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Robert Garnham on his Beard Envy

My name is Robert Garnham and I am a spoken word artist and comedy poet based in Paignton. A few years ago I wrote a poem called Beard Envy, and it became a favorite with audiences up and down and country, and it helped me to win a few poetry slams here and there. I’ve performed the poem everywhere, from New York to Berlin.

Before I reduced my nine to five job hours, I worked in retail and every day I would have to go and do the banking. The man who served me at the bank was a friendly chap and we would chat about our days and moan about how awful it was that we had to be at work. One day I went to see a photographer, to arrange to have some publicity photos taken, and she showed me her portfolio of local artists and art practitioners, and I recognised one of them as the man from the bank. Oh, him, she said. That’s John Tomkins, the film maker.

John and I soon became good friends. John left his job in the bank to pursue his career in film making, and I reduced the number of hours in my day job, and took a voluntary demotion, in order to concentrate on spoken word and art. John liked one of my poems, called The Professor in the Bathroom, from my debut collection Nice, and we filmed it with local actor Lee Rawlings playing the part of the professor. I narrated the film and had a cameo appearance right at the very end.

A year or so later, John decided that he needed a new creative project, and he suggested a film version of Beard Envy, something which I was very willing to agree with. I paid John to film a seven part web-series called The Unbearable Lightness of Robert Garnham, and John used the money to start work on Beard Envy. He hired Tom Eastwood to create a screenplay based on my poem, and he invited me over to record the poem. The take we used was actually quite funny, because the mic was slowly dropping down as I was speaking and John, who had his back to me, didn’t even notice until after we had finished recording. I also wrote an extra couple of verses to elongate the action, and my part in the film was done.

John then set about casting the film, with a scene for the wonderful Lee Rawlings, and a wonderful young actor called Jack Allum to play the lead character. I was invited along to a day of filming, in which the South West Beard Association held a beard competition in a Paignton night club, and it really was one of the more surreal afternoons I can remember.

It must be said that John did an amazing job, editing the film, working with camera operators, working on the cinematography and the special effects. The result is a film which is both warm and eccentric, fast paced and funny. It had its premier in Paignton, alas while I was away at the Edinburgh Fringe, and played at two film festivals in New York. In October it was shown at the English Riviera Film Festival in Paignton, and I was invited on stage to chat with John about the film and how it had all come together.

There has been talk, naturally, of a third collaboration between us. John is a very busy man and the nature of his film making work means that he doesn’t get the chance much to indulge in artistic projects. If he were interested in doing another project, then I would be very willing indeed to go ahead with it.

Roberts performance at Novembers Word Command will be released on our podcast on Monday, you will find it here.

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