I promised to return, so here I am again. A few weeks break afford a welcome opportunity for recharging the batteries and to prepare for the coming challenges of another academic year. Pedalling gently across France, taking in the stunning landscapes of the Limousin, Creuse, Massif Central and Burgundy, it is easy to leave behind the everyday aspects of a working life and become distanced from the realities of the world. However, from time to time I feel the need to keep in touch with the real world, and the occasional opportunity to read an English newspaper can be welcome.
This year two sad announcements were covered with equal attention in both the French and English press, and gave me reason to reflect on what I knew of two distinguished actors, whose deaths were announced whilst we were enjoying our cycle tour. The first of these, Lauren Bacall will, I suspect be remembered largely for the roles that she played opposite the man who was to become her husband, Humphrey Bogart. Her debut in To Have and Have Not, and later appearances in Key Largo and The Big Sleep, made her one of the most sought after actresses in Hollywood.
A second obituary to Richard Attenborough, the British film actor and director followed very soon after the announcement of the demise of Lauren Bacall. Attenborough who came to prominence in films such as Brighton Rock, The Great Escape and 10 Rillington Place will probably be best remembered for his direction of Gandhi, the epic film of the life of the Mahatma.
The obituary sections of newspapers are often interesting for providing a short résumé of the lives of distinguished individuals, but these two particular actors had more in common than their engagement with the cinema. In the 1940s Lauren Bacall, along with her husband Humphrey Bogart established the Committee for the First Amendment in an attempt to counter attack the witch-hunt conducted by Senator Joseph McCarthy on a number of Hollywood actors and other members of the artistic community, by the House Un-American Activities Committee. She put her career in Jeopardy by standing up for the right of individuals to hold political beliefs and express ideas that were in opposition to those of prominent individuals in the government of the day.
Richard Attenborough, greatly influenced by his upbringing by parents who devoted their lives to the service of others, committed much of his life to the promotion of social justice. He made great personal sacrifices and took significant financial risks for more than twenty years in order to bring the life story of Gandhi, whose philosophy of non-violence had so moved him, to the screen. He followed this project by making the film Cry Freedom which drew attention to the atrocities of apartheid in South Africa and highlighted the horrors surrounding the death of Steve Biko. Attenborough in his personal life dedicated much of his time to supporting charitable trusts and causes both in the UK and wider afield.
The lives of Lauren Bacall and Richard Attenborough are probably viewed by most as having been associated with privilege and wealth. This interpretation is certainly valid. But of equal importance was the commitment that they made to work for social justice and to improve the lives of those who are oppressed or disadvantaged, and especially individuals and communities that have been subjected to prejudice. I am sure that the films that Bacall and Attenborough made will be entertaining and informing audiences well into the future. I hope that they will also be remembered for the example they set by demonstrating that whatever role we play in life, we can all play a part in working towards improving the lives of others.