Originally published for the 13th British Shorts Berlin, 2020
Bachelor, 38 is an enduring love story of one man’s time in London during the early 1960s. Coming of age as a young homosexual in a society still labouring under deep-seated prejudice, his discovery of the illicit ways through which gay men still sought to live and love freely in the city drew him into a world where sexual liberty and romantic frivolity persevered through the darkest of days for Britain’s gay community.
Hi Angela, thanks for talking to TNC, how is your 2020 going?
2020 is going well so far. I've been heads down developing my next short film project, so that has been keeping me busy.
Congratulations on having Bachelor, 38 selected to British Shorts, what does it mean to you to be part of such a great showcase for British Films?
Well it's great to be part of the programme, and wonderful that people in Berlin will get to see not just my film, but lots of other amazing short films too. The line-up looks excellent. Sadly I'm unable to attend due to work commitments, but I LOVE Berlin and the selection of films looks superb, so I'm sure those attending will have a great time.
You have had an amazing festival run with Bachelor, 38, did you image you would get the type of response you've gotten for this film?
I've had a fantastic run with the film, it’s been shown all over the world, and to be honest the response to it has been overwhelming. My background is in television, and this was my first foray into the world of independent film, and being in the cinema listening to people respond to your film is such a different experience, it’s been really moving. The film has a lot of emotional content, and it’s been interesting to see how many people have drawn from Bryan’s experience, and related it to their situations, past and present.
Can you tell me a little bit about Bachelor, 38, how did this film come about?
Bachelor, 38 is in essence a love story of one man’s time in London, England during the early 1960s. Coming of age as a young homosexual in a society still labouring under deep-seated prejudice, Bryan Bale’s discovery of the illicit ways through which gay men still sought to love freely in the city drew him into a world where sexual liberty and romantic frivolity persevered through the darkest of days for Britain’s gay community.
Amongst the “small ads” on the back page of The Sunday Times, Bryan was introduced to world of discreet coded adverts used by homosexual men to seek out company in the pursuit of forbidden intimacy and romance. Bachelor, 38 is the story of one man who lived through these times, told in his own words.
The film came about initially in response to the impending 50th anniversary of the legalisation of homosexuality in the UK. I had read a few articles in the press talking about how difficult it had been to be gay at the time, and what impact the change in law had brought about. Then I heard an LGBTQI historian on a radio show talk about the fact prior to the legalisation of homosexuality, some gay men used to circulate cassette tapes containing their personal details, in a bid to meet other liked minded individuals. So I thought it would be interesting to talk to some older gay men who had lived through this period, and ask what illicit methods they used to meet each other!
When did you first meet Bryan Bale?
I first met Bryan in early 2017, and was introduced to him via a friend of mine. My friend worked a lot with older people, and had been keeping an eye out for me for someone we thought might fit the bill. After months of searching we simply weren’t getting anywhere, then out of the blue, she met Bryan at a birthday party, and messaged me saying I’ve found this amazing man. She set up a meeting for me with Bryan – we hit it off instantly and the rest is history!
What was it about his story that interested you as a filmmaker?
Well his particular story was interesting for a number of reasons. Without giving too many details away, it had lots of parallels to scenarios that were being reported in the press today, like young people exchanging sex for rent, but most importantly for me it showed enormous defiance in the face of adversity.
I’m fascinated by the fact that people are, and continue to be, hugely inventive when it comes to pursuing love against the odds. It’s easy as filmmakers to focus on the negative stories, and what I loved about his experience was that against the odds, Bryan found a way to find love. It’s a small but a hugely important victory. I also loved the fact that the film addresses universal life moments, so it makes it relatable to a broader audience, as well as speaking to those within the LGBTQI community.
Did you know much about the gay scene in 60s London before you met Brian?
I knew a little bit about what it was like, mainly the negative aspects of what gay people at the time went through, or those who were caught in the act as it were by the police because originally most of my sources were newspaper reports. But once I spoke to Bryan I realised that there were also lots of gay men who didn’t get caught and that their clock and dagger methods to find partners were hugely interesting and very often successful.
What was the most challenging aspect of making Bachelor, 38?
Well I had no funding whatsoever, so I had to be pretty inventive with how I told the story as I was borrowing equipment and had no money to hire props etc. But thankfully, Bryan had a wealth of amazing props at his home that he kindly let me borrow and so I was able to give the film a flavour of the period by using some of his vintage items, and of course his fantastic photo albums.
It was also a bit of a challenge to trawl through all The Times newspapers and find the original advert Bryan had replied to (he never kept the newspaper clipping and hadn’t seen the article since 1966). He was only able to remember one specific detail about it, and that was the fact that John Harrison, the man who placed the article had lied about his age and said he was 38 years old instead of admitting he was actually 41 years old as Bryan later found out! But hence that explains the title of the film. We had to trawl through lots of Bryan’s old photos to work out a ballpark block of dates over the summer period during which time Bryan thought he’d responded to the advert! We got there in the end but not without me scrolling through a LOT of microfiche in the British Library.
"My friend worked a lot with older people, and had been keeping an eye out for me for someone we thought might fit the bill."
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
Yes – I loved watching documentaries when I was growing up, I loved the fact that they took you into other worlds, and you got to see and hear from people you otherwise might never meet. And I loved taking photos when I was growing up, so making films for me was the ideal career path.
How much did you previous career in the film industry prepare you for stepping out and making Bachelor, 38?
There are lots of cross overs, but when you make documentaries for TV, you never have to deal with the end point, in terms of marketing or getting your film seen and knowing how best to promote it etc. Your broadcaster deals with those elements, and so I guess that’s been the biggest learning curve I’ve experienced during this process. I’ve still got more to learn in that respect. It’s a crowded market and you need to find ways for your film to cut through the noise.
What has been the best piece of advice you've been given?
When I knew I was interested in this subject area, I mentioned to a colleague of mine that I really wanted to make a film about it, but I didn’t have the time to try and raise funds for it, and they said if you really want to make something you will find a way, and the only person preventing you from making this film is you. And it’s true. If you want to make a film, and you have no money, you can shoot some amazing footage on mobile phones now – there are always ways to make things work. You just have to be really determined. It’s amazing how much you can persuade people to help you when you’re passionate about something.
Do you have any advice you would offer someone thinking about getting into filmmaking?
I would say as a general rule of thumb find something you feel hugely passionate about. It seems obvious, but it’s so true. If you absolutely love the subject matter or your participants from the very start of the project, you will still have enthusiasm for that subject/person by the end of the process. If you have little to no cash but a lot of enthusiasm for your subject matter, that will keep you motivated when things seem impossible, or you hit a stumbling block along the way.
What are you currently working on?
I’ve just written a short drama about a relatively recently documented medical condition, and so I’m hoping to make a short film about it and have supplementary VR experiences to help illustrate what it’s like to live with the condition too.
And finally, what message do you want your audiences to take away from Bachelor, 38?
Well, I’d like audiences to take away a few things from the film. I’d like them to remember that it’s easy to overlook older people and their stories, because we feel they aren’t relevant to our experiences. This isn’t true. I’d also like people to take away the fact that resilience in the face of adversity can make a huge difference.
And maybe most importantly, what I’ve learnt from Bryan both during the making of the film and from our continued friendship afterwards is to savour the small moment in life. It’s easy to get caught up thinking we need to focus primarily on our personal development and therefore should put our career and/or making money at the forefront of all we do. But actually, taking time to enjoy the smaller things in life - be that time with friends and family or doing something small that you enjoy is really important. It can sound clichéd but somehow Bryan has a way of never making it seem that way.