A Happy New Year to all readers of this blog.
Let us start the year as we mean to go on, with some proper culture. This is The Ethiopians, and Last Train to Skaville.
Having been left all dressed up with nowhere to go last week when the Corby Cube's showing of Death of a Gentleman was cancelled, I am delighted to report that the excellent Errol Flynn playhouse in Northampton stepped in to offer me a complimentary ticket for their showing. This review comes courtesy of their generosity.
Death of a Gentleman opens, deliberately, in as cliched a manner as possible, with the sound of bird song and the sight of cricket on the village green. The opening words stress, correctly, that cricket is about values, and those being interviewed throughout the film articulate the association of the game with integrity and a moral code for living. In English we deploy terms such as 'that's not cricket' for a reason - that they betray our unease or anger at behaviour that is improper or unprincipled. I disagree with the film makers that cricket is a unique sport in this respect - I think you will find the same approach within several martial arts, certainly in Muay Thai and Judo - but in the context of the cricket playing nations, to play cricket means to associate with core values.
Although a total of seven people appear to have been behind Death of a Gentleman, the two we see on camera are cricket journalists Sam Collins (English) and Jarrod Kimber (Australian). They quickly explain both their love of the game and its size - whilst a long way behind football in terms of global adherence, cricket is the second biggest sport in the world. If that surprises you, just remember that cricket is the summer sport in the British Isles, the national sport in Pakistan and Bangladesh and the national sport in the second most populous country in the world - India.
The film's narrative begins in 2011, with the realisation that test cricket, described by Ian Chappell as the peak of the game, is questioned and imperiled as never before. These concerns are not necessarily new - Death of a Gentleman does not engage with the long term concerns that one day cricket is or will undermine longer forms of the game, a debate within English cricket that is at least forty years old. Instead its focus is on the latest variation, 20/20, and in particular the Indian Premier League, portrayed here as being as much about Bollywood as sport.
For all the glitz, razzmatazz and dancing girls of the IPL, cricketers still enter the game wishing to play test cricket at the highest level. The story of Ed Cowan, an Australian opener, given his cap at the MCG in 2011, is cleverly used to demonstrate the emotive appeal of ambition. No schoolboy grows up in Australia dreaming of playing for a franchise in Chennai - they still want to earn a baggy green cap, a point emphasised by the obvious pride shown by Ed Cowan's father in several short interview clips.
This is very much a film of interviews holding together a central narrative, and for me a core component of that narrative is provided by Gideon Haigh, who asks a fundamental question of cricket in the era of 20/20 - does cricket make money in order to exist, or does it exist to make money. In this, we return to the association between cricket and values, and as the film develops it becomes increasingly obvious that in the era of 20/20 cricket exists to make money. The bigger question perhaps is where that money goes, as seven test playing nations are virtually bankrupt, whilst three - Australia, England and India, make money. How can this be?
Any film needs a villain, and as Simon Heffer illustrates in his review of Death of a Gentleman, here we have Giles Clarke, formerly Chairman and now President of the English Cricket Board (ECB). Awarded the CBE for services to cricket in 2012, Clarke is one of those men who always seems to be pictured with his nose slightly raised in the air, like a deer nervously sniffing for the presence of any predator. In terms of power though, cricket is dominated not from its historical base at Lords and the MCC, but from India. It is the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) which controls the International Cricket Council, and Indian money which matters. An all too brief interview with the former Indian all-rounder Ravi Shastri in effect declares 'we are the masters now'.
If power can corrupt, absolute power can corrupt absolutely. The 2012 report by Lord Woolf into governance in cricket established a sport characterised by a lack of any financial transparency, a potentially deadly failing given the predominance of gambling in the Indian sub-continent and the power of bookmakers. In this part of the world, some two billion pounds can be bet on major matches. However for English cricket it is not match-fixing that brought its most shameful hour, but the ECB's association with Sir Allen Stanford, an American financier who had bought up large parts of Antigua, and introduced 'winner takes all' 20/20. Collins and Kimber resist the temptation to dwell on some of the less salubrious aspects of Stanford's fifteen minutes of fame, and instead use the issue to attack Giles Clarke's jugular. Here Clarke is at his most belligerent, combining detachment and aggression in his response, insisting that he does not talk about Stanford but equally that it is all history. But not of course for those ripped off by the now plain Allen Stanford, serving a 110 year jail sentence for fraud.
The demise of Stanford meant that in financial terms, the IPL developed a monopoly. Here the film's second bad guy emerges in the ponderous persona of Indian concrete magnate N Srinivasan, the President of the BCCI. The sections of the film devoted to the internal politics of cricket in India are perhaps the least appealing to English viewers, but they matter, as the ultimate ICC agreement, to keep TV revenues primarily among the three biggest earning nations - Australia, England and India, shapes all else in the game. The 2019 Cricket World Cup will accordingly be limited to just 10 teams, rather than the previous 14. Given the development of the game in recent years in countries as diverse as Ireland and Afghanistan, this is nonsense. International development, the centre of any sports health, is retarding, something Gideon Haigh correctly castigates as bizarre. Although a majority of ICC members wish to see cricket as an Olympic sport (which would release government funding for the game in China, and other nations) the ICC will not countenance this.
With Srinivasan installed as head of the ICC, despite accusations of his family being associated with match fixing in India, the future prospects for Test cricket, as opposed to the faster, looser and more profitable brand of 20/20 appear grim. When Collins and Kimber manage to get themselves into an ICC press conference in (appropriately) Dubai, a picture of CLR James briefly appears as part of the ICC backdrop on the wall. A Trinidadian born Marxist who spent much of his life in the US and England, James wrote one of the most important cricket books, Beyond A Boundary. One wonders what James would make of an IPL fixture between Sunrisers Hyderabad and and the Chennai Superkings. We probably have a pretty good idea though of what he would make of men like Giles Clarke or N Srinivasan - those who live to make money, rather than making money to live, and to uphold the values of the game.
If Death of a Gentleman ends on a positive note it is by returning to Ed Cowan, and the values of those playing the sport for that sense of individual, team or national pride. Nothing about that tendency remaining however, guarantees its survival. Collins and Kimber ask us to visit the website Change Cricket, and to resist the games drift. The interviews in the film though with IPL players such as Kevin Pietersen (the first post-national, post-modern cricketer?) and Chris Gayle remind us that when it comes down to a choice between domestic and test cricket, or the IPL, the big bucks of the IPL will always turn heads. We should not necessarily be pessimistic, but we do need to be realistic. Cricket is not in good health, and the Death of a Gentleman illustrates that all too well.
There are screenings of the film scheduled across the country for the remainder of September and going into October. Some cricket venues, most noticeably Lords, have declined to show the movie, for fear of upsetting the ECB. That makes it all the more important to get out there and see it, before hopefully it becomes available on DVD.
Of of all the Russian writers in the last fifty years, few can have been as well read in Britain as Alexander Solzhenitsyn. His critiques of the Soviet system, which brought the Nobel Prize in 1970, must surely mean hardly anyone in Britain's political elite will not have read him.
And yet for all those copies of The Gulag Archipelago and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, few seem to have grasped how Solzhenistyn viewed post-Soviet Russia. Perhaps the primary source for this is his 1990 'Rebuilding Russia'. Whilst there is much to say about that book, I pick below some of the sections on Ukraine and Crimea.
Solzhenitsyn appears to have been happy to allow nearly all of the Soviet republics to pursue independence, but considered there to be special ties between Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Of the Ukraine, he declares:
"To separate off the Ukraine today would mean to cut across the lives of millions of individuals and families: the two populations are thoroughly intermingled; there are entire regions where Russians predominate; many individuals would be hard put to choose between the two nationalities; many others are of mixed origin, and there are plenty of mixed marriages (marriages which have indeed never been viewed as "mixed"). There is not even a hint of intolerance between Russians and Ukrainians on the level of the ordinary people" (p.20).
The point is also made that historically Donbass and Crimea had always been part of Russia (p.19).
And yet less than twenty five years later the British government seems to have been surprised when Putin refused to accept the overthrow of Ukraine's democratically elected (and pro-Russian) leader, Viktor Yanukovych, and the Ukraine's attempted turn towards the EU and NATO. This provoked the secession of Crimea. Indeed Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond was still complaining about the Crimean referendum a year later.
Perhaps British politicians need to read more. There is also a more general failing among western hawks on Russia - Edward Lucas and Anne Applebaum are perhaps the two most prominent - to take a rounded approach. They are quite happy to take the bits that they like from Solzhenitsyn - the anti-Soviet elements in his writing - but turn up their nose at the sections which advocate Russian as opposed to 'western' interests. Such cheery-picking does them little credit, and does little to inform others on events in eastern Europe.
I had set aside some time today to write a review and comment on the cricket film, Death of a Gentleman, which I was due to see yesterday at the Corby Cube.
Events intervened - shortly before I was due to leave home, the Corby Cube phoned to tell me they had not received the film (!) had been unable to download a copy in time, and they were very sorry but I could have my money back. It was all very professionally done, but did rather leave an empty void.
For the uninitiated, Death of a Gentleman tells the story of how three countries - Australia, England and India - have shifted the axis of cricket's governance to reward themselves, at the expense of the other cricketing nations, and the games grassroots. But I can't say much more than that, as I never got to see the film. Simon Heffer, who did get to see it, still seems to be recovering from the apoplexy it invoked in him - his review should inspire others to action.
When reporting on matters of race or racism, we cannot even rely on liberal elites to report basic matters of fact.
Yesterday a 14 year old boy was jailed for 11 years for stabbing his teacher, Vincent Uzomah, in the stomach whilst he was teaching at a secondary school in Bradford. Mr Uzomah had told the boy off for playing with his mobile phone. Mr Uzomah, who is black, was racially abused by the boy, who is British of Pakistani heritage, during the incident. The lad later boasted about it on Facebook, receiving 69 'Likes' for his actions.
Listening to the BBC radio 4 coverage of the sentencing yesterday evening, there was no mention of the attacker's ethnicity, although plenty of the fact that this was a racist attack. An approach which was continued in the BBC and Channel 4 news internet coverage. Many following such 'analysis' would simply have assumed this was another case of a white racist lashing out at someone from an ethnic minority. That impression would certainly have been absorbed by the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme this morning. Here a discussion ensued between Laura Pidcock of anti-racist group Show Racism the Red Card and Sagheer Azfal, a supply teacher who reported he had experienced racism from pupils at secondary schools.
Here, the Today Programme seemed to be attempting to bowl a googly from a fast bowler's run-up. If a black man is stabbed by a British-Pakistani racist, it seems a little strange to ask a British Asian to talk about their experiences of racism? Would a report on a black person stabbed by a white racist bring in the comments of a white teacher with negative experiences of some black children? I dare the BBC to try it........Whilst Laura Pidcock eagerly presented a series of familiar left complaints, for example about alleged racism in the media coverage of migrants, there was no attempt by anyone to comment on the elephant in the room - that poor old Mr Uzomah's attacker was not a white racist at all.
In the media coverage I have seen in the past eighteen hours, Helen Pidd, the rather impressive Northern editor of the Guardian, is one of the few journalists with the backbone to report the racist aspect of this case fully, both on social media and on the Guardian's website yesterday. I have asked both Show Racism the Red Card and the Today Programme if their comments this morning fully reflect the nature of this incident. I don't expect a reply.
For liberal elites - and BBC journalists and educational groups working in schools such as the government funded Show Racism the Red Card are textbook examples of liberal elites who form and shape opinion - cases like the stabbing of Vincent Uzomah are pre-determined. The problem is racism, and racism is about white people saying critical things about or doing nasty things to black people. If a case emerges that undermines this script, the details are subtly disguised so the expected impressions can still be digested by the general public. That is why we are not told the attacker's ethnic heritage. To reinforce wider political concerns, activists like Laura Pidcock are brought in to attach media coverage of benefit claimants and asylum seekers in Calais to a specific attack, and for additional absorption of the core message, an actual victim of white racism, Sagheer Azfal, used.
And that, in one simple case, is how liberal elites manipulate the news.
I have sadly missed the Comics Unmasked exhibition at the British Library, which closed on August 19th.
You can gain some insight into what was missed by looking, whilst you can, at the relevant section on the British Library website. There is also a book written to accompany the event, and an excellent summary appeared in the May issue of Fortean Times, courtesy of Paul Gravett.
As a long term observer of that curiously puritanical streak which runs through the British left, I was immediately drawn to this paragraph in Gravett's article:
It’s ironic that the first exhibition devoted to comics was probably the touring display of so-called ‘horror comics’ - imports, reprints and imitations of uncensored American comic books like the notorious Tales from the Crypt - organised by the National Union of Teachers. This display toured the country and was the basis of a film strip projected in schools. While these were intended as part of their campaign to raise alarm about the effects of this shocking material, it probably also gave many youngsters their first exposure to these tempting terrors. Pressures on the government to take action came from many sides, including the unlikely alliance of the Church of England, right up to the Archbishop of Canterbury himself, and the anti-American Communist Party who discreetly ran the Comics Campaign Council. The result in 1955 was the Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act. Very few prosecutions resulted but it is still in force and the stigma against comics has never entirely gone away.
It is worth re-capping on that. A major trades union, the NUT, the Communist Party of Great Britain and the Church of England all campaigned against the presence in the UK of American comics. And this resulted in legislation being enacted against 'harmful publications'. Legislation that has never been repealed!
Just skimming through the various histories I have on my bookshelf of the CPGB, I cannot find any mention of the Comics Campaign Council as a prominent 'front-group.' Then again sympathetic histories may be very likely to avoid the subject.
A decade or so ago, I was thrown out at Stonehenge, having climbed over a fence with my then girlfriend and walked over towards the stones.
English Heritage then expected individuals to pay £4 or £5, to view what is our national heritage. Yet the stones existed long before this 'custodian', its board or its paper shufflers - and will be around long after they are forgotten. On BBC2 tomorrow evening at 8pm, some of the controversies and debates around this most important of sites are discussed in The Culture Show: The Battle for Stonehenge.
According to the write-up in The Sunday Times, this will include 'astonishing' film of police brutality towards travellers attempting to reach the stones in 1985. Any round-up of the many shameful events in the 1980s must include reference to the Battle of the Beanfield, a classic example of what can happen when the state believes it can act as it pleases to those on its margins.
Happy Summer Solstice everyone.
Julie Burchill once said that the thing which made her most proud to be British was our pop groups - I think she was talking specifically about the brilliantly named St Etienne.
With that in mind, and for the start of the World Cup, it seems appropriate to turn to Russian Linesman.
This is easily my favourite Chumbawamba track.
As we import coal from Colombia, have millions in fuel poverty, and listen to green idiots trying to convince us wind power will work, listen to it and weep at what we have lost.
Apologies to anyone who tried to visit this blog in recent days, and found it off line.
My provider, Typepad, has suffered a series of denial of service attacks, for motivations that are unclear (although there is no reason to think they were aimed at this site).
Things seem to be back to normal now, but it does serve as a reminder of my current, favourite aphorism:
"The problem with technology is that a lot of the time it does not work, or does not work in the way that its proponents tell others it should"
Clearly the Daily Star Sunday's magazine, TV Extra, is printed some time ahead of the rest of the newspaper. Page 3 of todays edition has a picture of the late Peaches Geldof, with the sub-heading "25 - Drop in for a cuppa with Peaches". Turn to p.25 a full page spread tells us about the countryside of North Kent. Under the title "What Stars Might I See" and a picture of Peaches, we are informed:
"Peaches Geldof and her young family have a house nearby and often spend time at Trosley Country Park, a ramblers' paradise close to Wrotham, while Cheryl Baker lives in nearby Igtham."
Reports state that the BBC is to to remake the series 'Civilisation' on art, architecture and philosophy, first made made by Kenneth Clark (father of Alan) in 1969.
I can't help thinking such a programme will be a lot more challenging to make - and a lot more challenged - today. Here is Phillip Hensher in the Telegraph:
The moment when a series about Western art could be described as covering “civilisation” is long gone. Quite rightly, the successor, even if limited to the highest achievements of civilisation, is going to want to talk about Benin bronzes, Mughal culture, the pinnacles of Chinese arts. There will be talk of the art of minorities, perhaps “outsider” art, and women artists will occupy a much more central place than they did for Clark.
Scholars of oriental art existed in 1969, of course; one of the perverse developments since then has been that, with the denouncing of “Orientalism” by Edward Said’s 1979 book of the same name, we are both much more aware of the importance of non-European art, but rather pathetically nervous about discussing it at all. This will have to be addressed by the makers of the series.
It is not just that Kenneth Clark is a difficult attack to follow. The number of competing interests, and interest groups, standing ready to contest space make the programme fraught with potential banana skins. Don't expect Civilisation on your television screen any time soon.
We recently had Tree-Fu-Tom visit our local shopping centre.
I don't really get his appeal myself, Hong Kong Phooey was a lot better, but in the world of CBeebies and children's television, he is quite a big name. Being the dutiful dad I thought it a good idea to take son number one and son mumber two to see Tom and have their pictures taken with him.
Big mistake. Firstly, son number two protested the whole way, as he wanted to....... stay in and watch CBeebies. A clear victory for those who believe in the power of television - at just three years old he has established that the box is more powerful than a single character from it. The next problem came when they saw Tree-Fu-Tom in the flesh, or as close as we can get to it with an animated character. Both hid behind me, even when other children were settling down for hugs and photographs. Son number one then made a burst for it - directly into a nearby jeweller's.
Twins are difficult to deal with when both run in opposite directions, and by the time we emerged Tree-Fu-Tom was a figure in the distance, heading off for what I was told was a fifteen minute tea break. I don't suppose I can begrudge a rather punily built young man paid to dress up in a silly outfit a cup of tea, but those were not exactly my sentiments at the time.
Fifteen minutes later, we were all back at home, watching, of course, CBeebies.
If you fail to pay your subscription to Virgin or Sky, Richard Branson or Rupert Murdoch will cut you off. Fail to pay your subscription to the BBC, and you can be fined up to £1000, and ultimately go to prison.
107 people have been jailed in the past two years for this 'offence', and non-payment of the TV licence amounts to an astonishing one in ten court cases. When laws are so routinely broken, it is evidence, not of bad behaviour, but bad law. And the TV licence is a bad law. It is certainly a regressive tax, but is also one levied regardless of whether you watch the BBC or not - it is assumed everyone does, even in this age of a thousand and one specialist channels covering everything from motor sport to Hinduism.
If organisations may be called 'institutionally racist' it is fair to argue that the BBC is institutionally profligate, middle class, London centric and elitist - one only has to consider the problems relocating parts of its coverage from west London to Salford to see how the little people are viewed by those in their ivory towers.
There is of course nothing wrong with the BBC existing, and those who want to use its services doing so - I would be happy to pay for the advert free CBeebies programming for example - but that hardly seems worth the £145.50 levied on virtually every household from Land's End to John O'Groats.
What to do about all this? One small step is to stand with those already opposing the licence fee. Follow @ ScrapLicence Fee on Twitter. Sign their petition on the government website, to try and get the matter debated in parliament. And the next time you see something which annoys you greatly on the BBC - just remember - you are the one who is paying for it........
Mark Williams-Thomas is a former Surrey Police officer who specialised in child protection issues, and was responsible for the October 2012 ITV documentary Exposure: The Other Side of Jimmy Savile.
On 16 February 2014 he gave an interview to the Sunday Times (hidden behind their paywall I'm afraid) for the regular 'Fame and Fortune' column in the Money supplement. Amongst the usual questions about shares versus property or best and worse investments, was this fascinating indication into how the influential ITV documentary came about:
"I was doing some work for Newsnight and somebody working in television came up to me and said, "Have you ever heard that Savile was a paedophile?" He told me to have a look online and it really started then. When the BBC decided not to run the Newsnight programme about him, I picked it up and carried on."
That is a very curious line.
Firstly because we know that Newsnight and the BBC had been investigating Savile's crimes and that even though they eventually pulled a programme about him, they had amassed a significant amount of evidence. Secondly because Mark Williams-Thomas' alma mater, Surrey Police, had the opportunity in 2009 to address offences Jimmy Savile committed in their jurisdiction, but did not progress. Other police forces, and indeed other media outlets also held information on Savile, which they had not deployed.
And yet a former specialist investigator into paedophiles had to go online to see if there was anything to the Savile story? That is bizarre, especially as much of what was online before Savile's death was dominated by the hardly reliable David Icke, posts on Icke's forum, or related websites. You would hardly hang a man on that evidence. It is surely more likely that Williams-Thomas had a better 'nod' than being told to go and google Jimmy Savile's name?
If so, was that 'nod' from within the police, Newsnight, another department in the BBC or elsewhere in the media?
Thanks to Heidi Svenson and TC for the original cutting and background information for this post.
I have just finised Morrissey's marvellous autobiography, and the politics blog of the University of East Anglia, Eastminster, was good enough to publish my review. For some reason they left out my line that it is only £3.87 in Tesco, which must be the bargain of the year. Anyway, here are my thoughts............
In autobiographical terms, 2013 belonged to Manchester. Barely had Sir Alex Ferguson passed a burning torch to David Moyes, than his second (!) autobiography was topping the sales charts. Not far behind, in the immodestly titled Penguin Classics series, was Morrissey’s memoir, of his home city, The Smiths, family, popular culture and a fair amount of score settling.
Morrissey’s Manchester receives a Joycean stream of consciousness introduction, including the highlight of “Mother Peter, a bearded nun who beats children from dawn to dusk” (p.9) After an overlong summary of an adolescence which serves as an attempt to put ‘The Headmaster Ritual’ to words again, things pick up. The real skills here are observation, detail and evocation – a whole cast of Mancunian characters are introduced then packed off, usually via early deaths from illness or accidents.
The shifting music scene of the mid-1970s has rarely been better evoked than it is here. “Iggy defined the new manhood that the world so badly needed, lest we die beneath the wheels of Emerson, Lake and Palmer” (p.113) or of the Sex Pistols first Manchester gig (p.115).gig “They are not the saviours of culture, but the destruction of it – which suits me quite perfectly, and I manage to see them two more times that year".
One constant are the sketches of heroes and influences. Star struck at the sight of American author James Baldwin, Morrissey backs away, fearing the totality of rejection. Breakfast with David Bowie sees the great man announce he has had so much sex and drugs in his life, he can’t believe he’s still alive – to which Morrissey naturally responds “I have had so little sex and drugs I can’t believe I’m still alive” (p.245) That Morrissey met and knew Ian Curtis is something I had never considered, and brings a tear to the eye.
It is p. 147 before The Smiths get a mention, and the humour submerges into cattiness. It is made crystal clear from the start that The Smiths was Morrissey and Marr, with Joyce and Rourke mere accoutrements. Record label Rough Trade’s management is caricatured as congenitally out of touch, succeeding in little but holding the band back. Sandie Shaw is portrayed as a little madam, Tony Wilson a touch too keen to be ‘Mr Manchester’. Not that the author claims infallibility. This is after all a man who wanted to drop ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ as he doubted it was good enough for ‘The Queen is Dead’. At times the sense of grievance does become tiresome – a frustration at world domination denied only by the incompetence of others is inherent. This tune (also played to death by Peter Hook of New Order) arguably reflects the dichotomy between critical and commercial success, financial eminence or artistic credibility. Few end up with both.
Morrissey’s solo career is a curious beast – there is much more of it than his time in The Smiths, and it has tended to swing from extreme peaks to extreme trough. Yet few have had careers of his longevity and managed to maintain such a cutting edge - a track as political as ‘Irish Blood, English Heart’ was released a full 22 years after The Smiths formed. When ‘Margaret on the Guillotine’ appears Morrissey even receives a visit from the secret police, Special Branch requiring assurance that he did not pose a mortal threat to Mrs Thatcher. Amongst the score settling is clear anger that the NME could accuse him of flirting with fascism for posing with the national flag, yet a few years later make the union jack a virtual logo as the music press embraced ‘Brit-Pop’ with relish. How easily times change.
There are challenges in being Morrissey. Meetings with parents of the Moors Murders victims must have been harder than he sketches (p.167) and being the soundtrack to adolescent misery and sexual frustration brings a peculiar responsibility which is not addressed herein (“Angel, Don’t Take Your Life” on his first solo LP is a very deliberate anti-suicide song, written to discourage fans from killing themselves). At particular times clumsy pronouncements on animal rights or animal welfare in China have rightly brought opprobrium.
Yes, the world could survive without his examination of the Smiths 1996 court case (mercilessly relayed on p. 302-351). But griping and the lack of an index aside, there is little else wrong with this book. What we have runs parallel to Morrissey’s best music - a genuine slice of thoughtful popular culture, and an insight into Britain and Britishness, that matters.
Why is Morrissey important? Arguably it is for the sense of loss that has always pervaded his – and The Smiths work. Whilst critics focused on the personal introspection and sexual failure in songs like “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” or “Unloveable” watch the video to “Dagenham Dave” and see an England that has shifted irreparably in our lifetimes. As Dave’s intended dumps him in the underground car park, by a giant Ford motor logo, and he angrily smashes Morrissey’s gold disc, we seem to be left with nothing, except absence and anger.
Still, there is always X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent and Simon Cowell.............
A Happy New Year to all readers of this blog.
A quiet Christmas gave me some time to read - I have just finished Ken Livingstone's "You Can't Say That", and managed to get through an impressive pile of newspapers over the last week. Two articles struck me in the press - one because it was so poor, the other because of its weight and implications.
In the rubbish bag must go Liz Hull's Daily Mail article of 27 December, which considers a curious spin-off from the case of missing Lancashire teenager Charlene Downes. "Stalker terror of mum whose girl was 'killed by paedophiles'" tells us that Karen Downes, the mother of Charlene, has been plagued by a stalker.
Mark Bailey, a New Zealander who travelled to Blackpool after reading Mrs Downes' website, has been fined and received a restraining order after pestering Mrs Downes to leave her husband. The article then gives a general overview of the Charlene Downes case, and that those tried with her murder received a six figure sum in compensation when the jury failed to reach a verdict.
For some reason the Mail's online article has a different heading to the print version, the rather more lurid "New Zealand man stalks mother of girl who was 'murdered and turned into kebab meat' after becoming obsessed with the case" is deployed. Perhaps that was considered a little too strong for the Daily Mail's print readership!
More seriously, Liz Hull manages to tell a very partial rendition of the Downes case. There is nothing on perceived police botching or indifference, Mr and Mrs Downes' subsequent involvement with the British National Party is ignored, as is the recent Times analysis (clearly based on a Lancashire Constabulary intelligence file) of the behaviour of Robert Downes, and the suggestion he frequently introduced men he met in local pubs to his daughter, leading to sexual activity. Such an important case deserves better.
The second article which I pored over was The Times interview with Michael Palin of 28 December by Rachel Sylvester and Alice thomson (safely hidden, I fear, behind their paywall). Palin's suspicion of modern technological developments is welcome:
"I feel a little bit alarmed by the whole depersonalisation of the internet. People are friends with people they've never seen, people are walking down the street and never look up because they're on the phone. What's happening to real life in all this?"
Secondly, and the section of the interview which gained most attention, Palin points to some of the effects of increased religiosity. Comparing today to 1969, when Monty Python began:
"Religion is more difficult to talk about. I don't think we could do Life of Brian any more", he says. A parody of Islam would be even harder. "We all saw what happened to Salman Rushdie and none of us want to get into all that. It's a pity but that's the way it is. There are people out there without a a sense of humour and they're heavily armed"
And that was when I realised what was missing from Ken Livingstone's memoir. Whilst Livingstone speaks with passion about the changes London in particular has seen via immigration and multi-culturalism during his life and his political career, he makes no attempt to recognise that there may be downsides to the same process.
Whilst the politicians of the three main parties are comfortable talking about the benefits of diversity, it is neccesary sometimes to articulate what these downsides are - in this instance, cultural. In a supposed liberal democracy, one of the country's best known media personalities and comedians believes it is now harder to discuss religion, and impossible to produce certain types of comedy. This is not due to reasoned debate or critique, but fear of physical violence and, indeed murder.
And that does require serious thought and debate in 2014 - it diminishes us all.
A lot has been written about Stuart Hall over the past week, following his convictions for sexual assaults on young women and girls. Before Hall's work as a broadcaster is forgotten, I want to say a few words about his work on television and radio.
Anyone growing up in the North West of England in the 1970s or 1980s will have memories of the BBC broadcaster Stuart Hall. In one of the earliest pictures of this blogger, I am standing up in a tin bath in a front room in Wilmslow with tufts of unruly hair, resplendent in my birthday suit. On the black and white television set behind me in the top of a black and white photograph, is Stuart Hall. He is probably in his mid-late forties, and to be honest looks pretty much the same as he did until well into his 70s.
Stuart Hall was a big name. In an era when there were only three or four TV channels, he was the BBC’s lead for local news in the North West, whilst he had a national profile presenting It’s A Knockout on BBC1. Sadly I remember little about that spirit of the age game show. What I do recall is that it nearly always seemed to be filmed outside, and for some reason had a pan-European competitor base. It involved lots of silly games involving water and paper mache figures. Inevitably participants would fall into the water and/or trip over at vital moments. Whenever this happened Stuart Hall would be roaring with laughter like a deranged laughing policeman on acid, as one team (invariably the Belgians) snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
English culture is predominantly anti-intellectual. As children, we bully the geeky boy with glasses, and afford status to those who are physically brave or good at sports. Other cultures are different – in France, when Jean-Paul Sartre died, the automobile factories of Paris fell quiet, as the workers walked out on strike to attend his funeral. The closest we have come to that in the UK was in 1968, when London dockers and market porters downed tools in support of Enoch Powell’s speech against immigration. Even that political action is largely a myth – thousands of men left work, yet it was hundreds who made it to Parliament in support of Powell – most of the others were down the pub. In contrast to these traditions, Stuart Hall always wore his learning on his sleeve – he knew his Shakespeare, and wanted everyone else to know that he did.
In the years before
mobile phones, if you wanted to hear the football results as you travelled home
from a match, you needed to stand next to, or follow, a ‘tranny man’ – a fan
with a transistor radio. There were many times in the 1980s or early 1990s I travelled
from Warwick Road station to Manchester Piccadilly, after a United match, and
observed a train carriage descend into hushed silence for one of Stuart Hall’s
radio reports on a game.
Not everyone understood what Hall was talking about. Once an interview with Liverpool manager Roy Evans descended into farce after a typically florid introduction threw Evans completely. Lost for words he simply said “You don’t half talk some rubbish you, Stuart”. When Paul Ince played for Manchester United, plenty of commentators will have observed his ‘donkey work’ in midfield. Only Stuart Hall described him as “toiling like a Stakhanovite”. In a way, the era when Stuart Hall presented Look North West, now looks a golden age in terms of the seriousness of the presenters. On ITV, Granada Reports had the late Tony Wilson, another man who was desperately keen to show not only how clever he was, but how important it was to be clever. Looking last year at the local news programmes in the region, both ITV and BBC had a double act of presenters, both had one male and one female presenter, both had one white and one ethnic minority presenter. I doubt any had read a book since their student days. Style matters more than substance.
Long after television put Stuart Hall out to grass, his intelligence ensured that he maintained a viable career within the BBC. His football reports continued, on Radio 2 and then on Radio 5. When Old Trafford began to style itself as ‘The Theatre of Dreams’ Hall delighted in telling listeners that he was reporting from Maine Road ‘The Theatre of Comedy’. Perhaps because of his age, his views on football could be both insightful and rounded. During one of the periodic panics about cheating and foreign players, he simply recalled the Manchester City team of the early 70s “Franny Lee was the biggest diver ever”. In more recent years I started buying the Radio Times again, largely because of Hall’s rambling column on sport and TV, which often contained a beautifully written unrequited love for Claire Balding, and always ended with his exit, pursued by a bear.
After last week’s court case in Preston, we now know there was another Stuart Hall. A man who forced himself on women, teenage girls and children. The way legal proceedings have ended – with Hall pleading guilty to several assaults, with more serious cases now not being prosecuted, appears generous towards him. More so, given the damage he did to his victims, than he deserves. Stuart Hall’s reputation is destroyed. It seems fitting he should die in prison, although whether a judge will see fit to jail an 83 year old man, remains to be seen.
We seem to be living in age where the rather unhealthy celebrity culture we have experienced since the 1950s, is being hacked at by unwelcome and unpleasant home truths. What the motor is for this, is unclear. It shows little sign of abating. I can’t say that I am particularly bothered at the destruction of Jimmy Savile’s reputation, or for that matter those of some of the celebrities currently awaiting court cases for serious sexual offences. But, for a variety of reasons, both personal and political (with a small p) Stuart Hall’s downfall is saddening.
Clearing some old papers recently, I came across this little gem from The Times of 4 June 1998:
"Caught in the act
Frank Field. the Minister for Welfare Reform, is to appeal to makers of television soap operas and of "kitchen sink" movies to show benefit fraudsters being caught and prosecuted. Mr Field said he wanted to promote an anti-fraud culture".
Frank Field watches over an Eastenders script meeting at Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire.
I have recently come across this video from The Jam's single Absolute Beginners way back in 1981.
For some reason I can't remember seeing this at the time, even though I was a big fan of the band. Looking at it now musically it has aged pretty well. The video induces pure nostalgia - it is not the clothes, seeing the streets and cars that takes you back to the early 1980s. I found myself shouting out a 'Ford Cortina, a Rover' and desperate for the street scenes to continue.
I have only recently come across this recording of a comparatively early New Order concert, in New York in November 1981.
As with anything on You Tube or similar sites - enjoy this whilst you can - Peter Hook's lawyers could take it down tomorrow!
I have set myself the challenge of finding a Christmas song as good as The Fairytale of New York by The Pogues and Kirsty McCall.
I have failed. I do however have a soft spot for December Will Be Magic Again by Kate Bush. Here it is.
I have no idea if the two comments made on this blog yesterday from someone claiming to be Terry Fitzpatrick are from him or not.
I very rarely delete posts either on this blog or the 9/11 Cultwatch site. I am however uncomfortable with people publishing telephone numbers (be they theirs' or someone else's) and unhappy at the intrusion of racist language.
To whoever is making these posts: there are plenty of things Lee Jasper should be criticised for - his race is not one of them. I will delete any similar comments in the future.
Full marks to Sun scoop Kate Jackson, who's 15 April 2011 interview with Jimmy Saville will probably not be at the top of her CV. Try this quote for size:
"Jimmy, one of seven children, says one of the perks of TOTP (Top of the Pops) was giving free tickets to his groupies. He says: "I'm so pleased they have brought back Top of the Pops because I can see all the ladies I got tickets for, who all rushed to stand by me on the programme. I think 'I wonder how she's getting on?'
"Tickets for Top of the Pops were like gold and as a single fella I would not miss the opportunity to ingratiate myself with the ladies."
A lifelong bachelor, he is still a compulsive flirt. It's harmless enough, though slightly unnerving when you're told to "walk away slowly" by a man old enough to be your grandad."
Do check the full article out on The Sun website before they take it off. The hard copy even comes with the 'Tickets for Top of the Pops' quote emboldened in red. Crazy times indeed.
It's time for drunkinly putting random music videos on my blog - especially after an evenings drinking with the Wensum Blogger from Norwich.
For your entertainment I present 'Jane' by EPMD which starts out as a standard late 1980s Hip-Hop track but has a great twist. I can still remember being at Wolves Poly in 1989 and my knees shaking when I did see a woman with a haircut like Anita Baker...............
BBC Radio 4 has a fascinating subject under consideration this evening - how best to extract information from the enemy.
In recent years we have had the American policy of waterboarding and the tedious philosophical question of whether torture is justified if you have the immediate task of finding a ticking bomb (instances of this, outside of James Bond films, appear rare) This programme takes a different approach.
Interrogators Without Pliers runs at 8pm on Monday 15 October and introduces us to a fascinating historical figure, Hanns Scharff, who interrogated downed pilots for the Luftwaffe. No tying up people with piano wire here however. Scharff instead looked to develop friendships whilst never appearing too interested in what he was actually looking to find out.
Interrogation it seems, is an art. Whether waterboarding is, I shall leave to others to discuss.
Radio 5 has set aside two hours of its scheduling on Tuesday 9 October at 1930 to consider the career of former Celtic and Scotland manager Jock Stein.
Today we may giggle at the prospect of a Scottish side ever winning the Champions League - Stein won the European Cup in 1967 with a team in which all the players were born within 30 miles of Glasgow. An enormous achievement at the time - which looks even bigger today.
Tune in to BBC radio 4 at 8pm this evening for File on 4, which examines the cases of eight women currently suing the Metropolitan Police and/or the Association of Chief Police Officers.
All eight had sexual relationships with men who were undercover police officers, infiltrating radical political movements. The length of time covered by these cases - 1987-2010 - perhaps indicates the scale of the manipulation. A BBC taster for the programme can be read here.
If you miss the show tonight, it can be caught again on the Radio 4 website, and is repeated at 5pm on Sunday 7 October.
It seems we can add the Russian Orthodox Church to the depressingly lengthy list of resurgent religions.
On Monday 1 October at 8pm Lucy Ash of Radio 4 will examine the power of the church, and its political and economic influence. If you want to know what Pussy Riot were fighting against - tune in.
I was disgusted by the footage that Crimewatch showed earlier this week of an incident in Leicester, where a traffic warden was kicked in the head by an angry motorist.
He ought to be leading with his left jab, then following up with a right cross. Then when the opponent comes on to him, he should he throw his kick to the head.
I have spoken before of my love for Roky Erickson's classic track 'I Have Always Been Here Before'.
Julian Cope's superb cover of it, from the Erickson tribute LP 'Where The Pyramid Meets The Eye' has recently been placed back on You Tube. It is immense.
Radio 4 have two programmes on the morning of Monday 17 September devoted to Salman Rushdie.
At 0900 he is interviewed by Andrew Marr on Start The Week, whilst that is followed at 0945 by the first of five extracts from Joseph Anton, the book covering his period in hiding from the 1989 fatwa by the Ayatollah Khomeini.
You can order Joseph Anton here. I think Rushdie has become rather likeable in recent years, losing that slightly shrill, pontificating side to his personality. I take it this is because the 1980s leftie that sleeps inside so many of us, was knocked out of him by events. Something understandable if you have millions of religious lunatics wanting to murder you, and their liberal apologists making excuses for them.
Joseph Anton is a rather different man altogether.
I really enjoyed the BBC comedy Citizen Khan, which had its second episode on BBC1 earlier this week.
As might be expected, the programme has created some controversy, with complaints made to the BBC, and criticism by Muslim academic Leon Moosavi. Yesterday, Birmingham University academic Chris Allen wrote a discerning piece, arguing the programme was neither racist nor Islamophobic - it just wasn't, in his opinion, very funny.
I can't remember who said it (Jerry Sadowitz?) but all comedy is at the expense of someone. That bucket of water in Laurel and Hardy, or the rolling pin in a Carry On film, eventually has to hit someone. In Citizen Khan, the bulk of the jokes hit Mr Khan himself. His pomposity, obsessive social climbing, his inability to relate to any other member of his family, his ability to blunder into embarrassing sexual misunderstandings and the fact he is manipulated with ease by the female members of his household - all whilst resolutely acting as if he is the king of the castle. These staples of comedy should be familiar to anyone who has watched a British sit-com in the last forty years. Citizen Khan may be set in Sparkhill, but remove some of the religious content and it could just as easily be the Smith family in Stockport or the Jones family in Swansea.
One thing Jerry Sadowitz certainly did say was that it is dangerous to leave certain groups of people, be they a religious or racial group, out of comedy. What does it tell us about our society if a particular group is left out of a section of our social discourse, permanently? I would not want to live in such a society, and I suspect, deep down, neither would many others.
Over 20 years ago I saw Jerry Sadowitz play Wolverhampton Polytechnic. Part of his routine concerned the ever younger family members he had been served by in his local Asian corner shop - one day he was convinced he would go in and be sold a packet of cigarettes by an embryo. For a moment the crowd hesitated (Wolves Poly was a pretty left-liberal place from 1988-91) then the audience roared with laughter. They were mature enough to realise Sadowitz was not some Bernard Manning figure solely disparaging one section of the community he knew nothing about - he was observing, in a exaggerated way, a small part of all our lives.
And that is what Citizen Khan tries to do. Leon Moosavi argues the programme reinforces stereotypes about Asians and Muslims to an non Asian audience. That remains to be seen. But if British Asian comedy writers observe humour in the Muslim community (or any other community) who are we to say they cannot articulate that?
Ultimately - if it is funny, it works. And I suspect enough people, from a range of backgrounds, will find Citizen Khan works.
I had an email yesterday from the No Gods No Masters website in Canada, who produce a range of Anarchist and anti-fascist t shirts.
There are putting aside a portion of their sales to support Pussy Riot, the Russian punk band who have three of their number currently languishing in the Russian prison system. The men's t shirts for Pussy Riot can be viewed here, and the female shirts here.
I am showing my solidarity by boycotting Baltika beer until the band is released.
Depressing news this morning that once again The Cock Tavern, one of north London's few remaining traditional pubs, is again under threat.
The Save The Cock Tavern facebook page covers some of the issues, which seem to centre on the owners of the property's desire to sell it off for housing, something that has been seen across London on hundreds of occasions over the past decade. If The Cock goes, I am struggling to name another pub of its type, either in Camden or more broadly across north London.
What is to be done? Apart from publicising the issues, the best thing anyone can do is to make sure that the next time they are in the Somers Town/Euston/St Pancras area, they pop in and have a drink. You won't regret it.
I have not always been very positive about the Paralympics, arguing in the past it gets publicity out of all proportion to the actual interest in it.
It is time to change my views - firstly through meeting a couple of the athletes, and secondly because, at least in the UK, the interest now is there. One stroke of genius by Channel 4 has been the promotional video it has used for its Paralympics coverage, with features the very apt 'Harder Than You Think' by Public Enemy. Just listen for the line 'thank you for allowing us to be ourselves'....
I used to love Public Enemy. I saw them the first three times they played in Manchester (and believe me, Hip-Hop gigs were heavy in those days) and I still regard 'It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back' as one of the greatest LPs ever. In terms of innovation, I can't believe 'Sgt Pepper' was as innovative in its day as that album was in 1988.
I never really took the Nation of Islam controversies around them seriously - if you are going to get angry about science fiction - and the NoI is nothing more than science fiction - you may as well get angry with the Scientologists.
In time, my interest in Public Enemy, and to a large extent Hip-Hop faded. Other things took over in my life - mostly getting very drunk at Class War meetings and talking nonsense. Watching the video for 'Harder Than You Think' on You Tube a lot of PE's greatness comes back - to make a track like this aged well into your 40s is a real achievement. It is also a clever piece of work - twenty years on and they are not portraying themselves living it up on the West Coast surrounded by gold and bimbo's, but filling up skips and driving an old van around suburban New York. And that of course is a lot closer to the reality most of us are in.
Harder than you think is a beautiful thing!
In a month where we seem to be rediscovering that 'Britishness' might not be so bad after all, Stewart Lee is to be found examining the British roots of electronic music.
A Sound British Adventure takes us as far back as the 1940s, and whilst I had heard of Daphne Oram and her influence on contemporary experimenters such as Sonic Boom, much of this history is very new to my ears. To learn more tune in to BBC Radio 4 at 1100 on Tuesday 14 August 2012.
For fans of Rugby's finest export since rugby, Sonic Boom is playing Hackney's Shacklewell Arms on Thursday night, under the name Spectrum. It is of course sold out.
Below is the video to 'Olympic' by 808 State.
The band once had ideas this would be used to promote Manchester's Olympic bid, something that was not to be.
The government is considering changes to the manner in which serious financial crime is prosecuted.
It seems this is not taking the more robust American approach, but 'simplifying' the process. Joshua Rozenberg is on Radio 4 at 4pm today examining these changes, with the programme repeated on Thursday at 8pm. More details from the Radio 4 website.
A few months ago I was briefly in possession of a small collection of what are known as Masonic Jewels - the medals of a former Freemason from the United Grand Lodge of england and a member of a similar body - the Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes.
They belonged to my former neighbour and reflect a little snatch of history - especially that of the Second World War and post-War colonial period. In a way those days never really leave us - one of the jewels is marked Cyrenica - a part of Libya that is again associated with demands for independence. The other locations - Oman, Cyprus, Iraq and Egypt all reflect RAF postings in the dog days of empire.
I post one of my pictures below, and the rest are to be seen, with my other collections of photographs, lower down the page on the right hand side.
Oh - and for all the conspiracy theorists that pass through this site - no I am not a Freemason.
To everyone who ever said "electronic music will date really quickly" listen to this version of Donna Summer's best track "I Feel Love."
It still sounds as good to me as it ever did.
The quote below is from today's Telegraph Review, where amongst the book reviews Dan Jones considers Paul Preston's work on the Spanish Civil War and its fascist butchery, The Spanish Holocaust.
"Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell and the rest sent back graphic dispatches from the front line, and their work has left the historical impression that Europe's first open war between fascists and the combined forces of communism, socialism and social democracy was well covered and understood. Yet away from the eyes of the war reporters, argues Paul Preston, there was another Spanish Civil War, in which thousands of civilans were systematically murdered, and their deaths subsequently obscured".
Whilst accepting his latter point, the former is a re-writing of history. In this analysis, all those Anarchists in Barcelona and much of southern Spain must have been a figment of the imagination. I do hope that Preston's book is considerably better than Jones' summary above!
I spent an excellent afternoon yesterday at the British Museum's exhibition "Hajj: Journey To The Heart of Islam".
Going at half-term was possibly a mistake - the event was clearly at maximum capacity, but I just about got to see everything. If you go, I would recommend getting the exhibition's book, edited by Venetia Porter. Coming in a at a whopping £25 in the museum bookshop, it is a more agreeable £16.32 on Amazon, and contains pretty much everything in terms of pictures, artwork and analysis that you see as you go round.
Amongst the chapters we have British Muslim intellectual Ziauddin Sardar weighting in with the "Hajj After 1950". This period sees the rapid expansion of pilgrimage, as factors such as the development of the jet engine and coach travel, the Islamic resurgence and Saudi oil money dramatically alter both supply and demand.
Anyone who has read Sardar's excellent "Desperately Seeking Paradise: Journeys of a Sceptical Muslim" will be aware of his work at the Hajj Research Centre, carrying out analysis on the effects of millions of pilgrims travelling to Saudi Arabia. The work of these British exiles briefly brought them into conflict with construction company the Bin Laden Group “as zealous in its development work as it was in its religious outlook” (p.133) In time Sardar was to be repelled by the commercialisation and over-development at the country’s religious sites.
As might be expected from an exhibition sponsored by (amongst others) the King Abdulaziz Public library in Riyadh, there is no mention of the Bin Laden group's sterling work on re-developing Mecca. And whilst Sardar's chapter tells us much about concern for the environment, or new extensions and development work to the Kingdom's religious sites, and even the Saudi Princes overseeing such work, there is diplomatically no mention whatsoever of the company who actually did that work.
The Bin Laden group is placed, for western public consumption at least, firmly behind the scenes.
Clare Balding is on Radio 4 at 1345 on Wednesday 15 February presenting Fighting Back - an examination of the relationship between race and boxing in the UK.
There is much to discuss - how many people know that as late as the 1930s the British Boxing Board of Control sometimes operated a colour bar?
In the 1990s, the UK, very briefly, enjoyed a unique period in its modern history.
For a little while at least, Britain appeared to lack an enemy. Communism had been defeated, collapsing in on itself. The Irish peace process, whilst experiencing fluctuations was at making the possibility of a world without Northern Ireland terrorism possible. No one had heard of Al Qaeda or the Taliban, and few, outside of Foreign Office Arabists or his London associates, of Osama Bin Laden.
Perhaps not surprisingly, some began to look rather crititically at the police Special Branches, and in particular at the domestic security service, MI5, and the Secret Intelligence Service, MI6. Who were these guys? What did they get up to? And how did they manage to spend so much of our money doing it? Whether related to such questions or not, these actors suddenly began to branch out, offering their expertise in other areas. The danger of emerging Russian organised crime (to take just one example) was presented as a mortal threat to our communities, and MI5 began to target alleged British gangsters such as Paul Massey in Salford.
Suddenly we were being told in the media that the UK was awash was the potential threat of domestic terrorism. Be it from the far-right (who remembers Combat 18?) from the Animal Liberation Front, to deep greens and environmentalists. There was even a nasty World In Action hit piece on anti-fascists, never mind the usual scare stories about Anarchists. One of the few people to really research all this at the time, certainly in book form, was Larry O'Hara in his 1994 "Turning Up The Heat: Mi5 After the Cold War" - others, at some stage will no doubt follow. I certainly intend to.
Many of 'green terrorist' scares in the UK came courtesy of the Sunday Times. Eventually sustained police action followed the media, leading to the failed prosecution of the Green Anarchist group in the Gandalf Trial. I am not as familiar with the environmental movement in the United States, so do not know if the US political fringe experienced a similar odysessy in the early to mid 1990s. What did happen in the United States is a much more substantive radical environmentalist movement emerged, for example in the shape of the Earth Liberation Front.
On Monday 13 February at 10pm BBC4 is showing Marshall Curry's documentary "If A Tree Falls - A Story of the Earth Liberation Front" which covers the ELF, its actions and the states response to it. This is part of BBC2's Storyville series.
In teaching Terrorism Studies, one of the tools I have used in recent years has been to get students to consider groups like the Animal Liberation Front or SHAC and ask - is this terrorism? Is there a line where political violence is crossed, and terrorism begins?
This attempts to circumvent the rather sterile formula of students struggling with the countless definitions of terrorism and going round and round in circles chipping at them, as it allows the discussion of actual recent cases. Marshall Curry's documentary takes a similar path - it focuses on ELF activist Daniel McGowan and the arson attacks he was accused of.
Over to you. Is this terrorism?
History is written by two groups - the victors, and the middle classes.
I am reminded of this following an interview/book review with Egyptian author Ahdaf Soueif, by Julie Tomlin, in the current issue of the Camden New Journal. Ms Soueif, who divides her time between Cairo and London has a book to promote "Cairo My City, Our Revolution" and talks wearily of the 'betrayal' of the Egyptian revolution by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).
What did annoy me was this little quote from Ahdaf Soueif's interview, where she states:
"The fact that people could act with such unity; that a civilian population could, unarmed and non-violent, force the removal of the head of a corrupt and brutal regime was a general cause for optimism."
She was a lot closer to the action than I was. But anyone following the news this time last year could see that the Egyptian people were anything but non-violent. How else can you describe the pitched battles in and around Tahrir Square between Mubarak's supporters and those who wanted change? How else do we account for the presence and perhaps critical involvement of Egyptian football hooligans in the fighting in Cairo against forces loyal to the dictatorship?
The good news is that the anti-Mubarak forces won, at least in terms of the battles of Tahrir Square. As the dust settles, it seems probable that they won the battle but lost the war. But that is no need to re-write history. I do hope Ahdaf Soueif's book is better than the interview suggests............
Many years ago Class War's Ken Keating commented on redevelopment in Salford, and argued that it would in practice not bring jobs for local people - the companies that came "would bring their own people with them".
Ken did not live to see the completion of the BBC's flagship MediaCity in Salford, but the figures seem to bear him out. Just 26 local people have been employed by the BBC - probably fewer than if a new Wetherspoons had been opened instead.
Having now seen the first English language adaptation of Stieg Larsson's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo - I can only recommend others go and see what is likely to be the film of 2012.
In terms of acting, the development of tension, occassional outbreaks of humour and genuine suspense, director David Fincher has done a remarkable job, although he was working from very strong source material.
Whilst his publisher styles Stieg Larsson as one of the world's foremost experts on the far-right, referring to him as such on the dustjacket of his books, I was never a fan of Larsson the man. His relationship with the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight (a malign influence in the UK anti-fascist movement in for a generation) attracts my suspicions. Larsson edited Searchlight's Swedish sister magazine Expo. I am also informed that even though Anarchists form the backbone of the anti-fascist movement across Scandanvia, Larsson made comments about such activists that were prejudicial and indeed stupid. A proper reassessment of his political work is overdue.
As a crime novelist however, I suspect Larsson will be regarded as unsurpassed - he is the man who left too soon.