Wednesday, September 26, 2012

TWENTY YEARS OF SUTTON PARK - AND SOMETHING NEW...

Hi beasties,

We're going slightly off topic this week - away from poetry - to celebrate 20 years of the silliness that is SUTTON PARK... I think this is probably the point where I'm going to nostalge! Is that even a word!? But actually, first - I think we should begin with something more recent, with the new Sutton Park episode - and here's where you can see it...

SUTTON PARK (2012 MINI-SERIES) 1 is the first episode of a mini-series which picks up on what has happened since the last episode posted in mid-2010. This mini-series also celebrates 20 years since the first episode of the original series on 23rd September 1992. This part includes guest appearances from Paul Chandler, Trowby, Lisa, Harry and Dominic and extra special guest, Mr Charlie Grrr, Esq. This episode also contains the poem "Never Trust A Skinny Fish And Chip-man" as performed at The Poetry Cafe by Shy Yeti on Wednesday 5th September 2012. Music is by Paul Chandler and Luca. The Copyright of this film belongs to Paul Chandler 2012. It is also a Shy Yeti Production in association with Beeches Broadcasting Company.

Youtube: http://youtu.be/MsNJfLp5s2E

Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/50123574

Just to remind you - the first seven episodes of the revamped series can be viewed at the following links on Youtube (there are also versions on my SHY YETI Vimeo page...)

Part 1: http://youtu.be/-2gqpxsnPpU
Part 2: http://youtu.be/0brkxlOIaCI
Part 3: http://youtu.be/Pe7NMgwFMhg
Part 4: http://youtu.be/Lnhx1DNPvOA
Part 5: http://youtu.be/O0NJ9l1O_oA
Part 6: http://youtu.be/GVpv-le-7mU
Part 7: http://youtu.be/_sCUo70iHlE

There's also an aborted version of the lfirst half of the accidentally deleted Part 8, which has some of the footage that appears in the new episode. It's only really worth watching out of curiousity and there is footage in that episode that has been left out of the new version. You can watch it at: http://youtu.be/gvyKgWd1ZVA

...And so... Nostalgia time!!

Please note: Names haven't exactly been changed to protect the innocent - but I've not used surnames as this has led to confusion in the past! A friend of mine who writes for medical journals found that a reference to him having illustrated one of my Mouse Of Commons stories came higher in a web search than references to his articles! True story - and personally I think Gladstone McWhiskers is the more important, but there you go... Anyway... So!

SUTTON PARK is 20 years old! To be precise we're a day or three late - as the actual first episode was filmed on 23rd September 1992, just a few days before we all headed off to University. It was a funny old time and some very big changes were about to occur. I don't exaggerate when I say that filming the series helped me bond with some of my new University friends, as well as acting as company for me when I was going through a few tough personal times. SUTTON PARK was originally supposed to be "just another" sketch in my BEECHES BROADCASTING COMPANY sketch show, but it took off and went it's own way. I had a few life hiccups in late 1992 and early 1993 and to make matters worse my first video camera packed up around then too and took almost 4 months to get repaired. It was the worst possible time for me to lose the camera - just when I needed distracting; it was also around this time that I was beginning to shift away from my first phase of poetry writing. What I probably have never really discussed before is that I tried to keep the show alive by doing a poetic photo novel; it didn't really work, to be honest - but by the time my video camera was repaired I was so glad to have it back that SUTTON PARK really began to turn prolific from there onwards. I couldn't put the blumin' thing down!

The early cast consisted of my friends from Salisbury - Harry, Robin, Nick, Danny (who went on to become a professional actor, not the only cast member to do so - but I'm not sure SUTTON PARK can take the credit!). My brother also appeared - he was only 10 at the time and probably the perfect age to play along; our very own child actor. I, myself, turned 19 soon after the series began and because it was easier to run the series this way I ended up being the main character in all manner of guises for the next 8 or so years - and then again when we came back in 2010! I also managed to get some of my out-of-town friends involved - most importantly at this point, my friend Elaine B who quite happily dressed up as a clairvoyant (The Madame Elaine!) and attempted to read my fortune from a badly inflated blue balloon. Elaine also had a boyfriend called George, who just happened to be an inflatable Santa Claus. So what? SUTTON PARK embraced diversity from the very start! It was also around this time that another of my best friend's Nick G began to appear in episodes - and along with Harry, even 20 years later, he is still one of my regular cast members. Other key characters who began appearing in the show around this time include my friends Trowby and Lisa, who also still contribute to the new series, infact they appear in the episode that I have just posted. Trowby usually played the semi-mad professor type and Lisa got involved in all manner of daft plot over the years - nothing was too silly for either of them. In addition to this Lisa and Trowby have been the inspiration for the characters of Professor Gibraltar Smith and his assistant Norma in my Mouse Of Commons novels.

The initial idea was that I would play a slightly fictional version of myself, as a TV cameraman for BEECHES BROADCASTING COMPANY - our spoof of the BBC, as set up in our sketch series. The original premise being that this legendary and dangerous place called SUTTON PARK, was just one of the place that I would end up exploring - the reason that I went to University in Birmingham being just a cover for my journalistic investigations, if you like. I only actually ended up on my library and information studies course at UCE due to clearing - so the fact that the series was called what it was, was quite literally due to me not getting the grades that I had hoped for. Had I ended up on the Media Studies course that I had been considering then the series would most probably have been set in Luton - or quite probably never happened, at all! When the decision was made for me to lodge in Sutton Coldfield it was mainly because I saw that there was a nice big park close by and being a country boy I couldn't face living in a city if there wasn't a tree or two nearby!

When I first started filming in the West Midlands I had hoped to work with a group of friends in Tamworth whom I'd spent the Summer of 1992 making a film called The Retaliators with. Sadly, that wasn't to happen for a number of reasons - but after my camera returned from the repair shop in Easter 1993, by which stage we had filmed almost 50 episodes, I was ready to try and lure a couple of new friends into the insanity!

Two of these friends were Phil and Ceri - my main friends from University. I still recall how I managed to lure Phil into filming one afternoon when we didn't have lectures. I claimed that I needed someone to help with the props - but really, how many people does it take to work a plastic dinosaur!? No... What I really wanted was another actor! I started by using Phil's feet to show that the monster was menacing somebody, but by the end of that day he'd been "pushed" off the edge of a cliff (not really!) and was soon to return as a zombie. By this time Ceri was also appearing in episodes; I had moved from Sutton Coldfield over Easter 1993 after the family I had been lodging with had suffered a bereavement. Ceri lived down the road in Erdington and we remained house-mates until the end of the course, although moved elsewhere together for our second and third years.

Another memory of filming in 1993 was recording episode 100 during a great 10 day hike that I did with my friend, Andrew, along Offas Dyke in late June and early July after the end of my first year at University. The Summer of 1993 was one of those long hot summers, at least it certainly was when we were doing most of our walk.Taking my camera with me was the best and worst thing I could have possibly done! We were also carrying tents and equipment and I had never hiked or camped before - in addition I quickly got blisters from my new walking boots. That said, I'm sure I would have been a heck of a lot grumpier had I not had my camera to record our adventures as we clumsily worked the story around our travels. To be honest, I recall it being a bit of a chore finding somewhere to charge up the camera battery as we went on our way - but we always managed it one way or another.

My chief memories of filming episode 100 on this trip include all the marvellous views that we were privilege to, my first experience of Youth Hostels, getting lost up a mountain as it was beginning to get dark and getting to stay an extra day in Hay-On-Wye because my feet were threatening to drop off! I also remember walking all the way up from Hay towards the Black Mountains - a walk that took several hours - only for us to emerge on a busy road by an ice cream van. After all that walking one would have, at least, hoped to have found oneself somewhere out of the way of car drivers! Somehow we felt cheated; although I'm pretty sure I ended up having an ice cream, so it wasn't all bad! This was the more sensible side of the trip - I also recall a lot of silliness; for it was during our hike that I managed to persuade Andrew to play Horner the Amphibian Man, a character that I still write about today. Horner had appeared in Point Of View shots since the beginning of the series - but had never properly on camera like this. In fact, considering how much walking we did over those ten days it's quite amazing how much running about we did during these episodes! Great fun... Of course the more I write about all this the more I start to remember - but I'd better move on before this turns into an epic. There is one other memory I have of this trip, however... This involves me briefly leaving my camera on top of my rucksack one day and then returning to it a while later and reaching out to pick up the rucksack but forgetting that the camera was still there on top of the bag. My heart was well and truly in my mouth as the camera was catapulted through the air! Thankfully it survived!

Soon after this I was to make another trip - the series first overseas, to Jersey in The Channel Islands and also for a day trip to France - to Mont-Saint-Michel! We had a great time making episodes out there and at least two cliffhangers featured my brother, Graham nearly meeting a watery end - once by almost getting drowned in the swimming pool and on the second occasion by almost getting washed out to sea. Over the next few years I would film in all manner of exciting cities abroad, from Paris and Lanzarote to New York and Las Vegas.

Around the first anniversary of the show I was back in Birmingham for the beginning of my second year - we were also nearing episode 200 by this stage. There were more techical problems ahead, however - I was having trouble with my video camera again, but this time it was the battery charger! It refused to recharge, but the camera would work off the mains - so until I managed to get another charger towards the time of my birthday in November I had to engineer a plot-line that kept "Paul" trapped in his new digs on the sunnier side of Erdington. The street was George Road, not far from Spaghetti Junction, but a rather lovely lake ran opposite and the area had been our first choice when Ceri and I had come to choosing new accomodation for our second year. It was to be my home, on and off until Easter 1996 - almost a year after I finished University, but we'll come back to that later!

By late 1993 my friend Lee started contributing to the show - over the next six or seven years playing all manner of odd characters - both heroes and villains, he also built a lot of props and came up with many, many plot-lines. Lee was one of the few people to truly take over storylines whenever we were filming in the Crystal Palace area where he lived. I'm really not sure that we'd have continued filming the show for quite so long if it hadn't been for Lee and over the years he appeared with pretty much all the regulars - and Nick and Harry would even travel with me to visit him just so they could appear in his madcap episodes. Sadly, we lost touch in the early 00s - but in 2009 I wrote a poem about him called MY CREATIVE GNU. This was Lee's own silly name for himself as he claimed to be my creative guru and he certainly was around this time.

Filming continued pretty much as normal in the first few months of 1994, with Phil and Ceri now regularly appearing in the series - as well as any others old friends who were free to film whenever we met up at weekends. As of April 1994, I worked a 9-month placement which meant that the series relocated to Salisbury, but I returned to Sutton Park a number of times during this break and also met up with Ceri about once a month, mostly in Cheltenham which was roughly half-way between my home and his. It also meant that the Salisbury characters got to make a lot more appearances and a number of plot-lines involved behind-the-scenes plots on a number of short films that my friend Nick was filming during this time, which I also contributed to.

By the start of 1995 I was back in Birmingham for the last 6 months of my course and by the summer we had reached our 1000th episode. It was around this time that Phil and Ceri pretty much departed the series, along with original cast-member Robin, but I was still filming as regularly as ever. Over the Summer I was unemployed but still applying for work and had relocated myself and the series back to Salisbury again. I was lucky to have a couple of really good holidays during this time - in Yorkshire and also Lanzarote and when I finally got a new job in the Autumn of 1995 it just so happened to be back in Birmingham, in fact I moved back into my old room on George Road.

Going back a month or two it was during 1995, around the time of our finals when I didn't have many actors available in Birmingham, that I introduced a number of puppet characters - having found some rather good puppets in a pound shop. These characters included eccentric gent Cromitty, rebellious scamp Little Jay, camp dinosaur Crispin and twin-brothers Gorgongast and Ramases - not to mention the dastardly Valguard, follower of the evil spider god, Azrael. The introduction of such characters into the show allowed me to do their voices and also have "Paul" interact with them when no human actors were available. By late 1995, when I was based back in Birmingham for work - these characters became integral to the series continuing. By this stage it had become a bit of a mission to film every day - and I believe I pretty much did so for 2 or 3 years, only breaking my record in late 1996. During the week the puppets were my cast, whilst at weekends I would go and visit friends; however over time the human actors began to interact with the puppet ones and became a huge part of the series. I continued to live on my own in Birmingham until Easter 1996, returning home for a couple of months until the Summer of that year. The series was about to change again and would become even more prolific in it's last few years of regular production.

I started working in Camberley that Summer and moved into a fantastically rambling old house off the London Road, that had seen better days and has since been renovated. My room was right at the top of the house and I like to think that it might, at one stage, have been servants quarters. During the latter half of the year I was making new friends at work and in the area generally and as a result I decreased the number of episodes filmed. It was in early 1997 that I made a new friend, Mr George W who would end up encouraging me to film more than ever. As I was no longer based in Birmingham I decided that the woods opposite my new home would actually be part of the obliterated Planet Of Sutton Park and so it no longer mattered whether I was up north or not. George played a mysterious character called Basil - a sort of anti-hero who you were never sure whether to trust or not. Basil featured in many, many plots over the next couple of years and I continued filming the series in the Camberley area with occasional trips back up to the real Sutton Park well into 2000, having moved to Woking with my work-mate, Calum in early 1998. Calum appeared in many episodes between 1996 and 2000, but only really in the background with occasional witty one-liners. It was also due to Calum that plots involving football and horse-racing emerged! The move to Woking also opened up a lot of new locations for filming, including the woods on the outskirts of the town where HG Wells based War Of The Worlds and also the many canal paths around the same area. By the time I moved again in 2000, closer to Weybridge I was filming less and less - although I did manage to incorporate plot-lines concerning the sinister "Controller" into trips to New York in the Summer and another to Las Vegas in late November / early December.

Sadly the show petered out rather than actually properly ending and that was pretty much it until 2010; not only did I have a new digital camera, but editing was so much easier and I could now post any new episodes on Youtube... If only we'd had Youtube in the 90s! Around the time that the original series concluded I started writing and filming scripts called THE COPERNICUS FILES. Although many of these episodes began filming, other than the pilot episode, the series was never properly completed. This was partly due to problems with the technology which led to me becoming rather disillusioned for a while with film-making. The COPERNICUS cast were mostly key members of SUTTON PARK who had remained with the series - Harry, Nick, George, Trowby and Lisa and also my brother, Graham. I even began writing a second series, but we never filmed any of those - although I do still have all the scripts and will probably publish them at some stage - I might even return to my notes and write some new episodes one day. As it happens - the brightly coloured hat that I appear wearing in the SUTTON PARK 2012 mini-series is the same hat that I wore to play Copernicus Smith in that very series! I'll note this down as Incredible Fact Number 1, just in case there are others still to come during this post...

SUTTON PARK didn't completely die, of course. I did record an episode with Nick one Christmas around 2001 or 2 and another with Harry on a camera phone a couple of years later, but I did continue to write about a number of the show's characters such as Horner, Colin and Katrina Hortensia in a number of the series that I wrote during the 00s, such as MYSTIC BISCUITS, THE ONGOING SAGA, DUSTY ACRES and most recently THE BEAST OF FRIENDS - a scripted series that I began in 2004 and revived in 2010. The finished scriptbook came out a month or two ago and I am currently about half way through writing a second series. Characters such as Cromitty, Jay and Crispin also featured in a number of my MOUSE OF COMMONS novels in the late 00s and Gorgongast - or is it his identical twin Ramases even plays quite a big part in one of my forthcoming poetry videos. I also wrote the odd poem or two about the show - but we'll come to that again in a couple of paragraph's time.

Of course, SUTTON PARK itself did eventually return under the title SUTTON PARK SW1 - named after the area of London in which it was, by then, based. It was, by now, early 2010 - and the decision to start filming the series again was made quite impulsively soon after I bought my new digital camera. The main impetus for filming new episodes was partly to have something to represent SP with - as I was unable to convert the footage of the old episodes into the correct format. I also wasn't sure who would or wouldn't agree to allow me to post footage of them looking both young and silly on the internet! It just seemed easier to start again, ten years later and to only refer to the old days fleetingly. Paul was now a librarian and performance poet and those who appeared in the new episodes were old friends who appeared willingly because the idea of rebooting the series appealed. That said, I must say - it wasn't easy persuading the jelly monsters to return to the show after so many years! Blumin' divas the lot of them...

As you will have seen, the links to the 2010 episodes appear at the top of the page, but as I've mentioned before - technology reared its ugly head and I lost the edited version of a now missing eighth episode during late 2010. I'd spent weeks working on it and it really brought me down and so only 7 episodes in the series went back on hiatus. This was also partly to do with SHY YETI ON LOCATION taking priority because it is something that I can do pretty much on my own whilst out and about, with the occasion special guest - and which compliments my writing. Talking of which, you may have noticed, that I even managed to squeeze one of my favourite shorter poems into the new SP episode! That said, it should really probably be noted that those 2010 SP episodes are some of my highest rated videos on Youtube, although some of the traffic may well be people who think the show is a serious documentary on the actual Park and not some daft tomfoolery involving jelly monsters and poetic yeti. I do remember when I first brought back the series one or two of my newer friends commented that they didn't really understand SP - as if there was something to understand and I had to explain that SP wasn't necessarily for them (not that we want to turn away viewers) but perhaps more for all those people who were involved in the original show... I did exist before 2003 and the internet, people! Really...

But, of course - that still wasn't the end of the story. As you may have seen by now, there was actually quite a bit of footage filmed during the Summer of 2010 that I never edited due to the hiatus. When I decided that I wanted to do something for the 20th episode it made sense to resolve the cliffhanger ending to SP-SW1 Part 7 and to then update the viewers on what had been going on over the last couple of years - mainly using the unused Summer 2010 footage. This footage includes a trip to the States, appearances from Trowby and Lisa, Harry and a proper return to Sutton Park itself; although this isn't the first time I've been back - I like to go back every 2-3 years if possible having done so in 2002, 2007 and 2010 to name just three of the visits back that I can immediately recall to mind since I finished filming the original series. The first of the 2012 episodes is now up and ready to review and has received a number of nice comments from people already. There is probably enough un-used footage from 2010 to make a 3 or 4 part mini-series that can be posted over the next month or so inbetween SHY YETI episodes. Once again, I'm not aiming to round the series off at the moment - I think it's probably easier to continue making new episodes than it is to engineer some grand final episode! Not unless Hollywood would like to help... Oh yeah, we tried that plot-line and it didn't go so well! Ah well...

At one stage, back in the day, I used to keep a pretty detailed record of every episode recorded and every actor who appeared in the show in one way or another. From memory, I estimate that there were round about 150 different actors who appeared in the 3000 plus episodes that I filmed, over the eight years or so that the original SUTTON PARK was produced. This includes about 40 regular or semi-regular characters, some of whom left the series during its run - and then a whole lot of other people who made cameos over the years. There are far too people to name every one, although I hope I've mentioned all the major contributors - but at any rate, I'd just like to say a big thank you to everybody who took part in the show - either the original series or during more recent episodes. Some of you probably don't even recall being part of the show, whilst my friends who have known me since the 90s or earlier know how much space SP used to take up in my life. Anyway, thank you...

I've actually been considering the 20th anniversary for quite some time - probably since I started the not exactly well-used series blog at: www.suttonpark.blogspot.com in 2007. It was around this time that I began toying with doing some kind of SP photo book as a book on the series history would simply take too long and probably only be of interest to myself. The photobook has ended up on hold, but Nick and I are still converting old episodes digitally and making the occasional still that I have used in some of my recent books. The SP books is currently on hold - maybe I'll do something for the 25th anniversary, but to be honest - the fact that I have been able to film new episodes that I have been able to post on Youtube for an actual audience to view has made me reconsider what I want to do with the show. At the moment, it's less about nostalgia and more about actually having fun with the show again instead! Having started work on the 2012 mini-series during the last couple of months I really think that maybe I'd like to continue, filming perhaps a 3 or 4 part mini-series to be posted up in the autumn. Perhaps next year I'll do something set during some of the trips abroad that I have planned for my 40th... We'll see! I think the time may be right for some sort of world invasion by jelly monsters, don't you?

Before I go I want to share with you a poem that I wrote for the 10th anniversary of the show in 2002, which also happens to be from my third collection of poetry THIRD TIME LUCKY, the next book that I intend to re-issue for its own 10th anniversary, towards the end of next month... So, here goes... Curiously, for such a daft series, this poem actually takes a more serious look at the subject matter and concerns an important person returning to the area some years after they last visited the site.

THE PARK


The Park nods at me…
Shaking the branches of its Silver Birch in remembrance…
I've been here before – but not for some time…
Its rivers and streams flow high and fast for me…
Its rhododendrons reach out to caress me;
Holding me for just that second or two longer than is polite or generally accepted…
They are in awe of me.
The lake which has, before now, swallowed visitors whole –
Lies silent and respectful of me…
The ducks that swim there chatter excitedly amongst themselves at my return…
Although some are too young to remember me they all seem to recall my face…
Staring intently, eyes locking with mine; almost hypnotised.
They cry, until eventually they take flight…
The rabbits there on the Heathland also pause to watch me…
The Squirrels above, stop foraging to see me pass…
The other creatures; the dark ones who live in the shadows…
The Killers and the mystic, mythical beasts…
Even they stop to listen and recognise my footfall; curious as to why I am here…
They smile, their sharp teeth showing as I walk on; my visit almost done.
At the gate, The Park Keeper is waiting for me…
Lock-up time - he grins, “It's been good to see you…” he says and I nod…
“We appreciate it - do come again…”
I'll be back soon enough; but they will miss me more than I will them.

Next week I promise not to waffle and we'll be looking ahead to my forthcoming Brussels trip and hopefully I will have worked out exactly what I'll be reading whilst I'm out there...

Thanks for bearing with me this week!

Only another 5 years until the 25th anniversary!

More soon then,

Yeti hugs,

Paul xxx

This post and its contents are Copyright Paul Chandler 2012.

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