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From Spain to Streatham (1959)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of From Spain to Streatham (1959)
For Monitor, BBC, tx. 7/6/1959
10 mins, black and white
DirectorKen Russell
Production CompanyBBC Television
ProducerPeter Newington
CommentaryFrank Duncan

With: John Williams, Mr Skinner, Mrs M. Griffiths, Laurie Griffiths, Davina Dundas, Teresa Power, Dave Graham, Len Williams, Evelyn Wilding, Avro Boys

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The guitar craze and the people swept up in its wake, from beginning amateurs to practised professionals.

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Also known as Guitar Craze and the more evocative Hound Dogs and Bach Addicts, this Monitor item (Ken Russell's third for the pioneering BBC arts strand) offers a whistle-stop tour of how Britons are enthusiastically taking up the guitar in all sorts of ways. The instrument's sudden popularity came about as a by-product of the skiffle revival, which led a wide range of people to form bands whose instrumentation was generally as cheap and cheerful as possible. Washboards and comb-and-paper combinations were common, and the only conventional musical instrument was often the humble acoustic guitar.

Russell's lively film pays tribute to the hand-me-down nature of the skiffle movement in the opening sequence, in which a group of children create an impromptu band from assorted junkyard items, including a discarded piano. One of them, Laurie, is then whisked off to a music shop to buy a guitar, with which he later accompanies his beloved Elvis Presley singing 'Hound Dog'. The following sequence shows assorted would-be guitarists being drilled by their no-nonsense teachers, one of whom visits his pupils at Wormwood Scrubs prison.

If there's a certain element of finger-wagging about the importance of technique and practice in this section, Russell compensates by going on to illustrate the potential rewards (talent permitting). The then 18-year-old Davey Graham gives a spellbinding jazz performance in a run-down building site, attracting an understandably enthusiastic crowd in the process. This was in fact the film that made Graham's reputation - he would go on to become one of the leading figures in the following decade's folk-rock revival.

Another expert performance is given by classical guitarist John Williams (a few months younger than Graham, and similarly destined for future greatness in his field) while Davina Dundas sings a French chanson in the shadow of the Albert Memorial. But perhaps the most heartfelt performance in the whole film is that given by a group of Salvation Army volunteers, for whom the guitar is the most convenient instrument for impromptu public performance. Above all, the film is keen to stress the sheer ease of taking it up: although a classical guitarist needs twelve year's study, you only need twelve hours or so to master a three chord rock'n'roll riff.

This was the first of Russell's "survey" films for Monitor, and would be followed in 1960 by the dance equivalent, the even more eclectic The Light Fantastic (tx. 18/12/1960).

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. Junkyard jamming (2:05)
2. Saints marching in (1:27)
3. Spiritual strumming (1:26)
Light Fantastic, The (1960)
Russell, Ken (1927-2011)
Ken Russell: The Monitor Years