Saturday, June 25, 2022

An off spin masterclass from Graeme Swann


With the arguable exception of Derek Underwood, the greatest English spin bowler of my lifetime is Graeme Swann.

He was so good that England were happy to go into tests with only three seamers if he was in the side.

Not only that, he was made useful - and somehow infuriating to the opposition - runs at 8 or 9 and was a good slip fielder.

Here he discusses his career and the art of bowling off spin with Michael Atherton.

This is just the sort of analysis you want from a commentator but, with the notable exception this summer of Jeremy Coney, you are unlikely to get it from Test Match Special these days.

Friday, June 24, 2022

A false story about the death of Dennis O'Neill in 1945

There's a false story about the death of the foster child Dennis O'Neill, at the age of 12, at a farm under The Stiperstones in Shropshire in 1945.

It's been repeated in several articles on the case and I have had it added as a footnote to something I wrote about it too.

As far as I can tell the story originates from a piece by David Batty published in the Guardian in 2003.

Batty wrote:

The case shook a war weary Britain and there was a national outcry when [Reginald] Gough was jailed for six years for manslaughter. An appeal court ruling changed the verdict to murder and his sentence was extended to 10 years.

This is wrong for three reasons.

The first is that you can't try and convict a person for one crime and then, at a later date, decide you'd rather convict them of another, more serious, crime. You couldn't do it in 1945 and you can't do it now.

If you doubt this, you will find that there's not mention of a later murder conviction in the newspapers of the period. I've looked.

The second reason is that, though there was an outcry over Dennis O'Neill's death, it was not an outcry against Gough but against the authorities. This is no different from today, when we seem angrier with the social workers who fail to protect childred than we are with the people who abuse them.

When the report of Sir Walter Monkton's public inquiry into the case was published, the Daily Mirror (29 May 1945) printed the photographs of all 19 members of Newport Borough Council's education committee. This was the committee had sent the the boy to live far from home while doing next to nothing to ensure he was being properly treated.

And the third reason I'm sure that this story is false is that we know Reginald Gough was at liberty by 1951.

On 20 June 1951 the Daily Herald published this short report:

Offence against girl - fined

For an offence against a girl of l5, Reginald Gough, 37-year-old farm labourer, was fined £25 at Shropshire Assizes yesterday. The Judge said there were mitigating circumstances and it was not case for imprisonment. 

A police witness said that in 1945 Gough. then a farmer. was jailed for six years for the manslaughter of 13-year-old Dennis O'Neill.

That is more conclusive proof than I expected to find.

The illustration above is the cover of the Canadian edition of Terry O'Neill's book, which was published in the UK as Someone to Love Us in 2010.

Terry was fostered by Reginald Gough and his wife alongside Dennis. His book is a harrowing account of their treatment and it is shocking that the "discipline" Terry later received in children's homes echoed the abuse he and his brother had suffered.

There is also an award-winning BBC Wales radio documentary The Mousetrap and Me, which tells Terry's story.

A readers of this blog will know, Agatha Christie's record-breaking play The Mousetrap was inspired by Dennis O'Neill's case, as was the play and film No Room at the Inn.

In defence of the Lib Dems' door

Here are Ed Davey and Richard Foord, the newly elected Liberal Democrat MP for Tiverton and Honiton, showing Boris Johnson the door.

I've seen a lot of criticism of this stunt on Twitter today: it is "cringe"; would you believe someone thought this was a good idea? That sort of thing.

But it has worked. The video above come from Sky News and there's a similar one on the BBC News site.

For a while this afternoon a photo of our door led the Guardian's online coverage of yesterday's by-elections.

But then what was their alternative? A couple of people few would recognise looking happy? A couple more such people looking unhappy?

There's only so many pictures of people holding orange diamonds that anyone can stand.

We have learnt that the media need engaging images and that if you help them get those images then you have more chance of getting coverage, even favourable coverage.

One thing that struck me during the EU referendum was how much better the Leave campaign was at staging events and stunts that appealed to the media. All we had to offer was George Osborne threatening to put your taxes up.

And when the Remain campaign finally woke up - sadly this was just after the referendum had taken place - we were still poor at providing the media with good images and footage.

What we gave them was lots and lots of people marching. And when they failed to screen much footage of that marching, we yelled about their bias rather than ask ourselves what we could do that might appeal to them more.

Now we do provide the media with good images. So much so that the media have come to look for them.

What stunt the Lib Dems will put on becomes a live question to them in the last days of the campaign if it looks like we're going to win.

And if there is a slight cheesiness to what we offer, that is part of its appeal. These post-victory stunts have become the Lib Dems' Eurovision.

Lib Dems gain Tiverton and Honiton with huge swing as Labour wins Wakefield


From the Guardian website this morning:

The Conservatives have lost two key byelections on the same night, with Labour taking Wakefield and the Liberal Democrats overturning a 24,000-plus majority to snatch Tiverton and Honiton, piling enormous political pressure on to Boris Johnson.

The Tiverton and Honiton result, where the Lib Dem candidate, Richard Foord, defeated the Tories’ Helen Hurford by 6,144 votes to take a constituency that has been Conservative in its various forms for well over a century, will particularly spook Tory MPs.

It is believed to be the biggest numerical majority ever overturned in a byelection, although there have been higher percentage swings in other seats.

And Britain Elects has the numbers:

Hilaire Belloc's influence on A Canterbury Tale

This public lecture by Mr Colpeper (played by Eric Portman) from A Canterbury Tale is probably my favourite moment in probably my favourite film - a film I've learnt not to take lightly.

A reader has now alerted me to an obvious source for it: Hilaire Belloc's The Old Road. Published in 1904, it describes the author's journey along what he claims to be an ancient trackway from Winchester to Canterbury.

Describing what he hoped to gain from this journey, Belloc writes:

For my part I desired to step exactly in the footprints of such ancestors. I believed that, as I followed their hesitations at the river crossings, as I climbed where they had climbed to a shrine whence they also had seen a wide plain, as I suffered the fatigue they suffered, and laboriously chose, as they had chosen, the proper soils for going, something of their much keener life would wake again in the blood I drew from them, and that in a sort I should forget the vileness of my own time, and renew for some few days the better freedom of that vigorous morning when men were already erect, articulate, and worshipping God, but not yet broken by complexity and the long accumulation of evil.

You can certainly here echoes of this passage in Colpeper's lecture, but as the person who put my reader on to this connection said:

I think the three Ps (Powell, Pressburger in particular as the screenwriter, and Portman) did a better job of it, not least by toning down the religious aspect Belloc the Catholic was keen to stress.

I agree. Indeed, there is something pre-Christian in Colpeper's complex character. He is in part an aristocratic Puck.

Hilaire Belloc sat for Salford South as a Liberal between 1906 and the second general election of 1910. He was a nasty antisemite, but his book The Servile State remains a challenging read and is well worth seeking out.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

The Joy of Six 1058

"Johnson proposes to close a 2,000-year-old divide with a few more bus routes, some 'free ports,' the relocation of parts of government departments out of London, and a 'levelling up fund' of £4.8 billion, equivalent to 0.2 percent of Britain’s annual GDP." Boris Johnson claims to have taken back control but, says Tom McTague, has hardly tried to exercise it.

Carolyne Willow argues that the Bill of Rights just introduced into Parliament will make it even harder for breaches of children’s human rights to be challenged: "I am constantly taken aback by the intransigence of professionals, forcing children to pursue drawn-out complaints to secure the basic markers of a decent childhood or a sincere apology and recompense when they have been failed."

"Many home educators are worried that, backed with new powers and under pressure to boost attendance, local authorities will take a risk-averse approach, demanding unreasonable information from parents and forcing children into school." Eloise Rickman on the new Schools Bill and its attack on home education.

Christian Wolmar praises the campaign that will see railway services between Ashington and Newcastle upon Tyne restored.

Is morality innate? A new study, reports Jeffrey Kluger, suggests that babies as young as eight months old can show a desire to punish wrongdoers.

George Sobell introduces us to the South Asian Cricket Academy, which gives unsigned players the chance to display their talents to county sides: "The entire cost of the programme is around £50,000 a year. The ECB have declined to contribute."

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Fears for Glastonbury revellers as ‘huge puma’ seen lurking in trees near festival




Our Headline of the Day Award goes to the Daily Star.

I am reminded of the Rutstock Festival of 1969 and its role in the demise of the Bonkers Hall Safari Park.

The Market Square in Bishop's Castle has a new guardian


I never did learn her name, but I think this is my favourite of all the cats I have met in Shropshire. 

As I wrote the last time I met her:

There is a little square at the top of the main street in Bishop's Castle. It's where the town's Market Hall stood until it was demolished in 1951. The Powis coat of arms that used to be on the building can still be found there.

If you visit the square you may well find a grey and white cat keeping an eye on things.

I met her this summer and you can see her photograph above. But then her photograph has appeared here twice before. You will see that she has a habit of looking into the observer's soul.

This time I learnt a bit more about her. She is 14, has had two litters of kittens and lives in one of the houses bordering the square.

I expect she would like to retire, but would another cat carry out these duties so conscientiously?

That was back in 2017, so I'm afraid she will by now have gone to the happy hunting ground, where mice are slow and shrews taste pleasant.

So let's remember her as she was in her prime with the photograph above. She was indeed able to look into your soul but, unlike most cats, did not judge what she found there.

The reason for this post is that earlier today I was looking at some lovely photographs by Duncan Smart, who has just finished walking the Shropshire Way.

One of them was of the Market Square, Bishop's Castle, and showed that a small black cat has taken on her role.

I look forward to meeting it, if not this summer then certainly next.

The Tories have hidden their Tiverton and Honiton by-election candidate from the media and voters

At 10.15am she arrives at HQ with her sidekick, local Tory chairman Gillian Evans.

As she enters the reception area, I follow her in. Immediately after identifying myself Ms Evans whisks her charge away to the back of the office.

Two burly volunteers then block my path to her and tell me to leave, suggesting I get in touch with the press office to request an interview, something I have done on countless occasions over the past week.

I ask to put just a couple of questions to Ms Hurford.

"This is private property, please leave," says one of the Tory enforcers.

No, David Parsley from the i isn't getting much joy from his attempts to talk to the Conservative candidate in tomorrow's Tiverton and Honiton by-election candidate.

He tried staking out the Tory HQ because she ducks all attempts to talk to her after public debates and has not invited journalists to join her on a canvassing session.

According to Parsley, Helen Hurford isn't that keen on talking to voters either:

Over the past three weeks I have spoken to hundreds of local residents in dozens of towns and villages across this traditionally true-blue seat. Not one of them has seen the Conservative candidate on their street, let alone knock on their door.

Many have seen the other candidates, especially Ms Hurford’s main rival, the Liberal Democrats’ Richard Foord.

I wish Richard all the best for tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

West 11: Another early Michael Winner film

Last time I praised an early Michael Winner film the post was quoted in a book. So here goes again with one he made when he was only 28..

If it had no other virtues, the street scenes of Notting Hill would make West 11 interesting. When the film was made in 1963, this was an area of poverty and racketeering landlords.

And beneath the opening titles we see Alfred Lynch walking past 25 Powis Square, where Performance was to be filmed a few years later..

For me the glory of West 11 is its cast, which might have been chosen with me in mind. Not the leads, Alfred Lynch and Kathleen Breck, who are a little underpowered, but the supporting players. Eric Portman. Freda Jackson. Even David Hemmings in a bit part.

There are other faces to look for: Diana Dors in her best era, Kathleen Harrison, Patrick Wymark. The Mosleyite agitator at the street meeting is the unlikely figure of Brian Wilde.

The cast could have been even more impressive. According to Flashbak, the film's producer Danny Angel turned down the idea of casting Julie Christie, Sean Connery and Oliver Reed because they were "nothing more than B-picture artists".

West 11 is available cheaply on DVD, and Talking Pictures TV has shown it too. There's plenty in it to enjoy, notably Eric Portman's turn as a seedy confidence trickster who leads Alfred Lynch astray,

Monday, June 20, 2022

Angela Carter discusses Peter Greenaway's The Draughtman's Contract in Channel 4's first week

This is television gold from the first week of Channel 4 in November 1982: the novelist Angela Carter discusses Peter Greenaway's The Draughtsman's Contract.

Starting with this film, Greenaway enjoyed a vogue in the 1980s. Some thought him pretentious, but his concern for images in their own right gave his work a distinctive, Continental flavour.

Yet you could also say his films were very English. Drowning by Numbers, for instance, brings out something sinister that lies just below the surface of genteel Southwold. In fact, I had been on holiday in the town for a couple of days before I worked out why it felt so familiar.

The Draughtsman's Contract is a mystery film, though whether you can really solve that mystery from a study of the drawings made by the hero I don't know. Greenaway's original cut of it ran for three hours - and I would gladly watch it - so any loose ends can be attributed to the way this had to be whittled down.

When he went out of fashion it was partly because of a strain of cruelty that people saw in his films - you can see it here in the scenes from The Draughtsman's Contract.

That strain worries me more today than it did in the 1980s - there seems something crass and adolescent about it. But then, perhaps because I had seen so few films as a teenager, I had my own cinematic adolescence to catch up on.

The other thing that made Greenaway's films stand out was the music of Michael Nyman. His near-frantic reworkings of Baroque masters fit particularly well in The Draughtsman's Contract. These include Chasing Sheep is Best Left to Shepherds, which was one of the pieces of music my mother enjoyed in the last weeks of her life.

Angela Carter was a novelist, known for her feminist and magical realist approach. When she died in 1992, aged only 51, her reputation with both critics and the reading public stood extremely high.

It's my impression that she suffered little of the collapse of interest in their work that almost all writers suffer in the years after their death, but I've not read enough of her to tell you much more than that.

Besides, there is something else about her that cannot be ignored: that accent. She sounds extraordinarily posh and like someone from three decades before. It's how you imagine Princess Margaret must have sounded. At the same time, the odd word gives a hint that the accent is not entirely secure.

Carter's biographer Edmund Gordon was asked about the subject in an interview by Caleb Sivyer for Angela Carter Online:

CS: I remember being quite surprised by the particular sound of Carter’s voice the first time I encountered it. Although her voice changes quite a lot, I was surprised at those moments when she appears to adopt, perhaps self-consciously, an educated-sounding voice.

EG: Absolutely. I think it’s partly a generational thing. As Martin Amis says somewhere in his memoir Experience, "it used to be cool to be posh". I think there is partly that. 

But you know, she was not entirely un-posh. She had working-class roots but she was one generation removed from them. Her father was a Fleet Street journalist, she was very middle-class and she went to a private school. But what is extraordinary about her voice is that it suddenly shifts between registers, and indeed between accents. 

Last night [at the British Library celebration of Carter] when they showed two clips of her, she sounds sort of Northern sometimes and south London sometimes and very genteel and posh sometimes. It is an odd voice. 

But then I also think that in her work, there’s so much about performance and she obviously was a highly self-conscious person, and it is the voice of someone who’s quite self-conscious, somebody who is very aware of how they sound and how they’re coming across.

Perhaps unfairly to both women, I am reminded of what someone said about Allegra Mostyn-Owen, who had the misfortune to become the first Mrs Boris Johnson, at Oxford:

"She speaks to you as though she were launching a ship."

Rail Strikes: Latest Peace Moves


John Bodkin Adams: The Harold Shipman of the 1950s

With the Conservative candidate in the Wakefield by-election having drawn an analogy between the party's previous MP for the seat and Dr Harold Shipman, my mind has returned to the bad doctor's equivalent from the 1950s, Dr John Bodkin Adams.

Though he was acquitted of murder at the Old Bailey, the number of Eastbourne widows who changed their wills in Bodkin Adams' favour, only to expire after his next visit, leaves little doubt about what was really going on.

In fact the video above suggests the evidence from the police investigation of him reveals that he may be Britain's worst ever serial killer.

Bodkin Adams has appeared on this blog three times.

First, I revealed that the chaplain of All Saints Hospital, Eastbourne, at the time of Bodkin Adams' arrest was the Revd Hubert Brasier, better known today as the father of Theresa May.

Talking of the Conservative Party, Bodkin Adams was the doctor of Harold Macmillan's brother-in-law the Duke of Devonshire and was attending him as he died. 

This video, as many modern accounts do, ties that in with the fact that one of Macmillan's children was fathered by the Tory peer Bob Boothby, and tries to tie that into the story as a reason for the Establishment engineering an acquittal.

I've seen this theory elsewhere, but never much evidence to suggest it's true.

Besides, Labour has its connections with this story too. The doctor called as his main expert witness onr John B. Harman. He was the president of the Medical Defence Union and the father of Harriet Harman.

Revelaing that face was my second mention of Bodkin Adams here. The third was to reveal that the man who put the police on to him was the variety star Leslie Henson, because he had suspicions about the death of an old friend.

Leslie Henson was the father of the actor Nicky Henson and the grandfather of Countryfile's Adam Henson.

Whether any of them have worked with Timothy West, I don't know, but you can find him playing Bodkin Adams in a dramatised version of the affair on YouTube. And there's an enjoyable review by Craig Brown of a book on the case.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Kate Bush: The Saxophone Song

Kate Bush is back at the top of the UK singles chart 44 years after Wuthering Heights. 

This is a record gap and makes me feel rather old, because I bought her first album (The Kick Inside), which included that song, when it came out.

But we won't worry about that. So here's another track from The Kick Inside.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Watch All Night and Barriers: Unscrambling my memories

Having more or less vindicated my memory of having once heard a purported real "stone tape" on the radio, let me confess to a less accurate recollection.

Take a look at these tweets.

October 7, 2021

Replies to them convinced me that I had run together two different serials screened by ITV on Sunday afternoons in that era.

The girl who met her father and was then told she hadn't (a plot that owes something to the early Dirk Bogarde film So Long at the Fair) came from Watch All Night.

But the boy with the flute had wandered in from another series altogether: Barriers.

You can see its opening titles above. I have watched the first episode and, with it scenes of the East/West border and public school life, it feels like John le Carré for teenagers. 

So it's appropriate that its star, Benedict Taylor, went on to play the young Magnus Pym in the BBC adaptation of A Perfect Spy.

There were two series of Barriers. Only the first is on YouTube and I think it was the second that I watched, which makes this last point hard to prove.

But could that haunting theme be the reason I am convinced that Fauré's Sicilienne was once used to introduce a period detective series?

A big of googling shows I am not alone in this belief, but if Taylor turns out to have played Sicilienne at some point in the second series of Barriers, I suspect that will clarify another of my unconfirmed memories.

Tories can't find a candidate for Rutland County Council by-election


Good news this morning: the Liberal Democrats have gained another seat on Rutland Council Council.

You've not missed a rare Friday local by-election: it's that when nominations closed for the vacancy in Oakham South it was found that only one valid nomination had been submitted.

So congratulations to the ward's new Lib Dem councillor Raymond Payne.

As far as I know, this isn't because the Conservatives messed up their nomination paper,. It's because they couldn't find anyone prepared to stand for them.

When Stephen Lambert gained the Uppingham ward from the Tories last month I blogged:
At Rutland's 2019 all-out council elections, the Conservatives won 16 of the 27 seats. Today, thanks to by-election defeats and defections, they are down to 6.
I think that is still the position, because the Oakham councillor who stood down and caused the by-election had already left the Tory group.

But it equally possible that, by the time you read this, that group will have been reduced to five. Or four and an inexpressible fraction.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Howard Marks at the haunted Prince of Wales Inn

The haunted wall of the Prince of Wales Inn at Kenfig makes another appearance, thanks to a tip from a reader.

In 2007 Wales on Sunday interviewed the late Howard Marks, who had somehow contrived to become a celebrity drug smuggler, at this very pub:

"This pub’s got a talking wall, do you want to come and see?”

What?

"It’s haunted. Shall we see if the landlord will show us?"

Not exactly a seamless way to change the subject but, hell, let’s hear what the wall has to say.

Howard shuffles towards the bar and landlord Gareth Maund takes us up the stone stairs to a room once used as a courthouse.

Howard is clearly fascinated as Gareth recounts chapter and verse about the bar.

And doubtless he’s happy to be out of his interrogator’s hands.

It's amazing how many supposedly haunted pubs are claimed to have been courthouses.

When he died in 2016 his Guardian obituary began:

Howard Marks, who has died aged 70 of cancer, was Britain’s best-known and most charming drug smuggler, and also a successful author and raconteur. 
He translated a lifetime of international cannabis dealing and a long stretch in an American jail into a bestselling book, Mr Nice (1996), and a career as a stand-up performer.

And went on to record that:

After seven years, he was freed, receiving maximum parole, and returned initially to Mallorca and his family. He set about writing Mr Nice, a frank autobiography which has sold more than 1m copies. 
He also started doing one-man shows, telling anecdotes, joint in hand, to sell-out theatre audiences, many of whom had not been born when he was. arrested.

"Mr Nice" was one of the many aliases he used in the course of his smuggling businesses and also, many agreed, a fair description of his character,

Marks was born at Kenfig Hill, a mining village a couple of miles inland from Kenfig, which overlooks the Bristol Channel.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Wakefield by-election candidates compete to deploy the most unsettling argument


There seems to be a competition among the 15 candidates in Wakefield to put forward the most unsettling argument as to why you should vote for them.

First there was Paul Bickerdake of the Christian People's Alliance, whose leaflet began:
"I have been a foster carer for over 14 years and have never sexually assaulted anyone. I am happily married to Janet."
Then, says YorkshireLive:
In response to questions about the leaflet, Mr Bickerdale said: "I do look at children but I look at children in a proper way, not the way that the previous MP was looking at children."
It's a big ask, but today, the Conservative candidate Nadeem Ahmed may have topped that today.

As the story is behind the Telegraph paywall, it's over to indy100:
The Telegraph's Whitehall correspondent Tony Diver was in Wakefield ahead of the by-election next week that has been called after the former Tory MP Imran Ahmad Khan was convicted for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy. 
Diver spoke to Tory candidate in the Wakefield by-election, Nadeem Ahmed, who claimed Khan was "one bad apple" and argued "we still trust GPs” after notorious serial killer Harold Shipman killed 250 people. 
Tory hopeful Ahmed said: "The people of Wakefield know that he [Khan] was one bad apple. As you know, Harold Shipman committed suicide in Wakefield prison. 
"He was a GP – one of the most, you know, a trusted professional like teachers and others… Have we stopped trusting GPs? No."
And here is a tweet from Diver to prove it:

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