Hackney Wick, on the eastern fringes of the London borough of Hackney, is an intriguing place. During the reign of Queen Victoria, the area was a thriving industrial zone, home to manufacturers of silks, plastics, dyestuffs, confectionery and more. Yet somewhere along the way it found a reputation as a ‘mud patch in the middle of nowhere’; a territory occupied by scaffold yards and auto shops. But regeneration, in the shape of the corporate circus of the London Olympics in 2012, has helped forge this industrial wasteland into a bustling community of independent businesses, artists’ studios and creative folk.
It’s at the confluence of the River Lea, the Hackney Cut and the Hertford Union Canal, that Franc Strazzeri and his family reside. Born in Canberra, Australia, Franc is second generation Sicilian but has been an honorary Londoner for more than 18 years. Franc works as a script developer, and his wife, Alice Cicolini, is a jewellery designer and arts consultant. Their home is adorned with interesting ephemera, books and artworks. As Franc buckles his shoes by the piano (his daughter plays, so does his wife, but Franc spends any spare time riding his bike) he talks about the towering bookshelves.
The bulk of the books on the shelves are my wife’s. A few are mine, mostly photography and film stuff. She’s a curator and author as well. So alongside the jewellery she does research and academic work, too. She highlights what an underachiever I am by having numerous degrees and strings to her bow in fashion and design. Before starting her own design practice she worked for the British Council, ultimately as the Head of Arts for India and Sri Lanka. That’s actually been a big influence on her jewellery work.
You lived in India for a time, how was that?
Alice’s job took us there. I saw it as an opportunity to take a break from a long career in TV production, and do some travelling. I had no expectations and was completely awed by India. I met some really interesting and creative people; filmmakers, artists, musicians, writers. I did a bit of copywriting and a little filmmaking and then found myself writing a TV show for a charity promoting education for underprivileged children, particularly girls. It was a great experience. That led to me working as a consultant for a national screenwriting competition and suddenly I realised what I wanted to do next. I had some interesting experiences producing some projects with an Indian film company, a brief dalliance with Bollywood, and that’s ultimately what led me back to London to pursue script development.
A painting catches my eye, a profile of a man with a prominent nose and crimson clothing.
That’s Federico da Montefeltro, the Duke of Urbino in the late 15th century. He was an important figure in the Italian Renaissance and also a mercenary. The story goes he lost the sight in his right eye during a tournament, and had the bridge of his nose removed to allow for a greater field of vision with his other eye.
You’re parents are from Sicily. Have you spent much time in Italy?
It’s been too long since I’ve been back. I used to go frequently to hang out with my cousins, in and around Milan and the lakes, and particularly my favourite uncle, in Misterbianco, my mother’s hometown in Sicily. Life’s been rather hectic since having children and the last time I was back was just before my youngest was born, almost two years ago. That time was to ride L’Eroica in Tuscany, which was great fun.
How did you end up in the film and TV industry?
I’d drifted in and out of university, did some travelling, and by the age of 22, it felt time to knuckle down. I had always been interested in photography and my girlfriend at the time suggested I check out a new TV production school that had opened up in Canberra. I got a job the week I graduated, for a local news channel. It was a great learning experience and I got to try many things. I focused on editing for a time, and in my spare time made short films. What I do now, script development, I think is the culmination of everything I learned and it’s kind of brought me back to the beginning of my quite varied journey. Scripts are the starting point in film and TV. The better the script is, the easier the process. But it’s in the edit where you really bring it together.
I’m now working with writers in television and features. I retrained a few years ago as a script developer and worked for a literary agent, which was a great experience and gave me a lot of valuable insight. But that world is about managing and promoting writers’ careers and I’m not really cut out for all the ‘deal-making’ that’s required. What I love is the creative process of developing the stories with writers.
The now demolished Eastway cycle racing circuit in Hackney Wick (once visited by giants of cycling folklore, including Eddy Merckx) is another sign of the area’s evolution. In its place is the Lee Valley VeloPark, home to the velodrome.
I can just about see the Olympic Velodrome from the upstairs window. I wouldn’t say that it was what attracted me to living here, but having it just there is a great bonus. They offer taster sessions so I’m doing that with my best mate in a couple of weeks. I feel privileged to be living near such a remarkable facility and want to make the most of it, even if only as a spectator.
Have you any other plans for riding this year?
We’re going to Australia for the summer, to catch up with family and friends. We haven’t been for seven years and my parents haven’t met their grandson yet. They live near the Hunter Valley, a lovely wine region north of Sydney, so I would like to get out and about for some rides if I can. I hope dad’s still got my old ten-speed in the shed. And if time allows, I’m hoping to hit the strade bianche for the Eroica in Tuscany again this year.