The Paul Hallam Archive

An interview with writer and film-maker Paul Hallam, as his Archive is moved to the Bishopsgate Institute in London in 2014. Made in collaboration with Openvizor and the Bishopsgate Institute.

Free from self-storage at last, such a strange idea, a locked and stored away self. I look with some horror at the metal cage in the bleak beauty of a Purfleet industrial estate. Nothing was well packed in my hasty departure from London for Istanbul where I now live. There is a mountain of books and papers, my own and those collected from other people after their deaths, their houses cleared by the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals. Dealers swooped on the furniture, I grasped anything on paper. Stefan Dickers, the Bishopsgate librarian and archivist, will have quite a task sorting my papers from those of strangers. He seems more than up for and to the task.

The first half of the collection reached Bishopsgate. I felt an immense release and relief. The weight of it, the expense of moving it from place to place, has been on my shoulders, and the shoulders of friends for years now. It has cost me more than one friendship in the past. Some of it will be in Istanbul soon for an arts project with the artist, Mustafa Pancar. The remarkable arts organisation, Openvizor, founded by Abbas Nokhasteh, is collaborating on the work in that city, as well as here on the archive in London.

I used to fantasise about a Montaigne tower for my books and papers; a tower to retire to. How much better for the tower to be open to all, and for new work to emerge from it. Already there are films being made of the opening and transporting of the boxes. It was then that I looked on the many rejected projects. Somehow the notes and drafts have become works in themselves. Nothing feels unfinished. The projects are what they are, or will change into. I would like to think that all Bishopsgate visitors could find something there for their own uses and purposes.

I have an archive and I am still alive! I am still in shock. So many people have helped make this move possible.

As a teenager I loved the redbrick working men’s institutes, so many of them in the North, with their solid intent on “improvement”. Such beautiful buildings, an immense dignity to them. I can’t think of a finer place than the Bishopsgate Institute for the archive to find its home.

A sense of the collection can be found on the film The Last Biscuit by Andrea Luka Zimmerman and Paul Hallam:

Openvizor can be found at:

The first event around Paul Hallam, biography, autobiography and archive: a collaboration between Birkbeck and the Bishopsgate Institute: June 2014:

Paul Hallam in Conversation with Andrew Asibong and Stefan Dickers

I was born in 1952, in Garden Road, Mansfield. I was, apparently, promptly rushed to hospital. I was promptly christened there, though my parents were not believers, and I was not expected to last the night. I never knew exactly what the problem was, but recall my mother saying that like a vampire, she took my blood. I had two sisters already and my brother was to follow. A classic tin-bath, outside toilet, tub and mangle washing machine, home. But one with mysterious cellars and attics. My father was a miner, a “ripper”, a face worker at the pit. My mother was later to take a part-time job at the Metal Box factory. The family tree, though my niece Kerry has tried hard to trace it, reveals a long history of rail workers and coal miners. It has been hard to trace why my mother was given away shortly after her birth by an Irish couple to an English one, a highly unofficial slip of paper, with a “we hereby give our daughter” message, is all we have to go on. And that is certainly not the only family mystery. “Soviet Weekly” came through the letter box quite regularly and my father, though quiet about it, was clearly a communist and active unionist. My mother was more conservative politically, but a hugely open-minded person on social issues. Her wonderful letters to me, enclosing a small weekly contribution to my upkeep when I finally got to university, are now in the Archive. They are a moving, very funny and sharp account of life on a Coal Board estate, in the early 1970s. Various projects have sued them, but I still believe they should have a publication of their own. Having passed the 11+ exam I attended Sherwood Hall Technical Grammar School for Boys in the Sixties. A new type of grammar, where Russian was taught instead of Latin or Greek. Great teachers introduced me to theatre, to European cinema, to “foreign” literature. I was bookish, definitely, but also as capable as the enxt of hanging out in the forest, nicking from shosp[, and hanging out with the bad guys I was always drawn to. The absence of Latin could have proved a problem when an English teacher suggested I should apply to Oxford. Latin was a requirement for admission there on the English language and literature B.A. Another was the absence of a third year “sixth” – where traditional schools groomed their pupils, for Oxbridge entrance exams. Still, Hertford College, Oxford had embarked on an early example of “widening participation”, they were determined to find bright boys (single-sex then) from the North, from now what are called “non-traditional backgrounds”. I think “disadvantaged” has been dropped from the terminology. My background was not “disadvantaged” as I see it. In fact it had so many advantages, an extraordinary and highly intelligent, hard-working and open-minded family, and great ideas in a new type of school,hippy-day influences found in alternative bookshops and at Nottingham Playhouse workshops for teenagers. To cut a long story short, Hertford interviewed me before my A-Levels. At the interview I thought it going alright and there was one last question, “Do you do any sports?” I was bit thrown, but even as I replied, “I like walking” I realised what the question meant. How else might I contribute to College life! I was offered a place on the spot. I was not worry about Latin, the Entrance Exam, I needed only two minimal level A-levels to get my local authority grant, a third year sixth was not necessary. My acceptance at Oxford made the local press, the Chad wrote a piece on it.

But I pause to smile, explaining my background to people over the years, “just like D.H. Lawrence then”, with occasional reference to Sillitoe and “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning”. Local boy made good, gets to Oxford. All an embarrassing cliché! I have avoided a direct autobiography all these years, and now I am asked to introduce my Archive with an auto biographical sketch. Actually my life has been filled with projects that draw on my early life. But I have buried it in layers of other people’s stories, I have got into trouble with academia for using a less than detached “I” in my published essays, I have blended my own experiences with those of other characters in Asian, gay, black, women’s projects. And in recent years, I pushed the exploration of the “I” in films which question the borders of autobiography, biography and fiction – handing my experiences and my papers and collections over to other film-makers to make of them much of what they will, with, I hope, minimal interference from me.

When faced with that terrible question, “What do you write about?” after the usual, glib reply, “If I knew that, I wouldn’t make the effort to write” I do try to offer a theme. I have always been concerned with “dirt”, everything and everyone attacked as “dirt”.


I think my response to things is often delayed. A year after this process started I sometimes wonder, “What have I done?” I might wake thinking of a book no longer with me, or a panic at the thought of some of the personal items I have placed there. But I have to stay resolute, and not ask for anything back, except on a temporary basis if I need to use the materials. I don’t think I have censored anything, kept anything back. I think of myself as a shy person, and yet have made myself my subject so often. And this deposit of my life is surely the ultimate self-exposure. I know how bad my adolescent poems were, how unfair to others, not to mention miserable my diaries could be. They are not well-written or carefully crafted. I will have to put a date on them, mostly to protect the people mentioned in them. But I will consider making exceptions; I want to be as flexible as I possibly, with the usage of the materials. What excites me most about the Archive is the idea that readers might use the documents in ways that I would not have thought of, or perhaps could not have done.

I often wonder why I was not recruited into the secret services. A son of a commie miner, and I should add a Metal Box worker mother, made good, went to Oxford, cultured and open to other cultures. My acceptance at Oxford University was considered newsworthy by the Mansfield Chronicle Advertiser (aka Chad) after all. The only other mention I got in the Chad (to my knowledge) was in the Christmas tragedyfor one family, an account of the car accident my mother died in, somewhat dwarfed by the main Spend, Spend, Spend Christmas story.


Paul Hallam has written or co-written numerous screenplays including A Kind of English (Ruhul Amin), Caught Looking (Constantine Giannaris), Nighthawks, Strip Jack Naked (Ron Peck) and Cannes Critics’ Prize winner Young Soul Rebels (Isaac Julien). The script of the film was published by the British Film Institute in “Diary of a Young Soul Rebel”. His play, The Dish, was performed in London, New York and Toronto. A BBC Radio 4 adaptation of The Dish was broadcast in 1998.

He has published many articles, essays and reviews. His first book, The Book of Sodom, is a very personal look at the idea of the “wicked city”. The book emerged from a repeated city walk in Clerkenwell.

In recent years Paul has collaborated on many short films, Soho, a film by Ron Peck and Paul Hallam, King’s Cross, a film by Kate Boyd and Paul Hallam, and the autobiographical The Last Biscuit (Paul Hallam and Andrea Luka Zimmerman).

Piece for Archive listing – could be short CV followed by last section below on the Archive or …

Paul Hallam was born in 1952, in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire. He was the third of four children born to Edward and Kathleen Hallam. The new-born Paul was rushed to hospital, and was not expected to live long. Sixty two years later, in 2014, The Paul Hallam Archive is now at the Bishopsgate Institute. Most of its contents concern his life and work up to the year 2008 when he moved to Istanbul. He intends to deposit later items at regular intervals.

His father was a coal miner, and his mother a factory worker at the Mansfield Metal Box factory. Paul attended the local Sherwood Hall Technical Grammar School for Boys, where his interest in literature, theatre and film developed. His being accepted at Hertford College, Oxford in 1970 to read English Language and Literature was considered unusual and noteworthy enough then to make a news item in The Chad, Mansfield’s local newspaper. His course was interrupted and extended in part due to the deaths of his parents, and he finally graduated in 1975.

Heading to London he hoped to find his way in the arts, a free room in return for some child minding, for the journalists/authors, Jill Tweedie and Alan Brien, helped. Coming across an article in Gay News, about a film to be called Nighthawks, about a gay geography teacher, he contacted the director, Ron Peck. The film project was at an early stage of development and Paul was eventually to become its co-writer, co-producer, as well as assisting on direction. Ron was part of the independent film group, Four Corners, based in Bethnal Green and Paul joined the group, and helped in the development of the building (a small cinema and workshop) and contributed to many of the projects that emerged from there. These included Bred and Born (Jo Davis and Mary Pat Leece, 1981) about three generations of women in an East London family and he wrote A Kind of English (Ruhul Amin, 1986), a film about a family originally from Bangladesh and living just off Brick Lane. He also, with Wilf Thust, worked on many projects developed through a young people’s film workshop held there. He collaborated again with Ron Peck on a feature length documentary, Strip Jack Naked: Nighthawks II (Ron Peck, 1990). The making of Nighthawks was also explored many years later in a documentary presented by Matt Lucas, Nighthawks Reflected (Paula Nightingale, 2005).

Deciding to focus solely on writing, Paul left Four Corners in the early 1980s and co-wrote the feature film, Young Soul Rebels (Isaac Julien, 1991) and Caught Looking (Constantine Giannaris, 1992). He also wrote a play, (The Dish, 1993), for Bette Bourne which had two runs in London and further runs in New York and Toronto. The BBC Radio Four adaptation of The Dish was first broadcast in 1998. His The Book of Sodom was published by Verso in 1993. In 1996 he was the Writer in Residence at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design and became a cultural studies tutor there until 2008. He took a Master’s Degree in political philosophy at the University of Greenwich. He has also published many extensive essays, articles and reviews over the years and collaborated on many other film and arts projects.

In recent years he has worked with a number of film-makers on films that explore autobiography, biography and archive. The Last Biscuit (Paul Hallam and Andrea Luka Zimmerman, 2005), Soho (Ron Peck and Paul Hallam, 2005) King’s Cross (Paul Hallam and Kate Boyd, 2005), The Paul Hallam Archive (Tijmen Veldhuizen, produced by Abbas Nokhasteh, 2013) and a film in production, Untitled (Lasse Johansson, 2014). The Archive itself is already part of new film projects. Some of that work has been produced by the international arts organisation Openvizor, and Openvizor collaborated with the Bishopsgate Institute to enable the gathering of the materials, and their deposit at the Institute.

The Paul Hallam Archive is perhaps unusual in some respects. It is very much intended to be a “live archive”, one that will be used for further projects by Paul Hallam, and hopefully other artists and writers as well as historians. It contains virtually every scrap of paper Paul kept prior to his move to Istanbul. Drafts of books, scripts, plays, performances, works that were published or produced, but also those that weren’t. It also has his letters, diaries, photographs, research materials, scrapbooks, everything down to the occasional “that was my milk you took last night” note removed from a fridge door. There are also magazines, posters, flyers, and some other people’s papers he has collected.