Saturday, December 05, 2020

Six of the Best 981

"It didn’t matter if many of the voices expressing these opinions online were paid for by multiple accounts, boosted by dark digital analytics, or indeed often outright replicants run by troll farms hosted and funded by hostile foreign countries. If the Supreme Court had ruled that corporations were people, why not networks of bots and troll armies?" Peter Jukes explains the rise and fall of the dark money and online culture war strategies that put Donald Trump in the White House and pushed Britain out of the EU.

Vince Cable looks at what may happen to British farming after Brexit.

"The UK is the only country in Europe that still has formal public exams at 16. Of course, it made sense when the majority of young people left school at 16, as the results helped them find a pathway into work or into the next stage of education. However, today, between the ages of 16 and 18, all young people have to be in education or work-based training." Mary Reid calls for GCSEs to be scrapped.

Sarah Coomer looks back to Christmas Day 1973 and the BBC's adaptation of M.R. James's ghost story Lost Hearts: "Stephen, played by Simon Gipps Kent, an actor who was fated himself never to see his thirties, has a refreshingly realistic lack of agency as opposed to the oft-seen ass-kicking young hero - he is entirely at the mercy of the adult world he is forced to encounter so prematurely."

A London Inheritance visits the Post Office underground railway that used to hurry the mail between London sorting offices and railway termini.

A Netflix documentary tells the story of a miraculous cat sanctuary on the Greek island of Syros, reports Patricia Claus.

Friday, December 04, 2020

How Paul Marshall is spending his money now

What is Paul Marshall, the cash if not the brains behind The Orange Book, doing with his money now?

Solomon Hughes in the Morning Star writes about the new right-wing websites and magazines that heve recently appeared:

UnHerd’s “sugar daddy” is Paul Marshall, an investor with an estimated £600m fortune.

Marshall used to be a big Lib Dem donor. He pushed the Lib Dems to more free-market Orange Book politics, which led them to their coalition with the Tories.

Marshall broke with the Lib Dems over Brexit, which he firmly supported, but his support for UnHerd suggests he still wants to play a political role.

UnHerd is not as wildly right-wing as the Critic, reflecting his Lib Dem background.

But the website is keen to knock the left and promote a variety of right-wing bugbears: Murray gets a lot of space and UnHerd is particularly keen to promote anti-immigrant arguments, especially ones aimed at dividing up workers — they even have a special search button for articles about the “white working class.”

Incidentally, I don't mind quoting the Morning Star. It's one of the few publications you can be sure aren't financed by Moscow.

No Room at the Inn and The Fallen Idol

I blogged about the 1948 film No Room at the Inn the other day. Even when I was watching it, I noticed parallels between it and a better-known British film from that year: Carol Reed's The Fallen Idol.

Both involve a death by falling down a staircase that was a murder in the original story. In The Fallen Idol that was Graham Greene's short story The Basement Room and in No Room at the Inn it was the play by Joan Temple.

The above paragraph may contain spoilers.

Both have a performance by a woman actor that brilliantly captures a child's vision of an evil mother figure: Sonia Dresdel in The Fallen Idol and Freda Jackson in No Room at the Inn.

Both feature an early role - in fact these are her first two credited film roles - for the wonderful Dora Bryan.

Monkeys ‘no bigger than ping pong balls’ born at Chester Zoo

Where would I be without the Shropshire Star?

So I am pleased to see the judges have given it today's Headline of the Day Award.

Thursday, December 03, 2020

How the British Resistance would have fought Nazi occupation

From an article on The Conversation by Peter Doyle, Jamie Pringle and Kristopher Wisniewski:

Eighty years ago, as Nazi Germany’s military might amassed along the French coast, small groups of highly trained British killers bade farewell to their families and made their way underground for what could well have been their last, lethal mission. 

Known as "scallywags", these individuals – many of them gamekeepers, landowners and poachers with an intimate knowledge of the rural areas in which they would operate – were members of Britain’s clandestine World War II "Auxillary Units". And their mission, in the event of a Nazi invasion of the UK, was to operate behind enemy lines – and kill, harry and sabotage. ...

As we wrote in a recent article, the story of these individuals has long remained a closely guarded secret. And despite facing a life expectancy of just 12 days, these "scallywags" would have received no medals and no official recognition. 

Indeed, the only comfort they would have found in their hidden underground bunkers would have been their rum ration, each other – and the knowledge that they were playing a vital role as Britain’s last-ditch line of defence.

This video shows a scallywag bunker the authors recently discovered in Suffolk.

New plans submitted for my favourite derelict site in Market Harborough

It stands beside the Welland, part of it is permanently flooded and it contains a historic industrial building.

But it may not be there much longer.

From the Harborough FM site:

Revised plans have been handed in to transform a long-standing derelict site in Market Harborough.

Developers have amended their proposed scheme for flats on the corner of St Mary’s Road and Kettering Road, reducing the number from 79 to 70, with basement parking.

They also want to convert the historic former flour mill on the site into four flats.

Shropshire's museum of popular British culture to stay open through December

 A story in the Shropshire Star gives me a chance to big up one of my favourite obscure museums.

Land of Lost Content, which occupies the former market hall in Craven Arms, is to open throughout December.

Its owner and curator Stella Mitchell told the Star that, like many other small businesses throughout Shropshire, her museum of British popular culture needs the support of local communities and tourists in order to survive.

She said:

"We have been operating on a booking system so we thought we might as well do that throughout this month.

"It's hard to say if we'll be rushed off our feet but we're going to be optimistic.

"We usually say people are Christmas shopping throughout December and in January they have money, which is why we stay closed, but I think people will be looking for that something different to do this year."

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

York Road and Maiden Lane: Two lost stations north of King's Cross

York Road was on the Piccadilly Line, closing in 1932. Its revival has often been forecast but never taken place.

Jago Hazzard, whose video this is, thinks Maiden Lane on the North London Line may be a better bet. It closed as early as 1917 in the first round of closures to hit the British system. Medbourne in Leicestershire went at the same time.

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

The LNWR lines south of Market Harborough station in 1956

I have come across a website devoted to the railway photographs of Dennis John Norton. It is run by his son, who was born born nine weeks after Dennis died.

This photograph was taken on 22 May 1956 and shows the LNWR lines leaving the southern end of Market Harborough station.

The bridge in the foreground carries the tracks across the Station Approach and Rockingham Road. The signals in the distance must control the junction where the lines to Rugby and to Northampton diverge.

The line to Rugby closed in 1966, while I was aboard the last train on the Northampton line in 1981.

Jeremy Thorpe and the Liberal Party's money

Though Jeremy Thorpe was acquitted of conspiracy to murder at his Old Bailey trial, there was never any thought of his being allowed to take up a prominent role in the Liberal Party afterwards.

My impression is that it was not his entanglement with Norman Scott that sealed Thorpe's fate. It was that a generation of Liberals had realised that he could not be trusted with the party's money.

Anthony Howard touched upon this topic when reviewing Thorpe's memoirs  for the London Review of Books.

Describing the book as a 'slim and inconsequential volume', Howard refers to a subplot of the Scott affair that was known as 'the money tree':
Thorpe had always been a very successful fundraiser – he was treasurer of the Party before he became its leader – and the suspicion gradually grew that a contribution of £20,000 from ‘Union Jack’ Hayward in the Bahamas had somehow been diverted via a Channel Islands bank account and had never reached the Party coffers at all. 
The allegation, of which the prosecution should probably have made more at the trial, was that the money had gone, first to paying off Norman Scott and, when that failed to buy his silence, to funding someone to kill him. It was certainly a mysterious, murky story in which a businessman friend of Thorpe’s called Nadir Dinshaw eventually emerged as the innocent dupe. 
The best discussion of the whole imbroglio is, surprisingly, to be found in a recent book by Trevor Beeson, a former Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons, entitled Window on Westminster. Thorpe does himself few favours by ignoring the episode as if it had never occurred.

Lord Bonkers 30 years ago: How we won Eastbourne

What, I hear you ask, was Lord Bonkers doing in December 1990? 

The answer is that he was celebrating a famous Liberal Democrat by-election victory. David Bellotti, incidentally, soon turned out to be part of a circus act called 'The Flying Bellotti Brothers that often turned up in these diaries.

I am not sure I would make jokes about Zimmer frames now that my mother uses one to walk, but Lord Bonkers was young and foolish in those days.


To Eastbourne to help young Bellotti deliver a 'Thank You Focus'. (In my day the voters would queue for hours to thank the successful candidate, but autre temps, autre mœurs, I suppose.)

How clearly I recall my last visit to this celebrated resort! I presented myself bright and early at the committee rooms and was asked to drive some pensioners to the polls. A menial task for a man of my experience, you might think, but we Liberals are nothing if not democratic and I went about it with a will.

Fortunately, I had brought with me my collapsible travelling horsewhip and this eased matters considerably. the elderly voters made a terrible fuss and were constantly tripping over each other's Zimmer frames, but I got them all into the booths eventually.

I was proud to be able to say I had played my part in getting the Liberal vote out.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South West, 1906-10.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Another of London's lost rivers: The Black Ditch

Let's end November with a John Rogers video. Together with Tom Bolton, he follows the course of the Black Ditch, which turns out to be one of London's most obscure - and most lost - lost rivers.

You will find more about the Black Ditch on A London Inheritance.

John has a Patreon account to support his videos and blogs at The Lost Byway.

Freda Jackson and No Room at the Inn

Talking Pictures TV continues to be a national treasure. A couple of weekend ago screened an extraordinary British film from 1948.

Based on a 1945 play, No Room at the Inn deals with a woman who is paid to take in wartime evacuee children, but spends the money on herself and leaving the children to live in hunger and squalor. It has a strange, dark, fairy tale atmosphere and the screenplay is partly the work of the poet Dylan Thomas.

What really makes the film is the performance of Freda Jackson as the villainous Mrs Voray. A witch to the children, she makes herself attractive to men and plays the wronged saint when her treatment of her young charges is questioned.

I did not recognise her name, but I have seen her before. Before No Room at the Inn she had been a ferocious Mrs Joe in David Lean's Great Expectation and the more sympathetic figure of Prudence Honeywood, the woman farmer Sheila Sym goes to work for in A Canterbury Tale.

And, like many actors from British cinema's golden age, she was still around on television decades later - Freda Jackson appeared in Blake's 7.

Watching No Room at the Inn, I suspected there may have been an even darker story to be told and I was right. Because the film was based on a stage play that had opened in London in July 1945.

And that play has a different ending. In the film the evil Mrs Voray dies after falling down the stairs. But in the play, which I now have a copy of... Let's just say her death is not accidental.

Freda Jackson played the role on the stage too, and a Nottingham Post profile of her records:
Such was the power of her performance, audiences are said to have stood and cheered when her character was finally vanquished.
She is that good in the film too.

Freda Jackson lived in Northampton for many years and was married to the artist Harry Bird, who deserved a post of his own one day.

A play about child abuse that was premiered in the summer of 1945 will have been staged, if not written, in the shadow of the scandal over the death of Dennis O'Neill. And there are details in the play that make you think its author, Joan Temple, had that case and the reaction to it in mind.

It also provides more fuel for my theory - once the subject of a book chapter - that child abuse of all kinds is not the recent discovery that much professional literature believes.

In No Room at the Inn, a woman called Kate Grant goes to the Revd. Allworth to try to get him to help one of the children. The following exchange takes place:
ALLWORTH: I do beg you not to think me unsympathetic. If I told you about the cases I have here! One wretched girl is pregnant - only fifteen, and she's got a bad case of V.D.!

KATE (rising): God in heaven! And with that case before you, you turn your back on a child who may - through neglect - become just such another case one of these days.
Not that the play is without humour. When another character challenges her, Mrs Voray's reaction is:
Well, you can't tell me much about children. I've buried three of me own.
One of the children, incidentally, was played both on stage and screen by Joan Dowling, who I have blogged about before.

You can find a version of the film of No Room at the Inn online, but it lasts only an hour when the version screened by Talking Pictures TV ran for 90 minutes.

Six of the Best 980

"There is a perception that we are too managerial, trying not to stray too far from the middle of the road, transformed into precisely the milquetoast, anodyne, irrelevant party that we spent years trying to persuade people that we weren’t." Gracchus questions Liberal Democrat strategy.

"If any prime minister in the past had shown such a determined ignorance of the dynamics of global capitalism, the massed ranks of British capital would have stepped in to force a change of direction. Yet today, while the CBI and the Financial Times call for the softest possible Brexit, the Tory party is no longer listening." David Edgerton on what the Conservative pursuit of Brexit tells us about the British economy.

Melanie Ramdarshan Bold supports Marcus Rashford's book club: "But the number of children reading every day for pleasure is at its lowest since the National Literacy Trust started monitoring it in 2005. In 2019, only 26 per cent of young people (under 18) read every day. Although engagement with books has risen during lockdown, some children have faced greater barriers due to library closures, amongst other things."

Liz Cookman reports on the Armenian exodus from Nagorno-Karabakh.

Contrary to what The Queens Gambit told you, the former women's world chess champion Nona Gaprindashvili often faced male opponents. She talks to Fatima Hudoon about her career.

"It’s not surprising that the dilapidated grandeur of this cemetery - with its ivy-entwined gothic monuments - would generate legends of hauntings and sinister creatures, and draw those with an interest in the occult and macabre." David Castleton asks if vampires stalked Highgate cemetery in the 1970s.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Backlisted on The Compleet Molesworth

One of my favourite podcasts, Backlisted, which looks each fortnight at a book that has fallen into neglect, celebrates its fifth birthday with an episode on the four Molesworth books by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle, which are published in one volume as The Compleet Molesworth.

Published between 1953 and 1959 these books are a satire on English prep schools of the period, narrated by the schoolboy Nigel Molesworth. Searle illustrations accentuate Willans' words and introduce a strange humour of their own. No one who has seen his Romans and Gauls or his gerunds will forget them.

I read these books as a boy and loved them, because you don't have to have been to a private school to appreciate their humour. Molesworth's St Custards is the universal skool (as he would write it) and its satire can be applied to all hierarchical institutions - in other words, to all institutions.

Whatever the limitations of his spelling, Molesworth has a penetrating intelligence. I like the podcast's suggestion that he grew up to be Jonathan Meades. He is particularly clear-eyed about relations between adults and children: they are natural enemies. See his advice in Back in the Jug Agane to "beware of addults, whether parents or beaks".

And yet. I have come to the conclusion that sending boys away to boarding school at the age of seven or eight is not only a form of child abuse - see the comments on my post about Nevill Holt, a local prep school that closed after a police raid - but also produces men who go on to make a dreadful hash of running the country.

So I have some sympathy with what Thomas Jones once wrote:

the great disingenuousness of the Molesworth books is that they appear to exaggerate the institutional horror when their actual effect is to condone the institution. It’s perhaps worth noting that the books have never been samizdat texts in prep schools.

Willans, indeed, is reported to have been delighted when he learnt that schoolmasters were giving out his books as prizes - not the reaction of a mordant satirist.

But then, though the awfulness of prep school life was an accepted them of English letters since at least the publication of F. Anstey's Vice Versa in 1882, fathers went on sending their sons there. Not only that: you suspect that after being shown round they had a quite word with the head to make sure the old place still had cold showers and a school leopard.

Despite this, I still like the Molesworth books: it's hard to reject anything work that helped form your own sense of humour. And I can certainly recommend the Backlisted podcast.

Henry Thomas: Bull Doze Blues

I thought I would choose Canned Heat's Going Up the Country, which became a sort of anthem for the Woodstock Festival in 1968. 

That was until I researched it.

Because it turns out that it is more or less a cover of a much earlier record: Bull Doze Blues by Henry Thomas, which was recorded in 1928.

Wikipedia makes Henry Thomas sound a mysterious figure:

His life and career after his last recordings in 1929 have not been chronicled. Although the blues researcher Mack McCormick stated that he saw a man in Houston in 1949 who met Thomas's description, most biographers indicate that Thomas died in 1930, when he would have been 55 or 56 years old.

A mania for 'authenticity' can be misplaced and Going Up the Country is still a great record, but I went for Henry Thomas today.

Thomas, incidentally, is playing the quills, an African-American folk instrument from the era of slavery. The sound is more or less reproduced on the Canned Heat record with a flute.

Tony Greaves on rebuilding the Lib Dems - and how we may disappear if we get it wrong

It's difficult to find anyone with more liberal blood running through their veins than Tony Greaves, says an interview in the Yorkshire Post.

The Lib Dem peer talks about his career in the Liberal Party and the Liberal Democrats and then gives his view on what the Lib Dems must do now to rebuild:

"The party's grassroots operation is nothing like it was 20-25 years ago.

"But it is still there in substantial factions, where it exists, and that is what is going to give the party the chance to rebuild.

"And if the party doesn't do it that way and throws it away, then I think the party will disappear."

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Friday, November 27, 2020

The Long Man of Wilmington

Tom Holland explores the possible beginnings, folklore and history of the The Long Man of Wilmington, a scheduled ancient monument cared for by The Sussex Archaeological Society.

Six of the Best 979

Stuart Crawford asks if Scottish independence could save the Liberal Democrats.

Jonathan Lis argues that the British public would have more respect for the government if it owned up to its many mistakes and explains why it can never do so.

ITV never recovered from Margaret Thatcher's reaction to its documentary Death on the Rock, says David Elstein.

"School lunches are not just about food and cafeterias. The topic touches upon wellbeing, health, social issues, education, farming and agriculture, the environment, politics, parenting and more." Rebeca Plantier is right.

"The main cast is rounded out by two extraordinary child actors, Martin Stephens and Pamela Franklin, who manage to appear both sinister and vulnerable; and the beloved character actress Megs Jenkins, as kindly, illiterate housekeeper Mrs. Grose (she played Mrs Grose again in a 1974 adaptation.) All are excellent, but it’s Stephens who turns in the most dominant performance in the crucial role of Miles. He is a brilliant actor; unfortunately he didn’t continue his acting career into adulthood. The cinematic world grieves." Jane Nightshade  looks back at possibly the best cinematic ghost story ever made, 1961's The Innocents.

Lee Thacker looks at  Anthony Newley's ground-breaking television comedy series The Strange World Of Gurney Slade: "Having been given a prime time slot at 8:35pm on a Saturday night, hopes must have been high that the series would be a hit, after 12.5 million people tuned in; however, this dropped by a third for the next episode, and the remainder of the run was unceremoniously shunted to post-11pm."

The spooky background of Boris Johnson's new chief of staff

The Guardian reports today:

Boris Johnson has appointed Dan Rosenfield, a relatively little-known former Treasury official and banker, to become his chief of staff, a key part of a reorganisation process following the departure of Dominic Cummings.

Rosenfield currently works for Hakluyt, an upmarket corporate advisory firm that has a number of former intelligence members among its staff.

I came across Hakluyt some years ago on sites like WikiSpooks, which tells us:

Hakluyt fills a niche in the spook sector by specializing in upmarket business, with which it has been very successful. In its brochure, Hakluyt promises to find information for its clients which they "will not receive by the usual government, media and commercial routes". The company tries to distinguish itself from other business intelligence consultants, spinmasters and clipping services. 

"We do not take anything off the shelf, nothing off the Net—we assume that any company worth its salt has done all of that," Hakluyt's Michael Maclay explained at a 1999 conference in the Netherlands. "We go with the judgement of people who know the countries, the élites, the industries, the local media, the local environmentalists, all the factors that will feed into big decisions being made."

It also says Hakkuyt was set up in 1995 by three "UK spooks" and by 2001 claimed a quarter of FTSE 100 companies as its clients.

That year it ran into controversy when the Sunday Times claimed that it had underhand tactics to gain information about Greenpeace and those dangerous radicals at Body Shop.

The most colour about Hakluyt I have found is in an article on the website of the wealth management firm Spears. It begins:

When Christopher James launched his business intelligence firm in 1994 - before anyone knew what business intelligence was - he named it after an international man of mystery.

Richard Hakluyt was an Elizabethan priest, diplomat, spy and travel writer who, while posted to Paris as secretary to the English ambassador, had kept Walsingham informed about French and Spanish activities there. 

That’s not a career so different from James’s own, which has taken in the SAS, MI6 and the FCO, the core of Britain’s secretive global influence.

It also tells us that "a friend from the Welsh Guards, Christopher Wilkins, chipped in with some money to rent an office" when the company began trading.

How did I come across Hakluyt?

I disappeared down this particular rabbit hole because Christopher Wilkins is the son of the once popular and now forgotten historical novelist Vaughan Wilkins, whom I have blogged about from time to time.

"If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise," as William Blake put it.

When I thought of writing this post I found I had quite forgotten how I knew Christopher Wilkins was Vaughan Wilkins' son. But I managed to prove it all over again via the University of Sheffield's catalogue of its holdings of the papers of an obscure Labour peer and a website about Suffolk artists.

Maybe someone in the intelligence field should offer me a job?

No-deal Brexit could lead to increase in dogging in Kent lay-bys, cabinet minister warns

Kent Online wins our Headline of the Day Award.

The judges noted that, while the cabinet minister is not named in the story, it does provide direct quotes from him:

"Do Europeans even do dogging? There is something deeply British about dogging."

Thursday, November 26, 2020

A BBC trailer for The Box of Delights

And a lead in to Tenko too.

Note that Herne the Hunter was played by Stanley Baker's son. Herne should be a tough guy like that.

Hoscar: The least-used station in Lancashire

Hoscar stands on the Southport to Wigan line a few miles from Ormskirk.

It's the least-used station in Lancashire and the subject of another of Geoff Marshalls' videos.