Getting Patrick McLennan to appear on the podcast took a little bit of gentle persuasion. You see, as Patrick succinctly put it he’s as ‘’journalist by training and inclination’’ and has never wanted to be ‘’in the public eye’’ or indeed on the other side of the camera or in this case mike.
Patrick is a London based producer-director who has worked as a journalist in the UK and New Zealand. His CV includes news producer at the BBC and TVNZ, as well as digital editor for Time Inc Uk TV magazines. He has produced TV news and entertainment features on personalities as diverse as Nick Cave, Clive James, Jodie Marsh and Katie Hopkins. However, our paths crossed when I went to The Picture House Central to see a screening and Q&A of the new film he has just finished co -producing and directing: The Ponds.
The Ponds is a beautifully shot film that follows the lives of the swimmers at the unique outdoor ponds at Hampstead Heath right here in the heart of London. People swim at the Ponds all year round just as they did in the time of Keats and Constable.
I met Patrick at the men’s Pond where this was recorded. So, forgive the odd splash as swimmer plunges into the icy cold water, or the sound of ducks and moorhens paddling by. The Ponds seems to have taken on a life of its own thanks to Patrick and his team, so join us as we dive into Patrick’s passion for getting to the heart of our everyday stories.
“Generally my preference was for human interest stories, rather than hard-bitten police stories or investigations. I always preferred human interest.”[9:04]
In the mid 90’s Patrick learned a lot of the skills needed for television production as a news producer, and he started trying to make documentaries with varying levels of success. If you flash forward to today, The Ponds came about after another documentary project Patrick was working on began to exceed the scope and funding he’d originally intended. In looking for another place and stories to tell, he ended up at Hampstead Heath—connecting so much with the place and the people there that he has become a year round swimmer himself.
“You can hear the bird noise in the background and the three gents here having a swim. You can pretend you’re in the countryside.”[14:55]
The ponds appear to be an exclusive club—but they are completely open to the public with an optional and voluntary £2 fee for entry. The variety of swimmers here and their stories are what caught Patrick and ended up deciding how the film unfolds. These stories range from recovering from serious injury, overcoming cancer, the death of a spouse, and also just wanting to meet up with friends. Patrick saw how the chilly waters act as a truth serum for anyone—it opens you up and connects you to others in a special way.[31:59]
The Ponds has taken on a life of its own and is getting spread around the globe. This includes a screening Patrick attended in Brussels where they are trying to open access to ponds for public swimming. The film was brought in to show the benefits of public swimming ponds—and they currently have a trial date set to allow access. The film is being requested in other countries on a daily basis—and not just by swimmers. The stories in the film have universal appeal and I can’t recommend enough finding a screening of it near you.