Sunday, March 31, 2019

Scott Walker: Plastic Palace People



A tribute to Scott Walker, who died this week.

But what is it about? Jon Dennis tries to explain:
lastic Palace People is from Scott 2, the most commercially successful of the four revered solo albums Walker released between 1967 and 1969. 
This music is not rock, but it’s effortlessly cool. It was in many ways quite unlike anything else produced at the time. John Franz, who had produced the Walker Brothers, now brought in orchestral arranger Wally Stott. Together they created the lush, expansive soundscapes in which Walker’s sonorous baritone could luxuriate. 
Not rock – but Plastic Palace People has touches of psychedelia. Like Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, we float through the dreamlike verses in 3/4, then suddenly become grounded in 4/4 with the rude awakening of the chorus. String and harp arpeggios rise and fall in the verses before evaporating, the chorus dominated by guitar, tambourine and bass. 
Is Plastic Palace People a dream or a nightmare? The boy in the song, Billy, floats away like a balloon, to his mother’s horror. Amid mockery and violence, Billy descends until he is suspended in a tree, “just hanging there”. A hideous, confusing narrative that wouldn’t be out of place on his later, more obviously confrontational and frightening albums.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Kings Sutton: The least used station in Northamptonshire



What's the least used station in Northamptonshire?

After some thought, you might come up with Long Buckby. But you'd be wrong.

The line from Oxford to Banbury cuts through the far south west of the county, and there you will find King's Sutton station.

Rutland told convicted councillor did not break its code of conduct


Having covered the case of Richard Alderman, I had better notice this piece in the Rutland & Stamford Mercury:
An investigation has found that disgraced Rutland councillor Richard Alderman did not breach the council’s code of conduct. 
The report by Wilkins LLP, which has been made public this week, found that Mr Alderman, was not acting in an official capacity when he posted a series of offensive comments on social media about national politicians, despite one ‘menacing post’ being made after he was elected. 
It also found that in an interview given to the Rutland and Stamford Mercury three days after being elected in July, in which he defended a post, he was not ‘conducting the business of councillor of the council’. 
The report does conclude that a comment made by Coun Alderman about MP Diane Abbott was racist.
Alderman was originally described as an Independent, but it soon transpired that he stood on behalf of the group Democracy Rutland.

There are no climbing boys in the chimneys of Westminster

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I wrote a sceptical post when I heard the story about there being the bodies of climbing boys in the chimneys of the Palace of Westminster. It seems I was right.

An article on the University of Kent site reports the work of Dr Henrik Schoenefeldt.
"My current research project at Parliament has involved undertaking detailed studies of the historic chimney system of the Palace. This involves extensive building surveys and archival research and has provided insights into the unique design of the smoke extract network of the Palace. 
"This was fully integrated into the 19th-century ventilation system. The research has uncovered no evidence of dead bodies and due to the specific design of the chimneys in Palace it was neither possible for boys to enter the vertical flues, nor was it was necessary for sweeps to climb flues."
So, despite its Gothic style, the palace incorporated the latest technology.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Cromer: "Where the regal red poppies are born"

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Time for another railway poster. This one was produced for the Midland Railway and Cromer District Council.

You can find another poster for Cromer on this blog.

Just 1 in 40 Leicestershire business leaders would vote Leave now


A telling story on the Leicester Mercury site this evening:
Leicestershire business leaders want to stay in the EU – according to a straw poll at a city event today. 
Around 40 entrepreneurs attended the Barclays Brexit event, from small and medium sized business up and down the county. 
And in a show of hands only one said they would vote leave in a second referendum.
In the words of one business leader quoted in the article:
"The whole situation is totally wrong – as a business we’ve been given no information, so we have had to be flexible and adapt."

Six of the Best 859

Marie Le Conte argues that Twitter has made politics more difficult. Now we know what every politician thinks about everything, it is harder for them to work together,

"What use is Popper to a politician?" Bryan Magee once asked. KritiK looks at his answer and calls for a more rational approach to policymaking.

David Watts mourns that there are no headlines when behaviour in school improves.

"Imagine a time without 24-hour news, when we didn’t need to be constantly updated on what was going on, when the BBC and others chose when they broadcast news and sport." Charles Runcie remembers the birth of Radio 5 Live.

"With 20 minutes to go before the start of the English cricket summer a total of eight spectators are scattered around the prim, pretty stands of the Emirates Riverside stadium." Barney Ronay details the latest move in the cricket authorities' campaign to destroy the first-class game in England - starting the season on 26 March.

Samuel Love on Eric Ravilious, tennis and Englishness.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Jake Thackray in Swaledale


This documentary from 1971 finds Jake Thackray exploring Swaledale from Keld and Muker down to Richmond.

Its slight awkwardness, broken leg and all, is surely part of its charm and a reminder of the days when not everyone could provide a soundbite on demand.

The schoolchildren, says a comment on YouTube, are from Muker primary school, which closed a few years later.

The runners and riders in the Lib Dem leadership election

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MoneyWeek has an article about the betting market on the forthcoming Liberal Democrat leadership election.

Ladbrokes are offering the following odds:

Jo Swinson              Evens
Layla Moran             11/8
Ed Davey                   8/1
Tom Brake                20/1
Norman Lamb          33/1
Alistair Carmichael   50/1
Jamie Stone             50/1
Tim Farron              100/1

The author, Dr Matthew Partridge, suggests that Layla Moran represents the value bet - particularly at the slightly more generous odds being offered by Betfair

Cuts to Shropshire buses - and a better idea from Europe

£450,000 cuts could see Shropshire bus services slashed
says a headline in the Shropshire Star.

Reading the small print, the Shrewsbury to Bishop's Castle bus may be cut from five round trips a day to two.

This will come as no surprise to anyone who read a post on this blog two years ago.

And to those who see demand-led services as the future, it is worth noting that:
The Clun Valley Shrewsbury Dial-a-Ride will withdraw its Saturday service.
All very depressing.

But it happens that today I also came across a report from the Foundation for Integrated Transport on Shropshire's rural buses.

It emphasises how inadequate the county's buses are even before this new round of cuts and points to schemes across Europe that integrate rail and bus services in rural areas.

A bus link between Bishop's Castle and the railway station at Craven Arms is one of its recommendations.

Yes, it would cost money, but we cannot go on cutting public transport like this. The Liberal Democrats must make the case for funding services at a reasonable level again.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Six of the Best 858

"If Theresa May were the head of a newly liberated African colony in the 1950s, British conservatives would have been pointing, half-ruefully, half-gleefully, in her direction and saying “See? Told you so - they just weren’t ready to rule themselves." Fintan O'Toole casts a cold eye on events at Westminster.

Lewis Goodall weighs Theresa May's performance: "She has reacted not with humility or contrition or openness, but with a tone so lecturing and hubristic that many MPs have thought her deeply arrogant."

Mark Mazower reviews two books on the Armenian genocide.

Marcus Binney makes the case for saving Richmond House on Whitehall.

"As if the new competition wasn’t divisive enough, the head of Sky Cricket has said in an interview that he hopes to get Michael McIntyre as a commentator for Sky’s coverage of The Hundred. McIntyre is like Marmite, in that most people hate him and the rest of the population is wrong." Being Outside Cricket offers 100 reasons why The Hundred won't work.

Naomi Daw on Eric Ravilious in Sussex.

Children and bombsites in postwar British films

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I am becoming intrigued by the treatment of children and bombsites in British films.

In Ealing's Hue and Cry (1947), a damaged London belongs to errand boys and the film celebrates their independence and resourcefulness.

In Mandy (1952), the final scene of liberation, where the little deaf girl goes out to play with other children, takes place on a bombsite.

Last night I watched Passport to Pimlico (1949) last night and it proved a little more equivocal.

The local bobby visits a woman whose husband is always making models.

"It's an idea for that dump out there," she tells him, meaning a bombsite. "Give those kids somewhere decent to play."

He looks out at the small boys scuffling in the dirt and replies: "They seem to be doing pretty well as it is."

She replies: "I'd have something to say if I was their mother."

Maybe this romanticism about children and bombsites is a male thing.

Whatever the truth of that, if you move on a few years bombsites are seen very differently.

In The Yellow Balloon (1953) and The Weapon (1956), bombsites are places where terrible things can befall small boys who play on them.

Part of this, I suspect, is to do with an anxiety that the nuclear family need to be reinforced as more collectivist wartime era recedes.

The boys in Hue and Cry have jobs and long trousers, but the 1950s boys seem infantilised in comparison. Andrew Ray in The Yellow Balloon is given a hiding by his father Kenneth More.

I shall keep an eye out for more bombsites on Talking Pictures TV. Perhaps the indulgent view of children on bombsites was a particularly Ealing characteristic?

Scott Walker (1943-2019)



A sad thing about growing older is that your heroes die off one by one and you are too cynical or set in your ways to replace them.

Scott Walker had always been there, as far as I am concerned, because I cannot remember a time when I did not know the great Walker Brothers singles Make it Easy on Yourself and The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine (Anymore) and his golden voice.

Later I discovered his peerless solo career in the late Sixties, when his albums mixed Jacques Brel songs with his own compositions.

Before all that he had been a teen sensation in the US under his real name of Scott Engel and after the last of those solo albums, Scott 4, had bombed he had a period as a crooner, recording film soundtracks and the like.

Later in his career, refusing to allow his voice to trap him in that role, he became an avant-garde experimentalist.

Farmer in the City is more approachable than much of his work from this period, but it is how I shall remember him tonight.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

The Grantham Canal joins the Trent in 1934


The Grantham Canal was not officially closed to navigation in 1936, but all traffic had already ceased when this photograph was taken two years earlier.

On the far left is the railway bridge, now a road bridge, over which Karla defected to the West in Smiley's People.

A little upstream, on the far bank, you can see a lock and bridge where the canal joins the Trent. This is the lock I came across last summer.

Behind it are Nottingham Forest's City Ground and then Trent Bridge cricket ground.

On the near bank of the river you can also see a corner of Notts County's Meadow Lane ground.

Spencer Davis Group: High Time Baby


I've not been well and need cheering up. Plus it's my birthday tomorrow. So I think it is time for another Spencer Davis Group track.

High Time Baby was the B-side of the band's first number one single, Keep on Running. The fuzz box on Muff Winwood's bass gets through a lot of work on this side too and Steve Winwood is on piano.

The writing credit of Winwood/Davis/Winwood suggests it emerged from a jam within the group. I have heard the drummer Pete York say he is a bit miffed that he was not credited as a writer on all such tracks.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

How new prime ministers emerge



There is talk tonight of a cabinet coup against Theresa May next week.

Who will take over as caretaker prime minister? This video may give a clue to the sort of person who may emerge.

Layla Moran clears the decks

Hi everyone. I have a story I want to share....
tweeted Layla Moran this evening. And here's the story:
Three quick thoughts...

First, this story - or more or less lurid versions of it - have been in circulation for a while.

Second, Layla is sensible to deal with it head on.

Third, the fact she has done so suggests she is seriously considering standing for leadership of the party. She is not so much clearing the air as clearing the decks for action,

Calder's Sixth Law of Politics: All Lib Dem leadership elections are reruns of Steel vs Pardoe

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My suggestion that every Liberal Democrat leadership election is a rerun of the 1976 Liberal Party contest between David Steel and John Pardoe has been getting some traction recently.

The idea , as I said in that original post, is that you get a recurring pattern where one candidate (Steel) is orthodox, sensible and a little dull and the other (Pardoe) is more charismatic, more open to new ideas but less reliable in his judgement.

It is discussed by Mark Pack and Stephen Tall in their latest Never Mind the Bar Charts podcast and it also got some notice on Twitter.

I was told by one person that this theory "has become one of the bits of mental toolkit for a few of us when talking about the party".

But then I was told by another that it is "an incredibly simplistic approach".

Anyway I have decided to elevate it into Calder Sixth's Law of Politics.

So here they all are - the fifth has been firmed up since I first stated it:
  1. If all parties are united in support of a measure, it will turn out to be a disaster.
  2. The more power the state takes to itself, the more arbitrarily that power will be exercised.
  3. When politicians do something which they think is very clever, it will eventually turn out to have been very stupid.
  4. The more extreme a person's views, the more certain he or she will be that the majority of voters share them.
  5. No argument that involve expressing indignation on behalf of a third party is to be trusted.
  6. All Liberal Democrat leadership elections are reruns of Steel vs Pardoe

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Friday, March 22, 2019

Broome: The least used station in Shropshire



Broome, a request stop, is the first station out of Craven Arms on the Heart of Wales line. It is also the least used station in Shropshire.

I got off there many years ago so I could walk to Bishop's Castle (or it may have been Clun).

As well as celebrating its rural location, this film has something serious to say about the railway companies' claims about accessibility.

Thomas Cook turns its back on Market Harborough

The Thomas Cook company website tells this story:
On 9 June 1841 a 32-year old cabinet-maker named Thomas Cook walked from his home in Market Harborough to the nearby town of Leicester to attend a temperance meeting. 
A former Baptist preacher, Thomas Cook was a religious man who believed that most Victorian social problems were related to alcohol and that the lives of working people would be greatly improved if they drank less and became better educated. 
As he walked along the road to Leicester, he later recalled, 'the thought suddenly flashed across my mind as to the practicability of employing the great powers of railways and locomotion for the furtherance of this social reform'.
All of which makes today's announcement from the company a shame.

Because its branch in St Mary's Place, Market Harborough, is one of 21 shops it is going to close, with a loss of 320 jobs.

At least Cook will still be remembered in town by this plaque above the entrance to Quakers Yard in Adam and Eve Street. That was where he was living when he had his great idea in 1841.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

In praise of In Our Time

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I have been ill with bronchitis this week. One of the things that has kept me going is listening to In Our Time.

Chaired by the immortal Melvyn Bragg, this programme tackles a different historical, scientific or political topic each week with a panel of three academics.

It has been running for 20 years and you can find all the episodes on the BBC website.

Particular highlights this week have been the episodes on The Norman Yoke, Ordinary Language Philosophy and Tristram Shandy.

BBC News has big problems, but it is worth remembering that other elements of Auntie's output are excellent and irreplaceable.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Samira Ahmed on her love of the Carry On films



Carry On Blogging! has a pleasing and unexpected interview with Samira Ahmed about her love for the Carry On films:
We had Carry On Again Doctor taped on our early Betamax player so I knew that one particularly well.  Carry On Up The Khyber was particularly loved by my extended Indian and Pakistani family who enjoyed sitting round together to watch it. 
Older visiting relatives thought it sent up Empire rather well, though I suspect the dads and uncles quite liked the naughtiness of it all too.
The video above shows the film being made on location in North Wales. That must have stretched the its budget to the limit.

The Richard Jefferies Museum plans expansion


Much has changed at the Richard Jefferies Museum in Swindon since I visited it in 2009.

Here is the Swindon Advertiser:
Mike Pringle, along with poet and cultural event organiser Hilda Sheehan, took over the running of the Richard Jefferies Museum about a decade ago. 
At the time, the museum devoted to the passionate Victorian nature writer was attracting perhaps 800 visitors per year. 
Last year there were about 15,000.
This increase in visitor numbers arises from the museum being open more often and its use as an arts venue.

Welcome as it is, this rise is putting strains on the museum, particularly in bad weather.

The museum occupies the farmhouse in which Jefferies was born and there are now plans for a new building on the site once occupied by its cowshed.

I rather liked it when the museum was a secret known only to a few, but Jefferies deserves to much better known. (Come to think of it, I am meant to be writing a little book on him for David Boyle.)

And I like what Pringle says to the Advertiser:
"For us, if a kid sits under the mulberry tree here, they’re sitting under the same mulberry tree, experiencing the same things that Jefferies did, and that’s much richer than trying to persuade a child to read a bit of Victorian text."

Harborough District Council goes into the property business


A striking statement appeared on the Harborough District Council website yesterday:
Harborough District Council and Harborough District Commercial Services Ltd has taken advantage of an exciting investment opportunity to benefit the whole district. 
Land and buildings incorporating two retail units (Tesco and B&M Stores) and residential flats in Market Harborough town centre have been purchased by a private company, owned by the Council, to bring benefits to the business community and wider district and to generate income. 
Harborough District Council has set up a limited company, Harborough District Commercial Services Ltd (HDCS), through which this and future investments will be acquired and managed.  The new company is wholly owned by Harborough District Council. HDCS can make a return on the investment and this will be used to support wider Council services across the district. Many councils are adopting a similar business-like model to generate income and reduce the reliance on grants from the Government.
I am all in favour of municipal enterprise and councils having their own income streams. But they are being rather driven to these sort of speculations because of the savage cuts in central government funding.

Some councils are going to come a cropper doing this, and I hope Harborough isn't one of them.

But there is something else of interest in the statement:
As part of the Council’s drive to support a vibrant economy, Harborough District Commercial Services Ltd is committed to identifying new investment opportunities which benefit residents and businesses. The land at 10 The Commons and 19/21 The Square, Market Harborough presented a particularly strong opportunity as the Council already owns adjoining land – the Commons car park.
Does this mean a major redevelopment of the area is planned?

I have always hoped I would live long enough to see the Tesco on The Square demolished - the setting demands an altogether more substantial and dignified building.

But if  new development consumes the car park, where will the cars go?

A consultants' report a few years ago envisaged a multistorey car park on the old Cattle Market site by Sainsbury's. That sounds too high a price to pay.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Pagan London 7: The Temple of Diana



Is there a Temple of Diana buried under St Paul's Cathedral?

William Stukeley thought so and Christopher Wren looked for it.

Six of the Best 857

Richard Kemp says the Liberal Democrat conference was right to reject the more fanciful elements on Vince Cable's supporters scheme - in fact they should never have been put forward.

"If you are upwardly mobile from a poor background, you have to learn how to fit in. If you are posh, you don’t. You glide from school to Oxbridge to the city or bar all the time surrounded by like-minded people so you know the rules. The upshot is that in the unusual contingency of ever being outside of that environment – as Cox was in Brussels – you put your foot in it." Chris Dillow explains why class matters.

Douglas Murray makes a strong case for prosecuting Bloody Sunday's ‘Soldier F’.

"The lingering belief that it can have it all is precisely what’s so repellent about modern Australia. Because it has come at a terrible cost." Matthew Engel is falling out of love with the country.

"Twenty years on from The Beatles - with synth-pop, dance music and hip-hop still largely niche affairs - the big hitters of the sixties and seventies hit their forties, and because mainstream rock radio was essentially conservative, they kept getting play and selling albums." Dave Holmes introduces us to DivorceCore music.

David Behrens on the rediscovery of the Sheaf - the river buried under Sheffield city centre.

Young climate protesters met Harborough District Council leaders


I heard some pleasing news today. It seems the school students who protested in town on Friday over the lack of action against climate change were invited into the council offices.

There they met the leader of the council and the leader of the opposition to discuss their concerns. Classily done.

The leader of the opposition, of course, is my old friend Phil Knowles, a Liberal Democrat.

Before the meeting he addressed the protesters. I am told that because he has the same bug as me, he hardly had a voice. So he borrowed a megaphone from the protesters.

In fact I have photographic proof.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Great Malarkey: Gimme Sugar



Rhythm Passport says:
The Great Malarkey are eight musicians from around the globe – England, Canada, Portugal and Latvia – and they want you to join them on the multicultural train of fast beats and trembling slams of punk-folk spirit.
Gimme Sugar is a track from their 2017 album Doghouse.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

The University of Leicester before it was a university


There is much of interest in this 1926 aerial photograph of Leicester.

The two vanished chapels - one Nonconformist, one Church of England - are still standing in Welford Road Cemetery.

Across the road are the buildings of what had been the Leicestershire and Rutland lunatic asylum and was then in the process of turning itself into the campus of the University of Leicester.

The main range remains today as the Fielding Johnson Building, but this photo shows that the asylum buildings were once much more extensive.

Is Jo Swinson the Steel and Layla Moran the Pardoe?

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A few years ago I floated a theory about Liberal Party and Liberal Democrat leadership elections: the are all reruns of the 1976 contest between David Steel and John Pardoe:
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.
I even tried to apply this rule to Liberal history, with Asquith being the Steel and Lloyd George the Pardoe.

Andrew Hickey, in a tweet today, kindly suggested this distinction was a more enlightening way of analysing Lib Dem internal debates than the concepts of left and right.

He also said he wouldn't compare anyone to Steel at the moment, for obvious reasons, but I am not so discerning.

So what of the forthcoming Lib Dem leadership contest?

My feeling, looking at the expected front runners  is that Jo Swinson is the Steel and Layla Moran the Pardoe.

For what it is worth, I always vote for the Pardoe and the Steel usually wins.

England win silver in world team chess championship

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Very good, if unexpected, news from Leonard Barden in the Guardian:
England’s silver medals on Thursday at the World Team Championship in Astana, Kazakhstan, were the team’s first of any colour in major competition since 1997. European gold in that year seemed the last hurrah of a generation which had proved itself No 2 to the former Soviet Union. 
Before that England won bronze at the 1989 world teams and the 1990 Olympiad but then the Berlin Wall came down and new strong chess nations appeared from Eastern Europe and Asia. 
England proved themselves more consistent than their major rivals, China, India and the US, in Kazakhstan, although the margins were narrow. They were mentally tough, too, often fighting back strongly from dubious mid-session positions.
But as Barden goes on to point out, there is not a pack of hungry young players out there trying to force their way into the team. So this may be a last hurrah rather than a new dawn,

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Vince Cable to stand down as Lib Dem leader

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Vince writes on the Liberal Democrats website this evening
I indicated last year that once the Brexit story had moved on, and we had fought this year’s crucial local elections in 9,000 seats across England, it would be time for me to make way for a new generation. I set considerable store by having an orderly, business-like, succession unlike the power struggles in the other parties. 
So I wanted you, our members, to know that, assuming Parliament does not collapse into an early General Election, I will ask the party to begin a leadership contest in May.
The votes on the constitutional amendments at Lib Dem spring conference in York will decide who can vote in that contest.

Rediscovering the Hatfield to St Albans line



Most of the trackbed has been used for a cycle route, so there is not much dereliction to enjoy.

But you have to admit Salvation Army Halt was a great name for a station.

Late. An earlier post on this blog shows the last days of this route as a working railway.

Six of the Best 856

David Boyle on the latest Brexit manoeuvres: "It is a bit like voting against global warming, or turkeys voting against Christmas. To really avoid it, you have to act."

"Most noticeable ... was the amount of the discussion, in a body responsible for a service to consumers – patients – about how to give the consumers what they do not want. The whole thrust of large parts of the meeting was on how to steer patients away from doctors, away from accident and emergency, away from outpatients." Peter West attends a meeting of his local clinical commissioning group’s governing body.

David Kynaston reviews a biography of Eric Hobsbawm.

"Blue Velvet can also be observed as a meta-commentary on film viewers themselves; as Lynch puts it, 'we are all voyeurs'." Cinephilia & Beyond views David Lynch's 1986 masterpiece.

Explore the Welland just below Market Harborough with Patterdale Paddler.

"In 1947 Crown won Hastings Reserves tournament, scored a bronze medal in the British Championship, played for British national team in three matches (vs Netherlands, USSR and Australia) and defeated one of the top grandmasters of the time in one of them. He was one of the most promising chess talents in Great Britain and appeared to be destined to achieve great heights." Andrey Terekhov on another lost British chess talent.

Liberal Democrats launch investigation into David Steel

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From BBC News:
The Liberal Democrats are investigating former leader David Steel over remarks he made to a child abuse inquiry about the late MP Cyril Smith. 
Lord Steel said he asked Smith in 1979 about claims he abused boys at a Rochdale hostel in the 1960s. 
He said he came away from the conversation "assuming" that Smith had committed the offences. 
But he claimed it was "nothing to do with me" as it had happened before Smith joined the party.
I blogged about David Steel's appearance before the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse yesterday.

But it seems that Lord Steel made the same admission five years ago.

Here is a Daily Telegraph report from April 2014:
Cyril Smith confessed 30 years ago to spanking boys and conducting intimate “medical examinations” on them but was allowed to remain as a Liberal MP. 
Lord Steel, the former Liberal leader who has defended the party’s refusal to hold an inquiry into sex abuse allegations, said on Tuesday that he had confronted Smith about his “unusual” behaviour with teenage boys at a hostel in Rochdale. 
An article in Private Eye in 1979 alleged that Smith, who was secretary of the Cambridge House boys hostel, put teenagers across his knee, pulled down their trousers and spanked them as a “punishment” in the 1960s. 
Lord Steel said: “I asked Cyril Smith about it. I was half expecting him to say it was all wrong, and I would have been urging him to sue to save his reputation. To my surprise he said the report was correct.
I suppose you have to ask why there wasn't similar outrage then.

David Steel tells inquiry that Cyril Smith admitted the abuse allegations against him were true


It was an extraordinary day at the Independent Inquiry on Child Sexual Abuse.

As the Guardian tells it:
Lord Steel, the Liberal Democrat peer, has admitted believing in 1979 that child abuse allegations against Sir Cyril Smith were true, but did nothing to assess whether he was a continuing risk to children. 
The former Liberal party leader said the late MP for Rochdale confirmed in a conversation that reports of child sexual abuse in the media were accurate. 
But rather than suspend and investigate the MP, Steel allowed him to continue in office. Smith stepped down as an MP in 1992 and died in 2010.
You can download a pdf of the day's evidence from the inquiry website, and I would recommend anyone interested in the last years of the Liberal Party to do so.

The three people giving evidence were Sal Brinton, Des Wilson and David Steel.

Much of Sal's evidence involves her being questioned about a written submission to the inquiry by Michael Steed, which details the organisation and culture of the party in the 1960s.

Des Wilson came and went from the party during the 1970s and 1980s, but he was the darling of the activists when he was around.

His evidence lays bare the divide between party's the MPs and activists in that era. The activists were more often in the right, but it is MPs' memoirs that are consulted by the historians.

Perhaps I should start reprinting extracts from Liberator from the past 40 years to show what really went on?

Wilson is also very convincing when he talks about Smith's bullying character.

Finally, there is David Steel and his startling admission.

I blogged about the allegations against Cyril Smith in 2012:
I first heard of the allegations against Cyril Smith when I read them in Private Eye in 1979. The Eye had picked them up from the Rochdale Alternative Press (RAP - those were the days when any self-respecting town had an 'alternative' newspaper). Northern Voices reprinted the original RAP story in 2010. 
My instinct has always been to assume that they were true, if only because I could not see why anyone would trouble to invent anything so tawdry - he "'told me to take my trousers down and hit me four or five times on my bare buttocks" - about someone who was then only a local politician.
My memory of 1979 is that the story about Smith was widely known in the party, which has always made me a little sceptical of Liberals of the era who claim not to have heard it.

You can read more about my reasons for this view in a 2015 post on this blog.

Anyway, you can read the Private Eye story from that year above and download a pdf of the full RAP story on which it was based.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Pagan London 6: Springhead



Part 6 of this series takes us down the Thames to Springhead, the Roman town of Vagniacae, near Gravesend.

The Royal Lochnagar distillery


I took this photograph on one of my visits to Royal Deeside, where my ancestors are remembered.

The pyramid you can see among the trees on the hill behind bears the inscription:
To the beloved memory of Albert the great and good Prince Consort. Erected by his broken hearted widow Victoria R. 21st August 1862.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Redcar British Steel: Britain's least used station



Watch this video and you will see why, despite having two trains in each direction daily, Redcar British Steel sees so few passengers.

Are there bodies of climbing boys in the chimneys of Westminster?

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There was an extraordinary exchange on Westminster Hour when Meg Hillier was interviewed about the plans for a major renovation of the Palace of Westminster. (The item starts at the 50-minute mark.)

Hillier reminded us that the old pile was built in the days when chimneys were swept by sending small boys up them.

She then reported that she had heard rumours that the bodies of climbing boys may be found in the building when the work takes place.

I am not so sure.

Climbing boys certainly did die in their work - roasted alive or, more commonly, suffocated by soot. But I doubt that their bodies were left in the chimneys.

It would be impossible to use the fireplace below and then there is a more unpleasant reason...

Sweepy Stories tells us what happened in such circumstances:
Efforts were made through the years to put an end to the cruel practice of using child chimney sweeps, but they failed until 1875. The death of 12-year-old chimney sweep George Brewster became the catalyst which finally pushed through legislation that outlawed the cruel practice. 
George Brewster became stuck in one of the chimneys in Fulbourn Hospital. His master, William Wyer, had sent George into that situation. A wall had to be torn down to free George from his narrow prison.  He died a short time later. 
Wyer was charged and found guilty of manslaughter.  George Brewster was the last child chimney sweep in England to die in a chimney.
They will find all sorts of things when work begins at Westminster, but the bodies of climbing boys are unlikely be among them.

England's last bell foundry: John Taylor & Co. of Loughborough


Whitechapel Bell Foundry, which had been operating on the same site since 1739, closed in 2017. Campaigners are now fighting to prevent the buildings being turned into a hotel.

But there is a bell foundry still open in England, and it's in Leicestershire.

Last time I blogged about John Taylor & Co. of Loughborough there was bad news. In May of last year I reported that they failed to secure a £8m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Visit the company's site today and you find better news:
The Loughborough Bellfoundry Trust is pleased to confirm that a major grant has been awarded by the Heritage Lottery Fund for the restoration and development of the Foundry. Full details were published in the Ringing World on 12th October 2018.
Judging by that website - and by the papers being read by the person next to me on the train to work this morning - the project is moving ahead.

Tories promise Leicester a rocket to the Moon

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The Conservatives have come up with a headline policy for May's Leicester City Council elections.

They have promised voters a rocket to take them to the moon. The multi-storey car park in Lee Circle will be converted into a space port and daily flights...

Sorry, I have misread this Leicester Mercury report.

In fact, the Tories have promised to build a £500m tram system in Leicester. There is no funding in place, but they assure us it is "doable".

Leicester is close to a one-party state (the Tories and the Lib Dems have one councillor each), so opposition parties need striking ideas to make an impact on the campaign, and I like trams.

But at a time when the county Tories are planning large cuts to bus services, this promotion of a tram system without any money behind it looks like cynicism. But if people give the idea publicity by giving it publicity, it is probably doing its job.

I fear a generation of young politicians has seen the success of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson and decided that a regard for truth is just so much inconvenient baggage of a journey to the top.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Richard O'Sullivan: This is Your Life



Richard O'Sullivan is in poor health these days and living in retirement at Brinsworth House, but he had quite a career.

He was never out of the studio as a child star in the 1950s and was the situation comedy heartthrob of the 1970s.

Highlights of his This is Your Life include appearances by Melvyn Hayes, the claimant to the throne of Yugoslavia and a barking-mad Trevor Howard.

Plan to turn Richard Cobden's house into "a beacon for Liberalism"


Dunford House, which stands near Midhurst in West Sussex, was the birthplace and home of the Liberal statesman Richard Cobden.

In 1952 the Cobden family gifted the estate to the YMCA to use as a means to further its educational purposes. The YMCA has sold much of the estate over the years - buildings, land and artefacts.

It is now looking to sell the house, probably for conversion into flats, to fund its educational activities elsewhere.

Today I heard from Richard Cobden’s great great great grandson Nick Cobden Wright. He told me that the newly established Cobden Foundation has alternative plans for the house which would see it serve as a conference centre, tea shop and museum..

The idea, Nick said, is for Dunford House to become a beacon for Liberalism and help a number of less fortunate groups: the elderly, young people and those on low incomes.

The Trust is now raising the money to purchase the house from the YMCA.

You can read more about the plan, and some recent press coverage, on the Cobden Foundation website.

If you want to pledge a donation, then contact Nick via the website.

The Capitols: Cool Jerk



The Capitols were a Detroit band and the backing on this 1966 single was secretly recorded by the Motown house band The Funk Brothers.

The song was originally called Pimp Jerk, but it was feared that title would prevent it being played on the radio.

Cool Jerk was covered by, among others, the British bands The Creation and The Tremeloes.

Saturday, March 09, 2019

A Rutland ghost sign


Photographed in Exton a couple of years ago.

Read about the building.

Later. I am told this sign is a relic of the 1980 television film of Little Lord Fauntleroy, which was partly shot in the village.

Chuka Umunna reminds us that Centrism is not Liberalism

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Chuka Umunna wish to bring in compulsory national service for 16-year-olds is a reminder that proclaiming you are in the centre does not make you a Liberal.

This combination of muscular Christianity and middle-class impatience with the lower orders was typical of Labour under Blair.

It was also found among the people who joined the SDP, though less so among the politicians who formed it.

I am all in favour of giving young people volunteering opportunities. Come to that, I am in favour of giving older people such opportunities too.

But I am not attracted by the idea of compulsion. Not only does it offend my Liberal sensibilities: I suspect it would make the service hugely unpopular with young people, defeating the hopes Umunna has for it.

Besides, the whole thing is a cop out.

Umunna wants compulsory national service because, as quoted by Metro:
Under his proposal for a ‘citizens’ service’, Mr Umunna acknowledged that ‘it might seem strong medicine’ but was necessary to tackle ‘social apartheid’ in modern Britain. 
He said national service, which ended in the early 1960s, ‘brought people from an array of different backgrounds and different parts of the country together in a way like no other.’
We have social apartheid in Britain because of the class system and the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands.

The idea that having young people work side by side for a couple of years will overturn all that is hopelessly wet.

Umunna, judging by the Metro report, would dismiss my views as "cynicism", which is precisely what Tony Blair would have called it 25 years ago.

I have seen this style of politics before, and it's not Liberalism.

Jane Dodds to fight Brecon and Radnorshire for the Lib Dems


From the Welsh Liberal Democrats site:
Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds has been selected to be the Party's Westminster candidate for Brecon and Radnorshire. 
Jane has been Welsh Liberal Democrat leader since 2017 and was selected to be the candidate by local party members in an all-member ballot. 
The party made gains locally in recent local elections and hold the Brecon and Radnorshire seat in the Senedd.
This constituency was held by the Lib Dems between 1985 and 1992 and between 1997 and 2015.

Under its old name of Brecon and Radnor, it was in 1985 the scene of one of my favourite by-elections as Richard Livsey gained the seat from the Conservatives.

Jane Dodds' selection carries added interest as the sitting Tory MP, Christopher Davies, had been charged with two counts of making a false instrument and one count of providing false or misleading information for allowance claims.

Friday, March 08, 2019

Bevis's Council Oak at Coate Water

Phil, Tom, Ted, Jim, Frank, Walter, Bill, 'Charl', Val, Bob, Cecil, Sam, Fred, George, Harry, Michael, Jack, Andrew, Luke and half a dozen more were talking all together, shouting across each other, occasionally fighting, wrestling, and rolling over on the sward under an oak. There were two up in the tree, bellowing their views from above, and little Charlie ('Charl') was astride of a bough which he had got hold of, swinging up and down, and yelling like the rest. Some stood by the edge of the water, for the oak was within a few yards of the New Sea, and alternatively made ducks and drakes, and turned to contradict their friends.
The Swindon Advertiser names its top 10 free outings in Wiltshire. It includes Coate Water and mentions the trees around it, but not the Council Oak from Richard Jefferies' Bevis. You can see it in my photograph above.

"Ducks and drakes" here, it seems, means skimming stones.

Six of the Best 855

Seth Thevoz reviews a new publication from the Social Liberal Forum: Am I a Liberal?

"A former British ambassador to an EU country, and ardent Remainer, cites a piece featuring a testing interview with a Remainer about the security risks that could follow from no longer accepting ECJ jurisdiction. A Conservative spokesman was quoted in a subsequent news report saying that was twaddle - but there was no scrutiny about why it would be twaddle." Mark Damazer on the BBC's travails over Brexit.

The tragedy of the commons? It's nonsense, says Cory Doctorow: "But this isn't what actually happened to the Commons: they were stable and well-managed until other factors (e.g. rich people trying to acquire even more land) destabilized them."

Michael Newton looks at the flowering of folk horror in Brexit Britain.

"Why isn’t Frank Zappa better-known, and better-liked, than he is? Why don’t more people 'get' him?" asks Mike Scott.

English cricket must not abandon its fans in pursuit of a new audience, argues Sam Morshead with The Hundred in mind.

My Liberator review of A Very English Scandal in full

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"I will post the whole thing here one day," I blogged last summer as I linked to my Liberator review of A Very English Scandal.

You remember: it was the BBC drama about the life and crimes of Jeremy Thorpe.

Well, you lucky people, that day has come.

Stranger than fiction

My blog Liberal England (“An eclectic mix of musical choices, random news items from Shropshire (where he doesn’t live), and political news and views” - New Statesman) has been going since 2004. By far the most popular post I have written in all that time is one from May of this year entitled “What became of Jeremy Thorpe's son?

The interest in it continues: as I write this in mid-July, it has had more readers this week than any other post. The answer to the question it poses, incidentally, is that Rupert Thorpe is now a leading paparazzo in the United States. He was one of the photographers involved in the famous court case over Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones’s wedding snaps.

I take this exceptional and lasting interest as confirmation of the extraordinary popularity achieved by this summer’s dramatisation of the Jeremy Thorpe affair, A Very English Scandal, which was based on John Pearson’s book of the same name, made by Blueprint Pictures and screened by BBC One.

It told the story of Thorpe’s sexual relations with a young man called Norman Scott and his apparent attempt to have him murdered when Scott’s refusal to stop talking about it threatened Thorpe’s political career after he became leader of the Liberal Party. Scott escaped with his life: his Great Dane, Rinka, was not so fortunate.

The popularity of the series was so great that it returned Thorpe to the front pages when the newspapers discovered that Norman Scott’s alleged would-be assassin Andrew Newton was still alive.

My blog may have played a part here. Planning to write something disobliging about Newton, I decided to check if he really was dead, as I thought I had read somewhere. I soon found that, under the name Hann Redwin, he had been very much alive as recently as 2015 – he was sailing boats, building aircraft and flying them from Redhill Aerodrome in Surrey – and published a post to that effect. Two days later he was being doorstepped by Fleet Street’s finest.

The press were excited because there was talk in 2016 of reopening the Thorpe case because of a claim that Newton had first tried to persuade another man to murder Scott before taking on the job himself. The police in South Wales had not taken things further because they too believed that Newton was dead and had apparently not checked this belief with Google as I did..

What was puzzling about their interest in this story of a second assassin was that it was first told in the Spectator by Auberon Waugh as long ago as 1981. Put up to it by his Private Eye colleague Richard Ingrams, Waugh stood against Thorpe in North Devon for the Dog Lovers’ Party at the 1979 general election, which took place while the latter was awaiting trial at the Old Bailey for conspiracy to murder.

Only one of Thorpe’s co-accused there is alive today, George Deakin, and he will have to spend the rest of his life with the infamy of being the uncle of the guitarist in Black Lace.

If I am something of a scholar of the Thorpe Affair, it is understandable. I joined the party two months after Thorpe was charged; when I started going to Liberal Party Assemblies we sang songs about it – ‘On Exmoor bah t'at’ – at the Glee Club.

So in reviewing A Very English Scandal I have to remember that it was a drama, not a point-by-point recreation of events 40 or 50 years ago. Seen as a drama, it was very good indeed even if some figures received scant justice. David Holmes, for instance, was a successful entrepreneur not a buffoon, while Emlyn Hooson was far from the bitter, vengeful figure he was painted as. This portrayal, however, did show us that not all Liberal MPs were seduced by Thorpe’s charm or well treated by him.

Hugh Grant’s performance as Jeremy Thorpe has been rightly praised. As well as his arrogance, Grant showed us why Thorpe was an attractive figure to liberally minded voters, particularly in the scenes set in the Commons chamber. I thought no actor would be able to get near to Thorpe’s ugly-handsome, doglike face, but there were times when Grant made me see it.

It is no criticism of Grant to say that the script never showed us what a formidable local campaigner Thorpe must have been. When he gained North Devon for the Liberals in at the general election of 1959, it was an extraordinary feat.

I was also going to suggest that Thorpe must have had more charisma than Grant showed us, given the lengths to which others were prepared to go to help him. Thinking about it, however, I have seen parties do that for the most mundane people. It was a sad fact about the nature of political allegiance rather than the function of some extraordinary feature of Thorpe’s personality that saw him so indulged.

Ben Whishaw’s Norman Scott was a more modern figure than the real Scott, but then a drama written so long after the event is bound to take a different approach than would have been taken at the time and will probably be more interesting for it.

So while Whishaw was wholly convincing as Scott the fashion model in Sixties Dublin and touching in the scenes that showed the failure of his marriage, we never heard the tones in the real Scott’s voice that told us he had spent time among the horse-riding classes and desperately wanted to pass as one of them.

His great scene – giving evidence at the Old Bailey – was very much a Russell T. Davies one and it showed Whishaw’s Scott at his most 21st century. At the actual trial Scott was repeatedly asked by the judge to speak up: here drama you half-expected him to break into ‘I Am What I Am,’ with the whole courtroom joining in the final chorus.

The sexual politics of A Very English Scandal were complicated because they were complicated in Norman Scott’s own mind. Was he a victim of rape or a partner in a loving and unacknowledged relationship? Those who say that today Thorpe would face no problems with such a relationship risk underestimating Scott. It is hard to imagine him going quietly, like a Victorian parlour maid who goes home to have her baby after being seduced by the young heir to the lord of the manor.

Much clearer were the issues at stake in the powerful scene where the Earl of Arran (“Call me Boofy”) gave his reasons for taking Leo Abse’s bill to decriminalise gay sex through the Lords. “And the deaths go on,” he says, remembering his own brother. “By hanging, by poison, by gas. Men killing themselves through fear and shame. And I don’t think it’s suicide: I think it’s murder. They are murdered by the laws of the land and I think it’s time it stopped.”

There were many fine performances among the minor characters and much fine writing for them too. In his book John Preston makes Peter Bessell, Thorpe’s friend and fellow Liberal MP, the centre of the story, even if you could never claim he is its moral centre. By all accounts Alex Jennings caught him and his lounge-lizard voice perfectly.

Then there were the indomitable Michelle Dotrice as Edna Friendship, Eve Myles as the tragic Gwen Parry-Jones (who reminds us of Scott’s ability to scatter suffering in his wake) and, above all, Monica Dolan as the redoubtable and unexpectedly loyal Marion Thorpe: “I practically grew up with Benjamin Britten … I’ve toured with orchestras. I couldn’t begin to tell you the things I’ve seen.”

Many of the lesser male characters, particularly those caught up in the plot to do away with Scott, were played for laughs. This “make ‘em laugh, make ‘em cry” approach is very Russell T. Davis, but I wonder if the contrasts in approach to the story here were too great.

Nevertheless, Davis went in for a lot of shaping of events, because the Thorpe story is stranger even than it was shown to be in A Very English Scandal. Sir Jack Hayward – “Union Jack” – was an idiosyncratic millionaire whose good causes included keeping his home-town football club, Wolverhampton Wanderers, and purchasing Lundy Island for the National Trust.

It was through the Lundy campaign that Hayward came into Thorpe’s orbit. Though he was no Liberal, Hayward gave money to the Liberal Party because, in words that later acquired a heavy freight of irony, he had sympathy for the underdog. The money he gave did not go through the party’s books, but was put at Thorpe’s personal disposal. It was the prosecution’s claim at Thorpe’s trial that some of it had gone to pay to have Scott dealt with.

Other murky financial transactions gathered around Thorpe. He gave the running of the National Liberal Club to “Georges de Chabris” (real name George Marks), who moved his family in to live rent-free and then left suddenly owing the club £60,000. Before that, a Department of Trade report into the collapse of the secondary banking firm London & County Securities, of which Thorpe was a director, had been highly critical of him.

I sometimes got the impression from Liberals of Thorpe’s vintage that it was the mishandling of the party’s money that they could not forgive him for – the shooting of poor Rinka came a distant second.
Was he guilty as charged? It would have been a brave jury that committed on the basis of the evidence given by Scott, Bessell and Newton. Yet one of the jurors, when interviewed after the trial by the New Statesman (it would be illegal today), said they would have convicted Thorpe at least of a conspiracy to frighten had such a lesser charge been put before them. They were frustrated, he said, that it had not been.

But the truth and what can be proved in a court of law are two different things. Why did Andrew Newton travel to Barnstaple – all right, Dunstable and then Barnstaple – to look for Norman Scott whatever his precise motive? It is hard to believe that Thorpe’s difficulties with Scott do not supply the answer to that question.

Let us end on a sobering note. Four years after Thorpe’s trial the Liberal Party, in alliance with the SDP, received more than 25 per cent of the national vote. Three years on from the end of the Liberal Democrats’ coalition with the Conservatives, we can only dream of such riches. There appear to be some things Liberal voters, like Thorpe’s contemporaries, find harder to give than shooting a Great Dane.

36 Leicestershire bus routes under threat from the Conservatives


Grim news in the Leicester Mercury:
Bus routes at risk after the county council approved plans to cut £400,000 from the passenger transport budget have been identified. 
Leicestershire County Council will look at services that it currently provides over the next five months before making a decision on which routes it will continue to provide and which will be scrapped.
A series of consultations on threatened services has been announced - there are 36 in total.

The consultation on three routes serving Market Harborough - the 58 to Lutterworth, the 44 to Fleckney and Foxton and the 33 town service - will take place in July.

The omens are not good. Leicestershire Conservatives tweeted an attack on Labour and the Liberal Democrats for trying to defend bus services in the council's budget meeting.

And the council's director of transport, as quoted by the Mercury, has a patronising attitude and seems to find the idea of bus services faintly ridiculous:
"We can’t offer gold plated vehicles but we can work within the financial envelope to develop ideas with communities. 
"People’s idea of public transport is a 52 seater bus driving around at this time from this place, stopping here, but things are changing now."
But at least I will have one more summer with local bus services to aid my explorations.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

A former shop in the back streets of South Wigston


You never know what treasures you will find.

A new coach park for Market Harborough


When I heard last year that a site had been identified for a new coach park in the centre of Market Harborough I had a pretty shrewd idea where it would be.

Sure enough, today Harborough FM reported that the council is to buy this derelict site near the market on Northampton Road.

It has been in this pleasing state for 45 years to my knowledge, and over that time the town has improved to the extent that coach parties now stop here. Hence the need for a coach park.

Fortunately, there are still other derelict sites to enjoy here.






Neville Masterman (1912-2019)

Neville Masterman was the son my favourite Edwardian Liberal Charles Masterman and his wife Lucy. He died earlier this year at the age of 106.

His son-in-law Richard Pepper has written an obituary of him for the Guardian.

Masterman lectured in English at a Hungarian university in the 1930s, returning to England in 1940. He passed through Paris just before the Germans arrived and later worked on Japanese codes at Bletchley Park.

After the war he lectured in history at Swansea until his retirement in 1978.

Martyn Shrewsbury posted his memories of Neville Masterman last month:
I remember Neville Masterman very clearly. He was my personal tutor in the Autumn term of 1977. Neville taught a course called the ‘Crisis of Liberalism” I was 19 at the time. I was an arrogant 19 year old who thought that he knew everything. Neville was very patient with me and told me I would think in many different ways by the time I was sixty. 
He told me of a certain Liberal MP warning the party against coalition with the Tories. Neville said that the words were “You will be used like plump cattle and then slaughtered”. I am sad that in his long life he saw that happen three times. I remember quoting these words to Peter Black in 2010. Peter laughed but Neville was right…
I wrote an article on Charles Masterman for Liberator in 2014.