Sunday, August 02, 2009

Fat Man on a Beach

Just noticed that Fat Man On A Beach (1973) has been put up on YouTube by David Quantick. Filmed on a beach in north Wales, it has cult English writer BS Johnson musing on life and generally arseing about. In the process, of course, he is also demonstrating the artifice of traditional narrative storytelling. It's probably the most avant garde programme HTV Wales has ever made. As well as being comical it is rather poignant as Johnson committed suicide just a few weeks after the programme was completed.

Johnson is famous for his innovative novels which undermine conventional notions of what fiction ought to be. In Albert Angelo (1964), for example, there are rectangular holes cut into selected pages; and a now legendary authorial intervention: "Oh, fuck all this LYING!". Another work, The Unfortunates (1969), had its various sections published in a box, thus enabling readers to reassemble it in whatever order they wished. If this all sounds a bit tricksy, don't be put off - his novels are extremely readable and often very funny.

Long before he made Fat Man On A Beach, Johnson had developed strong links with Wales. In the late '50s he had taken a holiday job at a country club near Abersoch on the Llyn peninisula. Episodes from this sojourn appeared in his debut novel Travelling People (1963). He also did a 6 month arts fellowship at Gregynog in 1970. As well as being a fairly regular visitor to Wales he contributed verse to Poetry Wales and Planet magazine. And he even wrote a couple of journalistic pieces for the Western Mail.

For a more comprehensive insight into BS Johnson's associations with Wales read Meic Stephens's fascinating article for Planet (Number 168, Dec 2004/Jan 2005), Everyone Knows Somebody Who Is Dead.

*The above video is just part 1 of Fat Man On A Beach - visit YouTube to see the other parts of the programme.