Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Following the canal to Buckingham

Paul Whitewick follows the disused Old Stratford and Buckingham arms of the Grand Union Canal, finding plenty of interesting remains along the way.

The Buckingham Canal Society is working to restore navigation from the Grand Union main line to Buckingham, a distance of 11 miles.

And there's more from Paul and Rebecca Whitewick about their railway and canal explorations on their website.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Former Tory MP David Mackintosh charged over election donations

BBC News reports that David Mackintosh, the former Conservative MP for Northampton South, has appeared before a court charged with covering up donations to his general election campaign.

He has pleaded not guilty to the charges and will face trial on October along with four other defendants. Two further people have already pleaded guilty to charges connected with these allegations and received suspended sentences.

The report explains that Mackintosh

is accused of not disclosing the true origin of thousands of pounds of payments to Northampton South Conservative Association in 2014. ...

The prosecutions are the first of their kind under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA).

The charges follow a lengthy police inquiry into the disappearance of £10.25m loaned to Northampton Town Football Club.

And well done to the BBC for challenging the reporting restrictions that were placed on the proceedings against Mackintosh and another defendant. The Crown Prosecution Service has not applied to have them extended.

Mackintosh, a former leader of Northampton Borough Council, sat for Northampton South between 2015 and 2017. He stood down before the 2017 general election in the face of opposition to his reselection among Tory members.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Further into Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch and True Tilda

Today's rabbit hole is Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, and True Tilda in particular, because I've made two discoveries about the book.

The first is that it was published in 1909 as, and favourably reviewed as, an adult novel. The second is that a silent film was made of it in 1920.

Here, for instance, is the review in the Thursday 2 September 1909 edition of the Morning Post:

It is a charming book, this Iliad of the rough girl with the heart of a mother and the sagacity of the guttersnipe, and the frail little boy, nearly broken by his treatment at the orphanage, with his innate sense of refinement and hit poetical instinct - to say nothing of the wonderful mongrel, Adolphus, that prince of dogs. 
It will be read with rippling of clean laughter and an excitement that is none the less keen for being evoked by nothing more lurid then the triumph of Innocence over evil circumstances.

And here is the Liverpool Daily Post from the day before:

Mr. Quiller-Couch writes with such charm at all times, with such a true appreciation of the Stevenson manner, that it will seem to be an exaggeration if we sav that in this great book he has has excelled himself. For all that., such is our opinion. 
Let us give an instance. At the end, when the young boy is sleeping in his father’s house, there is a perfect scene. Most writers would have brought the father along the corridor see his sleeping son. So does Mr, Quillcr-Couch. Here is the scene, however, as handles it: - 
Noiselessly though Sir Miles had come, the boy was awake. Nor was it in his nature, being awake, to feign sleep. He looked up. blinking a little, but with no fear in his gentle eyes. 
His father had not counted on this. He felt an absurd bashfulness tying his tongue. At length he struggled to say - 
"Thought I’d make sure you wore comfortable. That's all." 
"Oh, yes - thank you. Comfortable and and - only just thinking a bit." 
Surely that precisely what would have happened on the first night of the son’s restoration, yet how many would have given us a sloppy, sentimental scene. 

The film was well reviewed too, though there were doubts over the casting of the 28-year-old Edna Flugarth to play the nine-year-old Tilda caused some adverse comment.

Arthur was played by Teddy Gordon Craig, who as Edward Carrick had an adult career in films as an art director. It lasted all the way to British films about the early Sixties pop scene: What a Crazy World (1963) and Every Day's a Holiday (1964).

And the film of True Tilda may still exist. Wikipedia has pages listing lost British films for 1915-19 and 1920-24, and it's not listed on either of them.

The Firm: Arthur Daley (E’s Alright)

Arthur Daley was everywhere in the 1980s, and that included politics. It was obligatory to accuse the Conservatives of "Arthur Daley economics" and, if you were a Liberal councillor, to complain that the government was driving us to "Arthur Daley accounting".

He even made it to the charts in the shape of this novelty record. Credited to 'The Firm', the song Arthur Daley E's Alright was the work of the musicians John O'Connor and Grahame Lister. 

Having failed to interest anyone in recording the song, they did so themselves, appeared on Top of the Pops and reached number 14 in the singles chart in the summer of 1982.

OK so it's just a poor man's Chas & Dave, but there is some wit to the lyrics:

And he sells the odd dodgy motor now and then
Well, it ain't a crime is it?
Well yeah, it's a crime, yeah, technically

A young person asks: But who was Arthur Daley?

Libeal England replies after wondering what they teach them in the schools nowadays: Ask your parents.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

National Labour Party takes charge of council candidate selection in Leicester

The Guardian reports that Labour's national executive committee - will in future choose council candidates in Leicester instead of local members:

The move has provoked anger among Labour’s 49 city councillors, 37 of whom have signed a document demanding the proposals are urgently withdrawn for being undemocratic.

But the move has also been praised by some local activists as the first step towards wresting control of Leicester East Labour party away from [Keith] Vaz who represented the constituency for 32 years.

My sympathies are instinctively with the 37 councillors, but the Guardian, of course, has talked to unnamed 'constituency sources' who told them

Vaz had maintained control over the constituency and worked closely with a cadre of councillors. They claim he could still attempt to stand for parliament again or handpick another candidate for the next general election.

Keith Vaz is quoted as denying any ambition of returning to the Commons.

Labour HQ may also have been spooked by a recent by-election deep in Vaz's former constituency Leicester East. Labour fielded a candidate seen as being strongly pro Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party and presumably lost moderate and Muslim voters as a result.

Not that imposing candidates from the centre has a happy history in Leicester. Claudia Webbe who took over from Vaz as Labour candidate in 2019 and held the seat, was a favourite of the Corbynites and many in Leicester felt she had been wished upon the local party.

In October 2021 she was found guilty of harassment, with the judge describing her evidence as "untruthful" and her defence "as "vague, incoherent and at times illogical".

She now sits as an Independent.

Boat filled with old cans of Carling sinks in the Bridgewater Canal

The Manchester Evening News wins our Headline of the Day Award.

Credited with inspiring what was known as 'Canal Mania', the Bridgewater Canal opened in 1761. (The judges like the odd educational note.)

Friday, January 27, 2023

The Joy of Six 1105

"This book is a short sharp shock.  It’s delivery is thoughtful, reflective but also unflinching. It is hard to believe that an ethnic group that experienced an organised genocide within living memory is having their concerns for safety trivialised by many." Zachary Barker reviews Jews Don't Count by David Baddiel.

Stella Perott argues that the response of Jonathan Gullis to the disappearance of 200 asylum-seeking children is: "very reminiscent of the views of teachers, social workers and police officers when teenage girls from Rotherham, Oxford and other UK cities were trafficked and sexually abused by older men. The underlying assumption of many professionals at the time was that running away from home, being looked after (in care), or being sexually advanced for their age were signs of promiscuity that should be punished, rather than abuse that should be prevented."

By ditching three key Windrush inquiry recommendations, the government is failing the victims of this scandal, says Eve Hayes de Kalaf.

Michael Collins looks at the development of Black cricket in the post-war period and presents a case study of the Haringey Cricket College (1984-97), a Black-led project in deprived areas of Tottenham that produced more first-class cricketers than many elite private schools.

"There’s a network of hidden tracks in the UK which is thousands of years old yet which remains invisible to most people." Read Mark Chadbourn on holloways.

Ruth Millington digs up the Birmingham roots of the artist Edward Burne-Jones.

Encouraging Lib Dem result in Rotherham's Keppel ward

Those of us who worry that the Liberal Democrat vote is not going up when the Conservative vote is going down will be encouraged by the result of yesterday's only local by-election:

It's dangerous to read too much into one local by-election result, when turnouts can he so low. And, as the indispensable weekly by-election preview by Andrew Teale shows, Keppel has a more complicated electoral history than most wards.

But when the Tory vote goes down sharply you do want to see the Lib Dem vote going up sharply. And that happened here.

Andrew thought of it too, but this is too good an opportunity to miss. So here are Wilson and Keppel, but not Betty.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

More on Eric Idle at the Phoenix Theatre, Leicester

I'm down so many rabbit holes at the moment that I feel like a portly ferret, but here's a little more on Eric Idle at the Phoenix Theatre in Leicester.

The Leicester Daily Mercury for 7 December 1965 ran a short profile of him, complete with a Rutlesesque photo:

Phoenix Face

Cambridge graduate, Eric Idle, who has joined the Phoenix Theatre company for the current production "Oh, What A Lovely War" and "One For The Pot," gained his first theatrical experience with The Footlights company and the university's Amateur Drama Club.

He went to the Edinburgh Festival for two consecutive years with university groups and after obtaining an Arts degree in English went into cabaret at The Rehearsal Room and The Blue Angel. Eric's choice of career followed his interest in script writing and acting for the Cambridge revues.

One of the Cambridge productions was "The Tempest," directed Carey Harrison - new assistant director at the Phoenix.

Eric has written material for the B.B.C. 3 programme, and is releasing a comedy record with the next few months. He is also writing a musical.

The record must have been The Tiger, written with John Cameron, whose release 'this week' was announced in the 1 February 1966 edition of the Mercury. I can find no other reference to it online.

It does occur to me, though, that 'Eric Idol' would have been a great name for a Larry Parnes artist.

Church hall for sale in Market Harborough

The church hall at St Hugh's in Granville Street, Market Harborough, is on the market for £215,000 and "suitable for a variety of commercial, community and residential uses".

Its sale must be connected with plans to adapt the church itself for more community use.

I took these photos of it this lunchtime. St Hugh's began as one of those flatpack 'tin tabernacle', which means that the hall used to be more substantial than the church.

You can read about how practical these corrugated iron churches were for worship in another Liberal England post about St Hugh's.

The tin tabernacle served here until the main church opened in 1940. The space it occupied is still vacant, and I was chatting to someone who remembered having judo lessons inside it in 1970. It would be interesting to know when it was taken away.

I'd like to see a coffee shop here, for purely selfish reasons, but it may be a bit far from the town centre for that.

Mind you, the property market in Granville Street can be unpredictable, for it was the site of Market Harborough's Great Bungalow Mystery.

You may recall that the council paid £920,000 with an estimated value of £303,000. Conservative-run Harborough District Council commissioned a report into the affair and then refused to publish it.

The council even made it into Private Eye last summer because of it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Behind the scenes of Detectorists

Detectorists has the good-people-doing-good-things-in-the countryside vibe of Time Team and Go With Noakes, with a touch of eeriness and earth mystery thrown in.

This is an engaging report on life behind the scenes of the show.

Barbara Cartland on the impact of the death of Dennis O'Neill

I have in front of me an extraordinary book - The Years of Opportunity: 1939 -1945 by Barbara Cartland.

To someone who remembers Cartland only as a figure of fun, it's a revelation. Informed by Cartland's wartime voluntary service, it's full of interesting observations on the role of women and the needs of children.

Perhaps Cartland's liberal Conservatism should not be such a surprise. One of her brothers was the Conservative MP Ronald Cartland. (Like her other brother, he died in France in 1940.)

Barbara Cartland was to become a councillor in Bedfordshire and was notable for her support of Romany and travelling people.

Ronald Cartland was an opponent of Appeasement and pressed for the government to do more to tackle poverty. I've not read the book, but he is one of the gay MPs celebrated in Chris Bryant's The Glamour Boys.

One day I will put together a post of Barbara Cartland's observations from The Years of Opportunity. But here are three points on wartime concern about the treatment of children from a reading of the book.

First, Cartland bears out what historians say about the impact of the evacuation of children to the countryside. Because many wealthy people had children billeted on them, they encountered the effects of poverty and poor education for the first time.

Second, she pays tribute to the work of my heroine Marjorie Allen - Lady Allen of Hurtwood - to bring the plight of children living in institutions to public attention.

And third, she confirms the extraordinary effect that the death of Dennis O'Neill had on public opinion:
I shall never, in all my life, forget the horror I felt on reading of how that little boy had suffered before he died - his hunger, his terror, his maltreatment haunted me, and like thousands of other women in Great Britain I could not sleep for thinking of him.

Harold Shipman advert promoting Leicester life insurance firm causes outrage

Two in a row for the Leicester Mercury as the local insurance firm DeadHappy courts controversy.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Kenneth Griffith's film Emily Hobhouse: The Englishwoman

I'm not bringing you a contemporary newspaper account of the 1899 meeting to oppose the Boer War that Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch chaired in Liskeard: I'm bringing you a dramatic reconstruction of it.

Kenneth Griffith was an actor and maker of documentaries whose strongly held political views regularly brought him into conflict with television bosses and the broadcasting authorities.

His Independent obituary from 2006 was candid:
He could exasperate colleagues by his cantankerous manner and stout refusal to compromise his artistic and professional integrity, especially when offered work by those whom he called the "priggish cuckoos" of the BBC's middle management. Even those who were kind to him found he would insist on marching to a different drum.
For someone normally seen as on the left, Griffith had a surprising sympathy for the Afrikaners. From it flowed his 1984 documentary Emily Hobhouse: The Englishwoman, which dealt with her humanitarian and political efforts to help the inmates of the concentration camps the British had established in the Boer republics.

This tactic of removing the civil population from areas of conflict so guerrilla forces cannot use it as cover had already been used by Spain in Cuba and was recently used by the Sri Lankan government in Tamil areas of the island.

In Cuba and South Africa at least, the conditions in which these civilians were held were appalling and resulted in many deaths. 

I have chosen the section of Griffiths's film that deals with the Liskeard meeting, but the whole of it is worth watching if you do not know the story. All the parts are played by Griffith or the South African actress Hermien Dommisse.

Six years later, a film called That Englishwoman: An Account of the Life of Emily Hobhouse was made in South Africa, with Veronica Lang in the title role. Lang enjoyed a long but not stellar career in British television.

Emily's father, the Rev. Reginald Hobhouse, was played by Terence Alexander, in the era when he was Charlie Hungerford in Bergcrac. 

You can see a fragment of the film below. 

Fuming mum says daughter was made to remove coat during outdoor PE lesson in freezing weather

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It's nice to see a home winner of our Headline of the Day Award. Well done to the Leicester Mercury.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Lib Dems' Blue Wall campaigning to focus on health

Liberals and Liberal Democrats have been trying to win affluent Conservative seats in the South of England ever since Orpington Man was discovered.

But give the media a catchy term like the 'Blue Wall' and our ambitions there become a news story and one that ican be regularly repeated.

The Blue Wall story in yesterday's Observer in that it identified a planned change in Lib Dem campaigning in those seats:

Lib Dem campaigners charged with securing a breakthrough in seats in the south-east are gathering in a Staffordshire hotel this weekend, as all the parties begin to sketch out their early general election planning. 

The group will be told that the usual tactic of targeting liberal Tory voters in affluent areas with messages about the economy will be dialled down, after the NHS crisis was found to be resonating significantly in these areas.

A 'message testing' operation in Hertfordshire surprised the campaign team as health issues dominated on the doorsteps. New mailshots across several south-east counties have already been drawn up, concentrating on A&E problems, ambulance waiting times and access to dentistry.

The inevitable Lib Dem 'source' told the paper that the feedback had been overwhelming:

"Even if people had not been impacted by NHS delays themselves, they knew someone who had been, and therefore they were angry about it too. It now looks like the 'blue wall' will be voting on health issues at the next election, not just the economy."

It's no surprise that even affluent voters think this way. With the economy still suffering from Brexit and other blows, fewer people can be confident of their ability to buy their way out of declining public services.

But does the party have the clear, attractive health policies that this approach will need? (I'm not being critical: this is a genuine enquiry.)

Eric Idle at the Phoenix Theatre, Leicester

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I don't love Eric Idle like I love Pat Nevin, but I picked up his memoirs - inevitably called Always Look on the Bright Side of Life - at the library too.

An unexpected discovery from it is that Idle appeared in Oh, What a Lovely War! at the Phoenix Theatre in Leicester in 1965. The director was Richard Eyre, who began his acting and directing career there.

To Idle's surprise he was asked to stay on for the next production, a Ray Cooney farce staged for Christmas audiences. But in it he proved the rightness of his own judgement that he lacked the discipline to be an actor.

He was in his dressing room one evening, writing sketches for I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again, and noticed that things had grown strangely quiet.

The silence was broken when the leading man, tired of waiting for his cue, knocked to ask if Idle would like to join him on stage,

Reader's voice: But why have you chosen a picture of an elephant?

Liberal England replies: Because it shows Leicester in 1965. Or thereabouts.

Sunday, January 22, 2023

The Joy of Six 1104

"I believe that the leadership is making a serious mistake. Our policy on rebuilding trade and cooperation in Europe can be popular – if only we let people know about it. There is no credible answer to the challenges Britain faces without it. And, even better, it distinguishes us very clearly from Labour, which is running scared of Brexit." Duncan Brack asks why Ed Davey never talks about Europe.

Andy Boddington reports that Shropshire is to receive no 'levelling up' money to revitalise its bus services: "The operating costs of bus companies have increased significantly over the last year following the increase in fuel prices. Passenger numbers have also not recovered since the pandemic. We are in danger of losing many of our services. Two routes under threat are the 435 service between Ludlow and Shrewsbury and the 553 Bishop’s Castle Shrewsbury service."

Merve Emre fears that academia has ruined literary criticism.

Emily Brontë acted with pragmatism, courage and kindness in her last illness and the received wisdom that she was a 'stubborn', self-destructive patient is grossly unfair, says a new account discussed by Mark Bridge.

"Let me now be your guide to the five most horror-inflected Crown Court cases.  Witchcraft, demonic possession, folk horror and, er, imaginary killer robots, they’re all here (and I’ll finish up with a rundown of the series’ other mildly spooky-flavoured stories)." Ivan Kirby discovers the dark side of the afternoon programme Seventies children watched if they were off school ill.

Sarah Weinman on Sandy Fawkes, the journalist and Soho character who met a stranger at a hotel bar and agreed to a road trip across America. Her companion later turned out to be a serial killer.

Emily Hobhouse: A Cornish humanitarian

Looking for an account of the meeting against the Boer War that Arthur Quiller-Couch chaired at Liskeard in 1899, I came across this tribute to one of the speakers, Emily Hobhouse.

It comes from the Western Morning News for Friday 11 June 1926, when she had just died at the age of 66. It's more about her male relatives than Emily, but it's a start as an introduction to someone I want to know much more about. (John Hall's book, whose cover I've used as an illustration here, looks the place to go for that.)

A Cornish Humanitarian

Opinions differ still as to whether the humanitarian zeal of Miss Emily Hobhouse always found the wisest outlet, but the noble motives this distinguished Cornish woman there are, so tar as I know, no two opinions. A great many people in London and elsewhere think of her as the Florence Nightingale of South Africa, and they will probably be present at Kensington Cemetery to-morrow when Miss Hobhouse's remains are laid to rest. 

Among them I should not be surprised to see Mr. Lloyd George, with whom many Cornishmen may remember Miss Houhouse spoke from the same platform at Liskeard in the 'nineties in connection with the South African War. The district was familiar to her, for it was at St. Ive near Liskeard that Miss Hobhouse was born. Her father, the Venerable Reginald Hobhouse, was then rector. He became afterwards Archdeacon of Bodmin. 

As the niece of Lord Hobhouse on her father's side and of Sir William Trelawney, for some time Radical member for East Cornwall, on her mother's, Miss Hobhouse was related to two Lord Byron's most intimate friends. Her work in the concentration camps South Africa was followed with sympathetic attention nobody more than her famous fellow-Cornishman, Leonard Courtney, then a commoner. 

Cornish settlers in Minnesota still remember gratefully, no doubt, the two years Miss Hobhouse spent in their settlement after the loss of her venerable father. Her brother, Professor Leonard Hobhocse, is probably Cornwall's most distinguished son the sphere of philosophical and sociological research. He is, of course, the author of the little book "Liberalism" the Home University Library.

Leonard Courtney, incidentally, became the 1st Baron Courtney of Penwith. He is described by Wikipedia as "an advocate of proportional representation in Parliament and acting as an opponent of imperialism and militarism".

He was MP for Liskeard between 1876 and 1885 as a Liberal, and then for Bodmin between 1885 and 1900. There, from 1886, he sat as a Liberal Unionist, but his radical views became an increasingly uncomfortable fit with that party.

He did not stand in Bodmin in 1900, and when he did stand for again in 1906 it was as a Liberal.in Edinburgh West. There he was defeated by a Liberal Unionist.

I'll look out for an account of that Liskeard meeting and for more on Emily Hobhouse. The more you know, the more there is to find out.

Later. A bit of googling has turned up a dramatic reconstruction of the Liskeard meeting and a South African film biography of Emily.

Later again. Despite what the contemporary report here says, Emily Hobhouse was cremated and her ashes were ensconced in a niche in the National Women's Monument at Bloemfontein.

Why everybody loves Pat Nevin

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I love Pat Nevin. I loved him as a player at Chelsea and I love him as a broadcaster now. I think everybody loves Pat Nevin.

The other night he was the summariser on a Chelsea game and named a change Graham Potter needed to make and why - bring on Aubameyang, even though he's not looked that interested lately, so Havertz could play a little deeper, which suits his game - just before Potter made it. And the change worked.

That is the sort of analysis listeners crave and so rarely get.

And then there was his hinterland. Here was a player who appeared on art quiz programmes hosted by George Melly.

So when I saw his memoir The Accidental Footballer in the library I grabbed it. And I'm not disappointed:

When Annabel wasn't around, if I wasn't eating at the Chelsea Kitchen you would find me at another cheap café called Vince's at Fulham Broadway with another friend, John Millar, the new young full back at Chelsea. I always tried to help and integrate the young players coming through, especially but not exclusively if they had come down from Scotland. 
In the café we started chatting about 'fitba' and 'Glesga' to a gruff, Rangers-supporting, six-foot-tall Glaswegian called Wullie who worked as a road sweeper. We started to see him regularly in the café and I suppose what follows tells you a lot about why I loved London so much, 
A few months after we'd met him Wullie asked, ''So wit ur ye daein the night, wee man?' 
'Actually I am going down to the South Bank.' I sheepishly said. 'There's a retrospective on about the Garman film director Werner Herzog and he is doing a talk afterwards that I want to hear...' I tailed off expecting a torrent of abuse from the road sweeper for being a culture snob. 
'Funny that,' says Wullie. 'So am I'. 
After months of talking 'fitba', spouting nonsense and judging each other as rough 'Glesga boys' it turned out that among other things he had a deep love of the arts, had an encyclopaedic knowledge of Wagner's Ring Cycle and was also a friend of Sir Peter Hall! 

As to the question of whether Pat Nevin and Terry Butcher are cousins, it seems they are not blood relatives but are related by marriage.

The Jam: The Butterfly Collector

With its changes in pace, this Jam B-side (it's on the flip side of Strange Town) pays homage to Ray Davies in the shape of the Kinks' song Shangri-La.

What's it about? Theories implicate Julie Burchill, a notorious groupie of the New Wave era and John Fowles's 1963 novel The Collector.*

And All Music is sure it knows:

If "Strange Town" took a cynical look at England's capital city, that single's flipside, "Butterfly Collector", was a bitter expose of the London club scene or, more accurately, one particularly egregious (if unnamed) club owner. Using and abusing bands to further her own aims and fame, composer Paul Weller pins her to the wall and leaves her to squirm beneath his sharp-as-tacks lyrics. For weeks afterwards, incidentally, clubland echoed with rumours as to the song’s subject’s identity. Weller, however, never let on.

As vicious as his attack may be, however, the song is infused less with anger than with melancholy, fed by Weller's evocative acoustic guitar work and his almost lamenting vocal delivery. His anger still bleeds through, but the very restraint of the band's backing, and Weller's own suppressed delivery makes this song all the more devastating. One of The Jam's most haunting numbers, the song's atmosphere was enhanced by Vic Coppersmith-Heaven's excellent production.

* This is one of those sentences where an Oxford comma is not helpful. 

Saturday, January 21, 2023

BBC covers story that its chairman helped guarantee £800K loan to Boris Johnson just before Johnson appointed him

Tomorrow's extraordinary news story about Boris Johnson, Richard Sharp and the BBC was covered by the corporation this evening.

You can here the views of Gabriel Pogrund, the journalist who has broken it, in the two clips above.

British Chess Championships to be held in Leicester

This year’s British Chess Championships will take place at The Venue, De Montfort University, in Leicester, with events running from 21 to 30 July, says the English Chess Federation.

I'll certainly go along to watch for a day or two, but I fear I'm too rusty to survive in any of the open rapid-play events.

Friday, January 20, 2023

He was a good Cornish Liberal and a Radical:
Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch and True Tilda

I once imagined that Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (rhymes with Gooch), who signed himself Q and edited Horace Rumpole's beloved Oxford Book of English Verse, was an austere and distant figure.

Not a bit of it. When he was knighted by Asquith's government in 1910, it was for literary, educational and political services. He was a good Cornish Liberal and a Radical with it.

In 1899 he chaired a Liskeard meeting against the Boer War. The speakers were David  Lloyd George and the remarkable Emily Hobhouse, sister of L.T. 

As so often at these meetings, there were ugly scenes and Lloyd George had to be smuggled out of the building.

And in the academic world Quiller-Couch defended Liberalism against the Modernist High Toryism of T.S. Eliot.

He also wrote fiction, including at least one book for children, True Tilda.

This is a sort of feminist reworking of Oliver Twist, in which Tilda, a resourceful female Artful Dodger on the side of good, helps a traumatised younger boy find his fortune.

In hospital after an accident in the circus ring, Tilda hears a tale of injustice from a woman dying in the next bed. As soon as she is discharged she springs the boy, Arthur, from the evil Dr Glasson's orphanage and, travelling by canal boat and other means, the two of them evade his pursuit.

Eventually they arrive at Holmness in the Bristol Channel where Arthur finds his fortune. He turns out, inevitably, to be the lost son of an aristocratic family.

True Tilda was adapted by the BBC in the 1990s, an era when I didn't own a television. The other day - and this is my reason for writing all this - a fragment of the series turned up on YouTube.

I'd normally skip to the start of the episode, but the trailers here are of period interest - Chesterfield in an FA Cup semi-final and the great Stephen Lewis.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Two prisoners escape from Wormwood Scrubs during a performance of The Mousetrap

Let's turn to the Birmingham Post of Monday 16 March 1959:

Fifteen minutes before the curtain was rung down last night on a Wormwood Scrubs Prison production of the Agatha Christie thriller The Mousetrap, it was discovered that two prisoners were missing,

That was despite the governor receiving a warning from the police that an escape might be planned.

I like this observation:

Derek Blomfleld - he plays the part of a detective sergeant - thanking the prisoners for their reception. said: "Usually, at the end of each performance, I say ... 'do not tell your friends and relations who done it'." The prisoners applauded loudly.

Gold-wrapped steaks, where late the sweet birds sang

Judging by this report in the Leicester Mercury, it's all a bit Salt Bae:

A new Leicester restaurant is preparing to open its doors - and it's certainly going to bring something new to the table. Not only is Emre Smokehouse and Grill located in a beautifully restored Grade II-listed former church, the restaurant will give customers the opportunity to enjoy tableside shows from the experienced chefs, who will use fire to create a theatrical dining experience.

You will even be able to see one of the chefs cut a steak while blindfolded. Plus, you can choose to have your steak gilded in gold for a truly luxurious meal.

But if the new inhabitants of the area worship according to different rites - and the indigenous English often don't worship at all - what else can you do?

The former church, incidentally, is St Barnabas in Leicester, where I met the electrician who had come to make it safe and was allowed to go round and and take some photos.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Mr Derek in the Further Adventures of Bulldog Basil

Maybe this doesn't show them at their best, but clips of Basil Brush with Derek Fowlds, his finest companion by far, rarely turn up on YouTube.

Enjoy it while you can.

A Richard Jefferies Wildlife Walk to mark his 175th birthday

From the Richard Jefferies Museum site:

This year, to commemorate and celebrate Jefferies' 175th birthday, we are planning a grand walk to expore the nature of "Jefferies' Land", and record it all in a book. Our route starts from Jefferies' grave in Worthing and take us via all the main places where he lived in his short life, ending up back at his birthplace (the museum) on his 175th birthday - 6 November 2023.

But don't worry, we're not trying to walk the whole thing in one go, and not on our own - will you join us?

After Worthing, the walk passes through Hove and Rotherfield in East Susses, before heading north to Eltham, Sydenham and Tolworth in South London. From there it heads for the Richard Jefferies Museum at Coate Water on the edge of Swindon.

Follow the link above for more on the project.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

The glory years of Snailbeach football

These days you will find Snailbeach White Stars in the Shrewsbury & District Sunday League, but they used to play at a higher level.

Remarkably, in the sixteen seasons between 1966/7 and 1981/2 the club won the Shropshire County Premier League six times, the last three titles coming in consecutive seasons.

Where did this tiny village, best known for its abandoned lead mine and (in those days) gleaming white spoil heaps, draw its players from?

In those days, it seems, Snailbeach White Stars also played in Welsh cup competitions. I remember talking to someone who had grown up in Aberystwyth and was puzzled by this place with a strange name that he couldn't find on any map of Wales.

If we want better public health we must defend local sports facilities

In a recent The Rest is Politics podcast, Alastair Campbell talked about the way many countries see sport as responsibility of the health ministry. In Britain, however, it's lumped in with culture as one of those things that are nice to have but where government spending when can be cut when times are hard.

John Harris has an article in the Guardian today looking at the results of this mistaken policy:

Clearly, this is a country that needs to get better at looking after itself. But while glaring facts about the intersection of poverty and ill health are serially ignored, public health is also hindered and damaged by a dismal failure to join up one area of policy with another. 

If you want particularly vivid proof of that very British syndrome, try this: as hospitals break and buckle, local leisure centres and swimming pools are also in the midst of crisis.

Piece through the news archives, and there it all is: recent closures in such places as Huddersfield, Milton Keynes, Rye in East Sussex, Coventry and Hull. In Gateshead, people are waiting for a council decision about two big leisure centres, which could spell the end of pools, gyms and squash courts. 

One high-profile local doctor recently nailed what is at stake: "Take a poor area with massive health inequalities. Remove the last remaining public exercise facilities from the poorest bits of said poor areas. Watch what happens to health. It’s an experiment that the people of Gateshead don’t deserve to be a part of."

It's already happened in Swindon, where there is a campaign to reopen the listed Oasis Leisure Centre, which has been closed since November 2020. The video above shows what the town has lost - it already feels like a relic of a lost civilisation.

Because it's Swindon, I thought of Richard Jefferies and a passage from Bevis that I have quoted before.

In it, an astounded farm labourer watches two boys swimming:

For seventy years he had laboured in that place, and never once gone out of sight of the high Down yonder, and in all that seventy years no one till Bevis and Mark, and now their pupil Jack, had learned to swim. ...

Very likely no one had learned since the Norman Conquest. When the forests were enclosed and the commonality forbidden to hunt, the spirit of enterprising exercise died out of them. Certainly it is a fact that until quite recently you might search a village from end to end and not find a swimmer; and most probably if you found one now he would be something of a traveller, and not a home-staying man.

The increasing polarisation of incomes in Britain means Jefferies may here be giving us a picture, not of our past, but our future.

The Joy of Six 1103

"The welfare state is not a safety net that catches us when we fall on difficult times; it’s a thin, measly sheet of the cheapest single-ply tissue which you plunge straight through before hitting the ground with a nasty thump." Amy Taylor on what happens in Britain today if you are suddenly unable to work.

Pam Jarvis reads Spare: "I didn’t predict that I would be left with such an aching sadness for Harry, his brother and his mother and to some extent his father; normal, flawed human beings trapped and tormented within a crumbling, cruelly dysfunctional gilded cage."

Robert Hutton says Simon Case and Lord Geidt failed in their duty to keep Boris Johnson in check and should go.

"Psychiatrists often won’t attribute a patient’s deterioration to drug effects but conclude the patient’s illness has worsened - although any mechanism for this 'illness' will likely be left mysterious. Perhaps the case will be deemed 'treatment-resistant'. Perversely, the inevitable response to such ‘resistance’ will be to administer heavier-duty drugs." Neil Broatch:argues that psychiatric medication can create a vicious circle.

Benjie Goodhart investigates mass sociogenic illness, which left 12,000 children in Japan needing a doctor.

"Bunyan’s inspiring story is one of courage and strength, demonstrating that living authentically is always the best decision you can make. Bunyan has inspired plenty of twenty-first-century artists since the rerelease of Just Another Diamond Day, a sublime record that still deserves to be heard by more listeners." Aimee Ferrier celebrates the renaissance of Vashti Bunyan.

Monday, January 16, 2023

Sir Alec Guinness's great grandson plays left back for Reading

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Not a bad Trivial Fact of the Day, I think you'll agree.

Here's Nesta Guinness-Walker being interviewed by London News Online three years ago, when he was an AFC Wimbledon player:

The 19-year-old is the great-grandson of the Star Wars actor Sir Alec Guinness, who played Obi Wan-Kenobi in the original trilogy series.

Guinness’s son Matthew has also featured in films and in theatre. Sally Guinness - Nesta’s mother - has appeared in three dramas since 2015.

“He [Alec Guinness] died when I was almost one so I don’t remember much, but a lot of people know a lot about him,” said Guinness-Walker.

Wind-battered and unique, Alistair Carmichael talks about the challenges of representing Orkney and Shetland

Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney and Shetland, talks about the challenge of balancing the needs of family, party and his unique constituency in an interview with The House magazine.

In a typical week he travels some 500 miles, leaving his Orkney home on Monday for London, where he stays until Thursday afternoon. Friday and Saturday he spends on Orkney or Shetland, hopping between islands via flight or ferry depending on what the weather is doing. 

Many of his fellow MPs simply do not understand how geographically broad his beat is. Lerwick, the main town on Shetland, is closer to Norway than it is to Edinburgh.

Much of his casework involves smoothing tensions between old ways and new, such as meeting with members of Shetland’s fishing community concerned that chunks of their fishing waters have been sold off to make way for renewables development. 

"The sea bed is an increasingly crowded space and when electricity and telecoms cables, oil and gas pipelines and now renewable energy developments are all present, their protections can exclude fishermen from grounds they have worked for generations," Carmichael says. 

Last October, damage caused to an underwater comms cable by a fishing boat caused chaos on Shetland, making it impossible for islanders to pay bills online, buy fuel or use ATMs for three days. "The initial loss of connection was catastrophic," the MP adds. "It affected mobiles and landlines alike." 

The future of island farming is also a hot topic. "Some of the young farmers come to me and ask: “is this really an industry that has a future?"

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Top trivia: Shirley Williams and Softly Softly

While writing my recent posts on Softly Softly: Task Force I've had at the back of my mind a memory of reading that Frank Windsor, who played Barlow's sidekick John Watt, and his wife had lived in a commune with Shirley Williams and her then husband, the philosopher Bernard Williams.

It sounds unlikely, but it turns out to be two-thirds true.

Shirley and Bernard Williams shared a house in Holland Park with the publisher Hilary Rubinstein and his wife Helge for 14 years.

Part of the house was let as a flat, and the tenants were Frank and Mary Windsor.

Shirley Williams' autobiography Climbing the Bookshelves gives a flavour of life in the house:
Back at Phillimore Place the child population had multiplied. The Rubinsteins' third, Mark, was born a few weeks before Rebecca, and our tenants Frank Windsor, the TV actor of such noted series as Z Cars, and his wife Mary had produced a daughter, Amanda. 
Looking after them all was much easier than it would have been for a nuclear family living on on its' own. All the adults worked outside the home, but at different times of the day. I was usually away in the afternoons and evenings, since the main vote in Parliament was at 10 p.m. following several hours of debate, so I was often around in the mornings, at least until I became a minister. 
Bernard would be at home during the university vocations and Helge, who was a marriage guidance counsellor, conducted many of her consultations at home too. 
There was always a familiar adult around, for the small but significant crises that erupt in family life, the scratched knee or the dead goldfish. So the stress and guilt that afflict so many families were minimised.
Ladies and gentleman, we have our Trivial Fact of the Week.

Why I'm afraid of Virginia Woolf: Eugenics and modernist literature

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Stephen Unwin in Byline Times quotes Virginia Woolf's for Sunday 9 January 1915. She and her husband Leonard had been out for a "very good walk" along the Thames towpath from Richmond to Kingston, when they encountered "a long line of imbeciles":

"The first was a very tall man, just queer enough to look at twice, but no more; the second shuffled, and looked aside; and then one realised that everyone in that long line was a miserable, ineffective, shuffling, idiotic creature with no forehead, or no chin, and an imbecile grin, or a wild suspicious stare. It was perfectly horrible. They should certainly be killed."

This is appalling, but not such a shock if you know how widespread support for eugenicist ideas was in the early 20th century.

I have blogged before about Keynes and Beveridge's support for this cause, and John Carey once published a book, The Intellectuals and the Masses, that looked at the repugnant political views of a host of renowned literary figures, including George Bernard Shaw, D.H. Lawrence and W.B. Yeats.

Some of these were Fabian socialists - the Guardian obituary for Paul Johnson reveals that Leonard Woolf was a member of the New Statesman board as late as 1965.

But most were modernist literary figures and we should have learnt by now that there is no necessary connection between an innovative approach to literary forms and liberal politics.

As Edward Mendelson's wrote in his introduction to W.H. Auden: Selected Poems,

Auden was the first poet writing in English who felt at home in the twentieth century. He welcomed into his poetry all the disordered conditions of his time, all its variety of language and event. 
In this, as in almost everything else, he differed from his modernists predecessors such as Yeats, Lawrence, Eliot or Pound, who had turned nostalgically away from a flawed present to some lost illusory Eden where life was unified, hierarchy secure, and the grand style a natural extension of the vernacular.

So it should not be such a surprise that the literary figure of this era who was most securely opposed to eugenicist ideas, and saw most clearly where they might lead, was the wacky Catholic apologist G.K. Chesterton.

Steve Gibbons Band: Like a Rolling Stone

In October it was announced that Steve Gibbons was to get his due: a star on Broad Street’s celebrated Walk of Stars in Birmingham.

Jim Simpson, the former Black Sabbath manager and a local impresario, told Birmingham World:

"Steve Gibbons has been at the heart of rock music in this city, almost since the very beginning, and this 'Star' is a much-deserved tribute to his life and work."

You can read about Gibbons's Sixties career in The Uglys on the Brumbeat site.

Here, with the Steve Gibbons Band, he does Dylan. He introduces his bandmates - notably Trevor Burton from The Move - towards the end of the number.

A word too for the drummer: Alan "Sticky" Wickett.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Richard Foord deeply concerned at wild camping ruling

Richard Foord, the Liberal Democrat MP for Tiverton and Honiton, has expressed deep concern at a judicial ruling that has removed the right to wild camping on Dartmoor.

In a thread on Twitter he said:

As a child, I wild camped on Dartmoor when training for the Ten Tors expedition and for the Duke of Edinburgh Award. Without these experiences I would not have joined the Army or trained to be a Mountain Leader.

Like many people across the South West, I regularly enjoy getting out into nature with my children and spending evenings camped under the stars. Restricting people’s right to do this is damaging and will really limit the opportunities our kids have to explore the countryside.

We must protect people’s right to respectfully enjoy our green spaces and national parks. They must remain open and accessible, not closed off. I will seek to raise this issue in Parliament next week and push for action to safeguard this historic right.

I'm all in favour of private property, but the exact rights that owning property brings with it are something for public debate and political decision. I see nothing to be said for a legal position that allows large landowners to act like Smaug on his hoard.

The people campaigning for change include the campaign group Right to Roam.

One of the books I read at my mother's bedside in her final months was The Book of Trespass by Nick Hayes. 

As the Guardian review by William Atkins says:

Summarising English property law, from the first Act of Enclosure in 1235 to the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act of 2005, Hayes persuasively implicates the country’s large private estates - and the very notion of such large-scale exclusive land ownership - in the nation’s foundational evils. 

"Race, class, gender, health, income are all divisions imposed upon society by the power that operates on it," he writes. "If this power is sourced in property, then the fences that divide England are not just symbols of the partition of people, but the very cause of it." 

To peer through these palings is to gaze into the country’s dark heart: on the other side, ordinarily hidden from public view, is a scene of vampiric exploitation sustained by a quasi-religious belief in the sanctity of private space.

I recommend this book, though I can see Richard Foord's arguments playing better in Conservative marginals.

Dixon of Dock Green: Not as cosy as the critics tell us

Stratford Johns's Inspector Barlow began life in Z Cars in 1962. The critics all say that this series had such an impact because, until then, police drama on television had meant Dixon of Dock Green, which presented a laughably cosy picture of British policing.

Not many episodes of Dixon survive - certainly, few have made their way on to YouTube - but I thought I would watch one of them so I could form my own judgement.

So I chose Wasteland from 1970 and was pleasantly surprised.

Yes, you have to set aside the fact that Jack Warner was by then visibly a couple of decades past retirement age. And even Dixon's son-in-law Andy Crawford, played by Peter Byrne, must have been disappointed not to have made it past Detective Sergeant at his age.

But get past that and there's nothing cosy about it.

Dixon's opening monologue, the description of the missing police officer's dream by his wife and, above all, the vast derelict landscape in which it is set give Wasteland an eerie quality.

And, perhaps because the show was developed by the Labour-supporting Ted Willis, the script is on the side of the ordinary constable rather than the higher ranks - note the disparaging comment about the police medical service.

Among the cast we find - long before Inspector Morse or The Box of Delights - James Grout as Chief Inspector Prescott. His boss, Chief Superintendent Bannister, is played by Arnold Peters, who was the voice of Jack Wooley on The Archers for many years.

You may also recognise the mother of the little boy who collects the numbers of police cars. She is Anna Karen, better known as Olive from On the Buses.

But the real star of the show is that landscape. I believe it was filmed on the Isle of Dogs and that the 'wasteland' is the Mudchute, which is now a park with an urban farm and its own station on the Docklands Light Railway.

Some people on Twitter say they recognise the vast industrial building at the start of the episode from Doctor Who and Blake's 7. Where do television companies find to film now that Docklands has been redeveloped? These derelict riverside locations were a favourite of Gideon and The Sweeney too.

So that's The Wasteland for you - a warning not to accept the word of critics uncritically.

Friday, January 13, 2023

Shrewsbury Tories falling apart as Daniel Kawczynski is reselected

Daniel Kawczynski, the Conservative MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham, reports the Shropshire Star, has been reselected to contest the seat at the next general election.

But the Star reveals more than that:

It is understood that during the discussion one member read out controversial entries on Mr Kawczynski's Wikipedia page, including being found to have bullied a member of parliamentary staff by a House of Commons standards investigation.

And Guido Fawkes reports a "strong attempt" to deselect Kawczynski, and that the chairman, the treasurer and another executive officer resigned during the meeting.

The site has obtained a copy of the chairman's letter of resignation, which shows that the national party took over the conduct of the meeting at the last minute.

If you want to know why Tory members in Shrewsbury might wsnt to see a different candidate, that Wikipedia entry for Daniel Kawczynski is not a bad place to begin.

Shrewsbury and Atcham is a seat that both Labour and the Lib Dems have hopes of capturing next time round.

The Lib Dems already have an impressive candidate, Alex Wagner in place, while Labour, says the Star, is

scheduled to start its candidate selection in the next few months.

Don't knock yourself out guys.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

The Joy of Six 1102

"Becoming conservative requires the means, and it's the Conservatives who are frustrating the acquisition of means. And so the constituency is in decline." A Very Public Sociologist foretells the demise of Conservatism.

Tim Bateman highlights the case for and resistance against raising the age in England and Wales. "In law, young people are not, for instance, considered sufficiently mature to make decisions in relation to the purchase of alcohol and tobacco, apply for a credit card, or get married without parental permission, until eighteen years of age. Full culpability for behaviour that transgresses the criminal law is attributed eight years earlier."

When Victoria was born she was fifth in the line of accession to the throne. Charles Littleton on the series of events that led to her accession.

"Moviedrome whiffled through this world of serious film study like the freshest of breezes. Those who feared that understanding cinema required a degree and/or a French-English dictionary, here was a programme that provided a way of seeing and appreciating movies that was the furthest thing from dry and poncy." Richard Luck celebrates the film criticism of Alex Cox.

A London Inheritance identifies a mystery location photographed by his father at the end of the second world war.

Dedicated scholarship by Dirty Feed finds there are differences between the published script of the Gourmet Night episode of Fawlty Towers and the broadcast version we all know and love.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

The London Underground and why Brixton became home to many people arriving from the Caribbean

Driven from his native Cornwall by Ross Poldark and the Reverend Trescothick, Jago Hazzard records another video on London Transport and London's transport.

This time, among other things, he explains why Brixton became home to so many people arriving from the Caribbean.

You can support Jago's videos via his Patreon page.

Andrew Bridgen suspended by Conservative Party

Andrew Bridgen, the MP for North West Leicestershire, has been suspended by the Conservative Party for spreading misinformation about Covid vaccination.

Bridgen, who is currently serving a five-day suspension from parliament for breaking rules on registering financial interests, will lose the party whip while an investigation takes place.

The suspension follows a tweet that Bridgen sent this morning calling the Covid vaccination programme "the biggest crime against humanity since the holocaust".

Simon Hart, the Tory chief whip, told BBC News that Bridgen's comments had "crossed a line" and caused great offence:

"As a nation we should be very proud of what has been achieved through the vaccine programme.

"The vaccine is the best defence against Covid that we have. Misinformation about the vaccine causes harm and costs lives."

The consultant cardiologist is believed to work at another hospital, so you wouldn't know him.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

David Duckham 1946-2023

Sad news. The England rugby union player David Duckham has died at the age of 76.

When I was a boy you did not support England so much as suffer with them. There always seemed to be four new caps, and the they always seemed to lose.

Just about the only constant in those days was David Duckham, by some way our best player. Even the Welsh honoured him by calling him "Dai Duckham".

Duckham had played on the wing for the British Lions team that won in New Zealand in 1970/1, but England generally played him in the centre in the hope that he would see more of the ball there.

The video above gives you an idea of his abilities.

It's also worth noting that Duckham played for Coventry, who were the best club side in England in the Sixties and early Seventies.

The original Phoenix Theatre, Leicester

We've seen the death of commercial theatre in Leicester in 1960 and the remarkable company that stepped in to fill the gap.

But The Living Theatre couldn't defy redevelopment for ever: it was sacrificed to a road scheme in 1963.

Click on the image above to view a BBC report on what happened next in Leicester theatre. Look out for a young Anthony Hopkins doing his own make up in the mirror.

The Phoenix did not disappear after five years: in fact the building was improved and extended and. as The Sue Townsend Theatre, still stands today.

As a teenager I saw Shakespeare and Brecht there, even the though the city council had opened the larger Haymarket theatre.

That specialised in musicals and productions that had come from, or hoped to go to, the West End, while the Phoenix was more experimental and often more interesting.

The Arthur Brown site explains what has happened in Leicester theatre more recently.

Monday, January 09, 2023

The British Newspaper Archive: it's almost like stalking

Posting a clip of Norman Bowler in Softly Softly: Task Force the other day, I mentioned that his character's Wsst Country accent was probably the result of his having been happily evacuated to Wiltshire as a small boy during the war.

And having found Bowler reading extracts from his elusive memoirs, I knew that it was the remote village to Chitterne, surrounded by Ministry of Defence Land and Salisbury Plain, to which he and an older brother were sent.

So I thought I would see if the British Newspaper Archive had any record of him there. And, remarkably, he crops up in three stories from the Wiltshire Times and Trowbridge Advertiser.

On 10 May 1941 he makes what may be his stage debut as John and Norman Bowler play pages in the schoolchildren's play Cinderella in Verse.

That summer, on 29 July 1941, the paper reports the results of the Chitterne children's sports. We find Norman winning the boys 7 to 9 east potato race and, what sounds like a blue ribband event, the boys 7 to 9 flat race.

And the following year, on 2 May 1942, Norman received a book prize at the Chitterne School Bird and Tree Festival.

So that's the British Newspaper Archive. It's almost like stalking.