Remembering Leicester’s 1960s' Creative Scene

"In Leicester in the swinging sixties times were changing. New freedoms and opportunities enabled young people to forge a cultural revolution - and an explosion of working class creative talent began to emerge from the Midlands. It was the rise of the underdog.

When my dad passed away, I discovered some tapes in the attic. Early into the millennium, he’d recorded his memories from the sixties. I’d always been amazed that many of Dad’s teenage friends and contemporaries went on to do brilliant things. And I wanted to know why.

This is the untold story of Leicester’s creative scene, which shines a light on some of those faces who weren’t in the limelight, but 'moving in the shadows.’"

Joe Nixon

‘Moving in the shadows’ is written & directed by Joe Nixon, in association with Soft Touch Arts & Arch Creative.

Watch film

Thank you to everyone who attended the sell-out screening at Phoenix Cinema on Monday 20th November 2023. Due to popular demand we will be looking at the possibility of future screenings in March. Please check back here for any announcements. In the meantime, the film is now available to watch online.

Leicester’s 1960s creative scene was buzzing, and some of the faces that emerged from that period aren’t as well-known as they should be. Leicester doesn’t celebrate its home grown talent like other cities, but this film will hopefully start to change that.
Shaun Knapp
Music & Social History Author

View the trailer here:

How did the documentary come about?

My Dad was called John, but known by his nickname Jelly, and I remember him telling me that he’d carried out a series of audio recordings for The University of Leicester’s initiative The East Midlands Oral History Archive. I’d never heard the tapes until after my Dad died from pancreatic cancer in 2017, but once I mustered up the courage to listen to them, I knew that I had to make a film about this fascinating story.

In post-war Britain and into the 1960s there was a huge political and economic shift. With this came opportunity and a new found freedom, enabling young people to create new identities and spearhead innovation in fashion, music, literature, art and design. The elements collided to help forge a creative revolution, and for the first time ever many were working class kids from provincial cities, and Leicester was no exception. 1963 was a pivotal year in particular, and was when The Beatles played De Montfort Hall, The Rolling Stones played the II Rondo on Silver Street, and home grown playwright Joe Orton wrote his first hit play. I wanted to learn more, and find out about some of the key characters from Leicester who were doing brilliant creative things, but who, in many cases, were under the radar and sadly are still not very well-known today.

To give some context to the film, I’d like viewers to understand that it has been developed from my father’s audio recordings, so it is a snapshot from his perspective as a working-class teenager growing up in 1960s Leicester. The tapes also include his recollections of the male dominated Mod subculture which was prominent in Leicester during this time. Dad’s experiences, along with several of his close friends and contemporaries who I interviewed, were very different to others from this period. For example, working-class women in Leicester didn’t have the same career opportunities that men were given, let alone creative ones. This is why women are regrettably far less visible in the sixties story of Leicester creatives.

The film uses original archive footage and photos from 1960s Leicester, together with a soundtrack of local musicians including six tracks from Leicester’s legendary progressive rock band Family, as well as Kenny Wilson, Mick Pini and my Dad’s band Hopscotch Boulevard.

 

Who has been interviewed?

John ‘Jelly’ Nixon’s original audio recordings were carried out by Colin Hyde, and I’ve interviewed the following people:

John ‘Jelly’ Nixon

Musician and Mod ‘face’
Interview by Colin Hyde

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Leonie Orton Barnett

Leicester Playwright Joe Orton’s sister

Alan Fletcher

Writer of the novel Quadrophenia

Bob Hughes

Leicester Mod

Colin Hyde

East Midlands Oral History Archive

Shaun Knapp

Music & Social History Author

John Knapp

Musician, Legay

Carol Leeming MBE

Poet, Playwright & Singer

Dr Emma Parker

Associate Professor of Literature, University of Leicester

Kenny Wilson

Singer & Songwriter

Jack English

Film Photographer

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Stephane Raynor

Co-founder, BOY London

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Roger Chapman

Singer, Family

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Roger K Burton

Fashion Stylist & Curator

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Who is featured in the documentary?

It’s not possible to include all of the local creative faces who emerged from the sixties in just one film, and I can’t do justice to the characters featured here, but it’s good to start talking about them. Along the way the film highlights the following key characters:

Colin Wilson

Writer & Novelist

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Ray Gosling

Broadcaster & Author

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Sue Townsend

Novelist & Playwright

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Joe Orton

Playwright & Author

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Graham Chapman

Actor, Comedian & Writer

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Engelbert Humperdinck

Singer

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Ric Grech

Musician

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David Parkinson

Fashion Photographer

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About the filmmaker

I started my design and advertising agency, Arch Creative, back in 2006 with my business partner Luke Harrison. I’ve always been passionate about creating projects which can make a real difference to the community, with a particular focus on design and social history.

With the help of our great team, I’ve been lucky enough to help create some local exhibitions, books and short films. The desire has always been to capture critical ‘heritage-at-risk’, creating social projects through which people can meet, start conversations and bring communities together.

Features some fascinating interviews and archive footage. With so much of this heritage at risk, it’s important that we capture these memories for future generations.
Colin Hyde
East Midlands Oral History Archive

Two projects that I’m incredibly proud of are Mods: Shaping a Generation, and Punk : Rage & Revolution. Both were popular exhibitions held at Leicester Museum & Art Gallery developed in partnership with Shaun Knapp and Soft Touch Arts, but they were also projects which helped to connect people.

Mods : Shaping a Generation won the tourism award for best free event, and for contributing 1.75M to the local economy. Find out more about the project here:
shapingageneration.co.uk

‘“Mods : Shaping a Generation” had a massive impact on my life. The exhibition itself was brilliant, it brought back so many memories from the sixties, but since then we’ve met so many friends from the past, and lots of new friends whom we now meet up with every week for coffee and a chat. We go for regular meals out, and get on so well. We all love to reminisce, it makes us feel young again. Without the exhibition this wouldn’t have happened, it’s given us all a purpose in life.’

Sue Bakewell
Former Leicester Mod

Punk : Rage & Revolution won the National Lottery Good Causes Heritage project of the year for England, received over 50,000 visitors and contributed over 2M to the local economy. Find out more about the project here:
rageandrevolution.co.uk

‘Punk : Rage & Revolution was instrumental in reuniting what I consider a family of punks from decades ago, who all share something very special. Without all the hard work and research that went into this project, we might never have seen each other again; it’s that important. This whole thing has been a dream come true, and a life changing project.’

Wayne Large
Photographer and former Punk

Acknowledgments

The project started and finished with the University of Leicester. The series of audio interviews with John ‘Jelly’ Nixon were carried out as part of The East Midlands Oral History Archive (EMOHA) which is based in the Centre for Urban History at the University of Leicester. It is also supported by Leicestershire County Council and Leicester City Council via the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland.

Special thanks to Colin Hyde from EMOHA who carried out the original interviews with my Dad which inspired the film. Colin uses the recordings when teaching at the University of Leicester, and they ultimately led to the Mods : Shaping a Generation project in 2019.

A special thanks must also go to Shaun Knapp who also listened to the recordings, and subsequently helped to inspire his excellent book Mods: Two City Connection (available here).

I also express my gratitude to the University of Leicester‘s Dr Emma Parker, Associate Professor in Postwar & Contemporary Literature, and Professor Sarah Scott, Director of the Heritage Hub, for their invaluable support. The University’s Heritage Hub is working creatively with communities in Leicestershire, Rutland and beyond to investigate and celebrate the rich heritage of our city and region and to make positive change in the world. I’m honoured that ‘Moving in the shadows’ is one of the first projects to be included in this fantastic new initiative, and incredibly grateful for the University of Leicester sponsorship.

A special thanks to Christina Wigmore, Director of Soft Touch Arts, for her ideas and support for this project, and finally to my Arch Creative present and past colleagues, without which the project wouldn’t have happened. In particular a special mention goes to Matt Letts for all his spare time spent editing the film with me, and to Ben Bradshaw, Matt Whetherly, Aaron Marklew and Tom Bartlett.

Colin Hyde, Shaun Knapp and Dr Emma Parker have all been interviewed for the film, so a final big thank you to them and all of the interviewees featured in the film who offered their valuable time and support to make this project happen.

The film is just a starting point, so if you know of any other creatives from 1960s Leicester that you feel are worthy candidates for inclusion in this project, then please get in touch as we look to build a Midlands youth culture archive.

Email: joe@archcreative.co.uk

This fantastic film shines a light on the working-class subcultures and creatives that made 1960s Leicester ‘Boom City’.
Dr Emma Parker
University of Leicester