Martin Newell’s Joy of Essex: I stood on destiny’s doorstep... but was facing the wrong way

Angels and Bullies is a British-made film set in an Essex secondary school and Im glad to say I pla

Angels and Bullies is a British-made film set in an Essex secondary school and Im glad to say I played a small part in its production. - Credit: Archant

I don’t usually write about films. I’m telling you this because I uncovered a rather unusual story about my involvement in one.

Set here in Essex, the film is called Angels and Bullies. It launches on August 22 at Basildon Empire Cinema. You won’t be able to obtain tickets for the first week, because it’s already sold out. Tickets, however, are available for a second week in August and September.

One morning in May of last year, I suffered a non-epileptic brain seizure which briefly killed me. It was a bit of a fluke, the neurologist concluded, an electric storm caused by electrolyte imbalance, exhaustion, too many glasses of the old Dame Elisabeth Frink – and a failure to observe that I was the train wreck that I am, rather than the young buccaneer that I once was. I agreed with the doctor that in future I should sleep more, drink less, and generally behave more sedately.

My powers of recall, usually regarded by friends as exceptional, seemed unimpaired by the incident. Or so I thought. Until a communication arrived two weeks ago from the office of an acquaintance, Chris Turner, writer and director of the above-mentioned film. I was invited to a viewing. I had no idea why. I wondered if they wanted me to review it. I wrote back and asked them. When the reply arrived, I discovered to my astonishment, that at some point I’d written a synopsis for Angels and Bullies.

This meant that Iwould have pored thoroughly over the script, concentrating fully upon the story – at least for a short while. That’s how I work. And yet I had absolutely no memory of having done so. I couldn’t even locate a copy of the work in my files – that’s how I don’t work. I did, however, manage to find a payment entry in my accounts book. It was dated May 2009, so I know that I must have completed the job.

Angels and Bullies, I rediscover, is a ghost story, a love story, and the tale of a school rock band. Set in an Essex secondary school, the film contains a strong anti-bullying message.

I know all of this because I looked it up online and read the final synopsis, part of which I’m told, is my original. I also watched the trailer. This film is right up my street – a rattling good Brit-flick. That, I concluded, is probably why I agreed to write the synopsis. It’s just I don’t remember a thing about it.

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It’s shaken me, rather. It’s a bit like when your computer crashes, and the techno-bod manages to retrieve most of your files but not quite all of them. From this single chastening episode, I now realise that I didn’t come away entirely unscathed from my human blue-screen episode last year.

Never mind, though. It’s worth me telling you a little bit about Chris Turner who, like your correspondent here, was once a young rock singer. His band, called Tonight, a power pop band from Southend had a 1978 chart hit with Drummer Man. As Dylan Thomas once observed, however, “Time passes, time passes.” and for many years now Chris Turner has run the London Bus Theatre Company, a theatrical education company.

They travel the country conducting schools programmes in drug/alcohol awareness as well as anti-bullying workshops.

When I caught up with Chris on the phone, it transpired that Angels and Bullies has taken him almost to six years to make. This is unsurprising. That it’s been released, however, is quite singular. Oh, you’ll often hear people say, whenever the BAFTAS and Oscars are dished out, that the British film industry is undergoing a renaissance. They always do. But from the shop-floor, it rarely looks that way.

Unless waves of cash wash in from Hollywood, with the pre-condition of “input” from the backers, what we in the UK usually end up making, is “good little” films. Most of these, if they get finished, only do so because a disparate patchwork of funding sources just about covered the cost of making them.

Then, of course, you have your distribution problems. The boys in long trousers do like to monoplise the cinema chains. Chris Turner and his team, therefore have performed a small miracle here.

They’ve made a British film, made it locally and actually managed to get it put on in a proper picture house, without anyone insisting on the inclusion of a car chase or upon having Megan Fox as the love interest. That’s unusual.

During the long time it took to make the film, London Bus employed more than 300 residents from estates in Basildon and Billericay.

It’s possibly worth mentioning here, too, that Angels and Bullies’ male lead is the top model Harry Goodwins, who later became the face of Prada, as well as doing an exclusive runway appearance for Calvin Klein.

Calvin Klein, I remind myself is the company which manufactures bespoke underpants, as well as that oddly sugary perfume that young bucks marinade themselves in each weekend. No matter, Harry seems like a handsome and talented lad to me.

So there we have it, ladies and gentlemen; my miniscule part in the making of what could well be the next Essex blockbuster. Once again, I find that I have stood unwittingly on destiny’s doorstep, facing the wrong way.

Angels and Bullies is on at Basildon Empire Cinema from August 29 to September 4.