Nello and the Marvellous Side of Stoke.

I don't know whether anyone reading this blog will have watched "Marvellous", the BBC2 biopic of the inimitable Neil Baldwin, but I certainly did. Played by Toby Jones in the film, Neil was someone who, despite having learning difficulties, made the very best of life. The film showed how he became a part-time clown, known as "Nello", and later how he made friends with various bishops, politicians and celebrities (at one point we even see him meeting the late Tony Benn after he "gatecrashed" parliament). Perhaps most importantly of all, he became an indispensable part of Stoke City FC's support staff when under the management of Lou Macari. He also became a sort of unpaid student supporter at Keele University, a role for which he recently received an honorary masters degree.
So, by all accounts an extraordinary life for one who had such difficulties. Indeed, it appeared that Neil never let his problems hold him back, approaching life with zeal, wit, resilience and a sort of simple wisdom (if that's not an oxymoron). For example, it was shown in the film that he was often the butt of some rather cruel jokes amongst the footballers at Stoke City, but he always seemed to get his own back by making his own cracks. At one point we see him coming out of the dug-out dressed as a giant chicken, at another he's shown standing behind Lou Macari in an interview with the media fully decked out in traditional Scottish garb, including hat and obligatory fake ginger beard. But Neil isn't just a clown to be laughed along with, often coming out with comments simple and yet profound. At one point, for example, he tells Macari of how he once saved a student at Keele from suicide by saying to her, "we've all got to go sometime, duck, so why does it have to be now?"
You will, perhaps, have gleaned from all this that Neil comes from the same city as myself, Stoke-on-Trent. The film was made on location here and, to my mind at least, showed an altogether nicer side of the city than is often portrayed (Prince Philip, in his own inimitable, but much less charming, way, once referred to Stoke as a "ghastly place"). Indeed, I think that even the inhabitants of Stoke-on-Trent can often run it down, but in the film it wasn't just Neil's wit and resilience that was shown, but also that of Stoke residents. Somehow, seen through Neil's eyes, the place became a warm-hearted land of possibility and community. The film uses the device of a group of musicians singing various songs as a sort of chorus commenting on the drama, and, to me, it was through this that the warmth of the area was conveyed. With old favourites like "How Great Thou Art", "Enjoy Yourself, It's Later Than You Think" and, of course, Stoke City FC's own anthem, "Delilah", the compassion and camaraderie of Stokies was made apparent. Even one of the film makers, evidently from further South, remarked on Radio Stoke that the place had eked its way into his heart, that it had somehow got to him.
However, this was no simply sentimental tale. Neil was very close to his mother, and at her eventual passing, his at first inability to accept what had happened, and then the fullness of his grief, was starkly shown. Indeed, although portrayed as a triumph of unselfconscious innocence, the film had a comic truth to it, both in its portrayal of its main character and the wider society he inhabited. After watching it one was simply left thinking that there's only one place like Stoke, and that, most of all, like the fans of Stoke City chanted, "There's only one Neil Baldwin, One Neil Baldwin!"             


Dixie@dcrelief said…
Hi David. I hope all is well with you. Life events may periodically keep us from blogging, so catching up is a special joy. I find it interesting to hear what blogging pals are researching, and sharing.

Neil baldwin is not a person I was familiar with so I stepped off to have a look at available online information. I did find a site that would show the film if you were located in the UK; unfortunately I'm not, and was disappointed. But that doesn't mean his story will not be here before the year is out. (Hoping.)

I read where he's been recommended for the "Freedom of Stoke-on-Trent" award. Also many have petitioned he be Knighted. Wow! This sounds like the kind of story I look for... living reality with an attitude that compliments and encourages. An attitude that shows we are not our limitation - damn the labels.
Thank you sir. I look forward to seeing how the remainder of your year plays out. Many battles for me but there have been great accomplishments - I am happy and content.

Most sincerely, Dixie
bazza said…
Hi David. I missed this program but did see many previews and reviews. I am going to look for it on 'Catch-up'.
Poor Stoke City; as if having Lou Macari for a manager wasn't bad enough they've now got the biggest stand-out misery figure of Mark Hughes!
Continuing my new experiment of naming the music I am listening to while posting or commenting - right now it's: ‘Learning to Fly’ by Tom Petty, “I’m learning to fly but I ain’t got wings. Coming down is the hardest thing.” Listen on You Tube:
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s fabulous Blog ‘To Discover Ice’
David said…
Hi Dixie,
Apologies for the delay in replying to your comment.
I'm very glad to hear that you're happy and content (despite the many battles!). Also happy that you appear to have enjoyed my post about Nello. Hopefully the film will get a wider release so that you can enjoy it across the pond!
As for my own little life, things are not going entirely to plan, but one continues to strive, and I do plan to write more blogs when I can. So, I wonder what will be next? I bet you can't wait to hear more from your normal, average paranoid and delusional man! Wow, haven't said that in a while!
Very Best Wishes to you, Dixie.
From your blogging pal,
David said…
Hi bazza,
I do hope you get the chance to see "Marvellous" on Catch Up - it really is a funny, moving and uplifting little film.
As for your comments on Stoke City, I just happen to be a Port Vale fan, so I'm not going to respond with anything like similar vitriol. Mind you, poor old Essex, now that Clacton has a UKIP MP. OH NO, SURELY NOT!
Very Best Wishes to you, Bazza, and thanks for continuing to comment.
bazza said…
David, I usually treat religion and politics as taboo subjects but I have to say that the thought of UKIP sweeping the country alarms me!

Popular Posts