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The Message

The Message Film Poster

Anthony Quinn the role of Hamza

Messenger – a word used easily these days thanks to the electronic and internet services that are available to us – but imagine to what lengths a Messenger had to go in and around 100 BC and AD or thereabouts. The ‘Messenger’ (conveyor of information) is in one point in the Middle East and needs to communicate his message to thousands or hundreds of thousands of worshippers – how does he do this? Today, we write a text/sms, e-mail, we tweet, we leave a comment on Fb and all those other gagdety things, we press a button and instantly it reaches our targeted audience.

The reason I created this introduction is that recently I saw a newspaper article which transported me back to Morocco in 1974 where my sister and I happened to go on holiday at exactly the same time as a film called ‘The Message’ was being filmed in and around Marrakesh. Originally had a much lengthier title ‘Mohammed, Messenger of God’.

Messenger of God

The article concerned the showing of this film in Glasgow – unfortunately, owing to some 100 protests received the screening was shelved.

I have a much pleasanter recollection of this film and I’ll get my contempt of political correctness propaganda over and done with now – my ‘socialisation’ as a child always stood me in good stead to be tolerant of and accepting of other cultures and religions. I didn’t really, until recently, realise how liberal the UK is in allowing other religions to be practised. I make no secret of being a Roman Catholic (or ‘currant bun’ = [rock cake]) as some of my C of E friends insist on calling me (I counter by calling them ‘infidels’ or ‘heathens’ all in the best possible taste of course) all in good spirit and I don’t have any hang-ups (you won’t see the word ‘issues’ on this website unless it’s a quote from someone else) about my religion because it’s never been used against me in any negative way! My ‘epiphany’ if you like, occurred some months ago when I realised I could worship my religion when and where I liked in this country.  There had never been any limitations or censures whilst we were growing up and we were very mindful that our cousins in Poland were not allowed to practice any form of Christian religion whereas here it was a positive free for all. I attended Catholic Schools (junior and grammar), worshipped in the Catholic Cathedral or our own Catholic Polish Church, I received the Roman Catholic sacraments, was married in a Roman Catholic ceremony and fully expect to receive the last rites when the time arrives. So, for a film to be so vilified is an anathema to me, especially as I have fond memories of its making. It was an education too! Was Islam borrowing from our Biblical records, mention of the Archangel Gabriel and Christ considered a prophet – how fascinating! I was to learn much about Islam through my contact with this film and a few years later I had the privilege of meeting General Yigael Yadin who was instrumental (as an archaeologist) in uncovering, discovering and preserving the so-called ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’. I met him because my boss at the time, Irene Shubik, made a TV documentary for the BBCs ‘Chronicle’ series and Israeli Tv, “about the search for historical documents of the 2nd century relating to the revolt of the Jews under Bar Kokhba” the scrolls originator who was deemed ‘The Son of a Star’ in his time. I also found out about the massacre at Masada thanks to this work, so my religious education is probably as eclectic as it can be! I didn’t need the sophistry of political correctness to teach me about religious and cultural tolerance! There’s something to be said for ‘Live and let live!’

I did get an invite to visit Israeli Tv any time but never made it, but I had, two years earlier, been in Marrakesh: Marysia and I decided to try something new for the first joint holiday together since my childhood. We had both visited Egypt previously on separate holidays in deference to our parents who had such happy memories but had never ventured further. I was captivated by ‘Marrakesh Express’ as performed by Crosby, Stills and Nash and it is still one of my favourites today! I was not yet appreciative of one of the greatest films of all time ‘Casablanca’ – that was to come later, but for some reason, on our return journey we did stop off in Casablanca for a couple of hours. We stayed in a newly built hotel on the then outskirts of Marrakesh with the wonderful name ‘Hotel Tafilalet’ – I would return there for my honeymoon in 1980. It was not quite completed – there were a couple of wings which had yet to have a roof placed on them – but the main part of the hotel, restaurant, our accommodation block and swimming pool were all first class.

As it happens we were only thinking of doing some touristy sightseeing things like a trip to the souk and the Atlas Mountains and buying loads of rugs and gallabiyahs to use as night attire; we never dreamed it would turn into a real social event with lasting memories. On the first night we were enjoying some post dinner drinks (the fresh orange juice was such a treat!) when the ‘rabble arrived’ – three men who seemed to carry the dust of the desert in with them – a bit like ‘Pig-Pen’ in the ‘Charlie Brown’ cartoons. They had all sorts of paraphernalia with them shedding more dust as they swept off in the opposite direction of our accommodation, for which we were grateful because they were loud with it! Probably about 9pm, after refreshing themselves and taking a shower they all turned out neat and tidy and made for the restaurant. Then they joined us in the bar. I say joined us because the bar area was also the main reception area and as such everything was sort of massed together so you couldn’t really avoid close proximity. Anyway, they had heard us chatting in English and came over to introduce themselves – three great chaps from Malta – Tony (ex-pat and patriarch), his son Mike and their colleague Harry (a Maltese). They explained they were the Prop men for a film being made in the surrounding desert area. They had already been kicked out of Tunisia and the final touches to the film were then made in Malta after they got kicked out of Marrakesh a few months later. Not that we knew that at the time! (One article quotes The film was the subject of fierce protests when it was being made nearly 40 years ago”)

They explained they had just arrived a few days ago and were preparing for the arrival of the acting stars. The Tafilalet was their base of operations and more would be arriving over the next few days – we were there for a fortnight so there were obviously going to be hi-jinks throughout our stay. They promised to look after us on their days off and take us to interesting places whenever they could. They also suggested a few nights cuisine away from the delights of the hotel which could be a bit ‘samey’ over the fortnight.

Their immediate task was to manufacture hundreds of items of weaponry for the extras – spears, swords, blades etc. – quite a task for three guys so after the first evening we didn’t see them for a few nights!

Crowds of Saracens

A still from the film showing a small fraction of the numbers of extras (mainly from the military) requiring weaponry of one sort or another!

Once they discovered I worked at the BBC and was a qualified prop-maker and was happy to talk ‘shop’ they included me in everything. Marysia gave no sign of being bored and was happy to drink in all our film/tv chatter. They took us to local restaurants, deep in the souks, serving all the food on platters whilst we sat on the floor in a circle on cushions with heavy draped curtains surrounding us and being entertained by belly-dancers – yes, of course I had a go and was asked if I had studied ballet as my arm and hand postures were so ‘beautiful’. It has to be said Harry ‘squired’ me on these occasions and I always felt very safe whilst Tony and Mike looked after Marysia. Harry fed me ‘choice morsels’ at these outings which protected me from any unwarranted advances from the local men. Harry lent me his thick arran sweater as extra clothing for when we went up to the mountains, even the warm woollen trouser suit (Lindsay tartan) I had worn to travel in was not enough, luckily the sweater went over the jacket. Did I mention he was a dead ringer for William Holden – that helped too!

After the first week, our comfortable existence was shattered by the arrival of some of the production crew and ‘Bronco’ – wow was he loud! He was so named, he told us, because he was the body double for Charles Bronson, but slummed it when doubling for Yul Brynner and for the purposes of this film, Anthony Quinn! Our quiet evenings in the bar came to an abrupt end and so for our last night, we decamped to our room to have our own party – it was nice and poignant!

Us in the hotel room

Our last night! l to r Marysia with the obligatory Fez for our father, Tony, Mike (in my red jacket), top of Tony's head and me and lots of bottles!

We kept in touch with our Maltese Circle for many years – a few letters, always Christmas Cards and when we took a holiday in Malta and visited Valleta (we were staying in Mellieħa Bay), we met Tony’s wife and were invited to stay for a meal with her – the lads were off working somewhere.

So it was a bit of a surprise, last year to see opposition to the film that had created such good memories for us in 1974!

British cinema pulls screening of Oscar-nominated film about the life of the Prophet Mohammed after less than 100 complaints 

- The Grosvenor in Glasgow was due to show The Message on Sunday 
- It was being shown at the request of the Islamic Society of Britain (ISB) 
- But due to an online petition it has been cancelled to avoid protests 
- The film was the subject of fierce protests when it was being made in 1977

By Anthony Joseph for MailOnline | Published: 07:37, 12 November 2015 | Updated: 08:49, 12 November 2015

A British cinema has cancelled the screening of an Oscar-nominated film about the life of the Prophet Mohamed due to complaints that the film stars non-Muslims and has music and dancing. The Grosvenor in Glasgow's West End was due to show The Message on Sunday at the request of the Islamic Society of Britain (ISB).But due to an online petition which received the backing of 94 users, some of which were from Nigeria, Bahrain, Mauritius and Saudi Arabia, the showing has been cancelled to avoid potential disruption and protests.

Those behind the boycott claim the 1977 film is 'inappropriate and disrespectful' because it stars non-Muslim actors and it features historical inaccuracies.  It says: 'This film is hugely inappropriate and we humbly request the ISB reconsider and refrain from showing this film. 'The film contains other inappropriate material such as music and dancing.' The opponents add that use of non-Muslim actors to portray key people behind the birth of Islam is 'totally unacceptable'.

The film was the subject of fierce protests when it was being made nearly 40 years ago which included a hostage-taking incident that resulted in the deaths of two people.  When it was released, it was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Music category. 

The ISB said it is with 'deep regret' the showing was cancelled especially 'in the face of a small number of objections'. They have received the backing of the Scottish Minister for International Development Humza Yousaf. The SNP politician said: 'I am appalled that they have caved in the face of a few narrow-minded imbeciles.' A spokesman for the ISB said: 'As Scottish Muslims we believe in the principles of freedom of speech and have worked for decades to promote the rights of people to make Islam relevant to British society. 'Everyone must have the right to live by their beliefs, and we must learn to tolerate differences of scholarly opinion. 'These protesters demonstrate the worst elements of our community, as they are imposing their beliefs on others. 'We will not be bullied by these people and challenge them to make themselves known.

'We are also appealing for the Grosvenor to stick to the original agreement and show the film.' G1 Group, which owns the Grosvenor cinema has been approached for comment. (And so there it was left).

The Marrakesh Express (Lyrics)

Looking at the world through the sunset in your eyes
Travelling the train through clear Moroccan skies
Ducks and pigs and chickens call
Animal carpet wall to wall
American ladies five-foot tall in blue

Sweeping cobwebs from the edges of my mind
Had to get away to see what we could find
Hope the days that lie ahead
Bring us back to where they've led
Listen not to what's been said to you

Wouldn't you know we're riding on the Marrakesh Express
Wouldn't you know we're riding on the Marrakesh Express
They're taking me to Marrakesh
All aboard the train, all aboard the train

I've been saving all my money just to take you there
I smell the garden in your hair

Take the train from Casablanca going south
Blowing smoke rings from the corners of my mouth
Coloured cottons hang in the air
Charming cobras in the square
Striped djellebas we can wear at home Well, let me hear you now

Wouldn't you know we're riding on the Marrakesh Express
Wouldn't you know we're riding on the Marrakesh Express
They're taking me to Marrakesh

Wouldn't you know we're riding on the Marrakesh Express
Wouldn't you know we're riding on the Marrakesh Express
They're taking me to Marrakesh
All on board the train, all on board the train
All on board

Me and a Camel

And here's me bartering for or being bartered for a camel!

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