We recorded the voice over’s at The Customs Space studio in South Shields. As with many documentaries I’ve made, North East musician John Clavering captured the mood with some great music. On March 8th 2017 ‘Westoe Rose’ was screened at The Word in South Shields on International Womans Day.
Watch the documentary ‘Westoe Rose’ and to check out some of my other films go to You Tube and subscribe to my channel.
Gary Alikivi June 2018.
The time has got to feel right to work on a project. I came across Avro Manhattan during Summer 2012 in the Local Studies section 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 Eileen O’Shaughnessy, the wife of George Orwell, when I came across Manhattan. I flicked through to the O’s but landed in the letter M’s and came across a name which was unusual for Tyneside. I pulled out the file and inside I was gobsmacked what I was reading. 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 in his will left over half a million pounds. Impressive story for someone who ended their days in South Shields. I needed to find out more but had a few projects to complete first. 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. As I walked past I used to tap his head a couple of times for luck. I gathered a lot of information about him and 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.
Article from The Shields Gazette, June 2015.
For more information there were 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 recieved 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 some 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. Another response was from somebody closer to home. A woman had bought the house he died in. The house was left with 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. The material took some sorting out and helped fill some gaps in his timeline.
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 recorded the narration and musician’s John Clavering and Dom Santos added 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, the rooms were partitioned by a pane of glass. 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 I immeadiately turned to Helen and said ‘Avro’s in the room’. It was brilliant. 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 – but not until I watched the World Cup first ! – 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.