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29 October 2014
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Last Orders: Graham Anderson

White season

Film-maker Henry Singer on the making of Last Orders

Film-maker Henry Singer reflects on his time in Wibsey where he made the film Last Orders:


"The thing that impressed me most about Wibsey, it is such a close knit-community. People at the club really look out for one another. Of course, the downside of that kind of close-knittedness (for lack of a better word) is that the community can tend to be a little insular, and rumours and ideas can quickly coalesce into becoming truth.


"But for the most part, it's an incredible community and the Working Men's Club plays a crucial role in the village – it's where friendships are formed and support is provided – everything that a community should do. I was certainly welcomed with open arms and was made to feel very much at home very quickly. It made me realise as a Londoner how I lack a sense of community in my life."


As Henry discovered, the issues that concern the members are wide ranging. He explains: "For the club the smoking ban is certainly a huge concern. It kicked in just around the time that I began filming. Competition from cheap supermarket beer has also hurt the clubs financially. But there are wider, more abstract issues at work here.


"For example, young men and women no longer want to join clubs, unlike their fathers and grandfathers. They have more spending money, and prefer the pub and club scene, so working men's clubs are dying out as there is no new blood to replenish them.


"But the film also gave one working-class community the opportunity to have their voice heard: one contributor in the film calls the village of Wibsey and working-class people in general, 'the forgotten people', and I realised I wanted to give the community a voice.


"Their concerns are many: there's a sense that the Labour Party has abandoned them, that recent immigrants are undercutting British working men and women in various professions, and that the historical immigration from countries like Pakistan has changed the complexion of the city they love.


"As an outsider, particularly an American who left his hometown at the age of 22 and his country soon there after, it's easy to forget how attached to a place many people are, and how hard it is to watch it change. I certainly changed my perspective while I was up there."


Henry describes Last Orders as "classic observational film-making. Making Last Orders was both an easy (the community was very welcoming) and hard (certain subjects were considered very sensitive and difficult) film to make.


"I certainly felt it was a journey of discovery for me, as corny as that sounds. I wasn't aware of the depth of the sense of alienation people in villages like Wibsey feel, and I wasn't prepared for how strongly people there feel about issues of race and immigration, for example.


"I think the club members were very brave to allow me in to the club and to talk about these kinds of issues. They certainly made me realise that the preconceptions that a lot of people, including people in the media, have about these kinds of issues are incredibly simplistic.


"I hope viewers will have a sense that they've seen a film that's really, fundamentally, about the state of the nation. The Wibsey Club is struggling for all kinds of reasons, reasons that are at the heart of changes that this country has undergone in the last 20 to 30 years.


"These changes are multi-layered being about community, political disenfranchisement, globalisation, immigration, social disorder, what it means to be 'British', but all told through the story of one club and its members.


"I also hope the audience will see that many of the preconceptions we have about the working-class just don't stand up to scrutiny."



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