The Bald Explorer in 2014

My job, if you can call it that, with the Bald Explorer programmes, is to look back in history and follow a story from the past with the perspective of today. In other words, I am retracing the steps of people or things that have gone before us, whether they are the smugglers on the Romney Marshes or a Shropshire canal that has long since been abandoned. I also try to discover the historical highlights from small, perhaps lesser known, towns and villages in the British landscape.

The documentaries, which are broadcast on the Community Channel, a not-for-profit television station and freely available to most of the British population on various digital platforms, as well as on the internet website, Youtube, are completely self-funded. By that I mean, the production budget, such as it is, comes directly from my own pocket or the kind donations received from viewers and fans who appreciate the series. I am not, at time of writing anyway, in receipt of any payment for the programmes and they currently do not make any financial return.

Although these somewhat quirky, individual, and hopefully unique, programmes are not what could be strictly described as ‘expensive’ to produce (I visit places and present the material to camera), there are costs associated with each episode. Travel expenses, overnight stays, liability insurance, food and, occasionally, location fees can be listed as the necessary out-goings that I have to find. To date, I have been lucky, in that it has been possible to cajole friends, offspring or interested parties to give up their time for free and assist me with the making of the Bald Explorer episodes. The subjects covered and locations visited have, for the most part, been within easy reach of my home, or a friend’s home, and as a result, the programmes have been made possible to produce. However, as we move into the future, and with 2014 around the corner, I would like to broaden the scope and reach of the Bald Explorer documentaries. Travelling further afield and exploring places that are genuinely ‘new’ to me would, I am certain, add value, as well as, audience enjoyment, to the series. The problem is financing it all.

I have experimented with a fund-raising campaign on Kickstarter, but the results, although optimistic, did not bring in enough pledges to make a series of several episodes in one go – the most cost-effective method of making television programmes. As a consequence, I am forced to continue making each episode one at a time and simply try to cover the basic expenses. Naturally, at this stage, I am more than happy to give up my free time to produce the episodes (they are very important to me) but, self-funding them as before, is no longer possible.

The question, therefore, is can the viewing public help and how can this be managed?

In an ideal world, it would be great to have a dedicated fund-raiser to take on the role of managing the fundraising process. I am not sure I can do this myself, for I know my limitations and although I maybe good at researching the shows, scripting the episodes, pre, shoot and post production processes, the marketing and money-finding is definitely not one my strengths. So, I would be curious to see if the readers of my website and enthusiastic fans of the show might like to help or could suggest ideas towards raising the necessary cash to make the future episodes of the Bald Explorer happen?

Before I leave you, as always, may I please draw your attention to the donations button on the top right hand side of the Bald Explorer website, where your generosity is much appreciated. Thank you.

Bald Explorer’s New Video Channel

Finally, and I do not know why it has taken so long, I have gathered all the Bald Explorer video strands together and placed them within their own channel on Youtube. This will enable fans to find all the programmes a lot more easier, and also they can discover additional video snippets too – like the teasers and interviews that I do.

Over the years I have taken out three Youtube accounts and not really taken advantage of the benefits. I have the main Richard Vobes account, the video production account, Vobavision and now the Bald Explorer one. Of course, Youtube themselves haven’t really helped too much as they keep changing the interface and how to use it. I think they have settled down on a format they like. From what I can see they wish to encourage ‘channels’ – themed or niche channels with content that is searchable and easier to organise.

I do like the ability to make your own playlists and have, in effect, mini channels within the main channel. I would rather have more control on branding the layout, I don’t like it terribly much, but then, I can embed the videos into my own website any way I want so I really shouldn’t moan. 🙂

I hope shortly, to record a regular Bald Explorer video blog – something I have tried before and not kept up. With so much going on, it is tricky to keep everything in shipshape and Bristol fashion, but it would be good for the site to have a regular video newsletter. Watch this space!

Anyway, www.Youtube.com/BaldExplorer is the new Youtube hub, so please do subscribe and you will receive all the updates as they come along. The new episode, Taking the Water – the story of a spa town is complete and will be available to watch soon as well as broadcast on the Community Channel. (www.CommunityChannel.org)

The Bald Explorer is a self-funded television series broadcast on the Community Channel and Youtube. If you enjoy what I make and would like to see more programmes, please help make it happen. Do, if you can, make a donation towards the cost of the production by using the donate button on the right hand site of the website. Every little helps to pay for the costs! Thank you.

History – leave it to the professionals!

History: leave it to the professionals. This was the message I was getting from my radio when I listened to Juliet Gardiner’s programme, Presenting the Past, How the Media Changes History on BBC Radio 4’s Archive on 4 last week. I got very angry and wanted to submerge the FM receiver in the bath water, except that, it would have ruined a perfectly good old fashioned wireless and I didn’t want to do that.

Juliet Gardiner might well be an eminent historian who studied at university and obtained fabulous qualifications in history studies, enabling her to teach, write about and appear on TV programmes, but it made me wonder, is the pursuit and telling of history really only allowable in the hands of those that went in for high education?

I came away from my comprehensive school with a bunch of CSEs (Certificate of Secondary Education) and I went off to learn many skills, most of which were self-taught. Book reading has been my passion for as long as I can remember and in recent years I have been keen to learn as much as possible about local history as well as that of Britain’s past . I am passionate about it and when I see people walk past a timber-framed house, for example, built in the Elizabethan period and now turned into a trendy coffee shop or wine bar, I want to scream and tell people that it was originally a wool merchants house or whatever. Too many of us, brought up in England, Scotland and Wales take our historic properties for granted and do not even think of them as terribly significant – just as old quaint buildings. But while they are that – they have a past and a story, and that has an impact on all of us.

I do not have any qualifications in the study of history and I suppose that is why the BBC and other television channels may never want to use me to present any of their programmes, but that hasn’t stopped me wanting to share my thirst for knowledge of our fascinating past with my fellow citizens through the medium of film and TV.

The Bald Explorer is a documentary series that tries to introduce its viewers to the heritage of this nation and tell some of the stories from the past. I cannot call myself a historian, but I do not see that it matters. Provided I research my subject well, communicate the main points and do not make stuff up, I do not see why I should not be allowed to do this. However, listening to Juliet Gardiner, the other day, I was given the distinct impression that I should leave well alone. To my mind, the more people who can engage with history the better. If I can enthuse my passion and persuade others to take a second look at that timber framed building, pick up a book (one even written by Juliet Gardiner) and learn a bit more about where we come from, then this is a good thing.

I am not sure what axe she has to grind with ‘amateurs’ having a go, but I think it very shortsighted.

The Bald Explorer episode about Taking the Waters at Royal Tunbridge Wells is now complete and will be broadcast on the Community Channel early next year. If you would like to help these programmes and can afford to give a small donation, you may see the programming before the transmission dates. Head to the Bald Explorer website (www.BaldExplorer.com) to find out how to donate. Thank you.

Enhancing the Image

Work is nearly complete on the next Bald Explorer episode, Taking the Waters; a documentary about the discovery of the spring water at Tunbridge Wells, in Kent. However, there are still a few things to make it complete and hopefully assist the telling of the story.

When filming, particularly on a limited budget, it isn’t always possible to match the same production values as the big boys. The BBC love to take their presenters into museum archives and have them presenting pieces to camera while at the same time handling original texts, books and scrolls. It is as if they need to demonstrate visually that what they are telling the audience is factually true. To be honest, I do wonder how many people would know whether the so-called 17th century manuscript written on vellum and scrawled in ink by a quill pen is genuine, or that it is the book in question or even if it proclaims the things we are being told. We have to take all this on face value – but they do love to show you this type of thing, so you can ‘believe’ it is authentic.

I am afraid, I do have to cheat a little here. Whilst I try to give an as honest account as possible, I cannot pretend to be a leading authority on any subject, nor do I have the money to access the genuine original materials – but I am not really sure that I need to in order to tell the same story convincingly.pantiles-1650

However, cheating is really only there to help the message be understood. For example, in the first picture, (above) you will see me sitting in my kitchen with a few samples of what looks like chalybeate water. Chalybeate is actually crystal clear if taken from source, but it does contain quite a large amount of iron, which leaves an orange tinge in the glass. I filmed watered down Ironbru to colour the water slightly. I wanted to distinguish it from tap water and I am hopeful that using this commercial product it would even contain an element of iron!

Secondly, my kitchen is old fashioned, and no science lab – so to give it the feel of authenticity and help paint the picture of an old Victorian chemist’s lab, I added in post production a couple of period medical posters. Yes, they were not there when we filmed, but adding them afterwards gives the impression of a laboratory without me actually saying I am in one. Dramatic licence at work here, I think.

I also used a little computer graphics to create imagery of the original Pantiles and source of the spring water. We know from historical text it was surrounded by a shed and small fence and we are told a number of timber framed properties were built in close proximity before the current constructions were erected. I haven’t found any reference material for these early buildings so I have made an educated guess and the short animation is merely there to illustrate the descriptions.

The main aim of all this deceit, if one wants to call it that, is really to engage with the viewer, encourage people to either read further about the subject or visit the spring waters for themselves and make up their own minds.

The programme will be broadcast in the new year on the Community Channel. I make these programmes for free and as yet I do not gain an income from them. If you would like to help get these episodes produced and get to view the finished documentary before its first transmission, then please visit the website and make a small donation. You can find the Payal button on the right hand side. Thank you very much.

In Production… Chalybeate

In the next Bald Explorer programme, hopefully aired on the Community Channel in 2014, I am in search of the spring water of a Spa town in Kent. I am referring to Chalybeate of Tunbridge Wells – that’s pronounced ‘kal-eeb-ee-ot’ by the way, meaning iron water. I want to tell how the original orange coloured waters were discovered, by whom and how a fashionable resort arose from nothing at the beginning of the 17th century. Jason Reeve, my son Billy and myself have been stalking around the Kentish weald with camera and tripod, boom pole and microphone getting the facts (as far as they are known) onto digital media. I will be editing the footage and shaping it up into a TV programme fairly soon. There is still much, however, to do.

toad2Today, for example, I was over at an actor friend of mine’s abode shooting a short sequence depicting the eminent physician and Spa enthusiast, Augustus Granville, who wrote an entertaining book The Spas of England, published in 1841.  He wasn’t terribly impressed with the spring water or the resort when he visited at the beginning of the Victorian period, although to be fair to the town of Tunbridge Wells, it was a few years after its most fashionable period, the 18th Century. He bemoaned that few used the cold bath and that there was little mineral quality to the famous water. Nick Scahill, who collects all things Victorian, agreed very kindly to play the part of Granville.

The wells, named after the local medieval town of Tunbridge (now spelt Tonbridge and four miles to the north) are located in an area known as the Pantiles. It has nothing to do with the architectural titles you find on roof tops. These were small square clay fired titles baked in special pans and laid on a walkway in front of the spring head. Unfortunately, they have now gone, but the name lingers on, much to the confusion of visitors and no doubt some residents of the town.

granville

I am hoping to film in the privately owned Pantiles area very soon and obtain an interview a Dipper (a lady in traditional dress who dishes out the water for tourists to taste) and record a conversation with the curator of the Tunbridge Wells museum about the fine Tunbridge Ware that became all the rage in 1700s.

Don’t forget, you can help make the Bald Explorer programmes happen by making a small donation via the special button on the right hand side of the website. The shows are completely self-funded for transmission on the Community Channel which is a not-for-profit TV station. If you do make a contribution, I will make sure you get to see a copy of the finished episode before it is broadcast. Thank you very much.

 

 

Lewes Boot Scrapers

Have you ever spotted those weird little metal things sunken into the walls of Georgian houses and wondered what they are? They look like miniature fire-places, don’t they? In the days before the motor car and when travel was really only possible either on your own two feet or by those of a horse, the state of the walkways was dreadful. The roads were barely paved and where they were, dirt, mud and other animal waste collected in sloppy piles. Consequently, one’s foot attire became encrusted with plenty of unwanted crap. The last thing any respectable gentleman, or gentle woman for that matter, wanted to do was to bring this putrid soil into their expensive households or spread the filth on their exotic carpets. Behold, the boot-scraper; a cunning little wrought iron device adorning the exterior of the house, at ground level and close to the front door – the perfect gadget to remove this unwanted muck.

In another of the mini-series episodes on my new Youtube channel, I am in the rural county town of Lewes, in East Sussex, on the search for a boot-scraper and another oddities from our heritage. It is amazing t see what is still out there,  left alone and for all to discover if we open out eyes. Originally, the footage appeared in the full length documentary about the town and shown on the Community Channel, but knowing that not everyone has time to watch these long format videos, I have pulled out interesting moments and repackaging them into shorter films. I do hope you will like them. There is unseen footage too – so you get a bonus as well.

Do go and check out the channel, if you have time and please, don’t forget to subscribe. Many thanks.