Michael Deeley: Thursday

Matthew Field has written an extraordinary biography about the exceptional film producer Michael Deeley.  His knowledge of Deeley’s work is so encyclopaedic that once during the interview Deeley asked Field for a point of clarification on his own work. 

We were told of the challenges in making the ‘Italian Job’ and even the tale during the filming of ‘The Italian Job’ of the driver and private plane on standby in Milan in case the mini car stunt scene went awry and Deeley needed to escape from the Italian police (life/art?).  We even heard what would have happened after the cliff hanging ending of the film – solving on of cinema’s great mysteries.  The producer pulled no punches in his distaste for The Deer Hunter writer/director Michael Cimino and their disagreements during the making of the oscar winning epic.

We were treated to clips from both of these films plus excerpts from ‘The Wicker Man’, ‘Don’t Look Now’ and perhaps the finest film which Deeley has produced; ‘Blade Runner’.  If you want to know which version of ‘Blade Runner’ to watch, Deeeley was clear the ‘the final cut’ is the definitive version.

5 Reasons I’m Troubled by The Guardian Yurt

Last year Hay sponsors the Guardian had a House of Hay…literally a house, made of hay, at Hay.  Genious.  Actually it was very good, it doubled as a base for journalists and as a host venue to intimate chats with said same.  Last year I sheltered from the rain and had a very fine organised natter with Emily Bell.

This year there is a Yurt instead and it troubles me for a variety of reasons:

  1. It’s not really a Yurt it’s a bell tent with scatter cushions.*
  2. There are no events – seemingly no possibility of engagement with the august organ.
  3. It is ambiguous, the inviting carpets and cushions suggest relaxation but can anyone go in or is it just for Guardianistas?
  4. Even Sarfraz Manzoor appears to prefer Ascaris.
  5. C’est un peu pretentious, non?

* Wikipedia – A yurt is a portable, felt-covered, wood lattice-framed dwelling structure used by nomads in the steppes of Central Asia.

Raymond Tallis: Wednesday

Several Hay veterans had recommended Prof Tallis as a Hay must.  What struck me first was an uncanny resemblance to the late Clement Freud.  Analysing my reaction I wonder whether that marks me as a philistine and therefore unworthy of the Prof’s profundity.

This was an intellectual tour de force where Tallis contextualised ‘hunger’ as having four forms; the commonly understood nutritional need which differs from animal hunger in the rituals that it has spawned which in turn lead to a form of hedonistic hunger, he then describes the hunger for others, sexually or otherwise and finally the hunger for meaning and significance. 

Throughout there were liberal references to great philosophers Sartre, Hegel, Spinoza, Camus and several times to Primo Levi.  They gave weight to the polemic but ultimately I didn’t really buy it.  The four hungers felt like the bastard child of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and the seven deadly sins.

John Kay: Wednesday

What I had expected was ‘the credit crunch for dummies’ what we got was something of a fireside chat about the economy with opinion writ larger than explanation.  Interviewer Jesse Norman didn’t so much interview as throw in some observations of his own; he is after all an author and academic in his own right.  The plum voiced Conservative PPC looked less at home at Hay than Kay, who is a centrist business economist and adviser to the Scottish National Party’s First Minister.

The chat was edifying and Kay gave us some clear views both on what went wrong and what we might do to set out on the long road to recovery.  He also provided one of the great soundbites of the economic crisis with Kay describing the integration of retail and investment banks as like ‘linking a utility to a casino’.

Derek Draper: Tuesday

Consultant psychologist interviews infamous politico turned psychotherapist; perhaps this should have prepared us for what was one of the most uncomfortable sessions I have attended.

Psychologist Benna Waites, with a combination of natural poise and the wit of her craft was rapier like.  She began with the recent e-mail scandal that cost both Draper and Number 10 spinmeister Damien McBride their roles in the Labour media machine.  Draper volunteered that he hadn’t “worked through” or processed his recent experiences and his discomfort was palpable throughout.  His discomfort turned to annoyance when Benna questioned his qualification to practise by hinting he was no more qualified than the late Bernard Manning who had duped the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy into admitting him as a member with a particular interest in race and gender.  Draper reacted saying “actually you are out of date” and defended his qualifications.  A piqued Waites brought the interview to a close after little more that 25 minutes of  awkwardness.

The questions from the audience were no less penetrating.  Draper was challenged on his decision to continue as a psychotherapist when he left his Labour Party role.  Journalist Sarfraz Manzoor interogated Draper’s faith who bizarrely responded that he had toyed with eastern religions before turning to Christianity, partly because it was easier.   He drew some sympathy when he explained that the recent shenanigans coming at the time of publication had in his eyes “spoilt the book”, he lost it when he described his detractors in an earlier scandal as “cunts”.  What was already an unusual session entered the realms of the bizarre when at the end Waites addressed Derek briefly as “Damien'”.   Hay may surprise but it seldom disappoints. Oh and the book is called ‘Life Support’.

Frank Close: Tuesday

I have to confess to being slightly concerned when the eminent particle physicist took to the stage wearing a short sleeve T-shirt pulled over his long sleeved collared white shirt.  Not a great look and not aided by image of the cover of his book ‘Antimatter’ emblazoned on the t-shirt.  I think perhaps that Frank thought this form of advertising more likely to encourage the audience to buy the book (rather than less).  

This judgement call was echoed in the constant references to Dan Brown’s ‘Angels & Demons’.  Presumably this was another marketing ploy – along the lines of the fact behind the fiction of ‘Angels & Demons’.  I have no interest in Dan Brown and having fallen for it once will never read another of his books.  Frank Close is a real expert, the explanations were fascinating and I left wanting more of the physics and less of the marketing.

Stephen Fry: Monday

Desmond Tutu is supposed to be the headline ‘act’ at this year’s Hay Festival but I’m not convinced that Stephen Fry is not the bigger draw.  Tickets were sold out weeks in advance and there was a real sense of anticipation on the site as the hour of his homage to America approached.

Fry did not disappoint.  He fulfilled the role of chat show guest to Festival founder Peter Florence’s genial host.  The session was richer in anecdote than in structure but no worse for that.   With the voice of Billy Wilder, Fry reported that Agatha Christie had been a poor writer of dialogue but in the mind of the great Director “plots like a fucking angel”.  We were told of the Kenyan view that ‘Obama’ could have been their first “white” president and heard tales of Alistair Cooke’s charm, generosity and brushes with Hitler and Bertrand Russell.

Stephen Fry is rapidly turning into a national treasure and it is events like this that will help to seal the deal.

Robin Ince: Sunday

His stand up show ‘Robin Ince’s One Man Book Club’ is perfect Hay fodder.  He ploughs through an eclectic collection of books scattered across the stage reading excerpts and describing why he loves, hates, or is amused, fascinated or intrigued by them.  There are women’s books ‘What Does God do When Women Pray’ (it turns out not quite as much)  to “proper man’s books….grrr” like ‘The Secrets of Picking Up Sexy Girls’.

Free flowing, fast moving and clearly partly improvised Ince wrenched real belly laughter from the audience.  This is truly original stuff and whilst it fits the Festival perfectly you wouldn’t need to have literary leaning to appreciate Robin’s take of the sometimes bizarre nature of books.

Alistair MacGowan: Sunday

It’s remarkable that such a distinctive looking figure should have made a career in impersonating others but MacGowan slipped effortlessly in and out of characters throughout the interview, giving the audience what they had doubtless come to see.  All this despite the fact that his ‘Big Impression’ series finished three or four years ago; even he could not remember.  There was also the slight hint that he is not entirely content with his art; the comment made by fellow comedian Steve Coogan that impressions are a “cheap trick” clearly still rankles.

Whilst MacGowan was happy to please with multiple personalities, he was anxious to talk about his other work; acting, including work with the RSC and his forthcoming book that tracks his attempt to give up his obsession with football.

The session was chaired by Fiona Lindsay, a great adventurer but not a natural interviewer.  As Aaronovitch had demonstrated earlier in the day you need stage craft.  Lindsay looked nervous and her questions were pedestrian.  She has some of the bigger gigs at Hay, this one was a near sell out on the main stage.  Let’s hope she sharpens up.

Before the Deluge

Mid morning on Monday and it looks like after two glorious days that the heavens are about to open over Hay. If you are festival bound bring your macs and your wellies or at the very least ditch the high heels.  After last years relentless downpours it looks like the site and the car parks are well prepared and despite a cold day forecast for tomorrow more sunshine is on the way for the latter part of the week.