Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Queen Victoria rarely attended the state opening of parliament

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Yesterday Boris Johnson had a 93-year-old woman dress up in full fig and read a speech to bolster his political fantasies.

But the Queen could and should have said no.

Queen Victoria would certainly have told Johnson what he could do. She rarely bothered to attend the state opening.

As Queen Victoria's Scrapbook explains:
Queen Victoria declined to attend between 1862 (the year following Prince Albert’s death) and 1865, and during these years Parliament was opened by Commission. Between 1866 and 1901, Queen Victoria attended the State Opening of Parliament only seven times.
In the years that she did not attend the state opening, the gracious speech was read by the lord chancellor.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Marvin the Paranoid Android sings the blues

The death of Stephen Moore at the weekend - and the celebration of his career that followed - revealed that he recorded two singles in the character of Marvin the Paranoid from The Hitchhiker's guide to the Galaxy.

Here is the first of them.

A warning to Labour from 1983

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What if the opinion polls are right? Yes, Corbyn did much better in 2017 than anyone expected, but what if Labour finds itself struggling to beat the Liberal Democrats into third place at the next election, much as Michael Foot struggled to outpoll the Liberal/SDP  Alliance in 1983?

You might think that would mark the end of Corbynism and a long march back to the centre ground n Labour's behalf.

Don't bank on it.

Here is Tony Benn's reaction to Labout's catastrophic (the Tories had a 144-seat majority) defeat in 1983:
"The general election of 1983 has produced one important result that has passed virtually without comment in the media,” said Benn. “It is that, for the first time since 1945, a political party with an openly socialist policy has received the support of over eight and a half million people. 
"This is a remarkable development by any standards and it deserves some analysis … the 1983 Labour manifesto commanded the loyalty of millions of voters and a democratic socialist bridge-head in public understanding and support can be made."
This determination of the hard left to learn nothing from defeat was a gift to Neil Kinnock, His reforms of the Labour Party met with little opposition because the only alternative appeared to be perpetual defeat,

But Kinnock commanded a majority on the party's national executive. Whoever succeeds Corbyn, the hard left will enjoy that advantage and may well take Tony Benn's line on electoral defeat.

In which case there will be no easy way back for Labour.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Six of the Best 888

"In her eight years in Stormont, she four times introduced a Human Rights Bill, which would have created structures for human rights accountability in Northern Ireland." Nicholas Whyte discovers the remarkable career of Sheelagh Murnaghan.

The third volume of Charles Moore's biography of Margaret Thatcher is reviewed by Andrew Marr: "Her biggest failure was her attitude to Germany. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the coming together of the communist East and capitalist West is today seen as a pivotal moment of joy and hope. She completely misunderstood it. Her anti-Germanism, going back to her childhood, was so strong she couldn’t see past it."

Fiona Dawe looks at the effect of climate change on the United Nations' sustainable development goals.

Caroline Hickman explains why some adults are reacting badly to young climate strikers.

"The Nicolaikirche is now a place of pilgrimage for many Germans of a certain age, and for good reason. It is from here that the 'Monday demonstrations' (Montags Demonstrationen) that grew throughout 1989 and 1990 evolved." Mike Stuchbery on a Leipzig church's part in the fall of the Berlin Wall.

IanVisits takes us to the Hidden London exhibition at the London Transport Museum.

"A distraction from the class struggle": Women, race and the left

Black, Asian and women Labour MPs have asked for a meeting with Jeremy Corbyn over their concern they are being disproportionately targeted for deselection.

The author of that article, ITV's political correspondent Paul Brand, later tweeted that meeting will take place on Tuesday afternoon.

But how can this be? Surely Labour activists are so woke it hurts?

They may be, but the people who command their loyalty - Jeremy Corbyn and Jon Lansman - cut their political teeth in a very different era.

When they were young, concern with sexual or racial inequality was widely dismissed on the hard left as "a distraction from the class struggle" - googling that phrase is a political education.

So I am not surprised at the MPs who find themselves under threat from Momentum activists. It's is just what someone who remembers the hard left in its last ascendancy - the early 1980s - would expect.

The Monkees: The Girl I Knew Somewhere

By tradition this - the B side of their 1967 single A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You - was the first record on which the Monkees were allowed to play the instruments themselves.

Peter Tork, heard beating the living daylights out of a harpsichord here, was on various tracks before this, but it was their debut as a real group.

I have chosen a clip from the Prefab Four's television series. The action has little to do with the mood and lyrics of the song, but it is a reminder of just what a treat this programme was when it was repeated as part of BBC children's television in the early 1970s.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Dereliction at Langley Mill, 1969

This photograph comes from the January 1970 issue of the Inland Waterways Association Bulletin.

The caption says:
This is the first lock on the Cromford Canal which, with the Nottingham Canal, forms a Y-shaped junction with the Erewash at Langley Mill. Much of the Cromford Canal above Langley Mill is filled in, but this lock could be restored and a good marina developed at the old junction.
And that is what happened. Great Northern Basin is on my list of places to visit.

Stephen Moore (1937-2019)

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I was sorry to hear of the death of Stephen Moore today.

Talking Pictures TV shows Clockwise quite often, and during one of those showings I looked up members of the cast on IMDB.

I was surprised to find that the actor who played the personable young teacher on John Cleese's staff had also been the voice of Marvin the Paranoid Android in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

He supplied that memorable voice on both radio and television. It's interesting that the television adaptation, which was regarded at the time as a as brave but unsuccessful attempt to reproduce the magic of the radio production, at the time, is now revered.

Moore's IMDB page revealed a raft of appearances in British films and television. Given how young he looked in Clockwise in 1986, it was a surprise to find that the first of them was in 1959.

Another pleasing discovery was that he appeared (in 1962 and 1998) in what look like two television dramas about the notorious Victorian poisoner - and Rugeley's most famous son - William Palmer.

And he must have had quite a stage career too. The photograph above shows him, instantly recognisable, in the 1980 National Theatre production of Howard Brenton's The Romans in Britain, which was the subject of an unsuccessful legal action by Mary Whitehouse and her barrister, the raving pervert John Smyth.

We seem to have strayed a long way from Stephen Moore, so let me end as I began by expressing my sorrow at the death of a fine actor.

Friday, October 11, 2019

The Solarnauts: Derek Fowlds in space

The blurb on YouTube explains:
Well, here's an oddity! An unsold pilot for a proposed 1967 sci-fi actioner out of the UK. Eye-popping costumes and sets belie an overall cheesy but charming tone. Cast of familiar but un-nameable Brit character actors, only Bond-Girl Martine Beswick and a very young Derek Fowlds stand out.

Passenger 'sorry' after breaking wind on Derby bus

Derby bus station yesterday

It may have been a quiet day over at Derbyshire Live, but it has still won our Headline of the Day Award.

Tory leader of Leicestershire wants to abolish our district councils

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Nick Rushton, the Conservative leader of Leicestershire County Council, has not abandoned his dreams of empire.

Today his council published what its press release describes as both a 'detailed road map' and a 'draft ... blueprint' for the abolition of all Leicestershire's district councils.

Some of the benefits claimed sound positively Soviet:
  • 'fewer councillors and fewer elections';
  • 'unity of purpose and a single strategic direction'.
In reply, the county's seven district councils have issued a joint statement:
The seven district councils in Leicestershire continue to work collaboratively to deliver highly-effective and efficient services to residents.
Proposed changes to the structure of local government in Leicestershire failed to receive support last year from district councils or MPs.
It is our view that better and cheaper services can be delivered through greater collaboration while keeping services local to the people who use them. There is an open invitation to the County Council to work with us on ideas for future collaboration.
If I believed centralisation made public services cheaper and more efficient I would have joined the Labour Party.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Exploring the GNR line from Derby Friargate to Nottingham Victoria: Bennerley to Kimberley

Backed in the summer I posted a great video showing a journey along the GNR line from Derby Friargate to Nottingham Victoria in 1964.

This one explores the remains of part of the line today. It takes us from Bennereley viaduct to Kimberley.

Boris Johnson, Leo Varadkar and Coleen Rooney feature in Trivial Fact of the Day

Thank you Laura Kuenssberg. Suddenly the licence fee seems better value.

Six of the Best 887

"Last year, 1584 children were unnecessarily dragged through the courts for possession of cannabis, with four out of five being found guilty, resulting in criminal records that will haunt them for their whole lives." Norman Lamb makes the case for a legal, regulated cannabis market.

David Herdson asks why the European Research Group waved through Theresa May's withdrawal agreement at Christmas 2017.

John Bull on the Harrow and Wealdstone railway disaster of 1952, which led to the development of the modern paramedic.

"The quickest way to an audience’s heart is to kill off one or both of your character’s parents." Manvir Singh looks at the extraordinary appeal of literary orphans.

Jennie Rigg has been to see Alice Cooper.

"These years, late in the century's first decade, may have been the apogee of Trescothick's career. If his health had allowed it, he would still have been young enough and good enough to play for England, but he was forced by circumstances to tread the county game's boards instead." Brian Carpenter celebrates the career of Marcus Trescothick.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

The Wolves in the Forest: Tackling Inequality in the 21st Century

The current issue of Liberator carries my review of the Social Liberal Forum's new publication The Wolves in the Forest: Tackling Inequality in the 21st Century, which is edited by Paul Hindley and Gordon Lishman.

I won't post the whole review here, just enough of it to explain the splendid title:
David Howarth contributes the introduction here too. He begins by pointing out that it is 110 years since Lloyd George delivered his ’People’s Budget’: 
‘He described a time when “poverty and the wretchedness and human degradation that allows follows in its camp, will be as remote to the people of this country as the wolves which once infested its forests”. The wolves of poverty, wretchedness, human degradation and inequality are still with us. Far from being remote to modern Britain their infestation of modern Britain is becoming more widespread.’
And my conclusion:
Keynes died 73 years ago and L.T. Hobhouse and T.H. Green make their obligatory appearances too. Liberal Democrats are either going to have more recent thinkers to be inspired by or do the intellectual heavy lifting themselves.  The Wolves in the Forest is a welcome sign that we may be prepared to do just that.
You can buy The Wolves in the Forest from the Social Liberal Forum website.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Pilgrim by Sebastian Baczkiewicz

There is nothing of Pilgrim on the BBC website at the moment, so this will have to do us for now.

Boris Johnson and the Russian Mountain

Things may get very entertaining now John Sweeney has left the BBC.

Ginger Baker (1939-2019)

Ginger Baker, the nomination of many as the greatest rock drummer, died yesterday at the age of 80. He was best known from his time with the original supergroup Cream.

The tribute from Steve Winwood - "Beneath his somewhat abrasive exterior, there was a very sensitive human being with a heart of gold" - gives a clue as to the difficulties many found in working with Baker.

Winwood and Baker, along with Eric Clapton and Leicester's Rick Grech - were members of another supergroup - the short-lived Blind Faith. Here they are at their debut concert in Hyde Park in 1969

Do What You Like was written by Baker and so contains the obligatory drum solo.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

The last train from Northampton to Market Harborough

The other day I wrote:
Thirty-eight years ago I travelled on the last train from Market Harborough to Northampton. Now comes news from Harborough FM that there is talk of reopening the line.
Discussing the idea with someone on Twitter, we came to the conclusion that restoring the original line through Market Harborough to the station would involve too much demolition,

But it might well be possible to divert the line at Great Oxendon to meet the Midland main line somewhere near Braybrooke.

Anyway, the last train on the line (at least for now) ran on 29 August 1981. These are the photographs I still have from the ones I took that day.

We drove to Northampton to catch the train, which ran through Harborough on the up line to reach the signal box, then reversed onto the down line to reach the remaining LNWR platform.

Eventually it took us all back to Northampton.

Note the people leaning out of train windows and the casual trespassing, both of which I must have been guilty of myself to take these photos. Things were more easygoing on the railways in those days.

Scottish Lib Dems target their lost heartlands

The Quiraing, Skye

The Scottish Lib Dems' election co-ordinator Alex Cole-Hamilton is notably bullish in an interview for Scotland on Sunday.

He says: "We’re very excited about the prospect of a general election whenever it comes."

Among the former Lib Dems Westminster seats he lists as good prospects are Charles Kennedy's old seat of Ross, Skye and Lochaber; Aberdeen South; Argyll and Bute; and North East Fife.

There's more:
The traditional stronghold in the Borders seat of Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk – which the party held for decades – is also in play. The Lib Dems are even confident of muscling their way into the Edinburgh North and Leith, the seat held by the SNP’s Deidre Brock.
What is most encouraging is Alex's claim that "It’s true to say that the Highlands are rediscovering their liberal traditions."

Viewed from a distance, the Scottish Lib Dems have so far based their welcome recovery on emphasising their unionist credentials. It is good to see them going beyond that.

Ann Widdecombe looked old-fashioned in the 1990s but was really the future

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How we used to laugh at Ann Widdecombe when she was a government minister!

We didn't laugh at her politics, which were deeply unpleasant, but at her image. It was so hopelessly old fashioned.

As it turned out, Widdecombe was not old fashioned at all. She was an early adopter of a style that has since been deployed by a number of leading Conservatives.

The clue at the time was the number of her university contemporaries who told the press they did not recognise the young woman they knew then in the iron-clad virgin of the 1990s.

Because Widdecombe had turned herself into a cartoon character - a living exaggeration of certain characteristics that appealed to Tory voters and to Tory activists in particular.

Since then we have had Boris Johnson as a minor P.G. Wodehouse character, Jacob Rees-Mogg as Lord Snooty's grandfather and Geoffrey Cox as the famous actor you can't remember seeing in anything.

These personae are a calculated armour designed to disguise their wearers' politics and shield them from conventional criticism.

That is why people who think they are hurting Rees-Mogg by laughing at him for being behind the times are playing into his hands.

And it is why we should not have laughed at Ann Widdecombe.

The Jam: But I'm Different Now

Sometimes only The Jam will do and this is a live performance of a track from their 1980 album Sound Affects.

But do we believe him? Is he different now?

Saturday, October 05, 2019

A Nottingham shop window

Lib Dems will not oppose Dominic Greive at the next election

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It's all happening behind the Sunday Times paywall tonight:
A leading Tory Brexit rebel has struck a secret deal with the Liberal Democrats in what is the first significant move towards the formation of a “remain alliance” at the general election. 
The Liberal Democrats have agreed to stand aside to help former Conservative Dominic Grieve save his Beaconsfield seat, paving the way for a Brexit showdown at the ballot box.
The article says our adopted candiate, Rob Castell, has agreed to stand down "following talks with party bosses".

We polled just 4000 votes in in Beaconsfield at the last two general elections, but in 2010 we received more than 10,000, so this move may make the difference.

I am not going to oppose this move, but let's beware of thinking that all we need to do is stand down in enough seats and we are bound to win.

Stephen Dorrell has joined the Liberal Democrats

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Stephen Dorrell, who was health secretary in John Major's government and a Change UK candidate in this years's European elections, writes behind the Sunday Times paywall:
The slow-motion disintegration of the Conservative and Labour parties is the key political fact of 2019. Brexit is the immediate detonator, but the underlying causes run deeper and create the opportunity to reshape politics.
He goes on to say that this reshapaing
requires liberal Conservatives and social democrats to break cover from their respective parties and join the Liberal Democrats in a big liberal tent. 
It isn’t just a question of “joining the Liberal Democrats”; by joining, their objective is to expand the Liberal Democrats to include fellow liberals from different backgrounds, all of whom are committed to delivering the reform of our politics that is so urgently needed.
And he concludes:
It is time for them to break their shackles and join with the Liberal Democrats to build an effective voice for a modern, liberal Britain. That is what I have done.
Dorrell was Conservative MP for Loughborough and then Charnwood between 1979 and 2015.

Neil Robertson forfeits snooker qualifier after driving to wrong Barnsley

A win for one of the big boys, as the Guardian walks away with our Headline of the Day Award.

The judges were reminded of the time that Andrew Newton, told to seek out Norman Scott in Barnstaple, looked for him in Dunstable instead.

Friday, October 04, 2019

John Betjeman visits Southwell Minster

This programme was broadcast in the BBC Radio series Choirs and Places where they Sing in 1967.

The first six minutes feature John Betjeman celebrating the town and its minster. This is followed by a performance by the minster choir.

Nicola Horlick: Jo Swinson is in talks with lots of Labour and Conservative MPs

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Nicola Horlick, at one time Britain's best-know businesswoman and a Conservative, has just been adopted as the Liberal Democrat candidate for Chelsea and Fulham.

In an interview with the i newspaper she gives us a glimpse of what Jo Swinson is up to:
“A lot of MPs from both Labour and the Tories were talking to Jo Swinson about defecting, but the trouble is we’ve got all our candidates already.”
The answer seems to be for the existing Lib Dem candidate to stand down:
It does seem unfair that someone who has worked so hard at a local level to get to be our candidate may be moved aside for a more well known candidate. It really has to be their decision whether to step aside for a better known figure, someone who may have a better chance of winning the seat. 
“It comes down to whether or not an existing candidate is willing to be gracious and step aside in the interest of the party.”
The trouble is that, after the debacle (hem hem) of the last two elections, there are few winnable seats for the Lib Dems - even though we hope our emergence as England's only major Remain party has changed that.

And the other trouble is that high-profile defectors are rarely such vote-winners as they like to think.

I remember (though I have forgotten his name) that the existing Liberal candidate stepped aside to allow the Labour defector and former minister Chris Mayhew to fight Bath, which even then was a good Liberal prospect, in the February 1974 general election. Mayhew failed to win it.

Equally, everyone expected Bill Pitt to step aside in favour of Shirley Williams when a by-election was called in Croydon North West in 1981. But he insisted on being the Alliance candidate and won the by-election.

I suppose I should be outraged that defectors from both sides threaten to turn the Liberal Democrats into a centre party, but it is hard to be too dogmatic about a party that has so little ideology to begin with. And I am rather pleased that people now want to join us.

Instead, I am excited by the discovery, made in the course of writing this post, that Nicola Horlick's father Michael Gayford was a Liberal candidate.

He fought the Wirral constituency three times: at the two general elections of 1974 and the 1976 by-election caused by the resignation of Wirral's MP Selwyn Lloyd.

Lloyd was Speaker of the House of Commons between 1971 and 1976, which mean that in the two 1974 elections both the Liberals and Labour broke the convention that the Speaker should not be opposed.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Call to reopen the Market Harborough to Northampton line

Thirty-eight years ago I travelled on the last train from Market Harborough to Northampton. Now comes news from Harborough FM that there is talk of reopening the line.

'Steve Jones, Chairman of Harborough Rail Users Group', incidentally, was my companion on that journey in 1981.

The cause of this Harborough FM item is the consultation document for the new West Northamptonshire Strategic Plan, which says:
North - South Rail: The re-opening the Market Harborough to Northampton line would provide the potential for a new national corridor. If pursued, this would link the Midland Main Line northwards – thereby including such places as Leicester, Loughborough, Nottingham, Derby and Sheffield – and the West Coast Main Line southwards – thereby including such places as Milton Keynes, Watford and London. 
Creating a new set of efficient economic and social connections should have significant positive impacts nationally and for West Northamptonshire. The north-south rail scheme would complement proposals for East-West Rail which are a key element of the vision for the Oxford-Cambridge Arc. 
The route of the former railway is used as a 14 mile walking and cycling route known as the Brampton Valley Way. Compensatory provision would need to be considered if the rail scheme were to be implemented. 
If the line was restored on its original route into Market Harborough then there would need to be some demolition and the restoration of a level crossing on the road where I live.

That all that makes it sound rather unlikely, but I would love to see the line reopened.

Six of the Best 886

"Democracy is not just a tool for making decisions and picking between options, it’s an ongoing process of representation and dialogue that’s seeking to establish a way in which we can all comfortably co-exist. Voting is not the be-all and end-all of the process but rather just one stage within it." Nick Barlow says Brexit is a symptom and a result of a much wider malaise in British politics.

With the government doing all it can to raise the political temperature, Gabriel Power offers a list of the MPs who have been murdered in office.

An ethic of wonder that stood at the centre of Rachel Carson's ecological philosophy, argues Jennifer Stitt.

Robin Burgess on the reality of poverty in Northampton.

Catherine Bennett is not a fan of the vox pop: "This eager dissemination of unfounded, unchallenged, occasionally misleading or alcohol-misted opinion only contributes to the impression, reinforced by Question Time, that voter deliberation, if not actively redundant, is decreasingly a BBC priority."

“Chaplin is the only person to have gone down into cinematic history without any shadow of a doubt. The films he left behind can never grow old.” In 1972 Andrei Tarkovsky chose his top 10 films, writes Karen Strike.

Meet the Devon farmer bringing in enormous Nazi-engineered cows to prepare for Brexit

Devon Live wins our Headline of the Day Award and the judges add that they are "not surprised".

But seriously, it's an interesting article and I am all in favour of rewilding.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Discussing Antonioni's Blow-Up

A conversation between David Forgacs (New York University) and Kim Hendrickson (Criterion Collection) to mark Criterion's release of a restored transfer of Blow-Up.

Boris Johnson will destroy the Conservative Party if he doesn't destroy the country first

I came across two article today which argue that Boris Johnson's adoption of populism may in the long run prove disastrous for the Conservative Party.

On The Conversation, Andy Knott notes how the approach for Johnson's government marks a complete break with traditional Conservatism:
For conservatism, protecting “what is” (in other words, the institutions that have been handed down to us) is a joint project between conservative politicians and the people, their constituents. Together they have been engaged in this project for centuries. 
This means there is a seamless bond between the people and the elite (or establishment, or government, or parliament, or judiciary), which enables them to rule and the people to view the Conservatives as the natural party of government and their proper representatives. 
Populism, in stark contrast, operates by breaking that bond. It decrees that the elite has abandoned the people, and acts against their interests.
Johnson may think he can control the definition of the elite - judges, civil servants urban liberals - but sooner or later the people will notice that he is supported by the super-rich and adopt their own definition.

Once they do he will be finished and the tissue of interests the Conservative Party represents ripped to shreds.

Over to the Guardian, where William Davies argues that this Conservative ideology has long been in decline for 30 years:
There was one force in Britain’s public life that never gave up on the Tories: the press. All those resentments that took the place of conservative ideology – the loathing of multiculturalism, Brussels, Blairism, immigration, and the vast riches being made in London – were given a safe space in the pages of the Daily Mail, the Daily Express and the Daily Telegraph. 
With their constant attacks on all symptoms of liberal globalisation, these papers provided the incubator for the rage currently sweeping British politics, during the long years when national borders and rural England were out of political fashion.
The result is that those newspapers now have one of their own as prime minister.

And the Conservatives?
The current poll lead feels precarious; 59 per cent of Tory members have already voted for the Brexit party once (in the European parliament elections), and many could well do so in future. The Conservatives are now to the Brexit party what cocaine is to crack: more acceptable in polite company, but ultimately made of the same stuff.
Davies reaches a similar conclusion to Andy Knott:
The forces behind Brexit will need new scapegoats soon – and Johnson, Cummings and the Conservative party could be next in line.
All very encouraging if you wish to see the Tories destroyed, but the worry must be that they will destroy the country before that stage is reached.

Sally Symington to fight South West Herts for the Lib Dems

South West Hertfordshire Liberal Democrats have chosen Sally Symington as their candidate at the next general election.

As she told Hemel Today:
"The Liberal Democrats control the three local councils of Three Rivers, Watford and now St Albans. The Liberal Democrats hold 60 per cent of all council seats within the constituency."
Sally, who is a member of Dacorum Borough Council, stood in Hemel Hempstead constituency at the 2017 election. She was later on the shortlist for Cheltenham, a Lib Dem seat until 2010.

'Symington' is a name with resonanace here in Market Harborough, but I don't know if she is a scion of the soup and corsetry dynasty.