No man is an island

We are becoming more insular. It is not only Brexit, but that may not help. It is rather a matter that we are simply not listening to others or observing what they are doing; we are certainly not copying best practice.

I was very shocked, for example, to read an article today that was talking about the various vaccines in development around the world. Apparently, there are 150. We only hear of one and that, I am proud to say, has been produced in Oxford; it is based on a SARS-CoV-2 spike protein—which helps the coronavirus invade cells—into a weakened version of an adenovirus, which typically causes the common cold; indeed, alot of work has been done in a small building within the Chruchill hospital complex next to the Haemophilia department that I visited about 10 days’ ago. There was heavy security around the building, hence I have no photo.

A few weeks’ earlier, the trials were suspended because someone fell ill. We were told it was routine and soon we were told the trials were back on. Only this was not really the whole truth.

This is what I read today:

Preliminary results from this candidate’s first two clinical trial phases revealed the vaccine had triggered a strong immune response—including increased antibodies and responses from T-cells—with only minor side effects such as fatigue and headache. It is in phase three of clinical trials, aiming to recruit up to 50,000 volunteers in Brazil, the United Kingdom, the United States, and South Africa. On September 8, AstraZeneca paused the trials for a safety review due to an adverse reaction in one participant in the U.K. The details remain unclear, though the company has described the pause as a “routine action.” After an investigation by independent regulators, the trials resumed in the U.K., Brazil, South Africa, and India but remained on hold in the U.S. as of September 23.

There might be political reasons for the delay in resuming the trials in the US. The US is trying to trial home-produced vaccines (by Johnson) and to establish vaccine distribution sites by November 1, 2020, just days’ before the Presidential elections. Nevertheless, the failure of the British press to record the US continued delay is alarming. There is no place for Nationalism in a Global health crisis.

I am hoping to write more about the British response to Covid in comparison to what other countries are doing. Much of this is about the way things are presented. (What Americans have started to call “optics”) It simply does not look good. Optics matter.


Dr Who and icons

I wonder why there is no punctuation to the title? Maybe, the reason is that it would be a toss-up between an exclamation mark and a question mark. There would always be debate. Dr Who? Dr Who! Dr Who

In the early 1960s, the exclamation mark was slightly over-used. Think Oliver! Blitz! and Twang! (Maybe, just over-used by Lionel Bart)

The premise of the lengthy Who series is that it is possible to move through time. This may not be scientific reality at the moment, but it is a great plot device and can be traced back certainly to 1895 and to HG Wells’ Time Machine. The book deals with something that was resurrected almost exactly in the 1980’s with “Back to the Future”. There is even a simplification of the idea of 4 dimensions. The 4th dimension is defined in both pieces as “Time” -a bit of a simplification mathematically and scientifically, but it makes for a great device.

This is what HG Wells had to say,
Filby became pensive. “Clearly,” the Time Traveller proceeded, “any real body must have extension in four directions: it must have Length, Breadth, Thickness, and—Duration.”

and this is the same scene in “Back to the Future”, There are two great “aha!” moments. The first is when Marty is told to accelerate to 88 mph in the delorean towards a billboard that will not be in the way in 1885 and the second is when Doc uses a railroad track with an unfinished bridge that will be quite safe in 1985.

I do not think Dr Who or The Time Machine was primarily devised to be about Time Travel. Time Travel was a way to get characters from one environment to another, a contrast of societies. Time Travel was more integral to the plot of “Back to the Future”, though, with all the stuff about two versions of teh same person in the same space at the same time.

In Dr Who, however, the Doctor travels in a machine that specifically recognises the link between time and space, the TARDIS. The TARDIS is an updated Wellsian plot device and an updated time-machine. Its spacial confusion is a nice nod to the hypercube of course.

Physics works on the assumption that there are 10 dimensions (this is necessary for understanding string theory). Maybe more. Certainly more, in theory. In fact, Edwin A Abbot anticipated Wells by about ten years when he wrote “Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions,” where he describes the life of a square in a two-dimensional world. Later, the sphere and the square have problems interacting. Einstein talks about the 4th dimension as space-time.

The twighlight zone, or rather Rod Serling talked about a 5th dimension “beyond that which is known to man”. It seems a world of improbability but when we move to a higher dimension, we can look down on the jumbled mass squashed into 2d or 3d and untangle it a bit. It is like moving from the basic grid to a node view, or from moving away from a 2d graph to a 3d mockup.

In fact, art has been playing around with this concept for years. We understand the nature of linear perspective popularised in the renaissance but probably going back to, at least, the Roman empire of 70 AD Pompeii. However, the concept of inverted perspective that is central to the theology of the icon is probably much more interesting and can be traced back, I think, to as early as attempts in Pharoahic egypt, that is 20th century BC. We could call it art in bidimensionality, though arguably what happens in the Byzantine art of the 7th/8th century AD onwards is unique. It is a celebration of apparent disproportionality where objects and characters appear in a hierarchy of importance to, rather than of spacial integration in, a given scene.

my icon of St Timothy

As in Mediaeval art, there is a tendency towards the vertical line, symbolic of ascent to paradise. We see this beautifully also in the work of Ervind Earle who designed Sleeping Beauty for Disney in the late 1950s and who, in turn, said he drew on Albrecht Dürer, Pieter Bruegel, Nicolaas van Eyck, Sandro Botticelli, as well as Persian art and Japanese prints. But he certainly also drew on the Byzantine form. Earle left Disney before Sleeping Beauty premiered but it is his film and his vision on the screen.

Inverse perspective together with the two-dimensional axonometric representations it encourages is sometimes decried and often misunderstood. What it does, though, is to place the viewer within the concept of the picture. If the vanishing point is shifted from some way BEHIND the image (let’s say 3feet), and, instead, is the same distance IN FRONT of the picture, then the viewer must be contained in that image.

We have approached religious art as if we were a mathematician looking back from a 4th or 5th dimension at the limited reality constucted here. That is truly a sense of participating in a God-like view. I think it is probably one of the most brilliant inventions of modern art. It is, of course, a re-thinking of this tool that gives us cubism (that, for another day!). One day, I will demonstrate all this with some well-honed animation though I remember my efforts to do the same for the hypercube when I gave a talk to the physics’ department of my university about the physics of animation. (I was a bit shocked that so many of the students had no idea what I was talking about- whoops)

Two fascinating studies

Globally, in the first wave of the pandemic, the UK experienced some of the highest per-capita mortality from covid-19. We are now entering a second spike (I fear not a second wave but a sting in the tail of the first wave). But, there are two studies into COVID 19 that have caught my eye in the last few days and they give me hope. The first suggests that the level of exposure to the disease may determine the severity of the infection (called “the infectious dose”) and the second seems to be linked- that mask wearing is itself not only efficacious in protecting us but, because it prevents the higher forms of infection, it may cause the virus itself to mutate and therefore to become less harmful.

The lancet produced a study last month saying that it was the “viral load at diagnosis” which was an “independent predictor of mortality”. Significantly, it was guarded of course. If this were coupled with an immune trigger for people with asymptomatic and mild forms of COVID then that alone would be enough to halt the pandemic.

Of course, the key is the guarded optimism. We simply do not know. And there is no doubt that ignorance has led to chaos as Prof Carl Heneghan observed a while back for the BBC.

Heneghan said, We need to slow down our thinking. But every time the government sees a rise in cases it seems to panic.” He is right. But simple precautions might well have benefit, and must be better than knee-jerk orders. the simple approach should be to self-isolate where possible and not to party or gather in large numbers unless it is absolutely necessary. I cannot fathom for one minute why pubs should be opening as they are. Now, is surely the time to enrich our society with gatehrings if necessary but outside. Now is the time for continental cafe culture and the wather has been good enough for that. Inbstead, we have gone wild and the virus is back.

The views from the US that suggest masks are going to be the answer are stabs in the dark and it would be unwise to rally behind one particular hypothesis except that, in this case, that hypothesis supports one particular activity that has come into question. I think it cannpot be questioned any longer. It may even be a bit of a silver bullet: it may not be. But anything more we do reinforces our defence if we stick to it.

The theory started in California but has received support from a reseracher, Dr Julian Tang, in Leicester. Dr Monica Gandhi in the San Francisco talks about what she calls, “’Variolation’ – a term originally derived from the smallpox pre-vaccine era – is quite feasible and may add to the protective physical effects of universal masking – by low level stimulation of the wearer’s immune system as it is exposed to low levels of airborne SARS-CoV-2, which can induce an immune response but without any overt infection and disease. This is after all the response to a typical vaccine – where the recipient’s immune systems are stimulated, subclinically, to produce protective immune responses to combat the infection if exposed at a future date. Of course, more formal studies are required to confirm this effect, and there are likely natural experiments ongoing around the world at the moment.”

Many of Dr Gandhi’s observations seem to be based on an Argentinian cruise ship that gave everyone masks and achieved an 80% asymptomatic spread of COVID 19 in contrast to the cruise ships that failed to mask up and reported huge loss of life and highly contageous outbreaks.

We live in hope.

She Makes us Proud!

Here is a little film clip that I have waited a while to see!! It’s Julie Andrews singing the National Anthem at the 1948 Royal Command performance with Danny Kaye as I mentioned in my first film about the History of the Music hall. At some point soon, I hope, the sequel to that little documentary I was making will finally be finished and I will post that as well.

here is a link to the first part of my Music Hall history

and a relevant picture from that film of me talking about Dame Julie and Danney Kaye as well as her links with Ella Shields:


There was a ridiculous attempt to re-stage “Kismet” a few years’ ago in the ENO. It is a shame that it went wrong because the original show and the Howard Keel film is wonderful in all ways. When the day is most dull, I find a few minutes of the old Vincente Minnelli film from the 1950s restores a healthy heart.

Even the wooden performance of the prince in the film is enchanting. “Take my hand, I’m a stranger in paradise.” There is plenty strange in that setting- a very strange cockerel in a bush, a strange white peacock and alot of strange fake grass. The prince is hardly out of place in the strangeness. Who cares! This is simply a glimpse at a 3d version of a persian minature. I am sure it influenced Richard Williams when he set out to devise “the thief and the cobbler”. After all, Williams also used a score overwhelmed by the crypto-Georgian composer, Alexander Borodin (Бородин).

There was a reworking of the show called Timbuktu! with Eartha Kitt in the late 1970s. It kept many of the big songs, though it lost the song I think is best…

Kismet certainly influenced me in the early 1980s when, in Oxford, there was a production of “Hassan” by James Elroy Flecker. It was the first play I designed for the Oxford Playhouse and the directors (there were two of them) wanted lots of painted backdrops. It was a disaster and the only time I have witnessed the downing of tools by a cast who observed correctly that there were more of them on stage than there were audience in the auditorium.

I remember, though, working day and night in the workshop on a 30 foot painting representing a city slum. In fact, hidden in the slum was a magical golden palace so I sprinked a few peacocks and various fantasy clouds of blue and pink oozing from hookahs. While I was painting, one of my friends came by and I explained this was a picture of a slum. From then on, he assumed that I was so divorced from reality that I believed poverty was a thing of camp glitter. A few terms’ later, in the summer, I think, I designed “the Mikado”. I am still rather pleased with the design actually, and found a few drawings for it the other day. One of the features was a gauze frontdrop that fell half-way through the 1st Act finale separating Katisha from the chorus which was fun to paint and to see.

In the same term, I also designed a garden show of a greek tragedy by Euripides called ION. It was all in Greek with a pastiche of a hatzidakis score by a man called Clive Thomms. He was very talented and I have no idea what happened to him afterwards. I painted the ION sets in the cloisters at my college- it caused a bit of a stir. Later I recreated the look in the dining room of a friend’s house just outside Oxford. It must have been a bit dark- it was a recreation of Red-figure vase painting.

Otherwise, that year in Oxford was dominated by demands from a weary Canadian director for audition after audition of pieces he was proposing to direct in the Oxford Playhouse. I got very good at making cardboard mock-ups of the stage there. I think the list ran something like King Lear, Julius Caesar, Man of La Mancha, Samson Agonistes, Macbeth, the Rivals and Duchess of Malfi. I miss those maquettes a bit. In the end, I had a basic model that I rebuilt again and again as desired. It was not until my second year that I started to get a good run of shows and then I was designing sometimes 3 or 4 plays a term and a good many more posters. By the time I got to designing Peter Pan, I think I had working lights on the model.

My favourite song in KISMET is “Not since Nineveh”. It is sublime. And “the fool sat beneath an olive tree..” is pretty good too. “Why be content with the olive when you could have the tree?” I love the irony of seeing the Caliph’s procession going back in the distance behind the main characters…This is simply Minnelli at his best and it is strange that Kismet is one of those films that is almost impossible to access today. Somehow, time has not favoured this classic.

Delores Gray from the film- Not since Nineveh

and another!

I remember seeing Delores Gray in the London production of “Follies”. She had quite a run of British action, appearing in The Good Old days and Dr Who but she also did a stint at RADA and the year she made Kismet, she also made “It’s always fair weather” a great Gene Kelly show. It is odd altogether. She makes “Kismet” sizzle. She is spectacular. In the past, I remember dismissing this film as kitch, but now I realise this is kitch with class. It is high camp as well as kitsch. There’s a good yiddish work (קיטש) by the way, so Shava Tova for today!


Every so often, I read stuff that is badly worded or badly punctuated. The former tells me about error, the latter tells me about ignorance. I worry alot more about the latter.

Punctuation aids sense. It is a teaching tool that tells us not so much what is being written, but how best to read it.

In a world of texting and dictation, however, punctuation is a dying art and it is a shame because it has played a vital part in world history and continues to do so.

It was the comma strike in Tsarist Russia in 1905 that forced through the first Russian constitution, for instance. One wonders if there might not be a further punctuation mark to bring Mr Putin to heel. There are certaily plenty of semi-retired bits of punctaution that could be summoned up to cause a fuss. In the last 30 years, long abandoned squiggles have been re-purposed and re-named. So today, the ubiquitous octothorpe and the arabesque dominate texting (I cannot find the hashtag on my computer so rely on copying and pasting) and, therefore, modern communication. In Greek, the arabesque is called “the little duck” like the plastic device that fits over the bowl and squirts blue liquid into the loo. Vincent Price would have had a field day.

I love punctaution that tells me how to read aloud. The comma used, in other words, as cantillation. It has a long histiory going back to manuscripts of the Torah and both mediaeval and Byzantine psalmody. As a rule of thiumb, when I see a comma coming, I get ready for a quick intake of breath.

The finality of a full stop, on the page if not in the recording studio, can also signal irritation or an over-zealous authority. Today, I received a letter full of curt instructions and peppered with full-stops. Amost spat out at me. In contrast, there are people who seem afraid of the full-stop entirely and it has disappeared in some instances. It would be pedantic to complain or re-insert. It is now missing, for example, from many abbreviations and acronyms. “OK” rarely receives its full stops (it is short for “Ola Kala”, all is well, so it should have full-stops). “Haha” is rarely punctauted. This is the “lol”version, not the enchanted garden deceit.Whatever happened to S.W.A.L.K.? Incidentally, there should never have been a full-stop after “A”.

As a fan of John Milton, I have long recognised that Capitals are decorative. Maube it is time to concede that punctuation is, too.

Drawing Plans

The problem with lockdown is that- while there is time to do things and develop projects- events, as Macmillan would have said, seem to get in the way. I have a number of things I want to finish and some to get started but I have been submerged by requests for drawings, lessons and bits and pieces that have all taken more time than I ever anticipated.

from issue 4, WHYTT magazine. Copies available here:

However, everything is getting under control and here, to prove the point, is a picture from a new magazine that ran an article about me today, and about my plans for the future of animation. So I feel a bit driven to set out what I hope to be doing over the next year or two.

“I’ll tell you what that is ” As Tevye says, “I don’t know.” Though that should not stop us planning.

At the top of the list is a need to bring proper order to the Reality TV industry. I have had personal experience of this now and have spent a good few months learning more and more and meeting some of the far-from ordinary people who have spiced up these diverse programmes. I worry that this is an unregulated area of entertainment and there is the chance that many people will continue to be hurt. To date, there is a list of about 40 suicides spanning just under 20 years which is an horrific testimony to how badly things can go.

The health minister is on record saying that he wanted more psychological health-care for contestants. This does not deal with the many issues that people have spoken about. Also, I note that various committees have sat in the commons but few reality tv “stars” have been asked for or delivered evidence. We are the authorites on this subject so it seems odd to learn of this omission.

Matt Hancock looks at one problem only. This is what he said,

“The sudden exposure to massive fame … can have significant impacts on people.

“I think that it is a duty on any organisation that is putting people in the position of making them famous overnight, that they should also look after them afterwards.

“I think that people need to take responsibility for their duties to people’s well-being very seriously.”

I am hoping to meet the Arts Minister, Oliver Dowden, to discuss a way forward and to this end I have drawn up for him a “mission statement” calling for three significant changes. The first is independent psychological support, the second is professional representation and the third is union support. The current offer of studio-sponsored psychology , I think, is a cut-price and dangerous route both for the contestants and the studios. It also worries me that, if so many people in Government and across media believe there is so much need for psychological support, then we must judge either (1) that this form of entertainment is inherently unsafe or (2) that the producers are incapable of selecting cast members who are likely to remain genuinely stable. It begins to sound like a predatory situation and no one should be forced to endorse that as they turn on the telly for a relaxing evening.

There is lots to be said for routine and in-house counselling, of course, as there is for emotional support and mental health in all areas of the arts. It is a tough call to perform for a living. But the stories I have heard over the last year about deep misery and personal distress to people who have appeared on reality tv across the world should be the exception, not the rule. Many people who go on these shows will actually have the resilience to survive this, but it should not be an assumed part of the package. Instead, the industry should be brought in line with other forms of entertainment and I think there is a way to do this. There is a simple way to make this safe.

It is only recently that we have seen a relaxing of the demands for equity membership, and only recently that professional access to jobs has been possible without the intervention of a recognised agent. However, it remains very difficult to negotiate the performing arts’ world without either of these, and I think both should be on offer before Reality shows begin filming. Talent can always opt out.

In the meantime, I have got to finish my second film about the Music Hall that brings the story up to the 1960s and also to finish my filmed reading of the first book of PARADISE LOST! Along the way, I would like to see if it is still possible to do animated opera and animated documentaries in some form. I would have thought animation is a grand way to negotiate the rules of COVID!

Reality and the Mind

In 2018, there was an interesting article about Reality TV and mental health. I was sent a link to this the other day.

My own experience of Reality TV, I must add, is not quite in line with what I read in COSMOPOLITAN but I recognise the general drift.  I think the problem with the article (and with much that is written or dramatised about the genre) is the focus on what we, the public, see. There is much we do not see on tv and that, to me, is where  problems lie.

Still, this is how ANNABELLE LEE began her article:

“Everyone deceived me here.”

“I don’t think I was made for this game.”

“It’s bringing me back to a place I don’t want to go.”

Gia Allemand had just fallen out with her best friend. She was het up, in that way you are after an argument. Unsure if you’ve made the right decision, with blood rushing through your ears, clouding your judgement. In the heat of the moment, she’d walked out of the house she’d been living in; it was a snap decision and then she couldn’t stop crying.

Were the tears real or not? We’ll never know. Gia was a contestant on Bachelor Pad – a US reality TV show, where former contestants of The Bachelor hole up in a mansion, supposedly in the quest for love, but also for the $250,000 prize, and our entertainment.

Gia, far left and Lex, far right

Getty Images

Three years later, the 29-year-old took her own life. She’d been suffering from PMDD, a severe and disabling form of premenstrual syndrome that she’d been hiding throughout her time on television. Two-and-a-half years later, Gia’s The Bachelor co-star Lex McAllister did the same. She was 31 years old.

It is truly shocking to me that both Gia and Lex took their own lives. The writer records that over the last decade, 21 stars in the US have killed themselves. This figure is now higher with deaths also in Australia and the UK including Mike Thalassitis and Sophie Gradon. It suggests there is something wrong.

Over 20 years of Reality tv, no one has sorted this out.

Russell Armstrong, who died in 2011, is on record in the article saying,

“It just takes [the pressure] to a whole new level; we were pushed to extremes.”

I have spent the past few months examining reality tv shows and every tuesday, I watch an episode of one of the first shows, SURVIVOR- Borneo and I discuss the episode in a light-hearted way with my co-host KAREN. We meet former contestants from a variety of shows as well as die-hard fans; I must add, I do not pull punches when I think that production is doing something on the show which appears dodgy or manipulative.

The point about reality tv is that it is TV. That means a host of brilliant set designers, producers, directors and yes, writers are engaged to present the interaction of their chosen talent in a way that viewers will believe is coherent and engaging. They will use the cast to tell a story. It is a story with a beginning, middle and end. It is structured. It is not Reality at all.

We watch the way these people create drama and then we, the viewer, move on. The cast members tend not to. Four things seem to happen routinely.

Firstly, many feel abandoned and let down because the rush of being filmed has gone, and the energy of being at the centre of a huge industry vanishes over-night. The god-like interaction or guidance and the sense that we are part of a coherent narrative is suddenly gone and we return to a fractured and often chaotic reality. The great friendships forged in the process disappear as well and can never be spoken about. For the public do not care about the runners and the camera people who daily meet the cast and who form a daily bond with the reality tv stars. The public care about the story that has been crafted on their tv. The public care about what they see.

Secondly, even if the cast emerge from the show with dignity, their fame is intense and short-lived. By the time the next show comes round, their fame will be gone and their instagram accounts will show this. It is depressing frankly though in my case it has not quite gone like that. I am, in fact, quite surprised that people still stop me in the street and send me messages asking if it was me they saw at the service station or walking around Rugby town centre. It is now nearly a year since I left THE CIRCLE and so I have a lingering social media fame that is unusual in the business. I am very grateful to my fans for their loyalty and kindness: they probaly do not know how much of a lift they give me just to be sure in some way that I am bucking the trend.

Thirdly, and this is the crunch, the stars are managed. They emerge from the show on a high and with a great sense of trust in the production company with whom they have lived and worked so intensely, and this means they are also ripe to be exploited and pushed into whatever role is seen fit. These days, there seems to be an expectation that they will model bikinis and promote ASOS. If they are lucky, the management will be positive and protective. They may well be encouraged to appear again on Reality TV shows.

Fourthly, they must adjust to a world that is no longer what they knew. They cannot return, as a rule, to the job they once did, but, equally, they may not be able to move into show-business. They are somewhere in between and they need proper support to move one way or the other. The final act of “My Fair Lady” seems to be written for this moment- “What am I good for?” she asked Higgins. Television has changed them and has left them without any proper direction.

These four experiences are often dismissed by the press or condensed into a mantra that is repeated again and again when there is a crisis. 1) The talent cannot deal with fame, 2) with the loss of fame or, and this one is deeply patronising- 3) “they knew what they were in for, they knew the programme when they applied to be on it.”

A lack of confidence and a lack of direction seems to dog the talent that emerges as a result.  I believe it is because they are rarely if ever provided with proper management and proper support to make the adjustment to any sort of career after the show.

A recent OFCOM review of the way Reality TV talent is treated focuses on the psychological support that should be in place before, during and after a show. This is all well and good except that much of that support has been cheapened because, report after report suggests that psych evaluations are routinely used in the casting of the show in the first place and help to find the most dynamic range of performers, what Gladeana McMahon calls “the charcaters”. The Pychologists and counsellors may be aware of their collabroation in casting or not. But if psychological support is to be truly effective, it also needs to be seen to be independent.

Without proper management any psychological support is just a sticking plaster to a gaping wound.

Sarah Goodheart says she felt “exploited and traumatised, and it affects me to this day.”

It is sad to read this – that entertainment comes at such a price.

As a postscript, here is an extract from an article published in Ireland in 2016:

Jo Hemmings has said that the pressure from producers to place unbalanced celebrities into the Big Brother house was partly behind her decision to quit the hit show.

The behavioural psychologist previously accessed celebrities ahead of their appearance on the reality show, but said that the pressure to place celebrities who might not be able to cope into the house questioned her professional integrity.

Speaking on this morning’s Anton Savage Show, Jo was asked if her moral compass was ever pushed by producers during her assessments of certain celebrities.

“Very much so,” she answered.

“Which is partly why I no longer access contestants for [Big Brother] because I feel uncomfortable and it does question my professional integrity,” she said.

“I know I have to put in people who are entertaining. I don’t want to put in dull people. But there’s an ethical line and it has been crossed in my opinion.”

The British psychologist, who also helps couples cope with relationship breakdowns, revealed the elements that might make a contestant an unsuitable candidate for the show.

“Alcohol is perhaps the big one. When people have had alcohol dependency problems and they are put in a house where there is constant partying. There’s a lot of it and it’s deliberately there to fuel a bit of entertainment. I find that worrying and I think it’s not right.

“Some people are very good. They know that they can’t drink and they stay strong and resist it. Others you just know from assessments that they’re going to go back,” she said.

The psychologist also opened up about Angie Bowie on this year’s series of Big Brother, who opted to stay in the house following the death of her ex-husband David Bowie.

“I think she should have left the house out of respect, for their son at least,” she said.

Hemmings is in Ireland to promote a new study conducted by Domino’s Ireland, which has revealed that Irish people have a very poor work/life balance.

The study found that the majority of people are never completely turned off from social media influences and messages, which can interfere with our home life and even our sleep patterns.

Hemmings said: “Many of us are on 24/7 ‘watch’ on social media and text messages. This not only deprives us of sleep, but also means that our brains never really get much of an opportunity to ‘switch off’, which can add to stress, anxiety and potentially burn-out.

“There has also been a shift in expectations from employers and colleagues: because we can be available 24/7, we will be. This ‘work noise’, intruding into our home lives, has a cumulative effect which can make it very difficult to switch off from our professional lives when we are trying to have downtime at home, which creates tension and stress.”

Hemmings admitted that our social media addiction and inability to put away our smart phones is having an impact on our relationships.

“As a relationship counsellor, I know that loss of intimacy or quality time as a couple, is one of the biggest causes of relationship concerns. When one partner starts to feel neglected or side-lined, due to the busy lives of their partner, the dynamics of a balanced, relationship starts to alter and communication begins to break down, causing anything from quiet, brewing resentment to major arguments,” she said.

Mental health Performance

Every Tuesday, over the last few months, I have been watching an episode of the American Reality TV show “Survivor” and discussing it with my co-host Karen Eisenberg and her guests. Many of these are former players committed fans and fellow podcasters. I am now on series 2.

It is always interesting to hear how players got on in the show and what they have done with their life since the show ended. I have now spoken to players from a variety of programmes including the delightful Richard hatch who won series 1; occasionally, I am worried by what I hear – specifically, that aftercare is minimal and where it exists at all, it has degenerated into pious box-ticking without much regard for the well-being of the contestant. Often, the contestants shrug about this, or giggle. Some are more resilient than others! I am afraid the same is largely true of former runners and some of the producers on these shows. (today, many backstage staff are facing Covid redundancy. What happens on stage or on screen will not do so without these many-talented people.) But, what is common is that there is an intense period of activity which is followed by a void. There are certainly some people who feel, as a recent Guardian report following the death of Michael Thalassitis, said, “exploited and spat out”. Personal relationships forged in the heat of the show are lost overnight and no one is really there ready to pick up the pieces. In some cases, there is even active nastiness.

My personal feeling is that this is largely carelessness. I do not think it is not vicious or planned. It is not intended, in other words. However, a much wiser man gave me this advice once – “Rather fear the fool  than the evil man”. You never know what damage the fool might actually do to you.

There have been a number of worrying stories recently, but the media tends to focus on the way contestants deal with fame or the loss of fame. I think this is a lesser issue but it certainly tells a story that sells newspapers. Talking to so many people, now, I think there is a second more pressing issue, which is one of manipulation, routine during filming but that often spills over from the show and continues after the show is over. Many have gone through an emotional helter-skelter on camera made all the more intense by a number of contrived stress-triggers that would actually not be out of place in a more sordid torture setting. Indeed, some of these, like sleep deprivation, bright light, continuous noise and the absence of any way to tell the time or the date, are part of a proven technique called R21. These techniques are often used to soften up prisoners and to make them more compliant. After a few nights without sleep, some prisoners will simply sing like a canary. Others respond to alcohol, meat or sugar. In the case of much reality tv, these tricks, whether used consciously or not, are used to make entertainment. Some, like the intense heat,  or the Norman Wilkinson dazzle interior design, may simply be a by-product of the lighting needed for a good tv shoot. But many people find it hard to adjust to the bizarre world of tv, and when they do it can be significantly harder to adjust back.

I have been writing a bit about the last few years- here is a paragraph:

I know that I had problems in the week’s after The Circle when I visited Hotel rooms- there, in the silent early hours at about 3 or 4am, I would apparently lie in bed, fast asleep and sing show tunes at the top of my voice.  This was what I had done routinely and consciously early in the morning in the well-insulated flat in Salford where I lived while filming the circle and somehow it stuck. As a notorious sleep-talker and sleep-walker, my sub-conscious simply could not adjust to sleeping in silence and I provided entertainment for weeks. Thank God, that has stopped now…. or I assume it has stopped!

Performers must do more than sing in the night-time of course! Many must expose their emotions in public and this can have a knock-on effect. I know from playing a clutch of villains in the past- the evil of the character can somehow seep into the soul. We need help to keep on an even keel.

If we love the arts, we must also cherish and love the performers.

Back in 2015, a report concluded that 1 in 5 people working in the performing arts had sought mental health support.

The Arts brightens our lives and makes a significant contribution to the national economy. During COVID lockdown, many families found a new focus in the TV set and TV ratings soared. It has been ironic because as ratings have gone up, film and tv production has gone down. the whole industry is under stress today.

All the arts put a strain on the mental health of performers. Schedules are unforgiving, preparation often unpaid and, for example, when the curtain goes up, or the tv camera starts to record, there is no running away. Jobs are tough, demanding, challenging and most alarmingly, insecure. Often, performers are forced to work away from home, and, sometimes, for months on end. Many are asked to take on the emotional baggage that comes with a role and it can be hard to shed that load. (to “de-role”). It is not simply the baggage of being villainous- many roles focus on serious emotional issues that actors must inhabit, understand, experience, project. To make matters worse, reviews come out and can be savage no matter how good the show, or how well-produced. Today, we can add bruising comments in social media. Luck and timing is as significant in the way a show is received as quality.

But performers are passionately committed.

And there is some support: Help Musicians UK has been active for some time now, as has ArtsMind and TALK; some tv and dance production companies lay on help: the National Theatre has its own counselling service, for example. There is also a group called Wellbeing for the Arts but these organisations are stretched and cannot fully cater to the needs of the broader industry. More than that, so much more support is needed when performers have left their job. “Resting” is not much of a rest, is it?

Job Anxiety and depression is commonplace in the arts but it is made worse by brutal decisions, harassment and bullying as well as a chipping away at union representation and professional support. Power is built into the profession as well as alot of very oppressive working habits, many seen as traditional in rehearsal but many more stemming from a belief that a good actor, like a good artist is somehow used to stress, and actively improves with struggling. Certainly, many of our performers are resilient and have learnt to cope but we do not get the best from people by placing them under stress.

There is some stress that simply is counterproductive/destructive and should never be permitted. I spent years directing and designing opera. I was appalled, therefore, when I saw the film of “Les Miserables”- what a way to destroy a voice by making performers sing for 12 hours a day and sometimes in the rain or while genuinely crying. mucus does not a good vocal performance make. Fact. It is no surprise to me that the vocal performances even from seasoned singers like Jackson were actually disappointing. Of course, I did not see all the film- I dozed off at points… as I did in Cats. Oddly, I saw “Frozen” for the first time yesterday on dvd- it is great. I was so surprised. and “Frozen II”, too. I must have slept through all of that film. Whoops.

I am not good in a passive cinema setting in the evening at all and certainly not loaded up with sugary drinks – I just drift away almost before the adverts are even over. Love going and have really missed cinema trips, though.

I applaud recent mental health initiatives, but I am concerned that, when we are repairing damage that has been done, often a slow and difficult process, we forget that, as a community, we can play a huge role in ensuring people are supported and that damage is not done in the first place. In the Arts, this means we need to look more carefully at the power structures in place and see if there are better ways of managing and devising the best entertainment possible.

What is odd is that this is a time when mental health has been highlit and one of the many recommendations for greater well-being is to take more interest in the arts. The arts bring joy, a sense of purpose and community. It is inherently creative and we are creative animals. Yes, indeed, we should take a greater interest in the Arts as a nation but if the Arts are to survive we must also take an interest in the Artists and support them through the uncertainty and complexity that goes with that career.