Pete Postlethwaite RIP 15/1/2011


As most of you will have heard, our friend Pete Postlethwaite died on January 2nd 2011.

We've collated our stories, pictures and videos of Pete on this webpage, where everyone is invited to share their own memories. Some words from Franny below. The BBC are broadcasting a tribute tonight at 7.30pm, see attached, including Franny and Ed Miliband telling the story of how Pete changed UK energy policy.

We are honoured to have known such a wonderful person and humbled by Pete's immense skill and immeasurable contribution to both Age of Stupid and 10:10. Our thoughts are with Pete's wife Jacqui and their children, Will and Lily.

In sorrow,
Franny & Lizzie
and all the Age of Stupid team

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"And Away You Go"

The first time Pete Postlethwaite blew my mind was getting on for twenty years ago, and in a fairly traditional way: I watched In The Name of the Father and synapses realigned themselves inside my head, both on the filmmaking and compassion fronts.

Sixteen years later, I googled the words “Pete Postlethwaite” and “climate change” in search of anything which might help persuade my by-then all-time favourite actor to appear in the low budget documentary I'd been willing into being for three years. My exec producer's exasperation rang in my head: "Forget Hollywood A-listers, you need to be thinking ex-Eastenders". But at the top of the google search results appeared an article from Pete's local paper, The Shropshire Star, explaining that Pete was trying to get planning permission to install a wind turbine at his home. And it ended with a quote from him saying that everyone should do their bit for climate change. "Holy shit", I thought, "he might say yes".

Six weeks later, Pete rolled up straight from the multi-million dollar set of Clash of the Titans, into the carpet warehouse in Willesden where a bunch of our friends were still varnishing the floor after a frantic 48 hours converting it into The Global Archive. Stopping for a quick cigarette in the carpark, Pete explained how he'd saved our production a few quid by billing the taxi to Titans rather than us. I took the cue to explain that we'd not been able to afford the usual movie star trailer, but that a crew member had brought along their tiny camper van to be his dressing room. "Sorry? Why do I need to get changed to record a voiceover?". It seemed that when we'd sent in our request asking whether he'd play "the narrator", his agent had taken that to mean an off-screen voiceover. I stared at him in utter dismay till he broke the silence with an "Oh well, we're here now, may as well get on with it". Phew! Next problem: the cheap autocue we'd hired wouldn't display his lines at a size large enough to read without his glasses. So our tireless producer Lizzie spent the entire shoot lying at Pete's feet, pulling bits of string tied to bits of paper on which the text was printed in large font. Anyone ever noticed the pauses in the finished film (like at 52 seconds into this clip) where Pete seems to be thinking? Actually he's waiting for Lizzie to reveal his next line.

The second time Pete Postlethwaite blew my mind was towards the end of that single day of filming. My acting hero was staring straight at me - well, straight into the camera, I was watching on the monitor - saying the words that Alex Garland (that's another story) and I had written, sitting in the world we'd invented, in the set our friends had physically built, for the film we'd spent years traipsing around the world to make, about the most important issue ever to face humanity... The feeling was like giving birth whilst bungee jumping on ecstasy. I imagine.

In the course of about eight effortless-looking hours, fuelled only by a child-size portion of curry and a can or five of Guinness, Pete's talent transformed our film from a low budget trying-hard documentary which only my Granny would watch into one of the year's most talked about films, seen by millions of people in cinemas and on television all across the world. We began to understand this Pete multiplier effect when Channel 4 news turned up to the filming. Surely "some people are making a film" doesn’t count as news?

Pete saw the finished film for the first time when he came with his wife Jacqui to a pre-release screening at the UK parliament. One of the MPs who turned up told us that, other than the Free Ale Festival which gave our free beer (!), Pete's presence had made ours the best-attended outside event they'd ever held. The plan had been that Pete and I would take questions after the screening, but as the lights went up, he signalled that he'd changed his mind. I spent the next half an hour answering questions on auto-pilot whilst panicking that Pete hated our film. But in the pub later, when my Dad asked him for his reaction, we discovered a different story: "To pack that much information, detail and fact into a film which is exciting, moving and keeps you engaged all the way through is phenomenal, it's an extraordinary achievement.... Spielberg eat your heart out". Turns out he'd been so moved by the film that he couldn't speak. We also found out that evening that it is Jacqui who is the power behind the throne, environmentally-speaking: she'd studied Environmental Management at the OU and went on to stand as a Green MP in the 2009 elections. They both said that Stupid is the most important film Pete had ever worked on and vowed to do everything they could to use the film to create positive change.

Despite a very heavy schedule being King Lear six nights a week and any number of film characters during daylight hours, Pete immediately threw himself into his new mission. He wrote an article for The Sun which many people in the climate movement hailed as a breakthrough in terms of tabloid coverage: “We - that is humanity - only have a couple of years left to act if we are to stop catastrophic climate change causing the deaths of hundreds of millions of people”. He did countless TV, radio and print interviews (see "Press & Media Coverage" on this page) and travelled with Jacqui and me by train to Geneva to attend a Stupid screening hosted by Kofi Annan at the Global Humanitarian Forum. His tendency to slightly exaggerate my already-slightly-exaggerated stories only increased the buzz: I told him that a left wing think tank in the States was holding a screening in DC, he told a national newspaper that Obama was screening in the Senate. I told him we were hoping to power the premiere on London's waste products - like recycled papers collected from the tube - and he said on TV that we were running the whole thing off pigeon shit.

A couple of days before the big night on Sunday March 15th 2009, the news came in that Ed Miliband (then the lowly Minister for Climate Change, now Leader of the Labour Party) would like to invite himself along. We had been thinking we didn't want any politicians attaching themselves to our film, but as the amount of press coverage depends entirely on the number of celebs turning up - and we were a bit celeb-lite at that point - we thought we'd better break our own rule. (We cheekily told Milband's office that he had to arrive by low-carbon transport like everyone else - Pete came by bike, others by electric cars, bike rickshaws and even a solar car - and we were mightily impressed to hear that Ed would come in his "bullet proof prius". It was more than a year later we found out that his people were winding us up and that there's no such thing. Ed came on the tube.) Anyway, given that the whole event was going out live across the country, we knew that having Ed on the spot was too good an opportunity to miss, so Pete and I met up in "the office" (= the Cross Keys pub in Covent Garden) to plot. At that time, the biggest climate battle was over the Government’s plans for a new coal power station at Kingsnorth. After a couple of Guinnesses, Pete came up with the killer idea: he would threaten to give back his OBE if Ed commissioned Kingsnorth. Mind-blow number 3a. Off went Pete to be King Lear, after which he stayed up till 4am writing his speech. Ed told me later that he had a feeling we were up to no good, but he still walked calmly down the green carpet and into our trap. Mind-blow 3b came as Pete launched into full-on people-power-coal-protest speech mode and I had the strangest feeling that I was in the final scene of Brassed Off. When Pete said the bit about never voting Labour again, Ed looked so much as though he'd just been stabbed I almost called the paramedics. Straight after which Pete accidentally fell off the back of the tiny stage - which you can't see on the video, as quick-thinking Lizzie moved the giant pledge - and I was left alone with a very shocked Secretary of State, thinking "What the hell have we done?".

We found out a month later when Ed announced a "complete rethink of UK energy policy". No new coal power station would be commissioned unless it could capture and bury 25% of the emissions it produces immediately, and 100% of emissions by 2025. Pete had done it again. Mind blow 3c.

Whatever the opposite of "tokenistic" is, that was Pete. He and Jacqui - together with their son Will and daughter Lily - didn't just change a few lightbulbs as their personal contribution to climate change, they rebuilt every part of their home and reordered their lives to slash their emissions by a staggering 87%. Pete would walk down to afternoon Stupid showings at the local Odeon and sit talking to 20-or-so shocked punters in great depth. When Stupid's promotional money ran out, he arranged for another film project to pay for his flight to Australia so he could attend the Stupid premiere downunder and then head with us to New York for the Global Premiere, which simultaneously launched the film in 63 countries. Much to everybody's great sadness, he had to cancel these plans when his health made travelling impossible. But then he found a way to attend the UN climate summit in Copenhagen in December 2009, by dragging himself out of bed to speak on our "Stupid Show" from his sitting room via skype video. (Horrifyingly, we managed to screw up the settings so the audio didn't work and the interview wasn't broadcast. We were mortified, but Pete didn't utter a word of complaint.)

The final time Pete
Postlethwaite blew my mind was when my boyfriend and I visited his family last summer. After a highly memorable weekend which included Pete singing and conducting (with the original baton from the film) in full-on Danny-from-Brassed-Off mode,
a reenactment of the scene at his mother's deathbed
and him reading excerpts from the autobiography he was in the process of writing, we were saying our goodbyes and I was choking up, fearing it would be the last time I saw him.
He told me how glad he was to have misunderstood our request for a narrator - "probably wouldn't have done it if I'd known it was an onscreen role" - and how encouraged he is every time someone stops him in the street to explain how they've started cutting their emissions having seen the film. His last words, spoken over a long hug, will forever inspire me to greater efforts in his memory.

Many people have said how lucky it was that an actor of Pete's stature and ability happened to be interested in climate change. Bollocks. Pete was the best actor of his generation because of his integrity as a human being. And because of his integrity as a human being he dedicated a big part of his life to fighting the biggest battle humanity has ever faced. I am honoured to have been at his side whilst he did so.

These are the final words Pete says at the end of The Age of Stupid, as he fires his video message into space in the hope that others might learn from humanity's catastrophic errors.
Incidentally, Pete suggested this line himself as we were filming the scene. It makes a fitting ending.

"And away you go."

Franny Armstrong
Director, The Age of Stupid
January 2010

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