Thursday, December 31, 2020

The Brightlingsea branch in 1963

I think this is the sort of thing I used to post. Click on the image above to watch footage of the Wivenhoe to Brightlingsea branch in Essex.

The film, which includes an intermittent commentary, was shot in 1963, the year before the line closed.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Sorry for the silence on Liberal England

Sorry for the uncharacteristic lack of posts here, but real life has overtaken Liberal England.

My mother, who is 89 and once introduced herself as "the Dowager Lady Bonkers" when canvassed by Graham Tope, has been experiencing a series of health problems since the start of the month. She came home from hospital at 8pm on 23 December and I have spent most of my time over at her house since then.

I shall try to keep this blog alive, but you can also find me on Twitter and Instagram should you wish.

Let's end on a happy memory. When she seemed quite herself, and it was only six weeks ago, I played her this video of Aksel Rykvvin.

He is now 17 and winning prizes as a baritone, but it's not so long since he was the most celebrated treble, or boy soprano, in the world.

Here's to happier days.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Highland Journey (1957)

In this British Transport Films production we follow a coach tour from Edinburgh to the Highlands.

As a site devoted to these films explains, the route taken meets the Highlands at Killin, and then goes over Rannoch Moor and through Glencoe to Ben Nevis, the entrance to the Great Glen. Here we meet the West Highland railway line, and follow it on its journey through the Bonnie Prince Charlie country to Mallaig. 

Returning to the Great Glen we rejoin the coach route out through the Glen Foyne and Glen Shiel to the Kyle of Lochalsh, and take the ferry over to Skye.

The boys from the NYPD choir

On Saturday BBC4 showed The Story of Fairytale of New York, in the course of it we learnt that there is no NYPD choir.

This impressed me enough to tweet about it. But James Tarry, who used to drink with Daniel Farson and must thus be accounted an expert on such matters, put me right.

It is slang term for Saturday-night drunks singing in their police cells, which makes perfect sense in the context of the song.

The photo here shows the Leicester home of Arthur Colahan, who wrote Galway Bay. Note the blue plaque.

Six of the Best 986

"Seething in private is not enough when lives, jobs and sanity are at stake. MPs must reflect over the coming days on the tumultuous events of 2020, which began with Johnson saying this would be “a fantastic year for Britain” and ends with the sort of headlines about a mutant virus cancelling Christmas that might be found in a science-fiction film." Ian Birrell says it's the duty of Conservative MPs to depose Boris Johnson.

Paul Sorene looks back to the Grunwick dispute of 1976: "Prime minister James Callaghan set up a cabinet committee under Lord Justice Scarman to resolve the dispute. This was music to the ears of TUC general secretary Len Murray, who responded: 'No employer has ever defied a court of enquiry.' Jayaben Desai, unsurprisingly, saw things differently. 'He will defy the court of enquiry', she said."

This first attempt to bore a tunnel under the River Severn ended in disaster and attempted murder, reports Janet Hughes.

William Boyd reviews a new biography of Graham Greene: "He enjoyed entering literary competitions, often parodying his own work. In 1949 he entered a contest held by the New Statesman – where the demand was to write the notional opening of a Graham Greene novel – and didn’t win outright: he shared the six-guinea prize with five others."

The Liverpool Echo has behind-the-scenes shots of the making of the Ealing comedy The Magnet, which starred a very young James Fox.

"Sometimes, a storm or other natural disaster could change the fortunes of coastal towns overnight. New Romney in Kent is one of these places.  Once a thriving and important port, a terrible storm in 1287 cut off the town’s lifeline." Flickering Lamps visits the town today.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Bombsites in The Yellow Balloon (1953)

I have written before about how in 1947's Ealing comedy Hue and Cry celebrated

a damaged London belongs to errand boys and the film celebrates their independence and resourcefulness.

but British films soon came to take a different view of bombsites.

So I was interested to come across this post about one of those films, The Yellow Balloon from 1953, on Best British Films:

The Yellow Balloon can be viewed on a number of levels: as postwar realist drama illustrating the harshness and poverty of London seven or eight years after victory; as a gripping thriller; as commentary upon the dog-eat-dog world simmering beneath the layers of conventionality and people ‘doing the right thing’.

It is probably most helpful to examine The Yellow Balloon from each of these perspectives.  References are made throughout the film to the lack of any action on the part of the authorities to the ongoing devastation of uncleared and unguarded bombsites.

This is a world where victory against the Germans has come at a great price, and rationing was still in force until the following year.  The continuing repayment of war loans to the Americans left little spare cash for renovations, let alone reconstruction.  The "you never had it so good" world of Harold Macmillan was still several years down the road.

I have put the sentence that most interests me in bold and I had better give these bombsite posts their own label so I can find them if I want to write the definitive work on the subject.

Death of a teenybopper at the White City

Embed from Getty Images

Years ago, one of my favourite trivia questions was to ask which stadium used in the 1966 World Cup no longer exited.

The answer was the White City stadium in West London, used because Wembley was needed for a greyhound racing that evening. The game held there saw Uruguay beat France 2-1.

Since then, however, both Ayresome Park and Roker Park, which between them hosted an entire group, have been demolished too. So the question no longer works.

In checking this, however, I have come across a sad occurrence I had quite forgotten.

The White City Stadium was built to be the home of the 1908 London Olympics. From 1927 until it closed in 1984 (it was demolished the following year), it was chiefly used for greyhound racing, though Queen's Park Rangers did have a couple of short spells playing there.

Other uses included pop concerts, and it was at one of these that a tragedy happened.

On 26 May 1974 David Cassidy, at 24 still a teenybopper sensation, played the White City. A crush at the front of the stage injured some 800 people and 30 were taken to hospital. One of them, 14-year-old Bernadette Whelan, died there four days later.

Dave Thompson on Goldmine relates the evening's events with verve:

Cassidy left the stage and the PA kicked into whatever lightweight pop was to hand in a futile attempt to calm the crowd. And now the tape becomes surreal. 
Against a backdrop of "The Wombling Song," the debut hit by a bunch of litter-collecting rodents, crushed and battered fans were calling, begging, screaming for help. One of the St John’s men later compared the scene to the Blitz.

The Seventies were a strange, strange decade and much nearer the second world war than they are to us today.

Do we have teenyboppers any more? I get the impression that young girls are more likely to attend concerts with their families now, and when they do they go to see young women who speak to their aspirations rather than young men or teenage boys who make them think of sex. I guess that is progress.

Leicester St Margaret's bus station closes on New Years' Eve for redevelopment

Leicester's St Margaret’s bus station in Leicester will close at 7pm on 31 December to allow work to being on its £13.5m redevelopment.

A press release from Leicester City Council says the "striking" new bus station building will be glazed from floor to ceiling and feature a curved aluminium roof that appears to float above the main concourse:

Bus passengers will benefit from a completely redesigned and improved internal layout with a new café, better seating and real time digital passenger information. There will also be increased capacity for national and regional bus services, with the number of bays increased from 18 to 24.

A series of energy efficiency and renewable energy measures will help make the new bus station a carbon neutral building. It is believed that this would be the first bus station to be built to net zero carbon standards in the UK.

Electric bus charging points will be installed, and the new building will feature secure storage for up to 150 bikes.

The new bus station is part of a regeneration project for this quarter of the city, which will feature better pedestrian to both St Margaret's and Haymarket bus stations.

Incidentally, back in the early 1970s, buses from Market Harborough terminated at a long-vanished terminus in Northampton Square. You can see it in the photograph below.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

A virtual tour of the Swindon railway village

I spent a few days holiday in Swindon back in 2009 so I could visit the Richard Jefferies Museum at his birthplace at Coate. 

That visit had to be carefully planned to include the one Sunday that month when the museum was open to the public. Since then, however, it has experienced a renaissance,

While I was in Swindon the place grew on me - both the old town on the hill and the new town, built in the 19th century largely to serve the Great Western Railway's works, down below.

The railway village in the new town was in a poor state, with some of its most important buildings boarded up.

This video suggests the establishment of a heritage action zone to cover it has led to some promising developments.

Peter Gabriel: Games Without Frontiers

This was on Gabriel's third solo album, which was released in 1980 under the title Peter Gabriel. It made number 4 in the UK singles chart.

'Games without frontiers' is a literal translation of the French phrase 'Jeux sans frontières'. That was the title of the inter-European version of the game show It's a Knockout, and Jeux Sans Srontières was just about my favourite viewing as a small boy in the 1960s.

So the song seems to be abuot trivial games, but also namechecks what sound like world leaders to suggest a deeper political meaning.

As American Songwriter comments:

"Games Without Frontiers" represented a breakthrough of sorts for Gabriel, as it helped him segue from cult artist to chart threat. It happened quicker in the UK, where the song went Top 10, while, in the US, it made a dent in rock radio but didn’t hit the top 40.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

A drone flight over the lead mines at Snailbeach

This video was made by Philip. J. Jones for the Shropshire Mines Trust.

Six of the Best 985

"After 40 years in politics I am convinced that Universal Basic Income is the only real solution to poverty. Politicians, who oppose UBI whilst hiding behind a lack of willingness to find a way to fund it, are actually saying we will not be doing anything useful about poverty and are leaving those who can’t survive via our mean spirited benefits system for charities, volunteers and churches to look after." Tony Robertson believes the level of poverty in Britain should shame us all.

Philippa Borrowman argues that local authorities have a vital role to play in combating climate change but most be properly resourced.

"The lockdown has brought about a seismic shift in the way we think about space in the city. It became obvious that a lot of our urban environment is not green or accessible enough and we have seen the negative effects on our health and wellbeing, particularly in more deprived areas of our cities." Cristina Monteiro says Covid-19 should inspire us to rewild our cities.

James Hawes finds the rots of the divide between the North and South of England deep in history.

"It was an insular existence. I had no contact with anybody outside the Family; my whole world was inhabited by people I had always known. I was homeschooled and never saw a doctor." Guinevere Turner on growing up in a cult.

David Evans-Powell takes a look at the 1972 anthology series Dead of Night and its particular delight in terrorising the middle-class.

Friday, December 18, 2020

The new Blue Pullman races through Market Harborough

The High Speed Train - HST - is still to me the essence of modernity on the railways. It is reaching the end of its career, even on the neglected Midland main line.

To mark this retirement, one set has been repainted in the livery of the Blue Pullman, an innovative service that flourished in the 1960s.

You can see the Blue Pullman racing through Market Harborough in the video above.

GUEST POST The Brexit hustle

A hustle, a medieval conflict... Stuart Whomsley offers new ways of understanding the powers behind Brexit.

Brexit was always a hustle: it was always about a powerful rich elite in the UK wanting to take back control from the community of European countries in order to better exploit the ordinary person.  And in order to do so they conned many ordinary people to vote for it.

You could think of it in medieval terms. The leaders are a subgroup of the rich and powerful who wanted to claim the throne with the support of foreign powers. The foot soldiers are varied but they have an army that contains a lot of the lower educated disenfranchised ordinary folk who feel a new king will treat them better.

Hence the fuss over fish and fishing rights which is only about 0.1 per cent of the economy and employing only 24,000 people. Fishing is symbolic of us being an island nation, of the Royal Navy and fishermen ruling the waves. This whole thing has been about ruthless chaos capitalists manipulating a section of the population at a deep emotional, identity and attachment level to get what they wanted.

We were nestled into a lovely position on the chessboard of the world, better than we deserved after the dark side of the Empire. This special place was the linchpin between Europe and The USA, able to influence both; sixth biggest economy in the world, a major player, not anymore.

Germany carried the guilt of being on the bad side in the war, French the shame for falling so easily. Britain held its head high. Not any more. Now we are the fools, sold out by treasonous disaster capitalists like Rees-Mogg and the narcissist Johnson for their personal gain.

And will people wake up or react to this? Unlikely, we seem to be a passive lethargic nation who sit on our sofa and accept anything. Not the same people who protested and put fear into Thatcher and her government, but a nation of child-like emotional pygmies glued to our devices playing computer games and watching Ant and Dec.

You can follow Stuart Whomsley on Twitter.

Tory MP sacked as PPS after memo leaked to Guido Fawkes

Andrew Lewer, the Conservative MP for Northampton South, has been sacked as parliamentary private secretary to policing minster Kit Malthouse after a leaked memo appeared on the Guido Fawkes website.

The memo was a warning to Tories in junior government roles not to leak memos.

But how was he caught?

The Northampton Chronicle explains:

What the recipients did not know, reportedly, is that each copy of the memo from Chief Whip Mark Spencer MP was worded differently.

Then, when a copy of the memo was appeared on political gossip website Guido Fawkes, this reportedly led the Government to work out that particular version of the letter.

As a result, Andrew Lewer or a member of his staff has been accused of leaking the memo and has been fired from his role as a PPS at the Home Office.

New Lib Dem and Green vision for Nottingham's Broadmarsh

For 50 years or more, visitors to Nottingham have been funnelled through a bus station and a shopping centre if they wish to get from the railway station to the city centre.

The planned redevelopment of the city's Broadmarsh gives a chance to change all that, particularly now the site's developer Intu has gone into administration.

To respond to this opportunity, Nottingham's Greens and Liberal Democrats have worked with a local architect to produce a new vision for the site.

The parties say:

With many groups coming forward asking for the old Broadmarsh to be turned into a park, Nottingham Liberal Democrats and Nottingham Green Party have combined to work up an inspiring vision for the area, with considerable green space combined with facilities for local independent businesses and creative activity, which are two of our city’s strengths. 

The plans include:

A complete demolition of the West side of the Broadmarsh building and the replacement of this and the central walkway into the city with a park

Use of the shell of the old East side of the Broadmarsh to create a building which is a mix of leisure and small/start-up business units with a green roof and vertical planting.

The creation of an eco-building for co-working in the day and as a creative arts hub in the evening.

These plans are currently an aspiration – feasibility studies would need to be done before the detail could be designed.  Alexis Lane, a graduate of NTU’s School Of Architecture, has drawn a plan of the shared vision. At the centre of the plan is a ‘green gateway’ for people coming into the city to shop or work or relax, and will contribute towards the council’s plan for Nottingham to be carbon-neutral by 2028.

They say the plan has been welcomed by the national leaders of both parties and quote Ed Davey as saying:

"As someone who grew up in Nottingham, I’m delighted to see this exciting proposal for such a key site in the city. I hope the City Council listen and seize this opportunity."

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Imagine being derailed with Jacob Rees-Mogg

Photo from Network Rail

Jacob Rees-Mogg's public personality is as carefully constructed as that of any film star.

So lazy satirists who think they can hurt him by making jokes about him being old fashioned are missing the point. The overegged quaintness is a way of disguising Rees-Mogg's real nature as a thoroughly 21st-century financier.

Another important aspect of that constructed personality is its sheer disagreeability to anyone of a remotely liberal sensibility. "You may dislike me," it seems to say, "but there's nothing you can do about me."

In part Rees-Mogg is playing the public school buck he never was. Because it appears he was seen as a joke by the other boys during his Eton years.

And Matthew Sweet has said that when he heard Rees-Mogg speaking at the Oxford Union he thought he was someone doing a comic turn to send up the politicos. Well, it was an act.

Of course, you can go too far. In November 2019 he said that the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire had died because they failed to show "common sense" by following the authories' instructions to stay put and wait to be rescued.

Following an outcry, Rees-Mogg apologised and was then hidden from the voters in the general election campaign.

But that didn't prevent his being reappointed leader of the Commons after the Conservative victory, so the episode cost him nothing.

My own very limited experience of being involved in an emergency taught me that the last thing, the very last thing, you want in such circumstances is someone lounging about and telling you, in an affected upper-class drawl, to ignore the instructions you are given.

I remember, after the train had come to a halt, that we all sat there wondering what happened next. Soon flashing blue lights appeared on a distant road and we knew that someone had taken charge.

As we climbed down from the train, the police and fire brigade were exaggeratedly insistent that we took our time and took care. They did not want some falling, breaking a leg and making the incident more serious.

My conclusion is that an emergency, whether a minor derailment or a global pandemic, is not an opportunity to display your superiority or you individuality. It is a time to do as you're told.

Write a guest post for Liberal England

I welcome guest posts on Liberal England.

This list of the 10 most recent is pretty concentrated on the Liberal Democrats, but I am happy to publish posts on subjects far beyond the Lib Dems and politics.

If you would like to write a guest post for this blog, please send me an email so we can discuss your idea.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The Glamorganshire Canal in 1945

Completed in 1794, the Glamorganshire Canal ran for 25 miles from Merthyr Tydfil to the sea at Cardiff Docks.

At first it did well, but the railways inevitably took the coal traffic from it. Closure began in 1898 and was effectively complete by 1942.

If you click on the still above you will be taken to a film on the British Film Institute site that shows members of the Cardiff Amateur Cine Society and their children exploring the canal in 1945. At that date it was a picturesque ruin.

Much of the route was lost under a new Cardiff to Merthyr road in the 1970s, but parts of the canal can still be walked today.

Six of the Best 984

"What was Brexit like? America’s declaration of independence? A man leaving a golf club but demanding to still be allowed into the bar? Over the years, I went through a few analogies, but the one that persisted was of a married man who has for years enjoyed casually flirting with a work colleague. One evening he makes his traditional half-hearted pass, and instead of rolling her eyes, she replies: 'Go on, then'. A month later, he’s living out of his car and negotiating through lawyers to see his children one weekend a month, and he can’t really tell you how it happened." Robert Hutton on the experience of reporting Brexit.

Sofie Jenkinson says parks, gardens and green space are vital for our mental health.

Donald Trump's tactic of refusing to admit defeat is spreading through the Republican Party, reports David Siders.

"To the very last, he raged against the dying of the light by remaining implacably vigilant; furious at the indignities to which his country was being subjected by bogus patriots, spiv nationalists and sloganeering charlatans." Matthew d'Ancona pays tribute to John le Carré.

"The Archers taps into a myth that the nation’s spirit is most authentically to be found in the countryside, that its irreducible social unit is the village – as if the Industrial Revolution and 19th-century urbanisation were only aberrations." Charlotte Higgins analyses the weird genius of the radio soap opera.

Emily Knight looks at the work of Joseph Wright of Derby, the 'painter of light'.

Wildlife trust aims to preserve little fields on the Stiperstones

Shropshire Wildlife Trust has launched an appeal so it can buy land on the Stiperstones.

The Shropshire Star reports:

The trust is raising money so it can buy 12 acres of little fields on The Stiperstones above Tankerville, Pennerley.

The restoration and protection of natural habitats on The Stiperstones is one of the trust’s most cherished projects, which began with the 'back to purple' heathland recovery scheme more than 20 years ago.

John Hughes, development manager at the trust said: “Much has been achieved during this period and now we have an opportunity to ensure the protection of another delightful piece of land."

The fields are to the west of the Stiperstones ridge, below the Devil's Chiar. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The Woodhead route from the cab in 1965

A good view of the lost electrified line from Sheffield to Manchester. 

Wikipedia explains:

The Woodhead line was a railway line linking Sheffield, Penistone and Manchester in the north of England. A key feature of the route is the passage under the high moorlands of the northern Peak District through the Woodhead Tunnels. The line was electrified in 1953 and closed between Hadfield and Penistone in 1981.

The Manchester to Glossop/Hadfield section is still in operation; east of the Pennines, the vicinity of Penistone and the Sheffield to Deepcar section are still open, although the latter is goods-only. The track has been lifted on other sections and much of the trackbed now forms part of the Trans-Pennine Trail and National Cycle Route 62.

I travelled it myself shortly before its closure, as it was sometimes used as a Sunday diversionary route for Sheffield to Manchester trains, and the regular Sheffield to Barnsley service used it to reach Penistone.

Congratulations to Todger Strunk

Not only has he just married a granddaughter of the golfer Jack Niklaus, he has also won our Name of the Day Award.

A glimpse of the young Allison Pearson

Back in 2005, only the second year of this blog's existence and before most of its readers were born, I blogged about continuous assessment in schools:

When I was in the early years of secondary school, geography lessons seemed to be dominated by middle-class girls whose families encouraged them to write to foreign embassies for information about the countries we were discussing. 
Being male and coming from a one-parent family with a busy working mother, I was never going to compete with them. (And if you want real street cred, I got free school dinners.)

Perhaps there was too much gender stereotyping there, but my reason for revisiting this old post today is that I have since realised that one of those middle-class girls was a young Allison Pearson.

Oh and they weren't geography lessons: they were 'combined studies' lessons. Well, it was the 1970s.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Ian Botham and David Gower share a partnership against Australia in 1978

I remember listening to this partnership on the radio early on a cold Yorkshire morning during my first term at university.

Ian Botham, who was 23, and David Gower, 21, hurried England towards a winning position with their confident batting.

In truth, this was a badly understrength Australian side. Their best players had been signed by Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket and England won the six-test series 4-1.

Still Rodney Hogg, who looks very impressive here, took 41 English wickets in course of it.

How Wizzard got their revenge on Slade in 1973

Embed from Getty Images

Christmas 1973 saw the ultimate battle over what would be the number one single and Slade defeated my favourites Wizzard.

But Wizzard got their revenge.

Here is their keyboard player Bill Hunt in the Guardian long ago:

Of course, Slade got the Christmas No 1 and we were No 2, but when we did it on Top Of The Pops there was a staged custard pie fight. While Slade were on, one of our drummers sneaked into the audience and hit Noddy full in the face with one. If you see the video, you’ll notice that Noddy doesn’t appear again after that, so we got our own back for not being No 1.

Sadly I cannot find the video online, but let's not question the legend.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

John le Carré has died

David Cornwell, better known by his pen name of John le Carré, died in Cornwall on Saturday.

After working in intelligence himself, he became the acknowledged master of spy fiction. The early fame he found with The Spy Who Came in From the Cold was amplified in the 70s and 80s through the BBC adaptions of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Smiley's People, which starred Alec Guinness as George Smiley.

As Sarah Lyall says in her New York Times obituary:

Before Mr. le Carré published his bestselling 1963 novel "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold," which Graham Greene called "the best spy story I have ever read," the fictional model for the modern British spy was Ian Fleming’s James Bond - suave, urbane, devoted to queen and country. With his impeccable talent for getting out of trouble while getting women into bed, Bond fed the myth of spying as a glamorous, exciting romp.

Mr. Le Carré ... upended that notion with books that portrayed British intelligence operations as cesspools of ambiguity in which right and wrong are too close to call and in which it is rarely obvious whether the ends, even if the ends are clear, justify the means.

This interview from 2002 displays the wonderful clarity of Cornwell's thinking and speaking. He talks about Alec Guinness, the intelligence world and writing. It's a suitable way to remember him.

Backlash against plan to rebrand Southwell Minster

Southwell Minster is a cathedral and one of my very favourite ones. 

It has been a cathedral since the Diocese of Southwell, covering Nottinghamshire and part of South Yorkshire, was carved out of Lincoln in 1884. But it is still called a minster, not a cathedral.

It has never bothered anyone in York that the second most important cathedral in the country is always called York Minster, but in Nottinghamshire they worry about such things.

In 2005 the diocese was rechristened the Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham and now it wants to rebrand Southwell Minster.

On Monday an online survey was posted asking people to choose between four new names for it:

  • Southwell Minster Cathedral, Nottingham
  • Southwell Minster, the Cathedral Church of Nottingham
  • Southwell Cathedral, Nottingham
  • Southwell Minster Cathedral, serving the Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham
The survey disappeared after a few hours and BBC News quotes Dean Nicola Sullivan:

"We should have started with our near community and stakeholders before putting it on the Wild West of social media.

"But the fact that people have these views on it just confirms what I've known since I started here - people really care and want the best for it."

My advancing age make me resistant to change, but even if you see the case for it none of those names will really do. Some are too much of a mouthful, some make it sound as though Southwell is in Nottingham, some do both.

So here's a suggestion. Change the second proposed name to 'Southwell Minster, the Cathedral Church of Nottinghamshire' and adopt that.

The authorities can put it on their letterheads and compliments slips and everyone else can go on calling it Southwell Minster.

Six of the Best 983

Richard Kemp calls on Liverpool to move away from the mayor and cabinet system, which "essentially concentrates power into the hands of one person who chooses the Cabinet and then chucks out those that disagree".

"Because criminalising drugs does not really prevent drug use, decriminalising does not really increase it. Portugal, which decriminalised the personal possession of all drugs in 2001 in response to high illicit drug use, has much lower rates of drug use than the European average." Scott Atkins and Clayton Mosher on the global movement towards decriminalisation of drugs.

A classical education was never just for the elite, but was a precious and inspiring part of working-class British life, argues Edith Hall.

Stephen Greenblatt looks at the impact of the plague on Shakespeare's plays: "As a shareholder and sometime actor in his playing company, as well as its principal playwright, Shakespeare had to grapple throughout his career with these repeated, economically devastating closings."

"I can't help but wish, having watched Sparrows Can't Sing, is that she'd made a few more films like this before launching herself fully into the Carry Ons. There was certainly a buzz around Babs immediately after Sparrows came out. The premiere of the film attracted a wealth of publicity and many celebrities attended. Barbara was nominated for a BAFTA and was courted by American agents, making appearances on U.S chat shows." Carry On Blogging celebrates Barbara Windsor.

Rob Tannenbaum reminds us that, though disco and the Bee Gees are now widely beloved, that wasn’t the case 40 years ago.

Stealers Wheel: Star

A few weeks ago BBC4 screened a film on the life of Gerry Rafferty. It included this alongside the better known Baker Street and Stuck in the Middle With You.

Star was released as a single in 1973 and reached no. 25 in the UK singles chart.

As No Words, No Song points out:

the song features a number of unexpected elements for a record made in the midst of the glam rock era — including a mournful harmonica, a kazoo, some woodblocks and an upright piano sounding like something you used to find pushed against a back wall in those clubs which host promising acts on the way up and former superstars on the way down.

And two other points...

Though Gerry Rafferty was to become the more famous, Star was written and chiefly sung by his bandmate Joe Egan.

This recording comes from the classic West German music programme Beat Beat Beat, which was obviously still going strong in 1973.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Welcome to The Pod of Delights

There has been only one episode so far, but I'm pleased to see a podcast devoted to John Mansfield's The Box of Delights and the 1984 BBC adaption of it in particular.

In that episode of The Pod of Delights you can hear Phil Errington talk about his new book Opening the Box of Delights.

The other guests are Craig Morris from BritBox and Jonathan Stephens, who played Chubby Joe in 1984.

Ultrafast broadband in the Stiperstones

If the Shropshire Star is a little racy for your taste, I recommend the Ludlow & Tenbury Wells Advertiser as an alternative.

Here is a story from a couple of days ago:

Improvements to broadband is (sic) promised next year for people living in some isolated Shropshire communities that struggle of get online.

As a result of a new roll out of ultrafast broadband by local provider SWS, that’s changing with Stiperstones village the first to benefit from a future proofed ‘gigabit capable’ broadband infrastructure.

But then Stiperstones village has always been at the forefront of such efforts. At one time there was an official scheme under which, if you went into the pub and asked about web access, they would hand you a laptop across the bar.

Back in 2008, when the BritBlog Roundup was a thing, I took advantage of it to compile an edition there.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Graeme Pollock makes a century for the Rest of the World against England in 1970

Here's an unexpected find. In the summer of 1970, following the cancellation of a tour by South Africa, five matches were staged between England and a Rest of the World XI.

At the time these games were given test status, which the depth and quality of the Rest of the World's batting, if not its bowling, justified. But that status was stripped from them a year or two later.

England competed well but lost the series 4-1. This video comes from the final test at the Oval, which the Rest of the World won by successfully chasing 284 in the fourth innings.

In their first innings the South African batsman Graeme Pollock, generally regarded as one of the very best batsmen of this era, made a century and Peter Lever took 7-83 on his first appearance for England.

Besides Lever, the England seam attack was made up of John Snow (who is not shown in the video) and a young Chris Old. The spinners are Ray Illingworth and his Yorkshire team mate Don Wilson.

Wilson played six official tests for England, but it is a surprise to see him preferred to Derek Underwood here unless Underwood was injured.

Inside those Brexit fish negotiations

Stolen shamelessly from Jon Ayre on Twitter.

"We were just knocking about in the park. Then the Beatles turned up"

Intrigued by the story of the Beatles' photoshoot at Old St Pancras, I did some googling and found a piece in the Guardian by one of the children pictured with them.

Ian Whittington writes:

I’m the little boy on the left in the light blue jumper, and I’m six years old. Standing next to me is my younger brother Neil and behind us is our nan, Eunice. She’s holding paper and a pencil, as we got three of the Beatles’ autographs. Yoko Ono, who was there that day, kept calling John Lennon away, so we only got Paul, George and Ringo’s signatures ...

There was no announcement that the Beatles were coming – they just turned up, with a small group of friends, assistants, photographers and hangers-on. The other kids were just knocking about in the park that day, as we were. King’s Cross and St Pancras was a poor area then; parts of it were Dickensian. According to my nan, I sat on Paul’s knee. At one point, she brought them out tea.

Yoko, eh?

Whittington was the grandson of the head gardener at Old St Pancras:

He was visiting family in Derbyshire that day: he always said if he had been there, he wouldn’t have allowed the Beatles in, because they were the sort of "long-haired layabouts" he disapproved of.

And he remembers that the site was more impressive in 1968 than it is today:

It was a beautiful park, much bigger than it is now. There was a Victorian bedding scheme, which my grandad was very proud of, a fountain, glasshouses, a playground, London plane trees. Sir John Soane’s mausoleum is there. In one famous picture, the Beatles are posing among my grandad’s prize hollyhocks. He had eight or nine staff, some of them in this photograph – the older man in the trilby at the back was the park keeper. 

It's hard not to conclude that Swinging London caught the city at a sweet point between authority and liberation. Much of its iconography involved symbols of tradition like bobbies and red buses - the flower children could play because there were still grown ups in charge.

Ian Whittington also says that:

A black and white version of this photograph, by another photographer who was there called Stephen Goldblatt (although it’s often attributed to McCullin), features on the inside gatefold sleeve of two Beatles compilation albums: the Red Album, from 1962-1966, and the Blue Album, from 1967–1970. I’ve no idea why it was chosen: I suppose it’s nice the way they are mingling with the crowd, looking like normal people. 
I first saw it on one of the records at a girlfriend’s flat when I was 16: I said, "That’s my nan!" And then, a few seconds later, "That’s me!"

I remember coveting those two albums when I was 12 and not being able to afford them. I could buy them now with a couple of clicks, but somehow the Beatles interest me less than other 60s bands today. 

Compass calls on Labour and Lib Dems to cooperate

Compass today published a report calling on progressive parties to work together.

We Divide They Conquer concludes:

For the next two years we need to build relationships of trust around values and ideas, and against one of the most incompetent governments in living memory. We need to test all the things that unite us and understand where we don’t agree and why. We need to be combinational, open-minded and exploratory. We have the time - but not a moment to lose.

Cooperation under FPTP - an adversarial, winner-takes-all system - will not be easy. Political parties are tribal, and we need to respect that. But it is the "Open Tribe" that adapts, thrives and survives in a future that will increasingly be negotiated not imposed.

To make this cooperation a reality has set up networks for Liberal Democrat and Labour Party members who support such moves.

On Monday an online rally is taking place on Monday afternoon to launch this move to cooperation between progressive parties.

It will include speakers from the Lib Dems, Labour, the Greens and the SNP. The Lib Dem speaker will be Layla Moran.

This emphasis on getting parties talking seems to me exactly right: parties cannot simply instruct their voters to support another party en bloc. It also recognises that neither Labour nor the Lib Dems currently have a clear alternative agenda to offer.

This is a development to watch.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Philip Pullman on the irrelevance of the artist's intentions

I was pleased to see this tweet from Philip Pullman because I once blogged on the irrelevance of the author's intentions to the meaning of a work of art - you see, Liberal England isn't all funny headlines and other peoples' videos.

The occasion for that post was an exchange I saw on Twitter. Someone was arguing with J.K. Rowling about the motivation of a character at one point of the Harry Potter saga, whereupon another tweeter leapt in with:
I suspect this to be the greatest act of mansplaining of all time

(This was in 2015 when J.K. Rowling could do no wrong for the liberal left and before people used the hashtag #RIPJKRowling to show the world how caring they are.)

In response to this exchange I wrote that behind the complaint about mansplaining lay

a number of connected and faulty aesthetic theories: that a work of art has one fixed meaning; that its meaning derives solely from the author's intentions; and that those intentions are somehow transferred from the author's mind to the book, which it then inhabits as a sort of ghostly substance.

The truth is different. As soon as a book is published the author loses control of it. There is no single correct reading of it that derives from her intentions. Readings multiply as its readership multiplies.

You could even argue that the better a book is, the more diverse the possible readings are, It this sort of fluidity of meaning that keeps the classics alive and makes us still want to read them.

I also suggested that if you get the feeling that everything is just as it is in the Harry Potter universe only because Rowling says so than that is a sign of her limitations as an author not her strength.

So it's good to see Philip Pullman taking a similar view to mine on the relevance of the artist's intentions.

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

The Beatles at Old St Pancras

On 28 July 1968 The Beatles held a mini magical mystery tour, being photographed at various locations across London - Rolling Stone has the full details.

One of the places they visited was Old St Pancras Church, which we visited the other day with John Rogers as he followed the course of the River Fleet.

The video above shows the loveable moptops being photographed in various parts of the churchyard - look out for the tomb of Sir John Soane, which inspired Giles Gilbert Scott's classic telephone box - and meeting the locals.

Gladstone's son played football for Scotland

Embed from Getty Images

We have seen William Henry Gladstone, the Grand Old Man's eldest child, twice before.

As a small boy he amused Queen Victoria and shortly after that he went to a prep school at Geddington in Northamptonshire.

Today I learnt from Twitter that he was also a footballer. He played for Old Etonians in the FA Cup and for Scotland in their first unofficial international against England in 1870.

William Henry was Liberal MP for Whitby at the time of the international. There was another MP in the Scottish Team: John Wingfield Malcolm, a Conservative who sat for Boston.

'Kids crying' after police called to break up visit from Santa


Our Headline of the Day Award goes to this seasonal effort from the Liverpool Echo.

Six of the Best 982

Timothy Garton Ash offers his manifesto for a renewal of liberalism: "At its best, liberalism has always understood that human beings never are what Jeremy Waldron has called the 'self-made atoms of liberal fantasy,' but rather live embedded in multiple kinds of community that speak to deep psychological needs for belonging and recognition."

"The most surprising feature of Britain since the Brexit referendum is just how unhappy Brexiters have been." Chris Grey probes the psychology of the Brexit ultras.

Should we have to respect or just tolerate abhorrent views? Ruth Smeeth on a debate in academia.

Nick Hunt reviews The Book of Trespass by Nick Hayes: "There’s an often surreal contrast between the chocolate-box perfection of the places he encounters - the quintessence of mannered, civilised Englishness - and the ever-present threat of being apprehended."

"Unlike the ghosts of M.R. James, whose creations could probably be best avoided by following the advice 'Put the thing back where you found it', Dickens deals in a different type of phantom. ... Dickens’ ghosts are not as concerned with things like retribution, justice or punishment as they are with making sure the inevitable comes to pass." Paul Childs explores The Signalman, the 1976 episode of A Ghost Story for Christmas adapted from a story by Charles Dickens.

Moonbrook Cottage searches for the lost Shropshire village of Hangsters Gate.

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Berney Arms: Britain's least-used railway station

It's not just Norfolk's least-used station: Berney Arms is Britain's least used station.

As the Guardian reported last week:

Britain’s least used railway station has been revealed as Berney Arms in Norfolk, which served just 42 passengers last year.

The station, a request stop consisting of one short platform, a name plate and a tiny wooden shelter, is 30 minutes along a single-track line from Norwich to Great Yarmouth, and named after a local pub that closed several years ago. Situated in protected marshland near the River Yare and some way from the nearest main road, it is normally only accessible on foot.

Geoff Marshall takes us there - and meets a television camera crew.

Talking Pictures TV to show Peter Brook's Lord of the Flies: Watch a cast reunion from 1996

On Saturday week (19 December) Talking Pictures TV is showing Peter Brook's 1963 film of William Golding's Lord of the Flies.

I first saw this film at school because I was educated in an era when it was more or less compulsory to study Golding's novel for O level.

In those days it was taught to us as a fable about human nature, but (as I once blogged) today it reads more like a study of the inevitable consequences of the barbarities of the 1950s English prep school.

Anyway, this screening gives me a reason to post this video of an unexpectedly moving reunion of Brook and most of his leading actors that took place in 1996.

The American accents of Tom Chapin (Jack) and Tom Gaman (Simon) are a reminder that the boys were recruited from English families living in the US or Caribbean. Only Hugh Edwards (Piggy) was flown out from Britain to Puerto Rico take part. Indeed, I believe Chapin's lines had to be dubbed by another boy as his accent had already grown too American.

Confusingly, James Aubrey (Ralph), who lived around the world as a boy but settled in England, used an American accent when he reappeared on British screens in 1976 in the scandalous Bouquet of Barbed Wire.

Touchingly insecure in this film, Aubrey (who died in 2010) was one of only two cast members to go on to acting careers. The other, who did not attend the reunion, was Nicholas Hammond, who played Robert - a member of the choir and hunter alongside Jack. He was next seen as Friedrich in The Sound of Music.

And he is still working. He was Sam Wanamaker in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which was the last film I saw in a cinema. This year has sometimes made it feel as though it was the last film I will ever see in a cinema.

David Surtees, who played Sam (one of the twins), mentions working for the Conservative Party. It appears he is, or was until recently, its regional director for the East Midlands.

A word on resemblance... When we first see Tom Gaman he seems comically elderly when set against the Simon of the film. By the end you are struck by how little he has changed. And he has grown younger since, as this news story from 2014 shows.

And a couple of sociological observations... I was wondering if this film would be shown on television again, because it contains a degree of child nudity that will worry modern sensibilities, and Piggy is not fat at all by modern standards.

My other reason for blogging about Lord of the Flies is that I have taken to tweeting quotes from it and linking them to Brexit.

Jack appears a spokesman for it. Try his:

"We're English, and the English are best at everything."

And there's:

"The rules!" shouted Ralph, "you're breaking the rules!" 

"Who cares?"

Ralph summoned his wits.

"Because the rules are the only thing we've got!"

But Jack was shouting against him.

"Bollocks to the rules! We're strong - we hunt!"

While we Remainers feel very like Ralph:

The world, that understandable and lawful world, was slipping away.
A lot of people are going to feel pretty foolish when the Navy turns up to rescue us. That's if we don't have a rock dropped on us first.

Brexit is the fools' revenge on Harold Macmillan

Visiting Julian Critchley's grave at Wistanstow in Shropshire, I quoted an interview he once gave to Naim Attallah:

"I had two heroes in politics: Macmillan and Roy Jenkins. Macmillan, because he controlled to a very great extent Britain’s decline in power and was responsible for our adjustment in straitened circumstances – something he managed despite a party of fools. 

"My admiration for Roy Jenkins was based on the fact that as a young Labour MP he would advocate the cause of Europe in cross-party meetings, and he advocated brilliantly."

One way of seeing the whole Brexit episode is as the fools' revenge on Macmillan.

The average Conservative MP has not an ounce of Macmillan's statesmanship or his realistic view of Britain's place in the world. 

Or at least, that MP has learnt not to get on wrong side of colleagues with these negative qualities.

Nor does that average Tory MP have any of Macmillan's concern for the poor. They believe that the good things of the earth should be kept for them and their neighbours and that is about as far as their political philosophy goes.

No doubt the Tories have always had dozens of MPs like this, it's just that they used to have the sense not to have too many of them in positions of power.

As Julian Critchley died 20 years ago and is now largely forgotten, I had better introduce him to younger readers. 

He was Conservative MP for Rochester and Chatham between 1959 and 1964, and for Aldershot between 1970 and 1997. He became a sort of internal dissident under Margaret Thatcher, winning him admiration from people in other parties but from few in his own.

There was a good obituary of him in the Guardian by John Biffen.

Monday, December 07, 2020

John Rogers follows the course of the River Fleet

I am addicted to John Rogers' videos and I think this is my favourite so far.

It's not just the interest of following the course of a lost river, it's also the obscure quarters of London it takes us to.

One of those quarters, Old St Pancras churchyard, is well known to me, but the picture John paints of barges moored beside the churchyard is an added attraction.

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

Freda Jackson and Henry Bird's son was in EastEnders

I thought I had done with Freda Jackson, Henry Bird and No Room at the Inn, but there's more.

Freda Jackson and Henry Bird had a son called Julian. You can find a photo of him celebrating his fourth birthday with his mother and the young cast of the play of No Room at the Inn on the Imago site.

Julian Bird grew up to become a psychiatrist, until his genes reasserted themselves when he was in his 60s and he trained as an actor.

Since then he has confused IMDB, as both Julian Bird (VI) and Julian Bird (VII) there are him.

You can see him playing Lear above and he has also been in EastEnders as Clive Morris.

Ed Davey will have to be more ambitious on carers if he wants to move votes

When he stood for the Liberal Democrat leadership Ed Davey chose to concentrate on two issues: the climate emergency and carers.

The former is about the most importance issues we face, while the latter has certainly received too little attention, so they were understandable choices.

Yet it's hard to resist the conclusion that they were principally chosen because they enabled Ed to talk about the qualities he believed would appeal to party members in the election: his experience as a cabinet minister and his own life story.

Now that Ed is Lib Dem leader, we have to ask if these two issues have the potential to drive the party forward.

If they are to do so they must chime with the public and we must have attractive things to say on them that cannot easily be stolen by the larger parties.

So far the jury is out.

Go to the Liberal Democrats' website and you will find an article by Ed:
Unpaid carers are doing a remarkable and important job in very difficult circumstances. They deserve our support.

But many carers are facing extreme financial hardship.

900,000 full-time unpaid carers rely on Carer’s Allowance – but at just £67.25 a week, it’s just not nearly enough.

Carer's Allowance is just £67 a week. It's just not nearly enough.

It is the lowest benefit of its kind – another example of how carers are too often an afterthought for many politicians.

Many unpaid carers have been struggling for months, often relying on foodbanks to feed themselves and the people they care for.

We've got to do better

Liberal Democrats are calling on the Government to immediately raise Carer’s Allowance by £1,000 a year, the same as the uplift in Universal Credit
An increase of £1,000 a year sounds impressive, but not so much if you express it as less than £20 a week, particularly if you are simultaneously arguing that £67 a week isn't nearly enough.

This increase would certainly be welcomed by those receiving only £67, but it does not feel like a policy that will shift lots of votes.

Yet there are deeper questions in this field that we Lib Dems could be asking. 

The very existence of child carers for parents who are ill looks like a sign that our system of social care is broken, and someone should query the privatisation of care for older people and, increasingly, of care for children being looked after away from home.

Above all, people want to be confident that their elderly parents will be well looked after if they go into residential care, and we need to find ways of funding it that do not turn your inheritance into a lottery depending on what your parents die of. 

So far, no government has had the courage to do this, in case someone cries "Death tax!" The Coalition did produce a policy statement on the subject, but nothing came of it. 

The 2019 Conservatives manifesto promised that no one would have to sell their home to pay for social care, but nothing has come of that yet either.

Care could move votes, but I suspect it will take more than a moderate increase to a dismally low benefit for it to do so.

Sunday, December 06, 2020

Market Harborough Market

So good they named it twice.

The blurb on YouTube runs:

For 26 years, Harborough Market has been at the heart of the community in Market Harborough, Leicestershire. The warmth, camaraderie, and invaluable service from Harborough Market traders, especially during the Covid period, have been second to none and have been perfectly captured in this video.

That "26 years" must refer to the time since the new market hall opened. The construction of that hall was agreed while I was a councillor, you know.

Farewell to Peter Alliss

Peter Alliss, whose death was announced this morning, was the last sports commentator who has always been there as far as I was concerned.

He was a natural broadcaster who understood golf intimately, used humour and knew when to stay quiet.

If some found his shout outs to golf clubs he had visited irritating, they were at least an attempt to keep championship golf in touch with the game's roots.

His qualities are all on display here as he describes Jean Van de Velde's self-destruction at the 72nd hole of the 1999 British Open. He was right about that driver.

The party's over for one-nation Conservatives

Patience Wheatcroft was given a peerage by David Cameron but resigned the Conservative whip a year ago.

Writing for Prospect, she argues that one-nation Tories have no future in the party:

In May last year, I was at a dinner party discussing the results of that month’s European elections. Not one of the 10 people present had voted Tory. Neither had anyone done what nearly a third of the country did and voted for the Brexit Party, which was then giving refuge to many Conservatives who wanted to let off steam under Theresa May. 

None of this would have been surprising, given that we were gathered in affluent, left-leaning Hampstead, but for the fact that our number included three Conservative peers, one Conservative Member of Parliament and one former Conservative MP. 

We might have been members of the party but we couldn’t possibly vote for it.

Manhattan Transfer: Tuxedo Junction

I once blogged:

Turning on Radio 4 was dangerous in the 1970s. There was every chance you would encounter Instant Sunshine, the King’s Singers or James bloody Galway.

Worse, it could be Cleo Laine.

She invariably went:

Doo wop, doo be doo, diddly diddly shoo, doo wop, doop doop diddly diddly whop, woop woop shoo wop shoo wop, diddly diddly, bip bop bap, shoobly shoobly woop woo.

Another group that haunted the airwaves in those days was Manhattan Transfer, but I remember rather liking Tuxedo Junction.

Manhattan Transfer (we never called them The Manhattan Transfer back in the day) took their name from the title of a novel by John Dos Passos.

Tuxedo Junction was first recorded by Erskine Hawkins and His Orchestra and then, more famously, by Glenn Miller and his.

It reached 24 in the UK singles chart in 1976, a year when novelty records flourished as the country waited impatiently for punk to happen.

Saturday, December 05, 2020

Freda Jackson and Henry Bird: Northampton's mighty artistic couple

Writing about Freda Jackson, the star of both the play No Room at the Inn and the film made of it, I suggested her husband, the artist Henry Bird deserved a post of his own. But it seems they were very much an item.

Henry regarded talent as an obligation and he served his own with exemplary devotion. He could not understand people who appeared to take art less seriously. Many regretted their hastily expressed opinion too late in the face of one of his uncompromising rebuffs. 
His late wife, the actress Freda Jackson, viewed her own art with similar rigour and both of them tended to disdain small talk. Taking a chair between them in Hardingstone House, their home on the edge of Northampton, could be a bit like sitting on the anvil while the blacksmith was at work.
As to their relationship:
They were ... devoted to each other - even if the relationship sometimes seemed to outsiders perplexingly antagonistic - and their admiration for each other's work was unflagging.
Bird came from a poor part of Northampton near the railway station, was a boy chorister at St Peter's and began taking drawing lessons at the age of 11. He took jobs to finance his part-time studies at art school. Eventually he won a scholarship to the Royal School of Art, where he won most of the big prizes.

He became a ferocious tutor himself and produced many works of public art, such as murals, in and around Northampton.

And I find I have photographed one of these myself: the rood screen at All Saints, Earls Barton.