Thursday, October 30, 2014

Carole King and Paul Simon in 1959

Carole King (centre) and Paul Simon between takes in a New York recording studio.

GettyImages dates this photo to "circa 1959".

Homophobic monk photographed in Cambridge

The latest on our new folk devil comes from Cambridge News:
Vile leaflets that say HIV represents God's judgment on homosexuality and transgender people "need counselling and exorcism" have sparked anger in Cambridge. 
A "sinister monk" has been spotted around the Mill Road area in Cambridge this week delivering the pamphlets to homes, which also state paedophilia "claims its historic place in homosexualism". 
The man, who posed for photographs when confronted by residents, is believed to be the same person who targeted homes in the city in May.
One of those residents sent a photograph to Sarah Brown, who tweeted it.

Fiona Woolf will resign, but I'm more worried about the Home Office

As the Daily Telegraph reports this evening, Fiona Woolf, the head of the government’s child sex abuse inquiry, is facing renewed calls for her resignation. This is after it emerged that the Home Office played a key role in r-writing a personal letter setting out her suitability for the job.

As the Telegraph says:
The final version of Mrs Woolf’s letter was finally sent to Theresa May, the Home Secretary, on October 11, in which Mrs Woolf stated her personal contact with Lord Brittan would not affect her “independence and impartiality”. 
But earlier drafts of her letter – seven in all – were ping-ponged between Mrs Woolf’s private office, the Home Office, lawyers to the sex abuse inquiry and counsel representing the Home Secretary. 
Although the letter gave the impression of being a personal statement of impartiality by Mrs Woolf, the truth was very different. 
The final draft had been altered beyond recognition when compared with the original version. 
Furthermore, an unknown number of lawyers and civil servants had been allowed to have input into Mrs Woolf’s letter. 
As pointed out by the chairman of the home affairs select committee, Keith Vaz MP, even the facts appeared to have been manipulated to place greater distance between Mrs Woolf and Lord Brittan.
I can't see Fiona Woolf choosing to stay in this role, but I am more concerned about the behaviour of the Home Office.

Because so many people are hoping for different things from this inquiry, it was always likely to prove a disappointment. But we should at least be able to expect it to be independent of the Home Office - one of the bodies it should be investigating.

I would rather see Theresa May haled before the Grand Wazoo Keith Vaz and his committee than see Fiona Woolf there again. The Home Secretary has some explaining to do.

Still, you have to laugh at the suggestion of the writer of the Telegraph report, David Barrett, that it "emerged after Lady Butler-Sloss’ appointment that her late brother, Sir Michael Havers, was attorney general in the 1980s".

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

British diesel, electric and steam trains in 1959


Another still from Weavers Green

Switchboards have been jammed and phones have been ringing off the hook since I discovered the short-lived Anglia TV soap opera Weavers Green.

Here is another cast photograph. The woman is Marjie Lawrence, who enjoyed a 50-year career in films and television.

The boy is John Moulder-Brown, who worked throughout the 1960s as a child actor and starred with Jane Asher as a teenager in Jerzy Skolimowski's extraordinary 1970 film Deep End - something I must blog about one day.

The dog went on to produce Sale of the Century.

Are all Liberal leadership contests Steel vs Pardoe?

I was not a member of the Liberal Party in 1976 because there was no branch in Market Harborough to recruit me.

But I knew I was a Liberal and that my favourite MPs were David Penhaligon and John Pardoe. So when Pardoe stood against David Steel for the leadership of the party I knew whose side I was on.

And you could argue that the 1976 contest set a pattern for later Liberal and Liberal Democrat leadership elections.

One candidate (Steel) was orthodox, sensible and just a little dull. The other (Pardoe) was more charismatic, more open to new ideas and just a little unreliable in his judgement.

So in later contests Paddy Ashdown was a Pardoe and Alan Beith was a Steel. And Chris Huhne was a Pardoe and Ming Campbell and then Nick Clegg were Steels. In all these cases I voted for the Pardoe.

It doesn't always work: in 1999 there were five candidates. I suppose you could make a case for Charles Kennedy being a sort of Social Democrat Steel, but a clear Pardoe failed to emerge.

Can we project this pattern back into past? I don't know, but it tempting to see Asquith as a Steel and Lloyd George as a Pardoe.

And was Jo Grimond a Steel or a Pardoe? He seems to have combined the better qualities of both.

Six of the Best 471

"Trading insults back and forth with your opponents might feel good to the One True Party activist, but it’s not likely to attract the voter who knows that there are no true parties, just a group of different parties that might do different things. When offered with ‘you must vote for us because we’re right about everything’ in several different forms, is it any wonder when they go for something entirely different?" Good stuff from Nick Barlow.

Caron Lindsay is spitting furious about Johann Lamont's resignation on Liberal Democrat Voice. 

Forget HS3, 'Transport for the North' was the real meat of Monday's announcement, says CityMetric.

Putin’s Moscow is anxious, gilded and hollow, argues Lucian Kim for Reuters.

"With the concept of “extreme” pornography poorly defined, and without reliable guidance from CPS to prosecutors, individuals find it difficult to determine what is and isn’t legal. Perhaps, this is why a law which experts predicted would get less than 30 cases a year has had over 5,000 convictions since its inception." On the News Statesman site, Margaret Corvid explains why the Extreme Pornography Act should be repealed.

Flashbak on the day Julie Christie and Dirk Bogarde visited Lord's.

Nii Nortei Nortey wins Name of the Day

Congratulations to the former Chelsea academy player now with Maidenhead.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Old Grammar School, Market Harborough, and Stokesay Castle

Market Harborough's Old Grammar School has emerged from its wrappings with a different colour scheme to the black-and-white one we are used to.

The new colours grow on me a little more every time I see them and I have worked out which building the Old Grammar School now reminds me of.

I have worked it out. It is the gatehouse at Stokesay Castle in Shropshire.

Monday, October 27, 2014

David bloody Dimbleby has been at it since 1950

If you work with the media, come across someone with a familiar name and think "I wonder if he is related to...", the answer is always yes.

The later adventures of Jackie Ballard

Third Sector has an interview with the former Liberal Democrat MP for Taunton:
In July, Ballard, 61, became chief executive of Alcohol Concern, the charity that aims to minimise the risks of alcohol by campaigning for legislative change and by educating the public about the dangers. 
On paper, it is something of a comedown for a woman who has led two of the country's biggest and best-known charities to take the helm at one that employs 14 people and had an income of about £1m in 2014. But Ballard does not see it that way. 
"My career in the voluntary sector has been about roles that interest me and offer challenge, and a cause that I can support," she says. 
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice"I've not followed the money either in terms of my salary or the income of the organisations I've worked for. If you look at my voluntary sector career, I started at the RSPCA and I've been working my way down in size ever since."

Dylan Thomas and Richard Jefferies

Dylan Thomas was born 100 years ago today. Though my own personal 1930s poet W.T. Nettlefold told me Thomas never bought his round, I am happy to celebrate his centenary with his reading of Fern Hill:

This poem reminds me of the last lines of Wood Magic by Richard Jefferies:
Bevis gathered the harebell, and ran with the flower in his hand down the hill, and as he ran the wild thyme kissed his feet and said: "Come again, Bevis, come again". At the bottom of the hill the waggon was loaded now; so they lifted him up, and he rode home on the broad back of the leader.
And it that sounds twee, don't be deceived. Wood Magic - the most underrated of Jefferies' books - is anything but. The natural world the young Bevis discovers is a thoroughly Darwinian one.

Jefferies does not use nature to point lessons for human politics: rather he uses the ruthlessness of that politics as a metaphor to help us understand nature.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Jimi Hendrix at the Saville theatre

Rock's greatest guitarist photographed at the Saville theatre, London, a couple of years before I performed there.

White men sounding Black

Why is this embarrassing:

this in danger of being embarrasing (sorry about the advert):

and this sublime?

Big Pumpkin: How a sinister cabal of pumpkin farmers is behind the rise of Halloween

Four years ago, for reasons best known to itself, the Yorkshire Post quoted me as an authority on the way Halloween has supplanted Bonfire Night as a British folk festival.

Two years before that, I had written in my much-mourned (by me) New Statesman column Calder's Comfort Farm:
I’ve got no time for Trick or Treat. It’s just demanding money with menaces and, in the South of England at least, a recent import from America. Worse, paranoid modern parents insist on accompanying their children, trailing behind them with big soppy grins. 
A Penny for the Guy was more my style: good, honest begging with a token creative effort thrown in. Children spent hours shivering on street corners before blowing themselves up with fireworks. That sort of thing builds character.
I now think I know what is behind all this.

Halloween is being promoted in Britain by a sinister cabal of pumpkin farmers. Follow the money - it's Big Pumpkin.

Cream: Sunshine of Your Love

Jack Bruce, bass player and lead singer with Cream, died yesterday.

This is one of Cream's most famous songs. Because it dates from the era when great rock bands did not look down their noses at the singles chart, it made the top 30 in 1968.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Two actors from Weavers Green

Given the breathless excitement that accompanied my discovery of the forgotten Anglia TV soap opera Weavers Green, I thought I would share this photograph with you.

It shows two members of the cast: Grant Taylor and (with the cigarette) Eric Flynn.

The evenings really were longer when I was young

The sort of people who think we should have British Summer Time all the year round are like those who think voting should be compulsory or that Richard Branson should be prime minister.

In all these cases, find someone else to talk to as soon as possible.

If you doubt me, revisit the question of putting the clocks back around 6 January and ask yourself then if you really want it to be an hour darker and an hour colder when you have to get up for work.

But I was surprised by a fact in the Independent's article suggesting this could be the last time we put the clocks back.

I knew there had been an experiment with year-round summer time in the 1960s. There is an archive clip of children, bundled up against the cold and looking a little quaint to modern eyes, going to school in the dark that the BBC wheels out every time this debate takes place. It is a little odd to think that I must have looked like that.

What I did not know is that this experiment lasted four years: from 1968 to 1971. So the reason I remember longer light evenings when you could play out when I was little is that they really were like that.

A reader complains: Isn't this rather self-centred. You were fine with year-round summer time when it meant you could play out, but now you have to go to work you are against the idea?

Liberal England replies: Not at all. Under the present regime, which I support, I sometimes have to put up with a 23-hour birthday. We all have to be prepared to make sacrifices.

Torquay United mascot Gilbert the Gull 'called fans c**** and tried to start a fight'

The Independent wins Headline of the Day - and Gilbert the Gull wins Football Mascot of the Day.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Last train to Folkestone Harbour

This was the last public train to use the Folkstone Harbour Branch. It was drawn by BR Class 7P Britannia 70013 (Oliver Cromwell) on 14 March 2009 (with a Class 47 helping from the rear).

Wikipedia suggests that an occasional inspection train used the line until the line was officially closed on 31 May this year.

Six of the Best 470

Every time David Cameron could show leadership he doesn't, says So Sam said....

University tuition fees must be high on the agenda before the election, argues Dorothy Bishop on the Council for the Defence of British Universities site.

"The rise of ADHD diagnoses and prescriptions for stimulants over the years coincided with a remarkably successful two-decade campaign by pharmaceutical companies to publicize the syndrome and promote the pills to doctors, educators and parents. With the children’s market booming, the industry is now employing similar marketing techniques as it focuses on adult ADHD, which could become even more profitable." A New York Times article by Alan Schwarz quotes the views of Professor Emeritus Keith Conners.

The RSPB warns against putting dredging ahead of other flood-prevention measures.

Philosophy for Life looks at Iris Murdoch's techniques of "unselfing" in her novels and philosophical writings.

It starts with a photograph and ends with murder. A remarkable post on 1960s London from Crime Time.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

London's transport system during World War II

Filmed after the start of the Blitz, City Bound is an exploration of the daily commute into London from the suburbs in 1941.

Alvin Stardust and the sale of honours

I was sorry to hear of the death of Alvin Stardust. His first hit reminds me of my first months in Market Harborough. The song was played for what seemed like months by Radio Luxembourg before the BBC took it up and made it a hit.

Rather improbably, I find that he inspired one of my columns for Liberal Democrat News back in 2006.

So, by way of a tribute here it is again. The investigation into Lord Levy came to nothing, though all parties sell honours to some extent.

Identity crisis

Identity can be a complicated business. Take the case of young Bernard Jewry, who developed a love of rock music and hung out with a band called Johnny Theakston and the Tremeloes. In 1959 the band sent a tape to the BBC under the name Shane Fenton and the Beat Boys. Then tragedy struck: Johnny died.

When the BBC wrote back asking Shane Fenton and his band to play on a live radio programme Bernard Jewry became the new Shane Fenton - he even changed his name by deed poll - and a pop career was launched.

But musical fashions change, and after four hits Shane Fenton faded from view. Until in 1973 he was reborn as Alvin Stardust with the single "My Coo Ca Choo".

There are two reasons why the career of Bernard Jewry/Shane Fenton/Alvin Stardust is topical.

The first is that makes you wonder how the government's identity card scheme would cope with him. According to Joan Ryan at home office questions on Monday, everything is in on course. Cards will be phased in from 2008. "I repeat: 2008," she added, on the basis that if you say something often enough it must be true.

If you prefer to believe the officials working on the scheme, then the current plans are not remotely feasible. According to leaked e-mails, they fear a botched introduction that could delay ID cards for a generation.

Of course, for Liberal Democrats that would be very good news. But we must be wary of relying solely upon government incompetence to see ID cards off. We must continue to argue about the principle, showing people how these cards threaten a fundamental alteration in the relations between citizens and the state.

The second reason for being interested in Alvin Stardust is that his manager was a streetwise young accountant called Michael Levy. Today he is better known as Lord Levy.

What would people in 1973 have made of the idea that one day Alvin Stardust's manager would be arrested and there would be excited talk of the prime minister resigning?

Lord Levy once said that he and the prime minister were "like brothers". I doubt he would say that now. Tony Blair will have to find someone else to be his coo ca choo.

Take it away, Alvin...

Romanian princess sentenced to probation for staging cockfights

The Guardian wins our Headline of the Day award.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Weavers Green: A forgotten soap opera

Anglia Television did not much like Emmerdale Farm. It was the last of the old regional ITV companies to schedule the Yorkshire farming soap in a prime evening slot.

The reason for this - ignoring a row over the Belmont transmitting station - was that Anglia had got there first with a rural soap opera, only to see it founder.

BFI Screenonline explains:
In the 1960s, independent television was dominated by the 'big four' regional companies: ATV, ABC, Granada and Associated Rediffusion. These four produced the majority of programmes for the ITV network, and so it was a surprise when Norwich-based Anglia Television successfully sold them the concept of a twice-weekly drama serial named Weavers Green (ITV, 1966). 
The serial was envisaged as 'a mirror of country life', and to this end Anglia recorded the majority of the scenes on location, using videotape instead of film. This made the show extremely expensive and it was widely described in the press as the most elaborate and, at £250,000, the most expensive television serial to date. 
But despite this blaze of publicity and optimism, Weavers Green lasted for only 25 weeks and is barely remembered today, thanks largely to the political machinations of independent television.
The cast of Weavers Green was impressive, with various sources listing actors who had been or would become well known: Megs Jenkins, Dennis Waterman, Susan George, Wendy Richard, Kate O'Mara, John Moulder-Brown.

You can learn more about Weavers Green in this recent ITV News report.

And, thanks to the wonders of the internet, you can watch its rather overemphatic opening titles above.

Münchausen syndrome was named by Jane Asher's father

Münchausen syndrome is a psychological disorder wherein people feign illness to gain attention, sympathy or reassurance.

It was named by the British endocrinologist and haematologist Richard Asher.

And Richard Asher was the father of the actress Jane Asher - and also of the musician Peter Asher, who once left a comment on this blog.

I think we have found our Trivial Fact of the Day.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

From Richard III to Rudyard Kipling

Longstanding readers will remember that Rudyard Kipling was named after Rudyard Lake in Staffordshire.

But where did the lake, in reality a canal reservoir, get its name?

It was named after - and this is our Trivial Fact of the Day - Ralph Rudyard, who is reputed to have slain Richard III at Bosworth.

A London tram poster

If you are interested in London trams, I recommend the short film The Elephant Will Never Forget.

Why I do not support the recall of MPs

I am a great believer in representative democracy. You elect someone and if you do not like how he or she performs as your MP, you vote for someone else at the next election.

Increasingly, however - fuelled chiefly by the expenses scandal - there have been moves to allow voters to petition for the ejection of an MP between elections and the holding of by-elections.

Some versions of recall require an MP to be convicted of a criminal offence or some other former of wrongdoing. Others just require the voters not to like them very much.

It is this latter sort of recall that is championed by the Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith. And the problems with it were laid bare by the Labour MP Kevan Jones in the Commons today:
Mr Kevan Jones: I am very interested in what the hon. Gentleman says about recall empowering voters. In practice, would it not do what it does in the United States, which is to empower wealthy individuals who are not happy with what their representative is doing to mobilise against them? It would empower wealthy individuals, such as the hon. Gentleman, to influence events in a way that my ordinary constituents and I cannot? 
Zac Goldsmith: I will explain why such concerns are groundless during my speech, but I will make one point, partly in response to the Opposition spokesman. Concerns about expenditure during the recall process are a matter for regulations; the amendments that my colleagues and I seek to introduce would not tamper with the Government’s proposed regulations on expenses. That separate technical issue can be very easily addressed. 
Mr Jones: I am sorry, but that is not the point. Expenditure limits can be put on the recall election, but the campaigning in the lead-up to such an election would undermine the representative in getting their constituents— 
Douglas Carswell: Trust the voters. Mr Jones: This is not about trusting the voters, but about putting influence in the hands of a small group of very wealthy individuals. If the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), with the wealth he has, wanted to shift a Member of Parliament, he could do it. 
Zac Goldsmith: The hon. Gentleman takes a very dim view of his electorate if he thinks that that is so easy. Irrespective of that, the two-month petition stage before a referendum will be regulated, so his cost arguments simply do not apply. 
Mr Jones: What happens in practice in the United States is that individuals who take against a policy or a state or national representative can use their tremendous wealth to use a campaign in the lead-up to the recall election to undermine such a representative. The idea that that is somehow empowering the voters is not the case. Recall empowers very wealthy individuals who could then— 
Douglas Carswell: You don’t trust the voters. 
Mr Jones: I do trust the electorate. The hon. Gentleman should stop chuntering from a sedentary position. The fact is that recall will give influence over who the Member of Parliament is not to the majority of the electors but to a small group of very wealthy individuals.
Note how Douglas Carswell, despite his change of party, has mastered the art of modern politics - feigning outrage on behalf of some group or other. Most debates on education, for instance, consist in accusing your opponent of "not trusting parents" or "not trusting teachers".

Yes, it can be irritating if an MP is caught doing wrong and refuses to resign. But there is a danger that the cure will be worse than the remedy.

And I have a particular reason for not giving wealthy Tories - you might even say Richmond Tories - the power to launch campaigns against MPs from other parties in this way.

As I recalled back in 2010:
In 1981 Adrian Slade won the Richmond seat on the Greater London Council for the Liberal Party, defeating the sitting Conservative Edward Leigh in the process. The Conservatives then lodged an [unsuccessful] election petition, contesting the result because of technical errors in Slade's return of expenses for the contest. 
The process, however, left Adrian facing ruinous legal expenses. His friends rallied round and staged An Evening At Court on Sunday the 23 January 1983 at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, to help him raise the money. As Smarter than the Average! tells you in exhaustive detail, many of the greats of British comedy performed that evening.

Local councillor seeks Lib Dem nomination for Taunton Deane

Liberal Democrat councillor Ross Henley is to seek nomination as the party's next parliamentary candidate for Taunton Deane, reports the Around Wellington website.

This, of course, is the Lib Dem seat to be vacated at the next general election by Jeremy "There is a world beyond politics full of opportunities and it will be exciting to explore it" Browne.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The wraps are off the Old Grammar School, Market Harborough

Not the colour scheme we are used to. Taken in town on Saturday morning.

The "breathtaking hypocrisy" of Mark Reckless

Robert Hutton spells out how little Reckless can be trusted for Bloomberg:
Mark Reckless, who last month became the second Conservative lawmaker to defect to the U.K. Independence Party, is focusing his campaign to hold his seat on blocking a proposal he backed when he was a Tory. 
Leaflets going out to voters in Rochester & Strood attack a “Tory Stitch-Up” over a plan to build 5,000 houses in Lodge Hill, a rural area that’s one of Britain’s most important nightingale colonies. ...
Reckless was less troubled by the area’s wildlife in March 2013, when he made a speech in Parliament objecting to delays in giving the development the go-ahead. “The comparison to be drawn is between those 84 nightingales and homes for 12,000 people and jobs for a further 5,000 people,” he said. 
Nick Boles, who was then the Tory planning minister and responded to Reckless’s speech, today attacked his former colleague. “Breathtaking hypocrisy,” he wrote on Twitter. “He lobbied me repeatedly in favor of development at Lodge Hill. Rochester & Strood deserve better.” 
In 2013, Reckless was clear that the development should go ahead. He told Parliament that it had been delayed because “a study of some description has discovered that 84 nightingales might use the site.” He warned that delay would cause economic damage. “We are told by the prime minister that we are in a global race, but it is not clear that that message has yet filtered through,” he said.

Acker Bilk: Stranger on the Shore

There was a clarinetist busking in St Mary's Place, Market Harborough, yesterday and because he was playing this I stopped to give him some money. Because it was pure nostalgia for me.

We did not have many records at home when I was a little boy, but one of them was an Acker Bilk
EP which included Stranger on the Shore. Released as a single in 1961, it reached no. 2 in the UK and (remarkably for a British record in those days) no. 1 in the USA.

Still playing at 85, Acker Bilk was one of the stars of the British trad jazz boom that preceded the British invasion groups of the 1960s. Such was his fame that people used to joke about their being a Bilk Marketing Board.

Stranger of the Shore was written by Bilk and originally named after his young daughter Jenny. It got its new title when it was used as the theme for the BBC television series Stranger of the Shore.

I had always imagined this was a mystery story of some kind, but Wikipedia says it was about a French au pair living with a family in Brighton.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Alan Bennett in Forty Years On

The mention of Virginia Woolf in Six of the Best this evening put me irresistibly in mind of this scene from Alan Bennett's Forty Years On. (He is not playing the headmaster, as the blurb on Youtube suggests, but the schoolmaster Tempest.)

You can hear the whole play, with Bennett, John Gielgud and Paul Eddington, elsewhere on Youtube.

Its combination of high literary pastiche and low puns is very much to my taste.

There will be no women Liberal Democrat cabinet ministers in this parliament

"And owing to ... what's that something of circumstances you hear people talking about? Cats enter into it, if I remember rightly."
Would concatenation be the word for which you are groping?"
"That's it. Owing to a concatenation of circumstances...."
Thank you, Jeeves.

Owing to an unfortunate concatenation of circumstances, as Stephen Tall makes clear, there are to be no female Liberal Democrat cabinet ministers in this parliament now that Nick Clegg has decided not to have a reshuffle before the next election:
It’s an understandable decision in some ways. The best time to promote Jo [Swinson] (and there’s no doubt she deserves to be in the cabinet on merit) would have been a year ago, when Nick reshuffled his ministerial team. That would have given her 18 months in post, time to achieve something in office. However, she was just about to go on maternity leave. Promoting Jo now would mean she has just six months in post at a time when she’ll want to focus all her political energy on retaining her marginal East Dunbartonshire constituency. 
But the decision not to reshuffle does mean the Lib Dems will have gone an entire five years in government without a single one of our female MPs becoming a cabinet minister. That’s not a record in government of which we can be proud.
I would only add that it is not a record of which Nick Clegg can be proud.

As he should have learnt by now, people have an unfortunate habit of judging you, not on your words or intentions,but on your actions.

Six of the Best 469

"Online voting for national elections and referendums is a bad idea; they tried it in Estonia and the system has been found insecure ... Even electronic ballot counting can be fraught with errors; it might be impossible to say who actually won the London Mayoral Election in 2008." Jazz Hands, Serious Business comes out against online voting.

Killian Bourke on Liberal Democrat Voice offers a radical, Liberal and localist alternative to NHS commissioning.

The academies programme has transformed England’s educational landscape, argues The Economist.

Inforrm's Blog on " the most bewildering judgment for many years" - a celebrity has been barred from the courts about publishing a book about his own childhood abuse.

"Not for them the countryside of traditional farming and hunting, nor the ramshackle urbanity of Georgian ­Brighton. No — they dream of an integrated eco/bio/renewable future of steel and glass that will render the inefficient past obsolete." Brighton has become an object lesson in why it is a disaster to vote Green, says Tim Stanley in the Spectator.

Brain Pickings has the only known recording of Virginia Woolf's voice.

A puppet theatre at Marshbrook

The other day I blogged about the new Radio Times database.

One of the first things I did with it, of course, was search for my favourite places in Shropshire. This threw up some fascinating (and on doubt long wiped) regional radio broadcasts on folklore and farming from the early years of radio. And it confirmed that Down Your Way and Gardners' Question Time visited every settlement in the kingdom twice.

But it also threw up something unexpected. Because in 1969 Home This Afternoon ("A family magazine introduced from the Midlands by David Stevens") included this item:
Hand-in-glove at Fiddler's Folly: Keith Ackrill has been to see Shropshire's only permanent Puppet Theatre, run by Douglas Ward, in a valley near Church Stretton.
A puppet theatre in a valley near Church Stretton? It sounds unlikely, but there really was one.

I found it on the Beresford's Puppets website:
We had heard about Fiddler's Folly, which was over the other side of Shropshire, so we phoned and made a date to visit. It was run by Doug Ward, who had inherited his parents large house along the old road (now just a rutted track, superseded by the A49) from Shrewsbury to Ludlow near Church Stretton. When he was just a lad, his parents had let him use the small, empty, derelict cottage in the garden for a puppet workshop and later a theatre. It was - and still is - a beautiful and quiet site, with very few houses close by and on the edge of the Long Mynd (Mynd - mountain). The picture shows the cottage being renovated; Doug's house was the white house behind. 
Doug's assistant was Hilda Cross who had her own puppet show with which she toured schools and was responsible for the schools side of Fiddler's Folly. She, with the help of her husband Harry, made many of the Folly's puppets. Doug produced and directed the shows and was a good pianist and singer. The cottage was two storied and had a twenty five seat theatre downstairs and an exhibition room upstairs. School classes would visit and half would see the show whilst the other half looked at puppets and had pop and biscuits. ... 
Doug came into some money and decided to renovate the cottage theatre. Much of the work was self help. Son, Chris and I doing a lot of the rewiring and designing of the staging. Chris's then girlfriend, Helen, also helped as a labourer. The raked seating was improved and the staging completely rebuilt so that it extended into the upper floor. 
Many of the summer, public events were held in the garden.
Fiddler's Folly was at Marshbrook, the Onnybrook of Malcolm Saville's Lone Pine books for children.

The estate agent's particulars do not say exactly where the house is, but I suspect it stands on the lane that runs parallel with the railway. This follows the route of a Roman road, and when the lane peters out you can follow the Roman road as a footpath over the hill to Wistanstow.

Nick Clegg gets it wrong on Danny Alexander and Vince Cable

Back in June I wrote that Nick Clegg would be making a mistake if he appointed Danny Alexander as our economic spokesman for 2015.

He has now made that mistake.

Let me cut and paste what I wrote in June:
I do hope that Nick will not appoint Danny as our economic spokesman at the next election. I have not seen a single media or parliamentary performance from Danny that has involved him doing more than shuffle a limited number of prefabricated sentences. It is hard to imagine him doing well in the televised chancellors' debate, for instance. 
By contrast, Vince (who performed so capably in that debate in 2010) has the respect of the public and has the priceless ability to take credit for the good things the government has done and give the impression that the bad things are nothing to do with us. 
He is also able to command the House of Commons in a way that Danny can only dream of.
Perhaps that was a little unfair to Danny, but there is no doubt that Vince cuts a far more impressive figure.

And, as I also said in June, if Nick wants a fresh face, why not choose Steve Webb?

Friday, October 17, 2014

A cab ride from Liverpool Street to King's Lynn in 1989

A couple of hours in the company of a driver who is knowledgeable about railway practice - and much else.

Look out for Cambridge and Ely on the way,

High-visibility vests are the new blazers

Back in 2009 I quoted a post from the Conservative blog Curly's Corner Shop:
We had passed three “lollipop ladies”, two street cleaners, four delivery men, three window cleaners, one telephone repair man, and two satellite dish installers, all dressed in the uniform of HM Prison Great Britain and glumly wearing their yellow jackets. 
Bloody hell, I thought, this must be what it’s like in an open prison, and woe betide anyone who dares to go without, and I wondered just how many years away is the regulation that states that ALL members of the public must wear a high visibility vest when venturing out of doors?
Since then things have only got sillier, with high-visibility vests now commonly warn by teachers, children or both on school trips.

And they are not just worn out of doors. Yesterday Roger Williams tweeted a picture of himself and a party from a primary school in his constituency taken inside the Palace of Westminster. The children were all in high-visibility vests.

How long before parents or schools who allow children out of doors - or indoors - without high-visibility vests are seen as irresponsible?

This is a useful reminder of how quickly something that seems ridiculous can become the new common sense.

The SDP: From Cold War warriors to placating Putin

Back in the 1980s, one of the dividing lines between the Liberal Party and the SDP was defence.

While the Liberal Party had many unilateral disarmers and was generally keen to reduce Britain's nuclear arsenal, the SDP was convinced for the need for strong nuclear defence against the Soviet threat.

That debate has a period charm now, because what neither side realised was that the Soviet Union was just a few years from dissolution.

The only person in Alliance circles who seemed to have grasped this was an academic called Brian May (not the rock guitarist turned badger campaigner), who argued that the idea that the Soviets still dreamt of invading Western Europe was mistaken. But he was a marginal figure who soon disappeared from the debate.

Time has moved on and now we have a Russian leader who does invade other countries - Georgia and Ukraine - and threaten others, such as Estonia. His allies in Eastern Ukraine brought down a passenger jet and killed British citizens.

So are the founders of the SDP warning us of the need to stop Putin?

Not a bit of it. Just look at the Lords' debate on Russia earlier this week.

Here is David Owen:
It is very hard to see Ukraine, with all the financial difficulties that it has had and its considerable and long record of corruption, achieving the economic growth and prosperity that it deserves without co-operation, first, heading towards membership of the European Union, and secondly, retaining good, strong working relations with the Russian Federation. There is no escape from that, and some of the language that we have heard in the past few months, seeming to think that a solid division between Ukraine and Russia is in the interests of Europe, let alone the world, is a great mistake.
And here, more remarkably, is Shirley Williams:
I very much agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said: the Ukrainians did not start very sensibly by trying to rule out Russian as the second language of Ukraine. The blame is not entirely distributed on one side. 
The noble Lord was also absolutely right to say that we do not sufficiently consider the history of Russia. The history of Russia is a history of one invasion after another, one occupation after another, and growing fear within Russia herself which has led to security being the overwhelming consideration for those who vote. ... 
Of course we should accept the independence of Georgia and Ukraine, but it is unwise to talk as widely as we do about the possibility of both joining NATO. Ukraine has long been the buffer for Russia against the attacks of other countries. The thought that she might roll NATO’s power right up to the border of Russia itself is not timely.
It was left to Kishwer Falkner to speak up for human rights in Russia and the countries it menaces:
Ultranationalism, authoritarianism, xenophobia, predatory capitalism, gross human rights violations and a stealthy expansion of the state at home are there for all of us to see in Russia—a European country. One can add to that list belligerent action against neighbouring states, annexation, the use of hybrid warfare, cyberwarfare, targeted assassinations abroad and disappearances of people—that is the new normal as the projection of Russian power. 
This miscalculation on the part of the West was not just revealed in the morning mist in Crimea this February; for the 140 million ordinary Russians, it has been coming for some time. In fact, it has been building up since 2000, when Vladimir Putin first came to power. It is the people of Russia who have paid the price for their country’s misrule, which looks set to continue well into the 2020s as elections are fixed again and musical chairs reflect choice between President and Prime Minister. 
But now Ukrainians are also paying for Putin’s imperialism. The invasion and occupation of Crimea is already rendering Crimeans poorer as their economy has collapsed along with the region’s tourism. Crimean Tatars are once again dispossessed in their own land. Non-ethnic Russian Ukrainians are displaced or consigned to being non-citizens in their own country.
I believe that Kishwer joined the Liberal Democrats after the two parties had merged, so there are no neat Liberal vs SDP lines to be drawn here.

But it is worth pausing a moment to reflect on how far David Owen, at least, has travelled in 30 years.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Karl Popper and Ralf Dahrendorf

The two liberal philosophers photographed together in about 1970.

Search the Radio Times from 1923 to 2009

Visit the BBC Genome Project for hours of fun.

See what was on television or the radio on the day you were born, find early appearances of your favourite stars or mourn over long-wiped broadcasts you would love to have seen or heard.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The disused Severn Valley Railway: Shrewsbury to Bridgnorth 2

If the problem in part 1 was the amount of redevelopment that has taken place at the Shrewsbury end of the line, the problem here in part 2 is geology.

While a preserved steam railway would complement the industrial museums of the Ironbridge Gorge nicely, there are serious problems there with landslips. I suspect they mean a northern extension of the Severn Valley Railway will remain a dream.

Look out for the Jackfield Tile Museum, which I visited a few summers ago.

So farewell then Jeremy Browne

"By 2015 I will have been the Member of Parliament for Taunton Deane for ten years. That is generally long enough to do the same job. 
"It is not my ambition to remain in Parliament until I retire. I have been very committed to the role and I have done it to the best of my ability. It is time to do something different. 
"There is a world beyond politics full of opportunities and it will be exciting to explore it."
I do wonder what the chair of Taunton Deane Liberal Democrats made of Jeremy Browne's resignation letter. I suspect Jeremy's excitement about his own future was the not the chair's first concern.

But I am sorry to see Jeremy stand down and wish him well for the future. The Liberal Democrats need their Whigs as well as their Radicals (as Donnachadh McCarthy used to say), and Jeremy was one of the more interesting figures on the right of the party.

He has even published two books this year, though I have to say his blend of turbo-capitalism and National Efficiency in Race Plan did not do it for me. And it was positively odd for him to claim that such an idiosyncratic view of the world constituted "authentic liberalism".

I suspect Jeremy still feels hard done by because of his sacking as a minister. As I argued last year, he was unlucky to be moved from the Foreign Office, where he at least seemed at home, as part of what I suspected was a deal to get David Laws back into front-line politics.

But on the whole, I think he has been lucky in the press he has received, The Conservatives have consistently said warm things about him, presumably in the hope of getting him to join them.

Here is Nick Boles tweeting today as an example:

It seems Boles has not received the memo about flattering the protectionist instincts of Ukip and its supporters.

But the left has been complimentary too. Here is George Eaton in the New Statesman:
In appearance and ideology, Browne is as far from the Lib Dems’ beard-and-sandals brigade as it is possible to be. With his crisp suits and gleaming shoes, it’s easier to imagine him in the boardroom of JPMorgan than canvassing in a wet by-election.
But Jeremy's career has taken him nowhere near Wall Street. What Eaton is saying is that Jeremy has a public-school accent and wears good suits.
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
I suspect that tells us more about the state of British politics (or about George Eaton of the New Statesman) than it does about Jeremy Browne.

Would it be a tragedy if there were no televised election debates?

The broadcasters are struggling to arrive at fair arrangements for leaders' debates in next year's general election and risk being snookered by the realities of multi-party politics and threats of legal action.

But would it be such a tragedy if there were no debates?

Many argue that the 2010 debates were a breakthrough and interested new people in politics.

But the most striking thing about those debates was the way that all three party leaders avoided talking about what the secretly regarded as the biggest issue facing the country.

Because there was barely a mention of the public-sector deficit - and even fewer of the tax rises and spending cuts that would be needed to reduce it.

So while the debates were certainly a novelty, it is hard to argue that there content was a revelation.

And from a partisan Liberal Democrat position, Nick Clegg will never be able to repeat the impact he made in the first debate in 2010.

You can even argue that Cleggmania (that short-lived phenomenon) ultimately harmed the Lib Dems. The breakdown in our targeting strategy as more and more constituencies dreamt of victory meant that a small increase in our vote actually resulted in a loss of seats.

So I should not be too concerned if there were no leaders' debates in 2015.

And there is a precedent from over the Atlantic.

Everyone knows the 1960 debates where JFK bested Richard Nixon. But far fewer realise that there were no televised debates in the US after that until 1976, when both Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter judged that they needed more exposure and so agreed to debate.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A street in Leicester, 1948

This photo was originally published in Picture Post as part of a feature entitled "Is it true what they say about Leicester?"

That feature set out to investigate the claim that Leicester was home to the prettiest girls in England.

Plans for the reinterment of Richard III announced

The plans for the reinterment of Richard III in Leicester Cathedral next year have been announced. And you cannot accuse the city of stinting on the occasion.

On Sunday 22 March a hearse containing his remains will leave the University of Leicester and visit the site of his death, Fenn Lane Farm near Stoke Golding.

It will also visit the nearby villages of Sutton Cheney and Dadlngton, where some of the dead from the Battle of Bosworth are buried.

The Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Tim Stevens, will then lead a short ceremony at the Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre in the early afternoon.

The cortege will go on to visit Market Bosworth, Newbold Verdon and Desford on its way back to Leicester.

The Leicester Mercury report goes on:
The king’s mortal remains will re-enter the city in mid-afternoon at Bow Bridge, where they will be greeted by the City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby, and the Lord Mayor Councillor John Thomas. 
A horse-drawn hearse will then be used to complete the final section of the king’s journey from Bow Bridge through the city centre to the cathedral, where the Dean of Leicester, the Very Revd David Monteith, will meet the coffin just before 6pm. 
Dr Richard Buckley, lead archaeologist in the hunt for Richard’s remains, will then formally pass of the Ministry of Justice licence - granted to the university for the remains of the king - to the Dean of Leicester. 
At that point, the responsibility for the king passes from the university to the church. King Richard’s coffin will be carried into the cathedral for an evening service of Compline, at which the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, will preach the sermon.
King Richard’s remains will lie in repose within the cathedral on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, during which time members of the public will be invited to visit the cathedral to pray and pay their respects. 
The re-burial service will take place on Thursday March 26.
I think this week in March will be a big deal for Leicester, but I also find the prospect of it oddly moving.

The man beneath The Square at Market Harborough

Startling news in the Harborough Mail:
For Christmas shoppers in Market Harborough this year, here’s a surprising fact. 
As you walk across The Square in town in December, six metres below your feet will be a drilling machine – and the man operating it. 
He will be digging a tunnel for a pipe 1.2m in diameter as the first part of Anglian Water’s £1.5m flood alleviation scheme for the Coventry Road area of town. 
Anglian Water contract manager Rod Young said: “You won’t be able to see anything, and you probably won’t hear or feel anything either. 
“But there’ll be a drill bit tunnelling underneath The Square, with the driver sat towards the front of it.”

Monday, October 13, 2014

The disused Severn Valley Railway: Shrewsbury to Bridgnorth 1

Ever since the Severn Valley Railway established itself as one of the country's major preserved railways, there has been talk of expanding it northwards into the Ironbridge Gorge.

This is the first of two videos which explores the remains of the line back from Shrewsbury towards Bridgnorth to see how realistic this scheme looks on the ground.

John Major in the October 1974 general election

Here is the young John Major in his second general election campaign. He fought the safe Labour seat of St Pancras North in both the 1974 general elections.

In the second campaign at least, his agent was Sue Winter, who claimed to be the youngest agent in the country. (She was 20.)

The victorious Labour candidate in both elections was Jock Stallard, who was eased out and given a peerage when there were boundary changes before the 1983 general election.

And the Liberal candidate both times was Paul Medlicott, who ran the party's media operation in the 1983 election. His father was Frank Medlicott, a National Liberal MP and later the Liberal Party's treasurer.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Midland Railway milk and fish depot, St Pancras

Somers Town milk and fish depot, which stood alongside St Pancras Station, is now the site of the British Library.

Andrew Mitchell warns on civil liberties

It seems we can welcome a new recruit to the civil libertarian cause.

Speaking at the Cheltenham Literature Festival today, the former Conservative cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell said:
"I think you should all be very careful with a generation of politicians who play fast and loose with the ancient liberties of this country, which our forefathers fought for.
"The time of greatest shame in my Parliamentary career was when Parliament discussed whether people could be detained for 90 days.
"The idea that in Britain you can lock somebody up for 90 days without charging them is absolutely extraordinary.
"I remember not long ago on June 6 - the 70th anniversary of D-Day - where politicians were trumpeting what we fought for in World War Two, it was also the day that it was announced there would be a secret court in Britain."
Read the full report in, of course, the Shropshire Star.

Jake Thackray: The Hair of the Widow of Bridlington

Some good news from The Jake Thackray Website:
The DVD of the BBC series Jake Thackray and Songs is now available to buy online via Amazon. 
Jake Thackray and Songs, broadcast in 1981, captures him at the height of his powers; it paints an intimate portrait of Jake as a live artist, playing to audiences in the small venues where he felt most comfortable. 
This DVD features all of his performances from the series: thirty of his greatest songs, along with his inimitable between-songs chat and storytelling. Also included are previously unreleased performances by three outstanding guest artists: Ralph McTell, Alex Glasgow and Pete Scott.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Six of the Best 468

Expert reaction to Nick Clegg's announcement on mental health, collected by the Science Media Centre.

Linda Jack offers a deeply personal reaction of her own: "Members in Watford will know Sarah as one of their deliverers, two weeks before she died she was out with me delivering for the PCC elections in Bedfordshire. But Sarah had one of the most painful illnesses known to man or woman – she was bi-polar and schizophrenic."

A Lanson Boy brings us a good idea from Cornwall: "Following the decision by the Police and Crime Commissioner Tony Hogg to agree the closure of many of the police front desks across Cornwall, I have written to him asking him to talk urgently to the council about whether the police could share front desks with the council via our one stop shop network rather than close down the service."

The National Union of Students has refused to back the brave struggle of the Kurdish people against extreme Islamism. Tendance Coatesy has the details.

Will Oremus on Slate considers what Silicon Valley can learn from the rise and fall of Hewlett-Packard.

"It is clear to me, and to every dancer I have ever brought to see him play, whether live or on television, that he is a kindred spirit; that there is a dancer in this amazing athlete." Patricia Beatty writes on Roger Federer for The Journal of Wild Culture.

Roger Helmer discovers a massage parlour in Lutterworth

Mr Helmer has defended himself to the Leicester Mercury:
“What I do in my own time is of no concern to anyone but myself, especially not The Sun. 
“I've always said people are welcome to ask me anything about my political life and political views, but my private life should be my own and is of no concern to anyone but me."
The most remarkable feature of this affair is that we have learnt of the existence of a massage parlour in Lutterworth.

Anyway there is much, more more about Roger Helmer on this blog

Friday, October 10, 2014

When the Isle of Dogs declared UDI

The wonderful Queenie Watts video I posted the other evening has made me look up a half-remembered news story from my childhood.

I found it in a Guardian obituary of Ted Johns from 2004:
One Sunday night in early 1970, Ted Johns, who has died aged 71, turned to thinking about what would happen if the Isle of Dogs, the East End area he represented on Tower Hamlets council, followed the example of another London district, as portrayed in the 1940s Ealing comedy Passport To Pimlico - and opted out of Britain. 
Soon afterwards, came the Isle of Dogs' unilateral declaration of independence, which cut the island - as it always called itself - off from the rest of London for more than a week, catapulted it on to the front pages of the national press and elevated Johns to the status of "president". Indeed, the foreign media, flocking to his council flat in Manchester Road, treated him as if he were the head of state of a small independent nation. He was not, of course, but he was the single most important grass-roots leader the East End produced in the last half century. 
Aware that at some point the UDI joke would wear out, Johns maintained a skilful balance between ridiculing those in authority and exposing the island's isolation and political decline. Lack of transport, education and shops were key issues, and almost immediately - alongside official denials that anything was wrong - improvements began to be made.
There is more about this episode - party Ealing Comedy, part 1960s radicalism - on Isle of Dogs - Past Life, Past Lives.