Friday, September 30, 2022

The only Leicester councillor elected as a Tory leaves the party and calls on Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng to resign

The only member of Leicester City Council elected as a Conservative has resigned from the party and called on Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng to resign.

Daniel Crewe told BBC News:

"When Liz Truss got in, I didn't think she was right for the job but I thought at least I'd give her the benefit of the doubt and see what she was willing to do.

"But when they introduced that budget, it's going to detrimentally affect the poorest people in society whilst looking after the richest.

"It's old school conservativism and I can't be a part of that."

He also told the BBC that Liz Truss should resign and take Kwasi Kwarteng with her.

Crewe became Leicester City Council's only Tory member when he won a by-election in Humberstone and Hamilton ward last summer. He will now sit as an Independent.

A Labour councillor later joined the Conservative Party and, as of tonight, remains a member.

GUEST POST Why we need an emergency Lib Dem special conference this year

Ed Davey, party members and Britain as a whole need a Liberal Democrat emergency special conference, argues David Evans.

In less than 26 minutes last Friday Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng took an axe to what remains of the British economy and to the hopes and prospects of so many people, and totally destroyed the last vestiges that the Conservatives are the party of Economic competence.

By the end of the day the pound had crashed over 4 per cent in value (and is still falling) and the FTSE a further 2 per cent, undermining the savings, pensions, and prospects of workers, the retired and the unemployed, be they teachers, doctors, farmers, workers in industry or workers in entertainment.  It affects them all.

Earlier this month, the Liberal Democrats' federal board and federal conference committee had decided to completely cancel the party's annual conference and put everything on hold until Spring conference is held In York next March.  

While the decision that it would be seen to be inappropriate to hold conference during the period leading up to the Queen’s funeral was justified, it was misguided to think that the Lib Dems, as a party, should have no opportunity to say anything about the new prime minister and her deeply damaging new ideas for six months.

Every Lib Dem who met Liz Truss when she was, temporarily, a member of our party seems to have quickly formed the view that she had an eye for self-publicity and an extremely radical view on things. But it wasn’t a Liberal Democrat view, as she quickly found out when they began to question the reasoning behind her vision.

Everyone who works in business knows that real growth and progress comes slowly, and need careful planning and sustained amounts of effort over years and sometimes decades. The desire for a quick fix, a dash for growth based on throwing vast amounts of borrowed money at its supporters, underpinned by a total lack of understanding of simple economic realities is no substitute for hard work and effort.

Sacking a permanent secretary on Day One and calling the most outrageous gamble with our nation’s economy "a fiscal event" in order to avoid Office of Budget Responsibility scrutiny shows linguistic cunning that Vladimir Putin would be proud of. 

We all know that our party has a proud record of economic competence thanks to Vince and his spell as secretary of state for business, innovation and skills - a time when he actually got industry leaders talking to each other and dealing with the fundamental issues they faced.  He even started to develop a proper industrial strategy, something the UK hasn’t had since the 1970s.  

However, we can’t expect Ed and his few close advisers to develop and make a case for a radically different Lib Dem solution to Conservative incompetence on their own in a five-minute slot on the BBC between coverage of the Labour Party Conference and the sports news.

He needs the support of the whole party and help from party members to develop a radical Liberal Democrat alternative to this Tory-created crisis, and a forum that will cut through into the national media, so we can present these to the country.  

We can only do this by being more wide ranging, radical and comprehensively better in our proposals, and to do this he, and we, need a conference.

But we don’t need yet another set of deadly dull Lib Dem policy motions that simply say

  1. Conference notes - Things are bad.
  2. Conference believes - Things should be better.
  3. Conference further notes – The Government are responsible for this mess.
  4. Conference reaffirms – Everything we ever said about this in the past, that the government still hasn’t done.
  5. Conference calls on – The Government to magically change its mind and do what we want.

When what need to get cut through is

  • This is the solution and Lib Dems Commit to do everything it can in government to sort it all out

Currently there are good Lib Dems working on a solution to these problems, but to make it successful we need a federal conference to give it the publicity it needs.

So in summary

  1. I note - Things are bad.
  2. I believe - Things can be made much better.
  3. I further note – That we have better solutions but we need to promote, debate and agree them, quickly.
  4. I reaffirm – That we need to hold this government responsible for the mess
  5. I call on - the federal conference committee and federal board to convene an emergency special conference later this year to allow these to be discussed
  6. To make sure this happens - Every Lib Dem who cares about our country’s future and our party’s continuing relevance should formally request that the party call an emergency special conference later this year, in accordance with Section 6.3 of the party’s constitution, to discuss our solution to the economic crisis that the Conservative Party has unleased on the British people.

David Evans is a lifelong Liberal and Liberal Democrat.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Lib Dems win Harborough District Council by-election

Good news from the count this evening. The Liberal Democrats have held their seat in Market Harborough's Logan ward in today's Harborough District Council by-election.

Congratulations to Geraldine Whitmore, the victorious Lib Dem candidate, on a great result.

The result:

Lib Dems         582 (45.7%)

Conservatives 382 (30.0%)

Labour             250 (19.6%)

Independent      60 (4.7%)

This is a two-member ward in which the Lib Dems held both seats until one of their councillors had to move away from the area, causing the by-election. Last time the top Lib Dem candidate polled 35 per cent of the vote.

There was little sign of a Conservative campaign today.

The boy walked, looked and spoke like any other child

The row over cheating in chess grumbles on. There is now a sense that many of the top players share a feeling that Hans Niemann, the young American whom the world champion Magnus Carlsen implicitly accused, has improved too rapidly and plays strong but not obvious moves too quickly.

If you want an informed guide to the controversy, I recommend an edition of Perpetual Chess Podcast. One of the contributors, the Scottish grandmaster and philosopher Jonathan Rowson, quotes this German fable as a warning:

A man whose axe was missing suspected his neighbour's son. The boy walked like a thief, looked like a thief and talked like a thief.

But the man found his axe while he was digging in the valley, and the next time he saw his neighbour's son, the boy walked, looked and spoke like any other child.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

A Market Harborough mystery: the infectious diseases hospital

Have a look at this map of the area around Market Harborough railway station. It's a detail from the six-inch Ordnance Survey series published between 1888 and 1913.

East of the station, on Rockingham Road, you see the legend Hospital, with Infectious Diseases below it in italics.

This appears to relate to a square building on the north bank of the Welland, which I calculate to stand where Weddel Swift's plant is on the Riverside Industrial Estate is today.

I have never seen any reference to the opening or operation of this hospital. But an advertisement in The Hospital from 1915 by Humphreys Ltd lists Market Harborough as one of the places they have supplied with one of their iron hospitals. See the blog Historic Hospitals for more details.

But did it ever open? According to the map there was no road or path to it.

Remembering Upper Kent Street, Leicester

Copyright © Dennis Calow

One of the striking things about the aerial photograph of Leicester Midland steam locomotive shed I posted a couple of days ago is the long terraced street that passed close by it.

Someone on Twitter (my mother used to work for him, as it happens) remembered visiting cousins in Upper Kent Street, as it was then called, and spending hours with them watching the coming and goings on the railway.

Today Upper Kent Street has been redeveloped and even renamed Maidstone Road. But it lives on in the University of Leicester's Vanished Leicester collection where you will find several images of it.

Follow that link to see them all: I have reproduced a couple here.

Copyright © Dennis Calow

The mystery of the King's Cross lighthouse

Jago Hazzard is our guide to this prominent but enigmatic structure.

You can support his videos via his Patreon page.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Steve Coogan, Richard III and conspiracy theories

The Lost King sounds as though it should be one of those gentle films in which people take of their clothes for a calendar photoshoot or sing sea shanties and Dame Judi Dench has to appear by law.

But it's been causing no end of a row today.

Members of University of Leicester Archaeological Services, who are unhappy with the way they are depicted in the film, were interviewed for an article in this morning's Daily Mail.

So there you will read:

One of the film's worst inaccuracies has undermined the reputation of the lead archaeologist on the dig, Dr Richard Buckley, 64.

The movie portrays him as being dismissive of Langley and of refusing to help her, only agreeing to become involved when his department is threatened with closure and he faces losing his job; he sees the project as a way of saving his own skin.

But this simply isn't true.

Buckley's job was never under threat and his department wasn't facing closure. He actually worked for a commercial arm of the university called University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS), which undertook commercial digs all over the country. ULAS was thriving and did not rely on funding from the university.

Neither did Buckley dismiss Langley out of hand. All the academics involved in the project say he was enthusiastic from the start.

I have seen emails between Buckley and Langley from the days and weeks after their first contact and his are full of ideas, suggestions, co-operation and positivity. Buckley did express caution over the odds of success, but he signed up to the project nonetheless.

And by the time people had digested that, Steve Coogan, who co-wrote and appears in The Lost King, had gone on the Today programme to defend the film: 

"They've played this quite badly.

"Had they at the start been generous towards Philippa, and elevated her to the front and centre position, which is where she deserves to be, this film wouldn't have been necessary.

"But at every turn they marginalised her, edged her out, because she wasn't cut from the right cloth."

That's not how I remember the media coverage at the time, even if I've never been quite clear what Philippa Langley's role was. The dig, for instance, was largely paid for by Leicestershire Promotions and the university.

So I was a little concerned by an early promotional piece for the film where Zoe Williams told us that Langley

was in Leicester, trying to piece together from her research the whereabouts of a long-gone church, and she walked across the fabled car park.

Because the location of Greyfriars in Leicester has never been a mystery: part of it is still above ground. The archaeologists were keen to dig the site so its exact layout could be established, but David Baldwin, another hero of the finding of the king, had got it about right in 1986. That's why the dig took place in the correct area, though coming down on Richard's skeleton on the first morning was a bit of a bonus.

A story about a lone eccentric who proves the establishment wrong makes for an appealing film, but it has little to do with what went on in Leicester that autumn.

And, as the archaeologist Mike Pitts said on Twitter today:

Monday, September 26, 2022

Leicester Midland steam locomotive shed in 1948

The large round structure here is Leicester Midland steam locomotive shed, which was built in 1945 and serviced its last steam locomotive in 1966. After that a couple of steam locomotives were restored here - there was even talk of it housing a transport museum - before it was demolished in 1970. That's not a long life for such an impressive building,

This site is still railway land and today is home to the depot of UK Rail Leasing, which own a fleet of heritage diesels. This makes waiting for a train at Leicester station, which you can see towards the top of the photo, interesting for a railway enthusiast. You never know what will emerge from there.

The terraced streets around the loco shed have not fared so well. Most were cleared so the new St Peter's Estate could be built.

Labour will target NO Liberal Democrat seats as the next election

The Daily Mail has a story today...

OK, let's get this bit over with...

The Daily Mail has a story today under, at least on its website, the headline:
Labour will target just TWO Liberal Democrat seats to win the next election in anti-Tory manoeuvre
But when you read the story those two seats turn out to be Sheffield Hallam and somewhere unspecified in Scotland.

Sheffield Hallam, of course, is a Labour seat. And there is no Liberal Democrat seat in Scotland where Labour are within a mile of being anywhere near having a chance of running us close.

It may be that Labour is worried about the Lib Dems eyeing Edinburgh South, which used to be a target for us, but it's hard to think they have much to worry about there at the moment.

Anyway, it follow from this that the Mail should have headlined its story:
Labour will target NO Liberal Democrat seats to win the next election in anti-Tory manoeuvre

Sunday, September 25, 2022

The Joy of Six 1077

"Nothing like this has happened before in Britain’s most multicultural city. In recent months, though, something has changed. Hindu nationalism has come to Britain." Peter Oborne and Imran Mulla set out to explain recent events in Leicester.

Geoffrey Wheatcroft says the United Kingdom has given a range of financial crimes a sheen of respectability: "The story of Britain’s transformation into an oligarch’s paradise has its origins in the country’s earlier decline. Once upon a time, English banking and broking prided itself on its integrity."

Jules Evans on the crackpot philosophy Putin has fallen for.

Musicians and crew could find themselves unemployed en masse because of Brexit, representatives from the New Musical Express warned a House of Lords hearing. Read the report by Andrew Trendell.

Boak & Bailey investigate the decline in quality of pub food: "We don’t think we’re seeing as many people eating in pubs that offer food. And the other week, we wandered into a pub that’s usually full with diners at lunchtime on the weekend and found it mostly empty."

Peter Ackroyd's biography of Charles Dickens appeared in 1990 and was reviewed by Bryan Appleyard: "He remarks at one point that Dickens is perfectly capable of being as self-consciously Dickensian, as artificially as his public self, as any of the pubs or people who have earned that epithet since. The myth is an essential element."

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Leicestershire and Carlisle United’s Chris Balderdash

We end our week at Bonkers Hall with the doyen of East Midland peers giving his thoughts on the climate crisis. Never let it be said that he does not move with the times.

Incidentally, I have to thank the predictive text on my phone for turning the late Chris Balderstone into Chris Balderdash. It's still in a creative vein: the other day, while I was tweeting about the legendary Shropshire figure Wild Edric, it came up with Wild Edrich, the black sheep of the cricketing family.


Perhaps it is all the carbon dioxide in the air, but the seasons are all over the place. It used to be possible for a chap to make a good living playing country cricket in the summer and League football in the winter, but I don’t suppose anyone has tried that since Leicestershire and Carlisle United’s Chris Balderdash. 

Now winter draws on, as the First Lady Bonkers used to say, and I turn my thoughts to heating my stables. I assure readers that, unlike Mr Nadhim Zahawi, I shall not be stinging the taxpayer for the cost. 

One year, as I recall, word got around that the stables were nice and warm, with the result that two Well-Behaved Orphans spent several weeks living there in a pantomime horse costume. I couldn’t find it in my heart to be hard on them: by the time they were discovered they had won me a novice chase at Haydock Park.

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

Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers Diary...

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.


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.


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.


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.


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. 


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."


"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 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

Since writing this I have watched Innocent Sinners (1958), which puts a girl at the centre of a bombsite film and portrays the sites as providing its child protagonists with the privacy they lack in their inadequate homes.

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 he has built.

"It's an idea for that dump out there," Holloway’s wife (played by Barbara Murray) explains, 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."


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.


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.


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.

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