Film ID:
NEFA 10910

A WORLD OF MY OWN: JOHN BRAINE

1969

Visitor Tabs

Description

Autobiographical Tyne Tees TV documentary, part of the A World of My Own series broadcast on 23 April 1969, with John Braine, author of Room at the Top, which became a seminal work in the British new wave of ‘kitchen sink’ post-war films. Braine takes us through some of the locations that have influenced his work and life including Morpeth, Newbiggin-by-Sea, Ashington and Seaton Deleval Hall.

The author John Braine travels to Northumberland in a first class railway carriage, smoking, and muses about coming to ‘Northumberland’ in the late summer of 1954 ‘really to finish my novel "Room at the Top". I had been eking out a meagre sort of living from journalism, but the trouble was that journalism was taking up altogether too much time and was beginning to get in the way of the novel.’ Travelling shots from the train show the approach to Newcastle, rows of Victorian terraced, back-to-back housing and crossing the misty river Tyne.

General view of Newcastle Central Station portico as Braine walks out. He says: ‘I did have all sorts of illusions about Northumberland. I was for example quite convinced that it was in Scotland and I was most surprised first of all to find that it did have a very peculiar flavour of its own." Braine walks up Neville Street towards the Cathedral Church of St Nicholas. He crosses a busy intersection at the church. He ambles up the street and turns into Grey Street passing the classical architecture designed by Richard Grainger leading to Grey’s Monument including the Theatre Royal.  He considers: ‘My first impression of Newcastle was that here you did have a city, which in the centre at least looked like a capital city, that was properly designed, properly planned and it did have a certain air of spaciousness and nobility about it.’ High angle view of the centre of Newcastle.

General views of the Swing Bridge, Tyne Bridge and High level Bridge over the river, some small ships moored on the Quayside, followed by a view down The Side and the arch of the railway viaduct. ‘The other thing I liked about it was that there was the smell of the sea about it and if you've got the sea near a city then in a strange sort of way you can never feel quite depressed in that city.’

John Braine piece to camera, probably standing on the Castle Keep, the Civic Centre in the background, which he describes as a ‘monstrosity’. He continues to rant against the Civic Centre and modern architecture in Newcastle. General views of the new Civic Centre, the circular council chamber he likens to a ‘gas holder’ or ‘part of a moon craft’. Braine says: ‘But when you look at this building, and it’s all the more pathetic because of a certain attempt at decoration, then what you see is a building that has been made by men who don’t particularly see man as having anything to do with God, with poetry or with fantasy, that you could see in the old Newcastle.’

General view of the new Central Library in Princess Square, which he suggests looks like ‘an old fashioned central heating radiator with very deep ribs’. General view of the Castle Keep.

Braine then says that his first job in the region was as Liaison Officer with the County Library service and he first lived in Morpeth. Various views of the market town centre follow, including Newgate Street, High Street and the Clock Tower, and several shots of the River Wansbeck and bridges, and the Chantry. He liked the town very much as it had a ‘definite individual character’, but things he didn't like included the use of the old Chantry by a soft drinks manufacturing company (George Young Ltd. of Morpeth). There are various views of lesser known nooks, winding streets and back alleys in the town and shots of residents and shoppers out and about, including two fashionable young women and people crossing the Chantry Footbridge. Development work on the river is also recorded. He describes Morpeth as a ‘very secretive sort of town’ with a ‘feeling of mystery about the place’. ‘You always get the feeling that there’s a life going on below the surface. It’s not an open sort of town and I didn’t mind that at all.’ As a couple of young mothers stroll beside the river, Braine admits: ‘Morpeth in actual fact appears in Room at the Top. The river in Warley doesn't really belong to Bingley, it belongs to Morpeth’.

Now in the branch library at Newbiggin-by-the-Sea (its first), his second post in Northumberland after a few months, the author holds a copy of his first published book, Room at the Top. As he strolls around, an elderly woman is reading a book to a young boy at one of the tables. Schoolgirls browse the shelves. He says that he also used to work two days a week at the children’s library in Ashington.

Braine wanders around the small fishing village of Newbiggin-by-theSea. General views follow of the stormy sea crashing onto the promenade, where two young boys are playing. He says the sea here was something you earned your living from, and it seemed crueller here than anywhere he had ever been before. General views in the churchyard and looking at old tombstones that show many people died young at sea. Back on the deserted looking promenade, he pauses to look at the 1930s Café Riviera building on the sea front where you can buy Bertorelli’s ice cream. There are shots of the Wallow cinema, a grim looking 60s brick building that is the British Legion Club and an amusement arcade, the empty Rainbow Café. A woman sits playing bingo in another building. The pithead of the colliery is seen at the end of a terrace. 

Various shots of the mine and workers follow.   He says: ‘My feelings about Newbiggin are rather mixed, I'm trying to put my finger on what makes Newbiggin so different from any other place I've known (cutaways of the town). It was a holiday resort to some extent but what gave it its flavour was the mine, so you had two kinds of workers both earning their living in extremely dangerous ways. […] that gave Newbiggin its flavour, a sort of atmosphere of danger, the threat of death, violent death always there.’ The stormy sea crashes onto the sea front at Newbiggin. Close-up of a tombstone monument. More shots of the gravestones in the cemetery follow. Two fishermen stand beside their boat (under cover) looking out at the storm. Braine walks along the beach during low tide, the sea now calm, St Bartholomews Church at Church Point.

Now in Ashington, ‘the biggest pit village in the world’, there are various general views around the town including Ashington County Grammar School, a semi-detached house in a new estate. Tracking shot down back-to-back terrace, which Braine says have been given numbers (Third Row, Tenth Row etc.) rather than street names. He finds this terribly saddening. ‘The idea that once people should have thought so little of the workers is, not to even give the streets in which they live names … This I really did find depressing.’

Braine says that one of the most important places in Room at the Top, the Sinclair Folly, was inspired by both Bingley and Delaval Hall. Various exterior views of the English Baroque style and very grand Seaton Delaval Hall. Braine feels this shell of a great house is very melancholy but that it’s the sort of place that gets your imagination going.  Various shots of ruined stucco statues in the hall, the stable block with the names of the horses over each stall.  A channel was cut through the rock to the sea at Seaton Sluice by the Delavals. One of the mines nearby Seaton Sluice owned by the Delavals is shown at the end of cottage rows, the dirt road pitted and uncared for. Further shots of the Hall, stables and statues in the gardens follow. Braine says you can see the history of England in Delaval Hall and should be able to forecast the future as well. He goes on to say ‘that's one part of Northumberland I'll never forget, and I was thinking about the Delavals when I wrote about the Sinclairs in Room at the Top, so there are bits of Northumberland all throughout Room at the Top, which is rather strange when you come to think of it since it has been thought of always as being so much a Yorkshire novel […] A more accurate term would be Northern.’

Back on the seafront at Newbiggin, Blyth Power Station is visible in the distance. A man paddles in the cold looking sea. Braine looks out over the bay and describes the moment, while in Northumberland, in 1956 when he got a letter accepting Room at The Top for publication. He walks down towards the beach. ‘I remember feeling then that this was going to change my whole life.’ He pulls his collar up against the cold as he walks on the promenade. The camera dollies back as he walks swiftly along the sea front.