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Interview with John Wisner

John Wisner.mp3

Judy Caine [00:00:01]  OK, this is Judy Caine, and it is … 19th of May, (laughs) I forgot the date, I’m one of the researchers for Shout and I’m here with John Wisner, who is going to tell me about his involvement with Shout, which is mainly with Women of Steel. John, just for the tape and so I can just check my levels. Could you give me your name and age, please?


John Wisner [00:00:24] My name is John Wisner. I am 87.


Judy Caine [00:00:37] Perfect. Well, you look very sprightly as your photo to the right of this thing will tell me. OK, John, first of all, thank you very much for talking to me today.


John Wisner [00:00:48] You’re welcome.


Judy Caine [00:00:48] I very much appreciate it. I’m just going to odge this [mic] a tadge further to you … I’m not important, I don’t want to hear me. Um, if you can remember, way back in the day, can you tell me how you got involved in Shout.


John Wisner [00:01:08] That’s rather difficult because, I can’t really remember how I got involved with Shout and Paula, all of that group of people. It may have come from filming Holy Communion’s at Our Lady’s Catholic Church. Uh. Maybe somebody in the audience or in the congregation got in touch with Paula, who then rang me up, out of the blue, invited me to come and do some filming.


Judy Caine [00:01:50] Do you know Sami Scott? Because she works for Our Lady’s.


John Wisner [00:01:53] Sorry?


Judy Caine [00:01:53] Do you know Sami Scott? Because she works at Our Lady’s. Doesn’t matter.


John Wisner [00:02:01] I don’t know, I can’t remember, I mean, it’s like, it’s like all the videos, because I did quite a few of the Holy Communions at St. Brendan’s  and I found it most enjoyable, to be honest with you.


Judy Caine [00:02:20] So was your main role with Shout doing video for them?


John Wisner [00:02:24] Yes, that was the only, only connexion I had, actually, you know.


Judy Caine [00:02:29] And which play do you remember most?


John Wisner [00:02:32] That’s the difficulty. I can’t remember which, the only one I really remember is the ‘Women of Steel’


Judy Caine [00:02:39] OK, Tell me about ‘Women of Steel’.


John Wisner [00:02:43] Well, to me, that was a fantastic thing, um, telling us the story of Corby, how it grew and all the people, especially the people that were involved in it, you know, they were giving lifetime stories of how they came to live in Corby and take part in this this, um, I don’t know what you would call it, I wouldn’t call it a to play. It was more like a, uh, lesson in history, if you like, um. The difficulty with Shout was that it was done at, I can’t remember the name of the, uh, the centre, uh, but it’s like a museum of the steelworks. And the problem we found at a later date when we come to edit the film was each section was filmed in different parts of this museum.


Judy Caine [00:03:46] Was that East Carlton Park?


John Wisner [00:03:47] That’s Carlton Park, exactly, yes. Um, and that was giving it, if you like, a kind of depth to the whole story. Uh, the only, the only difficulty we found was that the audience were rather noisy, especially when they were moving from one um, one area to another area, and there were doors banging and all this lot going on. I was going mad in me head, because I don’t know what I’m going to do with this because while all this banging was going on to keep to the schedule, the next part of the story was being told. So it was being told over the noise if you like of 50 or 60 people, if not more. Grinning and chairs scraping, doors banging. But, anyway, we got through it. And it left me when, when we come to it and we finished it, I started thinking, well, I’ve learnt something about this town that I would never have learnt before, and I’ve met some fantastic people doing it. You know, so, I drew an awful lot from it and I would say, I thank what remained very much in my mind was that for a backward town which Corby was classed as in the early days. It was a bad town, it was a ‘you don’t go to Corby ‘ kind of thing. I, at that time, I was living in Kettering, but I mean, the actual play is about a time before I lived here in Corby. Uh, but what what came to me in a very strong way, was that in this backward town, full of immigrants and all kinds of people, the amount of talent there was available. It really was amazing from photography to, um, writing stories about artwork, about painting, about … you name it … all in this little town of Corby, there was this massive talent. And I thought, well, I’m only a little pebble, I’m only a little pebble here.. I’m can’t hold my soul against these people. These people, these are, you know, real what I would call professional, amateur professionals, um, that were very, more than capable of expressing themselves in their own peculiar way.


Judy Caine [00:06:33] I’m sure they’d be very pleased to hear it. You said you learnt a lot.


John Wisner [00:06:37] Oh, yeah.


Judy Caine [00:06:38] Do you think the plays had that effect on many people? Did they … erm, let me formulate my question here … Shout was called Shout because it was about the young people in the group shouting about things that mattered to them. Do you think what they did made a difference in the town?


John Wisner [00:07:01] Oh, now, that’s a difficult question.  Did it make a difference? I certainly think it made a difference to the to the actual kids that was in shout.


Judy Caine [00:07:15] What sort of difference?


John Wisner [00:07:16] I think it taught them, or rather it didn’t seem to manifest itself at that time, was discipline. If you’re going to be an actor discipline, on time, when the time, do as you’re told, get in line, all of those things I think was gradually being, they were gradually sinking into it. Not apparently, not apparent at that time, but I think, over time, it’s like they would remember that. And it has affected their lives. Whether it affected the broader scope of Corby is another matter.


Judy Caine [00:08:01] That’s really interesting, John, because I’ve interviewed at least six people who were young people in Shout between 1998 and 2018 and  every single one of them said, not so much, it changed my life, but without doubt, I wouldn’t be doing what I did now. It taught me method, it taught me patience, it taught me how to get on with people. So it’s really interesting.


John Wisner [00:08:31] Now, you’ve explained that in a far clearer way than what I could.


Judy Caine [00:08:33] No, I haven’t. I’ve just repeated what people have told me, John. You’re doing fine. There’s no right, wrong answers here. Did Shout have any effect on you?


John Wisner [00:08:48] Uh, yes, in a way, because I became very much more aware of Corby.


Judy Caine [00:08:54] That’s good to know.


John Wisner [00:08:57] Especially the people. I mean, there were some fantastic adults in that play, you know. You listened to thier early life stories, of coming to a little town like Corby, um, uh, and then suddenly, look at us now! You know, you’ll hear the woman said she lived on, I forget which estate it was with a big black brick wall all around her house. She never saw anybody from morning till night. She wouldn’t see anybody she wouldn’t talk to, there was nobody there to talk to …


Judy Caine [00:09:35] Was this up in Glasgow or was this in Corby?


John Wisner [00:09:38] This was in Corby, you know, when of course coming from Glasgow, where everybody was, you know, next door neighbour, you come to a place like, I can’t remember the name of the estate where it was a 20 minute walk to go to town and that kind of thing. There was no buses, was no, and from that they actually built a centre. You know, they got, they got permission to turn a house into a community centre.


Judy Caine [00:10:06] That wasn’t Stevie Way was it?


John Wisner [00:10:08] It could of been.


Judy Caine [00:10:09] Yes, because that’s a community centre that’s like several houses that are joined together at Stevie way, so it could be there, that’s on the Lloyds estate, it could be there on the Lloyds estate.


John Wisner [00:10:17] Oh, I can’t remember, I don’t know the name of these different estates.


Judy Caine [00:10:19]  Doesn’t matter at all.


John Wisner [00:10:21] But, I mean, if you listen to these reminiscing, you know. They had it tough, they really did have it tough, you know. The men would go off to work in the Steel Works, that wasn’t easy. But then, if they wanted to buy a loaf of bread you had to walk 20 minutes to get a loaf of bloody bread, it just don’t make, nowadays it just don’t make any sense. It didn’t then really, you know, but nobody was listening were they? The best thing was, the amazing thing was those kind of mistakes, the architects who designed them got awards.


Judy Caine [00:11:05] For what I wonder?


John Wisner [00:11:07] Exactly, for what, you know. I mean, you look at say the Barbican as a big concrete bloody building and you think that’s got a grade 2 award on that. You can’t do anything with it.


Judy Caine [00:11:19] The one in London?


John Wisner [00:11:20] Yeah, yeah. But it’s the same kind of architect. And of course, while they were talking, I was actually in the building trade. I was working for George Wimpey.


Judy Caine [00:11:33] Oh, so it’s your fault is it, all these houses with no centres in the middle? (laughs)


John Wisner [00:11:37] You see, I was, I worked up in the department 10, which is the Birmingham region. And at that time we were building one in every ten houses for the council in the country, one in every 10. I never touched Corby, there’s a lot of Wimpey houses in Corby.


Judy Caine [00:12:05] Yeah, yes, there are, but they’re good communities in Corby, I feel, very, very strong sense of community.


John Wisner [00:12:10] I think it’s still there, although I’m, I’m out of that thing, to be honest with you. You know, I retired actually retired from filming oh, a good 2  years ago. Um, so I moved out, you know, and I wouldn’t like to count how many weddings I’ve filmed in Corby. From Catholic to Protestants to, um, Jehovah’s Witnesses to, um, you know, ordinary, uh, council weddings, you know, so I, in that time I met so many different people and hopefully made an impression with them with what we filmed. You know.


Judy Caine [00:12:57] You do in this industry, don’t you? You know, especially when you’re working with a crew, which I know you wouldn’t be. But I often work with crews and they have to become your instant best friends to get on with the job, and then you meet some fab people.


John Wisner [00:13:08] Yeah.


Judy Caine [00:13:10] Anyway, let’s get back to Shout, we digress. Do you think? Shout Youth Theatre has a place in Corby now or has social media knocked all that out of the water? Is there still a need for a Shout Youth Theatre?


John Wisner [00:13:29] I think there is, very much so. I think it’s more important now, actually, um. There is too much emphasis for the young people on this business of the Internet and, and things like that, because … to my way of thinking, the biggest danger we have with young people is not that there isn’t, there is still that desire for this group kind of, getting the kids to partake in something communal. And I don’t mean running errands for the old lady next door. It’s more than that. Um, I think it’s what, what Shout gave, gave to the early participants? A meaning, it give them a purpose. And and to me, although I don’t come across many young people nowadays, that doesn’t seem to be a purpose. It all is, if it’s not on the Internet, it doesn’t exist. Very few of them look at the news and look at anything other than some of these silly, uh, what would I call, woke, um, attitude, you know, which is at my age is totally, I don’t know, I can’t believe the kids nowadays are stupid enough to listen to some of this stuff. You know, um, I give them, I mean, I’ve got a granddaughter now, she’s uh, 10 / 11. She knows more about the computer than I’ve ever known. She can, she interacts with all of her school friends. And I think that is one thing that the young people do have today is they can interact with so many people at the same time, whereas, in a way, that’s took over what Shout was. And it would be nice to think that Shout could still exist. There must be another lady, or another group of people that that are like Paula, that could bring some of these children into a setting like that. It doesn’t have to be about historical things, it could be all kinds of things.


Judy Caine [00:15:55] I don’t know if you got, obviously you can’t remember getting involved in other of the plays, but an awful lot of the Shout plays were about very hard hitting social issues.


John Wisner [00:16:06] Yes.


Judy Caine [00:16:07] They were about racism, teenage pregnancy, drugs, alcohol, domestic violence, seriously hard hitting plays.


John Wisner [00:16:15] Yeah, them things are still there.


Judy Caine [00:16:19] Sadly.


John Wisner [00:16:19] And they still need an exposing, if you like. You know, it’s because I don’t think you see so many drunks in the town now as what used to. There is a generation that’s moved on, if you like. And the young people, although again, I don’t know, I don’t go out on a Sunday night (laughs). But I think that if anything, there is a bigger need really for something like Shout to exist. And I think it’s it would be nice to think that within our community, there’s still people capable of bringing that kind of thing together and there is still a story to tell. There is still rape, there is still colour prejudice, there is still alcohol, there is still drugs. We haven’t cured any of those, and I think the likes of Shout actually brought those kind of subjects right in front of your face.


Judy Caine [00:17:33] So yeah. So, you’re saying Shout, maybe made people think a bit?


John Wisner [00:17:36] Yes. Yeah.


Judy Caine [00:17:38] That’s not a bad thing is it.


John Wisner [00:17:39] Whether or not it changed anything, I don’t know. Who knows, who knows. I mean if somebody’s a druggie, who is actually watched something like that, of that nature. He hasn’t gone away and suddenly stopped taking drugs. You know, it doesn’t work like that.


Judy Caine [00:17:56] No, but it might just make them think.


John Wisner [00:17:57] It might. Yeah.


Judy Caine [00:17:58] Am I going to impact other people? Is this a good thing?


John Wisner [00:18:01] Yeah, yeah.


Judy Caine [00:18:01] It might do, you never know.


John Wisner [00:18:03] I mean, how do you teach somebody about colour prejudice. I’ve got a black family lives next door to me, I’ve got Polish family living next door. I worked in Saudi Arabia for 15 years. I’ve worked with blacks, Chinese, Palestinians, Lebanese, you name em, I’ve worked with them. And you can’t do that and be colour prejudice.


Judy Caine [00:18:29] You’ve got it. People have got to get their heads around the fact we are one race –  mankind – haven’t they.


John Wisner [00:18:36] Yeah. I worked, I was really lucky on one of my projects. I was lent to a friend of the owner I was working for. Which was an Arab then. And I was sent back to Riyadh, the capital of the country, to work in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that was being built – it was a new building. And I went to do the artwork in that building, in charge of the artwork, you know. The people actually doing the work were Moroccans. These guys could trace their family back to Abraham.


Judy Caine [00:19:20] Wow!


John Wisner [00:19:22] Who was the intelligent one?


Judy Caine [00:19:25] Yeah, let’s not go there, shall we?


John Wisner [00:19:29] You know, you, I understand it, I mean, I could show you a photograph sheet, it is unbelievable. And so if it’s in other countries, it must be in our country. I don’t think there’s any difference between us, you know, so we have to tolerate. We need somebody to draw the talent together and it’s not people that put on a big show in the West End and things like that, they’re way out of reach to most people, not only in the prices, the capability, if you like. You know. And there is talent, especially in this town. There is unbelievable talent.


Judy Caine [00:20:16] A lot of talent, there really is.


John Wisner [00:20:17] Yeah.


Judy Caine [00:20:18] I’ve only got two more questions to ask you.


John Wisner [00:20:22] I’ve been rabbitin on. (Laughs)


Judy Caine [00:20:23] No, you haven’t been rabbitin on, it’s all been relevant, no, that’s good. What do you think of this current project Shout, where we’re looking back on the effect it had of going around and talking to people.


John Wisner [00:20:36] I think it’s a good idea.


Judy Caine [00:20:38] Why?


John Wisner [00:20:39] Well, I think it, if you like you’ve got two groups of people. You’ve got the people who are old Shout and, you got the people that you’re hoping are new Shout. The new Shout are very much unaware of what went on in the old Shout. Very unaware of working in the Steel Works, in the canteen and meeting your boyfriend and selling fags and cups of tea and bacon sandwiches. Very unaware of that – doesn’t exist in their vocabulary.


Judy Caine [00:21:22] No, I think you’re right, I think having a permanent record of all the plays, Women of Steel, all the social ones, especially as Paula and her team, they’re putting it into a form, into a book. So all the old plays will be in books that people now can say, oh, yeah, well, teenage pregnancy is still happening, let’s put this play on.


John Wisner [00:21:43] Yeah.


John Wisner [00:21:43] So even if it’s not, a new Shout group it makes it available to, to schools and communities …


John Wisner [00:21:48] … you’ve widened it.


Judy Caine [00:21:51] Broadened the audience, yes indeed.


John Wisner [00:21:53] The only problem you have is, of course, it’s limited time ain’t it. You’ve got to get this, if you like now, because otherwise, people in old Shout wont be here anymore.


Judy Caine [00:22:10] This is why we’re doing the project now. Exactly why we’re doing it now.


John Wisner [00:22:15] It has to be woken up.


Judy Caine [00:22:17] We’re doing it now and it will all be finished by September and then everything will be available for schools or whoever wants it.


John Wisner [00:22:27] Schools is the secret to it, schools are without a doubt it’s schools.


Judy Caine [00:22:31] So what have I not asked you about Shout that you’d like to tell me about?


John Wisner [00:22:40] I don’t know, um, let me go in a roundabout way. All of them bookcases, were totally …


Judy Caine [00:22:51] OK, just for the tape, John is pointing to bookcases all around the room we are sitting in.


John Wisner [00:22:56] … were totally double stacked with videos. And it was two years ago I called a skip in and the whole lot went in the skip. I reckoned, I guess there were maybe two and a half thousand videotapes ranging from weddings, to funerals, to concerts, you name it. The only thing we never filmed was sports, because that is again a specialist thing. And in a way, to carry on from that, of all the tapes I’ve kept … I’m going to move …


Judy Caine [00:23:39] OK that’s fine (sounds of moving boxes)


Judy Caine [00:23:46] OK, just while John is doing that, he’s finding something from behind me and he’s come back with a lovely little green box and it’s got full of what looks like DVDs …


John Wisner [00:23:56] These are the tapes I’ve saved.


Judy Caine [00:23:58] Oh my gosh. John has just handed me Women of Steel as the first one which was recorded August/September 2006. Wow.


John Wisner [00:24:10] Now, why have I saved that?


Judy Caine [00:24:12] Because it meant a lot to you the time.


John Wisner [00:24:15] Yeah.


Judy Caine [00:24:15] That is an absolutely lovely way to end our recording on. Oh, you’ve got more.


[00:24:24] (More sounds of box moving.)


Judy Caine [00:24:24] Oh, my gosh. We’ve got another Women of Steel. So, the first one you gave me was the live event, was it? And this was the video version?


John Wisner [00:24:33] No, not quite.


Judy Caine [00:24:35] Tell me about the 2 different versions.


John Wisner [00:24:37] That is the original Women of Steel …


Judy Caine [00:24:41] … at East Carlton Park?


John Wisner [00:24:41] East Carlton Park. This is one that, um, Paula put on in a theatre.


Judy Caine [00:24:49] Right.


John Wisner [00:24:51] Because although she’s never said, they were very disappointed with the audio on that one.


Judy Caine [00:24:58] Well, if you had people moving around and making a noise …


John Wisner [00:25:00] … I was not the BBC, I could not wipe that out.


Judy Caine [00:25:04] No. You’re not super-human.


John Wisner [00:25:06] I haven’t got that technology, you know. But, that originated from, it was the same play but done on the stage.


Judy Caine [00:25:15] That it much more containable when you’re trying to make a DVD isn’t it because you know how …


John Wisner [00:25:20] Yeah … it’s a bit more controlled.


Judy Caine [00:25:20] Yep, I’ve been there, done it, I’ve got that t shirt.


John Wisner [00:25:25] That one is …


Judy Caine [00:25:27] OK, bear with me one moment. Have we finished talking about Shout and Women of Steel, then you can show me all these I’d love to see them.


John Wisner [00:25:36] No, never finished, I’ve never finished Shouting about Women of Steel. I’ve even got the book in there somewhere.


Judy Caine [00:25:41] Yeah. Clearly Women of Steel had a really big effect on you.


John Wisner [00:25:46] It certainly has.


Judy Caine [00:25:47] Paula is going to be really chuffed.


John Wisner [00:25:46] I mean Paula has been a kinda friend for a very long time now. Not, not the kind of friend you’d go out drinking with or anything like that, you know, the moment, if the phone goes and I pick it up, I recognise Paula’s voice. That kind of thing. But I’ve been, if you like, associated with her for a very long time. And I have good memories of that time. You know, although I can’t remember individual plays apart from Women of Steel, this one really did make an impression on me. Um, it’s strange, the only thing I disagree with, Paula, is her politics … cut that out … (laughs)


Judy Caine [00:26:38] Well, no, no. Be careful because I’m not cutting anything out.


John Wisner [00:26:43] We are on the opposite side, more than that …


Judy Caine [00:26:48] Well we’re on opposite sides then.


John Wisner [00:26:49] You know, very much. I mean, but again to look at Paula and to realise she walked all the way to bloody Russia.


Judy Caine [00:26:58] I know.


John Wisner [00:26:59] I mean, and you want to know what the people of Corby are like.


Judy Caine [00:27:04] They have the courage of their convictions, don’t they.


John Wisner [00:27:07] Unbelievable, it might not be my politics. But you look at her and I think I can’t believe you done that, you know, to have that kind of personality. I mean, the same applies to some of the ladies, that was in Women of Steel. Um, but that one woman with the Glasgow accent, talking about her husband falling in the vat of steel.


Judy Caine [00:27:39] Oh …


John Wisner [00:27:39] I mean, the way the way she portrayed that was absolutely unbelievable, really, you could almost feel it, you know. And then there was another lady there, that actually the two ladies sitting having a cuppa tea in the morning and she was on about missing her family and, and that her husband he always shouted. He didn’t talk because he had to shout at work and they just carried on. And you think well. You can understand the difficulty of some of these women, why they do call it Women of Steel.


Judy Caine [00:28:20] Totally, well look, shall I stop the tape and we can have another little chat.


John Wisner [00:28:23] By all means.


Judy Caine [00:28:24] Are you sure.


John Wisner [00:28:23]  Yes.


Judy Caine [00:28:25] Thank you so much for sharing your memories of Women of Steel.


John Wisner [00:28:28] And thank you for asking.


Judy Caine [00:28:30] Pleasure.


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