Chapter 3 of [From Slough to Middle Earth] begins with Martin’s mother moving to Teddington, unlike the Arthur of the book though, we’ll skip the history of the town and focus more on Martin Freeman.
By now Martin’s mother had moved to Teddington, a predominantly residential area located to the south west of London, in the borough of Richmond. It was in this home, during one of those living room performances, Martin fainted. He had also fainted at school when overexerting himself in playing sports.
Martin told The Mirror in 2002, “I remember when I was singing and dancing for my Mum and Sister, I kept blacking out. At first, they thought it was part of the act. They were in hysterics. Eventually, after it happened several times, they realized it wasn’t an act and I was having problems breathing. It was then they discovered I had asthma.
Martin’s illness, coupled with being quite short for his age and having parents who were separated, set him up with a pronounced sense of underdog status.
Add to that, Martin has mentioned an interview several times that he had a hip operation as a child. He talked about the surgery and a 2009 interview with The Daily Mail, “I had a dodgy leg. I had to have a hip operation when I was a kid.”
Even if life had dealt him a duff hand, he told himself not to get bogged down by it and play the victim, and instead to shake it off. He told The Daily Mail in that same 2009 interview… “You could say, oh, he’s a bit of an unlucky sod. But I’ve always had it in my not to think, Poor me.”
This determination to get on with life regardless of what came his way led Martin to discover a major sporting passion when he was nine… Squash!
His love for the squash would become an intense point of focus over the next five years and would dominate his leisure time. In a 2012 interview with Radio Times, Martin explained how he first discover his interest in the sport. “He had started playing squash at the club where his father ran the bar, and his mother the kitchen.” [It is also hinted that this is Martin stepfather that ran the pubs].
Given the intensity of the sport, it seems perhaps an unlikely choice for a nine-year-old boy suffering from asthma, but Martin had a long overridden the restrictions that came with the respiratory illness. Martin said in 2005 “I was a super fit child, running two miles a day when I was nine.”
His discovery of squash and his talent for playing dominated his ninth year as 1980 turned into the 81.
Above Paul Weller and Pete Townsend, 1980.
Even if squash held his competitive focus, his love for music was raging on unabated. He had become a big fan of The Jam and thought highly of the band’s frontman, Paul Weller.
Martin’s love for Paul Weller in The Jam launched an interest in the mod revival that The Jam represented and, with that, a backward-looking appreciation of the 60s British band The Small Faces.
A promo from Ghost Town…
Part of the appeal was that The Jam, was virtually a local band, for a boy who had been born in Aldershot and was growing up and Teddington.
With those core mod influences set firmly in place, Martin made another major musical discovery in the summer of 1981, a few months short of his 10th birthday.
The discovery came in the form of Ghost Town by The Specials. For a start, Martin loved the song the second he heard it, the lumbering baseline, the eerie vocals, the apocalyptic lyrics. It was also the first record Martin ever bought himself, using pocket money for a music lover like Martin, such episodes are important life moments.
If ‘Ghost Town’ affected Martin Freeman musically, the bands previous single, ‘Do Nothing/Maggie’s Farm’ spoke to him and strictly fashion terms.
On the sleeve of the single, the band posed in a black-and-white photograph. Terry Hall, the band’s frontman, sat on a backward-facing chair, staring into the camera, wearing a shirt, sweater, tight tartan check trousers and what appeared to be white socks and loafer shoes.
As so often happens to boys at that age and throughout adolescence, Martin saw that image of Terry Hall and decided he had happened upon a role model in terms of how he wanted to look. He later told the Daily Mail that ever since he saw the sleeve of that single, loafers had been a staple of his wardrobe.
To the same newspaper, he talked about trying his best to emulate how The Special looked, “I thought I looked like one of the specials, but really I was just this nine-year-old kid who didn’t even know that rude boy term for a Jamaican gangster.
Martin told ‘Tiny Mix Tapes in 2007, “You can listen to a song by Aretha Franklin and it’s going to sound beautiful in any format, digital or otherwise. But there’s something about hearing that fucking needle hit. It just has so much more resonance, at least for me. You can feel the fucking weight of the record in your hands, and you look down and see that red-and-plum colored circle, the Atlantic label, just spinning around and around. That is… [laughs] Jesus Christ, that is my favorite fucking thing.”
Martin later told Shortlist in 2012, “I’ve been into what I’ve been into since I was about nine years old. I started buying 2 tone records, and from there went that rude boy sort of skin/mod/soulboy routine all my life. And I’ve always loved clothes. Even before I had money, I went charity shopping. So I’ve always had an eye for clothes.”
With squash and music filling Martin’s life, it seemed like everything was looking up, but while that was true, a tragic event was about to turn Martin’s life upside down.
Look for another chapter spotlight soon!!