The original film poster featuring Bert Gurden and Mr. Plant
This is certainly the most widely shown independent film I've worked on and produced.
It can be viewed here.
Gaby Porter, my co-producer wanted an A/V display for Stockport Hat Museum then based at Vernon Park and now in central Stockport. Someone told me recently it's still screened to this day.
Martin Lightening and Alan Murgatroyd had shot the original footage in the early 70's when William Plant's, the only surviving maker of hat blocks in the North West, was still working and turning blocks in their workshop in Ancoats.
Their Workshop was a functioning relic of the Victorian era with machinery driven by huge, potentially lethal leather belts that Heath Robinson would have been proud of.
Whether or not a passing Health & Safety Factory inspector ever suffered an instant coronary remains to be seen. Anyway the 16 mm negative had been around gathering dust for a good few years and Paul Habbershon of North West Arts and Gaby Porter from Stockport Museum were keen for something to be done with it.
In its raw state it was a beautifully shot technical record of a series of the wood turning processes. This skeleton we fleshed out with archive footage and new material to become a more generally audience-friendly film about hats and the hat industry.
Mr Plant, the owner had died in the intervening years between shooting and editing - not surprisingly as he'd been filmed still working at the age of 91 years!
Bert Gurden had also been captured on film as his long suffering 75-year-old apprentice! Fortunately Bert was alive and well and living in Wythenshawe. We found and interviewed him at length on audiotape tapes (now lodged with the North West Sound Archive and this became the spoken narrative for the documentary we eventually made.
The secret lay in giving Bert the opportunity to explain what he was doing technically on screen but also to talk about the working conditions and changes in the industry and to weave all these elements into a full and rounded portrait.
Bert's personality, Martin's exquisite camerawork and lighting, commentary spoken by Graham Carlisle, a strong narrative arch and Erik Satie's haunting piano music all contribute to a film that remains remarkably evocative and moving.