Stanley and His Daughters Arena


Stanley and His Daughters

Exploring the relationship of artist Stanley Spencer's daughters, Unity and Shirin, as they try to understand and reclaim their father and investigate their family's archaeology.


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Transcript


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"My bone cleaveth to my skin

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"and to my flesh,

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"and I am escaped with the skin of my teeth.

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"Have pity upon me.

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"Have pity upon me, O ye, my friends,

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"for the hand of God has touched me."

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Tell me, how has your relationship changed over the years?

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Well, it has changed a lot.

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It has changed a lot.

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-Yes.

-And for the better.

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Yep.

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Well...

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-So...

-I... I...

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..was just rather self-centred,

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and though I was very fond of Unity, always...

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..I don't think I was very kind to her.

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-In fact, I know I wasn't.

-Well, you were a bit jealous, really.

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-You were a bit jealous, really.

-I don't think I was jealous, actually.

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-Oh, yes, definitely, Shirin. I experienced...

-I don't think...

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I experienced jealousy from you.

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-You felt jealous of...?

-No!

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I experienced it from you!

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-You experienced...

-You were jealous of me.

-Yes.

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-I'm not criticising you...

-No, no.

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-..I'm simply making a statement.

-Yeah.

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You were experiencing the fact that I was jealous.

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-Well, it seemed to be...

-Yeah.

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..which wasn't altogether surprising, really,

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under the circumstances.

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I don't, erm, remember being jealous...

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-No.

-..of Unity, but...

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..who knows? I guess I was.

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Of course, it's strange...

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Strange? That was taken out the washing machine.

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-Right.

-Anyway, let's go.

-Yes.

-Not much to see.

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Have you taken out of the cupboards?

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Did you open the cupboards and take what was there?

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-Everything's gone out of the cupboards, Mum.

-OK.

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-There were those big dishes in there.

-Yeah, they've all gone.

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-They've all been safely packed.

-Oh, good.

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Oh, it's changed so much, because Mum has forgiven Shirin.

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Shirin can be herself, and apart from being a little bit fussy,

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which annoys Mum... She says, "Oh, Shirin, stop fussing!"

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But it takes time in any relationship

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for anyone to learn, work out, understand.

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So, how's it going to be in Wales, now?

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It'll be all right. If she annoys me, I'll tell her so,

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and if I annoy her, she'll tell me so.

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Do you think you've got a more honest relationship now?

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Oh, yes. I think so, don't you?

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-Hmm?

-I think we have a more honest relationship now.

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-Oh, yes.

-I think so.

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Oh, yes.

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She's got her friends and her church

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and her various things down there.

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Well, I'm not frightened, now.

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I'm not frightened of...

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..making things worse, you know?

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I was putting my foot in it thoroughly, beforehand.

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Well, that's his painting palette, presumably.

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Yes.

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-It looks very big.

-Yes.

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Can you show me how he would hold it?

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-Well, you hold it with your thumbs right here...

-I've never held one.

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-..like that.

-Yes.

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-The thumb goes through there.

-Yeah.

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-ARCHIVE FOOTAGE:

-This is an art class in a little village school.

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It's a rather special day because a real artist lives in the village,

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and today, he's come to join the class.

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The artist is Stanley Spencer.

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The school is at Cookham,

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which is a quiet and pretty English village on the River Thames,

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and not far from Windsor Castle in London.

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Stanley Spencer was born in Cookham and went to school there himself.

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He has lived in the village for most of his life.

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His house is just opposite the school

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and looks out across the playground.

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Stanley Spencer's work was first shown in London in 1912,

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and he's been painting hard ever since.

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Now, he is one of the best-known artists in Britain.

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His drawings and portraits are admired by many people.

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His paintings hang in most of the public galleries in Britain.

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He has become one of the most individual artistic personalities

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of his time.

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STANLEY: You see, everything has a sort of double meaning for me.

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There's the ordinary, everyday meaning of things,

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utilitarian meaning, and the imaginary meaning about it all.

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-ARCHIVE FOOTAGE:

-From the beginning, the events and prophecies

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of the Bible have been, for him,

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the most natural and exciting of all subjects.

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In his art, they come to life in vivid scenes,

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full of the sense of wonder and a new awareness.

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One of the...

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One of the things of which we both,

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my dad and me,

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thoroughly agree is that

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religion is saying ta to God.

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That is what he used to say.

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He said, "Religion is saying ta to God."

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What did he mean by that?

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Thank you!

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So, thank you for nature and life and everything?

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Music, people, situations.

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And...

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..of course Burghclerers used "ta".

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There's something so

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inspiring about Burghclerers.

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It's a...

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You know, one says inspiring, which lifts you up,

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but it also knocks you over.

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STANLEY: The pictures in this chapel

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really divide into two major experiences

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that I had in the 1914 war.

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You see in the top picture there,

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you can just see a bit of the Macedonian scene.

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One was Macedonia scene, and the other was Bristol Hospital scenes.

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The arch pictures and the ones below

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are, more or less all of them,

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Bristol Hospital scenes.

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The one above is Macedonia.

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And here we have the big altar

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resurrection picture, which is also Macedonia.

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When I did this altar piece,

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Resurrection, I wanted it to be

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in Macedonia, I wanted it to be in a particular place that I remembered.

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And I felt that all that I hoped for

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of all the coming back home and everything,

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could be, so to speak, celebrated there.

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This picture speaks to me

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more than many sermons, because,

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you know, his main interest

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was in resurrection and redemption.

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Well, you couldn't have a greater example of redemption

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than those two hands.

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It's just incredible.

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And actually, it was when they were still...

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..when they were courting, when our parents were courting.

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And Mummy, bless her, posed as one of the figures

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lying on the floor.

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And also as Christ...

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There's actually a drawing of her

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posing for this picture.

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Well, the great difference

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between our parents

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was that they wanted no difference.

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They wanted something you can never get in this world...

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..perfect.

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You know, complete unity.

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They got Unity, of course, the child,

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but they couldn't really get this unity.

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It was a...

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It was in one way...

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..the same philosophy,

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and in another quite different.

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A different approach.

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They...

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They were, as I think someone said,

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"these God-besotted Spencers".

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Something of that sort.

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Well, my mother's family moved

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from Oxford to Hampstead,

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and I think my grandmother bought number 47...

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..and that's where I was born, in the top bedroom.

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Shirin was born at the Vale of Health Hotel

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on Hampstead Heath,

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and I was born up there.

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Do you have fond memories of it?

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Oh, yes, very fond. I loved it.

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It was my beloved home and garden.

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I really loved it.

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"Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

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"Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun

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"Conspiring with him how to load and bless

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"With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run."

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I can't remember the middle bit.

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-And then...

-It has not often seen me...

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-Sorry, dear?

-What about, "Autumn sitting beside thee"?

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-Oh.

-Yeah.

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"Oft how I've seen thee by thy store

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"Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind

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"Or by a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep."

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And something about watching the last oozing, hours by hours.

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A German friend of mine was very put out.

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He said, "Who's got time to do that?"

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And I forgot to tell him that it was autumn, not a human.

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THEY LAUGH

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-Autumn stays a long time.

-Yes, yes.

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When things got difficult in Cookham,

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my mother came up to Hampstead,

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with Unity as a really little child,

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and she had a small room.

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There was room for the bed, there was room for a cot.

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It wasn't a big room for another child,

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and there wasn't room in any other room.

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So it was best if I went to stay

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with someone local

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who was related, even distantly.

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And this was Mrs Harter, who was the mother of Gwen Carline.

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My mother's family were Carlines.

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This is Gwen Carline, the widow of my mother's brother Sidney.

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So I went there, I didn't know how long I was going to stay.

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But I went there when I was getting on for six.

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LANGUID PIANO MUSIC

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Oh, well, when I was born, everything...

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I seemed to disrupt everything,

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cos Mrs Harter said she'd look after Shirin.

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She was...the connection she had was her daughter had married Sidney.

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She said she'd look after Shirin,

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but she never returned her.

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And Mummy didn't have the courage to ask for her back.

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So it was pretty awful, really.

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Then, when the War came, I was sent off, taken to Epsom,

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which was ridiculous,

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because Epsom was on the flight path from Croydon Aerodrome to the coast.

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So that was a bit stupid, and deprived Mummy

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of both her daughters.

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All she ever wanted was to have two little girls,

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and Daddy and I discovered...

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I also thought that maybe this is partly what caused her to go mad.

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-That her family was split up and taken from her?

-Yes!

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No need. No need at all.

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I mean, if she couldn't have coped,

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she could've got a nanny in to help.

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Already had Miss Swiss Alps.

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SHE CHUCKLES

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This is Cookham village.

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The River Thames passes behind it in a series of gentle bends

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which enclose flat meadows lined with trees.

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By the river and amongst the trees, there is a peaceful church

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and churchyard.

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There are none of Spencer's paintings inside,

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but this church is an important factor in Spencer's mind.

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The village gardens are shaded by flowering shrubs and magnolias,

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or by tall, black cedar trees.

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It's a quiet place with a life and an atmosphere of its own, where

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everyone knows everyone else and where life goes at its own

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unhurried pace.

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Cookham is a kind of newspaper to me,

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through the pages of which I am anxiously

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glancing in the hope of finding something about myself in it.

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On the whole, it's rather satisfactory.

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I seem to find here and there bits, and it sort of

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writes me up very well. But you understand what I mean -

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that I find something of myself all over the place.

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LANGUID PIANO MUSIC

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She made a beeline for Daddy because he got a bit of money.

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Do you think she was after the money?

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Oh, yes. Oh, yes.

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Well, she was a lesbian, she wasn't interested in Daddy.

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Have you got any memories of her, even though you were very young?

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-Patricia?

-Yeah.

-I met her once when I was about nine.

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And being terribly stupid and gullible... She came in rather

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smarmy, and so I shook hands with her, but Shirin fortunately

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didn't, cos she was much more shrewd and perceptive than I was.

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She had written a letter to Mummy...

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..saying, "Dorothy and I are going on in advance,

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"and Stanley is finishing a landscape.

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"And if you could come down and see to your own things,

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"you know, collect anything that belongs to you,

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"and then come on with Stanley, if you like."

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-On the honeymoon?

-To the honeymoon!

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Oh, yes. Oh, yes.

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I mean...

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And, of course...

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I mean, she would have known what would have happened,

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guessed what would have happened

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when Mummy came down to Cookham and there was Daddy, and he was

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so delighted to see her and it was, you know,

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it was almost as if nothing had happened.

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Well, you know, in a way, he was...she'd...

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..have no letters from him at all, and...

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..and so...

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you know, to be greeted like that...

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And, of course, they committed adultery.

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It's a mad, mad situation!

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Because Mummy never felt herself...

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..not to be his wife, really.

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But she was willing to do this.

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She did, she did go down and she did sign the divorce thing.

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You know, she'd never, ever

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thought she was going to be divorced.

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LANGUID PIANO MUSIC

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"You deserve to be cursed.

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"And there is no doubt that you will be,

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"and sooner than you would like.

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"It is not possible that such infinite cruelty could fail

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"to surround, eventually, your own life.

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"Where the hurt-bearing atmosphere...

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"Some tragedy will certainly come...

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"..that you would do anything to prevent.

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"You cannot entertain a devil and trust him

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"not to turn round on yourself

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"and destroy you.

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"Your cruelty will surround your life as it has already

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"entered into your Academy pictures...

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"..the compositions, but more especially, the shapes

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"are cruel shapes.

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"A sensitive person would be knocked backwards

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"and fly from those pictures.

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"You deserve to have a murdered

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"person tied to your back forever,

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"in such a manner that you can never escape from it."

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MUSIC: Let Yourself Go by Ginger Rogers

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# Come, get together

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# Let the dance floor feel your leather

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# Step as lightly as a feather

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# Let yourself go

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# Come, hit the timber

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# Loosen up and start to limber

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# Can't you hear that hot marimba?

0:31:050:31:07

# Let yourself go

0:31:070:31:09

# Let yourself go, relax

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# And let yourself go, relax

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# You've got yourself tied up in a knot

0:31:140:31:16

# The night is cold but the music's hot, so

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# Come, cuddle closer

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# Don't you dare to answer, "No, sir"

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# Butcher, baker, clerk and grocer

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# Let yourself go. #

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-And this home, for you, has been a happy place?

-Oh, yes.

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-And so...

-Not enough visitors, but it's really nice.

-Yeah.

0:31:460:31:50

And so we're wanting now to just thank God for your time here?

0:31:500:31:54

-Yes, yes.

-And also to pray for you as you're moving home and going to

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Wales. How would you say you're feeling about moving to Wales?

0:31:570:32:00

-I'm feeling sort of strange.

-Yeah.

0:32:000:32:03

A bit strange. But I think it'll be all right.

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-Yeah.

-And I...

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My sister will be there, that's partly the reason.

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But she said she hoped she wasn't dragging me to Cowbridge.

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Well, she is dragging me... LAUGHTER

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..but it's quite a nice drag.

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This is from Ephesians 3.

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Unity, I pray that, out of God's glorious riches,

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He may strengthen you with power through His spirit in your inner

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being, so that Christ may dwell in your heart through faith.

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And, Heavenly Father, thank you for Unity.

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Thank you for this house that she has lived in.

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Thank you for the rest she's enjoyed here.

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Thank you for the laughter that's been had here.

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Thank you that this place has been a home of happiness

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and contentment and creativity

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and hope.

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And so, Father, thank you that in the Lord Jesus,

0:32:570:33:00

as Unity moves to Wales, thank you that you will continue to

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be with her, that you will be at home in her.

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And so, Lord, we pray for her, we pray that she might know

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the joy of the Lord as her strength.

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That she might know the peace of the Lord in her heart.

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And that she might know the love of the Lord Jesus at her right hand.

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-And we pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.

-Amen.

0:33:260:33:31

-You're very brave...

-Am I?

-..starting a new house...

0:33:320:33:36

Oh, I don't know.

0:33:360:33:38

I suppose... Well...

0:33:380:33:40

..life's got to be lived.

0:33:400:33:42

LANGUID PIANO MUSIC

0:33:470:33:51

In this painting of Hilda, Unity and Dolls,

0:34:510:34:55

my mother's in the background and I'm in the foreground...

0:34:550:34:58

..and I've got...

0:35:000:35:01

I'm holding Golden Slumber Sonia Rose in my arms.

0:35:010:35:04

Here she is.

0:35:060:35:08

Here's little Sonia Rose, looking a bit...

0:35:080:35:11

..a little bit sort of...

0:35:110:35:13

I don't know what, quite, but...

0:35:130:35:16

..there she is.

0:35:160:35:18

And what's her full name?

0:35:180:35:20

Golden Slumber Sonia Rose.

0:35:200:35:23

-And did you name her?

-I did, certainly.

0:35:230:35:26

Oh, yes.

0:35:260:35:29

Originally, she had black hair, but

0:35:290:35:32

because I cut it, then she had different coloured...

0:35:320:35:36

..hair.

0:35:360:35:38

There she is, bless her.

0:35:390:35:41

-She's a pretty little thing, isn't she?

-Beautiful.

0:35:470:35:50

There you are, Sonia Rose. You go back in there, dear.

0:35:530:35:55

Whoops.

0:35:570:35:59

Oh. There we are.

0:36:030:36:07

Mummy doesn't look very happy.

0:36:090:36:13

I'm just kind of ordinary, I suppose.

0:36:130:36:15

Is this at a time of the family breaking up?

0:36:170:36:20

Oh, yes.

0:36:200:36:22

I think the family had.

0:36:220:36:24

In 1937, Minnehaha got left a house in Epsom...

0:36:260:36:32

..which had been her childhood home. I mean, Epsom itself.

0:36:340:36:38

Big house.

0:36:380:36:41

And so she moved there, together with me.

0:36:410:36:45

So you can imagine how I...

0:36:480:36:50

..I missed them.

0:36:500:36:52

I missed Unity and...

0:36:520:36:55

..my mother and my father.

0:36:570:37:00

I hadn't seen my father, actually, since I was about six.

0:37:000:37:05

I didn't see him much, no.

0:37:070:37:09

You know, very seldom.

0:37:110:37:14

He...you know, he did keep in touch with Mummy,

0:37:140:37:18

and of course with Unity, because she was there.

0:37:180:37:22

But, no, I didn't.

0:37:220:37:25

And then...but being in Epsom meant that I wasn't in Hampstead,

0:37:250:37:30

so I wasn't near my mother, couldn't be at any meetings that there were.

0:37:300:37:35

Did you feel very lonely?

0:37:370:37:40

I did feel...

0:37:410:37:43

I suppose...

0:37:450:37:47

..in a way, I felt exiled.

0:37:470:37:51

I wasn't all that lonely -

0:37:520:37:54

I had nice friends, and Minnehaha and Gwen were very kind to me.

0:37:540:37:59

I mean, I got very naughty and got punished a bit,

0:37:590:38:02

but nothing much.

0:38:020:38:04

But, no, I...

0:38:050:38:08

..I just missed them very much.

0:38:080:38:10

# Oh, how amiable are thy dwellings

0:38:130:38:16

# Thou Lord of hosts

0:38:160:38:21

# My soul has a desire and longing

0:38:210:38:25

# To enter into the court of the Lord

0:38:250:38:29

# Ha-na-na-na-na, la-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee. #

0:38:290:38:34

I can't remember the rest, but in the end, it says...

0:38:340:38:37

# I'd rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God

0:38:370:38:41

# Than dwell in the tents of the ungodly. #

0:38:410:38:45

I love this bit.

0:38:450:38:46

"I'd rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than

0:38:460:38:49

"dwell in the tents of the ungodly."

0:38:490:38:52

Poof! Prrah! Posh! Poof! SHE LAUGHS

0:38:520:38:56

LANGUID PIANO MUSIC

0:38:580:39:01

I remember my mother being very...

0:39:230:39:26

Well, she was in bed and it was 11 o'clock in the morning,

0:39:260:39:29

and she was depressed.

0:39:290:39:32

And suddenly she rose up in bed and stretched a hand out in front of her

0:39:320:39:39

and said, "I hate him. I hate him."

0:39:390:39:42

Well...

0:39:460:39:49

..it was tragic.

0:39:490:39:52

It was appalling.

0:39:520:39:54

It was cruel...and...

0:39:540:39:58

..it was so unjust.

0:40:000:40:03

The way he was behaving.

0:40:040:40:07

But I'm afraid at that time...

0:40:090:40:12

..he felt that, in a sense,

0:40:140:40:17

as an artist, as a genius, he could do anything.

0:40:170:40:23

"I will go for a walk through Cookham churchyard.

0:40:260:40:29

"I will walk along the path which runs under the hedge.

0:40:310:40:34

"I do so and pause to look at a tombstone which rises

0:40:360:40:41

"out of the midst of a small privet hedge which grows over the grave

0:40:410:40:47

"and is railed round with iron railings.

0:40:470:40:50

"A little to the right is a simple mound,

0:40:520:40:56

"guarded at either end by two small firs.

0:40:560:41:01

"Both are upright and elliptical in shape.

0:41:010:41:05

"I return to our house and put it down on paper.

0:41:060:41:11

"I think still more hopefully about the resurrection.

0:41:120:41:16

"I go to supper, not oversatisfied with the evening's thought,

0:41:170:41:23

"but know that tomorrow will see the light.

0:41:230:41:28

"Tomorrow, in my flesh, I shall see God."

0:41:280:41:34

Unity, why do you think Shirin was jealous of you?

0:41:380:41:42

Well, I was four and a half years younger than her

0:41:440:41:48

and that is a very difficult age gap for a child to tolerate, apparently.

0:41:480:41:53

Do you think it was anything to do with the fact

0:41:560:41:59

that you were with your mother?

0:41:590:42:01

-Probably. Could be.

-And Shirin was with Mrs...?

-Could well be.

0:42:010:42:05

Mrs Harter... She wasn't kind to my mother.

0:42:060:42:10

You know, I mean, all my mother ever wanted was to have two little girls

0:42:120:42:17

and Minnehaha virtually commandeered us.

0:42:170:42:21

And it's not surprising, and I think Daddy and I agree,

0:42:220:42:26

it's not surprising that Mummy became a bit mentally ill

0:42:260:42:30

and said that Mrs Harter was coming to murder everybody.

0:42:300:42:35

I think probably Mummy wanted to murder Mrs Harter.

0:42:350:42:38

Well, we...

0:42:420:42:43

For years, I didn't understand...

0:42:430:42:46

..erm, what Unity was trying to say to me.

0:42:470:42:52

-Why not?

-And...

-Why not?

0:42:520:42:54

-She was saying...

-Why not?

0:42:540:42:56

-Hmm?

-Why not?

0:42:560:42:57

Well, I didn't have the capacity to understand that...

0:42:580:43:02

-What?

-It wasn't...

0:43:020:43:04

Well, because you'd say, "You know."

0:43:060:43:08

-Well, you did know, Shirin, and you pretended you didn't.

-I didn't know.

0:43:080:43:13

-No, a lot of the time you did.

-No, I didn't actually know

0:43:130:43:17

but that was because of...

0:43:170:43:20

..my own...

0:43:230:43:26

..lack of knowledge, and lack of knowledge of myself and...

0:43:290:43:33

What I really need is integrity.

0:43:330:43:36

That's what is really essential,

0:43:380:43:42

because it is...

0:43:420:43:44

..being honest with yourself, with other people, and...

0:43:460:43:53

I've always valued other people.

0:43:540:43:58

I've had great love for other people, but I haven't always...

0:43:580:44:02

..understood because I didn't understand myself, you know?

0:44:040:44:08

And I feel, in a way,

0:44:100:44:15

I'm discovering a bit about integrity.

0:44:150:44:18

Rather late.

0:44:210:44:23

But better late than never.

0:44:230:44:25

My father was very musical.

0:44:510:44:54

He came from a family where everyone played an instrument.

0:44:540:44:59

He used to say that Beethoven was like humanity striving for heaven

0:45:060:45:14

and Bach WAS heaven.

0:45:140:45:16

Straighten the piano up on three.

0:45:210:45:24

Point the piano that way.

0:45:240:45:26

-Cup of tea?

-Hurray!

0:45:450:45:47

Which way up is it going in?

0:45:570:45:59

SHE PLAYS: God Save The Queen

0:46:010:46:06

LAUGHTER

0:46:060:46:08

Shirin has a real network of friends here,

0:46:500:46:53

an amazing network of friends, and her church, and she's made

0:46:530:46:57

a real home, and she's still active in her village and her community.

0:46:570:47:02

Mum has friends in London

0:47:020:47:04

but she's not active with them in the way Shirin is.

0:47:040:47:07

If I've got to look after both of them, or provide care, or...

0:47:070:47:10

..whatever way, to get care for both of them, in the future,

0:47:100:47:14

financially, it's a no-brainer to bring Mum here than to take Shirin

0:47:140:47:19

to London, and Mum agreed, and so we've done it,

0:47:190:47:22

and so far, it seems to be, it feels to be the right decision.

0:47:220:47:26

And Shirin and Mum are getting so close,

0:47:260:47:30

and as I said, Shirin's never had, since she was four...

0:47:300:47:33

I know we've asked and talked about them living together,

0:47:330:47:36

but living together unconditionally in a happy space,

0:47:360:47:41

this is the first time.

0:47:410:47:42

And they are happy together, and that's wonderful.

0:47:420:47:45

Tell us about this painting.

0:48:580:49:00

Well, it's packing up our trunks at the end of term

0:49:000:49:06

to go home for the holidays.

0:49:060:49:09

And...

0:49:090:49:11

..that's about it, really.

0:49:140:49:16

Are you self-taught? You said you had to work it all out for yourself.

0:49:160:49:20

Oh, yes, I hadn't been to art school.

0:49:200:49:22

I mean, we had a good art teacher at school

0:49:220:49:25

but I hadn't been to art school.

0:49:250:49:27

"Oh, how I long to paint.

0:49:380:49:41

"A man told me that Malta possesses many old churches

0:49:420:49:47

"full of frescoes

0:49:470:49:49

"and one in particular called the church of St Paul,

0:49:490:49:53

"which contains the life of St Paul on its walls.

0:49:530:49:56

"When this man told me this, I began to long.

0:49:580:50:02

"I couldn't help thinking what a glorious thing it was to be

0:50:020:50:06

"an artist, to perform miracles, and that I wanted to work and couldn't."

0:50:060:50:13

"If I see a man putting a bivouac up beautifully,

0:50:150:50:19

"I want to do it myself.

0:50:190:50:23

"And when I read of Christ raising the dead,

0:50:230:50:26

"I want to raise the dead myself."

0:50:260:50:29

The one of the picnic where Patricia is there -

0:50:520:50:55

does that still make you... Do you get cross?

0:50:550:50:57

Well, I...

0:50:570:51:01

..I've sort of dealt with it.

0:51:010:51:05

Erm... Obviously, when people bring that time up,

0:51:050:51:11

it's uncomfortable.

0:51:110:51:13

Because... More because of me than because of Patricia.

0:51:140:51:20

Because of how I felt about her

0:51:220:51:25

and the fact that I think

0:51:250:51:30

she's the only person in my life I've hated.

0:51:300:51:33

And I guess it was partly jealousy.

0:51:360:51:38

And I think I must have realised quite early on that...

0:51:410:51:49

..she was taking my dad away.

0:51:510:51:53

There is in the copyright a clause

0:52:260:52:29

that you can pretty much reproduce anything,

0:52:290:52:33

but you cannot reproduce the double nude.

0:52:330:52:36

Shirin can't look at it.

0:52:360:52:37

And the pain for Shirin has been immense and total, it's complete.

0:52:390:52:47

Recently, she's softening on it

0:52:470:52:51

because of, I've put conversations to her, saying, you know,

0:52:510:52:55

in time, people will be able to see this picture more, so...

0:52:550:53:01

Mum can look at the picture. Shirin can't.

0:53:010:53:03

For Shirin, I don't know whether it's difficult to

0:53:060:53:10

look at your pretty much fully... full frontal naked father,

0:53:100:53:14

or whether it is Patricia.

0:53:140:53:17

And it's just the fact that there is the woman -

0:53:180:53:21

there are other pictures with her in but this one's pretty brutal

0:53:210:53:25

for a daughter to cope with, for a woman to cope with,

0:53:250:53:28

for an old lady to cope with.

0:53:280:53:29

So, it's bloody painful.

0:53:300:53:32

Christ fell asleep and when he woke in the morning, he said,

0:54:120:54:15

"I will arise now and go to my father."

0:54:150:54:17

And immediately the spirit driveth him into the wilderness.

0:54:200:54:23

For wheresover the carcass is,

0:54:260:54:28

there will the eagles be gathered together.

0:54:280:54:31

How often would I have gathered the children together,

0:54:330:54:37

even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings.

0:54:370:54:39

And Jesus said unto him, "The foxes have holes and the birds

0:54:410:54:45

"of the air have nests

0:54:450:54:47

"but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head."

0:54:470:54:49

And when he sent them away, he departed into a mountain to pray.

0:54:510:54:55

He said those paintings were painted

0:55:000:55:02

at a very difficult time for him. When was that?

0:55:020:55:04

Well, it was after his second marriage had broken up.

0:55:040:55:09

And...

0:55:110:55:13

You know, he was very courageous.

0:55:160:55:19

But he...

0:55:230:55:24

He just got on with the job and did more paintings, and of course

0:55:240:55:30

the Christ in the Wilderness series came out of that time too.

0:55:300:55:34

And some of those paintings - fantastic, like The Scorpion...

0:55:360:55:41

SHE EXHALES

0:55:410:55:42

That's amazing.

0:55:420:55:43

Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions

0:55:470:55:51

and over all the power of the enemy,

0:55:510:55:54

and nothing shall by any means hurt you.

0:55:540:55:56

Then why take ye thought for raiment?

0:55:590:56:02

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow.

0:56:020:56:05

They toil not, neither do they spin, and yet I say unto you that

0:56:050:56:09

even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

0:56:090:56:13

This kneeling position was a memory of seeing my baby Shirin

0:56:130:56:17

looking down into the long grass.

0:56:170:56:20

This picture of the...

0:56:220:56:24

..Christ in the Wilderness, and it's The Scorpion.

0:56:280:56:33

The colours are very muted.

0:56:370:56:40

The colour of his robe and the rocks around and the sand beyond that,

0:56:410:56:49

they're just the same, the same colour.

0:56:490:56:53

He is one, he's absolutely one with nature.

0:56:550:57:00

But he's got this little scorpion in his hand

0:57:020:57:07

and although it says, "You should take up scorpions and snakes

0:57:070:57:12

"and any deadly thing, they will not harm you,"

0:57:120:57:16

what he's really doing is looking at this scorpion

0:57:160:57:20

with great attention and great affection, you know, being...

0:57:200:57:26

In the looking at nature, that time, he's...

0:57:270:57:33

He's looking at the creation,

0:57:340:57:38

and he had a big part in that, so, you know,

0:57:380:57:43

the scorpion is one of his creations and he's jolly interested in it.

0:57:430:57:48

It's so loving.

0:57:500:57:52

You know, and also, though I don't really...

0:57:530:57:57

I'm not particularly interested in the...

0:57:570:58:01

..you know, astrology,

0:58:030:58:07

I am under the sign of Scorpio,

0:58:070:58:11

and...

0:58:110:58:12

..I think I can sort of put myself into it

0:58:140:58:20

and feel that he's looking at me with kindness.

0:58:200:58:25

Sort of, "I'll give you another chance, old girl."

0:58:270:58:30

That is my Uncle Will.

0:58:360:58:38

He was the oldest brother in a family of about eight children,

0:58:380:58:42

Spencer children, and very much sort of revered by the younger members,

0:58:420:58:48

and Daddy and I visited him in Switzerland.

0:58:480:58:52

On this occasion, he had been ill,

0:58:520:58:56

so he was in bed, and Daddy sat on one side and I sat on the other

0:58:560:59:02

and we drew him,

0:59:020:59:04

and Daddy said he thought my drawings were better than his.

0:59:040:59:08

I think, actually, on this occasion, my drawing WAS better than his.

0:59:090:59:13

It was more sympathetic, somehow.

0:59:130:59:16

And then I came back from the Slade one day,

1:00:191:00:22

I'd just started at the Slade, from Wimbledon Art School,

1:00:221:00:27

and I came in and I said, "How's Mummy?"

1:00:271:00:31

And she looked very serious,

1:00:311:00:34

so I dashed out of the house, and I ran and ran and ran and ran and ran,

1:00:341:00:39

all the way up a steep slope leading to New End Hospital,

1:00:391:00:45

and as I came up the stairs, I saw Daddy come out of the ward

1:00:451:00:50

and I realised that Mummy had died,

1:00:501:00:53

and I let out a great big howl

1:00:531:00:56

that reverberated all around that bit of the hospital.

1:00:561:01:00

They're both very brave woman

1:01:291:01:31

because they've come through it and they've coped,

1:01:311:01:34

and I've see it when I was younger. I've seen Mum's depression.

1:01:341:01:38

I've come home from boarding school for the weekend

1:01:381:01:41

and Mum's in her pyjamas under her clothes

1:01:411:01:43

because she couldn't be bothered to get dressed properly

1:01:431:01:46

and she's met me off the bus.

1:01:461:01:47

And when she was depressed in London, I didn't know where

1:01:471:01:50

home was going to be till we got there and it's a bedsit

1:01:501:01:52

in Sutherland Road near the Harrow Road, off Maida Vale.

1:01:521:01:56

And...

1:01:561:01:58

..I've had to just lump it and get on with my day, weekend,

1:01:581:02:02

go back to boarding school. Um...

1:02:021:02:05

And Shirin at that time was in Africa.

1:02:051:02:08

I don't know whether Shirin went to Africa...

1:02:081:02:11

I don't know the motive but I think a lot of the motive is,

1:02:121:02:15

the safest place to be is as far away as possible from this...family.

1:02:151:02:21

And how long had you suffered from depression?

1:02:281:02:31

15 years or so.

1:02:311:02:33

Maybe even more.

1:02:331:02:35

I did a strange thing called the Landmark Forum.

1:02:371:02:40

Tough, very tough, and...

1:02:411:02:44

You have to do lots of different things, and at the end, I...

1:02:451:02:49

You have to get up on the platform and say who you are.

1:02:501:02:54

I said, "Who I am is the possibility of daring, joy and love,

1:02:541:02:59

"and I give up being the victim."

1:02:591:03:01

And when I said that, I was freed of the depression!

1:03:011:03:04

But it was because I said it publicly that I was freed.

1:03:041:03:09

Had I said it in here, I wouldn't have been freed.

1:03:091:03:12

I did go to the Forum,

1:03:141:03:18

which Unity had been to, and...

1:03:181:03:23

And that's when she said, "I forgive you,"

1:03:231:03:27

and I wasn't quite sure in particular what things

1:03:271:03:30

she was forgiving or just general forgiveness,

1:03:301:03:33

but that was fine, and...

1:03:331:03:36

And I thought, "Oh, well, perhaps she no longer wants to reject me."

1:03:381:03:45

Reject you?

1:03:451:03:47

-Reject you?!

-Yes.

1:03:471:03:50

-Since when?

-Every...

1:03:501:03:52

-Well, I did feel rejected, obviously.

-Oh, well. Oh, right.

1:03:521:03:56

Because I couldn't...

1:03:561:03:58

Because I didn't have the nous to understand what was going on.

1:03:581:04:04

I think you understood very well.

1:04:041:04:06

-Sorry?

-I think you understood very well.

-No, I did not.

1:04:061:04:10

I know you deny it, Shirin, but I think you did.

1:04:101:04:12

At some point fairly recently, I think I realised that...

1:04:571:05:02

..it was important to forgive... forgive her, and that also,

1:05:051:05:12

if I didn't forgive her, I wouldn't be forgiven.

1:05:121:05:15

And hope is nothing flimsy-whimsy at all.

1:05:301:05:34

Hope is strong and kind

1:05:341:05:39

and I hate to disagree with the great poet who wrote,

1:05:391:05:45

"Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold..."

1:05:451:05:49

I personally believe in a strong centre.

1:05:511:05:56

A warm, kind...

1:05:571:05:59

..no-nonsense centre.

1:06:011:06:03

I do believe that, and I've had nearly 91 years' experience

1:06:051:06:11

and I do want to thank you all for coming.

1:06:111:06:14

It's just lovely to see you

1:06:141:06:17

and now I'm all ready to say hello to everybody.

1:06:171:06:22

LAUGHTER

1:06:221:06:23

And you're wonderful. And John has been fantastic.

1:06:231:06:27

I never thought this day...

1:06:271:06:30

Well, I mean, talk about hope...

1:06:301:06:32

LAUGHTER

1:06:321:06:34

..but I always HOPED it might come,

1:06:341:06:37

and it has come.

1:06:371:06:39

And I can't say what it means to me,

1:06:391:06:45

and to Unity.

1:06:451:06:46

When Daddy...

1:07:561:07:58

..when his coffin was in Holy Trinity Church,

1:07:591:08:04

it was there because the cremation was going to be the next day

1:08:041:08:10

and the day after that was going to be the funeral...

1:08:101:08:13

-I'm cold!

-..and they were rehearsing a nativity play...

-I'm cold!

1:08:131:08:18

And it was children,

1:08:181:08:20

and there were little children dressed as angels,

1:08:201:08:25

and one adorable little angel, plump and confident,

1:08:251:08:32

and she put her elbow on the coffin.

1:08:321:08:36

She was just doing this.

1:08:361:08:39

You don't mind, Mummy?

1:08:391:08:41

She was just doing this, and...

1:08:411:08:44

..I thought how Daddy would have loved to draw that.

1:08:461:08:52

There was something brilliant about it.

1:08:521:08:55

That's what I wanted to say.

1:08:591:09:01

Yeah. Well...

1:09:061:09:08

"Writing this letter has been strange.

1:09:201:09:23

"I feel as though I am writing to people in general

1:09:231:09:27

"rather than to you specifically.

1:09:271:09:29

"At the same time, the thought of writing a personal letter to you

1:09:291:09:35

"feels almost impossible,

1:09:351:09:37

"perhaps because I felt so much grief when you died.

1:09:371:09:40

"This lasted a long time in various ways.

1:09:441:09:48

"I'm so glad that's far in the past.

1:09:481:09:51

"And maybe getting too close would feel unwise...

1:09:531:09:57

"..but my love for you, Daddy, is deep and enduring for always,

1:09:591:10:04

"as is my love for Mummy.

1:10:041:10:07

"If someone told me you were both at the bottom of my road now,

1:10:071:10:12

"I would run like the wind to you both and envelop you in my arms

1:10:121:10:17

"and hug you and kiss you.

1:10:171:10:19

"All I can do now is say goodbye, God be with you,

1:10:201:10:25

"and to give lots and lots of love to Mummy and to you

1:10:251:10:30

"and to send you your grandson's love...

1:10:301:10:33

"..even though he does not know I'm sending it to you.

1:10:341:10:38

"This is getting like the ending of some of Beethoven's works,

1:10:381:10:43

"where he can't decide how and when to end a piece of music."

1:10:431:10:49

MUSIC: Prelude in C Major by Johann Sebastian Bach

1:10:531:10:58

It's very strange having Unity in a different place.

1:13:241:13:29

What was the last 18 months like?

1:13:321:13:36

Wonderful.

1:13:371:13:39

Difficult.

1:13:401:13:42

At times, sad.

1:13:421:13:44

At times, very happy.

1:13:451:13:48

But I really felt there's only one Unity and...

1:13:491:13:57

..she does it well. But...

1:13:591:14:02

I say she wasn't too bad,

1:14:051:14:08

and when I say something like that, it just is...

1:14:081:14:13

.."I love you, dear." And...

1:14:131:14:18

And one knows what I really mean.

1:14:211:14:24

'Children of geniuses tend to have a rather hard time of it. If you're a genius you have to be a bit tough', says Unity Spencer, daughter of Stanley Spencer, one of the most important 20th-century British artists.

Stanley's visionary art, his obsession with his work and the drama of a private life described as 'the most bizarre domestic soap opera in the history of British art' wreaked havoc on his family.

The break-up with his first wife, fellow artist Hilda Carline, was traumatic for his daughters Unity and Shirin. So too, was the fiasco of their father's second marriage to self-confessed lesbian, Patricia Preece.

The daughter's separation, post-divorce, took root in their lives and only now, in old age, have they come together again. Last summer, Unity packed up her Clapham home of 40 years, boxed up her old life, her father's drawings, sketchbooks and letters and moved to Wales to be close to Shirin. With Unity's son John, Stanley's grandson, they plan to live altogether.

The film explores the sisters' relationship - fractured, fraught but ultimately loving - as they try to understand and reclaim their father and investigate their family's archaeology. Unity, now 87, and Shirin, 91, begin a late rapprochement and attempt to become a family again as they build a new life together. Through them, the film provides an insight into Stanley's life, motivations and his art - offering a completely fresh take on one of Britain's and the 20th century's greatest artists.

With access to Stanley's and Hilda's correspondence, the film reflects on an extraordinary cache written over 30 years that John Spencer is painstakingly transcribing. These, together with a further nine years of letters which Stanley wrote to Hilda after her death, run to millions of words.


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