Remembering Derek Jarman

By Bernie Bell

I watched a television programme called ‘Inside Art: Derek Jarman’ which was on Sky Arts on the evening of Monday the 28th February.  It was presented by Kate Bryan and was mainly concerned with a retrospective exhibition of Derek Jarman’s work which was held in the Manchester Art Gallery.

Kate Bryan presented it well – she met with people who knew Derek Jarman, many who were his friends, not the usual rent-a-pundit telly programme where folk blather on about someone’s work, mostly just from their own view – which could be said to be exactly what I’m about to do!  But maybe that’s what Art produces – individual responses – some more informed than others!

Derek Jarman – I remember seeing his film ‘Sebastiane’ when it first came out in 1976 – and it was very controversial at the time – possibly still is…………..

I don’t know this to be so but, in Father Ted, when Ted and Dougal are told to protest against a ‘blasphemous’ film being shown in the local cinema, and Dougal says that he’s sure St. Tibulus wore more clothes than that – I thought they must be referencing Derek Jarman’s film. Dougal also mentions ‘lads in the buff’ – and there are a lot of lads in the buff in the film!

Then there was ‘Jubilee’ – a disturbing film – but it was meant to be – highlighting the fractured, fragmented society of Thatcher’s Britain.

What would he be producing now – in these times?

My favourite of his films is his interpretation of Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’……

Elisabeth Welch at the end, singing ‘Stormy Weather’, stays in the mind.

And there’s ‘Blue’ – just a blue screen, with voices and sounds following the journey of being diagnosed with and living with AIDS.  And – the colour blue – Delphinium blue – beautiful.

Again, this echoes forward to these times – the virus – the invisible predator.

I’m not so familiar with his art-work, but….his shingle garden at Dungeness is a wonder.  Festoons of small cork fishing floats, pillars of wood and stone rising from the shingle – a wonderful place, and as far as I can tell, a lovely man – a kindly, gentle man who overcame that gentleness to strike out against what he saw happening around him.

I was pleased to see that there was a retrospective of his work, and it was a very well put together, well presented programme which I hope will keep this lovely man and his often purposely un-lovely work, alive.

He shone a stark light on the time he lived in, and would be shining that light now, but The Fates decreed otherwise.

Credit: Gorup de Besanez, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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10 replies »

    • Yes – that’s what I meant by his shingle garden at Dungeness – to make that….out of that…….a wonder.

  1. I did not expect to read about Derek Jarman in the Orkney News. His home on Dungeness being just about as far from Orkney as is possible in the United Kingdom. I am a regular visitor to Orkney, as I love the wildness of the landscape and have formed some special friendships as a result of my visits. It is my love of wild places which took me to Dungeness. Not because initially I knew about Derek Jarman but because as a keen photographer I started to photograph the may winches that started to fall out of use as the fishing from the beach started to decline. During one of my early visits I noticed the garden that surrounded his wooden house. I explored the garden with my camera not knowing at that time anything about who had created it. Of course I came to learn who made the garden and how D.J immersed himself not just in the making of the garden but in Dungeness as a place that drove not just his creative spirit but others such as his neighbor Brian Yale a fellow artist. I believe that it was the garden that Derek made that became responsible in the years after his death for the popularity Dungeness as a hideaway for town dwellers. The wooden homes of local fishermen started to become sort after coinciding with the decline of the local fishing and its community. In 2013 I made a photographic record of all the buildings on Dungeness. Between the start of this project and its completion, several more huts were transformed, really just the beginning. D.Js wooden house has now purchased and placed in trust to ensure its future.

    • Interesting wild fact about Dungeness; in the seventies it had the highest diversity of bumble bees in the Uk!

      • And Orkney has the Great Yellow Bumble Bee! Among others…..

        Sent: 14 July 2019 18:13
        To: Katy Malone
        Subject: Records for Great Yellow Bumblebee Hunt

        Dear Katy

        For years, Bernie and I have been saying that we’ve been seeing Great Yellow Bumblebees on a geranium patch in our garden in Orkney, but have to admit that when we looked for the purposes of the Great Yellow Bumblebee Hunt, all we could see were Common Carder Bees (and possibly Heath Carder), and other common bee species that could not be mistaken for Great Yellows (see Since then, however, finally we’re pretty certain that I have seen the species on a Fuschia hedge in our garden, and to judge by your fact-sheet the timing is more likely anyway. For your records:

        – Single Great Yellow Bumblebee on Fuschia, 6 July and 9 July 2019, in the garden of Velzian, Rendall, Orkney, OS Grid Ref HY419199

        Since then, I have also seen the species by the old kirkyard in Rendall (at the ruin of St Mary’s Kirk), and along the low sea cliff between the kirkyard and the Knowe of Dishero (remains of a broch). For your records:

        – Single Great Yellow Bumblebee (probably on red clover, but cannot remember for certain), 12 July 2019, by the gate of Rendall old kirkyard, Orkney, OS Grid Ref HY424198
        – Up to four Great Yellow Bumblebees on Meadow Vetchling, on low sea cliff north of Rendall old kirkyard, OS Grid Refs HY425197 to HY426200. This included one individual (possibly queen?) disappearing into a rodent hole in the cliff.

        I wasn’t able to photograph them on these occasions (they don’t stay still long enough!), but I did get a picture of the rodent hole – picture to follow in a separate email. So, on a warm but slightly mizzly day today, we went specifically to get some pictures to confirm the identification. This led to another nearby record, for which was able to get pictures (one attached, with a couple more to follow). We saw the bee on two separate clover patches, probably the same individual seen twice:

        – Single Great Yellow Bumblebee (seen twice) on red clover, on track in Gorseness, Rendall, 14 July 2019, OS Grid Ref HY421201. Photo DSC00979 shows this on one patch of clover, photos DSC00982 and 983 show presumably the same individual on another patch about 10m away.

        I searched the sea cliff again, with one sighting that was too brief and distant to be certain, but from size and colouring was probably a Great Yellow.

        I know these sightings are not in your target square ND39, but hopefully they are of value anyway. The bee photographs are only for the one at HY421201, but having got my eye in for the black strip across the thorax, and otherwise being yellow, I am confident that all these are of the same species, which hopefully you can confirm as being the Great Yellow. I’m sending the pictures one at a time, as they are rather large – three messages to follow…

        Good luck with the bees!

        All the best

        Mike & Bernie Bell

        From: Katy Malone []
        Sent: 15 July 2019 16:51
        Subject: RE: Records for Great Yellow Bumblebee Hunt

        Hi Mike and Bernie

        Many thanks for the wonderful photos and recording information. I can confirm your identification as Great yellow, which is always exciting and valuable information to have even if they were not in one of our target squares. Having photos of nest sites and good habitat is also really a very useful resource. Would you mind if I kept your photos on file as a reference and shared them with other people who are interested in learning about the habitat needs of Great yellows?

        Kind regards

        Katy Malone
        Conservation Officer (Scotland)
        Bumblebee Conservation Trust
        Charity Number 1115634 (England & Wales) SC042830 (Scotland)
        07554 414052
        Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Links Office, Golspie Business Park, Golspie, Sutherland KW10 6UB

        Plant ‘Bee kind’ flowers and get your garden buzzing by registering with our free Bee kind tool

    • Hello Jacqueline

      We moved to Orkney from Suffolk – next door to Norfolk and Dungeness. We never visited Derek Jarman’s garden – one of the many things we didn’t get round to. That seems to be what happens – when we live somewhere we are busy with life – on a fine day doing our own garden etc., so it takes more of a conscious effort to go to visit somewhere or see something. We cover a lot more ground when we’re on holiday!
      We never went to Sutton Hoo, though one of our neighbours had grown up near there before the burial was discovered. Her parents knew the folk who owned the land, and Pat and her brother used to play roly-poly down the mounds! You’ll be aware of the stories of strange goings-on there, before the excavations began? Imagine that though, playing roly-poly down Sutton Hoo!
      We never went to Norwich Museum, or Grimes Graves…or……
      So it goes.

      We’ve lived in Orkney for 15 years, and still have a long list of places to visit.
      If you like gardens which are…different…here’s ours….

      I’ve just had a thought – there are parallels between what happened to communities following the decline of the fishing industry in East Anglia and in Orkney. Stromness fishermen’s houses now holiday homes.
      How would you feel about sending some of your impressions of the changes in Dungeness, to TON? Maybe even making some comparisons? Just a thought!

      • Hello how lovely to hear from you and about you and your garden. I will message you a little more later. I am coming to Orkney for a month from the 26th May. More later. Jacqueline Harford.

  2. I got in a muddle – of course Dungeness is in Kent not Norfolk – I’ve got the shingle beaches in my head. That’s my excuse anyway!

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