Yesterday, an anti-establishment film director known for the colour blue got his own Blue Plaque from the establishment.
Derek Jarman (he used his middle name) was one of the leading artists of the 1970s and 1980s, and a fervent campaigner for gay rights at a time when it was still seen as a bit of a “loony left” issue.
It’s to a degree how such controversial at the time issues are today not just mainstream but normalised that makes the awarding of a Blue Plaque to someone who in the 1980s scandalised society so notable.
The plaque was unveiled on the side of a block of buildings in Shad Thames that are today homes to millionaires, but in the 1970s were derelict and empty.
With the sculptor Peter Logan, Dererk Jarman rented several floors of the old warehouses as an artists commune. His brother’s studio hosted one of the very first gigs of the newly-formed Sex Pistols in 1976, as well as the Alternative Miss World Contest. Jarman, dressed as Miss Crêpe Suzette, won the contest in 1975 in front of a judging panel that included David Hockney.
It was here that he transformed from painting and making small films for art galleries into the larger films he was more famous for — including the locally made Jubilee in 1978.
Your correspondent, when when at the height of his own art-house movie mania still found Jarman’s films difficult, and like many people watched them to feel clever even if he didn’t really know what he had just seen.
His most accessible film, and a personal favourite, was Edward II, made with the support of the BBC and was set in a post-modern style that was increasingly popular, but also features cameos by gay rights activists in the film when the King’s favourite was expelled the Kingdom.
His final film though was Blue, audio over a blue screen — and was a reference to his own illness. HIV had rendered him partially blind at the time of the film’s release, only being able to see in shades of blue.
It’s appropriate that the man who died making a blue film is honoured with a blue plaque.
Derek Jarman died of HIV 25 years ago on the 19th February 1994. I was actually participating in a protest outside the Houses of Parliament on the night he died, campaigning in favour of an equal age of consent. The news was passed along the crowd as silence slowly fell, but apart from knowing his films, and his political activism, I was not really fully aware of what he meant to people.
It took me a good many years for his impact to slowly sink in.