The life and times of Avro Manhatten, an Italian-born baron whose artwork and writing made him friends and enemies throughout the world, and who chose to spend his final years, living with his wife in South Shields, are truly fascinating.
But don’t take my word for it – let the man himself reveal to you all about it.
Well, that’s what it feels like when listening to a new documentary which tells the tale of this most colourful character, often in his own words, with Avro’s account voiced by a very credible soundalike.
Created by South Tyneside film-maker Gary Alikivi (Wilkinson), this 13-minute long documentary draws you in from the very start when ‘Avro’ tells you how his life’s journey was seemingly “written in the stars”.
And what a journey it was, taking him around the world, where he rubbed shoulders with the rich, the famous and the influential.
Before that, he had been imprisoned by the Italians for refusing to fight in Mussolini’s Fascist army.
And he went on to make more enemies in later life (at one time coming face to face with a hit-man), especially among the Roman Catholic Church, which was the subject for many of his books.
But his Bohemian and, at times, risk-filled lifestyle was countered by the peace and quiet he found when he married Anne Cunningham Brown, who brought him to South Shields where he was “greatly surprised, especially by the beauty of the parks and the seafront”.
It was place, he said, where he could work “in peace and quiet”.
And it was here, according to Avro, that he wrote his “finest work”.
The documentary may not be long, but it is packed with facts, and presented in such a way as to make it dramatic and truly appealing.
I wondered why Gary chose the subject matter?
He said: “I came across Avro Manhattan in South Shields Library.
“In the Local Studies section of the library there were a couple of large cabinets, inside were files with newspaper cuttings from the Shields Gazette and other local newspapers.
“They were all in alphabetical order, and as I flicked through and got to the letter M, I came across a name which I thought was unusual for Tyneside – Manhatten.
“I pulled out the file and inside were some news cuttings.
“I was gobsmacked by what I was reading. Avro Manhattan was born in Italy, he was a writer, poet and artist.
“He had met Picasso, had homes in London and Spain, and in his will left over half a million pounds.
“It was an impressive story for someone who ended their days in a terraced house in South Shields, so ... I needed to find out more.”
And so he did, carrying out research into the story behind the man with the exotic name.
That research revealed that Baron Avro Manhatten was born in 1914 to wealthy parents. He was educated at the Sorbonne in Paris, where he met Picasso.
“He had titles to his name,” reveals Gary, “including Knights Templar and Knight of Malta.
“His friends included artists, poets and a princess.
“As well as being an artist, he authored over 30 books, writing about the ‘obscenity’ of very wealthy organisations, co-existing with poverty.
“He reveals conspiracies within the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church. One of his publishers, Ozark Books, said ‘he risked his life daily to expose some of the darkest secrets of the Papacy’.
“In 1990 Avro died at his home in South Shields.
“In his will he left over half a million pounds and had property in London and Spain plus land in the Bahamas.”
It was fortunate indeed that Gary’s curiosity was piqued by his visit to the library, for it laid the foundations for this wonderfully informative and entertaining film.
You can view it on YouTube by putting in the link Secrets &Lies – The Life of Baron Avro Manhattan documentary by Gary Alikivi (13mins) 2018