Peter Symes and Tony Harrison during filming for ‘Gaze of the Gorgon’, c1992. Tony Harrison Archive.

Recent cataloguing of the Peter Symes Archive has made evidence of an exceptional creative partnership available for research.

The Peter Symes Archive in Special Collections covers Symes work as a director of film-poems and principally focuses on those made with Tony Harrison. Harrison’s and Symes’ archives together form an exceptionally rich resource for the study of their collaborative partnership.

Symes and Harrison collaborated on several film-poems, including the Loving Memory (1987) series (‘Letters in Rock‘, ‘Mimmo Perrella Non è Piu‘, ‘Muffled Bells‘ and ‘Cheating the Void‘); The Blasphemers’ Banquet (1989); The Gaze of the Gorgon (1992); Black Daisies for the Bride (1993) and Metamorpheous, broadcast as ‘Mythical Journeys‘, (2000).

Harrison had worked on several film and television projects before being approached by Symes in 1986, and knew exactly what he wanted from a collaboration: “he would do it, provided all the commentary was in verse and provided we approached the commission as a true collaboration – he was no longer interested in producing a few verses to be tacked onto pictures. ” (‘Introduction’. Tony Harrison: The Shadow of Hiroshima and other film poems. London: Boston: Faber and Faber, 1995, ix)

The archives illustrate the intensively collaborative process through which the films were made. In a recent interview Symes described their work: “Tony had a room next to the cutting room, and that enabled us to merge his writing with our images. He would change things in response to what we did, and we would change something in response to his words. He was enormously generous in that way and was happy to explore things and throw stuff away, and we worked out a system that worked for both of us.” (Cooper, N. 2018 ‘Tony Harrison season pays tribute to film-poet behind controversial V’ [online] The Herald, 13 Nov 2018)

Both archives contain substantial material on the film-poems. The interplay between the separate collections can be seen through material on ‘Black Daisies for the Bride’ their award winning film on the traumatic effects of Alzheimer’s disease. Harrison’s notebooks document his own research, drafting and involvement in filming. He also kept files of research material, correspondence and press cuttings. Symes’ archive contains files including notes addressed to Symes from Harrison, draft scripts, production material (schedules, budget material) and post-production material (including marketing, correspondence and press cuttings).

The Peter Symes Archive also includes master tapes of the film-poems, which will be available for researchers to access in the refurbished Special Collections Research Centre.