Thursday, April 30, 2020

Archers assemble: Creating the Powell-Pressburger partnership

Last September Ian Christie gave three lectures for Gresham College under the overall title The Worlds of Powell and Pressburger.

This is the first of them and the Gresham College site says:
When Alexander Korda teamed Michael Powell with Emeric Pressburger in 1939, a lasting partnership between this Englishman and refugee Hungarian must have seemed unlikely. Yet they soon discovered a remarkable bond, pushing each other far beyond what they could do separately, and creating a unique body of filmmaking. 
This lecture explores how the partnership worked during the 1940s, drawing in collaborators from many backgrounds who also gave of their best, and benefiting from the unique conditions of wartime Britain.

Six of the Best 923

"Liberal England died a century ago and we still haven’t learned anything," says Stephen Howse. The title made me choke, but it's a good post and the comments are worth reading too.

Margrethe Vestager, the EU commissioner for competition, is interviewed about Covid-19 and the role of the big tech companies she distrusts.

"Economists now study Ramsey pricing; mathematicians ponder Ramsey numbers. Philosophers talk about Ramsey sentences, Ramseyfication, and the Ramsey test. Not a few scholars believe that there are Ramseyan seams still to mine." Anthony Gottlieb on Frank Ramsey, who died at the age of 26.

Rob Young looks back to feature films of the 1960s and 70s, and to documentaries across the decades, and finds that traces of the 'old, weird Britain' can still be unearthed: "To advertise their rural network of acorn-shaped waymarks, the Countryside Commission made a short film depicting the kind of rugged back- packers they hoped to encourage to ramble along Britain’s rural lanes and bridleways. But then the ghosts of a milkmaid and a cloaked minstrel materialise and vanish again on the same footpaths."

Otto Saumarez Smith mourns the loss of Ironbridge's cooling towers.

"Christie’s great talent for fictional murder is to do with her understanding of, and complete belief in, human malignity. She knew that people could hate each other, and act on their hate." John Lanchester accounts for the immortality of Agatha Christie's whodunnits.

Children in care: This is 1945 speaking to us in 2020

The Children's Commissioner for England has spoken out against the government's reduction of the safeguards for children in care:
I appreciate that Local Authority children’s services are likely to be experiencing challenging working conditions during the pandemic, and there are many inspiring examples of frontline workers going above and beyond the call of duty to keep children safe. 
Nevertheless, I do not believe that the changes made in these regulations are necessary– except perhaps for some clarifications (in guidance) about contact with children taking place remotely during the lockdown. 
Children in care are already vulnerable, and this crisis is placing additional strain on them – as most are not in school, less able to have direct  contact with family and other trusted professionals, and facing the challenges of lockdown and anxiety about illness – all on top of the trauma they have already experienced. 
If anything, I would expect to see increased protections to ensure their needs are met during this period.
In my post about these reductions I referred to the death of Dennis O'Neill at Bank Farm, Minsterley, in January 1945.

Since I wrote it I have come across an online copy (in two parts) of Sir Walter Monckton's report into the circumstances surrounding that death.

I commend two quotations from it to our current government and to all councillors with responsibility for children's services:

The first concerns the practice of 'boarding out' - an earlier term for fostering:
It is first necessary to explain the basis of the policy of committing children to a local authority which may board them out. The 'fit person', local authority or individual, must care for the children as his own. The relation is a personal one: the duty must neither be evaded nor scamped.
And the second is 1945 speaking to us in the Covid-19 year of 2020:
The duty to be sure in the care of children must not be put aside, however great may be the pressure of other burdens.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

A 1939 cigarette card of the Three Swans, Market Harborough

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In 1939 the Three Swans was kept by the writer and eccentric John Fothergill.

Bryan Magee, who was evacuated to Market Harborough during war, wrote of him:
What impressed me about him more than I can express was that he had written one of the books we had at home, An Innkeeper's Diary. He must have been the first author I met. Needless to say, I had not read the book, but I was familiar with it as an object, and knew that it was about the job I was seeing him doing, namely running a hotel. 
He must have been the best-known hotelier in Britain at that time, because his book had been a best-seller in the thirties and was currently in Penguin Books at a time when Penguins were the only mass-circulation paperbacks. 
I saw him as an outlandish figure. He wore his hair to his shoulders, and buckle shoes, and went out of doors in a cape, none of which I had seen a man do before. Yet he was not effeminate. He had a wife and two sons, and was very much the boss, both of his family and of the hotel. 
He spoke to everyone in a direct way that I found disconcerting. He was simply saying what he thought and felt, but I had never heard anyone do that. If he thought you had an ugly face he told you so. Sometimes you could scarcely believe your ears. ...  
But some of the most interesting things about him were things I did not know, and would not have understood. He had been a close friend of Robert Ross, who in turn was the closest and most loyal friend of Oscar Wilde. After Wilde's imprisonment, Fothergill visited him in France and stayed with him there. 
A mere eight of nine years after I knew Fothergill, the opportunity of asking him about all this would have been valuable beyond price, but it was wasted on me when I was ten.

Government scraps 1946 safeguard for children in care

The removal of protections in 10 sets of regulations relating to the care of looked-after children in England, with no public consultation or parliamentary debate, must be seen for what it is: an attack on their rights.
So begins the editorial in tomorrow's Guardian.

And an article in the paper gives details of these worrying proposals:
One of the key relaxations, which came into force last Friday, is the removal of the requirement for a social worker to visit – or even telephone – a child in care every six weeks, reducing it to 'as soon as is reasonably practicable'. 
The requirement for a six-monthly review of a child's care, introduced following the manslaughter of the 12-year-old Dennis O'Neill by his foster carers in 1944, has been similarly relaxed, and adoption and fostering panels which allow for independent scrutiny have become optional. 
The government says the measures are temporary – expiring on 25 September – and will allow overstretched children’s services greater flexibility, but there are fears that the coronavirus crisis is being used as an excuse to relax children’s social care duties and the expiry date could be revoked.
Open Democracy calls the proposals 'England’s bonfire of children’s rights' and illustrates its article with an image of a Daily Mirror front page reporting the committal proceedings against Dennis O'Neill's foster carers in February 1945.

It is hard to decipher, but concerns the evidence given by Dennis's younger brother Terence.

Terence O'Neill published a book about his experiences in 2010 and I was in touch with him at that time. I discussed his brother's case myself in a book chapter I wrote back in 2005.

And the photograph above shows the former Pontesbury Magistrates Court in Shropshire where the committal proceedings took place.

Now read my second post on this subject.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Tyne and Wear Metro: The Way Ahead

This promotional film was made in 1980, shortly before the Metro opened.

Henry Hardy, David Owen and Simon Callow on Bryan Magee

Bryan Magee – philosopher, writer, broadcaster, politician – died on 26 July at the age of eighty-nine. 
After his death, the three main broadsheets swiftly printed the oven-ready obituaries they had on file. But the BBC, where Magee’s reputation was cemented in the later decades of the twentieth century, failed even to mention his death, let alone look back at his life and work. What were Front Row and Last Word thinking of? Not the tiniest clip from the rich Magee broadcasting archive were we offered. 
Magee was (and still is) a household name among the chattering classes, rightly, and this was an astonishing failure of cultural memory on Auntie’s part. He was a consummate interviewer, and one of the most articulate and engaging expositors, especially of philosophy, who ever lived. The silence on the air waves at the end of his life was shameful.
Henry Hardy begins a piece for The Oldie with this complaint about the BBC's ignoring of Bryan Magee's death.

He goes on to give his own memories of him and is followed by David Owen (Magee was a Labour and then an SDP MP) and the actor Simon Callow.

I have my own reasons for being grateful to Magee.

His television series Men of Ideas, featuring interviews with many of the great philosophers of the day, was screened at the start of 1978 when I was being interviewed by universities because I hoped to study philosophy there.

And his superb short book on Karl Popper was a strong influence on my own thinking,

I respect him too as a man who knew the back streets of Market Harborough.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Six of the Best 922

It's fair to say Nick Tyrone is not impressed by the Liberal Democrats who are fasting to show solidarity with Muslims: "In the Ramadan stunt, they have found something that will come across as pandering, virtue signalling and hucksterish to a large section of the electorate, and yet also manages to miss its intended target and potentially offend the people it was being used to suck up to."

Article 39 says the government is using the Covid-19 crisis as an excuse to remove protections for children in public care.

"Fatal overdoses have plummeted, from more than 350 a year in 2001 to about 50 a year now, one of the lowest rates in Europe. HIV infections resulting from injection drug use also have nearly vanished, dropping from 500 new cases in 2006 to 18 in 2017." Aubrey Whelan looks at the result of Portugal's decision to decriminalise the use of all drugs.

Aaron Sankin discovers that Facebook lets advertisers target users who are interested in pseudoscience.

David Gray and Mary Colwell discuss the plight of the curlew and conserving wildlife.

"The trips were fantastic. Mum packed the bare necessities and we jumped on the back of a lorry. At the age of five, venturing beyond the Blackwall Tunnel was an adventure. Rolling through the villages and countryside, waving to everyone we saw was too exciting for words." David Essex is one of many Londoners who share their memories of hop-picking in Kent with Colin Grainger.

Where wealth accumulates, and men decay

Covid-19 has taught us who the key workers are. And they are not the people we thought even a few weeks ago.

But then Oliver Goldsmith got there 250 years ago in his poem The Deserted Village:
Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay:
Princes and lords may flourish, or may fade;
A breath can make them, as a breath has made;
But a bold peasantry, their country's pride,
When once destroyed, can never be supplied.

Aksel Rykkvin: Vien con nuova orribil guerra

He is 17 now and singing as a baritone, but between the ages of 12 and 14 Aksel Rykkvin was the most celebrated treble in the world. For once the American term 'boy soprano' seems justified.

Here he is at 13, singing Albinoni in Italian with a small baroque orchestra in his native Norway (he has an English grandmother).

I love everything about this video. The staging, the exotic instruments and Aksel's wonderful singing.

With most boys of this age you are on the edge of your seat in case they make a mistake. But such is his confidence here that you relax and enjoy the performance as you would with any other artist.

I also like the way he has to be persuaded to take a second bow.

At 12 Aksel recorded an album in London with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment - you can watch a short video about the recording process.

And, though he could do angelic if you wanted it, what really set him apart was his maturity as an interpreter of song. Try the recording of Schubert's Der Hirt auf dem Felsen he made shortly before his voice changed.

As one reviewer of his album said: "I am running out of superlatives."

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Sheffield parks and gardens in 1964

Municipal goodness from the British Film Institute's Britain on Film site. Click on the still above to view it there.

The BFI's blurb explains:
Sheffield shows off its many parks and open green spaces in this delightful film, evocative of the John Betjamin Shell films. The spare voiceover, reminiscent of the late John Arlott, is in perfect accord with the arcadian images beautifully shot in black and white, enhancing the period feel of early 1960s Britain. 
Sheffielders enjoy the endless pleasures of the parks: swimming, bowls, boats, swings and daffodils, while meteorological readings are taken in Weston Park.

Lib Dems in Bollocked by Bercow club

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The House magazine reprints an extract from Sebastian Whale's new biography of the former Commons speaker John Bercow.

This section will be of particular interest to Liberal Democrat readers:
During the coalition years, some Lib Dems did feel that Bercow should have allowed them more opportunity to express their own independent voice when it diverged with that of the Conservatives.
“I felt there could have been more accommodation to allow that to help us increase the profile of the Lib Dems as opposed to the coalition,” says Tom Brake. 
After the 2015 election, when the Lib Dems were left with just eight MPs, some felt that Bercow was not playing fair. 
“He treated the Liberal Democrats poorly in the 2015–17 parliament,” says former Lib Dem MP Greg Mulholland. “Not because they had lost their third-party status, which we had, but by not giving the same parity and time to the leader and MPs that had been afforded to previous smaller parties.”

Dominic Cummings should remember that Rasputin was murdered by a member of the Bullingdon Club

Rasputin: There was a cat that really was gone

Rasputin was trending on Twitter this morning, apparently because everyone has been comparing Dominic Cummings to him.

Cummings should be careful. Prime ministerial advisers are eminently sackable when the going gets tough.

He should remember that Rasputin was murdered by a member of the Bullingdon Club. Poisoned, shot and drowned, if I recall correctly.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Malcolm Saville giving a bookshop reading in 1967

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Here is my favourite writer when I was a child giving a reading at Joan Dashwood's Rainbow Bookshop in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, on 14 January 1967.

Welland Rivers Trust launches new portal

The Welland Rivers Trust has launched a new initiative:
A new mapping and catchment information tool has now been released to aid in the development of new projects to improve the River Welland catchment. 
The Welland Valley Partnership Catchment Mapping Portal is designed to collate and display a wealth of information from multiple sources into one user-friendly experience. 
Its purpose is to inform decision making and ensure that new projects are developed with all available baseline conditions considered. This includes current water quality, local designated wildlife sites and the potential benefit to local communities.
And if you explore the portal thoroughly you will find one of my photographs - the one you see above.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Holiday (1957): Blackpool before the fall

This is glorious - and final proof that the 1950s did not take place in black and white.

The British Film Institute site explains:
One of the most memorable - and fondly remembered - of all British Transport Films was this promotional paean to the joys of holidaying in Blackpool. Unlike the vast majority of BTF's travelogues, commentary is kept to a minimum, with just a brief scene-setting opening and a slightly longer interlude to mark the early afternoon siesta. 
The film derives its reputation and appeal, from the two wordless passages that constitute a masterclass by editor Ralph Sheldon - the first person mentioned in the end credits, and with ample justification. 
Marrying unstructured Blackpool footage to a series of jazz standards recorded by the Chris Barber Band, Sheldon devised a series of immaculately timed gags that wouldn't shame the great silent comedians.

Parties' election campaign newspapers on the way out?

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From Hold the Front Page (HTFP):
The Electoral Commission has called for “real change” on misleading party political leaflets which resemble local newspapers. 
The Commission has said the practice was among the major concerns of the public in its report into campaigning ahead of last year’s general election. 
Over the course of the campaign, HTFP highlighted a series of instance of political parties bringing out political pamphlets which sought to mimic established local titles. 
The industry subsequently united against the practice, with News Media Association chairman David Dinsmore calling on all political parties to put an immediate end to it.
Such newspapers have long been part of Liberal Democrat campaigning and the newspaper industry's particular concern is that some local parties have chosen titles that could be confused with those of existing publications.

But public disquiet with the tactic, as reported by the Electoral Commission, goes deeper.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Six of the Best 921

Nick Barlow asks if there is a future for the Liberal Democrats.

"For all of Momentum’s talk of 'holding Keir Starmer to account', the left cannot win from a position of antagonism, whether to voters externally or its leaders or members internally." Tom Wilson explains why the new left of Sanders and Corbyn loses.

Stephen Parsons looks at the failure of the Church of England to tackle abuse by the clergy: "Hitherto independent individuals have joined the safeguarding establishment of the Church of England.   They then become ‘hoovered up’ ... by the committee system at work in this process.  After a period, they reappear as compliant creatures of the established pro-institution perspective."

Richard Luck on the Iranian Embassy siege and Britsploitation cinema.

"In that same year, the smug Pathé News commentator stated Jacques was ‘taking up her share of Soho Square’ at Tommy Steele’s wedding. A decade on, the message was the same: as she was large she was therefore ‘jolly’, and either sexless or ‘hilariously’ over-sexed." Andrew Roberts looks at the career of Hattie Jacques.

“If you want to understand who Ian Bell is, then you should watch him bat for an hour. One thought of the occasion some 27 summers ago when the late Neal Abberley, then the county’s batting coach, saw the nine-year-old from Coventry for the first time and wondered what the gods had sent him." Paul Edwards muses on sport and character.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Direct action secures children space to play in East London, 1972

Click on the still above to view this film on the British Film Institute site.

The blurb there says:
Parents take matters into their own hands to claim a safe play space for their children in traffic-filled Beckton, East London. This campaigning film advocates the benefits of direct action, offset against the pitfalls of apathy - and makes use of a bold and unconventional filmmaking style. 
It was made by Liberation Films, which developed from a group of activists, including a doctor and several teachers, all campaigning against American involvement in Vietnam. They produced campaigning films in local communities and were particularly active in the 1970s.
This sort of approach was very much in fashion at the start of the Seventies. The more radical interpretations of the Liberal Party's community politics in that era were one example of it.

Leicester Labour MP is still a councillor in Islington

At the general election last December Claudia Webbe was elected as the Labour MP for Leicester East.

Now a story in the Islington Gazette reveals she is still a councillor in London - for the Bunhill ward of Islington borough council to be precise.

And, though the story implies she was about to resign from the council, the cancellation of all elections until May 2021 means she is going to remain in office for another year.

Terry Stacy, the former Liberal Democrat leader of Islington Council, is not impressed:
"She should have resigned immediately after she got elected to Parliament, she can't be doing either job properly. 
"If she's locked down in London how can she be doing her [sic] in Leicester East? If he's in Leicester East how can she be doing her job in Bunhill?"

Brexit fantasies die in the fields of Shropshire

A farmer and Conservative councillor tells the Shropshire Star:
“If we can’t get the people to help with the harvest, it will end up rotting in the field and getting ploughed in. 
"Once things like strawberries and lettuce are ready, you have a very small window to harvest it. 
"People have to want to do it. If farms can’t get the people, it will knock on to the supply in the supermarkets, which would be a lot of trouble.”
The newspaper links this crisis to the outbreak of coronavirus, but the number of overseas seasonal farmworkers was always going to be cut by this government.

As Hugo Gye wrote in the i in Feburary:
Nearly every farm worker - 99.8 per cent - currently in the UK is a citizen of another EU country. In the future no migrants will be allowed to come to Britain to pick fruit, herd animals or do any other agricultural work, except for 10,000 a year who qualify for a seasonal worker visa valid for just a few months. 
Farming industry bosses say they need at least 70,000 a year or will risk seeing fruit rot in the fields.
George Eustice, as the Shropshire Star article reminds us, thought he could mobilise a new Land Army.

Andrew Pierce dreams of conscripting the unemployed.

Neither of these fantasies is going to become reality. Like much else about Brexit, they cannot survive much exposure to it.

Monday, April 20, 2020

The history of Kibworth is The Story of England

Good news. The BBC is repeating Michael Wood's series The Story of England, which uses the history of the Leicestershire village of Kibworth to tell that story.

The first episode will be on the red button at 4pm tomorrow and shown on BBC4 on Wednesday at 8pm. The first episode is already available on the BBC site. I own the DVD of the series but will probably watch it on Wednesday.

Let's end with a bit of trivia.

I remember reading long ago of a Manchester Grammar School production of King Lear in which Lear was played by Robert Powell, the fool by Russell Davies and Cordelia by Michael Wood.

There is partial confirmation of this online.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

The Wrekin from Wenlock Edge

Taken in the mid 1990s, though I imagine this view looks much the same today.

Looking back at Change UK a year on

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As Tim Adams reminds us in the Observe, a year ago Britain boasted a new centre party.

It kept changing its name, but it will probably go down in history as Change UK - if history bothers to remember it at all.

The group was launched in February 2019, when seven MPs left the Labour Party and I wrote:
It is hard to see much hope in the statement of values their Independent Group has published. It is hard to imagine anyone reading it and thinking: "At last someone has put into words what I have been feeling all these years." 
Rather than the launch of a new movement, I see seven individuals who have succumbed to the hard left's perennial tactic of making life so unpleasant for those who oppose them that they eventually walk away from the fight.
The Tories who joined shortly afterwards seemed to be having more fun, but I think I was right.

Perhaps because they had made their careers in the Labour Party, which had plenty of safe seats, the seven did not appear to have the stomach for a fight.

If you doubt me, read Gavin Shuker's explanation of why the new party declined to join others in endorsing a single Remain candidate in the June 2019 Peterborough by-election:
"We all agreed to stand down any candidates we might field in favour of a genuinely independent, pro-People’s Vote and pro-Remain candidate who had expressed an interest and intention to stand. 
"However, senior Labour figures, including senior figures campaigning for a People’s Vote, made it clear that they would strenuously disrupt the campaign and obstruct an independent Candidate, driven by fears that it would harm their party in Peterborough." 
But there was one thing the new party could have done to make an impact.

Its statement of values, as far as I can recall (the link in my original post no longer works), assumed that Brexit was bound to take place and made vague statements about what the world should look like afterwards.

But what Change UK should have done was call itself Remain or The Remain Party.

That would have given them a clear identity and quite possibly put them ahead of the Liberal Democrats in the opinion polls.

I don't think it would have brought them any seats in the December 2019 general election, but it would have caused us huge problems.

The moral is that a new centre party needs a clear appeal to the voters and to offer something the Lib Dems don't. Change UK failed to do either.

Wings: Jet

The first single I bought with my own money, or at least my own record token, was Kites by Simon Dupree and the Big Sound. That was pretty damned cool for a seven-year-old and proof that I was into Sixties psychedelia even at the time.

Seven years later I bought my first LP: Band on the Run by Wings. I can remember being a little disappointed with it when I got it home as it was all a bit safe and middle class. I gave it away years ago.

Yet I had bought Band on the Run because I loved the two singles from it - the title track and Jet - so much. With Jet in particular, I can remember listening to it and then turning to the dial to try to find another station that was playing it.

Listening to it today I cannot fathom why I thought so much of it. Maybe you had to hear it on Radio Luxembourg under the bedclothes?

Saturday, April 18, 2020

18 April in Liberal England history

I'm not going anywhere any time soon, so I though I would look back to see what I was blogging about on this day in past years.


Lord Bonkers questioned the Liberal Democrats' fondness for giant orange diamonds.


I announced that I had discovered this anthem for Brexit...


A general election campaign was underway and I posted the top 20 Lib Dem targets, based on the results in 2015. We were to win seven of them, plus one from outside the list - Layla Moran in Oxford West and Abingdon. Trouble is, we also lost five of the nine seats we held.when the election was called.


I posted a video of the Great Central - Nottingham, which I once described as a bit of a mystery to us in Leicestershire - "Rather like the Eastern Roman Empire."


Lord Bonkers gently mocked Norman Lamb's claim that his friends were urging him to stand for the Lib Dem leadership.


I wrote about Leicester's mysterious Humber Stone and quoted a local history site on the subject:
“Boy drew creature that stood beside his bed” was a Leicester Mercury headline as recently as 1980, when a 10-year-old boy, living close to the Humber Stone, had constant “visits” from a devilish entity. It was, apparently, a creature with a goat’s head and long curving horns, a man’s body and cloven hoofs. After drawing it at school, the boy’s teacher asked what it was. “I don’t know, miss”, he said. “It’s the thing I sometimes see at the end of my bed”.


Michael Gove, I argued, had been talking nonsense about the history of school holidays. They have nothing to do with the farming calendar.


Lord Bonkers discussed the governance of Rutland: "We now live as an anarcho-syndicalist collective – albeit one consistent with our most ancient families continuing to enjoy full possession of their landed estates."


A by-election was taking place in Leicester South and I explained why Zuffar Haq was the perfect candidate for the constituency:
He grew up and went to school in the constituency – even in the short time I was with him we came across the father of someone with whom he had been at Lancaster Boys (the school that featured in Gareth Malone’s series “Boys Don’t Sing”). I also heard him slip into Punjabi to speak to an elderly Asian voter.
He was to come second in the contest, which must count as a remarkable achievement.


I celebrated some wayside discovers made in the Northamptonshire village of Maidwell. They included the remains of a footbridge over the former Market Harborough to Northampton railway line.


Government and foods companies were conspiring to denigrate home cooking, or so I argued:
Personally, I find that cake pleasingly old fashioned. White icing, with a cherry on top. It's the sort of cake children scheme to win in the Beano and the Dandy.


In House Points, my weekly Liberal Democrat News column, I looked at Labour and poverty:
For everyone loves children. Even the Daily Mail loves children. At any rate, it loves very young children with fair hair. And if you don’t love children, maybe keeping their parents out of poverty will lessen the chance that, high on glue and SunnyD, they will twoc your new motor.


I celebrated the Middlesex opening pair of Hutton and Compton: "That's Ben (grandson of Len) and Nick (grandson of Denis)."


"Lib Dems should drop their collectivist approach to education and ensure that respect for individual differences is central," I argued in an article for the Guardian's website.


Recommending an article on the Collins New Naturalist series I quoted the great Victorian nature writer Richard Jefferies:
In his The Amateur Poacher he records that his early interest in the natural world had a strong sporting component, but that he came to see things differently. 
With his finger on the trigger he "hesitated, dropped the barrel and watched the beautiful bird" and:
watching so often stayed the shot that at last it grew to be a habit ... Time after time I have flushed partridges without firing, and have let the hare bound over the furrow free.


I mourned the death of Geraint Howells:
He was MP for Cardigan from 1974 to 1983 and for Ceredigion and Pembroke North from 1983 to 1992, and was known to Lord Bonkers as the Big Friendly Geraint.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Your chance to admire Benny Hill's Bottom

This production of A Midsummer Night was screened as an ITV Play of the Week in 1965.

Among the cast you will find the mighty Peter Wyngarde as Oberon, Anna Massey, Patrick Allen, Miles Malleson, Jill Bennett, Alfie Bass, Bernard Bresslaw and, above all, Benny Hill as Bottom.

And very good he is too.

Thanks to Archivetvmusings for tweeting this video.

Chirk canal tunnel and aqueduct

These photographs were taken in the the summer of 1982 - Chick aqueduct runs alongside a higher railway viaduct.

The Canal and River Trust will tell you more about this striking location.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Six of the Best 920

In the latest edition of his Never Mind the Bar Charts podcast, Mark Pack talks to Duncan Brack about the lessons we can learn from the last time a Conservative government was defeated at a general election.

Elisa Thomas explains how hostile government are using web-based conspiracy theories to spread disinformation cheaply and easily.

As Pam Jarvis points out, Tory ministers excuse their own teenage and later wrongdoing as youthful indiscretion yet refuse to increase the age of criminal responsibility from 10.

David Bather Woods suggests Schopenhauer can teach us to live through these dark times.

"Class is a bigger issue in Clouds of Witness than in later Sayers novels, perhaps because of its time: it was published just three months before the General Strike, and tensions were already high. Lord Peter Wimsey himself, normally considered a man of courtesy, is here criticized for his aristocratic condescension." Alwyn Turner has been reading Dorothy L. Sayers.

David Marshall remembers The Fenman, the train that ran from Liverpool Street to Hunstanton.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Malcolm Saville makes the top 10 children's story maps

The latest The Reading School podcast presents its top 10 children's story maps.

And in at 10 are Malcolm Saville's Lone Pine books.

No one tell the presenters that the Saville book set in Whitby belongs to another series.

Postponement of Lib Dem leadership election under review

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Mark Pack writes on Liberal Democrat Voice:
Last month, the Federal Board decided to postpone the party leadership election, due to kick off in May, until May 2021, so that the party can focus on dealing with the coronavirus crisis instead. 
Following this decision, an appeal against it was made to the Federal Appeals Panel (our internal Liberal Democrat equivalent of the Supreme Court). 
The Appeals Panel has agreed that the Federal Board can suspend the leadership election while exceptional circumstances exist, but not delay to a fixed date next year. It has asked the Board to keep the timetable for the leadership election under review, as circumstances continue to develop.
Mark links to the Appeals Panel's judgment and, as party president, invites your view on the matter so they can be considered by the Federal Board's review.

Join the launch of the Northern Liberal Network

The Northern Liberal Network (NLN) is holding its virtual launch on Zoom on Tuesday 21 April at 8 pm. If you want to attend complete the form on the network's website.

Taking part in the launch will be:
  • Lord Dick Newby, Liberal Democrat leader in the House of Lords and NLN president
  • Laura Gordon, former PPC for Sheffield Hallam and NLN chair
  • Lisa Smart, former PPC for Hazel Grove and NLN vice chair
  • Kamran Hussein, former PPC for Leeds North West
The NLN website says:
We've come together because we believe that, while the party has strong policies that would benefit our regions, we have failed to communicate those over successive General Elections. As a result, we still have only one MP in the North. 
With four years till the next election, now is the time to build a vision that will carry us through it. And by taking control of key councils like Hull, Sheffield and Stockport, we can showcase what Liberal Democrats can do.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Peter Bonetti: "Perhaps the best goalkeeper in the world"

Pele once said: "The three greatest goalkeepers I have ever seen are Gordon Banks, Lev Yashin and Peter Bonetti."

And the commentator on this newsreel report of a 1966 FA Cup tie suggests that on this showing he is perhaps the best goalkeeper in the world.

So goodbye to another of my early sporting heroes.

Taking The Goodies seriously

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I was sad to hear of the death of Tim Brooke-Taylor. He is one of those comic figures who has always been there as far as I am concerned. I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again. The Goodies. I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue.

The Goodies was one of my favourite shows when I was a young teenager and I now suspect that is the age you had to be to enjoy it. There were some repeats a few years ago and the quality of them was desperately uneven.

But when the three of them - Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie - appeared with Matthew Sweet on BBC Radio 3's Free Thinking a couple of years ago, they made a strong case that The Goodies raised political issues that the BBC was often wary of covering elsewhere.

Listen to the programme.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Six of the Best 919

"Already this week we have seen video of a police officer instructing a man that he and his family are not allowed to play in their own front garden, people doing yoga in local parks being told to go home, socially-isolating families being ordered off beaches even though they are within walking distance of their homes, Cambridgeshire police telling people what they can and cannot buy in supermarkets and Northamptonshire Police saying they might set up roadblocks and could start searching shopping trolleys." Peter Black fears overzealous police forces are undermining lockdown.

"In Raab’s favour, my father would point out that he paid on time and occasionally helped to carry the lawnmower through to the garden." George Steer remembers being the acting prime minister's gardener.

Mary Reid has been writing a daily 'isolation diary' for Liberal Democrat Voice - today's entry is typically thoughtful.

Blanche Wiesen Cook reviews a book about the powerful women who lived in Mecklenburgh Square, including Dorothy L. Sayers and Virginia Woolf.

"His work, then, was a brilliant deception on himself and others that, in the end, failed; when his audience realised they had practised the same deception on themselves, they ceased to believe anything he said. They stopped laughing." Tanya Gold reviews Woody Allen's memoirs.

What links Jack the Ripper and the Beatles' Penny Lane? Christopher T. George explains.

Townes Van Zandt: For the Sake of the Song

Wide Open Country offers five stories that capture who Townes Van Zandt was:
Born March 7, 1944, in Fort Worth, Texas, singer-songwriter John Townes Van Zandt is the perfect example of an artist whose legend only grows with time. For many, Van Zandt was a walking paradox. 
Somehow the greatest country songwriter to live is still not a household name among country fans like Willie Nelson or Merle Haggard.  A well-to-do kid born into comfort who lived his adult life in relative simplicity and poverty. An extremely intelligent man who somehow fell victim to the oldest trick in the book - addiction.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

A TV commercial for Symington's corsets of Market Harborough

The British Film Institute site says:
In 1956 the Market Harborough firm of R. & W.H. Symington was celebrating a centenary of manufacturing textiles. Best known under the brand name of Liberty Foundations, this early television commercial plays with 'Liberty' and 'Liberté' by bringing in French actress Yvonne Arnaud to explain the 'art of choosing the right type of foundation garment'. A wonderful feeling of freedom sounds an unlikely boast though whilst tied into a tight corset.
Click on the image above to view the commercial on the BFI site.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Dickens understood the danger of treating illness as a battle

I have seen several people commenting on the nonsense of commending people who 'fight' an illness.

As one pointed out, when you are ill you are not a combatant but the battlefield.

Dickens, of course, was there first. In the opening chapter of Dombey and Son, Mrs Dombey is dying after giving birth, but all family and medical opinion agrees that she need only 'make an effort' to be saved:
Now, really, Fanny my dear,’ said the sister-in-law, altering her position, and speaking less confidently, and more earnestly, in spite of herself, ‘I shall have to be quite cross with you, if you don’t rouse yourself. It’s necessary for you to make an effort, and perhaps a very great and painful effort which you are not disposed to make; but this is a world of effort you know, Fanny, and we must never yield, when so much depends upon us. Come! Try! I must really scold you if you don’t!’
And that is the problem with the metaphor of illness as a battle. It suggests that if you die you just didn't fight hard enough.

Thursday, April 09, 2020

A dragon over Little Bowden

Taken in 2013. I should have realised what an omen it was.

James Mason returns to Huddersfield

This is Home James, a Yorkshire Television documentary from 1972.

As the blurb on YouTube points out, Mason:
says his mother's attitude to the town rubbed off on him: "She was always reaching for a grander way of life that was more than could be expected of Huddersfield." By this time he'd come to value Huddersfield people: "To me it's the way they talk, the way they build, the way they live their lives" and above all, it's what they do with their time off. The town's rich musical tradition, the trips to nearby Holy Trinity Church and rugby league were all part of Mason's own childhood.
It goes on to point out that Huddersfield has paid its own homage to this great actor.
In 2004 another very well-known Huddersfield thespian Patrick Stewart unveiled a bust of Mason which now has pride of place in the foyer of the town's Lawrence Batley Theatre. There's a blue plaque on Huddersfield Library and there's another plaque across the road from Croft House which was demolished in the 1970s. There's even a close named after him in the same street!

Francis Wheen on David Steel and Cyril Smith

Private Eye produces a regular podcast called Page 94.

The latest edition looks at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse and allegations aginst politicians.

In particular, and with the help of Francs Wheen, it looks at David Steel's odd defence of his lack of action over Cyril Smith.

But it would be unfair to blame Steel alone for this. Liberals of my generation all read the report of Smith's activities in Rochdale in Private Eye, believed it and did little.

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The oak and the beech and the ash and the elm

We leave Lord Bonkers where we found him: self-isolating at Bonkers Hall. Unless the Wise Woman of Wing comes up with a cure for coronavirus, he will still be in that condition when we next meet him


St Asquith’s is closed for the first time since the death of Mr Gladstone, so I decide to worship Nature instead. I walk in the woods above Rutland Water, gazing out at my oil wells and a familiar wake that betokens the presence of my old friend the Rutland Water Monster. Here, beneath the oak and the beech and the ash and the elm, spring flowers soak up the strengthening sun; in the branches overhead, the painted birds sing.

The mood is rather spoilt when the Bird of Liberty runs past making what can only be described as obscene signs – in my book the case for a new party logo is overwhelming. Couldn’t we have a panda? They seem much less trouble, passing their days eating bamboo shoots and not having sex.

Then, in a heart-stopping moment, I make out a Rutland gazelle standing poised for flight in the deepest recess of the woods. It carries a worried expression but springs off with the most remarkable grace when it catches sight of me.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

  • Made from the scrotum of the Rutland gazelle
  • Wearing his wartime gas mask
  • A particularly amusing item about the Duke of Rutland
  • A foul-smelling creature of uncertain temper
  • Above all, Liberal MPs from the 1970s
  • The Professor of Hard Sums from the University of Rutland at Belvoir
  • Tuesday, April 07, 2020

    Six of the Best 918

    James Baillie government threats to ban outdoor exercise are dangerous and show the Liberal Democrats their mission.

    Hungary’s Viktor Orbán now rules by decree in a troubling example of how coronavirus fear enables authoritarians to tighten their grip, says Umut Korkut.

    "Visitors had to collect a wooden ladder and climb up it and talk through the glass of a closed window. All gifts had to be handed to the nurses, who then went through them to decide whether they were suitable." Recalling his mother's childhood experiences in a fever hospital, Stephen Colegrave reminds us that social distancing used to be commonplace.

    "Rising Damp captured the seedy feel of the 70s and the rise of the slum landlord, and mixed it with the cultural impact of women’s liberation, immigration and working class aspiration." Anna Cale celebrates the situation comedies of Eric Chappell.

    "Just outside the village of Hallaton in southeast Leicestershire, over 5,000 gold and silver coins were unearthed, along with a silver-gilt 1st century Roman cavalry helmet, various items of jewellery and fragments of pottery." Ellen Huxley on the Hallaton Treasure, now to be found in the Harborough Museum.

    Jonathan Wallace know the goats of Llandudno.

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: The Professor of Hard Sums from the University of Rutland at Belvoir

    Something tells me that the old boy was not the greatest supporter of the Liberal Party's alliance with the SDP.


    So David Steel has left the party. Not before time, if you ask me. Did you know that in the early Eighties (the 1980s, that is) he persuaded the Liberal candidate to stand down in half the seats in the country in the belief that this would see us win a majority. I tried to convince him that this was mathematical nonsense and even got the Professor of Hard Sums from the University of Rutland at Belvoir to Have A Word with him, but all to no avail. Little Steel was not to be gainsayed.

    Turning to my complete run of Liberator, I locate the volumes from that era and have a jolly good laugh at his expense.

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

    Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

  • Made from the scrotum of the Rutland gazelle
  • Wearing his wartime gas mask
  • A particularly amusing item about the Duke of Rutland
  • A foul-smelling creature of uncertain temper
  • Above all, Liberal MPs from the 1970s
  • Why the fury over sunbathing?

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    Who is harder to avoid when you are out for a walk and more likely to pant out the deepest recesses of their lungs: a jogger or a sunbather.

    The answer is obvious, but no one gets upset that people are still going jogging.

    But we do read stories like this about sunbathing:
    People who sunbathe are breaking the coronavirus lockdown rules, according to Health Secretary Matt Hancock. Thousands of people have already chosen to ignore the Government’s guidance this weekend, with many enjoying the sunny weather in parks and other public places. 
    And with temperatures expected to hit 20 degrees on Sunday, more people are expected to be outdoors. 
    But those who choose to bask in the sunshine outside their own home have been warned that they are breaking the lockdown orders. 
    'Sunbathing is against the rules that have been set out for important public health reasons,' Hancock told Sky News on Sunday morning.
    I suppose it's that jogging is seen as healthy exercise and sunbathing as a form of self-indulgence. But such feelings have little to do with the objective risk to others the activities pose.

    Note too the loose employment of terms like 'rules' and 'orders'. Whatever happened to obeying the law?

    And the press seems keen to stoke this prejudice against sunbathing - all those foreshortened photos to make parks look more crowded than they are. 

    Perhaps they want to take the heat off the government by finding alternative villains?

    Write a guest post for Liberal England

    Under lockdown and at a loose end? This is a reminder that I welcome guest posts on Liberal England.

    As you can see from this list of the 10 most recent guests posts, I am happy to consider a wide range of subjects beyond the Lib Dems

    If you would like to write a guest post yourself, please drop me an email so we can discuss your idea.

    Monday, April 06, 2020

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: Above all, Liberal MPs from the 1970s

    What's this? Friction between Lord Bonkers and the Well-Behaved Orphans? It's all too reminiscent of the Mutiny of 1928.


    Despite the security precautions I take to prevent undesirable characters – estate agents, advertising executives and, above all, Liberal MPs from the 1970s – getting into the Home for Well-Behaved Orphans, its young inmates have always proved distressingly adept at getting out. I come across a group of them by the village pond feeding dry bread to the Bird of Liberty as it swims about squawking. They enquire after my health as they have heard that the elderly are particularly vulnerable to this damned virus.

    I fear they are in for a disappointment: I took the precaution of stocking up on the tonic sold by the Elves of Rockingham Forest when my agents in China first told me that things were amiss, and only this morning I had intercourse with the Wise Woman of Wing, who sold me some of her choicest herbs. There is life in this old dog yet.

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

    Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary
  • Made from the scrotum of the Rutland gazelle
  • Wearing his wartime gas mask
  • A particularly amusing item about the Duke of Rutland
  • A foul-smelling creature of uncertain temper
  • Honor Blackman was a Liberal Party supporter

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    Honor Blackman - Cathy Gale in The Avengers, Pussy Galore in Goldfinger and much else besides - died today at the age of 94. There is an obituary on the Guardian site.

    Back in the 1960s, Honor Blackman was a prominent supporter of the Liberal Party. The photograph above shows her campaigning in the Cities of London and Westminster constituency in the 1966 general election.

    A better idea than closing Eton down

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    Looking at the sort of people it turns out - David Cameron, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Charles Moore - it is tempting to call for the place to be closed down.

    But I have a better idea.

    Eton was founded by Henry VI as a charity school to provide free education to 70 poor boys.

    So let's return it to its original purpose of educating the poor.