Monday, November 30, 2020

Another of London's lost rivers: The Black Ditch

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

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

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

Freda Jackson and No Room at the Inn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Six of the Best 980

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Backlisted on The Compleet Molesworth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry Thomas: Bull Doze Blues

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

That was until I researched it.

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

Wikipedia makes Henry Thomas sound a mysterious figure:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Friday, November 27, 2020

The Long Man of Wilmington

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

Six of the Best 979

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Guardian reports today:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why was I interested in Hakluyt?

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

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

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

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

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

Kent Online wins our Headline of the Day Award.

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

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

Thursday, November 26, 2020

A BBC trailer for The Box of Delights

And a lead in to Tenko too.

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

Hoscar: The least-used station in Lancashire

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

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

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Six of the Best 978

"It’s not clear where the Lib Dems go following Davey’s listening tour. While the credibilist, managerialist approach has won internally for now, it remains to be seen whether this approach will buck the trend and unlock good election results for the party in 2021 and beyond. It seems the divide between credibilists and those who want a values-led approach will remain." William Barter identifies a fault line within the Liberal Democrats.

"A genuine attempt at reforming the 'wiring' of the British state would require taking the kind of systems-approach that Cummings waxes lyrical about and applying it to the entire system of policy design and delivery; looking at the relationships between central and local government as well as the proliferation of non-elected regional bodies and the private sector. This is, of course, conceptually, and practically, much harder than pretending you can solve the problem by hiring a few misfits into Downing Street and setting exams for civil servants." Sam Freedman argues that Dominic Cummings never got to grips with the means needed to deliver his ends.

Antony Blinken, who will be Joe Biden's secretary of state, talks about Russia, Putin and Donald Trump.

Neil Woods, who was himself an undercover detective, on the dangers of the government's new bill on covert intelligence.

"And then there’s I’m Not In Love. I once met a guy who told me when he first heard it … Well, I hoped he was going to say, 'it was the best song ever.' Nope, he said his marriage broke up!" Kevin Godley reminisces with We Are Cult.

TV Cream celebrates the career of Des O'Connor.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: "That tangerine baboon you have in the White House"

I can confirm that Lord Bonkers really did write this entry just before the first results in the US Presidential election were declared.

People make cynical remarks about his Marconi share and the number of orphans in Rutland, but there is no denying it: he's a wise old bird.

So, on this note of triumph, let's end our week at Bonkers Hall.


I write these words in front of the Library fire as the first results are about to come in from America.

When I spoke to the Governor of New Rutland – the State founded by settlers who left Oakham Quay aboard the Mayfly – he was confident that the forces of light will prevail. “But what,” I asked him, “if that tangerine baboon you have in the White House refuses to accept defeat?” His answer is that they would “send in the seals”. 

As I pointed out, if you want an animal to do that job then sea lions are a better bet: they are more aggressive and if it turns into a siege they could balance balls on their noses and play horns to entertain the children. Still, I did offer the services of The Great Seal of Rutland. Though of a naturally pacific disposition, he could undoubtedly come up with a good left hook if called upon to do so.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers Diary...

Malcolm Bruce: Cutting overseas development aid would be unconscionable

Having fought two general elections in quick succession on a pledge to maintain the commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of gross national income on development assistance for poorer, it is unconscionable that the government is considering dropping this commitment.

That's the argument made by the Liberal Democrat peer and former MP Malcolm Bruce in an article for The Press and Journal today.

He says this policy is not charity: it is both a moral commitment and enlightened self-interest.

'Enlightened self-interest' is a concept I have been fond of since I first came across it in philosophy. 

Malcolm concludes:

The pandemic has convulsed the world. Yet the impact on poorer countries will be calamitous and it is not just about the pandemic and a plethora of health care challenges.

Many are struggling with debt, the impact of climate change and loss of livelihoods. All of this will require a massive international effort.

If the UK walks away now it will be to abandon our world leadership - our soft power pre-eminence and to display a mean-spirited country turning in on itself.

Cutting aid will not make disease, conflict and climate disasters go away. They will come back redoubled to our door.

The 1968 Stockport air disaster

On 4 June 1967 a Canadair C-4 Argonaut passenger aircraft owned by British Midland Airways crashed near the centre of Stockport. Of the 84 people on board, 72 were killed. 

According to Wikipedia, this was the fourth-worst accident in British aviation history.

This film was made by BBC North the following year. It interviews survivors and witnesses and looks at the subsequent investigation.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Lord Bonkers' Diary: "I’m much cheaper than those elves, dearie"

It appears that Rutland's alternative medicine sector is robustly competitive. There really was a Wise Woman of Wing and I for one am not going to try telling the Elves of Rockingham Forest they don't exist.


Lunch with the High King of the Elves of Rockingham Forest, who tells me of their plans to help during the new lockdown: "We like to think of ourselves as putting the 'elf' into 'welfare'." 

In my experience these fellows seldom do anything without there being a profit in it for them, but I keep my own counsel as it wise not to get on the wrong side of them – one of the Revd Hughes's predecessors at St Asquith's was turned into a toad and eventually moved to a parish in industrial Cumberland by the ecclesiastical authorities. I

In the afternoon I call on the Wise Woman of Wing and purchase some of her herbal remedies as a precaution against the virus. "I’m much cheaper than those elves, dearie" she tells me, "and what’s more my shit works."

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers Diary...

Telford people outnumbered by rats as lockdown boosts rodent population

This worrying effort from the Shropshire Star wins our Headline of the Day Award.

The judges also appreciated the precision of the story's first paragraph:

Residents in Telford are now outnumbered by rats as lockdown has boosted their population to 358,616, according to a pest control company.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Lord Bonkers' Diary: “One of the bonobos has taken over for the time being”

Lord Bonkers brings us the latest news from Ed Davey's listening tour.


I telephone Cupar to see how Davey is getting on at the zoo:  he began work there this morning. “I’m afraid I’ve already had to let him go,” replies the Head Keeper. “One of the bonobos has taken over for the time being.”

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers Diary...

Harborough to provide sign language feed for virtual meetings

Harborough District Council has voted to become one of the first local authorities to provide a sign language feed for virtual meetings.

A motion from the Liberal Democrat group leader Phil Knowles won support from across the parties at last week's full council meeting.

Phil told the meeting:

“We have an opportunity here to be groundbreaking. By doing this we can underline our inclusiveness to all members of our community."

The Harborough Mail says the council will investigate other ways to improve access to its remote full council and committee meetings.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Six of the Best 977

A new kind of community politics - ‘flatpack democracy’ - has emerged in towns left to fend for themselves by the centre, reports John Harris.

Seth Thevoz is interviewed on the podcast The Making of a Historian about the role of clubs in 19th-century British politics.

Hearing voices can be frightening and isolating, but Bryony Sheaves says talking can help.

"Shot on location in London, The Long Good Friday explores a mixture of luxurious and post-industrial settings, but most vitally it is a last document of the docklands around the Thames before the developers – as dramatised in the film – bought the land to make way for the more monolithic towers that line the river today." Adam Scovell explores the film's locations 40 years on.

"Dickens’ genius was to wed the gothic with the sentimental, using stories of ghosts and goblins to reaffirm "basic bourgeois values; as the tradition evolved, however, other writers were less wedded to this social vision, preferring the simply scary. In Henry James’s famous gothic novella, The Turn of the Screw, the frame story involves a group of men sitting around the fire telling ghost stories on Christmas Eve - setting off a story of pure terror, without any pretension to charity or sentimentality." Colin Dickey calls for a revival of the tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmas.

Southwark Cathedral held for its cat - and quite right too: "I began by saying that she was her own cat and all attempts to make her a cosy cat failed.  She wasn’t interested in being cuddled or stroked, but she was interested in being here in her place of safety, especially after the terrorist attack which put her off ever going out of this sanctuary again."

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Buffy the Umpire Slayer

The old boy has taken to shooting his radio whenever Simon Mann moans about the over rate - "Fella should watch prep school cricket if that's all he cares about" - but I find today's entry admirably constructive.


How to interest the young idea in the noble game of cricket is a problem that has long troubled our greatest minds. Some have seen shortening the game as the key, hence such innovations as Twenty20, The Hundred and matches of one over a side, but I beg leave to demur. Let us keep to the formats that fill a summer’s day or five, but make it a little more exciting for the youthful spectator. 

With this insight in mind, I have been in negotiations with some of our leading television production companies. The outcome is that next year you will be able to watch a supernatural drama in which teenagers battle the forces of darkness in cricket. 

So one week you will see a Minor Counties scorer prevailed upon by said forces to award the home side extra leg byes, while the next will see them tempt an England women’s prospect deliberately run one short in a close finish. In the series finale, one of the most respected figures in the game will be identified as the satanic mastermind behind these diabolical acts. 

I am sure you will agree that Buffy the Umpire Slayer is bound to be a great success.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers Diary...

Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young... and Tom Jones: Long Time Gone

Here, less than a month after playing Woodstock, are Crosby, Still, Nash and Young on Tom Jones's television show.

As Dangerous Minds says:

Given that nearly five decades have passed since this was taped, it’s actually pretty amazing. Nothing to be ashamed of, certainly. 

Tom Jones and his show might’ve been seen as somewhat “square” by the rockstar standards of CSNY - Nash would’ve been acquainted with the Welsh singer from his days in the Hollies, no doubt - but the man’s mighty lungs inspire the rest of them to keep up, it must be said. 

I love how (an obviously manic) Stephen Stills rises to the occasion with his, er, intense vocal contribution near the end. Bassist Greg Reeves might’ve only been fifteen years old when this was shot - look at how skinny he was - and that’s Dallas Taylor on drums. 

You’ll note how the expression on Young’s face goes from one of disdain/"What am I doing here?" to "This fucking rocks" about halfway through. The goofy expression on Croz’s mug needs no further explanation.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Oxford's railway swing bridge to be preserved

Good news this week: the Oxford Preservation Trust has raised £900,000 to preserve the city's Rowley Road railway swing bridge.

You can see the bridge in action in the video above, which was shot in the 1970s, while Derelecition in the Shires explains its genesis and history:

Oxford used to have two railway stations side-by-side, the GWR station served London, Birmingham and the Cotswolds while the neighbouring Rewley Road LMS station served Bicester, Bletchley, Bedford and Cambridge. 
Just north of both stations is the navigable link between the Thames and the Oxford Canal, the picturesquely named Sheepwash Channel. Oxford Rewley Road was at a lower level than the GWR station so to avoid impeding navigation on the Sheepwash Channel its tracks passed over a rather unusual double track swing bridge. 
Rewley Road station closed in the 1950s but its coal yard remained in use into the 1980s so the bridge survived. In the 1990s the Rewley Road site was redeveloped, the Said Business School was built on the station building site and houses were built on the coal yard site. Thus the swing bridge was left intact but marooned in a sea of houses.

Footage of the bridge being operated back in 1950 be found elsewhere on this blog.

For myself, I must have passed it as a very small boy in 1966 as we finished our first family canal holiday at Oxford. I do have several memories from that day, but sadly the bridge is not among them. 

Des Wilson on the Liberal Party and Cyril Smith

Embed from Getty Images

One of the minor triumphs of the Independent Inquiry on Child Sexual Abuse has been the light it has cast on the Liberal Party in its last days.

On 13 March 2019 Sal Brinton, Des Wilson and David Steel all gave evidence on those parties' response to allegations of sexual abuse against Cyril Smith.

Steel's evidence was strongly criticised in the inquiry's resultant report, but it is Des Wilson's evidence that interests me here.

As younger readers may not have heard of him, here's how Wikipedia describes his involvement with the parties:

In many ways an anti-establishment radical, he joined the Liberal Party in order to stand in the 1973 Hove by-election. Although unsuccessful, he stayed involved in the Liberal Party and in 1986 he became its President, a position which allowed him to act as its Campaign Director in the 1987 General Election. 

He later wrote a book, The Battle For Power, about the strained relationship between the Liberals and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) during that campaign, the last general election fought as the SDP–Liberal Alliance. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the merger between the two parties in 1988 and became Campaign Manager for the new party the Liberal Democrats under Paddy Ashdown in the 1992 General Election.

Somewhat disillusioned with party politics after that campaign, Wilson then moved on to become Director of Corporate and Public Affairs for BAA plc. He became chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board's corporate affairs and marketing committee in 2003,[7] but resigned in 2004 over the controversy related to England touring Zimbabwe.

So here are some extracts from his evidence to the inquiry.

First, this is how he was chosen to fight Hove in 1973:

I went down to a selection committee of three people: a Cambridge University student, who left for university the next day and was never seen again; a woman who explained to me she was about to migrate to South Africa, which she duly did that week and was never seen again; and one chap who remained to be my driver during the by-election. And that's how I was chosen.

I also noted that it was said that one went through an interview process nationally. This was completely forgotten until halfway through the by-election when someone said, maybe, as a matter of courtesy, I should be interviewed so I went up and had tea with the president of the party at that time, Lord Beaumont.

Here he is talking about the Liberal Party when he became its president in 1987:

It was almost like two parties. The party in the country was very strong, winning council elections -- in fact, at the time I was president, I believe they'd got more votes in council elections than either of the major parties. It was starting to take over city councils like Liverpool and it was driven by an organisation called the Association of Liberal Councillors, and it was very strong, very healthy, and I was very much their president. They saw me as a president of the party, rather than -- I heard the Baroness earlier talking about an "establishment figure". I was never seen as an establishment figure.

The parliamentary party tended to consist of a considerable number of by-election winners. I mean, it's worth stressing this. ...

I think the point I was making was that most of them, when they weren't in Westminster, went straight back to their constituencies fighting to hold them at the next General Election. So in a way they lived in a world of their own. That was not much related to the -- what they called the activists. They didn't use that word as a compliment necessarily. This was my big problem with the parliamentary party: 

I believed that it was such a good campaigning party, the parliamentary party should have been the tip of the arrow and that they should have about six to eight issues that it fought on in the House of Commons instead of trying to effectively shadow over 200 ministers and have someone at every day at every debate. 

It was ludicrous. No-one knew they were there, no-one knew what they said or did. Whereas if, in fact, they'd had a whole party organised behind them on a particular issue, they could have been very, very effective indeed.

Now, they really, really didn't like the idea of being campaigning MPs and actually having to do some work and that was part of the problem.

And here he is on Cyril Smith himself:

The first thing to say about Cyril Smith -- you will have seen photographs of him, you will have seen him on television. I can't exaggerate how enormous he was. He was a huge man, and this in itself had a kind of intimidating impact, and particularly if you were arguing with him, which is one of the reasons why, when the whole thing about boys came out, I was terrified for them because I could imagine what a frightening figure he was. He was enormous.

The second thing was that he never disagreed in an argument on a major policy or about his position in the party without adding a threat. There was always a threat: "I will leave the party"; "I will resign"; "I will go to the press"; "I will do this, I will do the other". He had a view of himself as being indispensable to the party, but also he recognised the huge impact it would make if he did resign, or whatever. So he bullied the party, in a way. He bullied the parliamentary party, in a way, by constantly making these kinds of threats.

For myself, I read the allegations against Smith when they were published in 1979 and am deeply sceptical of anyone who was around in the Liberal Party in those days who claims not to have been aware of them.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: "I see you have woken up and smelt the coffee"

After the frightening implications of yesterday's entry it is a relief to see Lord Bonkers returning to what he does best: giving hospitality and passing on the fruits of his experience to a new generation.


It has long been my custom to invite new leaders of our party to stay at the Hall so I can measure the cut of their jibs and impart a little of the wisdom I have gained over the course of a long career in public service. 

The latest in this long line of guests is, of course, Ed Davey. We pass a sociable if socially distanced day, with Davey telling me all about his "listening tour" – his next port of call will be Fife Zoo. I see that he is put up in a comfortable bedroom in the East Wing when it is time to retire and, as a special treat, I have my new Morning Coffee Maker placed on his bedside table.

I am woken in the small hours by a terrific explosion. Snatching up my twelve bore, I hurry to the East Wing, whence the sound came. I find poor Davey sitting up in bed, drenched in coffee grounds – clearly my prototype is in need of a little fine-tuning. Seeking to lighten the mood, I remark: "I see you have woken up and smelt the coffee."

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers Diary...

Friday, November 20, 2020

Fatal air crashes on the Clee Hills in Shropshire

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As regular readers will have noticed, I love the Shropshire hills. Yet for all their beauty, there is something dark and cruel about them. 

For instance, the last fair of the year at Church Stretton was known as 'Deadman's Fair' because of the risk to people making their way home afterwards.

The latest support for this view comes from the Shropshire Star, where an article reveals that there were 19 air crashes on the Clee Hills between 1937 and 1975 with the loss of 43 lives.

This article is occasioned by the publication of Bernard O'Connor's book Air Crashes on the Clee Hills.

O'Connor tells the Star:

"Many local people came out to help after the crashes. There were agricultural labourers, farmers, the Home Guard, anti-aircraft crews, searchlight crews, troops from the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry, and the local police as well as staff from the RAF maintenance (rescue) unit and RAF accident investigators.

"Local hospital staff, clergy, gravediggers and crematorium staff played an important role. Local photographers made a record of many of the crashes and reporters from the local, and sometimes national, press ensured readers were provided with the details."

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Bottomley went to gaol and Stead went down with the Titanic

I find the implications of this entry terrifying. The question of why there are so many orphans in Rutland has been raised before, notably by one of the orphans himself, and I do receive letters (a fair number of them in green ink, it has to be said) alleging all sorts of things against Lord Bonkers. 

Never, however, have I heard it suggested that he engineered the sinking of the Titanic to cover up a scandal here in Rutland. Come to think of it, he has in the past written about that sinking in rather offhand terms.

I suppose the lesson is that all heroes have feet of clay. There is even a comment on this blog from someone who believes the great J.W. Logan MP shot his great grandfather.

Anyway, join the dots and judge for yourself.


To my own Home for Well-Behaved Orphans for a chinwag with Matron, only to find a desultory picket of Conservative MPs at the gates. “NO FOOD FOR KIDS!” say their placards, and “LET THEM STARVE!” To distract this rabble I lob a subsidised pork pie from the House of Commons canteen into the rhododendrons and they are soon diving on top of one another in their attempts to retrieve it. 

It happens that I pride myself on the excellent diet provided to my young charges, though I am always mindful that it is no kindness if they get stuck in a chimney after breakfast while out on what I like to call their “work experience”. 

Besides, it is only when journalists take to hanging around the gates here that I get concerned; as in the Edwardian era when both Horatio Bottomley and C.T. Stead got a bee in their bonnets about why there were so many orphans in Rutland in the first place. As it turned out, Bottomley went to gaol and Stead went down with the Titanic – I flatter myself I am not without influence.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers Diary...

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Flashman demonstrates "unintentional bullying"

From the 1971 BBC adaptation of Tom Brown's Schooldays - Richard Morant as Flashman, Anthony Murphy as Tom Brown.

The first Boris at 10 Downing Street

The 'Dear Bill' letters were a regular feature in Private Eye throughout Margaret Thatcher's years as prime minister.

Purporting to be the private correspondence of her husband Denis, they gave an inside view of life at 10 Downing Street. 

The Bill of the letters was generally taken to be William Deedes, the editor of the Daily Telegraph and former Conservative minister.

If Denis wanted to know what was going on he would seek out the mysterious Boris. He was generally to be found in the cupboard under the stairs talking to Moscow on the radio.

Over a snifter of his mother's plum brandy, Boris would fill him in on the events of the day.

Now we have another Boris at number 10 and today the son of a KGB officer took up the peerage that this Boris has awarded him.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Tinkering with a cafetiere

Buckle up: it's time to begin another week with Rutland's most celebrated fictional peer.


I surprised my closest inner circle with a trip to a private island where we could pretend things were normal just for a brief moment in time. The island, of course, was one of an archipelago in Rutland Water that I happen to own, but now I back at the Hall and working on my latest invention. 

Do you remember the 'Teasmade'? This was a contraption sold with the promise that if you set it up by your bedside it would wake you at the appointed hour next morning with a piping hot cup of tea. Well I tried one once but found it in every way less efficient than a valet. 

Nevertheless, it has given me an idea and I spend the day in my workshop tinkering with a cafetiere and the engine from an old steam-driven Shuttleworth press. The result is that I now have a working prototype of my new Morning Coffee Maker.

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

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

What's really going on in the Liberal Democrats?

If you want to know, download the new Liberator free of charge from the magazine's website.

Alongside the usual selection of articles, you will find the indispensable Radical Bulletin section.

Stories this time include:

  • A row over the policy motion on a federal UK passed at conference
  • The future of conference after the success of our September virtual event
  • What's going on in Witney?

And tomorrow we begin another visit to Bonkers Hall.

A psychiatrist on the manufacture of ADHD

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The website Mad In America is serialising the British psychiatrist Sami Timimi’s book 'Insane medicine: How the mental health industry creates damaging treatment traps and how you can escape them'.

So far the first three chapters have appeared. Part 1 of chapter 3 deals with what Timimi calls the 'manufacture' of ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder):

After 1957, the number of medical articles about children with the “symptoms” of ADHD, escalated exponentially in the United States, and later in other countries. In the previous half century, medical literature, particularly that influenced by psychoanalytic ideas, was more concerned with withdrawn, shy, “neurotic” children. The late fifties, then, marked a turning point as interest transferred more to children who exhibited delinquent, violent, and other antisocial behaviours.

What was behind this shift? According to Matthew Smith, it may have been related to fear, following the Soviet launching of the Sputnik satellites in the autumn of 1957, that the US was falling behind the USSR in the race for scientific, technological, and military superiority. There was concern that if changes were not made to the American school system to redress the situation, they might lose the Cold War altogether. This caused a change in classroom structure, teaching methods, and expectations with regard pupil performance.

I am not entirely convinced by this, and think that such events intersected with other changes taking place in the culture of the time, including (but not limited to) the growth of and fear of adolescent culture, changes in family structure and community rootedness, growing size of an aspirational middle class, and greater concern about children both as perpetrators and victims.

The more important point here is recognising that ADHD emerges and gets popularised because there are cultural, not scientific, reasons for it becoming a sellable brand.

Market Harborough locomotive shed photographed in 1959

I blogged the other day about how the water for Market Harborough locomotive shed came from the canal.

That post had photos of the sluice at the top of Logan Street where it was drawn off and the pipe that carried it across the Welland.

I've now foundone of where it came out.

It was taken on 30 October 1959 and shows a locomotive beside the shed's water column.

The caption on Geograph runs:
'Vulcan' - the final 'Austerity' 2-8-0 - at Market Harborough. View eastwards, north of Market Harborough station: ex-Midland Main line, London St Pancras to the North, junction with the ex-LNW Rugby - Peterborough line. No 90732 'Vulcan' was built in 5/45 as No. 79312, shipped to France after VE-Day and was stored at Calais, but it worked on the SNCF until shipped back to England in 1947, to be loaned to the LNER at March in 11/47; it stayed on the ER after Nationalisation (as No. 90732) and was withdrawn in 9/62.
The building in the top right of the photo, behind the signal box, is the Midland goods shed I photographed in July 2017. It was demolished as part of the works to straighten the line through Market Harborough station.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The United Kingdom must break up for England's sake

In​ 2019, Boris Johnson became prime minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. In 2020, he shrank into being prime minister of England. For the second time in less than seven years, the union is in trouble. 

But this time the problem needs a new question. Forget: "Should Scotland be independent?" The Scots will take care of that. Ask instead: "Who in the rest of Britain needs this union with Scotland? And why?"

Neal Ascherson has another thoughtful piece in the London Review of Books - and to put it mildly, the prime minister has done nothing in the past two days to suggest his introduction is wrong.

The conclusion he comes to is a novel one: the United Kingdom must come to an end, not just for Scotland's sake, but also for England's:

In Scotland’s 2014 referendum campaign, one apparently humble word became the deadliest weapon. The word was "normal". Again and again, at pro-independence gatherings, I heard people say: "I just want my kids to grow up in a normal wee nation, like other countries." By this they meant a country which took its own decisions for better or worse, which could feel that its future was in its own hands. But they also meant that the UK was "abnormal". ...

At the core of the abnormality was England’s difficulty in accepting its Englishness. Not all Britishness is a deceit ... but in politics the moth-eaten remnants of imperial Britishness form a blindfold against the 21st-century world. 

Britain is an imaginary realm, floating in a category above mere nation states; England is a European country like its neighbours. 

Britain is exceptional and must express itself in superlatives ("world-beating", ‘"global leader", "most efficient on the planet"); England is a medium-sized country with first-rate scientists and rotten management.

Britain dreams of becoming a heavily armed, swaggering pirate power, defying international rules; England is a minor, sceptical nation with a taste for satire and democracy.

Commons justice committee calls for review of age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales

The Commons Justice Committee has called on the government to review the age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales.

In its report Children and Young People in Custody (Part 1): Entry into the youth justice system, published last week, the committee says:

The age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales is a contentious issue with substantial arguments in favour both of the status quo age of 10 and an increase in that age. We are not persuaded that it should be immediately increased, but given the arguments in favour of raising it and the fact that the age in England and Wales is lower than in broadly comparable countries, we consider there is a case for reviewing the age of criminal responsibility.

We recommend that the Ministry review the age of criminal responsibility, considering the data available from Scotland and from broadly comparable European and other jurisdictions in which the age is higher than 10 at which it stands in England and Wales. 

We recommend that the Ministry report on the implications of raising the age in England and Wales to 12 and to 14, including the likely effect on reducing the number of children in custody and alternative methods of disposing of children beneath those ages who have committed serious offences. 

We recommend that if it concludes that 10 should remain the age of criminal responsibility, the Ministry set out the evidence and reasoning to justify an approach the Minister of State recognises as one that differs from the average.

As the Guardian says, the committee also draws attention to the fact that a disproportionate number of children in custody are from a minority ethnic background.

Our low age of criminal responsibility, and in particular the practice of trying children facing serious charges in adult courts, was dramatised in the BBC2 play Responsible Child, shown just before Christmas last year.

Both Responsible Child and its young lead Billy Barratt have been shortlisted for International Emmys. In the video above one of its producers, Karen Wilson, talks about the making of the play.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Along the Thames from Purfleet to Grays

Purfleet, famous as the site of Carfax Abbey in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Standing on that windswept shore beneath the twisted steampunk towers of the Proctor and Gamble factory, I imagined the unfortunate Jonathan Harker battered by the same damp Thames Estuary gales before his ill fated trip to Transylvannia. Carfax Abbey may have been Bram Stoker’s creation but the P&G Factory is equally worthy of a work of dystopian fiction.

John Rogers is our guide for a walk through an extraordinary landscape. He has a Patreon account to support his videos.

Six of the Best 976

James Belchamber explains why Liberalism is left wing - and why it matters.

"With little support and no counselling, the survivors nonetheless took up the threads of their lives and wove a new existence. News of Sutcliffe’s capture and his conviction came as an overwhelming relief, but the damage done to the women’s reputations as a result of institutional sexism brought agonies of their own." Carol Ann Lee looks at what happened to the women who survive attacks by Peter Sutcliffe.

David Hencke looks at the Independent Inquiry on Child Sexual Abuse's report on the Roman Catholic Church: "It suggests that while the Church may have put in structures to deal with the issue there was no real compassionate commitment from the top of the Church to act."

The 2020 US election has turned a divided nation into a place of protests, violence and fury, says Ian Birrell.

"She is almost unrecognisable in the lead role, swapping her usual sexually alluring look for plain prison clothes and unwashed hair. Her performance is a tour de force, the highlight of her fascinating acting career." Anna Cale reviews a Blu-ray release of the 1956 film Yield to the Night - Diana Dors's finest hour.

Was Louie, Louie the dirtiest song of the Sixties? Anwen Crawford investigates.

Man claims he moved to rural Rutland because electricity makes him ill

Our Headline of the Day Award goes to the Leicester Mercury.

I hope the gentleman in question did not found himself living next to one of Lord Bonkers industrial plants.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

The demolition of Northampton Castle in the 1870s

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The ruins of Northampton Castle were cleared in the 19th century to make room for Northampton Castle railway station, which is still open today and just called Northampton.

So I blogged a couple of years ago, and to prove it here is a photo of that clearance taking place.

Don't be too harsh on the Victorians: for better or worse, many of the views we hold today will seem very odd to people 150 years from now.

Ed Davey virtually going to Ludlow

The Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey will be addressing the AGM of the Ludlow local party on Friday.

Ruth Houghton, the Lib Dem councillor for Bishop’s Castle, told the Shropshire Star

"This is the first time that the Liberal Democrat Leader has addressed the Ludlow Lib Dem AGM and we are delighted to welcome him, albeit virtually, to south Shropshire.

"Liberal Democrats from Shrewsbury and north Shropshire constituencies will also join the meeting as Shropshire is a key target for the Liberal Democrats in the forthcoming local elections in May 2021."

The Lib Dems have made some impressive by-election gains in the county in recent years. 

They form the official opposition on Shropshire Council, and group leader Roger Evans recently told Sunshine Radio they would be fighting every seat next May with the intention of taking control of the authority.

Unit 4 + 2: Concrete and Clay

The late Barry Summers, who taught me history at Welland Park College and was later a fellow Liberal member of Harborough District Council, was a photographer in the 1960s, specialising in the pop scene.

One of his favourite stories was that after hearing Concrete and Clay he immediately arranged to photograph Unit 4 + 2 because he was certain it would be a hit and that shots of the obscure band would be in demand. Sure enough, the record reached number one in the UK singles chart in April 1965.

This video shows the band miming on a construction site that was in the process of becoming the Barbican Centre. This quarter of London was bombed to destruction in the second world war - it was somewhere on the resulting bombsites that Jon Whiteley found a gun and accidentally shot a friend in the 1956 film The Weapon.

Russ Ballard tells the story of Concrete and Clay on an edition of The Strange Brew podcast. Unit 4 were essentially a folk band, so Ballard was called in as lead guitarist and Bob Henrit as drummer to beef them up for their assault on the charts. Which means that Ballard must be next to the lead singer in this video.

Later he and Henrit were members of Argent - Hold Your Head Up and God Gave Rock and Roll to You, which have both featured here, were written by Ballard.

I think Barry Summers had it right. Concrete and Clay is a great record, thanks in part to Ballard's inventive guitar work.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

The water supply for Market Harborough locomotive shed came from the canal

There used to be a locomotive shed at Market Harborough. It stood to the north of the station and west of the tracks. Opened by the LNWR in 1864, it was closed by British Rail in 1965.

I remember it being demolished in 1977, when I was 17 and old enough to regret such losses.

But what, I here you ask, does this have to do with the photo above?

That photo shows a pipe that crosses the Welland beside the Farndon Road bridge. This is the site of Bloodyman’s Ford, where Charles I was almost captured as he fled from his defeat at Naseby in 1645.

And the pipe used to carry water from the canal at the top of Logan Street. That's Logan as in this blog's hero J.W, Logan MP.

You can see what remains of the sluice where the water was drawn off in the photo below. Before the nearest house was built, this site was much more open to the road below.

From the Farndon Road bridge the pipe headed for the embankment of the line to Rugby and followed that to Market Harborough station and locomotive depot

It used to be possible to see where it arrived at the station. The remains of substantial iron pipework could be seen above the station approach in the abutment of the vanished bridge that had carried the lines to Rugby and Northampton.

I have searched my photos but cannot find a shot of it, which suggests that those remains disappeared more than 10 years ago.

Either that, or I have not taken enough photographs of Market Harborough station.

Reader's voice: To be honest, I think you've already taken too many.

Thank you for that. Anyway, I have long known about this pipe and had the story confirmed by other people in town, but I can't find anything online about it.

Christine Jardine calls for free postage on independent shops' online orders

The Scotsman reports an innovative policy idea from the Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesperson Christine Jardine:

Ms Jardine wants the UK Government to cover postage for online orders from independent shops to make them more favourable destinations for present buying.

She said: "So many gift shops and retailers across Edinburgh, and elsewhere, have been hit hard by the Covid-19 restrictions and now their major market of the year could also be undermined by the competition from huge retailers who can cater for the fact that many people have to shield or are uncomfortable going into shops.

"The Chancellor has already acted once to support the hospitality industry and now we hear that there may be a second winter Eat Out to Help Out scheme, so why are we not hearing that he is going to do the same for retailers?"

Christine has won support from the national chairman of the Federation for Small Businesses for this "creative" idea.

The Scotsman quotes him as saying:

"This is going to be the most important festive season our economy has ever seen and could be make-or-break for some of our small businesses."

It's interesting that online commerce, which sounds as though it should be the nearest thing to the 'perfect competition' of the economics textbooks, has in practice led to thumping monopolies. Sooner or later government is going to have to act on this.

And being seen to support small, local businesses is good politics for the Lib Dems.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Colwall: The least used station in Herefordshire

There are only four railway stations left in Herefordshire. The least used of them is Colwall, even though you can still catch direct trains from it to Birmingham New Street and Paddington.

Geoff Whitewick and Paul Marshall are our guides and they find time for a bit of industrial archaeology, looking for the original railway tunnel at Colwall, which was replaced by a new bore in 1926.

Six of the Best 975

All too often, says Aliya Rao, jobseekers are told that unemployment is their own fault.

"We don’t allow companies to make a profit out of children by running schools, so why do we allow it in the 24-hour care of vulnerable children? One justification would be if allowing modest profit-making resulted in better quality and more reasonably priced care than the state could provide. Yet there is evidence that privately run care is of poorer quality and more expensive." Sonia Sodha shows that children’s homes have become centres of profit-making and abuse.

Peter Mitchell has seen through the campaign against the National Trust: "The treatment the National Trust has received for daring to understand its mission as to help us understand history, rather than supply us with fantasy, is a warning to all historians. This, ultimately, is what the trust’s critics are incensed by: that its properties are endowed with real historical meaning rather than comforting myth."

Tim Crook tells the story of Rudolph Dunbar, the pioneering musician, campaigning black journalist and war correspondent.

"As a kid to whom the world had always been kind, I had no doubt he would do it. I couldn’t wait for it to happen. Now, I marvel at the unlikeliness of it all: of life bending itself into the shape of happy-ever-after fiction – and how rarely that happens." Jon Hotten was there when Geoff Boycott scored his 100th century in the 1977 Ashes test at Headingley.

Johnny Restall offers a personal selection of portrayals of Lucifer and his minions in British horror cinema.