I’m sure a lot of you enjoyed the fantastic weather this weekend and many of you no doubt had a barbecue on The Common. I was out of town on Saturday but heard it was seriously busy down the seafront. A few of us had a BBQ on Sunday and we’re approached by some council officials regarding our position. They were very polite and let us carry on as we were already cooking and handed us some details of all the new zones.
Unfortunately the new zones now means hundreds of people are going to be packed in to single areas. The main common by the War Memorial will be extremely busy over the summer. More so than usual for sure. I fully back having these zones in place, but feel I’ll no longer be going to the common for BBQs if I can help it as they have made a lot of areas no go zones. It was always more appealing when you could spread out from other groups.
With the 101st edition of the Tour de France due to begin on Saturday and a summer of sport well underway, I believe the time is right to delve into the past and look to when the world’s greatest cycling race crossed the channel to our shores. On the 7th of July 1994 Hampshire was gripped with cycling fever; a 187km long 5th stage was about to begin and end in Portsmouth. Half a billion eyes around the world were glued to television sets as the peloton, which included cycling legends Marco Pantani, Miguel Indurain, Chris Boardman and a young Texan called Lance Armstrong, powered past HMS Victory in the Historic Dockyard. For a day, Portsmouth played host to one of the most prestigious sporting events on the calendar. So how did this extraordinary day come about? In a two part post, I catch up with Southsea resident and ex-council employee John Bagnall, a key player in bringing the event to the city.
Hi John, thank you for taking time out to speak to us. First of all can you tell us what you were doing during the lead up to 1994?
I was the Marketing Communications Manager at Portsmouth City Council, it was looking after press and media relations.
And I believe that this whole venture arose from a discussion over a pub lunch, is that right?
My colleague David Knight, head of leisure for the city council said to me “What can we do that will really put Portsmouth on the map and be a counter point to the D-day commemorations? What is international, bright, young and youth orientated?”
So when you say the commemorations? This was the 50th D-day celebrations? Quite a big deal.
Yes, it was the 50th anniversary of D-day. So for a week at the start of June, Portsmouth became centre to the world in terms of commemorating the liberation, or the beginnings of the liberation of Europe. Clinton and the Queens were here, many world leaders came to Portsmouth and stood in a special bandstand built on Southsea Common. There was a huge international flypast, I think a couple of hundred planes came over Portsmouth; Spitfires, Lancaster Bombers, Flying Fortresses, it really was the world solemnly marking D-day and the beginning of the end of World War Two.
OK, so press-wise, a pretty good window of opportunity here. What was discussed over lunch?
As I said to David over that pub lunch “Hey, why don’t we bid to get the Tour De France to England?” I’d never really thought at that moment there was a realistic prospect of getting them here, I just thought the council would probably laugh it out of court anyway. Even if we did get as far as sending an invitation to them they would just turn round and say “I’m sorry, why would we come to England? You have no history or heritage of cycling”.
So to add a little context, I believe The Tour had come to England once before? In 1974?
Yes, the time before they raced on the newly completed, but not yet opened, Plympton By-pass near Plymouth. It was just coned off at each end and they went up the dual carriage way for X number of laps. And that was it. I think a few hardcore cycling clubs came to see some of the riders of that time, but there was no broadcast coverage and precious little coverage in the newspapers. By all accounts it was very dull and very boring. The Tour didn’t like it because of the amount of time it took to get the riders there and then take them back again.
I see, so it seems like The Tour organisers weren’t exactly scrambling to recreate another UK leg?
No, the tour had no thoughts of coming to England ever again after the Plymouth stage. So during that pub lunch the idea really was to “fly a kite”, let’s do something a bit crazy. My argument to David was; they will probably say no even if they bother to reply, but I can still get some publicity out of that. Perhaps a little story into the cycling friendly The Guardian about how a town in Portsmouth bids to get France’s biggest sport event there (wry laugh)… So David and I went to talk to a guy called Richard Tryst who was the chief executive of the council. Richard was quite a frightening man with a hawkish and cynical sharp manner, but he didn’t suffer fools gladly. He liked boldness and directness. We went to see him and basically said “it’s crazy but we think this is a good thing to do, it ticks all the boxes of what the council are looking at”. He sorted of nodded and said “well yes, there are a lot of other questions to answer as well, but we’ll keep this alive”.
Richard bought in the then leader of the conservative council, a guy called Ian Gibson, who like all local politicians that get to be leaders of the council, was a very upfront, bold and visionary guy. And he got really excited about it as well. So on the 18th of December 1990 I drafted a letter to Henry LeBlanc who was the president of Amaury Sports Organisation, which was the company that controls the Tour De France. And about two weeks later they came back basically saying; “Subject to commercial confidence we are interested, and we are very grateful for your support”. They went on to explain that the Tour at that time was losing direction as the Tour De France; it had this great tradition attached to it but it wasn’t going anywhere with it. What they were trying to do was to introduce a policy that they called “mondialisation”. The organisers wanted to take it global and they were actively looking for other European countries that they could go to. They even discussed the possibility of, and this was back when people were excited by Concorde, to go across the Atlantic and even starting it in America or Canada. So to have an approach from an English city saying “what can we do to help?” was brilliant to them.
Could you perhaps detail some of the ins and outs of trying to organise an event of this scale whilst remaining compliant with the confidentiality agreement? Seems impossible to me.
We had to sign legally binding documents with them not to divulge the fact that they might be coming here, and from there it became a planning operation. The organisers want to be able to book up every hotel going within, in some cases, 50 to 60 miles of a particular stage town. And at a competitive rate too. If it was common knowledge that the Tour was coming to Portsmouth every hotel in Hampshire, Sussex and Dorset would be ratcheting up their prices. Not only that but we had to make sure that the public knew where to be and what they were going to see. We took care of safety and we made sure there were no embarrassing blockages such as level crossing gates being down. It was a massive planning operation that went into incredible detail; and day after day more and more levels of detail were added.
One of the first things that came up was that the Tour uses a massive bandwidth of transmission frequencies. Back then, before radios were used with the riders, the teams still had their private frequencies so that the Director Sportif could talk to the team cars and any other helpers he needed to contact. The race officials too needed an overall race frequency that everybody could listen to, as did the aid operations, the radio operations, the feeding operations, the signing operations and for the clearing up of the signing operations. The list just went on and one. Hundreds of frequencies and sod’s law would have it that was the most of them were in the band of frequencies used in the UK for hospital radio paging systems. There was no way that we could bring the Tour through with hospitals being disrupted and lives being put at risk because of radio interference.
Immediately we set up a meeting with a government agency called the Radio Communications Agency. This was a formal meeting with about 30 of their wise men. We bought over the communications manager of the Tour and a specialist from France Telecoms. During the meeting’s presentation you could see various people around the table shaking their heads; “impossible”, “far too hard”. But a couple of the right senior people listened intently, and one of them I think the deputy chief executive said “well look, I have no idea how were are going to do this because it will be a massive problem, but leave that to us, if we can’t solve it we shouldn’t be doing our job, we think we can do it.” Suddenly the head shakers were agreeing. We got their commitment. From then on the RCA also undertook all that was necessary to make sure that the hospitals, for those two days, would be working from a different wavelength and there would be no clash.
Another major issue was that the overall physical envelope of the Tour is massively more than just the peloton. You have the advanced publicity caravan, you have the people who would have gone over two or three days prior: putting up signage, checking access to the routes, checking where they can take off vehicles that might break down. All the kind of technical aspects. They are physically working several days, and perhaps hundreds of miles distance, from where the Tour is at that particular point. It is all part of the live event. Then you have the security operation that physically surrounds the tour: the motorbike marshals that escort the official’s cars, that monitors the press and first aid cars. They have their own radio frequencies and take up physical space on the roads. Amongst those you have the camera bikes that are filming the close-up of the derailleurs and the break-aways. They are beaming a signal up to a helicopter above and there will be four to five other helicopters covering the breakaways and the peloton. Each group of cyclists needing their own cameras.
For two days they would have to touched on Gatwick’s airspace and the approach path for Heathrow. I remember being in the office when Alan Rushton called Directory Enquiries (this was pre internet days) to get the number for the Civil Aviation Authority. He phoned up the switchboard and asked to speak to whichever department was responsible for closing the airspace above British airports. You could sense the stunned silence on the other end of the phone. Thankfully the CAA came back very quickly with a can do attitude. The only stipulation being that any emergency aircraft landings would have to take priority, but otherwise they would work with the French air traffic specialists to bring the Tour through safely.
Be sure to check in on Wednesday, when we bring you the second part of our interview with John. We will touch on what else was required to bring the race here and what cycling legacy (if at all) the Tour left, not just in Portsmouth, but for the UK.
I’ve been holding on to this for a while now as I wanted to make a feature of it and had to wait for the exhibition to finish to give it pride of place on the front page. If like myself you’re always looking around at our local architecture you will have noticed many of the buildings within the book Thomas Ellis Owen Shaper of Portsmouth, ‘Father of Southsea’. Some could even be right on your doorstep but you have never noticed, or peeked over that high wall. Thomas Ellis Owen’s work is all over the city and you’d be forgiven for walking past as a lot of it is hidden or down those streets you may not stroll down too often. Other buildings however are right in your face. Ever noticed the huge block of flats at the entrance to Waitrose, the detailing on the building at Dover Court opposite the old Havana bar?
“Thomas Ellis Owen is probably the best known of Portsmouth’s nineteenth century architects, his construction of villas and substantial terraces in Southsea being responsible for the emergence of the district as a middle class locality. His work was recognised by Pevsner and Lloyd in their magisterial Buildings of England: Hampshire, and later by a rather more detailed architectural enquiry by two students, Preedy and Stewart. My own research was principally concerned with dating Owen’s properties and analysing their inhabitants. What Sue Pike has done is to cast the net very much wider, not only by providing great detail about Owen’s family, but also by demonstrating the impressive breadth of his activities outside architecture. Indeed, his interests were so wide that there must have been few aspects of Portsmouth’s development in the 1830s, 1840s and 1850s in which he was not involved. Infrastructural fields such as gas supply, the Portsea Canal, railways, the Camber Docks and hospitals lay within his purview, while he assisted in the purchase of land for one of Portsmouth’s defining features, the Palmerstonian forts. His tithe map has proved of inestimable value to local historians. Meanwhile Owen was an important local politician. All these facets of Owen’s life have been fully laid bare in this thoroughly well researched book by Sue Pike, who is to be congratulated on her labours.” Professor Ray Riley
Thomas Ellis Owen Shaper of Portsmouth, ‘Father of Southsea’ is a really interesting read and contains stunning colour photos of many Owen properties in Southsea and Alverstoke by Gosport photographer, Tim Martin. There is no real target audience and hopefully it will appeal to old and young alike. The detailed captions may be helpful to first year architecture students but it showcases Southsea well and may well appeal equally to academics, photographers, interested newcomers and people who just want a really nice book to put on their coffee table. I’m a huge fan of both history and architecture so this book is a real winner for me, and I have no doubt that if that’s not really your bag you will still appreciate what Thomas Ellis Owen Shaper of Portsmouth, ‘Father of Southsea’ has to offer.
You can purchase a hardback copy for £25 via the publishers www.tricornbooks.co.uk and www.whsmith.co.uk and read up on the book and the author Sue Pike over at www.thomasellisowen.co.uk
A recent arrival to Portsmouth, Eamon Lane has been out and about the city recently shooting photos on the street and at local events such as Love Your Bike. Below are a few examples of Eamon’s photography, visit I Love Slugs to see more.
Soaring 170 metres above Portsmouth Harbour and the Solent, the Spinnaker Tower is taller than the London Eye, Blackpool Tower and Big Ben and has already established itself as a national icon for Britain. Get yourself down to Gunwharf Quays and check out the panoramic views over the city and the Solent. Don’t forget your camera. Oh, and if you’re a Portsmouth resident you get cheap entry if you provide proof.
Righto chaps, it’s time to clean shave your boat race and get that mighty moustache on the grow in support of Movember for The Prostate Cancer Charity and the Institute of Cancer Research. For 30 days of November you can help support and raise awareness through selflessly parading your top lip for charity.
You can sign up yourself, as I’m sure many of you already have, or you can join the Strong Island team and seek out sponsorship as a team. Through the Strong Island Movember page you can ask people to join the group, make donations, upload photos and post updates via the MoSpace page, Facebook and Twitter.
Head over to www.mobro.co/StrongIsland if you would like to get involved and grow a Strong Moustache to help raise awareness, or simply head over to www.uk.movember.com and sign up to personally raise money.
The funds raised in the UK support the number one and two male specific cancers – prostate and testicular cancer. The funds raised are directed to programmes run directly by Movember and our men’s health partners, The Prostate Cancer Charity and the Institute of Cancer Research. Together, these channels work together to ensure that Movember funds are supporting a broad range of innovative, world-class programmes in line with our strategic goals in the areas of awareness and education, survivorship and research.
Poster: Tristan Savage
Coastguard Studio this past weekend was host to it’s fifth (if I remember right) exhibition in a matter of six months or so, this one being a spin-off show to to the hugely successful Under the Spotlight exhibition earlier this year. Under the Spotlight | Photography brought together 30 photographers who are either based in Portsmouth or have strong ties with the city and the large open plan gallery space was packed full of diverse and engaging work.
I started off in the bar area, grabbing a beer and then checking out the panels lining the walls to this back space of Coastguard Studio. The first series that caught the eye were a pair of medium format, multiple exposures by Matt Ankers. I’ve seen a lot of Matt’s digital and commercial work (such as Victorious) so it was great to see his more personal work. The two images complemented each other well with emotive seaside scenes shot locally. Great to see film well represented in the exhibition. Next door on the wall was a series of film-noir inspired portraits by University of Portsmouth student Harry Murphy. This small wall right from the get go showed the incredible diversity of work produced for the exhibition and the different backgrounds of the contributors.
Work by Matt Ankers.
Work by Harry Murphy.
Another eye catching and intriguing panel was by Deborah Holton. The panel of 4 matched images showed x-ray collections of objects found on beach walks, going back over a decade or more. Each individual beach collection was kept in a 35mm film canister and could consist of beach glass, stones, sand and more. The idea behind the project and the dedication and composition consistency elevated this work to a highly conceptual piece that I’m sure inspired a few people to consider striking up their own ambitious concepts and projects in the future.
Work by Deborah Holton.
Also in this space were works by Andrew Hayward whose photography we’ve featured on a few occasions on Strong Island. On display were a small set of Andrew’s personal project capturing the oasis feel of service stations at night (also recently exhibited in a solo show with Aspex Gallery and Portsmouth Guildhall). The different garages shot in the same compositional style created a sense of consistency in the panel, drawing the eye in to discover more about the lit forecourts and bringing to mind the memories of late night road trips with friends and finding a sanctuary of fuel for the car and for the passengers. We’re actually exhibiting Andrew’s latest project in Strong Island Co very soon, keep an eye out for details.
Also shown in the room was work by Billie Cawte with her series of photos of projections shot around Portsmouth. These carefully considered images matched a location with a projection of a vintage image, shot at night, instilling a sense of continuity of a sense of place extending beyond normal, individual perceptions of time. These also, in a pleasantly strange way, bring to life forgotten functional corners of buildings. There was lots more to see in this space with other work by local photographers, I spent a little more time looking around before moving in to the large, open main exhibition space.
Straight away it was great to see the place so busy. It was early-ish on the Saturday night and the place was full of people of all ages checking out the work and chatting. Its always great to take a step back in an exhibition and just see people enjoying it. There is way too much work to go through individually here but a few panels really caught my eye for very different reasons. In one corner were a series of 360 images taken by Guilhem Brandy which showed different, familiar, spots around the city in an interesting new way. Changing up perspectives of familiar places is something I personally really like and this series from Albert Road, Southsea Seafront, Garrison Church and Guildhall Square drew you in to find out more.
One of the many great things about a shared exhibition is that the work touches on so many different subjects, drawing out many different thoughts and feelings from the people viewing the work. In a matter of a few steps you could take in the B&W film street photography by Matt Maber exploring the physical, social and cultural boundaries of Fratton Park on a Saturday afternoon through to the questioning and bold nudes by Ashton Keiditsch. In particular the powerful image of a lady with a partial mastectomy meant that the exhibition tackled some heavyweight subjects and these honest and questioning portraits looking at contemporary body image issues rightly raised discussion. The work reminded me of the recent series by Bryan Adams and also The Battle We Didn’t Choose.
Work by Ashton Keiditsch.
Also panels that caught the eye included: the photos of Diana Goss whose work has a foot in each of her professions: photography and psychotherapy, the long exposures by both Elmer Maniebo and Jon Neil, the portraits by Aaron Bennett, the views on old age by Yasmin Collins and so, so much more. Hopefully the photos below give you a glimpse.
If you want to see the work in person the exhibition is open until Friday from 12pm to 2pm. Check the Coastguard Studio Facebook page for more information HERE.