Tag Archives: Paddington

Hell W10: the film that killed the Clash?

In 1983, just as the band were starting to fall apart, The Clash decided to make a film. But stung by their experiences on the strange but compelling Rude Boy, they decided to make it themselves. They called it Hell W10, filmed it on 16mm silent black and white film, and made the plot up as they went along. The result, understandably, was somewhat bizarre.

‘Let’s make a film!’ said Mick Jones in 2005. ‘We had no other agenda there than that. Everyone put in their time without thinking about it. That was what we did on our time off; we worked! It was totally Joe [Strummer]’s idea. He directed it, he shot it, he did it. And then it was gone. It didn’t even come out!’

Strummer believed the film was lost forever. In 1987, when it looked like he might carve out a new career for himself in the film world, he told an interviewer, ‘I have directed a film myself, a black and white 16mm silent movie and it was a disaster. Luckily the laboratory that held all the negative went bankrupt and destroyed all the stock, so the world can breathe again. I shot without a script. God knows what it was about. I’m the only other one that knew, and I’m not telling.’

In 2002, the film was rediscovered on video tape and re-edited by long-time Clash collaborator Don Letts, who added a fine Clash soundtrack over the top. It is a strange piece indeed, a gangster tale that follows Earl, a musician and small-time hood played by Paul Simonon, who falls foul of the local crime boss called Socrates, ‘The Lord of Ladbroke Grove’, played with some relish by Mick Jones, resplendent in white tux (‘You wanna end up as a pillar in a Canning Town flyover?’ he threatens one lackey). Strummer gives himself a cameo as a corrupt and racist policeman. It’s a cross between The Harder The Come and some of the pulp London crime novels of the 1950s (many of which have been republished by London Books).

Hell W10 also features some cracking period photography of Notting Hill, Paddington and Ladbroke Grove, and weighs in at almost 50 minutes, which suggests it must have taken quite some time to film.

What makes it particularly fascinating is that it was filmed just as the band were starting to go belly up; Topper Headon had already been kicked out for drug abuse, while Simonon and Jones were barely speaking, making their feud in the film a little too close to the truth. Things came to a head within weeks of Hell W10 being made, with Jones sacked from the band in September 1983.

In Letts’s documentary, Westway To The World, both Jones and Strummer confess that the band had simply spent too much time in each other’s company and should have taken a break; if they had done so, hotheads may have had time to cool. Instead, they made a film. Perhaps if they’d had a summer holiday in 1983 rather than fool around with a camera, the band of Jones, Strummer and Simonon might have lasted another few years. Still, it looks like they had fun making it.

Was it worth it? Watch and decide, this is the first of five parts.

Advertisements

Thomas Paine’s London bridge

Thomas Paine was many things. A writer, revolutionary and political philosopher, Paine was also an inventor and engineer, who made the world’s first smokeless candle. He was also an occasional Londoner, most notably when he stayed at the Angel Inn, Islington, around the time he began writing Rights Of Man in 1791. This monument celebrates that fact.

Considerably more interesting than this, though, is the rarely discussed fact that Tom Paine built bridges. Iron bridges. And he built one of them in London.

Paine was fascinated by bridges, admiring them for their architecture as much as their metaphorical meaning. John Keane, Paine’s biographer, writes that he ‘was stuck by their double meaning. Bridges were for him combinations of architectural beauty and practicality, works of genius that could be breathtaking in their simplicity… the rising spirit of an epoch translated into space.’

Paine first tried to raise the funds to build an iron bridge over the Harlem River in New York in 1785 and then another over the Seine in Paris in 1786, but without success. Bridges of this era were still largely constructed in stone and wood, making Paine’s ideas rather unusual. Plus, he had no real background in engineering or architecture.

But he persevered. In 1788-89, he attempted to build an iron bridge over the River Don in South Yorkshire and although the project was never completed it did secure him a patent for his bridge-building scheme. Paine now decided that he needed to build his prototype bridge in London, where potential investors could see for themselves the sort of brilliant bridge he was going  to make. He told Thomas Jefferson – who himself had many ideas about how the bridge should be built – that a London bridge would soon pay for itself in tolls. Jefferson was impressed, writing to a friend: ‘Mr Paine, the author of Common Sense, has invented an iron bridge, which promises to be cheaper by a great deal than stone, and to admit of a much greater arch. He supposes it may be ventured for an arch of five hundred feet. He has obtained a patent for it in England, and is now executing the first experiment with an arch of between ninety and one hundred feet.’

Paine had originally hoped to build this experimental bridge to nowhere in Soho Square, but when he wrote to George Washington on May 1, 1790 describing his single-arch bridge of 110 feet, he still hadn’t found an appropriate location. By the end of May he could tell the no doubt anxious Washington that a site had been found – a field next to a famous tavern called the Yorkshire Stingo, on the Marylebone Road near what is now Lisson Grove. This was at least partly appropriate, given that the bridge was being constructed by a Rotherham-based ironworker called Thomas Walker.

Paine moved into the Yorkshire Stingo and began erecting his 110-foot bridge on the neighbouring bowling green. By September it was finished. Jefferson wrote to him a very nice letter saying: ‘I congratulate you sincerely on the success of your bridge. I was sure of it before from theory: yet one likes to be assured from practice also.’

However, although there were many interested visitors, none of them were impressed enough to offer to invest in Paine’s scheme to build a bridge over the Thames. By October 1791, Paine’s bridge had been started to rust and Paine had lost interest, so it was dismantled and the iron returned to Yorkshire, where some was used in a bridge built over the River Wear in Sunderland in 1796, which at the time was the longest iron bridge at the world at 240 feet.