I was born in 73. I grew up in a working class family. A big family. A working class family that was part of a community. A community that was employed. Employment that gave them stability and security. Employment that allowed them to build families. Stable families. Employment that gave them identity and purpose. And in return they were loyal to those places that gave them that employment. People would grow up together at school and then continue those friendships into the workplace. They would drink together in the pubs. Socialise. They would debate. Political, artistic, athletic. I listened to it. There was an intellectual life as well as a physical one. They would go to each others' weddings. Go to the funerals of their friends' parents. They lived close by each other. They created shared histories. A lot of us will remember this.
My experience was that I was the first and only one of my family to go to university. I was never meant to go. None of my friends did. But I discovered I was alright at something, something I enjoyed, something I was curious about, something that felt right and natural to do, and I was lucky enough to be offered a place. My family couldn't afford it but there was money available from the Government, in the form of grants, for me to leave home and study. It wasn't much but Dad earned enough that he said he would help me out if I really wanted to go. So, I went. I left home. Moved away from the community. Dad wondered why I wanted to go. In his words, 'Academics don't live in the real world, they are all either mentally or sexually frustrated'. I like talking to my Dad.
But I still went. I learnt a lot. I dedicated myself. I found an obsession. I met a lot of people, people from my class and from other classes. We became friends, and later on collaborators. And I ended up doing what I've always wanted to do. Make films. It was only right that I was always going to want to make films about where I'm from. Not just geographically. but mentally. Culturally. To investigate it. To represent it. That is the type of stuff I grew up on. Dennis Potter. Alan Clarke. Mike Leigh. People who spoke about Britain and the people in it. Our past, our present and our future.
I still remember my Dad watching Dennis Potter and being moved by it and me wanting to be moved by it too. Me watching my Dad watching Dennis Potter. (The interview he did with Melvyn Bragg is still one of the most inspirational things I have ever seen). Dennis Potter was a badass. For sure.
But now when I go back. Where I'm from. Those communities. It does not exist anymore. The place is there. But it's different. Why? Well, it's partly just time. But, it's more than that.
The working classes - as we once knew them - are obsolete. They were deemed no longer required to meet the economy's needs.
The places of employment that these communities were loyal to turned out not to be loyal back. And even if they tried to be they were soon put in a situation where they could no longer function as a commercial concern. They were going to have the life squeezed out of them by people who had vested interests in changing the societal make up and the economic structures that had served these communities so well. They were not part of the new plan. A whole class needed to go. It was decided, we were going to stop making things. No more manufacturing. And if that killed the communities, well, then so be it.
So they closed the places of employment. And put nothing in its place.
Here was the lesson from them: There are no more jobs for life. No strength in numbers. This is the end of heavy industry. Your life's work. We are removing it. And in its place. The new service sector economy. The flexibilisation of work. Mountains of debt. Our debt.
The only values now are market values. That was what we, as a class, were told.
So, some adapted. Some swam. Others did not.
The societal change opened up a void - within which grew a new class, a new identity. A new set of ethics and codes of conduct. Codes of conduct you better know if you want to survive. And if you have a talent in this place that isn't about just surviving, tough luck. You better forget it. Because you'll never be able to afford to pursue it.
That is the message now.
This is a new class and identity that I see written about but not understood. Academic. Not represented artistically. A lot of talk but no-one actually visits these places. Talks to the kids there. Listens to their stories. Spends time with them and where they live. So that is what I tried to do. And I discovered a lot of things. A lot of things that were interesting and moving. Human.
If Britain is broken. They didn't break it. But they live in it. We live in it.
Black and white photograph: H. Armstrong Roberts. Colour photograph: Tobias Zielony
And it made me want to tell a story that could maybe articulate these things to other people. It is within this environment, an England within an England, that I decided to set an individual emotional story. About a family, its history and its future. A film. Bypass.
Link to hi-res BYPASS trailer :