Looking For Kes

I’ve mentioned this before, but Looking For Kes is one of my all-time favourite documentaries. It’s no longer available via BBC iplayer, but with YouTube to the rescue it’s now available again and well worth an hour of anyone’s time. It’s a great introduction to the life and work of the book’s author, the late great Barry Hines, and also one of the best adverts of the book itself that I’ve ever seen.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this book, and it’s 1969 film adaptation Kes, are key foundation stones in my life, and always will be. Growing up in Yorkshire during the 1970’s, working class culture was well represented in mainstream media, but there was always an element of piss-take about it, with the Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club or Norman Collier’s Ecky Thump as just a couple of examples. Kes was different. It was absolutely real, suffused with authentic detail and characters you felt you knew because there were people just like them, in your own family, or down the street. It showed how those people really lived and showed their daily struggles, their frustrations, their flint-edged dignity and their fragile dreams. We studied it for O-level at school, and it was the only book that even the numbskulls showed an interest in. It wasn’t just the cover, which is the unofficial flag of Yorkshire, it was that Billy Caspar was us. We knew it, and didn’t need our own kestrel to prove it, though many of us wished we had.

The film also features the rare and wonderful spectacle of both Dai Bradley (who played Billy in the film) and Barry Hines’ brother Richard working with a trained kestrel, at the very location where Billy finds Kes in the nest. Bathed in glowing sunlight, the scene is pure romanticism and brings a lump to the throat every time.

I don’t really have any ambitions, except perhaps one: to see my art on the cover of a new edition of A Kestrel for A Knave. Here I’ve mocked up a couple of options. I think if that ever happened, I’d probably give up this art lark for good, secure in the knowledge that it would never get any better than that. That’s what Kes teaches us, to have a dream and to hang onto to, no matter how many people try and dissuade you. And whilever you have that dream, and keep it aloft and have it as something to steer towards, then in a very real sense, Kes lives.

Looking For Kes

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