Another successful Smithdown Litfest


One of the highlights of my year is the annual Smithdown Litfest. I founded this literary festival in Liverpool back in 2017. This year our programme was packed with brilliant speakers, and we had our biggest audiences yet.

To kick off the week, I interviewed George Wilson – aka George Christopher – known to millions for his roles as Ziggy in Grange Hill and “Little Jimmy” Corkhill in Brookside.

During a very special evening George talked candidly about his life, career and his autobiography From Grange Hill to Bipolar and Back. George was a regular working class boy who found fame in the hit children’s TV show Grange Hill when he was just 15. But when George’s time on the series ended things began to spiral out of control. He got into trouble with the police, witnessed first-hand the horrendous scenes at the Hillsborough disaster in 89, became unemployed, and a recluse. It was the start of a period of ups and downs – from more television success in Brookside to ending up in a psychiatric hospital for six months. Eventually, George discovered that he had bipolar disorder, and began to rebuild his life, learning many lessons along the way.

George’s message was one of hope – yes, bipolar is scary and at times soul destroying, but you can learn to deal with it too.

George’s event at Toxteth Library was sold out and attended by an engaged and appreciative audience.

Having been gripped by the BBC1 series The Responder, with Martin Freeman, I was delighted to get the chance to interview series creator/producer/writer Tony Schumacher at Sefton Park Palm House.

Tony Schumacher told the audience about his long journey to becoming a successful writer. He left school aged 16 with no qualifications, and worked his way around the world as a roofer, a jeweller, a bouncer, a barman, a binman, and on-board cruise ships selling underpants, before eventually returning to Liverpool to become a response policeman dealing with 999 jobs morning, noon and nights.

Eleven years later, after a breakdown and a period of homelessness, he found himself driving a taxi around the night-time streets of Liverpool. That was when he remembered his dream and finally started to write.

Tony kept us all entertained with his stories, and everyone was pleased hear that The Responder has been renewed for a second series.

It was a real pleasure to welcome Lucinda Hawksley to Liverpool. She spoke about her great great great grandfather, Charles Dickens, and her latest book Dickens and Travel.

Although Dickens is usually perceived as a London author, in the 1840s he whisked his family away to live in Italy for a year, and spent several months in Switzerland. Some years later he took up residence in Paris and Boulogne (where he lived in secret with his lover). In addition to travelling widely in Europe (including, of course, Liverpool), he also toured America twice, performed onstage in Canada and, before his untimely death, was planning a tour of Australia.

Lucinda spoke to a packed audience at St Barnabas Penny Lane Church. She was in conversation with Dr Kate Walchester of Liverpool John Moores University.

We were very lucky to have legendary broadcaster Chris Tarrant come up to Liverpool for this year’s Litfest. Chris rose to national fame in the 1970s as the host of Tiswas, the anarchic, flan-flinging Saturday morning children’s TV show. For later audiences, Chris will be more familiar as the face of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? which he presented for sixteen years and which grew into a global phenomenon.

Chris entertained a packed out Ullet Road Unitarian Church with anecdotes from his broadcasting career, including life behind the scenes on Tiswas and the infamous cheating of the ‘Coughing Major’ on Millionaire.

Chris also acted as quiz master for the final of our Smithdown Litfest Great Big Quiz during Tony Nicholson’s event – Great British TV Quiz Shows.

It was a truly fun and memorable evening, and the perfect way to bring this year’s Smithdown Litfest to a close.

This year the Litfest was supported by the Research Institute for Literature and Cultural History, Faculty of Arts, Professional and Social Studies at Liverpool John Moores University; and by Liverpool City Council’s Mayoral Neighbourhood Fund, courtesy of Cllr Lawrence Brown.

We are already planning the Smithdown Litfest 2024, which will be from 25th to 28th September 2024.

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