Story 57

A man I will never forget

I was a student at the Farnham Art School Film Department in the late 70s when a lecturer asked if anyone on the course would be interested in working with a disabled filmmaker who lived locally.

Nick Dance

I was at film school and wanted to learn as much as possible, so I volunteered. The filmmaker was Brian Line, a resident of Le Court Cheshire Home. I had never really interacted with a disabled person before, so I was a little apprehensive before my first visit.

But when I met Brian, he made me feel comfortable straight away; it was, of course, just like talking and interacting with anyone! He was a lovely, chirpy and enthusiastic person. What followed opened my eyes to disabled people; they were just like everybody else, living as independent lives as they could in a very free and open environment.

Many residents at Le Court were very creative, enjoying writing, art, woodwork, engineering and many other activities. They had come up with all sorts of gadgets to help and improve their everyday lives, like automatic door openers, devices to help use a typewriter or turn pages of a book and hold a paintbrush. It was all very enlightening, and there was a very friendly atmosphere.

Brian had made four films to date with other Le Court residents. These pioneering films had made a massive contribution to the awareness of disability in society. One resident would write, another was the cameraman, with a special mount for the camera on his wheelchair. Brian would help direct and edit the films.

Film-making came to an end for a while when the west wing of Le Court was planned. Most of the residents were too busy helping design and organise the building project, but Brian wanted to continue. He wrote a script and sent it to The Royal College of Art. A student agreed to help make it as a co-producer and co-director. The success of this film, ‘Maybe Today’ – about the building of the west wing – spurred him on to make another film. This is where I come in!

In all we made three films together: ‘I’ve Got Wheels’, ‘Challenge’ and ‘It Could Happen To You’.  ‘I’ve Got Wheels’ is about a day in the life of a Le Court resident who takes his new electric wheelchair onto the high street to explore access challenges. This project was the first film Brian had made with video equipment, which was just getting portable enough to take out onto the streets. The second film, ‘Challenge’ is a compilation and insight into the original Le Court Film Unit, based around an interview with Brian, presented by Robert Robinson.

The last film we made together — Brian’s final film — was ‘It Could Happen To You’. This was a 40 minute film for the International Year of Disabled People in 1981. This was the biggest production to date, and was shot on 16mm film with sync sound interviews, commentary and especially composed music. It was introduced by Leonard Cheshire and it was a great privilege to meet him. I found him very modest, friendly and genuinely interested in what we were doing. A man I will never forget.

All the crew gave their services voluntarily. The film was about people who had become disabled through accidents, following their rehabilitation and return to as normal a life as possible. The main intention was to increase awareness of disability and promote accident prevention, showing just how easily it could happen to you. It was a premiered at The Shell Centre London, and subsequently had a screening on BBC TV. It was very well received. Out of all the films made by Brian, it was the most successful and seen by the widest audience. Sadly Brian died soon afterwards. It is a fine epitaph to a man who wanted to spread the word and promote awareness of disability.

Discover more about Nick’s experiences of working with Brian Line on our Rewind website.

Brian Line and Nick Dance

What followed opened my eyes to disabled people; they were just like everybody else, living as independent lives as they could in a very free and open environment.