Sunday, August 26, 2012

Everyone I Know is Dead

There is no one in the George Bar when I rush there shortly after my plane lands. 

Twenty-five years ago, when the Evening Standard paid my expenses, it was the hotel I was in for the duration of the annual Edinburgh Television Festival, which took place over the August Bank Holiday weekend.
This year, there is no one paying me a cent, and I am in student lodgings with no hairdryer, no fan to cool the blisteringly hot room, no WiFi and . . . oh, so many other complaints too numerous to mention. 

And, more to the point, there is no one in the George Hotel bar, because the bar is no more. It is a panel of wood along the wall. 

Locked. Sealed. Gone. A Silver Jubilee’s worth of history lies behind it, and I can only cry as I make my way to the soulless replacement that has taken its place a corridor away.
Everyone I know is dead. Or so it seems. David Fraser, my good friend from the miserable year I spent at Lancaster University, studying for an MA in Creative Writing; Andy Allan: adorable, gorgeous Andy, who died of cancer just a short time ago; the brilliant and unassuming Geoffrey Perkins . . . So many people gone. 

So many memories.
I  was 28 when I attended my first festival in 1987. I had landed the job of TV critic on the London Evening Standard and was delirious with excitement at arriving in a world that seemed to offer me everything I had hoped for when I had moved to London three years previous, stars in my eyes but on the dole.
 I wrote five columns a week: watching the box for 12 hours a day (there were no DVDs), writing my copy longhand (I couldn’t afford a typewriter), and filing my copy, verbally, to a copy-taker at 7am. Looking back, it was gruelling; but at the time, I thought I was the luckiest person in the world.
 Channel 4 made a programme about my life as a TV critic; I was in demand from broadcasters who offered me free wine; I interviewed Sooty - on set, no less. And I got paid to go to the Edinburgh TV Festival.
 In those days, sessions took place in different venues around the George Hotel. En route, you would make new contacts, forge friendships, and meet for lunches that would invariably mean that you missed all the afternoon sessions. The Saturday afternoon Chinese was a big one for journalists, but when I go there this year, it is another Italian: one of a chain, and I recall the long afternoons of fellow journalists Charlie Catchpole, John Millar and Sue Carroll, who sadly lost her battle to cancer earlier this year.
The new generation now is a coffee-drinking bunch who won’t be seen dead with a glass of wine in their hands before 6pm. They are too nervous to ask questions at the end of sessions – I could not believe the number of sessions I attended that finished before time, owing to the lack of audience participation. These people are different. We were then. This is now.
But although I feel sad, I rejoice in their enthusiasm and the passion they are bringing to this truly great medium. They ask for my advice; they speak about their ideas with conviction; they want to learn, grow and deliver a message to a whole new audience.
At the end of the festival, my tears at my own loss have turned to joy in the knowledge that the future of this great industry is assured. I, and we, the class of 1987, have a new role to play, and it is no less valuable than the one we fulfilled over two decades ago. 

The same. 

Only different.   

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