The Observer 20/05/12
SCENE OF THE WEEK
There were stirring tales
in the first slice of 56 Up (ITV1) - the latest in
Michael Apted’s brilliant, long-running documentary -
but none cut to the heart more than that of Neil
Hughes. Here he was in 1964 an animated, lovely boy in
his duffel coat, skipping along a tidy suburban street
in Liverpool, or in 1968 on his bike, satchel on his
back, the wind in his hair.
He dreamed of going to
Oxford, but at the age of 21 he was working on a
building site and living in a squat. At 28, homeless and
gaunt, hoicking up his trousers as he shuffled along in
the rain, he seemed already defeated by life, his clear
intelligence seemingly of no use to him. What on earth
had happened, you wondered. We never really found out.
He had suffered from ‘a nervous complaint’ he said.
These days, at 56, he retains his hunched intensity, his
thinning lock of hair, the same crooked tooth of
adolescence. He spoke in tentative bursts, watchful,
holding back more than he revealed. He’s a local
councillor in Cumbria. He has little money but has
found a place here and the company of good friends.
We saw him, collar and
tie, cycling on a sunlit hillside, sheep scattering at
his approach, and just for a moment we caught a glimpse
of the boy he once was, with the world at his feet and
his whole life in front of him.