Sunday, September 25, 2022

Wizzard: Angel Fingers

To think there was a time when I was embarrassed that Wizzard had been my favourite band when I was 13.

Angel Fingers completed a run of three singles, after Ballpark Incident and See My Baby Jive, that most other bands could only dream of.

But then Roy Wood is a genius. Abba took See My Baby Jive when they wrote Waterloo.

Saturday, September 24, 2022

David Chadwick chosen as Lib Dem candidate for Brecon and Radnorshire


Nation Cymru reports:

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have selected their first General Election candidate in a bid to unseat the Conservatives in a key battleground seat.

David Chadwick has been selected by local party members as the prospective parliamentary candidate for Brecon and Radnorshire, the seat of Tory MP Fay Jones.

The seat has gone back and forth between the two parties in recent elections, with the Liberal Democrats coming out on top in a 2019 byelection before losing it again in the December General Election of that year.

The Liberal Democrats then failed to win the seat at last year’s Senedd elections. However, May’s local elections saw the Welsh Liberal Democrats becoming the largest group on Powys County Council, and in Brecon and Radnorshire they topped the polls with 15 councillors compared to the Conservatives who were left with just a single councillor.

David Chadwick fought North Dorset for the Lib Dems at the 2019 general election.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Nick Harvey and his invisible giant rabbit

Once more, his lordship demonstrates the close relations between Liberalism and the arts.

Saturday

Conservatives believe culture is something they find in the refrigerator if their cleaning lady is off with her legs, but to Liberals the arts are what make life worth living. One thinks of Visconti’s masterly ‘Beith in Venice,’ of Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Anyone Can Birtwhistle’ and of Nick Harvey and his invisible giant rabbit. 

Today the culture portfolio is in the safe hands of Jamie Stone, who has a particular interest in contemporary Chinese art. I recently accompanied him to an exhibition of the same, and he went “Ai Weiwei” all the way home.

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

Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers Diary...

How post-war newspapers reported on children and bombsites

Embed from Getty Images

When I was writing my article on children and bombsites and post-war British films I thought that what I should do is look at contemporary newspaper reports to see if they reflected the themes I had picked up.

Today I found that Rose Staveley-Wadham has already done it for me on the British Newspaper Archive site, and those themes are certainly present in the reports she had picked out.

There are stories suggesting a positive site to bombsites, but they do not celebrate children's freedom there so much as their organisation by adults.

So you can read about a bombsite garden party for children in the East End in 1952 and of Princess Margaret visiting a garden laid out on a bombsite by the pupils of a girls' school the following year.

It also turned out that German bombing was a godsend to archaeology in that it led to discoveries including a Mithraic temple in the City of London and the first cathedral in Coventry (which you may remember from a Time Team visit).

The idea that is was mothers who led the campaign to have something done about the bombsites is supported:

In March 1950 ‘housewives’ from Croydon protested ‘at the state of the bombed site in the vicinity of their homes,’ on Wilford and Forster Roads, as reported the Croydon Times. The newspaper detailed how:

The women want the bomb site cleared and houses built on it. They claim that as it is at present, a veritable dumping ground of all kinds of rubbish, it is a germ trap, a rat breeding ground and a danger to the health of their children.

And the Croydon Times tells us what happened next:

At three o’clock on Wednesday a number of women gathered in the centre of Wilford-road, carrying in front of them posters with slogans such as ‘Remove the war scars’ – ‘Give us homes.’ … As the women paraded round the block, others still in their aprons, without hats or coats, came out from their homes to join them.

Standing on an old water tank, Ann Waddell issued her rallying cry:

When you see what Croydon is and what it boasts of, this ‘scrap heap’ is an absolute disgrace. We want it cleared and homes built on it. It is an ideal site for houses or flats. We don’t want children cutting themselves on tins or taking back to their homes germs which might well start an epidemic.

There were, as I suspected, children who died playing on bombsites:

On 2 October 1950 the Northampton Chronicle and Echo reported how three boys from Southwark ‘were playing on a bombed site when the wall of a half-demolished house fell on them.’

The scene was a desperate one. ‘Women and a priest prayed on the street’ as men dug through the rubble to find the three boys, one of whom, Johnny Davies, who was just twelve at the time, lost his life in the accident.

Meanwhile, in February 1958 the Daily News (London) reported on the death of eight-year-old Kenneth Edwards on a bomb site in Hackney. He had been returning home from school across a bomb site with his friend Michael Aarons, when ‘the ground gave way beneath them and they fell 10 feet into an old cellar.’ Michael found himself landing in a ‘disused bath,’ but Kenneth was covered by a ‘ton of rubble.’ Sadly, Kenneth did not survive.

In the same year the Daily Mirror reported on the case of Dorothy Aldrich from Paddington, who at six-years-old had been playing a game of ‘Cowboys and Indians’ on a bomb site. She had fallen ’20 feet through a glass skylight,’ resulting in her skull being fractured. Dorothy was ‘unconscious for eighty-five days.’

In my article I suggested that there might have been tensions between developers who took over the bombsites as the Fifties progressed and the children who were used to playing there. 

Again, it seems I was on to something as when Dorothy Aldrich and her parents sued the demolition contractors responsible for the site, there followed an extraordinary outburst from Mr Justice Cassels, as captured by the Daily Mirror:

"Menace" of the Bomb Site Kids

Many of the children living in the district south of Paddington Station, London, are a MENACE, Mr. Justice Cassels said in the High Court yesterday. 

He added: "They respect neither persons nor property. They are UNDISCIPLINED, DESTRUCTIVE and REGARDLESS OF AUTHORITY." 

They present a problem which is insoluble."

This is a reminder that the Fifties were not the cosy decade we tend to see them as. For one thing people were concerned about juvenile delinquency, or at least 81-year-old judges were.

Still, the Mayor of Paddington, Councillor A.N. Carruthers, spoke up for the borough's younger residents - " I do not think that Paddington children are worse than any other children" - and Dorothy won her case.

On a final point, I did consider mentioning where London's last remaining bombsite is or was, but was unable to find a clear answer. But Rose Staveley-Wadham has given me an answer much nearer her home.

In 1950 the Leicester Daily Mercury reported that a bombsite in the city was to become a municipal car park. And that car park, on Dover Street, is still there today.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Market Harborough's Arts Fresco to take place on 9 October



Good news today: Arts Fresco, Market Harborough's free street theatre festival, will take place on Sunday 9 October.

For photographic opportunities and sheer fun, this is my favourite local event and its great that it has been rearranged so quickly. 

It would have been a particular shame for the event not to have taken place this year, as 2022 marks its 20th anniversary

Arts Fresco was meant to take place earlier this month but had to be cancelled because of the period of mourning for the Queen. This was the right decision because few would have been in the mood for it that day.

So thank you to the organisers who have made this minor miracle happen.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: These "Rutland Water Truthers"

In January BBC News reported a story under the headline Ichthyosaur: Huge fossilised ‘sea dragon’ found in Rutland reservoir, which is more proof of the existence of a monster than they've ever found at Loch Ness.

He wasn't happy about that "reservoir" though.

Friday

I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard nothing from the ‘There’s No Monster Brigade’ since the skeleton of an ichthyosaur – otherwise known as a ‘sea dragon’! – was found on the shores of Rutland Water. 

What I do read are claims that this great lake is man-made and dates from no earlier than the 1970s. Can you believe it? These ‘Rutland Water Truthers’ must get together on their Facebooks and the TikTok to egg each other on. I trust the authorities are keeping a close eye on them.

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

Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers Diary...

Church bans Desmond Tutu's daughter from taking Shropshire funeral due to same-sex marriage


Yes, the Shropshire Star wins my Headline of the Day Award, but the judges felt it necessary to add a rider condemning the Church of England.

As the story below that headline explains:

The daughter of the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu has been banned from officiating at a church funeral in Shropshire, because she is married to a woman.

Instead the family of Martin Kenyon will be holding the 'service' in the back garden of his country home in the south of the county.

The former army officer split his life between London and the county and his family had been hoping to hold his funeral in St Michael and All Angels at Lydbury North.

But his wish to see priest Mpho Tutu - daughter of his close friend Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his own god-daughter - conduct it in the church has been denied by the Church of England because she is in a same-sex marriage. ...

Mr Kenyon was friends with Desmond Tutu for 60 years after he looked after the South African archbishop when he arrived in London in the early 1960s to study.

Mpho Tutu told the Star of her reaction to the decision:

"I couldn't believe my ears. Our same-sex marriage is again a reason to hurt people for no reason.

"Martin’s daughters, grandchildren, friends, the Tutu family, and also my wife, Mpho, who are all mourning because of the death of their beloved Martin are being punished because she fell in love with me and dared to marry me

"I feel it is my time to speak up for my wife."

And the Star claims the Diocese of Hereford told it:

“We acknowledge this is a difficult situation. Advice was given in line with the House of Bishops current guidance osame-sexex marriage.”

Yes, I think it probably did.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

The Joy of Six 1076

Sarah O'Connor, in a Twitter thread, fact-checks five key assertions from Britannia Unchained (which was co-authored by our new PM and chancellor) and finds them all untrue.

Putin’s Western apologists don’t reflect the usual conflict between left and right, argues Quillette, but offer an example of the two poles making common cause against the centre.

Jeff Sparrow argues that the stronger resistance to fossil fuels grows, the more laws spring up to contain activists: "In Australia, where fossil fuel lobbyists exert tremendous influence over the major political parties, the trend has probably gone further than anywhere else."

"Lord Salisbury, the prime minister at the end of her reign, did everything he could to escape from 'the gruesomeness' of public ceremonies. The result was that the few ceremonial occasions under Victoria often involved embarrassment: marching columns that concertinaed, coffins carried the wrong way, words that were misread and ceremonies that were botched." Adrian Wooldridge examines how the British crown learnt to do pageantry in the 20th century.

"So profound was the PM's passion of the moving picture, her first words on being introduced to Lord Attenborough were 'Why didn't you come years ago?' 'Because I wasn't asked, darling,' Dickie replied." Richard Luck on Margaret Thatcher's ambitions to revive the British film industry.

Simon Matthews reviews a new biography of Aleister Crowley: "Along the way we meet W.B. Yeats, who scorned Crowley as a writer, Clifford Bax, Dennis Wheatley, Gerald Yorke (personal representative of the Dalai Lama), Tom Driberg, Anthony Powell, Arthur Calder-Marshall and Clifford Bax."

Lord Bonkers' Diary: “You're out of touch my Blaby, My poor old-fashioned Blaby"

This is why I enjoy working for Lord Bonkers: here is a hitherto unsuspected episode in the history of Leicestershire and the history of popular music laid bare.

And if you'd heard the stories the old boy tells me about Blaby in those days, you'd know that was the right expression.

Thursday

When cultural historians turn to the British pop scene it is Merseybeat and my own Rutbeat that dominate their writings. There is, however, another movement that should be given its due: Blaby Beat. Yes, this unassuming Leicestershire town has left its mark on musical history. 

James Taylor, for instance, was so taken with the place that he moved there and became known as ‘Sweet Blaby James.’ He was following a trail blazed by Bobby Vee who, though he was unable to stay for long, urged his listeners ever after to ‘Take Good Care of My Blaby.’ 

Whether The Supremes ever visited Leicestershire I know not, but their song ‘Blaby Love’ was careful to namecheck what was rapidly become the hottest and the coolest town in the world. Nor were they alone. One thinks of The Beach Boys (‘Don’t Worry Blaby’), The Rubettes (‘Sugar Blaby Love’), Wizzard (‘See My Blaby Jive’), Vanilla Ice (‘Ice Ice Blaby’), Bread (‘Blaby I’m-a Want You’), George McRae (‘Rock Your Blaby’) and Britney Spears (‘Hit Me Blaby One More Time’).

For a while it was a boomtown. The Beatles’ ‘Blaby You’re a Rich Man’ was taken as a cynical comment on the phenomenon and one I had some sympathy with, having seen Melton Mowbray after the Pork Pie Bubble of the 1890s burst. 

Ultimately, however, the Conservative-run council in Blaby proved a poor fit with the counter-culture and rigorous enforcement of its by-laws saw the end of the town’s pop fame. Bob Dylan’s ‘It's All Over Now, Blaby Blue’ served as the requiem for an era, and my old friends the Rolling Stones sang: “You're out of touch my Blaby/My poor old-fashioned Blaby/I said Blaby, Blaby, Blaby, you're out of time.”

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

Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers Diary...

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Listen to the stories of Kenal Rise with John Rogers

Something a bit different from John Rogers. As he explains on YouTube

This is a video of my project for Brent 2020 London Borough of Culture in collaboration with the wonderful Kensal Rise Library which ran from January 2020 to January 2021. Kensal Rise Has A Story tells the story of the streets around Kensal Rise Library through the voices of local people and is part of the inaugural Brent Biennal

I explained the project in an interview with Art Review

It’s a geographic sound map or trail of Kensal Rise. The form the project takes has partly been informed by the COVID-19 restrictions. I had planned this beautiful archive inside the library and some of the sound works were going to be burnt onto vinyl which could be listened to within a listening booth. We’ve not got those, but its ok, those were outcomes, they weren’t really the work itself which is a portrait of the community in their own words. 

By ‘community’ I mean the community of the library. Where it becomes geographic is that the emphasis is on the subjective responses to the environment and the changes within that environment rather than looking for some objective, dry, historical overview of the area, or even contemporary commentary on the area.

The ethos of the Kensal Rise Library is at the heart of the project. About 60 percent of the contributors are connected to the library, as users or in some other way. You can’t listen to any of the clips without feeling the presence of the library.

The unusual pub name near the end - Paradise by way of Kensal Green - is a reference to a poem by G.K. Chesterton.

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

Hemel Hempstead modernism in Market Harborough


I mentioned yesterday that as a little boy I lived in the new town of Hemel Hempstead. That has left me with an affection for the humane modernist style of architecture that predominated there.

There is at least one building in Market Harborough in that style. The wooden boards on the upper floor of this dry cleaners in the Coventry Road are typical of it.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: "Sir Percy Alleline is a fine upstanding fellow"

I was rather pleased with this entry, and then I realised what a narrow audience it would appeal to. It's people who loved John Le Carré's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy or the television adaptation of it (but perhaps not the film) and who remember Ming Campbell's leadership of the Liberal Democrats and formed the same view of it I did.

As I explained recently, those letters from Paddy have their origin in The Goat Hotel, Llanfair Caereinion.

Wednesday

Yes, I miss Paddy Ashdown. I miss his correspondence – those envelopes marked ‘Top Secret: Burn Before Reading’ that arrived by every post – and I miss his company. Despite Ashdown’s best efforts, I never could quite get my head around ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.’ “What exactly was Toby Esterhase up to?” I would ask him, and “So did old Smiley do right by Ricki Tarr in the end?” 

Now Paddy is gone there is no one in the party to explain this to me. I tried asking Ming Campbell the other day, but he just told me Sir Percy Alleline was a fine upstanding fellow and that he wouldn’t listen to a word against him.

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

Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers Diary...

North Norfolk Lib Dems choose Steffan Aquarone as their PPC


Steffan Aquarone has been chosen to fight North Norfolk for the Liberal Democrats at the next general election.

This is the seat held for the party by Norman Lamb between 2001 and 2019.

The Eastern Daily Press reports that Steffan won 93 per cent of the votes of local Liberal Democrats in the selection process.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

In defence of Peter, Jane and Ladybird's history books

As a video recently posted here went a long way to demonstrate, Ladybird Books were about the most progressive post-war publishers of children's books.

Yet misapprehensions about their publications abound. The other day someone on Twitter was convinced that Peter and Jane exclaimed "I say!" to one another.

The illustrator of these books, Harry Wingfield, explained their social position to the Guardian in 2002 when he was 91:

Wingfield is dismissive of claims in another national newspaper that the model for the real-life Jane has been unearthed in Shrewsbury. There was no real-life Jane. Or Peter, for that matter. Their images were forged from any number of photographs of local children, some taken on the new council estates that were springing up in the late 50s and early 60s.

"They were the sons and daughters of respectable workers," he says, "and they were well dressed. You didn't want dustbin kids. But they weren't as middle-class as everyone made out."

My mother taught me to read from these books before I went to school. We were living in a new town, Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire, at the time, and nothing about them felt alien to me.

Ladybird's Adventures from History series is also controversial. Otto English, with his repeated use of the term "Ladybird libertarians" seems to blame it for Brexit. But Ladybird's market was local authority primary schools, not the prep schools that the proponents of leaving the European Union attended.

And L du Garde Peach, the man who wrote the bulk of that series, was no Tory, if only because he fought Derby for the Liberal Party at the 1929 general election.

David Perkins writes of him in History Today:

There was more to Peach than a mere producer of patriotic homilies. As a radio dramatist, he did not shy away from controversial issues, including war, the arms race, and pacificism: Patriotism Ltd (1937) was subject to BBC internal censorship and pulled from the air, a decision that was reported around the world; Night Sky (1937) sought to bring home the realities of modern warfare. Peach also wrote a play about the First World War with no men in the cast: Home Fires (1930). 

He became known, too, for hard-hitting radio dramas: Bread (1932) was a family farming saga of poverty and emigration from the agricultural depression of the 1840s to the Great Depression. Three Soldiers (1933) highlighted the predicament of ex-soldiers from the Great War who had been thrown on the dole. 

Several of Peach’s radio plays touched on racial issues. His stance on the subject was more nuanced than that of many contemporaries and his attitudes ahead of his time. In Ingredient X (1929) he wrote about the corporate exploitation of Africa, spurring a journalist to complain that the play was ‘Bolshevist in tendency’. 

In John Hawkins – Slaver (1933) Peach adapted Hakluyt’s 16th-century account of the notable voyages and made a point of showing how Hawkins – like other Elizabethan explorers – made profits from slave trading to secure the monarch’s support. In The Cohort Marches: An Episode of the Roman Occupation (1937), Peach recast contemporary issues of colonialism in the context of Roman Britain. 

You can watch a lecture on L. du Garde Peach by Perkins in the video above.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Jacob Rees-Mogg in the Og

"Our dear Queen is safely interred with her ancestors," remarked Lord Bonkers this morning, "so I think we can tell the world about the Conservatives' beastliest fund-raising idea yet."

"You're sure this is true?" I asked. "I have agents everywhere," came the reply. 

Tuesday

Disgusting as the state of our waterways is, it could have been far worse. I have it on good authority that the Conservatives recently considered a fund-raising push under which their branches would have been able, for a fee, to have a leading light of the party take their daily rear in a local river. 

So it might have been Simon Hart in the River Dart, Theresa May in the Tay or Jacob Rees-Mogg in the Og. 

The whole idea, thank the Lord, has been suspended sine die - and I shall never again moan about being touched for a raffle prize. (I don’t mean touching me is the prize, though there was one occasion in Saffron Walden....)

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

Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers Diary...

Monday, September 19, 2022

Noam Chomsky on how we learn language

These days Noam Chomsky cuts a rather sad figure as one whose deep opposition to US imperialism has blinded him to the realities of Russian imperialism.

But it wasn't always like that.

Here he is interviewed for Bryan Magee's BBC2 philosophy series Men of Ideas in 1978. The quality of the conversation makes me weep for the glory days of public service broadcasting, even if the opening titles lead you to expect a Monty Python sketch.

Magee's opening precis of Chomsky's ideas is a masterpiece in itself. I have linked just to that portion of the programme, but the whole of it will reward your watching. Magee does bring up Chomsky's politics towards the end of the interview.

I don't know if Chomsky's ideas are in fashion now in linguistics or philosophy, but he was an exciting and innovative figure in his day. I still remember reading his demolition of B.F.Skinner's Behaviourist account of how children learn language 40 years ago.

These Men of Ideas programmes mean a lot to me because I watched them in the summer before I went to York to read Philosophy and they gave me a wonderful introduction to the subject.

What I didn't know then was that, as a boy during the war, Magee was evacuated from Hoxton to Market Harborough and had lived literally round the corner from where I was watching his programmes.

The Kinks: Waterloo Sunset

Music for a Queen's funeral.

Waterloo Sunset is very English (if not British), feels elegiac given the redevelopment of London in recent years and has a claim to be the best popular song written during her reign.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Lord Bonkers' Diary: He's looking down on us and not saying a word about it

Lord Bonkers is still bereft at the death of the Queen. "I can't start a new week of diaries on the day of her funeral," he sobbed to me this evening, "It wouldn't be right."

The he brightened. "Tell you what, put it up before midnight and no one will be able to say a word against me."

Monday

"What we need is a mole," said Paddy Ashdown one day. "Awkward blighters, moles," I replied, "you should hear Meadowcroft on the subject." "No," he persisted, "we need to place a deep-cover Liberal Democrat agent at the very top of the Conservative Party." 

I naturally assumed that Ashdown wanted to make one of our chaps leader of the Tory enemy so he or, indeed, she could bring it down from within. I have myself installed alumni of the Home for Well-Behaved Orphans in all sorts of useful places and read their reports avidly. However, as Ashdown outlined his scheme it became clear it was much subtler than that. It was so secret, indeed, that not even the mole could know what was going on. 

"So what we need," I summed up for him, "is a young Liberal Democrat who would be perfectly at home in the Conservative Party, is insanely ambitious and bound to be a disaster if they ever become prime minister." 

We looked at each other for a moment and then exclaimed as one: “Elizabeth Truss!” Today Ashdown’s plan has come to fruition and I feel sure that, in a very real sense (as the Revd Hughes would put it), he's looking down on us and not saying a word about it

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

The Queen at Lubenham Church in 1956

Embed from Getty Images

Here is the Queen, with the young Prince Charles and Princess Anne, in the churchyard of All Saints Church, Lubenham, a village a couple of miles west of Market Harborough, in 1956. 

With them is Lt-Col. Philips from Thorpe Lubenham Hall, where the royal party had been staying. (The Getty Images caption has these details muddled).

In the background, some people have climbed the embankment of the Market Harborough to Rugby railway line for a better view. You can see a signal by the line; this will have been controlled from Lubenham signal box.

You can read more about Thorpe Lubenham Hall and its royal connections in an article from the Market Harborough Historical Society.

Polly Bolton: Brief Encounters


Released in 1987, Ashley Hutchings' By Gloucester Docks I Sat Down and Wept is the story of a doomed love affair, which I suppose makes it a folk-rock concept album.

As well as a great title, it boasts the cream of this genre of music as collaborators. As Folking.com says:
As one would expect, Hutchings has a Who’s Who of great musicians on this album including Albion Band veterans Phil Beer, Graeme Taylor, Dave Whetstone, and John Shepherd, Steve Ashley who was in the Albion Country Band, and the much-celebrated drummers Dave Mattacks who was with Fairport Convention.
Best of all, the voice of the woman is provided by my favourite unjustly neglected female folk singer Polly Bolton. (John Shepherd was a member of the Polly Bolton Band when I saw them in the late 1990s.)

Saturday, September 17, 2022

My Liberator article on the prospects for a Progressive Alliance

This article on the prospects for a Progressive Alliance of the non-Conservative parties at the next general election appears in the new issue  of Liberator. You can download it (issue 414) from the magazine's website.

It was meant to be a review of Duncan Brack's pamphlet 1997 Then and Now: The Progressive Alliance That Was and the One That Could Be, but turned into the sort of review you get in the TLS or London Review of Books.

By that I mean that it's one where the reviewer is less interested in the book in front of them than setting out their own ideas. Still, a lot of what I say is in line with the views in the pamphlet,

Embed from Getty Images


Four into one won't go

With its thick concrete walls, the Progressive Alliance control bunker lies deep beneath the soil of… We’d better keep its location a secret, but I can tell you what you will find there. The room is dominated by a table whose top carries a constituency map of Britain and across which WAAFs with victory roll hairdos slide little figures representing voters.

“Less than six hundred votes needed for Labour to gain High Peak,” barks a voice from the gantry that overlooks the room. “Withdraw the Liberal Democrat candidate.” A WAAF pushes some orange voters into the red group.” “Labour gain High Peak, sir.”

And that, if you believe what you read on social media, is all opposition parties need do to win the next general election. Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, together perhaps with Plaid Cymru and some smaller parties, should reach agreement to field only one ‘Progressive’ candidate between them in every constituency in England and Wales. 

Some early models of this Progressive Alliance (PA) also included the SNP, but such is its dominance of the Scottish scene, holding 48 of the 59 Westminster seats there, that it’s hard to see what it has to gain from joining such an arrangement. Besides, Scottish elections now see Unionist voters operating an alliance of their own, happy to fall in behind whichever party has the best chance of defeating the Nationalists in each constituency, and the SNP may well calculate that keeping a Conservative government in office at Westminster improves its chances of winning majority support for Scottish independence.

Would a PA defeat a reviving Conservative Party? Could it even win if the Conservatives were ahead in the polls? Supporters of the idea point out that the Tories never win 50 per cent of the popular vote, so that in many constituencies they win despite polling less than the combined votes of the parties in the proposed alliance. All we have to do is put those votes together behind a single candidate, the reasoning goes, and the Conservatives may never form a government again.

Problems problems

There would be many practical problems in establishing such an alliance. The first is that Labour’s constitution has always been taken to rule out any electoral pacts with other parties, though some way round this must have been found at Tatton in the 1997 general election, where both Labour and the Liberal Democrats stood down in favour of the Independent Martin Bell.

A second problem is that if Labour agreed to join an alliance, there would have to be agreement between it and all the other parties over who would fight which seats. Liberal Democrats of my generation have memories – perhaps “flashbacks” is a better word – of the endless hours consumed in meetings between the Liberal Party and the SDP to decide which party would represent the Alliance where – hours that would have been more profitably spent on campaigning, watching Dallas or almost anything else. Even if agreement could be reached in time for the next election, it would be at a similar opportunity cost.

Then there is the problem of what policy platform the PA would stand on – there would surely have to be some sort of agreement on policy to give voters an idea of what they are voting for, particularly if we are asking them to vote for a party they don’t usually support. One idea that you read on social media can be ruled out: a one-line manifesto pledging to introduce proportional representation for general elections. If we fought on that while the Conservatives talked about the economy, defence and education – no matter how stupid we thought what they had to say on those issues was – the Conservatives would win and deserve to win. We would certainly want to secure some movement from Labour on proportional representation and constitutional reform in general, but if we are exhausted after the seat negotiations it would be easier to agree some form of statement promising to undo the worst of the damage the Conservatives have cause on poverty, the environment and the economy.

We should also have to overcome the fact that a PA would threaten to hang around our necks the gaffes and objectionable views of every Labour and Green candidate around our necks. At the very least, Lib Dem candidates fighting the Tories in our target seats would have to cope with being called “the Labour/Lib Dem candidate” on all their leaflets, and even if the other PA candidates conducted themselves blamelessly, we should still have to cope with all the worst policies of their national parties. The Greens, for instance, want to leave NATO, but not while the war in Ukraine is going on. It’s hard to see that rallying disappointed Conservatives to the PA flag.

Would it work?

When all that had been accomplished, one question would remain to be answered: would a Progressive Alliance be worth all this trouble? Parties cannot deliver their voters en bloc to another party because those votes do not belong to them: they belong to the individual voters. Some specially commissioned opinion polls give encouragement to the idea, but the trouble with them is that they do not seek information like conventional polls (“How would you vote if there was a general election tomorrow”) but rather ask people to forecast what they would in a hypothetical situation at some unspecified point in the future (“If there were an electoral pact between X, Y and Z parties at the next election and this resulted in you having only a Y candidate to vote for, how would you vote?” 

And the trouble with that, as psychologists will tell you, is that we are not very good at forecasting our own actions. We are actually better at forecasting other people’s, because we take into account a wider range of factors when we look at them. We wonder how our neighbours will be influenced by the election campaign, but are, wrongly, confident that we are far too secure in our own beliefs for it to affect us.

And even a PA could be agreed, it would contain subtle dangers for the Liberal Democrats. As Simon Titley asked in Liberator 346:

‘Progressive’. What does it mean? The only discernible meaning is ‘not conservative’ or ‘not reactionary’, but those are negative definitions. … The ‘p’ word is a lazy word, so give it up. It will force you to say what you really mean, and that’s a good thing.

It may be that being against the Tories will be enough at the next general election, but in the long run the ideology-light Liberal Democrats need something more to found a party on.


1997 and all that

But maybe we can learn something from 1997, when a limited sort of PA operated between Labour and the Liberal Democrats and helped bring about the rout of the Conservatives. We Lib Dems saw our vote decline by one per cent, yet made a net gain of 28 seats.

Duncan Brack has written a pamphlet for Compass, 1997 Then and Now: The Progressive Alliance That Was and the One That Could Be, looking at the lessons to be drawn from that experience. It reminds us that that the cooperation between the two parties in 1997 was the result of much work, both public and private.

The public work took place in the talks between Labour’s future foreign secretary Robin Cook and the former SDP leader Robert Maclennan talks. Between them they agreed a package of constitutional reforms, which included incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law, freedom of information legislation, devolution to Scotland and Wales (and elections by proportional representation to their parliaments), an elected authority for London, the removal of hereditary peers from the House of Lords, proportional representation for the European elections and a referendum on voting reform for Westminster elections that gave a choice between the existing first-past-the-post system and a proportional alternative.

As Duncan Brack says, much of this was already Liberal Democrat policy – some of it was watered down to be accepted as part of the package – but the agreement did break new ground for Labour. And most of it was implemented by the Blair government. The exceptions were the referendum on a proportional voting system for Westminster elections and the total removal from hereditary peers from the Lords, where a deal brokered by the former Commons speaker Lord Weatherill saw 92 of them allowed to remain.

When Paddy met Tony

Meanwhile, the private work took place in talks between Tony Blair and Paddy Ashdown. These looked at electoral cooperation and the possibility of a wider policy agreement than that reached by Cook and Maclennan.

Tony Blair, says Duncan Brack, was keen on the idea of the two parties backing a single candidate in a limited number of seats, and accepted that in some the candidate would be a Liberal Democrat. Remembering the hours lost in negotiations with the SDP, Ashdown vetoed this idea saying it would appear “a grubby plan designed to gain power and votes for ourselves, instead of one based round principles and what was best for the country”.

This line was forced on Ashdown, who had earlier floated the idea of closer cooperation between the parties, by the Liberal Democrats’ polling. This showed clearly that the soft Conservative voters the party was targeting would be happy for it to enter government with Labour in the event of a hung parliament but were hostile to the idea that it should campaign with Labour for that outcome.

So the parties turned to covert cooperation, concentrating on the same issues and using the same language. They avoided attacks on each other, shared information on which seats they were targeting and jointly gave the Daily Mirror a list of 22 seats where Labour voters should back the Liberal Democrats.

In the event, Liberal Democrat supporters proved to be more prepared to vote tactically than Labour supporters. The Labour vote went up in some Liberal Democrat targets, but such was the fall in Conservative support that we still won some of them. I don’t know if they were official targets, but Labour also came from third place to win two seats we had rather fancied winning ourselves: St Albans and Hastings & Rye.

Building trust and relationships

Duncan Brack concludes from this history that parties should not try to negotiate a national pact. Instead, he says: 

Any level of cooperation between non-Conservative parties will need to be more fluid and organic than it was in 1997, built from the bottom up as well as the top down – hence the Compass focus on local groups and building trust and relationships over the long term. 
This could feature a wide range of approaches – including, possibly, local electoral agreements but, more importantly, cooperation in local campaigns and policy discussions, building a common understanding and appreciation of parties’ positions and potential solutions to the challenges the UK faces in the mid-2020s.

And I am happy to support his conclusion, which takes us a long way from that Progressive Alliance Control Bunker:

Whatever the form a progressive alliance takes, whether it’s an electoral pact or encouragement for tactical voting, the parties that form it need to give an indication to the electorate of what will be the result if they vote for it: a positive agenda of reform, not merely the negative case for getting rid of the Tories.

The Joy of Six 1075

Anne Applebaum meets the Belarusians resisting the threat of Russian imperialism by taking up arms in Ukraine.

"Last year, a child in North Wales was kidnapped while abductors held his foster mother at knifepoint. Wilfred Wong, an evangelical Christian and long-time activist behind the group Coalition Against Satanist Ritual Abuse, whose goal is “to increase public awareness and action regarding satanist ritual abuse,” was sentenced to 17 years in prison for his role in the abduction." Brandy Zadrozny says Satanic panic is making a comeback, fuelled by QAnon believers and Republican influencers,

Jane Chelliah on talking about female ageing.

"All of the players we spoke to reported that they received no support or aftercare from their clubs, which added to their difficulty transitioning away from the club." Thomas Ryan McGlinchey looks at the impact on youngsters of being released from professional clubs' football academies.

"Born in Edinburgh in 1934, Donald Seaton Cammell’s early years were shaped by his eccentric father's ... role as the biographer of Aleister Crowley, the diabolist who revelled in his reputation as ‘the most evil man in the universe’. In later years, Cammell Jr would talk about the time he sat upon the knee of 'The Great Beast’." Richard Luck reviews the life and career of the director of Performance.

Philip Wilkinson discovers some neglected Georgian shops bordering Cromford market place.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Children and bombsites in post-war British films

As Andrew Ray discovers in The Yellow Balloon, terrible things happened to boys who played on bombsites in 1953.

And his friend’s death is only the start of his troubles. William Sylvester, who makes a beguiling and dangerous villain, blackmails him into stealing from his parents and taking part in robberies and then, because he was present in one that ended in murder, seeks to silence him for good.

So frightening is its finale, in which Sylvester hunts the boy through a bomb-damaged tube station, that The Yellow Balloon became one of the first British films to be awarded an X certificate. Until it was rescinded, this fouled up the distributor’s plans to market the film to families and meant that its young star was unable to attend its premiere.

Before the fall

It hadn’t always been like this.

Hue and Cry (1947), the first of the great Ealing comedies, was filmed in a bomb-damaged London and depicted it as a landscape that belonged to errand boys. Its screenwriter, T.E.B. Clarke, celebrated their independence and resourcefulness, even if they do have to be home for tea.

In truth the film is something of a Boys’ Own fantasy. It allows only one girl on to the bombsites: the wonderfully talented Joan Dowling, who was to marry her fellow cast member Harry Fowler and take her own life at the age of 26. But that was one more than most British films of the post-war era did.

Clarke allowed a more balanced and feminine view on the question of children and bombsites to be expressed two years later in his script for Passport to Pimlico (1949).

The local bobby visits the home of Stanley Holloway, the future prime minister of this urban village that declares its independence from austerity London, and sees a model of a lido that he has built.

"It's an idea for that dump out there," Holloway’s wife (played by Barbara Murray) tells him, meaning a bombsite. "Give those kids somewhere decent to play."

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

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

Danger

And by the time of his 1950 screenplay for The Magnet, a film now chiefly of interest because it stars a very young James Fox, he felt obliged to include what the amateur child actor makes sound very like a public safety warning.

Bombsites could still be made to look benign in 1952, as the final scene of Mandy proves. The little deaf girl’s liberation takes place when other children let them join in with their games on one.

But it was the comic plot of The Magnet pointed the way forward. James Fox (acting under his real name William Fox) thinks he has contributed to the death of another boy and goes on the run, just as Andrew Ray in The Yellow Balloon was to be blackmailed by a false accusation of murder.

Similarly, in The Weapon (1956) Jon Whiteley finds a gun on a bombsite, accidentally shoots a friends and runs away because he thinks he has killed him.

The spokeswoman for mothers now is the neighbour who calls on Andrew Ray’s mother to bring news of his playmate’s death:

Neighbour: That poor Mrs Williams. They can’t do nothing with her. They’ve just found her Ronnie with his back broke. 

Mother: Dear God! However did it happen?

Neighbour: In a bombed house in Kendal Street. He must have been playing there and fallen. Dead, of course. It’s a scandal, Emily, that’s what I say. These places ought to be boarded up. Time and again I’ve told my lot to keep out of them. I shan’t ever feel like letting the kids play in the street again.

Infantilisation

Compared with the boys of Hue and Cry, with their jobs and long trousers, Ray and Whiteley seem infantilised. Ray is thrashed by his father when he steals money from the home to give to Sylvester, while Whiteley hides out in London dirty, scared and at the mercy of a villainous George Cole. 

By 1953 and The Yellow Balloon an American presence in a middling British film with ambitions was inevitable. Whether this ever produced the hoped-for ticket sales across the Atlantic I rather doubt.

The Yellow Balloon’s William Sylvester makes a believable villain. Sometimes you hardly barely his American accent and it’s easy to imagine him as a wartime deserter who has made a living in London’s underworld ever since. 

By contrast, The Weapon’s Steve Cochran is a knight in shining armour who leads the search for the boy, rescues him and catches the villain. To make him even nobler the police, and at first even the boy’s mother, are made to beremarkably relaxed about Whiteley’s disappearance from home.

The Yellow Balloon is a better film than The Weapon in every way, though you do remember one scene in the latter where Jon Whiteley is trying to hide in a street where every surface has been plastered with posters bearing his photograph.

David Hemmings in The Heart Within (1957) is more like the heroes of Hue and Cry in age and independence, but even he narrowly escapes a fatal fall when he goes on to a bombsite to escape his pursuers. His rescuer is Earl Cameron in this early and tentative treatment of race in post-war London.

Redevelopment

By now the bombsites were being redeveloped, and the acres of urban desolation where Jon Whitely shot his friend became the Barbican Centre – you can see this process happening in the video for Unit Four + 2’s Concrete and Clay, which reached the top of the singles chart in 1965.

If you wanted urban desolation in the Sixties, you did better to seek out the streets being lost to the capital’s slum clearance programme – which gave rise to the observation that the planners were doing more damage to London than the Luftwaffe ever did.

And those slum clearance sites were allowed no redeeming features. Both This is My Street (1964) and Poor Cow (1967) have a scene near the end where a very young child is lost on such a site to the terror of their mother. (Don’t worry: both are found.)

The last example comes from 1970 and the redevelopment of St Katherine’s Dock, which you can see as the forerunner of the wholesale redevelopment of the Docklands a decade later.

You can watch a documentary about the project on the British Film Institute website, and in it you will hear a resident complains about there being nowhere for this children to play and about the dangers of an open lift shaft in an old tube station. The neighbour in The Yellow Balloon would have agreed with her.

The meaning of bombsites

So why this change in the way British films treated children and bombsites over the ten years from 1947?

It may be that there really were enough accidents on bombsites to alarm parents. More likely, the growing pace of redevelopment meant that children could no longer wander them as they did immediately after the war.

Or, to try a little armchair sociology, it may be that this fear of unregulated spaces was part of a wider fear about the threat to the family. We now think of the Fifties as stiflingly cosy, but the discourse of the time was full of worries about the increase in juvenile delinquency and the threat to the family.

The Yellow Balloon ends with father, mother and son hugging. The boy has been rescued from the dark forces to be found on the bombsites and brought back to his family.

Even if It is an odd family. His father is played by Kenneth More, who does not convincing as a working-class character and is almost as boyish as his son. 

But then I often struggle to understand More’s popularity as an actor - a heretical view for an Englishman. He makes me understand the attraction of the bombsites.

This post was written for Terence Towles Canote's 9th Annual Rule, Britannia Blogathon.


Later
. I have also written a post looking at how contemporary newspapers reported on children and bombsites.

Woman's loud lovemaking lands her with fine as cries of passion leave neighbours 'on edge'

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Once again the Shropshire Star walks away with our Headline of the Day Award.

It turns out that the woman and her edgy neighbours live "on the Shropshire border", as the paper often terms it. Other people say "in Wales".

The new issue of Liberator is ready for you to download


The latest issue of Liberator has been posted on the magazine's website. You can download as a pdf free of charge - look for Liberator 414 at the top of the list.

I always turn first to Radical Bulletin, the section that tells you what's really going on in the Liberal Democrats.

This time you can learn, among other things:
  • how Richard Foord's path to selection as the candidate for the Tiverton and Honiton by-election was eased
  • all about the row over the LGB Alliance being sold a conference stall and then having the booking cancelled because of an "administrative error"
  • the dropping of alarming plans to police Lib Dem members' use of social media
You would also find this sad footnote to the Commentary:
You will find references to "conference" in this Liberator, which refer to matters scheduled for Brighton but now expected to resurface at future conferences.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Chess and anal beads in the media? Blame Magnus Carlsen

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Things have moved on and things have got worse since I blogged about the accusation of cheating against Hans Niemann by the Norwegian world chess champion Magnus Carlsen.

You may recall that the 19-year-old American Niemann defeated Carlsen in the opening rounds of a tournament, whereupon Carlsen withdrew from the event and posted a tweet that was widely taken as insinuating that his opponent had cheated.

Since then Carlsen has said nothing, despite the former champion Garry Kasparov's headmasterly advice that:

"The world title has its responsibilities, and a public statement is the least of them here."

So Niemann has been left trying to clear his name when it's not clear even what the charge against him is.

In the resultant vacuum speculation has flourished. The wackiest theory, boosted by a tweet from Elon Musk, is that Niemann was receiving outside help from someone with a computer and that the moves to play were passed on to him by vibrating anal beads.

Quite how the moves would be signalled has not been explained and it all sounds very uncomfortable. Imagine if you got into a time scramble!

I was going to say this is not the image of chess that anyone wants to see in the media, but Rolling Stone has published an article headed "Vibrating Butt Toys Are Exactly What Chess Needs."

Nor did Niemann do anything to calm journalists when he offered to play chess naked to prove he is not cheating.

But in the continuing absence of any clear charges, let alone proof, I shall go on regarding Carlsen as a sore loser - "sulky up the fijord" as my Stanley Unwin speech on Europe speech once put it. 

And I shan't regard Niemann as a sore winner either.

The moment a seven-year-old Brandon deWilde became an actor

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My post about Sunday's music video turned into an essay on the acting career of its singer Brandon deWilde. There I wrote about how he made his Broadway debut as a seven-year-old to universal acclaim.

But can a seven-year-old act? 

It seems he can. I have found a video of an interview with his co-star in The Member of a Wedding, Julie Harris, in which she talks about the moment when he stopped parroting his lines and became an actor. 

Julie Harris won five Tony Awards for her stage appearances, starred with James Dean in East of Eden and ended up in the Dallas spin-off Knots Landing. She died in 2013.

Harris played a 12-year-old girl in The Member of the Wedding. She was 25 when the play opened on Broadway and a year or two older when the film was made, yet I still find her performance compelling.

The third star of the play was the wonderful Ethel Waters, the first black woman who, among many achievements in music, theatre and film, was the first African American to star on her own television show.

So keen were his parents not to spoil the boy that DeWilde wasn't told he had been nominated for an Oscar for Shane and didn't find out until some years afterwards. That seems a pity.

He must have known about Look magazine's awards though. The photo shows him. aged 11, after he has been honoured for his performance in Shane, and Audrey Hepburn who had won for hers in Roman Holiday.

In 1930 the victims of the R101 airship disaster lay in state in Westminster Hall

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The Stuart Kings used to lie in state in Westminster Hall (those who weren't tried and sentenced to death there), but the modern revival of the idea began with Mr Gladstone in 1898.

Here's a list of those who have lain in state there in modern times:
  • 1898 - William Gladstone
  • 1910 - King Edward VII
  • 1930 - Victims of the R101 airship disaster
  • 1936 - King George V
  • 1952 - King George VI
  • 1953 - Queen Mary
  • 1965 - Sir Winston Churchill
  • 2002 - Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother
The victims of the R101 airship disaster? The fact that they lay in state, a decision taken by George V on the advice of his ministers, may be a measure of the hopes the government had entertained for this means of transport as a way of keeping up the Empire.

The R101 was bound for India on its first long-distance flight when it crashed into a hill near Beauvais in northern France. Because it was filled with hydrogen, the craft caught fire and 46 of the 54 passengers and crew died at once - two died later in hospital, leaving only six survivors.

So ferocious was the fire that some of the victims were never identified and others were identified by their possessions. Which leads to gruesome questions about what can have been in the coffins that appeared in Westminster Hall.

Still, Wikipedia (based on contemporary reports in The Times) says:
On Friday 10 October a memorial service took place at St Paul's Cathedral while the bodies lay in state in Westminster Hall at the Palace of Westminster. Nearly 90,000 people queued to pay their respects: at one time the queue was half a mile long, and the hall was kept open until 00:35 to admit them all:
There was an official inquiry that suggested possible causes for the disaster and found that the voyage to India was undertaken for political reasons before the R101 had undergone enough trials.

But there is a more fundamental safety problems with long-distance airship travel. To carry heavy loads you need plenty of hydrogen, and if you have plenty of hydrogen then you can't fly very high. If you do, the lack of atmospheric pressure will allow the hydrogen to expand and bursts its bags.

Maybe that's why the return of the airship, which has been regularly predicted for as long as I can remember, has never taken place.

I will leave you with a remarkable fact about the R101 from the Great Disasters site:
The most important part of the airship - the bit that provides that lift - is, obviously, the gas itself, and the giant gasbags holding it. They were painstakingly made from "gold-beater skin" – a particular membrane taken from an ox’s intestine. 
It had taken something like a million oxen to make the R101’s gasbags, which were prepared on-site by a team of women who scraped, washed, stretched and glued them into their final form. 
The R101 design team had tested various other materials, but came to the conclusion that gold-beater skin, the tried and tested option, was the best then available.
A million oxen to make one airship? This conjures up a Dieselpunk world where the skies are filled with airships and whole continents are given over to raising the billions of oxen that demands.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

A book on medieval history used in schools until the 1980s treated the blood libel as fact


Here's something I wish I had discovered before I wrote my book chapter on Oliver Twist and anti-Semitism, with its discussion of the supposed killing of innocent Christian boys by Jews.

A history book  by John Hooper Harvey, which was widely used in school sixth forms until the 1980s, maintained that there had been just such a killing in Lincoln in the 13th century.

A post by Dr J.A. Cameron on his blog Stained Glass Attitudes records:

One passage in his popular history book The Plantagenets (1948), praising Edward I’s statesmanship in removing the “exotic mass” of the Jewish community which in turn “united the national body”.

Additionally Harvey attempted convince his readers of the veracity of the most infamous case of Blood Libel: the accusation in 1255 of the Jewish community of Lincoln ritually crucifying a young boy called Hugh (later given a kind of informal local canonisation as Little St Hugh of Lincoln) upon the discovery of his body in a well. 

In his most disturbing show of unwavering positivism, Harvey claimed that because he’d read the original chancery rolls, the medieval court’s judgement on the case was “unassailable”. 

After repeated complaints from Jewish groups and even the Catholic Church in England, his publishers gave him a chance in 1984 to amend the text. He refused, and the book, which had been a mainstay of sixth-form history classes, went out of print.

It may be no surprise that Harvey was a member of a right-wing extremist faction in the 1930s:

He joined rabid anti-Semite Arnold Leese’s Imperial Fascist League, which found Italian fascism a bit too airy-fairy and instead met with the Nazi party and adopted ideas of Aryan supremacy, removal of citizenship for Jews and put a ‘kin swastika on their logo. 

While the British Union of Fascists allegedly hit a high of 50,000 members, the Imperial Fascist League only ever mustered a few hundred. H

Harvey was not in good company. This wasn’t just right-wing, it was full-on National Socialism with all of the biological racism that went with it.

Harvey was investigated by the authorities after the war broke out, but not interned. When you read this quotation from him, it's hard to see why:

"If Britain defeat Hitler it is a victory for Jews all over the world, if Britain is defeated by Hitler it is a defeat for the Jews and Britain would have a chance to put herself on the map again."

Do I hear a faint echoes of Brexit in the idea of Britain putting herself on the map again? 

Harvey's life and career - he was a leading historian of English medieval architecture - stand as a warning about the dark places into which romantic nationalism can lead you.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

The Joy of Six 1074

"These ‘final’ train journeys are part of a long tradition for major public figures such as King George V and Winston Churchill, and everything possible should have been done to maintain this rather special way of enabling people to make their farewells without travelling to London." Christian Wolmar says the Queen’s final journey should have been by train.

David Boyle considers the causes of inflation: "So much of our economy in the UK now panders to the ultra-rich that it has worn grooves where the money flows towards them. It gathers around them like great fatbergs and the inflation gathers there too. Then, hey presto! It spreads around."

Anne Perkins reviews a new biography of Harold Wilson.

"Socially, North-East Scots is of the soil. Its distinctiveness derives from the traditional work and lives of its inhabitants, in particular, farming and fishing. This means that much which made it so distinctive has faded as the world has changed." Robert McColl Millar on Doric - once the language of the Scottish court, it is now a dialect of English.

Conrad Brunstrom watches the John Lennon film How I Won the War: "The film is certainly a satire on war movies, and on how a certain kind of British war movie is constructed for propaganda purposes. But it’s clearly more ambitious than a mere genre satire effort."

South West London once had a network of trolleybuses. Roger French joins a group retracing its routes 60 years after they closed.

Happy birthday to J.B. Priestley, the Monty Python fan

The writer and wartime broadcaster J.B. Priestly was born on 13 September 1894 and lived to be an admirer of Monty Python's Flying Circus.

This was revealed by the late great Barry Cryer in a 2017 interview with We Are Cult. (Graham here is Graham Chapman.)

Tell us about the J.B. Priestley story…

During the Python tour, I told Graham, my absolute idol as a writer was J.B. Priestley, and typical Graham, I remember he said, “Ooh, Ba, you’re a bore on the subject of J.B. Priestley…” I said, “I’m sorry!”

“Ring him up”, he said.  I said, “You don’t just ring a man like that up, and how would I know his phone number?” and I thought, “Wait a minute, Wendy at Yorkshire Television did a documentary…” and that’s that.  You can’t plan this sort of thing.  So I ring Wendy at YTV, I say “Have you got J.B. Priestley’s phone number?” ‘”Yes!” Gives me the number, oh boy!

A woman answers the phone, we thought it was his secretary or assistant, it was his cleaning lady!  I said, “Is Mr Priestley there?” Silence. Click. [Gruffly:] “Hello”. I sobered up in a split second. [Barks:] “Who’s that?” I said, “Oh, my name’s Barry Cryer?” [Snaps:] “Is it indeed?” And then I floated away on a pink cloud, this great man said, “I’ve heard you on the wireless.” 

So I thought, what can I say to him?  I said, “My mate and I, we’re writers, and we’d like to come and see you.” [Gruffly:]  “Who’s yer mate?”  I said, “Er, Graham Chapman…” [Sharply:] “Monty Python, eh?” 

Turns out Priestley was a big Python fan.  So what can I say to him that won’t worry him. I said, “Can we have tea with you?” “Yessss. Monday, three o’clock, I’m giving me address, I’m giving up me walk.”  

I’m in Coventry on the Sunday night, not a million miles from Alverston, where Priestley lived.  So Graham and I book a car, John Cleese heard about it and joined in, we went down and met the great man, Graham and JB swopped pipe tobacco…

That was Graham, you see. Direct. ‘Ring him.’ Fascinating.  And then you find out Priestley’s a fan of Python and that it wasn’t shown for a while and then it was shown late at night instead of show jumping.  Priestley was furious!  The Python gang were thrilled when they heard Priestley was a fan!

Priestley died in 1984, a month short of his 90th birthday.

"Overturning a miscarriage of justice takes a multitude of people to move heaven and earth"

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It is now close to impossible to overturn wrongful convictions in the courts, says Dennis Eady, head of Cardiff University's Innocence Project. 

The project conducts casework, research and advocacy on the miscarriages of justice and is the only such UK university project to have helped overturn cases at the Court of Appeal.

Writing on the Inside Time website, Eady says:

Over the years our chances of being able to help people towards a successful appeal have gone from remote to virtually non-existent. 

There are numerous reasons for this, but the primary reason is that the appeal system presents an impenetrable barrier, which seems to have got higher and stronger, while due process safeguards at the trial stage have been systematically eroded over the last 30 or so years. In short, it has become easier to convict, harder to mount a defence and just one step down from impossible to correct wrongful convictions. 

As an old campaigning friend of mine once put it "Overturning a miscarriage of justice takes a multitude of people to move heaven and earth."

His comments are part on the inquiry into the Criminal Cases Review Commission conducted by the Westminster Commission on Miscarriages of Justice. You can download the inquiry report, which was published in February of last year.

The inquiry was co-chaired by Lord Garnier, the former solicitor general and Conservative MP for Harborough. He says:

Our report was debated in the House of Commons but with no commitment from the minister answering the debate that the Government would actually do anything in response to it. 
It is therefore with some surprise but a great deal of pleasure we learn that the Law Commission is to examine, amongst a number of other matters, not only the "real possibility" test, but also whether the Court of Appeal can order a retrial or substitute a conviction for another (presumably lesser) offence as well as whether the "safety test", used to grant an appeal on the grounds that a conviction is "unsafe", makes it too difficult to correct miscarriages of justice.

The "real possibiliy" test refers to the rule that the CCRC can refer cases for review only where it considers there is a ‘real possibility’ that the Court of Appeal will overturn the conviction or sentence.

This rule, says report, tends to make the CCRC too deferential tot he Court of Appeal and limits its freedom of action.

Monday, September 12, 2022

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone

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The death of a monarch who has reigned for 70 years is bound to lead to a solemn time. And it was inevitable that the cancellation Liberal Democrat Conference would be cancelled once the date of the Queen's funeral was announced, as I have already argued.

That said, I find the argument put forward by Sarah Olney on Lib Dem Voice - that holding our conference would somehow imperil the peaceful succession of Charles III - bizarre.

And this enthusiasm for cancelling events to display our grief - or perhaps to avoid criticism - can go too far.

One example is the Last Night of the Proms. Yes, a traditional Last Night would have struck the wrong note, but surely it would have been possible to put together a programme of music that would have expressed the national feeling?

Another example is the cancellation of children's football. Taking part in a minute's silence before the game would have given the young players a memory that might stay with them for the rest of their lives. 

And, besides the fun of playing, they would not have given up all the benefits football brings from exercise to a bit of male attention in lives that can lack it.

Ours is now a safety-first society, and that has its costs.