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(photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
If one were to reduce Barry Langford's 80 years to headlines, they might include doing time in an English prison for gunrunning for Israel's pre-state underground, being related by marriage to Moshe Dayan and helping to set up Israel Television in the 1970s.
One might also include a career as a stand-up comedian, years at the BBC as a pop music producer, discovering Tom Jones singing in a Welsh pub, a stint dealing in silver and a lifelong passion for bridge - he is one of Israel's top players.
In 1970, he was invited over to see if he might be able to help establish Israel Television, which would finally be launched two years later. With his wife and two children, Jeremy and Caroline, he settled here and has never wanted to leave.
The family had been living in Melbourne, Australia, where Langford was working on television, presenting shows and doing stand-up comedy. Their home was a magnificent villa with its own pool. They packed up everything and left.
They decided to go by boat, which took a month. Langford knew the skipper, who arranged for him to entertain and teach bridge, while his wife Shirley, a dancer, gave gymnastics classes, so basically they worked their passage. He and Shirley traveled first class and the children second class, and all four of them enjoyed the voyage.
They came down to earth abruptly on arrival at Haifa. They were received by the Jewish Agency representatives and dispatched to Carmiel, then a small town in the middle of nowhere.
"They knew I was going to be working in Jerusalem," Langford says. "I had to commute every day and apart from the fact that it was exhausting, I could never settle in ulpan and learn Hebrew."
After a few weeks of this, they moved to a rented apartment in Netanya. The children went to school and Langford got down to serious work, although he did not know a word of Hebrew.
In Netanya, they were happier because everyone around them spoke English. Langford quickly made friends through his bridge group, while Shirley did her best to become an Israeli housewife. She was unhappy and after 18 months, she left and went back to England, leaving him with the job of raising his two teenage children and running the home.
He worked as a producer in the new television studios and during the Yom Kippur War he did a nightly program directing artists who came from the front. He was the only director not called up, so he had to take on everything.
"I directed all the big entertainment shows, the news and other major programs," he recalls.
He also acted and can boast that he had a role in one of the best Israeli films ever made, Avanti Populo (1986) in which he played an English journalist visiting a war zone. Other films include Hanna's War, Rage and Glory and Thieves in the Night.
"The only word I learned to say properly was shalom," Langford says. "I went to five different ulpanim and the last one sent me to an ear doctor. He asked me if I'd worked with earphones and when I said I had, he told me that my ears were damaged. I can learn to speak Hebrew but I can't hear it properly. I have no problem with English because apparently I lip-read, while Hebrew just sounds like strange noises to me."
The hazards of not knowing the language got him into serious trouble at one point in his life. In his regular bridge games, his Israeli partners used to refer to the queen in the pack of cards as "sharmuta," which roughly translates as "tart" or "tramp." When he had to introduce Shoshana Damari, the queen of song, he referred to her as sharmuta.
"I remember there was total shock and silence, and I thought the audience hadn't heard, so I said it again, with even more enthusiasm," he recalls. Luckily for him Damari understood and took it well, but the story still reverberates in showbiz circles.
Langford is such a committed and passionate Zionist that he is hard-pressed to come up with any answers. He has had some health problems and some money problems, but says if you are willing to face up to the difficulties, you can get past them. He married a second time to a woman he really loved, but had to divorce again after a year as her two young children hated him so much and he feels this contributed to a minor stroke he had. He used to reluctantly travel back to the UK until his mother died at 101, and now he has no reason or desire to leave Israel.
BEST THING ABOUT ISRAEL
"At one time it used to be the girls," he says with a cheeky smile. "I just sit and watch the young people go by and it's marvelous, it makes me feel young again.
"The health services are wonderful here. If you're over 65, you can't find a better place to live. They look after everything. You go to your doctor and if you need a specialist you can see one right away.
"And I love the people. Oh yes, some are awful, but in general they are great, they have something on their mind and they say it, they're straightforward - and they're all Jews. I've always been a fanatical Jew, although not religious, so perhaps that's why I feel so at home here."
THE REST OF THE STORY
The children grew up. Jeremy became an artist and a little later began to follow a haredi lifestyle and moved to Bnei Brak with his wife. Caroline had a scandal-filled marriage to, and acrimonious divorce from, Assi Dayan, so for a time Barry was related to his former idol, Moshe Dayan, Assi's father. He is still in close contact with Ruth Dayan, Assi's mother, as they are both grandparents to the problematic Lior, the result of the short-lived and tempestuous marriage.
"I still meet the Dayans at family celebrations and Ruth came to my 80th birthday party, which the children arranged for me," he says. Lior, now 20, followed his parents into acting, and his father into drugs, a source of sadness to Langford.
After Barry retired from Israel Television, he carried on acting in films and commercials. Only recently he acted in a James Bond spoof, playing Q. in a commercial for English television. He joined the Esravision team to bring his professional expertise to the amateur local network and keeps busy with that and his bridge.
ADVICE TO NEW IMMIGRANTS
"Stay at ulpan until you've got it. Don't try to get work before you've mastered the language. I was lucky, but I still miss out on a lot."
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