Thursday, October 30, 2014

Carole King and Paul Simon in 1959

Carole King (centre) and Paul Simon between takes in a New York recording studio.

GettyImages dates this photo to "circa 1959".

Homophobic monk photographed in Cambridge

The latest on our new folk devil comes from Cambridge News:
Vile leaflets that say HIV represents God's judgment on homosexuality and transgender people "need counselling and exorcism" have sparked anger in Cambridge. 
A "sinister monk" has been spotted around the Mill Road area in Cambridge this week delivering the pamphlets to homes, which also state paedophilia "claims its historic place in homosexualism". 
The man, who posed for photographs when confronted by residents, is believed to be the same person who targeted homes in the city in May.
One of those residents sent a photograph to Sarah Brown, who tweeted it.

Fiona Woolf will resign, but I'm more worried about the Home Office

As the Daily Telegraph reports this evening, Fiona Woolf, the head of the government’s child sex abuse inquiry, is facing renewed calls for her resignation. This is after it emerged that the Home Office played a key role in r-writing a personal letter setting out her suitability for the job.

As the Telegraph says:
The final version of Mrs Woolf’s letter was finally sent to Theresa May, the Home Secretary, on October 11, in which Mrs Woolf stated her personal contact with Lord Brittan would not affect her “independence and impartiality”. 
But earlier drafts of her letter – seven in all – were ping-ponged between Mrs Woolf’s private office, the Home Office, lawyers to the sex abuse inquiry and counsel representing the Home Secretary. 
Although the letter gave the impression of being a personal statement of impartiality by Mrs Woolf, the truth was very different. 
The final draft had been altered beyond recognition when compared with the original version. 
Furthermore, an unknown number of lawyers and civil servants had been allowed to have input into Mrs Woolf’s letter. 
As pointed out by the chairman of the home affairs select committee, Keith Vaz MP, even the facts appeared to have been manipulated to place greater distance between Mrs Woolf and Lord Brittan.
I can't see Fiona Woolf choosing to stay in this role, but I am more concerned about the behaviour of the Home Office.

Because so many people are hoping for different things from this inquiry, it was always likely to prove a disappointment. But we should at least be able to expect it to be independent of the Home Office - one of the bodies it should be investigating.

I would rather see Theresa May haled before the Grand Wazoo Keith Vaz and his committee than see Fiona Woolf there again. The Home Secretary has some explaining to do.

Still, you have to laugh at the suggestion of the writer of the Telegraph report, David Barrett, that it "emerged after Lady Butler-Sloss’ appointment that her late brother, Sir Michael Havers, was attorney general in the 1980s".

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

British diesel, electric and steam trains in 1959


Another still from Weavers Green

Switchboards have been jammed and phones have been ringing off the hook since I discovered the short-lived Anglia TV soap opera Weavers Green.

Here is another cast photograph. The woman is Marjie Lawrence, who enjoyed a 50-year career in films and television.

The boy is John Moulder-Brown, who worked throughout the 1960s as a child actor and starred with Jane Asher as a teenager in Jerzy Skolimowski's extraordinary 1970 film Deep End - something I must blog about one day.

The dog went on to produce Sale of the Century.

Are all Liberal leadership contests Steel vs Pardoe?

I was not a member of the Liberal Party in 1976 because there was no branch in Market Harborough to recruit me.

But I knew I was a Liberal and that my favourite MPs were David Penhaligon and John Pardoe. So when Pardoe stood against David Steel for the leadership of the party I knew whose side I was on.

And you could argue that the 1976 contest set a pattern for later Liberal and Liberal Democrat leadership elections.

One candidate (Steel) was orthodox, sensible and just a little dull. The other (Pardoe) was more charismatic, more open to new ideas and just a little unreliable in his judgement.

So in later contests Paddy Ashdown was a Pardoe and Alan Beith was a Steel. And Chris Huhne was a Pardoe and Ming Campbell and then Nick Clegg were Steels. In all these cases I voted for the Pardoe.

It doesn't always work: in 1999 there were five candidates. I suppose you could make a case for Charles Kennedy being a sort of Social Democrat Steel, but a clear Pardoe failed to emerge.

Can we project this pattern back into past? I don't know, but it tempting to see Asquith as a Steel and Lloyd George as a Pardoe.

And was Jo Grimond a Steel or a Pardoe? He seems to have combined the better qualities of both.

Six of the Best 471

"Trading insults back and forth with your opponents might feel good to the One True Party activist, but it’s not likely to attract the voter who knows that there are no true parties, just a group of different parties that might do different things. When offered with ‘you must vote for us because we’re right about everything’ in several different forms, is it any wonder when they go for something entirely different?" Good stuff from Nick Barlow.

Caron Lindsay is spitting furious about Johann Lamont's resignation on Liberal Democrat Voice. 

Forget HS3, 'Transport for the North' was the real meat of Monday's announcement, says CityMetric.

Putin’s Moscow is anxious, gilded and hollow, argues Lucian Kim for Reuters.

"With the concept of “extreme” pornography poorly defined, and without reliable guidance from CPS to prosecutors, individuals find it difficult to determine what is and isn’t legal. Perhaps, this is why a law which experts predicted would get less than 30 cases a year has had over 5,000 convictions since its inception." On the News Statesman site, Margaret Corvid explains why the Extreme Pornography Act should be repealed.

Flashbak on the day Julie Christie and Dirk Bogarde visited Lord's.

Nii Nortei Nortey wins Name of the Day

Congratulations to the former Chelsea academy player now with Maidenhead.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Old Grammar School, Market Harborough, and Stokesay Castle

Market Harborough's Old Grammar School has emerged from its wrappings with a different colour scheme to the black-and-white one we are used to.

The new colours grow on me a little more every time I see them and I have worked out which building the Old Grammar School now reminds me of.

I have worked it out. It is the gatehouse at Stokesay Castle in Shropshire.

Monday, October 27, 2014

David bloody Dimbleby has been at it since 1950

If you work with the media, come across someone with a familiar name and think "I wonder if he is related to...", the answer is always yes.

The later adventures of Jackie Ballard

Third Sector has an interview with the former Liberal Democrat MP for Taunton:
In July, Ballard, 61, became chief executive of Alcohol Concern, the charity that aims to minimise the risks of alcohol by campaigning for legislative change and by educating the public about the dangers. 
On paper, it is something of a comedown for a woman who has led two of the country's biggest and best-known charities to take the helm at one that employs 14 people and had an income of about £1m in 2014. But Ballard does not see it that way. 
"My career in the voluntary sector has been about roles that interest me and offer challenge, and a cause that I can support," she says. 
"I've not followed the money either in terms of my salary or the income of the organisations I've worked for. If you look at my voluntary sector career, I started at the RSPCA and I've been working my way down in size ever since."

Dylan Thomas and Richard Jefferies

Dylan Thomas was born 100 years ago today. Though my own personal 1930s poet W.T. Nettlefold told me Thomas never bought his round, I am happy to celebrate his centenary with his reading of Fern Hill:

This poem reminds me of the last lines of Wood Magic by Richard Jefferies:
Bevis gathered the harebell, and ran with the flower in his hand down the hill, and as he ran the wild thyme kissed his feet and said: "Come again, Bevis, come again". At the bottom of the hill the waggon was loaded now; so they lifted him up, and he rode home on the broad back of the leader.
And it that sounds twee, don't be deceived. Wood Magic - the most underrated of Jefferies' books - is anything but. The natural world the young Bevis discovers is a thoroughly Darwinian one.

Jefferies does not use nature to point lessons for human politics: rather he uses the ruthlessness of that politics as a metaphor to help us understand nature.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Jimi Hendrix at the Saville theatre

Rock's greatest guitarist photographed at the Saville theatre, London, a couple of years before I performed there.

White men sounding Black

Why is this embarrassing:

this in danger of being embarrasing (sorry about the advert):

and this sublime?

Big Pumpkin: How a sinister cabal of pumpkin farmers is behind the rise of Halloween

Four years ago, for reasons best known to itself, the Yorkshire Post quoted me as an authority on the way Halloween has supplanted Bonfire Night as a British folk festival.

Two years before that, I had written in my much-mourned (by me) New Statesman column Calder's Comfort Farm:
I’ve got no time for Trick or Treat. It’s just demanding money with menaces and, in the South of England at least, a recent import from America. Worse, paranoid modern parents insist on accompanying their children, trailing behind them with big soppy grins. 
A Penny for the Guy was more my style: good, honest begging with a token creative effort thrown in. Children spent hours shivering on street corners before blowing themselves up with fireworks. That sort of thing builds character.
I now think I know what is behind all this.

Halloween is being promoted in Britain by a sinister cabal of pumpkin farmers. Follow the money - it's Big Pumpkin.

Cream: Sunshine of Your Love

Jack Bruce, bass player and lead singer with Cream, died yesterday.

This is one of Cream's most famous songs. Because it dates from the era when great rock bands did not look down their noses at the singles chart, it made the top 30 in 1968.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Two actors from Weavers Green

Given the breathless excitement that accompanied my discovery of the forgotten Anglia TV soap opera Weavers Green, I thought I would share this photograph with you.

It shows two members of the cast: Grant Taylor and (with the cigarette) Eric Flynn.

The evenings really were longer when I was young

The sort of people who think we should have British Summer Time all the year round are like those who think voting should be compulsory or that Richard Branson should be prime minister.

In all these cases, find someone else to talk to as soon as possible.

If you doubt me, revisit the question of putting the clocks back around 6 January and ask yourself then if you really want it to be an hour darker and an hour colder when you have to get up for work.

But I was surprised by a fact in the Independent's article suggesting this could be the last time we put the clocks back.

I knew there had been an experiment with year-round summer time in the 1960s. There is an archive clip of children, bundled up against the cold and looking a little quaint to modern eyes, going to school in the dark that the BBC wheels out every time this debate takes place. It is a little odd to think that I must have looked like that.

What I did not know is that this experiment lasted four years: from 1968 to 1971. So the reason I remember longer light evenings when you could play out when I was little is that they really were like that.

A reader complains: Isn't this rather self-centred. You were fine with year-round summer time when it meant you could play out, but now you have to go to work you are against the idea?

Liberal England replies: Not at all. Under the present regime, which I support, I sometimes have to put up with a 23-hour birthday. We all have to be prepared to make sacrifices.

Torquay United mascot Gilbert the Gull 'called fans c**** and tried to start a fight'

The Independent wins Headline of the Day - and Gilbert the Gull wins Football Mascot of the Day.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Last train to Folkestone Harbour

This was the last public train to use the Folkstone Harbour Branch. It was drawn by BR Class 7P Britannia 70013 (Oliver Cromwell) on 14 March 2009 (with a Class 47 helping from the rear).

Wikipedia suggests that an occasional inspection train used the line until the line was officially closed on 31 May this year.

Six of the Best 470

Every time David Cameron could show leadership he doesn't, says So Sam said....

University tuition fees must be high on the agenda before the election, argues Dorothy Bishop on the Council for the Defence of British Universities site.

"The rise of ADHD diagnoses and prescriptions for stimulants over the years coincided with a remarkably successful two-decade campaign by pharmaceutical companies to publicize the syndrome and promote the pills to doctors, educators and parents. With the children’s market booming, the industry is now employing similar marketing techniques as it focuses on adult ADHD, which could become even more profitable." A New York Times article by Alan Schwarz quotes the views of Professor Emeritus Keith Conners.

The RSPB warns against putting dredging ahead of other flood-prevention measures.

Philosophy for Life looks at Iris Murdoch's techniques of "unselfing" in her novels and philosophical writings.

It starts with a photograph and ends with murder. A remarkable post on 1960s London from Crime Time.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

London's transport system during World War II

Filmed after the start of the Blitz, City Bound is an exploration of the daily commute into London from the suburbs in 1941.

Alvin Stardust and the sale of honours

I was sorry to hear of the death of Alvin Stardust. His first hit reminds me of my first months in Market Harborough. The song was played for what seemed like months by Radio Luxembourg before the BBC took it up and made it a hit.

Rather improbably, I find that he inspired one of my columns for Liberal Democrat News back in 2006.

So, by way of a tribute here it is again. The investigation into Lord Levy came to nothing, though all parties sell honours to some extent.

Identity crisis

Identity can be a complicated business. Take the case of young Bernard Jewry, who developed a love of rock music and hung out with a band called Johnny Theakston and the Tremeloes. In 1959 the band sent a tape to the BBC under the name Shane Fenton and the Beat Boys. Then tragedy struck: Johnny died.

When the BBC wrote back asking Shane Fenton and his band to play on a live radio programme Bernard Jewry became the new Shane Fenton - he even changed his name by deed poll - and a pop career was launched.

But musical fashions change, and after four hits Shane Fenton faded from view. Until in 1973 he was reborn as Alvin Stardust with the single "My Coo Ca Choo".

There are two reasons why the career of Bernard Jewry/Shane Fenton/Alvin Stardust is topical.

The first is that makes you wonder how the government's identity card scheme would cope with him. According to Joan Ryan at home office questions on Monday, everything is in on course. Cards will be phased in from 2008. "I repeat: 2008," she added, on the basis that if you say something often enough it must be true.

If you prefer to believe the officials working on the scheme, then the current plans are not remotely feasible. According to leaked e-mails, they fear a botched introduction that could delay ID cards for a generation.

Of course, for Liberal Democrats that would be very good news. But we must be wary of relying solely upon government incompetence to see ID cards off. We must continue to argue about the principle, showing people how these cards threaten a fundamental alteration in the relations between citizens and the state.

The second reason for being interested in Alvin Stardust is that his manager was a streetwise young accountant called Michael Levy. Today he is better known as Lord Levy.

What would people in 1973 have made of the idea that one day Alvin Stardust's manager would be arrested and there would be excited talk of the prime minister resigning?

Lord Levy once said that he and the prime minister were "like brothers". I doubt he would say that now. Tony Blair will have to find someone else to be his coo ca choo.

Take it away, Alvin...

Romanian princess sentenced to probation for staging cockfights

The Guardian wins our Headline of the Day award.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Weavers Green: A forgotten soap opera

Anglia Television did not much like Emmerdale Farm. It was the last of the old regional ITV companies to schedule the Yorkshire farming soap in a prime evening slot.

The reason for this - ignoring a row over the Belmont transmitting station - was that Anglia had got there first with a rural soap opera, only to see it founder.

BFI Screenonline explains:
In the 1960s, independent television was dominated by the 'big four' regional companies: ATV, ABC, Granada and Associated Rediffusion. These four produced the majority of programmes for the ITV network, and so it was a surprise when Norwich-based Anglia Television successfully sold them the concept of a twice-weekly drama serial named Weavers Green (ITV, 1966). 
The serial was envisaged as 'a mirror of country life', and to this end Anglia recorded the majority of the scenes on location, using videotape instead of film. This made the show extremely expensive and it was widely described in the press as the most elaborate and, at £250,000, the most expensive television serial to date. 
But despite this blaze of publicity and optimism, Weavers Green lasted for only 25 weeks and is barely remembered today, thanks largely to the political machinations of independent television.
The cast of Weavers Green was impressive, with various sources listing actors who had been or would become well known: Megs Jenkins, Dennis Waterman, Susan George, Wendy Richard, Kate O'Mara, John Moulder-Brown.

You can learn more about Weavers Green in this recent ITV News report.

And, thanks to the wonders of the internet, you can watch its rather overemphatic opening titles above.

Münchausen syndrome was named by Jane Asher's father

Münchausen syndrome is a psychological disorder wherein people feign illness to gain attention, sympathy or reassurance.

It was named by the British endocrinologist and haematologist Richard Asher.

And Richard Asher was the father of the actress Jane Asher - and also of the musician Peter Asher, who once left a comment on this blog.

I think we have found our Trivial Fact of the Day.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

From Richard III to Rudyard Kipling

Longstanding readers will remember that Rudyard Kipling was named after Rudyard Lake in Staffordshire.

But where did the lake, in reality a canal reservoir, get its name?

It was named after - and this is our Trivial Fact of the Day - Ralph Rudyard, who is reputed to have slain Richard III at Bosworth.

A London tram poster

If you are interested in London trams, I recommend the short film The Elephant Will Never Forget.

Why I do not support the recall of MPs

I am a great believer in representative democracy. You elect someone and if you do not like how he or she performs as your MP, you vote for someone else at the next election.

Increasingly, however - fuelled chiefly by the expenses scandal - there have been moves to allow voters to petition for the ejection of an MP between elections and the holding of by-elections.

Some versions of recall require an MP to be convicted of a criminal offence or some other former of wrongdoing. Others just require the voters not to like them very much.

It is this latter sort of recall that is championed by the Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith. And the problems with it were laid bare by the Labour MP Kevan Jones in the Commons today:
Mr Kevan Jones: I am very interested in what the hon. Gentleman says about recall empowering voters. In practice, would it not do what it does in the United States, which is to empower wealthy individuals who are not happy with what their representative is doing to mobilise against them? It would empower wealthy individuals, such as the hon. Gentleman, to influence events in a way that my ordinary constituents and I cannot? 
Zac Goldsmith: I will explain why such concerns are groundless during my speech, but I will make one point, partly in response to the Opposition spokesman. Concerns about expenditure during the recall process are a matter for regulations; the amendments that my colleagues and I seek to introduce would not tamper with the Government’s proposed regulations on expenses. That separate technical issue can be very easily addressed. 
Mr Jones: I am sorry, but that is not the point. Expenditure limits can be put on the recall election, but the campaigning in the lead-up to such an election would undermine the representative in getting their constituents— 
Douglas Carswell: Trust the voters. Mr Jones: This is not about trusting the voters, but about putting influence in the hands of a small group of very wealthy individuals. If the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), with the wealth he has, wanted to shift a Member of Parliament, he could do it. 
Zac Goldsmith: The hon. Gentleman takes a very dim view of his electorate if he thinks that that is so easy. Irrespective of that, the two-month petition stage before a referendum will be regulated, so his cost arguments simply do not apply. 
Mr Jones: What happens in practice in the United States is that individuals who take against a policy or a state or national representative can use their tremendous wealth to use a campaign in the lead-up to the recall election to undermine such a representative. The idea that that is somehow empowering the voters is not the case. Recall empowers very wealthy individuals who could then— 
Douglas Carswell: You don’t trust the voters. 
Mr Jones: I do trust the electorate. The hon. Gentleman should stop chuntering from a sedentary position. The fact is that recall will give influence over who the Member of Parliament is not to the majority of the electors but to a small group of very wealthy individuals.
Note how Douglas Carswell, despite his change of party, has mastered the art of modern politics - feigning outrage on behalf of some group or other. Most debates on education, for instance, consist in accusing your opponent of "not trusting parents" or "not trusting teachers".

Yes, it can be irritating if an MP is caught doing wrong and refuses to resign. But there is a danger that the cure will be worse than the remedy.

And I have a particular reason for not giving wealthy Tories - you might even say Richmond Tories - the power to launch campaigns against MPs from other parties in this way.

As I recalled back in 2010:
In 1981 Adrian Slade won the Richmond seat on the Greater London Council for the Liberal Party, defeating the sitting Conservative Edward Leigh in the process. The Conservatives then lodged an [unsuccessful] election petition, contesting the result because of technical errors in Slade's return of expenses for the contest. 
The process, however, left Adrian facing ruinous legal expenses. His friends rallied round and staged An Evening At Court on Sunday the 23 January 1983 at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, to help him raise the money. As Smarter than the Average! tells you in exhaustive detail, many of the greats of British comedy performed that evening.

Local councillor seeks Lib Dem nomination for Taunton Deane

Liberal Democrat councillor Ross Henley is to seek nomination as the party's next parliamentary candidate for Taunton Deane, reports the Around Wellington website.

This, of course, is the Lib Dem seat to be vacated at the next general election by Jeremy "There is a world beyond politics full of opportunities and it will be exciting to explore it" Browne.