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By Bryan Newbury
February 16, 2008 

Watching Seven Up is reminiscent of having one’s first potato chip… crisp, if you’re so inclined. Fourteen Up is like the fifth pack of cigarettes, Twenty One is like the first pack in your fifth year of smoking. When the viewer gets on to Twenty Eight and Thirty Five, he can only speculate as to what those Trainspotting characters are going through.  

Upon seeing the first installment, I ran to Liberty Hall video and rented the rest. Well, almost. I was at my limit with Thirty Five Up. Between viewing Twenty One and Twenty Eight Up, I returned the first two discs, knowing that by midnight, if all the loo breaks and crumpet toastings (if Apted is addictive, then Anglophilia may well be contagious) were timed appropriately, I’d be happily viewing the final installment available at the time. I’d followed these fourteen individuals through their lives in the space of a day, one of the finest film experiences a person can ask for. 

It was a while before 49 Up would come out. This was a problem. Do I bounce from search engine to search engine scouting out developments in the lives of these people? Do I wait through the excruciating months until Apted can deliver them to me? Each man must make his choice. 

A few things were certain: if I could, I would certainly allow John, Charles and Andrew foot my bill in London, swilling beer and sherry. I would then take a car up to Arncliffe and stroll about the Dales, breathtakingly depicted in Nick’s youthful interviews, on the way to meeting up with the one person I’d choose above all to have a conversation with; naturally, it would be Neil. 

Not all wishes can or should come true. This doesn’t preclude fortunate things from happening. First, it is with great pleasure that we announce The Up Series is now available as a DVD box set, with a new exclusive Michael Apted interview and featurette and audio commentary by Claire Lewis and others. Given that there is no better way to take in the Ups than in marathon form, viewers will get the opportunity to relive the bliss of each new discovery.  

It is regrettable that the Up series has apparently concluded with its sixth installment. Still, this unprecedented collection will serve to provide endless fixes for Up junkies. 

A small footnote to that is our opportunity to have a brief interview with the most captivating of the subjects, Neil Hughes. John, Charles and Andrew have refused my requests for air fare to Cumbria, so the interview was conducted via written questions. This, sadly, prevents much follow-up. Endeavoring to get the most out of it, my questions were admittedly compound if not pedantic. I make no apologies. I imagine that Mr. Hughes has answered enough questions about how the film and its subjects have impacted his life. If you want to know that, watch the films. It was quite a discovery to see that Neil is every bit the literary creature we might infer him to be, and a sad state of affairs indeed that his work hasn’t had the outlet of a publisher. New York and London, what are you waiting for? 

What are your thoughts on the relative mutability within the class system in contemporary Britain ? One might take from the Up films that its rigidity, if not conquered, is at least in question, yourself being a primary example. To what degree do you credit the film itself, its linking disparate individuals in class and geography, with influencing the class mobility of the subjects? 

The basic precept that you couldn’t cross class barriers is false, so whilst it may be true that people have gone down a variety of routes, there is still a lot of sympathy across the group. People can get along together; background doesn’t hold you back from doing so. My situation isn’t due to class background; it is due to my own life (genetic make up / social environment etc). 

Surely everyone would like to know how you’d describe the enigmatic Mr Hughes. Joyce once said that he considered Ulysses the only all-around character in literature. It would be fair to say that the person we see in the Up films is as complete, maybe even a bit more complex. Do you see yourself in the literary light that the Neil of the films suggests to the viewer? 

It’s funny that you mention that as I’ve been writing seriously since I was 16, despite never having found anyone who wanted to publish my plays and prose. That’s the real me, and I know you can’t spend your whole life writing unless you are privileged. But what I think is if someone claims to be a writer they have the write the play and then not comment in other arenas, the true essence of their thoughts is in their writing. 

Deviating a bit from the vicissitudes of politics and your mythological peregrinations, could we get a bit of the banal on Mr Hughes? Your ideal breakfast, favorite film and the like? 

Hmm well my ideal breakfast is a cereal with fruit in it and toast! I don’t have a favorite film as I haven’t watched films since I was a child. I do remember that as a child I loved the film Zulu, I even went back and watched that when I was at uni which really proves that the impact stayed with me. I like it because of the courage and the sense of the honour shown by the chief. Obviously there is a gloss put on it, but the message was of courage and people helping each other. I am incredibly interested in literature and plays, and I would say that Macbeth is definitely the greatest play. 

Back into politics. There are some very telling scenes in 49 Up, where one of the Eastenders has relocated to the Mediterranean . He suggests that his current situation is closer to the East End he knew as a child. Certainly much has changed in the time these films have been made, and many people have become bemused or concerned about the role of culture, race and religion in the west. How do you see what some call a clash playing out? What is the best way for Britain to absorb a demographic shift and, while retaining its “Britishness”, retain a welcoming atmosphere to its immigrants, particularly Muslim? 

It is fair to say that the ethic minority population has grown and diversified and I welcome that, I think it’s wonderful. The world is fluid, and there is still a great deal of injustice – but it isn’t down to minority groups. I find it curious that people love traveling and diversity, but then when they come to UK they are furious with the diversity in their country.  I did some teaching in Poland once and half of British contingent were non white, and they were welcomed as warmly as the white people. To our Polish hosts this was a sign of British diversity and they welcomed it, it is definitely a positive sign of being British. 

Finally, we’d love to know if you are at work on any pursuits of the pen. Will there be a memoir, a novel – possibly an epic poem – from Neil Hughes? 

I am constantly writing, at the moment I am part way through a poem, the third in a long cycle of plays I have written during my life. I’ve written on biblical themes and translated into modern life. Characters like Saul, David etc, all translated into modern drama. It is a reflection on contemporary political issues. I’m not so sure about the memoirs, my life isn’t terribly interesting.



Comments:
Dan Monceaux on February 20th, 2009 at 5:19 pm 

I had the pleasure of meeting director Michael Apted, and presenting my film ‘A Shift in Perception’ alongside his episode of 14up. Thanks for the personal extension of the UP series Bryan- I did always enjoy Neil’s perspectives and thoughts.


Andrew Webster on July 19th, 2009 at 11:03 am 

I was absolutely captivated by the Neil Hughes of 21UP. I resonated with his anti uni sentiment. At the moment I’ve stopped at 28UP because I’m 28. Does that seem silly? I suppose it does but it works for me.
It’s a good article. I’m glad Neil is doing well and he seems happier now. Of course he’s in politics and working for people’s rights – he’s such a deep thinker. So concerned about things. I much the same myself – I’m a community support worker.


wendy Arnold on October 18th, 2009 at 6:17 pm 

I have watched all the episodes… at least to 42up over the past few days.

I found all the children captivating.. but Neil had the most wonderful enthusiasm… honesty.. and somehow even at seven an abounding wisdom.

his comment on “Colured Children’ was pure magic

His little skips as he is coming home from school.
his bright wide eyes as he’s describiing somtething
and then in only 7 years you see the fear has crept in
And next you see he is in real trouble.. so it’s no wonder that Neil has won the heart and imaginatiion of many
And to find him now “being a person of importance” gives me such a thrill.. that through his hardships he has managed to carve a life that in some ways is exactly what he would have always wanted
altogether an extraordinary life.


Floro Quibuyen on June 4th, 2010 at 5:38 pm 

Indeed Neil Hughes is the most captivating–singularly the philosophical and literary figure in the Up series. His storytelling talent was already evident in 7up. Unfortunately, publishers have not been willing to take a chance on him (when will he get the lucky break that JK Rowling had?). Neil’s life–materially impoverished but intensely rich intellectually and spiritually–shares much of the pathos of Vincent Van Gogh’s life. Both were unappreciated during their time. I can only hope that, like Van Gogh, Neil’s literary work will get the recognition and appreciation it deserves.
HOwever, there’s something that I’d take issue with Neil–the British class system does have an impact on an individual’s life. Look at the posh characters in the series–John and Andrew are fabulously rich and successful in their careers, and even quite happy in their family life (this is true expecially of Susie).
I’m curious if someone has done an in-depth study/biography of Neil–in particular, why he decided to get out of the mainstream. His rejection by Oxford may have had something to do with this (he admits to being bitter about it), but then Charles was also rejected by Oxford and he took it in stride. I wonder if Neil’s parents–his Dad especially–reacted badly to his failure to get into Oxford? And did this lead to the falling out between Neil and his Dad, which in turn, led to Neil’s decision to opt out of the rat race (the conveyor belt system that Charles alluded to)? I want to know more about Neil.


effie on August 6th, 2010 at 6:16 pm 

Neil commented on a calling from God. To be “called” means to be taken out of the nations and sanctified for God’s purposes. To glorify his name.
Bible translations render if Yahweh, Jehovah or use the Tetragrammaton {YHWH}. It means “I shall prove to be what I shall prove to be” Ex 3.14 It embraces a wealth of meaning. Jehovah is bound by his titles.

Acts 2.21 says it is necessary for our salvation.- key factor in receiving his complete blessings, protection and guidance. Name embraces divine purpose and will. God has innumerable rolesss sor his will would seem arbitrary and capricious.

His name elevates him above all gods. It is the principle in sober hermeneutics, or doctrines of faiath collapse into christology without logical consistencies. Gods’s name identifies him with acoomplishments deeds and marvels. His acts become manifest and not hidden.

However the god of this system of things {Satan} has blinded the minds of the unbeleivers (2 Cor. 4:4-6}. He wnts to invalidate it and have it eleminated from Christian consciousness. Absence has contributed to the tragic decline in spirituality, and a personal relationship with Jehovah. Faith goes astray. Also has a major impact on our logic.

Jesus duty was to true faith. He said “I have made your name known..and I will make it known”> John 17:26.

We do not want to die in invincible error. Jehovah’s name straightens our path.


Me. on December 29th, 2010 at 7:28 am 

effie offie.


Dee on May 14th, 2012 at 3:12 pm 

Hi Neil, I was on a course with you last year in Warrington. I wished I was in your home town Cumbria rather than Manchester Iam sure am to sensitive to enviroments. Love to read your written work God bless you Dee


Elaine Frost on May 20th, 2012 at 1:48 am 

Hello Neil – I think you are wrong when you say your life is not very interesting, and I think you are lovely. The programme just made me want to reach out and cuddle you. Would love to read some of your writings too. Elaine.


Julie Andrew on May 21st, 2012 at 3:45 pm 

Hi Neil! I think the last time I saw you (other than on tv) was at the Listers Arms in Malham in the 70s where I worked. I see from 56up that you also came up north. I now live in Orkney. Good to see you again! From the comments above it looks like you have quite a following! Do get in touch if you’re ever back this way. My best wishes Julie.


Jack on May 22nd, 2012 at 4:05 pm 

What’s up with Effie,? Look forward to 56 up when it comes out in the states


Michelle on October 29th, 2012 at 2:31 am 

Just watching Neil now on a repeat of 28up. As a little child, with all that hope and joy, he does kinda break your heart, knowing the hardship before him. Just want to let him know that I have great admiration for him. He is obviously an extremely bright man who has suffered deeply and yet pulled himself out of that to give to others in his support of community with politics. Some of us have a harder road to walk than others, but in the end these people often become very compassionate and enlightened souls.


Dot on October 29th, 2012 at 10:36 pm 

I wait anxiously for tomorrow night for the first episode of 56 Up to be shown on Melbourne TV. I have watched all previous series of Up many times and relate most of all with Neil. His life is the most interesting of all. I have always wishes him well.


jason on October 30th, 2012 at 4:47 pm 

there are so many people in the world, all different,with talents of many varieties,most just fall through the cracks which seem to widen as they fall..


Katrina on November 6th, 2012 at 8:56 pm 

I resent the comparison between the lives of Neil and van Gogh. The “pathos” in each of their lives is unique and I find it far more enriching to respect that fact. As has been proven by the passage of time, van Gogh was a genius who carried the weight of extraordinary artistic talent (which complicated his psychological/nervous conditions). Although we are aware of Neil’s penchant for writing, any potential genius on his part is as yet unproven. We should perhaps also bear in mind that Neil currently has 20 Years Up (ha ha!) on van Gogh who was dead at the age of 37. If impoverishment and intellectual/spiritual richness are the criteria for comparison to the great Master, we would be able to compare a healthy percentage of the population to him. We really must allow people to own their own experiences.


Katrina on November 6th, 2012 at 8:58 pm 

Almost 20 years


Fruttel1 on November 28th, 2012 at 2:26 pm 

Katrina, I couldn’t agree more with your one but last post on Novemnber 6th. (esp. your last sentence should be read and thought about by many people)


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Dee Sunshine on November 21st, 2016 at 3:31 am 

Hi there, if you have any way of contacting Neil, please convey to him that I would be interested in looking at his poetry. I am a published poet, was a magazine editor and more specifically was the editor of the AA Independent Press Guide. I am fairly knowledgeable about the market for poetry, and upon reading his work could suggest magazines that would probably be receptive to his work…. and please let him know that I do not offer these services lightly. It is only because I resonate with his story and his journey that I am willing to offer my help for free. Thank you.


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