I can’t quite decide if this reboot of ‘Yes, Prime Minister’ is funnier than the original or if I’m laughing in all the wrong places, what with it having adopted the pseudo-documentary style of ‘The Thick of It’, a tactic which can throw the viewer. This week’s was a classic episode, however; in case you missed it, that rather implausible comic character called Boris had a blazing row with his girlfriend – though unbeknownst to him it was being recorded by a Remainer neighbour, who then flogged it to the Guardian! All kinds of hilarity ensued, with Boris, under pressure from his weedy workplace colleague Jeremy (the) Cunt, refusing to answer questions on the matter via the rib-tickling route of talking over whoever asked the question. Well worth a watch if you can locate it on the iPlayer.

I would say ‘but seriously’ if that didn’t seem out of kilter with the comedy narrative – but seriously, this would be a highly entertaining shit-show if there wasn’t so much at stake. With Michael Gove suspiciously edged out of the race, the sole obstacle between Boris Johnson and No.10 would appear to be Boris Johnson – and whilst Boris’s team are doing their best to present him as a responsible politician with a vision as they prepare for his coronation, there’s only so much they can control once the man himself is under the spotlight they’ve tried to keep him out of. At the same time, there are some unsurprisingly dirty tricks at play on both sides right now; the tactical voting that eliminated the man who destroyed Boris’s bid three years ago belatedly brought a touch of Westminster Dark Arts to proceedings.

Smarmy little troll he may well be, but Gove was the one contender who could have really gone for the jugular – and Boris’s team knew it. However, the convenient timing of last weekend’s developments has shown the Hunt camp is taking a sneakier approach. Knowing all-too well that Bo-Jo’s chaotic private life is as prone to gaffes as his public life, his enemies have probably been on stand-by ever since the race gathered pace, anticipating an incident that can then be weaponised as further evidence of Boris’s unsuitability for high office. They didn’t have long to wait. They received it thanks to the unique Neighbourhood Watch scheme in operation on Carrie Symonds’ street; and the added bonus of a ‘domestic abuse’ angle also gave the green light to opportunistic Opposition gobshites like Jess Phillips to accelerate the anti-Boris campaign.

However, simplifying the contest to a one-sided battle between the school swot and the school bully tends to obscure the ammunition that could be used by the favourite against the outsider. As a relatively loyal member of Mrs May’s far-from devoted Cabinet, Jeremy Hunt offers a similar ‘safe pair of hands’ option that the outgoing PM presented in 2016. But it says a lot about where we are now that Hunt’s shameful role in News Corporation’s attempted takeover of BSkyB back in 2011 – not to mention his far-from illustrious record as Health Secretary – has been barely mentioned by his opponent’s team, so confident of success that they haven’t even thought it necessary to hurl a few stones from their glass house. The irony is that Hunt has more than enough skeletons in his closet to keep them busy, and they may have to resort to them if the headlines continue to bring Boris’s numerous failings into focus.

Tony Benn’s wife Caroline once said that Prime Ministers generally fall into one of three categories: Pedestrians, Fixers or Madmen. What we know of both the former Foreign Secretary and the incumbent one suggests neither fits the middle description, so the choice would appear to be Pedestrian or Madman. A strong Opposition would have rendered the Tories’ squabbles irrelevant, mind; they’d be so far behind in the polls that a successful vote of no confidence in a no-deal Brexit Boris would trigger a General Election and throw the party out of office – giving Boris the shortest premiership in history, breaking the unenviable 119 days of George Canning in 1827 (though the duelling PM did have the excuse of his tenure being curtailed by death). But, of course, this isn’t a Labour Party led by Harold Wilson that can boast heavyweights of the calibre of Jenkins, Callaghan, Castle, Crosland, Healey, Benn and Foot; it’s Jezza’s frontbench of Watson, Starmer, Abbott and Thornberry. This is the team the Tories are so terrified of that they will back Boris at all costs. This is what it has come to.

Under normal circumstances, Bo-Jo presents any opponent with such an embarrassment of riches to use against him that the mere thought of him running for PM would be a non-starter from the off; under normal circumstances, he would never have got this far. But these are not normal circumstances. Lest we forget, three years ago a majority of the electorate voted to leave the EU; three years later, we still haven’t left. The ramifications of Brexit have now claimed two Prime Ministers and judging by Boris’s performance on the hustings, a third scalp is on the cards. After one disastrous dullard, the Conservative fear of a Corbyn Government will most likely avoid another and instead opt for a rogue – even if there’s more to it than a straightforward scrap with Mr Nice Guy on one side and Mr ‘I wouldn’t trust him with my wallet or my wife’ on the other.

Then again, it’s not as if we haven’t had rogues at No.10 before; the gallery of past Prime Ministers lining the wall beside the Downing Street staircase contains its fair share of reprobates even Boris Johnson would struggle to compete with. The Duke of Grafton (PM 1768-70) paraded his courtesan mistress around society whilst his wife the Duchess had a baby with her paramour; Lord Melbourne (PM 1834-41) had been married to Byron’s insane lover Lady Caroline Lamb and had himself been blackmailed in a sex scandal; and Lord Palmerston (PM 1855-65) was known to have fathered his own ‘love children’ as well as being cited in divorce proceedings. So, it’s fair to say we have been here before. But, certainly in the case of Palmerston, there was substantial substance beneath the superficial surface; can that honestly be said of a self-serving, ideological vacuum like Boris, whose track record in office is laughable?

By disregarding its traditional support systems and courting the favour of minority metropolitan causes, the political class on both sides has created the monster that is Boris, just as American Democrats created Trump. Whether Tories abandoning the small-c conservative shires or Labour doing likewise with the deindustrialised working-classes, this abandonment has had its ultimate expression in Brexit; the fact that, three bloody years on, we still haven’t moved proves the political class has learnt nothing. The impasse that is entirely of the political class’s making has given the kiss of life to Nigel Farage and is poised to make Boris f***ing Johnson Prime Minister. You reap what you sow, Westminster. It’s just a shame the rest of us will again have to pay for your wretched incompetence.

© The Editor


I wonder if, when the ex-Iron Chancellor eventually ascends to that great No.11 in the sky, his headstone will read: ‘Gordon Brown – he agreed with Nick’? Ever since the inaugural 2010 Leaders’ Debate, it’s become obligatory for contenders in a party political contest to set out their respective stalls against each other for the electorate via the goggle-box, and there’s usually a specific moment that catches the electorate’s ear during a debate – even if, in the case of the Tory leadership pitches televised by BBC1 and Channel 4, most of us have no say in what happens next; these guys really are preaching exclusively to the converted. Yes, there was a Labour precedent three years ago when Owen Smith was pitted against Jeremy Corbyn in a ‘Question Time’ special as the former staged a hapless challenge to the latter’s leadership; but the number of participants in the Tories’ current competition has inevitably upped the ‘Apprentice’ ante, speaking a visual language familiar to the viewing public.

The first debate on Sunday served as a belated reminder of just how threadbare the Tory talent pool really is – and the contentious individual whose coronation seems a foregone conclusion didn’t even make an appearance. As entertainment, it was a bit like watching the political equivalent of one of those NME Poll Winners’ concerts from the mid-60s, albeit one in which The Beatles, Stones and Kinks had all pulled-out at the last minute, leaving the punters to make do with Freddie and the Dreamers, The Honeycombs and The Four Pennies (ask Paul Gambaccini). Deliberately leaving an empty lectern to emphasise the favourite’s no-show could have been even funnier had the director opted for a ‘HIGNFY’ Hattersley moment and placed a tub of lard on top of it; but the viewers probably wouldn’t have noticed the difference, anyway.

Of the inferior five who were helplessly hoping to chip away at Boris’s unassailable lead last Sunday, Dominic Raab reminds me of a wooden hunk from a daytime TV soap – the sort-of wife-cheating character who says things like ‘Ruth, I didn’t set out to hurt you’; whereas Jeremy Hunt resembles a smooth regional news magazine presenter, the kind the grannies always think is ‘lovely’. The strangely simian Rory Stewart looks like he’d be at his happiest playing in war games tournaments with his model soldiers, whilst I keep imagining Sajid Javid as a member of staff stationed on the aisles in Wilkos, the slightly gormless one a little over-eager to help when you can’t find where the loo rolls have been moved to. And then there’s the new pseudo-macho Michael Gove, who nevertheless never looks like anyone other than Michael Gove. God didn’t make two.

Jeremy Hunt’s ‘Where’s Boris?’ question halfway through the first debate was the first time any of the five mentioned the missing member, and the question almost sounded like a euphemism for an ill-timed fart, as though Hunt had accidentally released a Tommy Squeaker and used a Tory codeword to own-up; anyone whose father used to ask ‘Who’s let Polly out of prison?’ whenever a silent-but-deadly odour infected a car journey will get what I mean. Actually, maybe if the whole nation got into the habit of shouting ‘Where’s Boris?’ whenever a fart slipped out in company, the nation might become more of a One Nation in the process. But I think we’ve already passed that point now; we probably passed it when Harold Macmillan resigned in 1963.

The fact that such a tiny proportion of the electorate actually gets to vote in this particular contest leaves it a curiously meaningless spectacle for the rest of us – and on both the lectern incarnation and the Beeb’s ‘casual bar-stools’ version, it seemed as if the contestants were equally confused by their target audience. They each performed as they would during a General Election campaign, as though canvassing the entire nation for votes rather than the select few who’ll receive a ballot paper; moreover, the contenders often appeared to forget that in bemoaning the state of the nation they were actually trashing their own party’s record in government, not the opposition (despite Gove’s lone ‘Jezza-phobic’ howl). All emphasised the pitiful state of public services that many of them have been responsible for the pitiful state of, and all promised to wave a magic wand that all have kept well-hidden whilst endorsing the wrecking-ball that has helped make this country what it is over the past decade. Lest we forget, whoever gets the gig will inherit the same shambles that stitched-up their predecessor, so it’s not as if they can deliver any promises without a mandate of their own – and they’ll resist getting one for as long as they can because they’re terrified of calling a General Election they’re convinced they’ll lose.

The second debate dispensed with the first’s studio audience and instead had questions put by members of the public via a video screen; unfortunately, there was no moment comparable to that when a housewife riled Margaret Thatcher with an awkward inquiry about the Belgrano back on ‘Nationwide’ in 1983, though with one of the questions being put by a bearded chap representing a certain community, it was inevitable Emily Maitlis turned to Boris. Yes, with Raab the plank having been eliminated just a couple of hours before the BBC1 debate, his replacement was the man whose dominance in the first two ballots necessitated his appearance; I almost expected him to wait until the rest were assembled before descending to the stage on the zip-wire he famously hung from when promoting the 2012 London Olympics, but he didn’t, alas. The manner in which Boris’s propensity for putting his foot in it has been reduced by the simple tactic of turning him into Howard Hughes is certainly a bizarre approach for a man who will have nowhere to hide once he enters No.10. But Claudius finally has his chance to show a clown can become Caesar, and the luxury of mediocre competition means he can do so however he wants.

Viewing the BBC2 series on Margaret Thatcher these past few weeks has served as a reminder how politics used to be run by serious grownups; regardless of the still-divisive ideology at the heart of the Thatcher revolution – many elements of which remain open to question – there was at least a vision inherent in the rhetoric, even if its worst aspects are responsible for those vying for the top job in 2019. Had today’s template applied in the 1970s, the Tories would have been led by Sir Gerald Nabarro; Nabarro was the reactionary, racist buffoon with the handlebar moustache who had become a household name on account of the larger-than-life, comic toff he presented to the public. It’s fair to say he lacked certain qualities that were then regarded as essential to become a party leader. However, perhaps telling of the times, Nabarro’s character – midway between Jimmy Edwards and Colonel Blimp – was a complete fabrication, for he was actually the state-educated son of a shopkeeper. And that’s what would disqualify him today.

Acting out its existential crisis in public by presenting pitches to a public that cannot respond to them, the Conservative Party seems to be contradicting the stated aims of the leadership hopefuls to ‘bring the nation together’ by allowing us all to see how dysfunctional the party proposing to do so really is. In publicly attempting to outshine not opponents from other political parties, but fellow Tory MPs and (in most cases) Cabinet colleagues, the contenders underlined just how David Cameron’s suspension of collective responsibility in 2016 has now become the norm. But at least the Tories are an accurate barometer of the disunited kingdom as it currently stands rather than a source of optimism for an imaginary united future.

© The Editor


True, there’s never a shortage of 24-hour wonders (either involving chimpanzees and/or battery acid), let alone new angles on long-running news stories. And yet, sometimes it’s nice to take a step back to immerse one’s self in something with more substance. When I write, there’s always a song playing in the background, so today I decided to write about that instead. The song in question is ‘Venus in Furs’ by The Velvet Underground. It might be over fifty years old, but it still sounds like nothing else; and it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve heard it – it always sounds sinister. Few records have ever managed to manufacture such an eerie ambience with so few instruments, and as crucial a role as the Eastern-tinged guitar and brutally primal drums play in the claustrophobic wall of sound, there’s no denying the guilty party responsible for the unsettling atmosphere is that circular saw of a viola, curling and swirling its way in and out of the rhythm section like a greased electric eel. It applies the weapons of the avant-garde to a conventional melodic structure and makes a marriage of glorious inconvenience in the process.

But while ‘Venus in Furs’ may share something of the night with the likes of the Stones’ ‘Gimme Shelter’, it lacks that ominous anthem’s apocalyptic, epic scale. No, this hymn to the deviant delights of S&M is very much a domestic drama, a private party taking place behind closed doors and between consenting adults seeking mutual arousal in the illicit. It might chill the spine, but it also stirs something many would rather remained unstirred. I first heard it as a 17-year-old when, prompted by constant references to the Velvets as an influential act, I bought the band’s first LP; it was the only way to hear them; I couldn’t just pop onto YouTube in the mid-80s, and nobody I knew had ‘killed music’ by home-taping it for me. It was the fourth track on side one, the first song I heard on the album that really made me realise what all the fuss was about. Frankie Goes To Hollywood were playing with the same imagery at the time, but I had to remind myself ‘Venus in Furs’ had predated ‘Relax’ by almost two decades.

And it is the song’s subject matter that isolates it from the cluster of nihilistic walks on the wild side that are retrospectively collected as symbolic of the 1960s drawing to a gruesomely shuddering halt. For one thing, its 1966 recording predates even the Summer of Love, and it appeared long before Manson and Altamont and the iconic revolutionary fervour that characterised the spirit of ’68. It could be perceived as a sneering slice of New York cynicism aimed at a naive culture with its head in the Californian clouds, a petulant East Coast anomaly at odds with the zeitgeist; and while there’s possibly a grain of truth to that when one takes Lou Reed’s infamously awkward attitude into account, the fact the song is about sex rather than drugs places it in a different category altogether from its contemporaries.

Sex as a subject matter had fuelled early Rock ‘n’ Roll and earned it a good deal of its initial notoriety in the process, but it was superseded by the far less problematic love as a preoccupation and then by an increasing range of political, social and lysergic lyrical concerns as the 60s progressed. The odd notable exception aside – ‘Let’s Spend the Night Together’, for example – sex outside of R&B and Soul wasn’t really selling in the mid-60s. And nobody in pop music was singing about ‘unhealthy’ sex – that is, the kinky kind of sex promoted in cheap, sensationalistic pulp fiction of the sort that gave ‘Venus in Furs’ its title. Only grubby little shops in Soho dirtied their fingers (and other parts of their anatomies) with that.

When ‘sexy’ pop records are discussed, ‘Venus in Furs’ doesn’t often get a look in. But it is sexy, no doubt about it. It just takes an unusual musical approach to the subject, employing none of the tricks and gimmicks that usually embellish self-consciously ‘sexy’ songs to sonically simulate an orgasm. There are no silky strings or pouty female vocals, but without John Cale’s droning, electrified viola, the sound of the song would be radically altered, and it is his viola – a strange instrument to be found on a pop record to begin with – that gives the track its distinctive, arousing element; but that arousal is one that appears under-the-counter because the invitation to this particular party suggests it’s going to be rather naughty.

Nobody is going to be adopting the missionary position to ‘Venus in Furs’; even if whips, handcuffs and all the rest of the familiarly fetishist paraphernalia of sadomasochism are left in the cupboard, chances are one of the participants will be on all fours at some point of the evening and enjoying something they’d ordinarily blush at. When in the heat of the moment, however, anything goes. And acknowledgement of this is what enables ‘Venus in Furs’ to retain its decadent magic more than fifty years after its arrival.

Perhaps part of the record’s ongoing appeal is that it harks back to an era when perversions were practiced in the privacy of one’s home with a specially invited audience rather than being streamed to the world. It’s the thought of something divinely decadent taking place behind the lace curtains of an eminently respectable household in an eminently respectable neighbourhood with eminently respectable pillars of the community participating that infuses what the song conjures up in the mind of the listener with such insatiable curiosity.

The over-ground emergence of pornography and the endless demand for rights and recognition of proclivities that seemingly define their practitioners above every other facet of their personalities has served to dull and dilute the once-alluring clandestine thrill of sexual acts previously hidden from the public gaze. No, in an age of ‘porn chic’ and casual mainstream use of imagery once viewed as beyond the acceptable pale, maybe it’s hard to appreciate how shocking ‘Venus in Furs’ – both lyrically and musically – may have once sounded to teenage ears.

But over half-a-century on, the song still possesses a uniquely erotic energy, a licentious slow-burner of an erection stealthily plodding its way through five minutes and twelve seconds of deliciously salacious sexual ecstasy that can just as easily celebrate the company of two as much as three, four or however many more. There may have been nothing like it before, but there’s certainly never been anything quite like it since. It stands – or perhaps stoops – alone.

© The Editor


Long after most gave up the ghost, my VCR finally collected its retirement clock a year or so ago. It probably won’t be replaced, yet I still have hundreds of tapes crammed with off-air recordings, many of which will never see the light of day as commercial releases. Probably due to this fact, I held onto most of them when the pre-recorded VHS movies were bagged and binned – ones I could always purchase again on DVD if need be. The majority of these tapes contain content reflecting my eclectic viewing habits at the time they were recorded; reluctant to waste tape, it’s a dead cert any videocassette from the early 90s, for example, will see its last ten or twelve minutes used-up with a TOTP performance, a promo video from ‘The Chart Show’, and a few clips from ‘Prisoner: Cell Block H’.

One tape from 1997 I recall has a characteristically idiosyncratic mix – featuring Radiohead’s iconic ‘OK Computer’ Glastonbury set as broadcast on BBC2, the erotically-charged neo-Noir movie ‘The Last Seduction’, and highlights of the Hong Kong Handover Ceremony of June 30/July 1 that year. It’s only through writing this that I’ve looked-up the dates and rearranged my somewhat sketchy memory of summer ’97 – one in which several substances were consumed and have therefore buggered-up my memory’s timeline in the process. I’d thought the Handover Ceremony was closer to something else that happened that summer, something that happened on August 31.

Yes, of course, that summer crashed to its climax with the death of Diana and the month of mourning that plunged the nation into paroxysms of public grief on a scale I was able to view with detachment only because I had always been ambivalent about ‘The People’s Princess’. Was I alone in finding the final act of the British Empire more moving than the floral display outside Kensington Palace? It certainly felt like it at the time. Odd snippets come back to me now, like wondering how old ‘fatty’ Chris Patten could have sired two such gorgeous daughters; they were seen on the day China took back control due to the former Tory MP being the last colony’s last governor, the consolation prize awarded to him by John Major upon losing his seat at the 1992 General Election. I know it sounds positively 19th century – a man from Westminster dispatched to govern an imperial possession; yet, it was less than 30 years ago.

As a child, I became aware this country had numerous cultural and sentimental tentacles stretching across the globe and that we retained little pockets of British soil a long way from home. There was Gibraltar, and there still is Gibraltar; but there was also Hong Kong, which was the one remaining genuinely exotic leftover from Empire – one of the spoils of the Opium Wars that went on to become the Far East’s premier economic powerhouse. I remember that early 70s ‘mum hunk’, the suave Gerald Harper visiting Hong Kong in a couple of episodes of ‘Hadleigh’; there was also a BBC documentary series called ‘Hong Kong Beat’, focusing on the Royal Hong Kong Police Force, with its catchy theme tune even making the charts; and, lest we forget, Bruce Lee made most of his movies there, movies that went on to become staple diets of video rental shops. Yet, as we moved into the 1980s, anything to do with Hong Kong started to centre around Britain’s 99-year lease, as if the island was a holiday home owned by the UK that would be inherited by Hong Kong’s nearest neighbour once its owner died. Actually, maybe that’s how it really was.

For decades, Hong Kong had provided refuge for political dissidents fleeing China, and the prospect of the colony falling under Chinese jurisdiction was understandably worrying for them; their concerns naturally intensified following the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989. Even though the signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984 laid out the ‘one country, two systems’ concept to allay fears Hong Kong would end up as a suburb of mainland China and be subject to the same repressive rules and regulations governing the People’s Republic, it was accompanied by gradual goalpost-moving on the part of the British Government to deliberately limit the potential numbers of Hong Kong natives claiming British citizenship and the right to settle in the mother country. After Tiananmen Square, with the Handover only eight years away, an estimated 10,000 rushed to apply for residency in the UK. Singapore, Canada, Australia and the US proved to be popular alternative destinations, and during its last decade as a Crown Colony, Hong Kong lost almost a million of its citizens who chose to emigrate rather than remain.

Tony Blair had been PM less than two months when he joined his Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, Governor Patten and Prince Charles on the podium to officially cede ownership of the island to China. Brian’s unflattering account of the occasion surfaced in the Mail on Sunday a few years later, wherein he compared the Handover Ceremony to a cynically choreographed Soviet-style performance and referred to the event as ‘The Great Chinese Takeaway’; the Prince of Wales was of course representing Brenda, as he had 17 years earlier when the Union Jack was lowered in Rhodesia. With Africa long gone by 1997, it was time for the Far East to finally follow suit, and I have to say my memory of watching the Ceremony live on TV isn’t one that evokes the heir’s cynicism. I was conscious this was something of genuine historical significance, like Churchill’s funeral – the belated end of one kind of Britain and (with Blair fittingly present) the beginning of another.

For the people of Hong Kong, there was no sailing off into the sunset on the Royal Yacht Britannia, however; they were left to deal with the realities of the new regime. Their predicament couldn’t be compared to the difficulties facing the UK’s other ex-colonies following the cutting of imperial apron springs, i.e. being at the mercy of hard-line religious despots or military coups; Hong Kong had not achieved independence, but had merely changed hands. Having a totalitarian super-state on the doorstep is no more a pacifier of anxiety for Hong Kong’s citizens than it is for those residing in the former Soviet satellites; the perennial fear that Beijing will slowly implement its own authoritarian agenda on the island by stealth is something that has continued to creep up on the people; and cracking down on public demonstrations of dissatisfaction such as the ‘umbrella protests’ of five years ago with tough sentencing appeared to suggest their fears were well-founded.

Attempts to introduce a new extradition law, whereby anyone from Hong Kong who invokes the ire of Beijing can be removed to mainland China for trial, has now provoked a fresh outburst of protest. This time, however, it hasn’t emanated wholly from the Hong Kong youth born after the Handover, whose view of themselves as international citizens has supplanted the traditional affinity with Britain of previous generations; it has spawned an unlikely alliance of different demographics ordinarily divided by faith, politics and age – united in their opposition at Beijing reneging on aspects of the Sino-British Joint Declaration; this week it has crossed the line from peaceful protest to civil disorder. The island’s former colonial overlord, however, can do nothing but issue meek condemnations of China’s actions; we absolved ourselves of all responsibility in 1997 – and, besides, China today equates with trade and money. We wouldn’t want to upset our friends in Beijing – making one wonder if it was just Hong Kong that was handed over 22 years ago.

© The Editor


Whilst the majority of last week’s D-Day anniversaries were fitting tributes to those who fought them on the beaches, it was inevitable a degree of nostalgia – even for such dark days – would creep into the commemorations. In the case of the Second World War, we have the comforting hindsight of a happy ending, which participants were denied at the time; but nostalgia – whether for the War via ‘Dad’s Army’ or talking-heads TV celebrating more recent cultural epochs – is a romantic electric blanket that is at its warmest when the chilly present seems to lack certainties. There don’t appear to be any certainties at all right now, and nobody has any idea what comes next other than predicting the worst. By contrast, the past is a benevolent piece of furniture we can curl up in and know where we are.

That said, distance sometimes enables us to discern jewels that were hidden when we were busy living in the past – as Jethro Tull once perhaps pointed out. For example, I’d only have to glance at a handful of posts on here from 2016 to come to the conclusion that 2016 was a terrible year – yet, from my own personal 2019 perspective, I can now see it was one of the happiest times of my life. If anything, this serves as a salient lesson to enjoy what one has whilst one has it instead of waiting for it to be claimed by nostalgia and the belated appreciation that is tinged with wistful regret. But I digress.

When watching the 60s/70s drama ‘Public Eye’ recently, it was telling that, amidst the inevitable presence of so many elements of British life long since gone, a particular plotline caught my eye: Lead character Frank Marker moves from one town to another and has to make an appointment to meet the man who is now his bank manager in order that his account can be transferred from his old branch to his new one. Despite Reg Varney making history with his inaugural withdrawal in 1967, hole-in-the-wall cash machines were hardly a fixture on every street corner through the 1970s, if at all. Alfred Burke’s character couldn’t simply relocate elsewhere and continue to withdraw money from anywhere he happened to be – neither could he manage his financial affairs himself online; all of his payments were physical and if he wanted to invest or withdraw, he needed to go to an actual building and make the exchange over the counter by engaging with a fellow human being.

In a week in which I witnessed the doors of yet another neighbourhood bank branch close for good, this scene from ‘Public Eye’ also reminded me how that mainstay of 70s sitcom jokes, the bank manager, was once an office almost on a par with the local vicar, GP or police constable in terms of ‘civic dignitaries’; they no doubt still count for something in Ambridge, but in urban areas the bank manager is virtually an extinct species. If you, like me, reside in an urban area, you won’t have a bank manager either – nor do you probably know a vicar, a copper or even a GP, at least if your experience of the impersonal surgeries in which a different doctor dispenses medication every time you visit is anything like mine.

In most cases, the clout such professions carried has gone because the environment that elevated them has gone. The absence of belonging that many in an alienating metropolis feel can partly be traced back to the point where the strands of benign authority that helped bind communities together became frayed and then snapped; from village elder to local squire to Sgt Dixon, the people required at least one go-to figure to resolve their disputes. Even if they still do, those figures aren’t around anymore; and, anyway, if authority equates with age, the village elder is most likely now rotting away in a care home. We can’t rely on the police to come running when we dial 999, we can’t get an appointment to see a GP, and our bank no longer has a branch on the high-street. Even if you favour collectivism, you’d be hard pushed to generate it in such a fragmented landscape.

The old concept of community, in which everyone had a part to play and a function to perform, had developed from the village roots of towns and had in turn arisen from ancient tribal divisions of labour; in those parts of the world where the literal meaning of ‘tribe’ still applies, one tends to find these roles remain intact and crucial to the community’s survival. In the west, where communities had grown through being supported and sustained by one specific industry, a sense of place was strong in a way that – following the subsequent black hole of underinvestment since the industry’s collapse – has been rendered utterly redundant. A town’s residents can connect with someone on the other side of the world but might not necessarily know a single person living on their street.

Today, community can be more of abstract concept, often equating with identity; the general trend is for the rejection of shared common ground in favour of individual separateness. Even when people defined by their differences or ‘diversity’ are quick to gather in a facsimile of community, their emphasis on individuality precludes genuine community, hence the endless splitting into endless subdivisions of every community based around identity, underlining how diversity can diversify to the point whereby nobody has anything in common anymore. The 21st century incarnations of the People’s Front of Judea and the Judean People’s Front are permanently engaged in social media spats that make unity seem like something people only did in the old days. We receive a tantalising taste of it when we pause to commemorate lives lost in conflicts that required unity to succeed; but the fact that WWII will soon cease inhabiting living memory to join the Napoleonic Wars as mere history keeps it firmly in the context of the past.

Politicians being, of course, the cynical old manipulators of the public mood that they instinctively are, sell themselves to the electorate by appealing to the craving for community as it used to be. The pitches of the wretched hopefuls vying to become the new Tory leader (and, unfortunately, Prime Minister) are crammed with fatuous references to ‘bringing the nation together’ as they line-up like a bunch of vacuous suits to be sneered at by Alan Sugar. The fact that they all appear to be falling over each other to see who can produce the best drug-taking anecdote is a bizarre development that could be viewed as either an attempt to appear human (not easy for a Conservative MP) or to pre-empt any dirty digging on the part of their opponents. Personally, my opinion of Michael Gove has not changed one iota now that I know he snorted coke 20 years ago; and to be honest, if I was married to Sarah Vine I’d probably be permanently off my tits on mushrooms, seeing that as the only viable means of achieving domestic bliss.

Understandably, one response to this strange rash of substance abuse confessions from the kind of people you really don’t want to picture snorting or skinning-up has been accusations of hypocrisy. For decades, the Conservative Party has repeatedly opposed any grownup discussions on the antiquated drugs laws and has constantly played the finger-wagging nanny against anyone daring to recreationally indulge. Then again, this ‘do as I say, not as I do’ approach that the current confessions appear to emphasise is perhaps especially grating because it sounds so parental, albeit emanating from the most uncaring and irresponsible parents imaginable. If we need our village elders today, Westminster is not the village where we’ll find them.

© The Editor


The wry, dry detachment of Larkin’s oft-quoted observation on the cultural significance of 1963 – ‘which was rather late for me’ – makes me wonder if the old monochrome Britain still languishing in the shadow of war vanished forever when the last clump of snow from the unprecedented winter that opened this most transformative of years belatedly melted away in March. As the thaw began, The Beatles hit No.1 for the first time and pointed towards a new kind of Britain. Britain was ready for it. The Profumo Scandal exposed the decadent double-standards of the ruling elite, whereas deference received a further kicking when Ronnie Biggs and his mob robbed Her Majesty’s mail train. To borrow the catchphrase of Danny Boon, the cheesy comedian from ‘Billy Liar’ (released in 1963), ‘It’s all happening!’ And it was.

The pieces were already in place – from the satire boom to the ‘kitchen sink’ school of cinema and theatre – and were evident on the country’s newest and most influential medium, television. The spread of the ITV network across the UK was complete by 1963 and the ITV company that had broken the mould of drama with ‘Coronation Street’, Granada, also revitalised current affairs broadcasting with ‘World in Action’, whose brash, fearless, innovative attitude contrasted dramatically with the somewhat staid ‘Panorama’ and its avuncular host, Richard Dimbleby. It’s doubtful whether the BBC would have commissioned a study of the British class system as seen through the eyes of specially-selected seven-year-olds; but ‘World in Action’ did. The timing, like so much that happened here in 1963, was right.

Watching the original ‘Seven Up’ documentary now, it’s clear the year was on a cusp and not quite ‘Swinging’; indeed, it’s remarkable how Edwardian it all looks when showing the children in the school environment. The working-class kids are crammed into those austere red-brick fortresses most of us attended, whereas the public school lot remain locked in a ‘Tom Brown’ bubble, reciting ‘Waltzing Matilda’ in Latin and enduring military drills overseen by a fascistic little prefect. The characteristic bigging-up to impress peer groups is blatant at both ends of the social scale – the posh boys declaring they read the Financial Times and the tenement scamp claiming he goes to bed at either 10 or 11 o’clock. These children may not have been media-savvy, but they are remarkably self-assured.

As a one-off, ‘Seven Up’ stands on its own as a unique document of a country caught on camera just before the start of the social transformations that the children of 1963 would gradually benefit from. We may well have been left to guess what awaited them, but then something special happened. When a young researcher on ‘Seven Up’ called Michael Apted was asked to direct a follow-up programme seven years later, he tracked down the 14 participants, and the comparisons between the charismatic kids of ‘Seven Up’ and the moody, awkward adolescents of ‘7 Plus Seven’ was a fascinating snapshot of lives in transition. Apted says at that moment he realised the potential of what he had on his hands.

The greatest contrasts between then and now take place in the first three instalments of what became an ongoing series, and the contrasts aren’t merely physical or in the hairstyles and fashions. In 1977, Apted reunited the 14 again for ‘21 Up’, when the young adults were reaping the rewards of the decade that began with the first programme. Although the five participants to go through the private and public school systems – Charles, Andrew, John, Bruce and Suzy – had all travelled the educational routes already mapped-out for them in ‘Seven Up’, others denied their privileges were making their way in a way that reflected the social mobility revolution: farmer’s son Nick and suburban Scouser Peter were both at university, whereas the three East End girls – Jackie, Lynn and Sue – were all earning enough to buy their own homes; this factor makes ‘21 Up’ seem as distant now as the original documentary. However, perhaps the first real indication that some of these lives were destined to make a massive emotional impact on the audience came with Neil in ‘21 Up’.

The bright and bubbly buddy of Peter in ‘Seven Up’ had dropped-out of university after failing to fulfil the academic expectations of his parents and was doing menial work whilst living in a London squat. His frustration and sense of failure seem to convey world-weariness beyond his years; for the viewers, Neil’s story touched a real nerve and became the most gripping of all. Seven years later, there was genuine shock when he appeared in ‘28 Up’, hitchhiking his way through the Scottish highlands and of no fixed abode. Displaying nervous tics, clad in ill-fitting charity shop clothes and his hair shorn, he confessed ‘I can’t see any immediate future at all’. He looked dangerously like a man who had run out of everything.

Neil didn’t fit the era’s image of an economic casualty as seen in, say, ‘Boys from the Blackstuff’ (i.e. a victim of deindustrialisation); he was more an early casualty of the collapse of social mobility’s aspirations, someone who had fallen through the cracks from the lower middle-classes. His struggles have formed the series’ most compelling narrative; every time it comes around, Neil’s update is always left till last. There was a touching intervention at one stage from fellow participant Bruce, demonstrating the compassion that had been visible in his seven-year-old ambition to become a missionary (one member of the family who seems to have fulfilled the Jesuit maxim at the heart of the show’s remit). Bruce offered Neil the spare bedroom and formed a friendship that enabled Neil to get back on his feet. Being a Lib Dem councillor and a lay-preacher seemed to give Neil a degree of purpose he’d so painfully lacked in earlier instalments, but his troubled past means viewers always fear the worst every seven years whilst simultaneously hoping for the best.

Our concern for Neil is potent because this remarkable project has provoked an emotional investment in its participants that means we genuinely care what happens to them. We see the stages of life unfold through them; as they age, their parents die but their offspring provide them with grandchildren. We see their hair going grey and sometimes fade away; we see their waistlines expand; but we also see them achieve something approaching contentment. Most have even managed a level of resigned acceptance with the intrusion of the series into their lives, something that has sometimes been manifested as bristly resentment resulting in the odd absence from an instalment.

But, of course, the older they get, the closer creeps their mortality. Cockney cabbie Tony has suffered health scares, farmer’s son and physicist Nick is seriously ill with cancer, and – saddest of all – librarian Lynn passed away just a year after ’56 Up’, the first of the gang to die. Yet, this is life; there is tragedy, but there is triumph. Barnardo’s boys Paul and Symon are two of the most grounded participants of all – both having a tough start in life yet reaching near-retirement age comfortable in their own skins. And this ninth instalment of a programme that stands as a towering tribute to the human spirit ended with a wonderfully elegiac shot of Neil riding his bike, musing on the collapse of his marriage. ‘The idea of true love, which I think exists, occurs so seldom,’ he says. ‘If it occurs once in somebody’s life, they’re extremely lucky; for it then to happen, and then the potential can’t be fulfilled, is heartbreaking.’

Always moving, but never sentimental – the ‘Up’ series really is an unparalleled example of what television as a medium is capable of and so rarely aims for. It was a product of its time, our time. We won’t see its like again.

© The Editor


Having known a succession of non-bedroom flats as home during the past 15-20 years, I’ve been deprived of one conundrum that those with a ‘spare’ are occasionally faced with – the visitor who stops overnight and then extends his stay to several days. I’m sure the majority of these are welcome guests who are sincerely invited to treat the place like their own; and I’m equally sure this majority are courteous visitors who volunteer to do the washing-up. Surely not all take the piss – emptying the fridge of its contents and leaving the bathroom a bombsite of wet towels and poo balls, for example.

Uncle Donald’s long-trumpeted state visit is, I suppose, the dreaded scenario of the embarrassing overseas relative whose brief return to the mother country has been made easier (for him) by the emotional blackmail he employed to secure the spare room for three days. Families, eh? He’ll probably want to be introduced to your circle, even though you’ll spend the whole excruciating meeting hoping he doesn’t say something racist or grope your girlfriend; and after just one night of being bombarded by his braggadocio bluster, your pounding head will be pleading with you to concoct an excuse that will force him into finding a hotel ASAP. ‘I know, it’s dreadful; but the bloody landlord says he needs to hire out the premises for an Icelandic jazz festival tomorrow. There’s nothing I can do about it.’

No, I’m not keen on Donald Trump; I never have been. I think he’s a boorish, charmless, combative, coarse vulgarian. But I will say the fact he pisses off a lot of people who piss me off tickles my funny bone – far more than the puerile playground response of some to his presence on these shores. Hell, I’m no stranger to the puerile playground, as the video accompanying this post once again demonstrates; but when Dubya flew-in and raised similar hackles a few years back, the protests against his visit – at a time when war in Iraq was ongoing – were grounded in something substantial and seemed to have a genuinely valid politicised edge to them. I mean, a baby blimp? Come on – is this the best we can manage now? I suppose a giant cock only visible from the air could be said to be in the vein of traditional English humour; but it still feels like the nation is dropping its trousers and desperately mooning Air Force One because it can’t articulate its objections better than a five-year-old.

Despite Sadiq Khan’s attempts to promote the capital as though it’s one long Pride parade, the appalling roll-call of murders on the streets of London during his mayoral tenure – let alone in the six months of 2019 so far – really should focus his attention away from Twitter spats with a man who does this for a living. The public petulance of the London Mayor – not to mention the Leader of HM Opposition – is also counterproductive; Mr President draws most of his political strength and support from playing the outsider up against the establishment, and were leading Labour figures not so preoccupied with signalling their collective virtue, they’d realise their attitude is playing right into the Donald’s tiny hands.

Worse still, building up Trump to be the towering monster he likes to see himself portrayed as serves to make his predecessor in the White House look better than he actually was, conveniently airbrushing his less attractive legacies from the record books. The former drone-happy President was also guilty of sticking his nose into Brexit business last time he was here, but all has been forgotten during the wistful longing for the nauseating hero-worship that followed Obama around the UK like a gaggle of weak-kneed teenyboppers. I’m pretty sure Theresa May would love her final moment as PM to be flipping burgers in the back garden at No.10 with the ‘cool President’, but it ain’t gonna happen. She’d probably burn them to an inedible frazzle, anyway.

Mrs May can leave the wining and dining this time round to Her Majesty, and Brenda certainly has the experience, playing hostess to some exceedingly dodgy characters over the decades – everyone from Idi Amin and Robert Mugabe to the Shah of Iran and Nicolae Ceauseşcu; and let’s not forget Brian’s buddies in the Saudi royal family. Compared to that notable rogue’s gallery, Trump is Nelson Mandela. We really should put him into perspective, but the febrile climate in Blighty at the moment isn’t very conducive to perspective, alas – witness the casual dispensing of meaningful historical terms like ‘Nazi’ and ‘Fascist’ so they are reduced to meaningless insults on a par with ‘knob-head’ or ‘wanker’.

Trump’s behaviour so far – including his retort to Sadiq Khan before he even set foot on British soil – is entirely in keeping with the man, so nobody should feign surprise or outrage. Boris Johnson’s uncharacteristically low profile at the moment – a deliberate tactic to avoid the fate that always befalls the early favourite in a Tory leadership contest, one suspects – could probably do without the endorsement of the President, mind. Nigel Farage has less to lose, though being seen in the same light as Piers Morgan when it comes to one’s choice of friends isn’t the best boost either man’s aspirations could wish for at such a crucial juncture.

One of Trump’s duties before he departs is to be present at a commemorative ceremony in Portsmouth, marking the 75th anniversary of the D-Day Landings. The last time D-Day was marked on such a grand scale ten years ago, Gordon Brown as PM practically had to invite himself to Normandy when Nicolas Sarkozy’s ego and eagerness to be photographed alongside Obama implied the British RSVP had got lost in the post. The former Co-Prince of Andorra might have neglected to remember, but the opening shot of liberating Nazi-occupied Europe was pretty much an Anglo-American operation at the western end; it’s therefore only right and proper that whoever happens to be the incumbent US President should be present on such a significant occasion, and the event being marked should override any personal gripes with the man occupying the office. If anything is capable of really putting 2019 into perspective, remembering 1944 should be – shouldn’t it?

© The Editor