Thursday, June 30, 2022

Boys wearing skirts no longer works as a protest

There's an enjoyable news story that has appeared and reappeared in recent summers.

A groups of boys at a secondary school want to wear shorts in hot weather but are told by the powers that be that they can't. They then read the school's uniform policy carefully and find there's nothing to stop them wearing skirts.

So they turn up at school in skirts one day as a protest, secure in the knowledge that the authorities can't do anything about it.

But Wymondham High Academy in Norfolk has spoilt the fun. It's gender-neutral uniform policy states that pupils can wear trousers or skirts, but shorts are not allowed.

So now turning up in skirts is a pretty hollow protest, because you have the schools explicit approval.

I don't understand what the objection is to allowing boys (and girls) to wear shorts to school in summer. It's an odd reversal of the obsession with making boys wear shorts in winter that schools used to have.

British Tories are adopting Trump's tactics

A confidential briefing sent to Conservative members of Wokingham Borough Council sets out plans to disrupt the authority's meetings.

As reported by Wokingham Today, which has obtained a copy of the briefing, it 

lays out a number of tactics including interfering [with] speeches, accusations of bias and taking credit for the policies of other parties.

When contacted by the paper, the Tories doubled down on their accusation that the Liberal Democrat mayor of the borough is biased.

It's tempting to see this as a sign that Boris Johnson's personal moral shortcomings are infecting his party. 

But this is not the only such internal Tory document to come to light. And the one that emerged from Wellingborough Conservatives 18 months ago was inspired by Donald Trump, not his British wannabe.

Here is Rachel Wearmouth's report on it for the Huffington Post:

In a document circulated to activists, Wellingborough Conservatives urge campaigners to "say the first thing that comes into your head" as "you can live that down later". ...

In a section calling for grassroots campaigners of Boris Johnson’s party to "learn" from Trump, the document says the president successfully managed to "weaponise fake news".

"Trump has learnt that a 'lie can go round the whole world before the truth can get its boots on'," it says.

“If you make enough dubious claims, fast enough, honest speakers are overwhelmed. If someone tweets ten dubious claims per day and it takes you a week to disprove each one, then you are doomed.

“Trump uses this tactic to dominate the news and to crowd out legitimate politicians.”

No doubt more documents like this will emerge..

Thanks to Antony Hook for tweeting the report from Wokingham Today.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

The life and death of Sheffield Victoria

Opened in 1851, Sheffield Victoria was the city's first major railway station. It closed to passengers in 1970.

For some years after that - and I did this journey myself - trains from the remaining Sheffield station to Penistone would run through the derelict Victoria. (These days they take a different route via Barnsley.)

And for one glorious weekend in 1973 Victoria reopened as the remaining station was closed to allow the commissioning of the new Sheffield power signalling box.

Dominic Raab and the Tories' war on culture

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Dominic Raab's implication at prime minister's questions today that working-class people should not like opera is just part, not so much of the Conservatives' culture war, as their war on culture.

We are currently seeing a cull of arts courses in the post-1992 universities, which are the ones that students from poorer backgrounds are most likely to attend.

And this cull has received theoretical backing from David Goodhart, an Old Etonian whom I just missed seeing as one of the leading Trots on campus at York,* and my own MP Neil O'Brien, who went from a state education in Huddersfield to Oxford, but does not seem overkeen that others should follow his route.

Add to this the decline of subjects like music and drama in schools and there is a danger that a knowledge of the arts will once again become the preserve of the upper classes.

There was a good discussion of these issues in a Radio Four debate broadcast from a Leicester school in 2018. I am pleased to find you can still listen to it on the BBC website.

While we are talking about the arts, a word about Nadhim Zahawi and Philip Larkin.

After two years of Gavin Williamson, it's wonderful to have an education secretary who has his favourite poets and obviously cares about them deeply.

However, his reaction to Larkin and Wilfred Owen's omission from a GCSE poetry anthology - that it is "cultural vandalism" - turned it into one more salvo in the Tories' culture war.

Larkin and Owen have not been cancelled, it's just that there are many fine 20th-century poets and GCSE students cannot study them all every year.

I have a fondness for W.H.Auden and Edwin Muir. Is it cultural vandalism if they're not in this anthology?

Of course not.

* A few years before Goodhart, one of York's leading Trots was Peter Hitchens. These public school lefties are so predictable.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Brian Eley, the only British Chess Champion to appear on Crimewatch, is dead

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Brian Eley, a former British Chess Champion who skipped bail in 1991 while charged with sexual offences against underage boys, died in Amsterdam in April.

He was, as the leading English grandmaster John Nunn once observed, the only British Chess Champion to appear on Crimewatch.

Eley had acted as non-playing captain to a number of English junior teams, but was not asked to fulfil this role after 1980 because he had encouraged his players to turn up late for their games and generally behave rudely.

As some young players had complained about his sexual advances to the British Chess Federation the year before, the suspicion is that the behaviour of his team was used as an excuse for getting rid of him without having to deal with the more serious problem.

One mystery is why Eley was never arrested. In the chess world "everyone knew" that he had fled to Amsterdam and now and then sightings of him there were reported.

There is a growing thread about Eley on the English Chess Forum, with many posts suggesting the chess authorities knew he was doing more with boys than teach them the rudiments of rook and pawn endings.

And Fiona Pitt-Keithly, partner of grandmaster Jim Plaskett, who knows some of the young players who complained about Eley in 1979, wrote about the affair before his death, suggesting that no one was trying too hard to find him.

GUEST POST Can trade unions make a big comeback?

This could be the time for a resurgence of trade unionism, argues Stuart Whomsley.

The arrival of Arthur Scargill on the RMT picket lines made me reflect on the decline and possible resurgence of the union movement.

Margaret Thatcher wanted to destroy the miners and get revenge for the Miners' strike of 1974 and what it did to Ted Heath's government. Slightly ironic, as without the strike, she would have been unlikely to have taken over as leader of the Conservative Party. 

She also wanted to break the trade union movement. The unions were the powerhouse of the working people of Britain. Break the miners, and you break the workers. So she plotted and planned and set a trap for Scargill, and sadly he walked into it. Not so much King Arthur, more King Harold, charging down the hill.

An analogy for a union leader would be a guide taking their members through a dangerous jungle where there are tigers that want to kill them. Thatcher was such a tiger. Instead of getting his members through the jungle, Scargill went trophy hunting, trying to overthrow the government. In the process, he got all his party killed by the tiger.

The economic climate in the early 1980s meant there would be a reduction in coal mines. But the miners were still in a strong position, on top of the hill. The rest of the workers could have been brought behind them in solidarity with the right strategy. Emotionally Neil Kinnock wanted to support them with his dad being a miner. 

What should have happened was the miners used their strength to make sure that as some pits closed, the local communities were kept intact and enabled to transition into new forms of work.

Instead, the strike and its aftermath broke communities and damaged the union movement. Thatcher had won. The right-wing press blamed Scargill and deflected attention from Thatcher's ruthless plan. However, he did make mistakes. His focus was not solely on defending his members; he had political aspirations for what the strike would lead to.

Now could be the time for a resurgence of unionism. If the RMT led by Mick Lynch is successful,  working people may unite in a common cause to protect their terms and conditions against their erosion by the bosses and companies that seek to exploit their staff to increase profit.

Suppose the RMT shows the power and strength of collectivism and solidarity. In that case, other people will join unions as a source of collectivism that can defend their rights. It needs to be kept free from any ideological utopian dreams of how society overall should be structured and organised. Micky Lynch seems to get this.

Unionism began with the primary aim of workers getting together to stop their exploitation collectively. We need unions for that. The conditions now are not as challenging as when unions began in the nineteenth century, to state the obvious. Still, the last forty years have seen the erosion of workers' rights. The time to rebalance could have arrived.

You can follow Stuart Whomsley on Twitter.

North Northants Tories whipped to vote themselves a 10 per cent increase in allowances

Members of North Northants Council have voted for a 10 per cent increase in their basic allowance. Each of the authority's 78 councillors will now receive £14,000 per year, and some special allowances will increase by a greater percentage.

This has not gone down well with the staff of this Conservative-run authority. An anonymous employee told the Northamptonshire Telegraph:

"I haven't had what I would call a decent payrise in years. I'm not unique in this of course, many private sector people haven't too. That alone should make it clear that we are in the same boat. So to see our political leaders even having a debate about how much more money they should be getting at a full council meeting was, frankly, a kick in the stomach.

"Since we all joined up on first 1 April 2021 (trust me, many officers wish it was an April Fools joke too!), people have been jumping ship. They've had enough of the lack of support, lack of opportunities and the arrogance of, in particular, the executive, who are choosing vanity projects to get their faces in the press, over ensuring the council is supporting its communities and staff."

North Northamptonshire is one of two unitary authorities set up to replace the old county council, which effectively went bankrupt in 2018.

The same meeting voted to increase North Northamptonshire's number of councillors from 78 to 99.

Monday, June 27, 2022

The Joy of Six 1059

"Increasingly people in work cannot afford to provide the necessities of life for themselves and their families. Increasingly, they are having to resort to one of the 2200 food banks in the country to keep going, at least to keep their kids fed to the end of the month." Richard Kemp says we need to share the wealth of the nation more fairly if we are to keep society going,

Tanya Gold reported from Tiverton and Honiton on the eve of polling, saying the Conservatives deserved to lose: "This is not raging North Shropshire, where former Conservatives would denounce Johnson on street-corners, or Chesham and Amersham, where the atmosphere was a kind of gleeful transgression in sunlight. It feels sadder than that: splintered, tetchy, defeated, as if Johnson’s corruption is settling over everything like dust, leaving people bewildered and exhausted."

The government's levelling up agenda is in danger of failing rural areas, argues Graham Biggs.

Sam Ghibaldan remembers Bob Maclennan.

"I hope I do Edward Thomas no disservice in observing that it is as much because of circumstance as the poem's beauty in itself that this poem is so fondly and firmly remembered.  Within three months of that afternoon Britain was at war; three years later Thomas was dead, killed by a shell at Arras.  In March 1963 they came for the station as well.": Dominic N. goes to Adlestrop.

Gordon Askew goes back to Joan Aiken's Midnight is a Place: "For all its lack of originality this is a gripping story, grippingly told. As a historical piece it has not dated in the way of some writing from this era, and remains wonderfully accessible for young readers. I think they will get far more out of this than trying to read Dickens himself whilst still too young."

Harborough District Council bars members from seeing report on controversial property deal

There's a strange affair going on here in Market Harborough. 

As the Leicester Mercury explains:

A council which spent three times as much as it should on a bungalow has been called 'undemocratic' for not allowing councillors to read a report explaining why. 

Harborough District Council came under fire last year over a decision to buy a bungalow, in Granville Street, Market Harborough, for £920,000 when property website Zoopla had it valued at an estimated £303,000.

The council said at the time the purchase was to enable an affordable housing development in the area at nearby Naseby Square. An internal audit into the Naseby Square scheme has now been completed but the council is refusing to share the findings with the majority of its elected representatives.

There's more detail in the report, but the reason for this degree of secrecy remains elusive.

This one will run and run, I think.

Former Tory MP for Harborough calls on middle-ranking minsters to rebel against Boris Johnson

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Lord Garnier, who as Edward Garnier was Conservative MP for Harborough from 1992 to 2017, has a remarkable letter in The Times today.

It is tucked behind the newspaper's paywall, but someone has kindly tweeted the whole thing:

William Hague has understandably called for cabinet ministers to resign in the aftermath of the two by-election defeats. ... Of course they will not do that as most of them cannot realistically expect to be in then next prime minister's cabinet. 
It therefore needs ministers of state and parliamentary under-secretaries to do what the cabinet cannot or will not do in order to bring about change at the top. They and several coming along behind them are the future of the Conservative Party in government and parliament. The future needs to be grasped.

Lord Garnier QC
Solicitor General for England and Wales, 2010-12; House of Lords

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Rumer: We Will

Go back to the early 1970s and there were two British, piano-playing singer-songwriters beginning to find fame in America: Elton John and Gilbert O'Sullivan. 

I think it's fair to say that in those days they were seen as being equally talented, though Elton John had zero British number ones against Gilbert O'Sullivan's two.

The suddenly it was decided that O'Sullivan was irredeemably naff, and the two have never been spoken off in the same breath since.

Yet as he told a Guardian interviewer a couple of weeks ago, Gilbert O'Sullivan has never stopped writing songs.

And now and then there are signs that people are rediscovering his early songs. Many are vignettes of working-class life that deserve to be better known.

We Will is one of them. It got to number 16 in 1971, giving O'Sullivan his second top 20 hit.

Rumer has had problems coping with fame since I chose her for my Sunday music video back in 2011. And seeing my comment there, I smile to see she has since recorded an album of Bacharach and David songs.

But like Gilbert O'Sullivan she has kept going.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Freda Jackson and Errol Flynn in Northampton

Freda Jackson, my new favourite actress, was the daughter of a Nottingham railwayman but learnt her craft in repertory theatre in Northampton.

Another young actor in the company at the time was Errol Flynn and it is is rumoured that he and Jackson had a fling.

As NottinghamshireLive once put it:
You can understand why notorious womaniser Errol Flynn might have been attracted to Nottingham-born actress Freda Jackson.

Flynn, the dashing actor with matinee idol looks, and Jackson, a dark-haired beauty, shared many a scene together as they learned their craft with the Northampton Repertory Theatre in the years before the Second World War.
But, quoted in the same article, Jackson (looking back across 50 years) was not complimentary about Flynn's acting:
"He was not an intellectual man but he was very shrewd. ... He knew that his supreme good looks were not enough to get him where he wanted to go, so he came to Northampton to learn his job.

"He did learn a lot from us, including how to walk across the stage without looking like something out of a zoo. When he left, he did so in a cloud of unpleasantness after hitting the stage manager, who was a woman,"
Jackson next saw him at a charitable event in the 1950s and recalled:
"I almost didn't recognise him. He had lost his good looks by then, and it was hardly surprising when you consider the life he had led."
Knowing the stories about them, the actor Michael Keating asked Freda Jackson about Flynn when they were filming an episode of Blake's 7. She would say no more than:
"Oh, he was a naughty boy. He was a very naughty boy."

An off spin masterclass from Graeme Swann

With the arguable exception of Derek Underwood, the greatest English spin bowler of my lifetime is Graeme Swann.

He was so good that England were happy to go into tests with only three seamers if he was in the side.

Not only that, he was made useful - and somehow infuriating to the opposition - runs at 8 or 9 and was a good slip fielder.

Here he discusses his career and the art of bowling off spin with Michael Atherton.

This is just the sort of analysis you want from a commentator but, with the notable exception this summer of Jeremy Coney, you are unlikely to get it from Test Match Special these days.

Friday, June 24, 2022

A false story about the death of Dennis O'Neill in 1945

There's a false story about the death of the foster child Dennis O'Neill, at the age of 12, at a farm under The Stiperstones in Shropshire in 1945.

It's been repeated in several articles on the case and I have had it added as a footnote to something I wrote about it too.

As far as I can tell the story originates from a piece by David Batty published in the Guardian in 2003.

Batty wrote:

The case shook a war weary Britain and there was a national outcry when [Reginald] Gough was jailed for six years for manslaughter. An appeal court ruling changed the verdict to murder and his sentence was extended to 10 years.

This is wrong for three reasons.

The first is that you can't try and convict a person for one crime and then, at a later date, decide you'd rather convict them of another, more serious, crime. You couldn't do it in 1945 and you can't do it now.

If you doubt this, you will find that there's not mention of a later murder conviction in the newspapers of the period. I've looked.

The second reason is that, though there was an outcry over Dennis O'Neill's death, it was not an outcry against Gough but against the authorities. This is no different from today, when we seem angrier with the social workers who fail to protect children than we are with the people who abuse them.

When the report of Sir Walter Monkton's public inquiry into the case was published, the Daily Mirror (29 May 1945) printed the photographs of all 19 members of Newport Borough Council's education committee. This was the committee had sent the the boy to live far from home while doing next to nothing to ensure he was being properly treated.

And the third reason I'm sure that this story is false is that we know Reginald Gough was at liberty by 1951.

On 20 June 1951 the Daily Herald published this short report:

Offence against girl - fined

For an offence against a girl of l5, Reginald Gough, 37-year-old farm labourer, was fined £25 at Shropshire Assizes yesterday. The Judge said there were mitigating circumstances and it was not case for imprisonment. 

A police witness said that in 1945 Gough. then a farmer. was jailed for six years for the manslaughter of 13-year-old Dennis O'Neill.

That is more conclusive proof than I expected to find.

The illustration above is the cover of the Canadian edition of Terry O'Neill's book, which was published in the UK as Someone to Love Us in 2010.

Terry was fostered by Reginald Gough and his wife alongside Dennis. His book is a harrowing account of their treatment and it is shocking that the "discipline" Terry later received in children's homes echoed the abuse he and his brother had suffered.

There is also an award-winning BBC Wales radio documentary The Mousetrap and Me, which tells Terry's story.

A readers of this blog will know, Agatha Christie's record-breaking play The Mousetrap was inspired by Dennis O'Neill's case, as was the play and film No Room at the Inn.

In defence of the Lib Dems' door

Here are Ed Davey and Richard Foord, the newly elected Liberal Democrat MP for Tiverton and Honiton, showing Boris Johnson the door.

I've seen a lot of criticism of this stunt on Twitter today: it is "cringe"; would you believe someone thought this was a good idea? That sort of thing.

But it has worked. The video above come from Sky News and there's a similar one on the BBC News site.

For a while this afternoon a photo of our door led the Guardian's online coverage of yesterday's by-elections.

But then what was their alternative? A couple of people few would recognise looking happy? A couple more such people looking unhappy?

There's only so many pictures of people holding orange diamonds that anyone can stand.

We have learnt that the media need engaging images and that if you help them get those images then you have more chance of getting coverage, even favourable coverage.

One thing that struck me during the EU referendum was how much better the Leave campaign was at staging events and stunts that appealed to the media. All we had to offer was George Osborne threatening to put your taxes up.

And when the Remain campaign finally woke up - sadly this was just after the referendum had taken place - we were still poor at providing the media with good images and footage.

What we gave them was lots and lots of people marching. And when they failed to screen much footage of that marching, we yelled about their bias rather than ask ourselves what we could do that might appeal to them more.

Now we do provide the media with good images. So much so that the media have come to look for them.

What stunt the Lib Dems will put on becomes a live question to them in the last days of the campaign if it looks like we're going to win.

And if there is a slight cheesiness to what we offer, that is part of its appeal. These post-victory stunts have become the Lib Dems' Eurovision.

Lib Dems gain Tiverton and Honiton with huge swing as Labour wins Wakefield

From the Guardian website this morning:

The Conservatives have lost two key byelections on the same night, with Labour taking Wakefield and the Liberal Democrats overturning a 24,000-plus majority to snatch Tiverton and Honiton, piling enormous political pressure on to Boris Johnson.

The Tiverton and Honiton result, where the Lib Dem candidate, Richard Foord, defeated the Tories’ Helen Hurford by 6,144 votes to take a constituency that has been Conservative in its various forms for well over a century, will particularly spook Tory MPs.

It is believed to be the biggest numerical majority ever overturned in a byelection, although there have been higher percentage swings in other seats.

And Britain Elects has the numbers:

Hilaire Belloc's influence on A Canterbury Tale

This public lecture by Mr Colpeper (played by Eric Portman) from A Canterbury Tale is probably my favourite moment in probably my favourite film - a film I've learnt not to take lightly.

A reader has now alerted me to an obvious source for it: Hilaire Belloc's The Old Road. Published in 1904, it describes the author's journey along what he claims to be an ancient trackway from Winchester to Canterbury.

Describing what he hoped to gain from this journey, Belloc writes:

For my part I desired to step exactly in the footprints of such ancestors. I believed that, as I followed their hesitations at the river crossings, as I climbed where they had climbed to a shrine whence they also had seen a wide plain, as I suffered the fatigue they suffered, and laboriously chose, as they had chosen, the proper soils for going, something of their much keener life would wake again in the blood I drew from them, and that in a sort I should forget the vileness of my own time, and renew for some few days the better freedom of that vigorous morning when men were already erect, articulate, and worshipping God, but not yet broken by complexity and the long accumulation of evil.

You can certainly here echoes of this passage in Colpeper's lecture, but as the person who put my reader on to this connection said:

I think the three Ps (Powell, Pressburger in particular as the screenwriter, and Portman) did a better job of it, not least by toning down the religious aspect Belloc the Catholic was keen to stress.

I agree. Indeed, there is something pre-Christian in Colpeper's complex character. He is in part an aristocratic Puck.

Hilaire Belloc sat for Salford South as a Liberal between 1906 and the second general election of 1910. He was a nasty antisemite, but his book The Servile State remains a challenging read and is well worth seeking out.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

The Joy of Six 1058

"Johnson proposes to close a 2,000-year-old divide with a few more bus routes, some 'free ports,' the relocation of parts of government departments out of London, and a 'levelling up fund' of £4.8 billion, equivalent to 0.2 percent of Britain’s annual GDP." Boris Johnson claims to have taken back control but, says Tom McTague, has hardly tried to exercise it.

Carolyne Willow argues that the Bill of Rights just introduced into Parliament will make it even harder for breaches of children’s human rights to be challenged: "I am constantly taken aback by the intransigence of professionals, forcing children to pursue drawn-out complaints to secure the basic markers of a decent childhood or a sincere apology and recompense when they have been failed."

"Many home educators are worried that, backed with new powers and under pressure to boost attendance, local authorities will take a risk-averse approach, demanding unreasonable information from parents and forcing children into school." Eloise Rickman on the new Schools Bill and its attack on home education.

Christian Wolmar praises the campaign that will see railway services between Ashington and Newcastle upon Tyne restored.

Is morality innate? A new study, reports Jeffrey Kluger, suggests that babies as young as eight months old can show a desire to punish wrongdoers.

George Sobell introduces us to the South Asian Cricket Academy, which gives unsigned players the chance to display their talents to county sides: "The entire cost of the programme is around £50,000 a year. The ECB have declined to contribute."

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Fears for Glastonbury revellers as ‘huge puma’ seen lurking in trees near festival

Our Headline of the Day Award goes to the Daily Star.

I am reminded of the Rutstock Festival of 1969 and its role in the demise of the Bonkers Hall Safari Park.

The Market Square in Bishop's Castle has a new guardian

I never did learn her name, but I think this is my favourite of all the cats I have met in Shropshire. 

As I wrote the last time I met her:

There is a little square at the top of the main street in Bishop's Castle. It's where the town's Market Hall stood until it was demolished in 1951. The Powis coat of arms that used to be on the building can still be found there.

If you visit the square you may well find a grey and white cat keeping an eye on things.

I met her this summer and you can see her photograph above. But then her photograph has appeared here twice before. You will see that she has a habit of looking into the observer's soul.

This time I learnt a bit more about her. She is 14, has had two litters of kittens and lives in one of the houses bordering the square.

I expect she would like to retire, but would another cat carry out these duties so conscientiously?

That was back in 2017, so I'm afraid she will by now have gone to the happy hunting ground, where mice are slow and shrews taste pleasant.

So let's remember her as she was in her prime with the photograph above. She was indeed able to look into your soul but, unlike most cats, did not judge what she found there.

The reason for this post is that earlier today I was looking at some lovely photographs by Duncan Smart, who has just finished walking the Shropshire Way.

One of them was of the Market Square, Bishop's Castle, and showed that a small black cat has taken on her role.

I look forward to meeting it, if not this summer then certainly next.

The Tories have hidden their Tiverton and Honiton by-election candidate from the media and voters

At 10.15am she arrives at HQ with her sidekick, local Tory chairman Gillian Evans.

As she enters the reception area, I follow her in. Immediately after identifying myself Ms Evans whisks her charge away to the back of the office.

Two burly volunteers then block my path to her and tell me to leave, suggesting I get in touch with the press office to request an interview, something I have done on countless occasions over the past week.

I ask to put just a couple of questions to Ms Hurford.

"This is private property, please leave," says one of the Tory enforcers.

No, David Parsley from the i isn't getting much joy from his attempts to talk to the Conservative candidate in tomorrow's Tiverton and Honiton by-election candidate.

He tried staking out the Tory HQ because she ducks all attempts to talk to her after public debates and has not invited journalists to join her on a canvassing session.

According to Parsley, Helen Hurford isn't that keen on talking to voters either:

Over the past three weeks I have spoken to hundreds of local residents in dozens of towns and villages across this traditionally true-blue seat. Not one of them has seen the Conservative candidate on their street, let alone knock on their door.

Many have seen the other candidates, especially Ms Hurford’s main rival, the Liberal Democrats’ Richard Foord.

I wish Richard all the best for tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

West 11: Another early Michael Winner film

Last time I praised an early Michael Winner film the post was quoted in a book. So here goes again with one he made when he was only 28..

If it had no other virtues, the street scenes of Notting Hill would make West 11 interesting. When the film was made in 1963, this was an area of poverty and racketeering landlords.

And beneath the opening titles we see Alfred Lynch walking past 25 Powis Square, where Performance was to be filmed a few years later..

For me the glory of West 11 is its cast, which might have been chosen with me in mind. Not the leads, Alfred Lynch and Kathleen Breck, who are a little underpowered, but the supporting players. Eric Portman. Freda Jackson. Even David Hemmings in a bit part.

There are other faces to look for: Diana Dors in her best era, Kathleen Harrison, Patrick Wymark. The Mosleyite agitator at the street meeting is the unlikely figure of Brian Wilde.

The cast could have been even more impressive. According to Flashbak, the film's producer Danny Angel turned down the idea of casting Julie Christie, Sean Connery and Oliver Reed because they were "nothing more than B-picture artists".

West 11 is available cheaply on DVD, and Talking Pictures TV has shown it too. There's plenty in it to enjoy, notably Eric Portman's turn as a seedy confidence trickster who leads Alfred Lynch astray,

Monday, June 20, 2022

Angela Carter discusses Peter Greenaway's The Draughtman's Contract in Channel 4's first week

This is television gold from the first week of Channel 4 in November 1982: the novelist Angela Carter discusses Peter Greenaway's The Draughtsman's Contract.

Starting with this film, Greenaway enjoyed a vogue in the 1980s. Some thought him pretentious, but his concern for images in their own right gave his work a distinctive, Continental flavour.

Yet you could also say his films were very English. Drowning by Numbers, for instance, brings out something sinister that lies just below the surface of genteel Southwold. In fact, I had been on holiday in the town for a couple of days before I worked out why it felt so familiar.

The Draughtsman's Contract is a mystery film, though whether you can really solve that mystery from a study of the drawings made by the hero I don't know. Greenaway's original cut of it ran for three hours - and I would gladly watch it - so any loose ends can be attributed to the way this had to be whittled down.

When he went out of fashion it was partly because of a strain of cruelty that people saw in his films - you can see it here in the scenes from The Draughtsman's Contract.

That strain worries me more today than it did in the 1980s - there seems something crass and adolescent about it. But then, perhaps because I had seen so few films as a teenager, I had my own cinematic adolescence to catch up on.

The other thing that made Greenaway's films stand out was the music of Michael Nyman. His near-frantic reworkings of Baroque masters fit particularly well in The Draughtsman's Contract. These include Chasing Sheep is Best Left to Shepherds, which was one of the pieces of music my mother enjoyed in the last weeks of her life.

Angela Carter was a novelist, known for her feminist and magical realist approach. When she died in 1992, aged only 51, her reputation with both critics and the reading public stood extremely high.

It's my impression that she suffered little of the collapse of interest in their work that almost all writers suffer in the years after their death, but I've not read enough of her to tell you much more than that.

Besides, there is something else about her that cannot be ignored: that accent. She sounds extraordinarily posh and like someone from three decades before. It's how you imagine Princess Margaret must have sounded. At the same time, the odd word gives a hint that the accent is not entirely secure.

Carter's biographer Edmund Gordon was asked about the subject in an interview by Caleb Sivyer for Angela Carter Online:

CS: I remember being quite surprised by the particular sound of Carter’s voice the first time I encountered it. Although her voice changes quite a lot, I was surprised at those moments when she appears to adopt, perhaps self-consciously, an educated-sounding voice.

EG: Absolutely. I think it’s partly a generational thing. As Martin Amis says somewhere in his memoir Experience, "it used to be cool to be posh". I think there is partly that. 

But you know, she was not entirely un-posh. She had working-class roots but she was one generation removed from them. Her father was a Fleet Street journalist, she was very middle-class and she went to a private school. But what is extraordinary about her voice is that it suddenly shifts between registers, and indeed between accents. 

Last night [at the British Library celebration of Carter] when they showed two clips of her, she sounds sort of Northern sometimes and south London sometimes and very genteel and posh sometimes. It is an odd voice. 

But then I also think that in her work, there’s so much about performance and she obviously was a highly self-conscious person, and it is the voice of someone who’s quite self-conscious, somebody who is very aware of how they sound and how they’re coming across.

Perhaps unfairly to both women, I am reminded of what someone said about Allegra Mostyn-Owen, who had the misfortune to become the first Mrs Boris Johnson, at Oxford:

"She speaks to you as though she were launching a ship."

Rail Strikes: Latest Peace Moves

John Bodkin Adams: The Harold Shipman of the 1950s

With the Conservative candidate in the Wakefield by-election having drawn an analogy between the party's previous MP for the seat and Dr Harold Shipman, my mind has returned to the bad doctor's equivalent from the 1950s, Dr John Bodkin Adams.

Though he was acquitted of murder at the Old Bailey, the number of Eastbourne widows who changed their wills in Bodkin Adams' favour, only to expire after his next visit, leaves little doubt about what was really going on.

In fact the video above suggests the evidence from the police investigation of him reveals that he may be Britain's worst ever serial killer.

Bodkin Adams has appeared on this blog three times.

First, I revealed that the chaplain of All Saints Hospital, Eastbourne, at the time of Bodkin Adams' arrest was the Revd Hubert Brasier, better known today as the father of Theresa May.

Talking of the Conservative Party, Bodkin Adams was the doctor of Harold Macmillan's brother-in-law the Duke of Devonshire and was attending him as he died. 

This video, as many modern accounts do, ties that in with the fact that one of Macmillan's children was fathered by the Tory peer Bob Boothby, and tries to tie that into the story as a reason for the Establishment engineering an acquittal.

I've seen this theory elsewhere, but never much evidence to suggest it's true.

Besides, Labour has its connections with this story too. The doctor called as his main expert witness onr John B. Harman. He was the president of the Medical Defence Union and the father of Harriet Harman.

Revelaing that face was my second mention of Bodkin Adams here. The third was to reveal that the man who put the police on to him was the variety star Leslie Henson, because he had suspicions about the death of an old friend.

Leslie Henson was the father of the actor Nicky Henson and the grandfather of Countryfile's Adam Henson.

Whether any of them have worked with Timothy West, I don't know, but you can find him playing Bodkin Adams in a dramatised version of the affair on YouTube. And there's an enjoyable review by Craig Brown of a book on the case.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Kate Bush: The Saxophone Song

Kate Bush is back at the top of the UK singles chart 44 years after Wuthering Heights. 

This is a record gap and makes me feel rather old, because I bought her first album (The Kick Inside), which included that song, when it came out.

But we won't worry about that. So here's another track from The Kick Inside.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Watch All Night and Barriers: Unscrambling my memories

Having more or less vindicated my memory of having once heard a purported real "stone tape" on the radio, let me confess to a less accurate recollection.

Take a look at these tweets.

October 7, 2021

Replies to them convinced me that I had run together two different serials screened by ITV on Sunday afternoons in that era.

The girl who met her father and was then told she hadn't (a plot that owes something to the early Dirk Bogarde film So Long at the Fair) came from Watch All Night.

But the boy with the flute had wandered in from another series altogether: Barriers.

You can see its opening titles above. I have watched the first episode and, with it scenes of the East/West border and public school life, it feels like John le Carré for teenagers. 

So it's appropriate that its star, Benedict Taylor, went on to play the young Magnus Pym in the BBC adaptation of A Perfect Spy.

There were two series of Barriers. Only the first is on YouTube and I think it was the second that I watched, which makes this last point hard to prove.

But could that haunting theme be the reason I am convinced that Fauré's Sicilienne was once used to introduce a period detective series?

A big of googling shows I am not alone in this belief, but if Taylor turns out to have played Sicilienne at some point in the second series of Barriers, I suspect that will clarify another of my unconfirmed memories.

Tories can't find a candidate for Rutland County Council by-election

Good news this morning: the Liberal Democrats have gained another seat on Rutland Council Council.

You've not missed a rare Friday local by-election: it's that when nominations closed for the vacancy in Oakham South it was found that only one valid nomination had been submitted.

So congratulations to the ward's new Lib Dem councillor Raymond Payne.

As far as I know, this isn't because the Conservatives messed up their nomination paper,. It's because they couldn't find anyone prepared to stand for them.

When Stephen Lambert gained the Uppingham ward from the Tories last month I blogged:
At Rutland's 2019 all-out council elections, the Conservatives won 16 of the 27 seats. Today, thanks to by-election defeats and defections, they are down to 6.
I think that is still the position, because the Oakham councillor who stood down and caused the by-election had already left the Tory group.

But it equally possible that, by the time you read this, that group will have been reduced to five. Or four and an inexpressible fraction.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Howard Marks at the haunted Prince of Wales Inn

The haunted wall of the Prince of Wales Inn at Kenfig makes another appearance, thanks to a tip from a reader.

In 2007 Wales on Sunday interviewed the late Howard Marks, who had somehow contrived to become a celebrity drug smuggler, at this very pub:

"This pub’s got a talking wall, do you want to come and see?”


"It’s haunted. Shall we see if the landlord will show us?"

Not exactly a seamless way to change the subject but, hell, let’s hear what the wall has to say.

Howard shuffles towards the bar and landlord Gareth Maund takes us up the stone stairs to a room once used as a courthouse.

Howard is clearly fascinated as Gareth recounts chapter and verse about the bar.

And doubtless he’s happy to be out of his interrogator’s hands.

It's amazing how many supposedly haunted pubs are claimed to have been courthouses.

When he died in 2016 his Guardian obituary began:

Howard Marks, who has died aged 70 of cancer, was Britain’s best-known and most charming drug smuggler, and also a successful author and raconteur. 
He translated a lifetime of international cannabis dealing and a long stretch in an American jail into a bestselling book, Mr Nice (1996), and a career as a stand-up performer.

And went on to record that:

After seven years, he was freed, receiving maximum parole, and returned initially to Mallorca and his family. He set about writing Mr Nice, a frank autobiography which has sold more than 1m copies. 
He also started doing one-man shows, telling anecdotes, joint in hand, to sell-out theatre audiences, many of whom had not been born when he was. arrested.

"Mr Nice" was one of the many aliases he used in the course of his smuggling businesses and also, many agreed, a fair description of his character,

Marks was born at Kenfig Hill, a mining village a couple of miles inland from Kenfig, which overlooks the Bristol Channel.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Wakefield by-election candidates compete to deploy the most unsettling argument

There seems to be a competition among the 15 candidates in Wakefield to put forward the most unsettling argument as to why you should vote for them.

First there was Paul Bickerdake of the Christian People's Alliance, whose leaflet began:
"I have been a foster carer for over 14 years and have never sexually assaulted anyone. I am happily married to Janet."
Then, says YorkshireLive:
In response to questions about the leaflet, Mr Bickerdale said: "I do look at children but I look at children in a proper way, not the way that the previous MP was looking at children."
It's a big ask, but today, the Conservative candidate Nadeem Ahmed may have topped that today.

As the story is behind the Telegraph paywall, it's over to indy100:
The Telegraph's Whitehall correspondent Tony Diver was in Wakefield ahead of the by-election next week that has been called after the former Tory MP Imran Ahmad Khan was convicted for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy. 
Diver spoke to Tory candidate in the Wakefield by-election, Nadeem Ahmed, who claimed Khan was "one bad apple" and argued "we still trust GPs” after notorious serial killer Harold Shipman killed 250 people. 
Tory hopeful Ahmed said: "The people of Wakefield know that he [Khan] was one bad apple. As you know, Harold Shipman committed suicide in Wakefield prison. 
"He was a GP – one of the most, you know, a trusted professional like teachers and others… Have we stopped trusting GPs? No."
And here is a tweet from Diver to prove it:

Write a guest post for Liberal England

I welcome guest posts on Liberal England and am happy to publish ones on subjects far beyond the Liberal Democrats and British politics.

If you'd like to write for this blog, please send me an email so we can discuss your idea or DM me on Twitter.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

The Joy of Six 1057

David Hencke argues that the Supreme Court has taken to backing the government against the people: "The change appears to have taken place after Lord Robert Reed became President in 2020 replacing Baroness Brenda Hale of Richmond. It also follows a change in the composition of the court which is now almost exclusively male with just one token female judge out of 10."

"The question that arises from the current furore is not one about the Church of England’s role and purpose within the life of the nation, but rather one about the role of the Conservative and Unionist party. If that august body no longer believes in the concept of a national conversation where the ancient institutions of Church - and, indeed, Crown - get a voice; then what, pray, is its purpose?" Fergus Butler-Gallie asks what the Conservative Party is for if it's no longer Conservative.

Colleen Morgan on what to do if you are the subject of a Daily Mail outrage-bait article.

When things feel unreal, is that a delusion or an insight? John Horgan looks at the psychiatric syndrome called derealisation.

"Inside, the house is preserved just as it was in Britten’s day, not only furniture and paintings but manuscripts, correspondence and bills and postcards from friends. Somehow it manages to avoid feeling like a museum and you feel instead you’ve stepped into a private house still occupied by the owner." Kay Gale visits Aldeburgh and The Red House museum.

Paul Walter blogs from St Kilda, "the islands at the end of the world".

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Lib Dems accuse Tories of wanting rail strike to keep activists away from by-election

The Liberal Democrats transport spokesperson Sarah Olney has written to transport secretary Grant Shapps accusing the government of sitting on its hands over the proposed rail strikes. 

This, the letter says, is because the government hopes the strikes will keep Lib Dem activists away from the Tiverton and Honiton by-election.

The Independent report quotes some of letter:
"It is becoming clearer by the day why you have chosen to let these strikes go ahead," Ms Olney said in a letter to the transport secretary. 
"This is part of a cynical and desperate political game by the Conservative party to help Boris Johnson win next week’s crucial by-elections, despite the devastating blow no rail services will have on tourism in areas such as the South West." 
She added that the strike will "result in volunteers not being able to attend the by-election in Devon", branding it "a new low for the Conservative party".
The strikes have been called by the rail unions for 21, 23 and 25 June - 23 June is polling day in the by-election.

I suppose the Tories can say in their defence that they are sitting on their hands over every problem Britain faces, but it makes you think.

Milton Keynes, Peter Pan, Michael Collins, The Seapoint Tragedy and James Joyce

Last night The year is 1971 posted these TV listing from Tuesday 15 June of that year, pointing out that:

Last week saw the last of the first series of And Mother Makes Three, this Tuesday it is replaced with the start of the fourth series of Father Dear Father.

But for some reason my attention was caught by the late-night programme on Thames:

11.30 Living Architects: Lord Llewelyn-Davies

Llewelyn-Davies? Could he be related to the Llewelyn-Davies boys who were adopted by the dramatist J.M. Barrie. This was relationship depicted in the film Finding Neverland, where Barrie was played by Johnny Depp, and the BBC drama serial J.M. Barrie and the Lost Boys, where he was superlatively played by Ian Holm. (The whole series is on YouTube and you can buy the DVD for a few pounds.)

It turns out that Richard Llewelyn-Davies the architect was their cousin. His father and the boys' father were brothers.

That Wikipedia entry also reveals that the architectural practice founded by Lord Llewelyn-Davies was responsible for the master planning of Milton Keynes. As this involved the new city being built around the motor car, it was very much of its period.

But Richard Llewelyn-Davies' mother is more interesting than his father.

Moya Llewelyn-Davies was born Moya O'Connor, the daughter of the Irish nationalist MP James O'Connor. She was herself politically active, raising funds for Sir Roger Casement's legal defence and then campaigning for the commutation of his death sentence.

After the Easter Rising she provided a safe house for Michael Collins. It seems they became lovers, but the rumour that Collins was Richard's father was untrue.

And, as a little girl, Moya survived a dreadful calamity that destroyed her family. Choosing the Green tells the story:

John O’Connor  was a well-known journalist and Nationalist politician. He was the M.P. of West Wicklow and a family man who had a loving wife and five young children. This seemingly adoring family was torn apart when almost all of them were fatally poisoned. Only John O’Connor and one of his daughters survived.

The family story says that his children were sent to collect mussels on the seaside, but they decided to choose them from a pool closer to home instead. That pool was contaminated and when the family consumed the mussels, they were all killed. Moya, one of the daughters, did not join them for food due to a random (and lucky for her) family disagreement but O’Connor’s wife, his four other children, and one of their servants died shortly after the meal. The family is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery and their grave is massive and beautiful.

That brings us to another author of the period. The Facebook page for the cemetery says:

The Seapoint Tragedy, as it became known, shocked the people of Dublin and was spoken about for years. James Joyce, whose dad Stanislaus was at the funeral, immortalized it in his Ulysses when Bloom says: "Poor man O'Connor’s wife and five children poisoned by mussels here. The sewage."

It's a long way from Milton Keynes to Ulysses, but somewhere in here must be out Trivial Fact of the Day.

And to return to Father Dear Father, my readers may recall that its star, Patrick Cargill, was the uncle of the Surrey and England cricketer Robin Jackman.

Frank Lampard: "The most accomplished Latinist to play for England since C.B. Fry"

I'm an admirer of Frank Lampard, as both a Chelsea player and a Chelsea manager, so I liked this observation by Dan Jackson in a piece on the backgrounds of England's Euro 2020 squad:

Although the class profile of football supporters has changed a lot since the 1960s, the team itself seems as resolutely working-class as it ever was - there was no space in the squad for the genuinely posh Patrick Bamford of Leeds United (of the JCB digger dynasty), a public school footballer in the mould of Frank Lampard - whose A* in Latin GCSE probably made him the most accomplished Latinist to play for England since C.B. Fry.

Monday, June 13, 2022

Exploring Lincoln’s Inn Fields and Fleet Street with John Rogers

Time for another London walk with John Rogers. The YouTube blurb for this one runs:

This central London walk starts by entering Lincoln's Inn Fields via Great Turnstile Street. We then walk admire some of the buildings around Lincoln's Inn Fields including Sir John Soane's Museum, the Royal College of Surgeons, and the London School of Economics. We briefly go into Portsmouth Street before walking through the garden square to Lincoln's Inn. 

The route then goes along Carey Street, past the Seven Stars pub, Bell Yard and Star Yard to Chancery Lane where we admire The Maughan Library at King's College and the London Silver Vaults. 

Next we pick up the tour of Fleet Street at the Daily Telegraph Building, the Daily Express Building, and Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese before heading along Shoe Lane. Our walking tour ends at Dr John's House in Gough Square.

Great Turnstile was the address of the New Statesman when I was a teenage reader in the 1970s, and for a period in the following decade we put Liberator together on a Saturday in an office in Lincoln's Inn.

And John Rogers is right: you often saw filming taking place there. I'm sure I spotted the Liberator editorial collective in the background of a BBC Dickens adaptation one Sunday afternoon.

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

Sunday, June 12, 2022

A real stone tape? The Prince of Wales Inn, Kenfig

I have a memory of hearing an item on the radio about recordings made from the walls of a pub that revealed ghostly music. I date the memory to the 1970s and a BBC Radio news magazine programme, most likely the Today programme on Radio Four.

The recording featured music from something like a harmonium and was made, I thought, in the cellar of a pub in Sheffield.

Having tweeted about that memory this evening, I am pretty sure I did not imagine it.

Two people - Andy Lewis and Duncan Hill - immediately put me on to a doctoral dissertation by Melvyn J. Willin: Paramusicology: An Investigation of Music and Paranormal Phenomena.

Turn to section 5.4.6. and you will find this:

The final example of music allegedly being heard paranormally in a public house concerns the Prince of Wales, Kenfig in Mid-Glamorgan. In 1982 an electrical engineer, John Marke, and an industrial chemist, Allan Jenkins, undertook an experiment to investigate: ''the landlord's claim to have heard ghostly voices and organ music in the pub." (Bord, 1992, p. 191). 

They connected electrodes to a stone wall in the public house, hoping to obtain a recording of anomalous music and having fed twenty thousand volts through it, they placed tape recorders in the locked room for four hours overnight. They claimed that various sounds were recorded including organ music. 

This apparently amazing discovery was not brought to public attention until the organ music was played on the television programme Out of this World and the experiment was repeated with the involvement of various BBC sound experts. 

The alleged organ sounds bore very little resemblance indeed to any organ of my knowledge, but rather sounded like some form of electronic distortion. The BBC Workshop engineer, John Hunt, was suspicious of the various sounds he heard and referred to the organ music as sounding like feedback. 

Other factors for consideration were mentioned. There was an organ in an adjacent room to the public house and that room was used as a club room for a group who met regularly and played practical jokes on each other. Another public house in the neighbourhood also started claiming that spoken voices could be heard, but it was pointed out by the BBC engineer that these were almost certainly radio broadcasts that had been tampered with. 

The two original researchers were joined by another BBC engineer to conduct an experiment, but all they recorded were a few 'bangings' - as if someone was banging on the wall, floor or ceiling. There were no trained psychic researchers present to ensure tight controls. 

This must be the case I can remember, though it comes from Kenfig near Bridgend rather than Sheffield.

And I still think I heard it on Today, though it must have been in 1982 rather than the 1970s. As Duncan Hill said, this is just the sort of item that Today would run in those days but is much less likely to run today.

I headed this post "A real stone tape?" because the idea that buildings could make recordings was popularised by Nigel Kneale's television play The Stone Tape, broadcast on Christmas Day 1972.

Sadly, the theory does not survive scrutiny, but I am pleased to see the Prince of Wales Inn, Kenfig, is still going strong.

Anti-Nowhere League: We Are The League

The Anti-Nowhere League come from Tunbridge Wells and they are disgusting.

This is the title track from their first album. As it dates from 1982, you can see they were late to the punk party. Maybe that's why it has a heavier sound than the one you associate with the punk bands of five years earlier. I believe the young people call it hardcore punk.

The League disbanded in 1987, but reformed in 1992 and are still around today.

Friday, June 10, 2022

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Locks, bars and bolts

With Lord Bonkers back keeping an eye on his estate, things really have returned to normal.

And you know what this entry is? Topical satire, that's what.

Locks, bars and bolts

A working day on the Bonkers Hall Estate: the hedgerows are creamy with May blossom, the horse chestnuts are alight with candles and all is right with the world. 

When I call at one of my farms, the tenant is busy putting heavy-duty locks, bars and bolts on his tractor shed. He explains that of late he has been pestered by Conservative MPs, who hang about the place at night and try to force entry. I lend a hand and am confident that no one will interfere with his Massey Fergusons again.

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

Earlier this week

Kibworth Books in its new home

I visited Kibworth Books in its new premises today. You will find them at The Barn, 29 High Street, Kibworth Beauchamp, which is three times the size of the old shop.

That shop, at 52 High Street, will reopen soon as a secondhand bookshop.

There's more about Kibworth Books in the Harborough Mail.

Man may have jail term increased after calling judge 'absolute helmet'

Embed from Getty Images 

The Leicester Mercury wins Headline of the Day, though our judges were heard muttering about it being a story from Bolton.

There was talk of "clickbait" and tightening up the rules.

Thursday, June 09, 2022

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Useful for scaring off Conservative tellers at remote polling stations

My experience of parliamentary by-elections goes back to Birmingham Northfield in 1982, but that's nothing to Lord Bonkers.

Drawing on his experience, however, I have written to the ALDC sharing his top about the gorilla suit and remote polling stations.

Useful for scaring off Conservative tellers at remote polling stations

You can imagine how peeved I was when I discovered that I had missed a great Liberal Democrat victory: positively pea green with peevement. When winter fires burn low and talk turns to by-elections long ago, tales will be told of North Shropshire – of Wem and Ellesmere – and those of us who were not there will understand it is our part to fall silent.

I wasn’t having that a second time, so I quickly arranged a tour of our best prospects for May’s council elections: Richmond upon Thames, Montgomeryshire, Edinburgh and finally polling day in the Somerset Levels. 

Normally, I would have had my valet pack my gorilla suit for such an itinerary – I find it useful for scaring off Conservative tellers at remote polling stations – but in view of my recent misadventures I thought it wiser to let light tweeds suffice.

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

Earlier this week