The film version of Harper Lee’s novel was released in 1962. I studied the book in 1976. I had no idea there was a film and back in the 70s, unless it was shown on television, there would have been no way to see it. It was long gone from the cinemas and only a helpful co-incidence of scheduling would have enabled me to watch rather than read it.
I am pleased I grew up in a time before on line streaming, DVDs, or even video cassettes since there was no way to consume ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ other than to read it. Having done so, for my English Literature O Level, I gained a book that has remained in my hinterland ever since.
When I discovered that a film had been made of the book I loved, I was reluctant to watch it. By this stage I had passed through university and the age of the video cassette made it possible to watch at any time. I held off. The chances of a film director replacing my vision with his own were too great a risk. Instead, I kept my own version of the story alive and only ended up watching the film when asked to do so with a friend. It seemed rude to decline and odd to say that I didn’t want my book memory affected.
Gregory Peck was not my Atticus Finch but he was amazing in this role and the film earned its place as a classic in my hinterland. I can see why Peck won the Academy Award. The film was directed by Robert Mulligan with a screenplay by Horton Foote. Mary Badham as Scout and Philip Alford as Jem were very close to the children in my head from reading the book. It is now hard to picture anyone else when rereading the novel.
Many films have to distil the book to tell the story, or concentrate on some parts at the expense of others but this film did not fall short of its tall order.
‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
There are very few books that I would claim changed me but this is one of them. The novel by Harper Lee was also one of the few books of the many that my secondary school made me read that I actually enjoyed. Everything was stacked against it: it was the 70s; the book was set in the American South, a country I had never visited; it had themes of race relations that I had never considered before. Yet, the set book for my English Literature O Level affected me so much that it changed my life.
The story is well known but to my sixteen year old self the idea of injustice stretched as far as thinking things in my own life were not fair. After studying this book my eyes were opened to a wider world of injustice. Not only that but the United States, which had been the place of our teenage dreams, was shown to be a country of more dimensions than I had previously known.
Jem was my favourite character and in the movie I made in my head as I read it, I was Jem. Even though I had a younger brother and not a sister and even though my father was nothing like the wise and thoughtful Atticus, I wanted to be Jem.
Although the book has been famous for years I had not come across it before it was placed before me by a teacher. I remember well The New Windmill Series edition by Heinemann. My parents did not know of it either. It reminds me of the essential role schools and teachers play in opening eyes and minds in young people. It is no surprise that, when Education Secretary, Conservative Michael Gove was so dismissive of the idea of the book’s place as a set text. His opposition only confirms for me the importance of the novel for today’s teenagers.
I had to give back my copy of the book at the end of the year, once the exams had been taken so the copy I have today is the one I bought when at university, a nondescript cover on a Pan edition which I only bought so as to own a copy and have it on my bookshelf. It is there still.
Although I loved studying English Literature, most set texts had the life squeezed out of them through tedious deconstruction. This book survived it all. Interestingly, although I can remember exam questions for the other works I studied, I cannot remember the questions about ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. It really did transcend its set book status.
It is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
This poem by Carl Sandburg dates from 1916 but has not dated in its message. It is a poem I return to from time to time. It is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
Who Am I?
My head knocks against the stars.
My feet are on the hilltops.
My finger-tips are in the valleys and shores of
Down in the sounding foam of primal things I
reach my hands and play with pebbles of
I have been to hell and back many times.
I know all about heaven, for I have talked with God.
I dabble in the blood and guts of the terrible.
I know the passionate seizure of beauty
And the marvelous rebellion of man at all signs
reading “Keep Off.”
My name is Truth and I am the most elusive captive
in the universe.
The Hard Stop was a serious film with a serious point to make. In 2011 serious rioting started in the Tottenham area of London and spread to other parts of the country. The act that led to the explosion of anger was the killing of Mark Duggan, a local man known to the police. What is called a ‘hard stop’ was carried out. In this manoeuvre several police vehicles surround the car they are following forcing it to stop. In this case Mark Duggan was forced from the car and in the resulting police action he was shot and killed.
The police had reason to believe Mark Duggan was carrying a gun even though he did not have one on him and the gun found nearby did not have his DNA.
This sad film follows two of his friends. Marcus Knox-Hooke and Kurtis Henville, friends since childhood, felt the injustice of the actions and they have continued to seek answers and some sense of justice since.
In following the men around, including the journey to the sentence hearing in the case of Marcus and, later, the journey home from prison on the day of his release, we learn what was like to grow up on the Broadwater Farm estate in north London, an estate made famous by terrible events in the 80s when a police officer PC Blakelock was killed in earlier riots.
The context of the film is bleak and the determination of both men to rise above their difficulties is impressive. Kurtis Henville spends most of the film trying to get interviews and then to secure a job. This is a challenge for a young man of his background and experience.
The hostility of both men to the police is understandable, especially as Mark Duggan was unarmed when he was killed. The defence of the police officer at the inquiry, that he ‘believed’ Duggan had a gun, was enough to avoid any charges for him or his fellow officers. Indeed, at he end of the film we learn that despite their being recorded incidents in thousands of people who have died at the hands of the police, no charges have been brought against any officer.
The dignity of these friends as well as the family of Mark Duggan is well illustrated here and stands up against the inevitable snipes of ‘no smoke without fire’. Well, the police ‘believed’ he was armed and that seems to be enough.
This is an important film. It is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
I have very fond memories of a television programme from the early 70s which was broadcast on BBC television in the children’s part of the schedule between the end of school and the start of the evening news.
‘If You Were Me’ was based on the idea of pupil exchanges such as happen when young people learn a different language. Here, each individual programme followed a British child as he or she teamed up with a child from another country. To start with British child welcomed their visitor of the same age to live with them for a week. In the second half of the programme the British person went to stay in the foreign country.
As a boy, I had a couple of pen friends. I dreamed of visiting them but it never happened. I also had parents who did not feel comfortable about travelling abroad. ‘If You Were Me’ spoke to my dreams of world travel and meeting people I considered exotic. I did not get to leave Britain until I went to University but this programme along with my children’s atlas kept the dream alive!
The programme I remember most may have been the first, or maybe the most repeated, which had a boy from Yorkshire who exchanged with a boy from Tunisia. I continue to search YouTube in the hope that an avid collector has shared his or her old videos but, actually, memories work just as well. I can still sing the song by Lionel Morton.
‘If You Were Me’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
This book by Elizabeth Laird may be aimed at children but it is worth adults picking it up to gain a fictional insight into a piece of British Empire history. The Prince of the title is Alamayu, the son of the King of Abyssinia, who relates his story from the closed world of Rugby School in England where he is educated at the instruction of Queen Victoria. How he comes to be there is told through his memories of his earlier life when his father led his nation and was a leader as strong as a lion.
The British Empire came to Abyssinia and, by the end of an efficient military campaign, the King is dead and his son is on his way to Britain.
Alamayu wants to be a worthy son in memory of his father but the Empire educates its sons in a particular way and throughout the book there are episodes where he discovers what it means to be a man.
The book is based on true events but, by fictionalising it, we gain a view of the Empire from an outsider. The attitudes of some of his fellow pupils to a boy from Africa are illuminating, as is the treatment of him by royalty. The culture shock Alamayu experiences is greater than that of an African in England.
‘The Prince Who Walked With Lions’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
The Julia Donaldson poem reminded me of this poem by Emily Dickinson. The concept of escape through books and the widening of horizons by reading is clearly set out in this short piece that first appeared in a letter to a friend rather than in a volume of poems.
There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry-
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll-
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears the Human soul.