The fine actor and writer, Colin Welland, died on 2 November. He produced some wonderful work during his career, with performances and screenplays of great truth and honesty.
I revisited one of my favourite films, ‘Kes’, where he gave a subtle performance as the school teacher, Mr Farthing. His pupil, Billy Casper, is a seemingly no hope kid; not academic, no good at sports, bullied, neglected. Billy steals a kestrel from a nest and begins learning falconry, building a relationship with his bird, Kes. He has a purpose and something he loves. In class, he is told off by Mr Farthing, but as the teacher hears about Kes, he brings Billy to the front of the room to give an impromptu talk about the bird. The teacher is genuinely interested and encourages Billy, delighted to be learning something new.
In a subsequent scene, one which has always stayed with me, Mr Farthing visits Billy as he trains and flies Kes. He talks to Billy as an equal, in fact even defers to him as the expert in the subject of birds. He praises the boy for what he has achieved. This is probably the first praise Billy has ever received. The shy, awkward young lad blossoms when he talks about Kes. He is confident, knowledgable and focussed. In these moments, he is valued, he has a place in the world.
I saw this film when I was about 15. I think it was probably the moment when I realised that all of us have a 'Kes' in us, something that makes us shine and come alive. It was also, through Welland’s pitch perfect performance, when I knew the importance of having a Mr Farthing on our side, to encourage, to listen, to take an interest. I’ve been lucky - I’ve had a few ‘Mr Farthings’ in my life.
I would be very happy if, in my work, I could be a Mr Farthing to people finding their “Kes” moments.
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