Thursday, November 30, 2023

A podcast on Ladybird Books and L. du Garde Peach

We should soon have the answer to the question of who murdered the Princes in the Tower. 

A YouTube channel says it will be posting the Second Verdict programme from 1976 in which Barlow and Watt from Softly, Softly investigate the mystery.

Let's see Richard III go head to head with Barlow in the interview room and see if he still looks so innocent.

In the mean time, we can listen to an episode of The History of England podcast which looks at Ladybird Books and in particular at their books on British history and the author of many of them, L. du Garde Peach.

Peach who, besides the many accomplishments outlined here, was a Liberal parliamentary candidate - he fought Derby at the 1929 general election - emerges as an attractive figure.

Charles Masterman and the Imperial War Museum's art collection

Embed from Getty Images

If you are interested in 20th-century British art then one of the best places in London to visit is, perhaps unexpectedly, the Imperial War Museum.

An old book review in the Washington Post explains why this is the case:

Yet, amid the carnage, civilization survived. The Liberal politician Charles Masterman, who headed the British government’s propaganda arm, recruited artists to record their impressions of war. Masterman did not want paintings that would inspire in the short term but rather works that would educate 100 years hence. 
"Paint anything you like," he told his artists. What resulted was the sublime collection of paintings now housed at the Imperial War Museum, an institution dedicated not to the celebration of war but to its comprehension.

Chalk another one up to this blog's favourite Edwardian Liberal.

I once wrote about Masterman's work as head of British propaganda at the start of the first world war in Liberator. And there's a post on his role in commissioning war artists on Tall Tales from the Trees, a blog I used to enjoy.

Alistair Darling's politics were not as dull as people are saying

I'm sorry to hear of the death of Alistair Darling. We owe him our gratitude as, together with Gordon Brown, he did much to stabilise the world financial system after the global crisis of 2007-8.

He is being written of as an outwardly dull politician who was funny and charming in private life.

While such figures today seem to belong to a more civilised but vanished order, it's fair to say that Darling's politics were not always dull.

So let me, in a spirit of affection, repeat the George Galloway's reminiscences from the Daily Record in March 2008:

When I first met him 35 years ago Darling was pressing Trotskyite tracts on bewildered railwaymen at Waverley Station in Edinburgh. He was a supporter of the International Marxist Group, whose publication was entitled the Black Dwarf. 

Later, in preparation for his current role he became the treasurer of what was always termed the rebel Lothian Regional Council. Faced with swinging government spending cuts which would have decimated the council services or electorally ruinous increases in the rates, Alistair came up with a creative wheeze. 

The council, he said, should refuse to set a rate or even agree a budget at all, plunging the local authority into illegality and a vortex of creative accounting leading to bankruptcy. 

Surprisingly, this strategy had some celebrated friends. There was "Red Ted" Knight, the leader of Lambeth council, in London, and Red Ken Livingstone newly elected leader of Greater London Council. Red Ally and his friends around the Black Dwarf were for a time a colourful part of the Scottish left. 

The late Ron Brown, Red Ronnie as he was known, was Alistair's bosom buddy. He was thrown out of Parliament for placing a placard saying hands off Lothian Region on Mrs Thatcher's despatch box while she was addressing the House. And Darling loved it at the time. 

The former Scottish trade union leader Bill Speirs and I were dispatched by the Scottish Labour Party to try and talk Alistair Darling down from the ledge of this kamikaze strategy, pointing out that thousands of workers from home helps to headteachers would lose their jobs as a result and that the council leaders - including him - would be sequestrated, bankrupted and possibly incarcerated. How different things might have been. 

Anyway, I well remember Red Ally's denunciation of myself as a "reformist", then just about the unkindest cut I could have imagined.

Yes, Darling's politics were once so exciting that the Scottish Labour Party sent George Galloway to talk some sense into him.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Once Upon a Time in Leicester

This starts with footage of Leicester's trams set to Leone's theme from Once Upon a Time in the West, surveys the city's lost shops and factories, before ending with the numerous institutions in which Leicester people might find themselves incarcerated.

HMP Gartree near Market Harborough and Leicester Belgrave Road, the city's lost railway terminus, are in the mix too.

Oh, do not ask, "What is it?"
Let us go and make our visit.

30 senior Lib Dems call on the party to be less cautious - and the leadership fluffs its reply

Thirty senior Liberal Democrat members have signed a letter to the Guardian arguing that the party under Ed Davey is being too cautious and needs to explain to voters what it stands for before the general election.

You can read the whole letter on the newspaper website, but here is its opening:

Rishi Sunak’s government is tired and incompetent, but what comes next? As the election draws nearer, Keir Starmer’s caution only grows. There is a massive opportunity for a liberal alternative based on internationalism, environmental awareness and modernising Britain. But we believe the Liberal Democrats are swerving this opportunity, not seizing it.

It is crucial that we are brave and honest about the challenges a new government will face, with distinctive positions the Tories would never take and Labour dares not adopt.

The letter then sets out some areas where we have better policies than Labour, before concluding:
We have bolder policies than Labour on the environment, fair votes and human rights, but we are not communicating them. At a general election, echoing Labour’s general antipathy to the Tories through local campaigns is part of the battle but insufficient on its own.

Only a statement of confident liberalism – on Europe, the environment, political reform and public services - will show people that the Lib Dems are a national force worth supporting. We do well when we have a principled message that cuts through, such as our current one on Gaza.

Paddy Ashdown understood this in 1996, when he foresaw a Labour government but feared that not much would change. He set out a clear alternative to both big parties. With Labour in the ascendant again, today’s Liberal Democrats must heed his success.
My impression is that these views are quite widely shared within the party. I wrote something similar myself when reviewing For a Fair Deal in Liberator. 

The Guardian has also run a news story about the letter, and this quotes a response from a Lib Dem spokesperson:
"It would be a comforting luxury to act as the most democratic thinktank in British politics and navel-gaze amongst ourselves. But after this Conservative government has wrecked our economy, broken our NHS and damaged Britain’s reputation on the international stage - the focus of this party is to defeat as many Conservatives as we can at the next election, and get them out of power."
I don't know whether that was Freddie or Fiona, but I recognise the tone. It's the one that Liberal and Lib Dem leaders adopt when they and their party are getting tired of each other. It's the tone the leadership adopts when it has convinced itself that only the leader and the people around the leader care about power and know what must be done to secure it.

In reality, many of us are afraid that our strategy of treating the next general election as a cluster of by-elections will fail. 

It's for that reason, I support the call for us to be more vocal on Europe, not because I am a idealistic European federalist (I'm not) or because I want to be a member of a debating society (I don't). 

I support it because the British economy is in such a state that the next government will need a rapid injection of growth to be able to afford any part of the programme of rebuilding the country needs. And rejoining the Single Market is the only policy measure I can see that will have this effect.

And we will need an answer to how we will fund that rebuilding come the general election. We won't survive the campaign if we do not have one.

Anyway, let's end on a lighter note. The Guardian does not list all the signatories of the letter. Among the few who do get a namecheck is William Hobhouse, who the paper thinks, stands out because he is a 'descendant of L.T. Hobhouse (early British social liberal)'.

The real bombsites of A Canterbury Tale

Study the bombsites in A Canterbury Tale closely and you realise that a lot of matte painting and model-making has gone into producing them.  

I wrote that back in the summer. So here are some photographs of life in Canterbury after the German 'Baedeker' raid of 1942.

Embed from Getty Images

Embed from Getty Images

Embed from Getty Images

Embed from Getty Images

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

"Malcolm Saville made me an archaeologist"

Thank you to the reader who sent me the link to an account of a talk given at the Hay Winter Festival by the archaeologist Miranda Aldhouse-Green:

In the question and answer session, she was asked what her inspiration for becoming an archaeologist was, and she talked about the books of Malcolm Saville, especially Lone Pine Five, set around the Long Mynd in Shropshire (in fact, set so securely round the Long Mynd that a fan of the books used to lead walks to places that were mentioned in the text). One of the characters finds a Roman spoon in a cave, and that was the moment she decided she wanted to be an archaeologist.

I think that would have delighted the great man.

The account of Lone Pine Five here is a little garbled, in that Jenny finds the spoon, not in a cave, but in an auction in the yard of the 'Rose and Crown' at Bishop's Castle, which sounds like the real-life Three Tuns there.

Microwave starts fire at Blists Hill Victorian Town

The Shropshire Star wins our Headline of the Day Award by a distance.

Chuckles were heard from the judging room, but I feel sure that in the steampunk world there is such a thing as a steam-driven microwave.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Jenny Agutter, Sally Thomsett and Bernard Cribbins: The Railway Children 40 years on

The Railway Children was released in 1970. In 2010 Jenny Agutter, Sally Thomsett and Bernard Cribbins came together for a reunion screening to celebrate the film's 40th anniversary. This is a short extract from their discussion.

A bit of Railway Children trivia...

In the famous "Daddy, my Daddy!" scene, Cribbens dispatches the train with "Right away, Mr Cryer." That's because the guard was Bob Cryer, a big influence on the reopening of the Keighley and Worth Valley line who later became Labour MP for Keighley and then Bradford South.

His wife Ann and son John, who were both to become Labour MPs too, are also in the film as extras.

New Labour candidate for Leicester East stands down as a deputy mayor in London

Labour have chosen Rajesh Agrawal, one of Sadiq Khan's deputy mayors in London, to fight Leicester East at the next general election.

This is the seat currently represented by Claudia Webbe as an Independent. She was elected for Labour but removed from the Labour Party after being convicted of harassment.

Both Webbe and Keith Vaz, the Labour MP for Leicester East before her, are thought to be considering standing in the constituency as Independents next time round.

Today comes the inevitable news that Agrawal has stood down as Sadiq Khan's deputy mayor for business.

In the Leicester East selection, Rishi Madlani, a Camden councillor and the only other name on the shortlist, made much of his connections with Leicester. I've not heard any such claims made on Agrawal's behalf.

Terry Venables and the summer of 1996

The first Chelsea game I can remember is the 1967 FA Cup Final, when we lost 2-1 to Spurs. Terry Venables, a former Chelsea favourite, was playing for our opponents.

Legend has it that he was in the habit of stopping the Chelsea team in the tunnel after the manager Tommy Docherty's team talk and countermand it with one of his own. Docherty tired of this, sold him and bought Charlie Cooke to be our playmaker instead.

But then his mother had told the Chelsea official who came to her house with a contract for the young Venables to sign that her boy would make a better manager than player, because he never stopped talking about the game.

Terry Venables' death has made me remember the summer of 1996. England's 4-1 group victory in the European team championship, which we hosted, is just about the finest performance by an England team that I have seen. Every time we attacked we looked like scoring.

England felt European that June. There were visiting supporters from 15 other countries (including Scotland), the sun shone and even we played sexy football.

Venables' charm was part of the attractive England package, and since he was forced out of the England job over his financial affairs - a Labour MP called Kate Hoey was among his most persistent critics - being an England fan has rarely felt as good

It's more evidence that as far as Britain was cool in the 1990s, it was cool under John Major rather than Tony Blair. Oh yes.

The Joy of Six 1182

"Highlighting these cases is vital because they take place day in, day out, in courts up and down the country, and until this year, with the introduction of the pilot, we’ve not been able to shine a light on this important area of court business." Polly Rippon reports from the normally secretive family courts.

Anna Minton says the tide may finally be turning against the demolition of council estates: "Estate regeneration schemes have seen more than 100 of London's council estates demolished and replaced with developments of predominantly luxury apartments, redefining the British capital and fuelling the housing crisis. Communities across London have been displaced and tens of thousands of new homes have been built, but the vast majority are financially far out of reach for people seeking to buy a home, while thousands lie empty and unsold."

Mary Gagen explains why keeping one mature street tree is far better for humans and nature than planting lots of new ones.

"We’re  shocked  saddened and disgusted to see that our fellow Kensington blog From The Hornets Nest have been taken down. Yes. The whole blog." THis Is North Kensington on the worrying reason for the sudden disappearance of a popular blog.

"In April 1948, when the Edinburgh Lady Dynamos football team requested permission to play a charitable football match against an English select side at the New Meadowbank sports ground, they were denied permission by the City Corporation's General Purposes Committee. When they had been allowed to play there in 1946, 17,000 spectators had turned out to watch a 2-2 draw." Threadinburgh on the Edinburgh Lady Dynamos, the trailblazing women’s football team denied a sporting chance by the authorities.

Ian Visits chooses five Doctor Who episodes that feature the London Underground.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Rev., Tom Hollander and the shrinking market for Nick Clegg trivia

I went to put some flowers on my mother's grave this afternoon. When I got back I saw a tweet by Andrew Male about rewatching Tom Hollander's situation comedy Rev. He said it has lasted well and even looks prescient:

I now realise how much it was a show about a changing Britain, one where humanity and generosity were gradually being replaced by something more cruel and corporate.

That made me think about how the series and I how I would watch it on DVD with my mother in the days when she was still well enough to come over to my house. 

Andrew Male says that, like Doctor Who, it's all on iPlayer at the moment.

Then a tweet arrived from a Senior Welsh Liberal Democrat Who Now Writes Political Thrillers, asking if I knew that Nick Clegg had been directed in a play by Sam Mendes. I didn't know it. 

Peter Black's tweet sent me to one by Marie Le Conte. which quoted a 2010 Guardian article about... Tom Hollander's situation comedy Rev.

The vital passage says of Hollander:

At Cambridge, where he studied English, he took the title role in a memorable 1988 production of Cyrano de Bergerac that brought together an interesting array of talent. Sam Mendes, a childhood friend from Oxford, was the director, their pal Tom Piper was designer and Nick Clegg, then a frequent student actor, played Carbon de Castel-Jaloux, captain of the cadets.

The market for Nick Clegg trivia has been falling for years, yet I can remember when a blog post about his great great aunt was enough to get you a column with the New Statesman website.

And Tom Hollander's verdict on him has lasted as well as his sit com:

Hollander can't recall Clegg's student performances, but thinks he did well in this year's televised leadership debates. "I would say he's a better actor than Gordon Brown and a worse actor than Tony Blair."

But it was when Blair stopped acting, and everyone else despised him, that I came to have a grudging respect for him.

News and gossip from Peter Bone's Wellingborough

All political eyes are turning to Wellingborough, so here are the latest reports.

Peter Bone, you may recall, is currently facing a recall petition following his suspension from the Commons for six weeks when the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards upheld five allegations of bullying and one of sexual misconduct against him.

Today's Sunday Times alleges that Bone offered to resign his seat immediately, provided the Conservative Party would guarantee his girlfriend, already an approved candidate, a place on the shortlist for the ensuing by-election.

If they failed to do so, the story also says, then Bone would stand as an Independent to split the Conservative vote.

Bone denies these allegations, saying that the plan was put to him by others, and he turned it down. But the report does say that he is expected to stand against the Conservatives if there is a by-election following the recall petition.

To force a by-election, that petition needs 7940 signatures, but the Northamptonshire Telegraph has reported local disquiet with the arrangements for signing it.

Marion Turner-Hawes, an Independent member of Wellingborough Town Council, says:

“I plan to make a complaint on the basis that it is completely inappropriate where they have assigned people. The biggest concern is that 7,000 to 8,000 people in Wellingborough are being sent to Finedon – four miles away. You could walk it but imagine if you’re elderly or disabled trying to get there under your own steam. There is a bus but it’s not easy."

She added:

"I know people can do a postal vote but they should not be forced to do that, it should be a choice.

"If we want democracy to work, it needs to be close to where people live. It’s not just in my ward. I’ve heard of people living near Redwell Leisure Centre having to go to Wellingborough Rugby Club in Cut Throat Lane."

The paper quotes North Northamptonshire Council, which is running the petition, as saying that some of the venues it normally uses as polling stations have Christmas events planned and are unwilling to make themselves available for the whole of the petition period.

On a happier note, Wellingborough Rugby Club wins our Name of the Day Award for having a ground called Cut Throat Lane. Their welcome sign must strike fear into arriving teams.

The Move: California Man

This is The Move at the end of their career, when their chief movers were Roy Wood, who wrote California Man, and Jeff Lynne. Those two were, at the same time. also the founders of the Electric Light Orchestra, who became better known as ELO.

Roy Wood became disenchanted with the Electric Light Orchestra project, whose idea was to combine rock with classical instruments, because it proved difficult to balance the different instruments in live performances.

He went on to found Wizzard, so perhaps it's not surprising that California Man, with its rock and roll pastiche and comic staging, sounds most like one of that band's singles.

Wizzard faded after a stellar 1973, but the ELO seemed to go on for ever. Their singles were radio friendly but as the late Simon Titley once remarked, the problem with Jeff Lynne's music was that it all sounded like Jeff Lynne.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

More than 800 episodes of Doctor Who available on BBC iPlayer

My Doctor was Jon Pertwee, though Roger Delgado as The Master and Nicholas Courtney as the Brigadier did just as much to make those years special.

To celebrate the show's 60th birthday, the BBC has put every Doctor Who episode it can  - more than 800 - and many other related programmes on iPlayer.

Though I fully approved of the show's revival in 2005, I rarely watch it. Perhaps, with its talk of 'story arcs' and 'showrunners', I feel has it has its devoted adult fans too much in mind.

So if you click on the image above you will be taken to the the first of the five episodes of the 1971 story The Daemons.

With is flavours of folk horror, M.R. James and Dennis Wheatley, The Daemons is very 1971 indeed.

And I have another reason for liking it. The Daemons was filmed at Aldbourne in Wiltshire, and in September 1996 I gave the Richard Jefferies Society Birthday Lecture in that village's Memorial Hall.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Beautiful footage of the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway

The Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway is one of our most mourned lines. Jointly owned by the Midland and the London and South Western, it ran from Bath to Bournemouth

As well as carrying Somerset coal and agricultural produce, it brought holidaymakers to the South Coast. It's crack train was the Pines Express, which ran from Manchester to Bournemouth.

My mother worked for the police in Somerset before I was born. She used to say that their exercise to test their preparedness for a civil emergency imagined the wrecking of this train.

As you will see from this video, the line ran through some beautiful country.

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Radio One's Tom Browne sounded exactly like James Mason

I remember Tom Browne, who compered Radio One's Sunday afternoon chart show Solid Gold Sixty in the early 1970s, as having a deep, warm voice.

And Wikipedia does indeed tell us that, like Stuart Henry, he was an actor before he was a DJ. A graduate of RADA, no less,

But when I found a clip of him, I was still startled to find that he sounded exactly like James Mason. Not exactly poptastic, great mate.

The clip does confirm my memory that the charts in 1975 were a mess. They were choked with novelty records, glam had died and punk was still slouching towards Soho to be born.

The Joy of Six 1181

Alwyn Turner argues that the roots of the Daleks are to be found in the second world war: "That night 165 people were killed, hundreds of houses were destroyed and Llandaff Cathedral was so badly damaged that it was closed for the next 15 months. A couple of hundred yards from the cathedral, ten-year-old Terry Nation was alone in an Anderson shelter. ... He spent that night and many others sheltering from the Luftwaffe’s bombs on his own, reading adventure stories and listening to incongruously cheerful programmes on the radio."

"The Conservatives now have a choice, they’ve even invented a new buzzword ‘headroom’, to describe the leeway they have. They could reject that Faragist populism wholesale and address the problems that confront people every day – food inflation, high rents/mortgages, bus and train cuts, crumbling public buildings – but they actively choose not to." Matthew Pennell says Rishi Sunak has brought with him  bad working practices from the corporate world and transferred them into the public affairs realm.

Municipal Dreams on the London County Council's open-air schools for delicate children.

Rose Staveley-Wadham looks at how the press covered the story during the Loch Ness Monster boom of the 1930s.

"Exploring the Midlands slowly and meticulously on foot also leads to other schemas materialising for dividing up the region. The jokey local name 'Banburyshire' for the uplands, partly in the Cotswolds, in the far south of Warwickshire, south western Northamptonshire and northern Oxfordshire, turns out to have a lot of grounding in topographical fact." Josh Allen introduces his no-cars-required walking guide to the English Midlands.

"Lewis works with analogies all the time – and the older you are of course, the more transparent the analogy.  In some ways, reading Narnia books as an adult makes you actually nostalgic for an age when you saw 'through a glass darkly'." Conrad Brunstrom reread C.S. Lewis's Narnia books during Covid lockdown.

Ana Savage Gunn wins Name of the Day - and will be the Lib Dem candidate if there's a Wellingborough by-election

Congratulations to Ana Savage Gunn. Not only has she won this blog's rarely presented Name of the Day Award, she's been selected as the Liberal Democrat candidate in the event of a Wellingborough by-election.

This will take place if the recall petition for Peter Bone receives the necessary 7940 signatures.

North Northamptonshire Lib Dems tell us all about Ana:

Ana was born and raised in Northamptonshire, and brings a wealth of experience in public service and care with her. 

She joined Northamptonshire Police in 1985 and rose to the rank of Inspector, serving across the county - including in Wellingborough - and she supervised the tactical firearms team. 

In 1994, Ana helped run security at the Atlanta Olympics and a couple of years after this became a law enforcement consultant in the US before her return to the UK and Northamptonshire. 

When COVID-19 broke out Ana retrained as a Health Care Assistant and worked in her mother’s care home before becoming a COVID clinic coordinator in the county. 

Ana continues to work at the care home, and is a trustee of Northamptonshire Carers, located in Wellingborough.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

John Rutter sang on the first recording of Britten's War Requiem

I can remember singing Old Abram Brown at school, but the first time I made a point of listening to one of Benjamin Britten's works I was in my early twenties. I had just read The Turn of the Screw and Radio Three was broadcasting the opera Britten made from it.

I found the music difficult, but interesting enough that I wanted to hear again.

Britten is now one of my very favourite composers, up there with Bach and Schubert. And the first of his works that I really got to understand was the War Requiem. I loved everything about it, even the austere black-and-white Decca box that the records came in.

Today, the 110th anniversary of Britten's birth, I came across this pleasing piece of trivia. The composer John Rutter sang on that Decca recording of the War Requiem as a member of the choir of Highgate School.

There is a fascinating video on YouTube in which you can hear Britten rehearsing the soloists, orchestra and choirs before that recording was made.

Here is a short and amusing clip from it. (If you follow the link to YouTube, you can listen to the whole thing.)

Who found Richard III and did the Princes in the Tower survive?

Philippa Langley was the catalyst of the dig that found Richard III in Leicester. In particular, she played an invaluable role in getting the city council enthused by the project. Without her intervention, it would not have agreed to the excavation of Britain's most famous car park.

But she is not "the historian who found Richard III," as you so often see her described. The old boy was found by archaeologists from the University of Leicester.

For a fair account of the dig, I recommend a History Extra podcast with the archaeologist and author Mike Pitts. It was recorded just as the film The King in the Car Park was released, and as Pitts foresaw, that film has led to trouble

He later gave his own views on the fairness of the way the film paints the university. As you will see from the post I wrote at the time, they were pretty forthright.


The idea that the Princes in the Tower survived, at least for a time, is an enticing one. Similar stories were told about the children of the last Tsar, Nicholas II, and about Louis XVII, the young son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

Many supported the claim of Anna Anderson that she was Anastasia, the Tsar's youngest daughter, while Peter Bessell, the Liberal MP of the 1960s, supported a man who claimed to be the Tsarevich Alexei.

This blog's hero Vaughan Wilkins wrote a novel. A King Reluctant, which imagined Louis XVII had been rescued and sent to Britain. This was filmed as Dangerous Exile, and as it was a British film of the 1950s, the boy was played by Richard O'Sullivan.

In recent years DNA fingerprinting - another breakthrough by the University of Leicester - has shown the the conventional wisdom was correct. Nicholas II's children all died with him at Yekaterinburg. Louis XVII died at the age of 10 while a prisoner at the Paris Temple.

I didn't find last weekend's documentary Philippa Langley and Robert Riner convincing, but the evidence that Richard III murdered the Princes in the Tower is not overwhelming. The boys just faded from view and the circumstantial case against Richard is strong.

Some commentators in the press, annoyed by Langley (as it easy to be), have leant too strongly on the discovery of two children's skeletons in the Tower of London in 1674 and their burial in an urn at Westminster Abbey. 

My impression is that there is much scepticism among historians about the identification of these bones as the remains of the Princes in the Tower. And the fact that the Royal Family and the Westminster Abbey authorities have resisted calls for the opening of the urn in recent years suggests there is a worry that tests would reveal that it does not contain royal remains. What would they do with the bones then?

For a better presentation of the case for the survival of the Princes in the Tower, listen to Matthew Lewis on the latest History Rage podcast.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Stuart Henry broadcasting on Radio One in 1973

Here's a clip of the Radio One and Radio Luxemburg DJ Stuart Henry in action and talking about his approach to the job. I wrote about him when choosing Queen Bitch by David Bowie on Sunday.

A product of Stewart's Melville College and Glasgow College of Dramatic Art, Henry was an actor before he went into music radio. His career on the pirate stations was short-lived because he suffered terribly with seasickness, but he found safe harbour at the BBC until his health began to decline.

In his obituary of Henry, Chris Welch quoted Johnny Beerling, a former controller of Radio One:

"Stuart was a great guy. He used to do a spot called 'She's Leaving Home', which was all about missing youngsters. 

He showed a concern for social action broadcasting a long time before Radio 1 was ever involved with it. He'd say, 'I'm no asking you to go back, my friend, what I want you to do is let your parents know you're all right." He'd get people to ring in and make contact. (He used the old Beatles song as a theme tune.) 

He also campaigned about nuclear testing and had an environment spot on his Saturday morning show, before it was a popular issue."

How strong is the science behind the unstoppable rise of phonics?

Here's a new edition of the science podcast The Studies Show. It comes to the conclusion that the case for using phonics, and nothing but phonics, in teaching children to read is not as strong as its adherents like to claim:

Teaching kids how to read is amazingly controversial. Or at least, it was controversial until recently, when we achieved a proper scientific consensus that the best way to teach them is to use systematic phonics. This method has seen big successes here in the UK, and is helping thousands of children achieve proper literacy.

…that’s the story, anyway. But how strong is that scientific consensus? What evidence do we have that systematic phonics is the best way to learn to read? In this episode of The Studies Show, Tom and Stuart look into the work of a prominent “phonics sceptic”, and find his arguments pretty compelling.

It's worth a listen. And there are some valuable links to further reading on the podcast's website too.

Monday, November 20, 2023

The River Welland from its source to the sea

This is a lovely video that follows the Welland for 65 miles from its source at Sibbertoft in Northamptonshire, through Market Harborough, Stamford, Market Deeping, Crowland, Spalding and The Wash.

I once looked for the spring at Sibbertoft that is said to be the source of the Welland, but was unable to find it. The makers of this video seem to agree with the people behind the local rewilding project of 10 years ago: these days there is no sign of a flow above the village sewage works.

Don't tell Lord Bonkers, but the reason the river seems to shrink before it reaches Stamford is that water is pumped into Rutland Water.

John Noakes, Biddy Baxter, Blue Peter: The Leicester connection

Go the post on John Thaw and Redcap I wrote the other day and click to watch the while video on YouTube. You will find that one of the soldiers in the episode is a young John Noakes with a not wholly convincing Welsh accent.

John Noakes, who died in 2017, presented the BBC children's programme Blue Peter between 1965 and 1978. And, having done a bit of research since blogging about Redcap, I know how he got the job.

The answer is in a Leicester Mercury article from 2018:
John Noakes, who was one of Blue Peter's best-loved presenters, only got his job in the show after his picture appeared in the Mercury.

Biddy Baxter, who produced the show that celebrates its 60th birthday today, grew up in Leicestershire and was leafing through the newspaper when she spotted a picture of John.

John, who died last year, was acting in Hobson’s Choice in Leicester and Biddy read about him during a weekend visit back home to the county.

She went on to hire him to join Christopher Trace and Valerie Singleton on the show, where be became her favourite presenter.

Biddy told the Mercury three years ago: "He was amazing - up for anything."
Noakes was not half complimentary about Biddy Baxter, but if you read a review of the new biography of her you will see he was not alone in his opinions.

But never mind that, because I have found what must be the article about Noakes that she saw. It appeared in the Leicester Mercury on 21 September 1965.

You can see the photograph of Noakes above, and the full text runs:
John Noakes started his working life as an aircraft engineer with B.O.A.C. after a spell in the R.A.F. and that Air Force experience came in very useful during his acting career when he spent six months in playing Whitley in Arnold Wesker's 'Chips with Everything'. 
He is making his first appearance at the Phoenix tonight as Willie Mossop in North Country comedy 'Hobson's Choice', but this will be the second time he has played the part. On the first occasion it was at the Castle Theatre, Farnham, and the director was the same - Clive Perry. 
After drama school he played in Cyril Fletcher's pantomime, 'Sleeping Beauty' at Cambridge, and followed this in a summer season at Yarmouth and Brighton as Cyril Fletcher's 'feed'. His first straight acting part was in Agatha Christie’s 'Towards Zero' at the old Opera House, in Leicester. 
His television work includes parts in the 'Mogul', Redcap and Balzac (BBC2) series, and he has played in rep at Harrogate, York, Manchester and Sheffield. 
At present he lives in Farnham, where his wife has a boutique, and looks after their two-year-old son.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

The Joy of Six 1180

Celia Richardson from the National Trust answers questions about the organisation and the culture war: "Some commentators have taken an interest and pointed out the unusual nature and frequency of those 'trouble at the National Trust' headlines, especially in the long run up to our AGM each year. I’ve also been pleased to see political research that shows we are held in equally high esteem by voters across the political spectrum."

"The outcome of the Brexit referendum took most of the political class by surprise. That was because much of that class was detached from individuals' lived experience and better keyed into the chatter of talking heads. The rise of Corbynism was also a surprise for the same reason." Stumbling and Mumbling reminds us there are ways of thinking about politics that are not heard in TV studios.

Emma Monk challenges the myth that "the farmers all voted for Brexit - and therefore deserve what's coming to them."

"In a new study, kids who received an ADHD diagnosis were compared with kids who had the same symptoms but who did not receive a diagnosis. Those who received a diagnosis had worse outcomes on five quality-of-life measures and were more likely to engage in self-harm." Peter Simons looks at the findings of a study led by Luise Kazda at the University of Sydney.

Slavery, fake science and the love of profit got Britain hooked on sugar, says Pen Vogler.

The Neglected Books Page recommends: "Four fine neglected books, all written by women, remind us of one of the greatest tragedies to follow the war in Europe - namely, the plight of the millions of prisoners, forced laborers, and refugees who were displaced from their homes and stranded in foreign countries, often without the means to return."

David Bowie: Queen Bitch

At the height of his fame, the Radio 1 disc jockey Stuart Henry had 11 million people listening to his Saturday morning show. I was one of them, and it was there - around 1971 - that I first became aware of David Bowie.

Henry, as I remember it, was always talking about the Bowie albums Hunky Dory and - later - Aladdin Sane.

It was also through Henry that I first heard Lou Reed, particularly Walk on the Wild Side and Satellite of Love.

So when choosing Queen Bitch, a song Bowie wrote under the influence of and as a tribute to Reed, it was natural that I should think of Henry.

Henry was dropped by Radio 1 in 1974 amid suggestions that overindulgence in alcohol or cannabis was causing him to slur his speech on air. In fact, he was suffering from multiple sclerosis, a  condition to which he succumbed in 1995 at the age of 53. There was a good obituary by Chris Welch in the Independent.

Reed followed him in 2013 and Bowie in 2016, so we may never know what a bibbity-bobbity hat was.

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Jeremy Hunt's voters know the Lib Dems are his main challengers but haven't heard of Ed Davey

Embed from Getty Images

News from the Blue Wall. Luke Tryl from More in Common writes in the Guardian about the findings from a focus group of voters in the in the new Godalming and Ash seat, which Jeremy Hunt will be fighting at the next election.

His conclusion?

Our focus group last night suggests the chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, has his work cut out – not just to bolster vulnerable colleagues but even to win back voters in his own back yard.

And the findings on the Liberal Democrats, the challengers to the Tories in this constituency, are encouraging in a rather backhanded way:

Nor was there any love for his opposite number, with the group saying Keir Starmer wasn’t the man for the moment. 

But that lack of enthusiasm might not matter - the group were well aware that Labour were not the main opposition locally, and many were tempted instead to vote Liberal Democrat. 

Indeed, it was striking that even though fewer than half knew Ed Davey’s name, they still thought there was a good chance the Lib Dems would topple Hunt.

This finding is of a piece with those opinion polls that show the Lib Dems struggling to get into double figures even when the Tories have fallen to below 20 per cent.

Given our plan to fight the next general election as though it were a series of by-elections, some would argue that it does not matter. 

Or they would say that Davey's profile is bound to rise during that campaign. After all, one reason for the brief outbreak of Cleggmania in 2010 was that few voters had noticed him before then.

But I think it does matter. Local elections show that, in areas where the Lib Dems are not active, our core vote is tiny. We are back to being a leaflet-delivering cult.

Davey, because of his own experiences, is passionate about the need to improve social care. And that passion has led to a policy we can shout about. For a Fair Deal, the document we adopted at this autumn's conference, say we will:

Ensure no one has to sell their home to pay for care by introducing free personal care based on the model introduced by the Liberal Democrats in government in Scotland in 2002.

That is a policy that would lift an enormous burden from those who are caring for elderly relatives. As well as all the work and emotional strain of caring, you face a financial lottery.

So if we are convinced that this policy is affordable, let's hear Ed talk about it. I think the voters would take notice.

Friday, November 17, 2023

Britain's secret Isle of Wight rocket base of the 1950s

A report from Historic England explains:

The remains of the High Down Test Site are a rare example of a 1950s British rocket test facility, built at a time when the country was amongst a handful of nations at the forefront of rocket and missile technology. Internationally, large rocket testing facilities of this date are uncommon, restricted to the two Superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, and possibly France. It is also a visible reminder of the Isle of Wight’s aviation heritage, in such specialised fields as flying boats, rocket powered interceptor fighter and hovercraft, and in particular its contribution to space technology.

Most of the site’s ancillary buildings have been demolished and the metal work of the test stands removed, nevertheless, its plan form and remaining features may be used to illustrate the operation of a post-war rocket test facility. The site and surrounding down land is owned by the National Trust and is publicly accessible.

In his last diary Lord Bonkers mentioned that militant Isle of Wight Separatists were believed to be active in London at one time. Perhaps the building of this base was one of their grievances?

Jago Hazzard takes us through the site's history and shows us what remains today. You can support his videos via his Patreon page.

Lib Dems call on Welsh government to save the Centre for Alternative Technology

Embed from Getty Images

Jane Dodds, the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, has called on the Welsh Government to help save the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth, which celebrated its 50th birthday earlier this year.

She told the County Times:

"I was saddened to hear of the news that the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth has been closed to visitors due to a lack of funds, placing 14 jobs at risk.

"For many people, the centre was an entry point that opened their eyes to what was possible and practical when it comes to sustainable energy.

"At a time when we urgently need to transition to net zero, centres like CAT which inspire the next generation to think sustainability are vital in the fight against climate change.

It Is vital that the Welsh government step in and extend a helping hand to the centre during this difficult time to prevent further job losses and potentially reopen the centre."

The paper says the centre hopes to reopen if it is successful in securing Levelling Up funding for an 'overhaul'.

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Proof the Princes in the Tower lived longer than Richard III?

Back in August I sent you off to a podcast featuring the historian Matt Lewis and his theory that the Princes in the Tower survived for some years after they disappeared from public sight in 1483.

This evening he has posted a new podcast in this Gone Medieval series in which Philippa Langley, who came to prominence as the catalyst of the archaeological dig that found Richard III in Leicester, presents what sounds like remarkable new evidence that supports Lewis's theory.

The story is also in tomorrow's newspapers. Here's the Mirror:

Philippa Langley and a 300-strong team of citizen historian helpers have uncovered four key documents which she claims show the brothers, aged 12 and nine when they disappeared in 1483, were not killed but exiled. Claiming we have all fallen victim to 500 years of Tudor propaganda, she declares: "I think they weren’t murdered. I think they survived."

In a feature-length documentary she tells how each of the princes later launched failed invasions of England in a bid to take back the throne. 

The Mirror's report goes on to set out the new evidence she has amassed.

Langley's documentary, The Princes in the Tower: The New Evidence, is on Channel 4, on Saturday at 8pm.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

The Joy of Six 1179

"The government’s own analysis shows that social housing pays back 69 per cent of the grant used to build it within 30 years, and 110 per cent within 60 years through reduced housing benefit expenditure." Peter Apps sets out the enduring case for building social housing.

Chris Harrop finds that the recent National Institute of Clinical Excellence review provides little evidence to support the use of electro-convulsive therapy to treat depression.

Coco Khan longs to destroy supermarket self-checkouts. 

"Once young newcomers who spent their early years working under Biddy on Blue Peter are now able to reflect on those days with several decades of experience and success. There is certainly criticism that Biddy’s way of working didn’t suit everyone, that her behaviour wouldn’t be acceptable in the present day and perhaps shouldn’t have been even at the time." Hannah Cooper reviews Richard Marson's Biddy Baxter: The Woman Who Made Blue Peter.

Ian Visits on the dig at the site that may have inspired the workhouse in Oliver Twist: "Archaeologists are excavating the 200-year-old St Pancras workhouse site before the site is redeveloped for Oriel, a new centre for eye care, research and education. The team focussed on areas of the site where workhouse buildings were demolished after being bombed during World War II."

"Like so many things in life, it was not as hard as I feared. No long, opaque, incomprehensible passages. Johnson wanted to see authors 'writing like it mattered, as though they meant it, and as though they meant it to matter' and his own work certainly demonstrates that." Iain Sharpe on eventually reading the work of B.S. Johnson.

Ashby Town Council looks to block x-rated adults-only diner's bid to sell alcohol every day

Embed from Getty Images

The Leicester Mercury wins our Headline of the Day Award, revealing in the process that Ashby de la Zouch is not the genteel place many imagine it to be.

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Drone footage of the Welland Viaduct

Thirteen miles downstream from Market Harborough, the River Welland passes under one of the least-known wonders on Britain's railways.

At 1275 yards (1166m), the Welland Viaduct is the longest masonry viaduct across a valley in the United Kingdom. It carries the railway 60 feet (18m) above the ground on 82 arches, each with a 40 feet (12 m) span.

It carries freight traffic every day and a single passenger working from Corby to Melton Mowbray and back so that drivers can learn the route. For a while Melton enjoyed two return services to St Pancras over the viaduct.

Drivers have to learn the route because it is often used to divert trains from Kettering to Leicester if there are problems on the main line through Harborough.

10 churches around Market Harborough on Historic England’s new ‘at risk’ register

Historic England’s new ‘At Risk’ Register includes 10 Leicestershire and Northamptonshire churches near Market Harborough, reports Harborough FM.

The churches, which are deemed by the public body to be at risk of being lost due to neglect or decay, are:

St Denys, Kelmarsh; All Saints, Clipston; St Mary, Ashby Magna; St Peter, Horninghold; St John the Baptist, King’s Norton; St John the Baptist, Little Stretton; St Giles, Great Stretton; St Michael, Loddington; St Leonard, Misterton with Walcote; Church of St Andrew, Owston and Newbold.

Monday, November 13, 2023

The Rutland Bookshop in Uppingham is about to reopen

Good news from Uppingham, where the Rutland Bookshop is about to reopen.

A note on the shop's Facebook page says:

I am very pleased to note I am re-opening from Thursday 16th November.  Opening times will be Thursday - Saturday 1pm - 5pm.  

To welcome customers old and new I will be offering a 20% discount on all stock for the rest of November.

Looking forward to seeing you - good books and a cheerful chat guaranteed.

You can find the Rutland Bookshop at 13 High Street West in Uppingham.

I visited the town in August and blogged about all the second-hand bookshops it used to have. Now one of them is to resume trading.

Liberal Democrats call for immediate ceasefire in Israel and Gaza

Embed from Getty Images

Ed Davey, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, has called for an immediate bilateral ceasefire in Israel and Gaza.

In a statement he said:

Hamas’ terrorist attacks on October 7th shocked the world. We condemned them and the taking of hostages, unequivocally. Hamas cannot, for the security of Israelis nor the future of Palestinians, be allowed to continue in charge of Gaza. 

Right now we have a disaster. When I met with NGOs working on the ground in Gaza, they told me just how devastating a humanitarian catastrophe we are facing.

Thousands of innocent civilians have already been killed, including thousands of children. I met the Palestinian Ambassador just days ago - tragically he had lost family members. I passed on my condolences on behalf of the Liberal Democrats to all Palestinians. 

And the humanitarian crisis just seems to get worse. Essential supplies like water, food, medicine and fuel still remain in very short supply or totally cut off from Gaza. And over 200 people are still held hostage, including children. And the risk of regional escalation grows by the day, underlined by the fact that the UK withdrew diplomatic staff from Lebanon earlier this week. 

More than a month since Hamas’ atrocities, it is increasingly clear that a military solution to eliminate Hamas is not possible. Nor is it tenable for Israel to reoccupy Gaza. 

You can read the full statement on the party website.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

The Joy of Six 1178

Matthew Pennell says Arm Ukraine Now: "We've supported the country enough for it to avoid total defeat, but our lack of commitment has allowed Russia to become entrenched, now it believes it can make its territorial gains permanent, thanks to millions and millions of treaty-defying mines. Russia has been inept and predictable, it’s sustained huge losses, but Ukraine has never had the resource to drive Russia out and complete a total victory."

"As soon as parliament was back from the conference recess, the government started pumping out ministerial edicts, on acute areas of public interest, without any scrutiny, or assessment of the likely consequences, or thoughts for the basic operation of a democratic society. Big fat pivotal changes in law, passed without a bat squeak of scrutiny or accountability." Ian Dunt explains how the government makes new laws while bypassing parliament.

Katherine Denkinson reveals British evangelicals' ambitions to decide what is taught in British classrooms.

"The continued salience of Orwell undoubtedly has something to do with the fact that the three great twentieth-century questions of fascism, Stalinism and empire - the questions which Orwell was essentially right about - are still being played out, even if today they take on a slightly different configuration." James Bloodworth reviews D.J. Taylor's new biography of George Orwell.

Ian Christie on Michael Powell and the cinema of fantasy, including his unrealised plans to film Ursula Le Guin and Tolkien.

"The men were so wicked, that their spirits didn’t cross to the other side, and instead lingered in the area. It is said that if you go to Ippikin's rock, you may still hear the men’s pitiful screams and shouts, as well as seeing disembodied shapes moving in the distance." Amy Boucher warns us to beware the ghost of Ippikin, the ruthless bandit of Wenlock Edge.

Tom and Bill Hartley provide our Trivial Fact of the Day

Embed from Getty Images

England named their squads for their 50-over and T20 cricket internationals against the West Indies next month.

Included in the 50-over squad is the Lancashire spinner Tom Hartley, who provides us with out Trivial Fact of the Day.

This is because he's the son of Bill Hartley, the British athlete of the 1970s,

Bill Hartley was Britain's second-best 400m hurdler of his day, behind Alan Pascoe, and won silver at the 1974 Commonwealth Games. He and Pascoe were both in the England 400m relay team that won silver at those games and the British team that won gold in the sasme event at the European Championships the same year.

This was in an era when medals for British athletes in major championships were rarer than they are today. 

There's an article about the Hartleys, father and son, on the Cricketer website.

Elvis Costello: Brilliant Mistake

Brilliant Mistake was written for Elvis Costello's 1985 album King of America, and provides that album with its opening track and title.

The critics agree the song is about Costello's own experiences in the US, both infatuated with and repulsed by the society he found there.

Maybe it was the infatuation that saw him discard his usual backing band The Attractions for all but one of the album's tracks.

Costello says he wrote Brilliant Mistake with The Attractions' sound in mind, but was disappointed with what they made of it and used The Confederates, a group of US session musicians he put together for the album, instead.

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Redcap (1964-6): John Thaw's first starring role

What would Inspector Morse really have been like in his twenties? For the answer, don't watch Endeavour, watch Redcap. Because this drama about a detective in the Royal Military Police gave John Thaw his first starring role.  

It ran for two series and 26 episodes between 1964 and 1966. All but three of the episodes still exist and many of them have been posted on YouTube.

I've been binge watching these over the past few days with some interest.

Thaw is very good, and must have been to be cast in this part aged only 22. Sometimes, in his exasperation with authority, he sounds almost comically like the middle-aged Morse. but there are few hints of The Sweeney's Jack Regan.

The series as a whole is a reminder of how many overseas commitments Britain still had in the mid-Sixties: Germany, Cyprus, Aden, Malaysia.

But the real joy of Redcap is the supporting cast in each episode: you never know who will turn up next. In an episode about bullying in a cadet establishment, for instance, the cadets include Richard O'Sullivan, Barry Evans and a young actor called John Mitchell who was about to reinvent himself as Mitch Mitchell of the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

And here are Ian McShane and Leonard Rossiter. Rossiter's platoon also includes John Noakes, sporting a dodgy Welsh accent, which is a reminder that he was a promising actor before Blue Peter came calling.

Yes, there's much to enjoy in Redcap.

Friday, November 10, 2023

Treasure at the Mill, a film based on a Malcolm Saville book, is on Talking Pictures TV tomorrow morning

Talking Pictures TV recreates Saturday morning pictures every week. And at 10.15 tomorrow you can see Treasure at the Mill, a 1957 Children's Film Foundation production based on a story by Malcolm Saville.

Most film shown on this channel can be watched afterwards on their catch-up channel TPTV Encore, but some CFF productions seem not to make it there.

Don't despair. You can buy a DVD of Treasure at the Mill, which also has another Saville film (Trouble at Townsend) and lots of extras, from the Malcolm Saville Society.

Write a guest post for Liberal England

I enjoy publishing guest posts here on Liberal England, so if you've got an idea for a post you could write for this blog, drop me a line

As you can see from the list below, I accept posts on subjects far beyond the Liberal Democrats and British politics. 

I'm happy to entertain a wide variety of views, but I'd hate you to spend your time writing something I really wouldn't want to publish. So do please get in touch first.

These are the last 10 guest posts on Liberal England: