Tyne View: a journey and a story in words and pictures by four Tynesiders
Storytelling as a means of engaging an audience with a brand comes and goes with corporate fashions. At the moment it is very much enjoying a renaissance aided by the social media. But the transparency of the web is such that corporate stories must be authentic otherwise the audience will be quick to call out failings.
Waitrose found that out to its cost last week. It asked customers to tweet why they shop at the supermarket using the hashtag #waitrosereasons, hoping they would discuss its produce and service. Instead the campaign was hijacked by people poking fun at the upmarket retailer.
There is no danger of The Port of Tyne suffering such a fate. Its writer-in-residence Michael Chaplin has told the story of the River Tyne in a book called Tyne View published this week by New Writing North.
Chaplin was recently described by one of his sons as a one-man arts scene. It’s a moniker that fits almost as snugly as one of his characteristic flat caps. His recent work includes the film script of Just Henry for ITV, the stage adaptation of the diaries of former-MP Chris Mullin and Come and See: The Beguiling Story of Tyneside Cinema.
Tyne View is a highly original piece of contemporary storytelling: a 10-day journey around the Port of Tyne, told in words and pictures, that asks what the future for the river holds.
Chaplin assembled a talented crew of Tynesiders that included photographer Charles Bell, poet Christy Ducker and artist Birtley Aris, to join him in the walk up and down the tidal stretch of the river, from South Shields Pier to Tynemouth Pier via Wylam Bridge.
It’s a journey of no more than 50 miles, during which the group seek out the stories of the communities along the river. They are greeted warmly wherever they go, or at least if anyone did send them packing it isn’t reported.
The group meet ship builders, engineers, a horse dentist, the bloke that operates the Swing Bridge in Newcastle is a highlight, scrapyard dealers, mechanics, textile artists, a pigeon fancier and boatmen. The list goes on.
It would be very easy for a social history of this kind to be sentimental but Chaplin’s perspective is candid, witty, insightful, occasionally moving, and almost always upbeat.
In the final chapter of the book Chaplin looks to the future. He finds people and communities along the river adapting to change beyond its banks. The scars of the decline in the UK shipbuilding lie up and down the river and while there are pockets of modern hi-tech manufacturing industry the going is tough.
Chaplin, with help from some of the people he met on his journey, concludes that the future of the river lies in embracing the complexity of global markets and by doing so create new opportunities for commerce.
The talent of Chaplin, Aris, Bell and Ducker is bursting out of the pages of the Tyne View. It would lend itself well to other forms of media. In time I hope that it does. An exhibition of the work in Newcastle would be a sure winner.
Finally a personal disclosure. I first met Chaplin in 1993. In an unrelated but fortunate turn of events I married his niece three years later. I’m lucky enough to count him as both friend and family.
Tyne View Michael Chaplin New Writing North £18.99