A recurring Remainer tactic of the last three years that has come to the fore again during the current Election campaign has been to blame the result of the 2016 Referendum for making the nation more dangerous, volatile and violent than it has ever been before – well, before the collective memory of those born in the 90s, perhaps. Barely a day goes by without being told how Britain is an unprecedented cauldron of toxic nastiness populated by trolls, bigots, fascists, racists, Nazis, and phobics of every conceivable variety. Granted, strolling through certain quarters of the capital bereft of a stab-proof vest might not be advisable in 2019; but one doesn’t actually have to travel back to a distant period of genuinely barbaric British history such as, say, the 17th century to trash this shaky theory. 1977 – a mere 42 years ago – will suffice.

I’ve devoted a good deal of the past week’s online downtime to watching news broadcasts from 1977 on YouTube. Why 1977? I can’t even remember how it started now, but it has become something of a nightly addiction. Even though I was there at the time, the vivid memory has received a jolt when reliving it in cyberspace. As a ten-year-old in 1977, I was more concerned with whatever I was watching or reading or playing than ‘the news’, that byword for boring in the minds of most children that age. Thanks to ‘John Craven’s Newsround’ being cannily sandwiched between ‘Scooby Doo’ and ‘Blue Peter’, however, I was exposed to some of the bigger stories of the day by default, so many of the ones I’ve revisited these last few days were familiar, even if the finer details eluded me in 1977.

Growing-up in a city that contained one of the dominant football clubs of the era meant I was exposed to the beautiful game as well as its uglier aspects. A fixture guaranteed to provoke trouble in and around Elland Road – such as the traditional grudge match against that other United from the ‘wrong’ side of the Pennines – was not really advisable for a child to attend. Manchester Utd had one of the worst reputations for hooliganism in the country back then – indeed, in September 1977 the club were temporarily expelled from the European Cup Winners Cup following fan trouble at an away game at St Etienne; footage of the chaos is quite retrospectively chilling, almost as if you can see the elements that led to Heysel – just eight years away – in embryonic form.

When Leeds and Man U were drawn against each other in that year’s FA Cup Semi-final at Hillsborough, local shopkeepers were boarding-up their windows as fencing was erected on the terraces for the first time in anticipation of a war. In the end, the game passed without major incident; but footage from a league fixture that same season between the two rivals paints a more accurate portrait. With hordes of Bay City Roller-lookalikes rampaging through the streets outside the ground and police on horseback galloping around them, it looks more like a warm-up for the Poll Tax Riots than the preamble to a sporting occasion. It’s also a timely reminder that, unlike now, this wasn’t a problem restricted to lowly lower league clubs, but afflicted the biggest in the land. It’s impossible to imagine such scenes taking place outside the corporate complexes of Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge today, which reminds the viewer how much the English game at the highest level has changed in 42 years.

Violence on the streets wasn’t restricted to being pre-match entertainment in 1977, however. Aside from images captured in the aftermath of an IRA bombing, the main visual representation of the Northern Ireland Troubles which viewers on this side of the Irish Sea received usually documented pitched battles between bottle-and-brick-throwing children and the British Army. Generally taking place in the more poverty-stricken corners of Londonderry or Belfast, the shocking aspect of these clashes is just how young the participants really are, looking just like me and my schoolmates – same haircuts, same clothes, same age. And once the shock of that sinks in, another sight hard to imagine now also hits the viewer: latchkey dogs. Without fail, any footage of such street battles from the period will have at least one giddy mutt dashing around the melee. And that’s one more thing now happily consigned to history.

Anybody declaring how unsafe the streets of 2019 are should be made aware of this stuff. And if it wasn’t a match-day within the vicinity of a railway station or football stadium (and if one resided on the UK mainland), there might not be a respite from a scrap if the National Front happened to be marching into town. There seems to have been at least three major marches by the far-right shit-stirrers in 1977, with the one that took place in Lewisham in August of that year yielding the greatest quota of violence. Most of the archive footage dredged up for documentaries on racism in Britain appears to have been shot in Lewisham that day. The formation of the Anti-Nazi League to counteract the NF whenever they decided to target a neighbourhood with a large ‘immigrant’ community meant that any such event from ’77 onwards ended in conflict. The film from Lewisham, in which police and protestors from both sides are battered, bloodied and bruised by fists, truncheons, bricks, bottles and (in one memorable moment of improvisation) a dustbin, demonstrates that the tempers we keep being told are at boiling point in 2019 well and truly boiled over in 1977.

Those tempers weren’t always provoked by the incendiary subject of racism – which was far more ‘in yer face’ in 1977 than it is now – but political ideology too. Industrial disputes wielded as bargaining chips by powerful unions were daily occurrences; British Leyland probably didn’t enjoy more than one strike-free week during the entire decade. But the worst dispute of 1977 was one that had begun the year before and didn’t end until the year after. It took place at a South London film-processing lab called Grunwick.

Grunwick paid pitiful wages and imposed long working hours on a predominantly female Asian immigrant workforce. When the mouse roared, a small strike that had passed-by largely unnoticed gathered pace as sympathy from other unions was garnered; these unions then began sending bus-loads of flying pickets to show solidarity and prevent ‘scabs’ from crossing the picket-line; this necessitated police involvement – including the notorious SPG – and also attracted those members of the Socialist Workers Party up for a fight. By the summer of ’77 the scenes of opposing forces squeezed into the narrow residential streets leading to Grunwick beggar belief. The clashes are some of the ugliest and brutal of any industrial dispute – predating the Miners’ Strike at its worst by a good seven years – and Grunwick itself became seen as a microcosm of everything that was regarded as wrong with British industry. But it is the level of violence on display that seems so characteristic of 1977.

The same media sources that are today repeatedly telling us how toxic the atmosphere in the country is in 2019 were also at it in 1977 – though then it was Punk Rock rather than Brexit held up as being responsible. Perhaps some began to question this narrative when The Sex Pistols – sold as the worst of a bad bunch – belied their public image by staging a free Christmas Day concert in Huddersfield for the children of striking firemen. Yes, even the firemen were on strike as the year drew to a close. 2019 is not 1977 by any stretch of the imagination. Just take a look on YouTube. And take a look at your average Remain or Leave march. Take a look at the flag-wavers permanently positioned outside Parliament. Not exactly reminiscent of Lewisham or Grunwick or Belfast or Elland Road in 1977. In fact, not remotely comparable. My advice to contemporary scaremongers is to take a tip from a Stranglers hit of 1977 and get a grip on yourself.

© The Editor


The (now) late Jonathan Miller, when appearing in the seminal satirical revue ‘Beyond the Fringe’ in the early 60s, refuted assumptions he was a Jew. ‘I’m not actually a Jew,’ he declared. ‘I’m just a bit Jew-ish.’ That the multitalented Dr Miller should pass away whilst anti-Semitism continues to hog headlines at the expense of the Labour Party is, I guess, just one of those serendipitous things; but as far as timing goes, it’s pretty good. By the time I got round to watching Andrew Neil’s grilling of Mr Corbyn on the iPlayer earlier today, I’d already been given advance previews of what to expect courtesy of Twitter. To be honest, I quickly became as bored with it as a viewing experience as Jezza appeared to be in his role of interviewee. Even after four years as Leader of the Opposition, he still doesn’t look comfortable in an environment he should be used to in 2019. Stick him on a stage before a crowd protesting about something or other and he’s in his element, of course; but that’s traditionally a treat for backbenchers unaccustomed to being noticed; he should have grown out of that by now.

I don’t think I can ever recall a party in government so ready for the taking being so let off the hook by an opposition. The eccentric charm that got Boris by for a good few years, even enabling him to be twice elected Mayor of London, evaporated as soon as Theresa May made him Foreign Secretary and exposed him as a character entirely unsuited for high office; like most, I suspect that was the then-PM’s plan. But what must Mrs May have felt when her own shortcomings were to play their part in promoting him to her job within three years? One could reasonably argue she was as wrong in that post as her successor, yet here we are – on the hustings with a Prime Minister disliked and distrusted by the majority of the electorate, and he’s comfortably ahead in the polls.

Whilst not quite approaching the level of intense, vitriolic hatred in voters that the Trump/Clinton clash of 2016 provoked, the choice of Boris or Jezza – and, let’s face it, the keys to No.10 won’t be falling into the hands of anyone else – is in its own way as dispiriting an advert for the political process as we’ve ever seen in this country. The usual scaremongering on the part of right-wing tabloids in relation to what Corbyn would do if elected is familiar enough; indeed, looking back just four short years ago (yes, hard to believe that’s all 2015 was), it seems baffling now that a moderate like Ed Miliband was being sold in some quarters as a virtual Dave Spart figure. Corbyn’s past is far more of an open goal for those who delight in such things, yet even that isn’t the main cause of the despondency his candidacy inspires.

There have been past General Elections in which an unpopular PM seemed pretty much odds-on to lose office and the contender appeared highly likely to sweep to victory. 1997 is a good (relatively recent) example; I imagine many voters voted for Blair that year because they genuinely believed in both him and his party as an instrument of long-overdue change – and that includes Middle England Tories and Essex Man. Outside of the devoted faithful, however, it’s hard to believe that anyone will feel the same in 2019 about the current Labour Party and its incumbent leader. So many who do vote Labour this time round will probably do so either out of an unshakable antipathy towards the Tories or because they view Labour as the lesser of two evils. It’s hardly a unique situation, but to vote for a party not because you believe in them, but because they’re not quite as shit as the alternative, is almost enough to prompt one into abstention.

It’s difficult to picture what more the Conservative Party could possibly do to alienate voters and have them booted out of office by Friday 13th December. The blunders of Rees-Mogg and Cleverly when the campaign had barely kicked-off, the unbecoming (as Prince Andrew would say) attitude of Dominic Raab towards the parents of the young man killed by a runaway citing diplomatic immunity, ongoing accusations of institutionalised Islamophobia, the appalling state of the NHS, the broken promises over housing, the increasing influence of the ERG, Gove appropriating Stormzy lyrics – and then Boris ‘Get Brexit Done’ Johnson himself. I mean, what more ammunition does the Labour Party require to slaughter the Tories? And yet, it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.

Don’t get me wrong – the prospect of Lady Nugee, McDonnell, Abbott and Starmer in positions of power is a frightening one indeed, let alone a dithering glove-puppet like Corbyn with the hand of Seamus Milne up his arse as Prime Minister. But such is the choice awaiting the electorate. Although we’re apparently barely a month away from a completely new decade, the 2010s hasn’t really felt like one – and we’ve been governed by the Tories for all-but five months of this so-called decade. They’ve had ample opportunity to prove things can only get better and have blown it. Their sole legacy is the issue beginning with B that we’re all thoroughly sick to the back teeth of. Nice one, Dave.

I guess, as with the already-present divisions Brexit spectacularly dragged into the spotlight, anti-Semitic sentiments in the Labour Party didn’t just appear overnight. And the leadership has had plenty of time to deal with it, so it can’t complain when the Tories and their media sponsors use it as a weapon against the opposition due to the failure or – maybe more accurately – the disinclination to expunge it once and for all. Again, not much more than four years ago, the party was led by the son of one of its formidable Jewish intellectuals; the Jewish tradition within Labour was something as intrinsic to the party as the Home Counties, blue-rinsed brigade was to the Conservatives. Yet, four years of his successor at the helm and we have the remarkable intervention of the Chief Rabbi calling him and the party out.

All of which doesn’t bode well for whatever kind of future we’ve got to look forward to in the new decade to come. At this moment in time, it’s hard to envisage anything other than a depressing continuation of where we are now, but even worse. The possibility of a Hung Parliament seemed more likely before Jo Swinson bombed on ‘Question Time’ last week, but few can see either a Tory or Labour landslide deciding this Election – and after nine ineffective years in office, the Conservative Party will be (and should be) grateful for any kind of majority the opposition is prepared to hand them.

© The Editor

PS: RIP Clive James too. They’re dropping like bloody flies today.


There’s been a distinct upsurge of activity this past week that has made even the most casual of observers aware it really is that time again – that time when honourable members suddenly cease to treat the electorate with contempt and want to be our friends. After two years of not merely reneging on promises but actively ensuring the major promise made in 2017 was discredited and discarded, there is an abrupt about-turn. For many who were happy to see out another three years tormenting and torturing a castrated administration in the insularity of the Westminster bubble without the need to attend to any actual business, a General Election was what they most dreaded; some reacted by jumping ship; those that remained onboard now have no choice but to submit to the firing squad and hope the bullets miss.

Both leaders of the main two parties have seen to it that their respective broad churches will now only contain an increasingly narrow congregation; many of the enemies within have opted out, and the approved replacements sing from a specific hymn-sheet. All Tory wannabes must be Brexiteers; all Labour wannabes must receive the official Momentum stamp as subscribers to the cult of Corbyn. Any deviation from the script will no longer be tolerated. Both Boris and Jezza have concluded that incessant questioning of their visions from the ranks of their own parties has been an inconvenient hindrance to the master-plan. Yes, the Lib Dems have benefitted from this Stalinist approach to internal criticism, but it seems the next Parliament could possibly contain a record number of independents no longer welcome in their former homes thanks to the purges. One might wonder why they don’t form a new party and…oh, I forgot; they’ve already had a go at that.

The undeniable feeling that the campaign is now well and truly underway has been accelerated by the television debates of the last seven days. The first head-to-head on ITV was unique in that it gave us something British viewers have never seen before – the Tory leader and Labour leader alone, bereft of the little siblings demanding the same level of attention. But the constrained nature of the format, cramming everything into a time slot that can’t have amounted to much more than fifty minutes if one takes the two ad breaks into account, didn’t do either man any favours.

Whenever both Boris and Jezza appeared poised to either expose their inadequacies or emphasise their Prime Ministerial credentials, the host would cut them short and move on to another question. Granted, the incumbent PM attempted to overcome this by engaging in his regular habit of continuing to speak even when asked to stop, but it meant the viewer came away from it no better informed than they were before it began. Boris seems to have adopted ‘Get Brexit Done’ as his equivalent of ‘Strong and Stable’, whereas Jezza dodged the question of where he would stand in the event of a second referendum on each occasion. There were also uncomfortable moments when both men inadvertently provoked laughter from the studio audience. The only impression most watching at home probably received was how poorly-served the electorate is when it comes to the party leaders.

A similar impression must have been made following the special edition of ‘Question Time’ on Friday, when the franchise was extended to the Lib Dems and the SNP. The latter was an obvious inclusion if we are to be reminded this is a nationwide Election and not solely restricted to England; but the presence of Nicola Sturgeon is always a tricky issue. The SNP are not a nationwide party. Sturgeon may well be queen of her own castle, yet voters south of the border cannot vote for her or anyone standing for her party. Nevertheless, as a seasoned campaigner, Sturgeon was probably the most polished performer during the QT debate; she was also probably relieved that enough years have passed since she succeeded Alex Salmond, thus sparing the party the kind of curse that the private life of Jeremy Thorpe placed upon the Liberals for years. Ultimately, however, it matters not if Sturgeon impresses viewers in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, for her message is largely irrelevant outside of Scotland – with the exception of any under-the-counter deals done in the possible event of a Hung Parliament.

Boris and Jezza had a little more breathing space in this debate than they’d enjoyed in the first; the two-hour timeslot meant each leader had thirty minutes to sell their respective parties to the public. This campaign so far has been marked by the PM attempting to come across as a serious statesman – something he spectacularly failed to do during his stint at the Foreign Office; but he’s clearly struggling to play the straight man after successfully playing the clown for so long, and were the Tories not in possession of such a comfortable lead in the polls, the thought that party members might just have elected the wrong leader could be putting them through what Labour members went through in 2015.

Jeremy Corbyn at least finally came down off the fence and declared he would be ‘neutral’ should Labour get into office and rerun a scenario we’ve spent the last three and-a-half years languishing in the miserable shadow of. We all know where his true feelings regarding Brussels lie; but his dithering over this particular issue and doomed, deluded hope that he can appeal to enough voters beyond the faithful to form a majority Government could cost him more than any ineffective TV appearances.

And talking of ineffective TV appearances, the QT debate will perhaps best be remembered for the way in which it finally exposed Jo Swinson to the British public as the clueless charlatan she is. If Nick Clegg momentarily charmed an electorate tired of Labour and mistrustful of the Tories back in 2010, this Lib Dem leader couldn’t even manage to convince in the half-hour she held the platform. Perhaps imagining her relatively recent election as the bright young replacement for an old dodderer might airbrush her part in the worst austerity excesses of the Coalition, Swinson hadn’t bargained that both host and audience hadn’t forgotten. She struggled to justify her actions when confronted by them, and equally struggled to justify the anti-democratic intention of cancelling out the votes of 17.4 million members of the electorate.

After raising their profile by moving from a People’s Vote policy to an all-out ‘Scrap Brexit’ mantra, the Lib Dems are now beginning to realise not everyone sick of the Brexit saga necessarily believes we should just act as if the last three and-a-half years never happened; many believe that concluding we went through all that for nothing isn’t that great a strategy. There has to be something at the end of it. Jo Swinson’s sixth-former-at-the-debating-society delivery and unconvincing arguments just made her look out of her depth, and quite possibly condemned the Lib Dems to collecting not many more seats than they have already.

Away from the TV debates, the manifesto fairy stories are tumbling down from the magic money trees like bird droppings from branch to bonnet. For now, the parties are Lucy inviting Charlie Brown to kick the football and promising not to move it before his foot makes contact. But we all know they will move it; and we all know we’ll end up flat on our backs. Good grief.

© The Editor


A good deal of what has constituted headline news over the past few days has been covered here before, and even if a story develops and takes on a different shape, a commentator can struggle to add something new to what has already been said. The nature of the Winegum – preferring to put most of what needs to be said on a subject into one post or perhaps a handful spread over several weeks – means there has to be a dramatic development in order for a fresh perspective. I suppose I could’ve written something about Prince Andrew; but I did that back in August.

Granted, HRH’s unprecedented act of television hara-kiri on Saturday night perhaps warranted a post; but social media spent most of the weekend doing what social media does best when it responds to a story by putting its most waspish hat on. I didn’t feel it was possible to top the endless spoof reviews of the Woking branch of Pizza Express. There were references to a surprising absence of sweat when enjoying an especially spicy pizza, a pizza that made such a deep impression it remained engrained on the memory whilst all around it utterly vanished, including meeting pretty young girls and having one’s photo taken with them. And at least we all now know what to do when ending a friendship – simply ceasing contact and ignoring their calls is not the way to do it; instead, you spend four days as their house-guest. Oh, and if you happen to be one of the world’s most recognisable public figures, with guaranteed Paparazzi snappers on your tail, you go for a stroll in Central Park. Stupid or arrogant? From everything I can gather it seems Prince Andrew is an unappealing blend of both.

Whether or not he enjoyed an intimate moment with a 17-year-old girl – an ‘action’ (as he would put it) that even US law (unlike the media) recognises as the action of a pederast rather than a paedophile – Andrew came across as a little boy who had done something naughty and would not take the George Washington route by owning up to it, instead digging himself a hole that grew deeper with each denial. Unlike Diana’s self-pitying confessional back in the 90s, Andrew didn’t come across as someone wanting the world to feel sorry for him – more someone who imagined the audience to be even stupider than him by believing him; and there’s nothing quite so funny as someone who thinks he’s smart and blatantly isn’t.

Just over 20 years ago, not long after Andrew’s equally nauseating ex had been exposed as a toe-sucker, brother Brian was present during the gift-wrapping of Britain’s final Far East imperial possession for its nearest neighbour. Despite Prince Charles’ scathing observations on 1997 events in Hong Kong, the transition itself was a smooth one; arranged well in advance, it had none of the spontaneous drama that had redrawn the map of Europe eight years earlier. Yes, there were bloody moments in Romania, though the brutal reprisals were mercifully brief; in East Germany, the armed enforcers of the system stood by and let it happen because they knew they were beaten. Just a few months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, however, there had been a reminder that people power can be ruthlessly crushed on the very streets it sprang from – a watershed that exacerbated nerves over the prospect of Hong Kong being absorbed into Mother China’s suffocating bosom.

A memorable episode of ‘The Simpsons’ in which the family accompany Marge’s ugly sisters to Beijing in order to adopt a baby sees Homer wander into Tiananmen Square and come across a plaque that reads ‘In 1989, nothing happened here’. That was probably not far from the official Chinese line for a long time, but the shadow of the student revolution that never was has no doubt lingered at the back of revolutionary Hong Kong minds ever since. Hong Kong youth born after the Handover, let alone the Tiananmen Square Massacre, know the potential risks involved in standing up to China, yet it would appear that many of them spearheading the current insurrection in Hong Kong now feel they have nothing to lose. There certainly appears to be a strain of nihilism governing the actions of some, and it’s difficult to see their brave stance ending in anything other than tears.

After months of disruptive protests, the siege of the Polytechnic University in Kowloon has taken events onto a scary new level. Watching scenes shot behind the campus barricades on TV, I was reminded not only of the improvised rebellion that marked the outbreak of the Northern Ireland Troubles fifty years ago – echoes of the DIY petrol bombs hurled from rooftops at the RUC; but the use of catapults recalled medieval sieges. So bizarre was the sight, I half-expected the protestors to launch a dead cow at the Hong Kong police from the battlements in the manner of ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’. It was both darkly comic and disturbingly frightening, for you can foresee the awful outcome – and I suspect the 100 or so still rumoured to be holding out can too. It’s all so horribly inevitable.

Many have attempted to escape the fortress since the siege began on Sunday, but few have managed it; the police have completely encircled the campus and claim that over 600 of the protestors have surrendered. This was after police retaliated to the catapults and petrol bombs with tear gas. Around 20 years ago, I remember a resident of the shared house I lived in charging indoors in the middle of the night having evaded arrest (for what, I cannot recall); unfortunately for him, before he slipped their grip the boys-in-blue had sprayed some mace-like substance to disable him. He’d still managed to get away, but his face was on fire; as I watched him furiously splashing water on his pained countenance, I moved a little too close and was smacked in the kisser by a stinging force-field that caused me to immediately pull back. If that’s just a miniscule taste of what tear gas can do, its employment in Hong Kong shouldn’t be seen as the police treating the protestors lightly.

Of course, the constant fear throughout all of this has been the anticipation of reprisals from mainland China, though so far China – probably mindful of international opinion – has shown remarkable restraint, leaving the Hong Kong police to handle things. It’s possible the ending of the siege at the Polytechnic University could be the beginning of the end of this current wave of protests, though if it isn’t one wonders how much longer China will allow the situation to go on. And when one looks at the Kowloon campus and the fate awaiting those still there, it does tend to put the pathetic, privileged complaints of western students into perspective; this is real life or death stuff, not quibbling over the offensiveness of bloody pronouns.

Probably having one eye on post-Brexit trade deals, the response from the British Government over the chaos in the old colony has been somewhat muted; however, despite our intentions to uphold the ‘one country, two systems’ promise of the Sino-British Joint Declaration we were party to, there’s very little Britain can do. Besides, there are other political distractions over here at the moment. We have the first televised head-to-head of the General Election to look forward to on ITV this evening, restricted to a strict Boris Vs Jezza clash, with the High Court having rather amusingly denied Swinson and Sturgeon the chance to add some anti-democratic Scottish spice to proceedings. So, once again, it’s dumb and dumber. And if that prospect is as depressing to you as everything else hogging the headlines, let’s lighten the mood with two pictures of a kitten that sleeps like a human. Spread the love…







© The Editor


When talking pictures arrived at the end of the 1920s, many saw them as a novelty in the same way 3D would be viewed (rightly, as it turned out) thirty years later; the silents – even in their familiar comedic form – had achieved the status of Art by this stage and the intrusion of sound appeared an unnecessary gimmick. If one compares the amateurish early talkies with the otherworldly sophistication of the finest silents produced at the same time, it’s not hard to understand why sound seemed to coarsen what was a unique art-form and ruin the illusion. Yet, within five years of ‘The Jazz Singer’ appearing in 1927, silent movies were completely over; by the middle of the 1930s, pictures talked and that was how things were. It was impossible to imagine them any other way.

Although television was still regarded as cinema’s poor relation in the early 1950s, the devastating impact it rapidly had on cinema attendances as the decade wore on prompted the film industry to invest in all the technical wizardry TV couldn’t compete with – widescreen, cinemascope, the aforementioned 3D, and (more than anything else) Technicolor. That was the real advantage cinema had over its household usurper. Yet, even the fact that the newest mass medium was transmitting to a tiny screen in murky monochrome couldn’t prevent it from supplanting both cinema and radio by the early 60s. Audiences appeared to have accepted that the living room’s one-eyed monster came in black & white and that was that. Unbeknownst to the wider viewing public, however, TV’s pioneering alchemists had been attempting to make television in colour almost from the very beginning, right back to Baird’s lab. It was more or less monochrome by default.

The interruption of the Second World War set back TV’s development by a good decade, but broadcasting in colour was an ongoing experiment that had occasional outings on US networks from the mid-50s onwards. A small amount of filmed series began to be made in colour from this period, but the technical demands of producing electronic colour pictures using video cameras in television studios – not to mention the expense of special sets being required to receive colour transmissions – meant conversion to colour was a slow process that took several years. By 1964, only 3.1% of American households owned a colour set, and the majority of programming outside of prime-time shows remained in black & white. But the competition between the big three US networks weaponised colour as a ratings-winner and by 1968 virtually all American TV schedules were in colour – or ‘IN COLOR’ as they liked to say.

On this side of the Atlantic, the BBC had been trying to forge ahead with colour for almost as long as US broadcasters, but it took until the arrival of BBC2 and its technically superior 625 lined-picture in 1964 and then the adoption of the Europe-wide PAL system (as opposed to the NTSC system used in America) before British TV was finally ready to go for it. BBC2 pioneered colour from the summer of 1967 onwards, commissioning lavish new documentaries on colour film such as Kenneth Clark’s ‘Civilisation’ and studio dramas in colour, beginning with an adaptation of ‘Vanity Fair’. For many passers-by when TV rental shops would display rows of sets in the window, however, it was BBC2’s broadcasts from Wimbledon that really caught the eye. Programme-makers realised many sports worked better in colour – none more so than snooker, which BBC2 effectively copyrighted for a decade with the launch of ‘Pot Black’.

By 1969, the likes of the Eurovision Song Contest and the Mexico Olympics had shown that large, spectacular events captured the public’s attention even more when they could be seen in colour and, with the mouth-watering prospect of the Mexico World Cup just a few months away, plans were hatched by the BBC and ITV to convert all their output to colour. As with the introduction of decimal currency, the public was prepared in advance; BBC2 would screen ‘Trade Test Colour Films’ at hourly intervals during the day to exhibit the new technology, and the arrival of a certain little girl playing noughts & crosses with a certain scary clown also served to remind viewers TV was entering an exciting new age. The price of a colour TV licence, not to mention a set itself, remained somewhat off-putting, however; the widespread rental of sets from stores such as British Relay, Radio Rentals, Wigfalls and Valance’s was one way of overcoming the problem – and this was a habit that endured throughout the 1970s; our household didn’t finally own a set until around 1981.

On 15 November 1969 – exactly fifty years ago today – both BBC1 and ITV went into permanent colour; well, sort-of. I handily have a copy of that week’s Radio Times, and on the very first full colour day of BBC1 – which was a Saturday – the entire line-up from the start of ‘Grandstand’ at 12.45 through to the end of ‘Match of the Day’ at 11.5 was in glorious colour – including the likes of ‘Star Trek’, ‘Simon Dee’, ‘Dixon of Dock Green’ and ‘The Harry Secombe Show’. The RT proclaimed the colour service would be available to lucky viewers receiving their pictures from the transmitters at Crystal Palace (London), Sutton Coldfield (Birmingham), Winter Hill (South Lancashire), and Emley Moor (Yorkshire). As with the initial spread of TV itself twenty years previously, colour would take time before becoming nationwide. ITV’s regional structure meant the rollout took even longer, with distant Channel Television being the last ITV company to covert to colour as late as 1976.

The plan was that all newly-produced networked BBC and ITV output from the autumn of 1969 onwards would be in colour. Although there was still a backlog of black & white shows that had been made prior to this decision, once they reached the end of their runs, they were then deemed to be of no further use. If the TV companies were forever extolling the benefits of colour yet still repeating monochrome shows, why would the public invest in colour sets? The mass wiping of TV shows made before the colour era began in earnest during this period, but black & white drama in particular – like similarly-discarded silent cinema before it – had its own merits; some examples that survived or have been subsequently salvaged from skips aren’t merely colour shows with the colour turned down. Designers and technicians accommodated the limitations of monochrome and gave these programmes a unique look and ambience that often resembles German Expressionist cinema, with shadowy sets creating a specifically sinister atmosphere impossible to recreate in colour. So, we did lose something.

I can date the period our household finally acquired a colour set to late 1976. One of the great attractions of visiting grandparents and relatives up until this point had been the rare chance to see ‘Doctor Who’ or ‘Top of the Pops’ in colour; now such shows would be colour for good and it was unimaginable to think of settling for them in black & white ever again. A colour TV set ceased to be a social status symbol by the end of the 70s, overtaken by ownership of a second (portable) set or one with Teletext or even a VCR. The Jones’s will always latch onto something new, and I’ve no doubt the neighbours were made well aware of what they were watching on this very day half-a-century ago.

© The Editor


I suppose it could be viewed as a subconscious purchase, for the timing of it certainly wasn’t consciously intentional. Mind you, a 1976 drama about an aspiring Labour MP from the far left of the party is undoubtedly a fascinating near-factual snapshot of times that continue to resonate down the decades. The drama in question is called ‘Bill Brand’ and it aired on ITV at the beginning of the Long Hot Summer we all remember (if we’re old enough). It stars Leeds-born Jack Shepherd, an intense actor whose face is as familiar to those who binge on 70s TV via DVD as most of the supporting cast of what I’ve found to be pretty compulsive viewing.

The title character (played by Shepherd) is a principled, committed socialist of the old school at a time before it was regarded as such. I guess he has more than a touch of how I imagine a young Dennis Skinner might have been, but it’s also tempting to speculate this is a series that could well have been must-see TV for a certain Comrade Corbyn back in the day. Actually, this is a series in which grown men address each other as Comrade or Brother and manage to keep a straight face; it’s easy to forget this was a common courtesy within great swathes of the Labour Party when the programme was produced. It just sounds vaguely comical now.

Brand is from working-class, back-to-back Manchester stock, and I suppose represents that first generation which benefitted from the educational reforms of the Attlee administration. It’s made clear he made it to university, and is evidently a scholar of socialism committed to ‘the struggle’. His commitment to the cause isn’t paralleled in his somewhat messy private life, however; separated from his wife and two young children, Brand is shacked-up with his right-on girlfriend (played by a young Cherie Lunghi), who is rather amusingly called Alex Ferguson. His relationship with her is kept quiet during the by-election campaign that puts him in Parliament, something that serves as a reminder of how ‘living in sin’ was still frowned upon by the middle-aged and elderly members of the electorate Brand has to charm.

Once he makes it to Westminster, Brand is confronted by the disappointing realities of a Labour Government when seen from the perspective of radical lefties from the provinces. The series features a gallery of characters that are thinly-veiled portrayals of prominent Labour Ministers of the era, including Michael Foot, Barbara Castle and Roy Jenkins. There is also a memorable one-episode turn by Arthur Lowe as a Harold Wilson-like Prime Minister name of Arthur Watson. As someone who was addicted to ‘Our Friends in the North’, Peter Flannery’s landmark 1996 BBC series, I immediately realised the character played by Arthur Lowe in ‘Bill Brand’ shares it with another ageing Labour MP in Flannery’s epic, implying he too was a viewer twenty years earlier.

It’s interesting to see Nigel Hawthorne briefly appear as a pre-Sir Humphrey civil servant, for as with the authors of ‘Yes Minister’, it’s hard not to conclude that the writer of ‘Bill Brand’, Trevor Griffiths, must have had the assistance of an ‘insider’ or at least a few former insiders when researching the series. The way in which we are educated in the Westminster Dark Arts by seeing them through Bill’s wide eyes seems a pretty accurate portrayal of how a fresh honourable member would encounter the compromises and mutual back-scratching that make the whole institution function. It’s also a sobering insight into how so many newly-elected MPs who arrive in the Commons with such high hopes of changing the world are quickly battered into submission by the system.

The often-humiliating rounds of constituency politics – judging beauty contests, opening shopping centres etc. – are familiar enough to anyone who’s ever caught regional media; but the detailed dullness of parliamentary committees and so forth are represented in a manner characteristic of 70s TV drama – i.e. long, drawn-out scenes that nevertheless suggest a level of realism at odds with the quick-fire cutting of contemporary television. To begin with, Brand makes enemies of some fairly sinister and cynical whips, especially when he has yet to curb his habit of siding with ‘the workers’, such as when he publicly supports a strike at a textile factory; but as the series progresses, his rapid awareness of his own impotence fuels his disillusionment.

Considering ‘Bill Brand’ began its eleven-episode one series-run just three months after the surprise resignation of Harold Wilson, it’s amazing that one of the major storylines in the series concerns the surprise resignation of the Prime Minister and the battle between left and right to control the Party. In reality, Michael Foot lost out to Jim Callaghan and Roy Jenkins was eliminated from the contest in the early rounds; in ‘Bill Brand’, it is the Jenkins character who ultimately triumphs – though I would imagine many fancied Jenkins to succeed Wilson at the time the series was written. As I haven’t finished watching the complete series yet, I don’t know how it ends for Bill, though I have a feeling he doesn’t go on to eventually become Labour leader.

As a period piece, there are some aspects that inevitably date it. The working-men’s club network in which each major political party had its own members-only drinking dens – something that once thrived throughout working-class communities and survived well into my own childhood – is represented in the constituency scenes, mainly by mild-supping, gruff old northerners in flat caps. Although Bill is progressive by the standards of the 70s, he treats his wife fairly appallingly and his proto-PC opinions are regularly tested by the archaic values his background drilled into him. However, there are uncanny echoes in the series that have a relevance to 2019 – especially the constant emphasis on the dire economic situation and the crisis the country is in, not to mention the jaded cynicism of voters towards their elected representatives.

Bill’s ‘brand’ of socialism probably seemed hopelessly naive even when the series was made, and the fact that the wider electorate outside of idealistic Labour activists didn’t believe in it then inevitably forces today’s viewer to ponder on the aims and ambitions of the current Labour Party. It doesn’t take a great leap of the imagination to see Jeremy Corbyn as the real-life equivalent of Bill Brand 40-odd years on; I suspect Bill in Jezza’s shoes would also have stuck rigidly to principles that hadn’t altered in four decades, even if the prospect of power had forced him to keep schtum on some (membership of the EU, for example). As a fascinating barely-fictional slice of 70s political life, ‘Bill Brand’ is worth investing in for those who like that sort of thing; as a comparison between then and now, I can’t think of a better time to watch it.

© The Editor


We’re currently witnessing the weaponising of optimism, as is par for the course during a General Election campaign. Less than a week in and I’ve already lost count of the endless billions being promised for all the public services the incumbent administration appear to have forgotten they’ve been responsible for underfunding over the past decade. Not that they’re alone in this imaginary lottery, mind; the other side are also hoping the electorate are suffering from amnesia by falling for it this time round – something that’s harder to achieve when it’s barely two years since the last visit to the polling station. But, hey, that’s politics – selling dreams when seeking office and selling nightmares once in it.

This weekend has given us a sober reminder of how optimism can spontaneously emanate from the street without any political salesman, yet still leave a lingering taste of thwarted possibilities. I’m talking Berlin 1989. Had I been born and raised in the GDR, would I feel the demolition of the Berlin Wall a worthwhile exercise if the first sight to greet me upon finally crossing into the fabled West was the mullet-haired star of ‘Knight Rider’ singing some awful 80s AOR homage to ‘freedom’? It’d get even better once the bloody Scorpions commented on the state of play with their excruciating, lighters-aloft anthem, ‘Wind of Change’. No wonder some displaced East German citizens found their first experience on the other side of the Iron Curtain somewhat overwhelming and soon began to harbour an inexplicable nostalgia for the world they’d left behind.

Not that the most repressive regime outside of North Korea would be necessarily mourned for its least celebrated aspects. In terms of eliminating ‘subversion’ by keeping tabs on its people and effectively treating them as inmates by playing a ruthless, inflexible gaoler, East Germany had few rivals during the Cold War era. Long after Uncle Joe was dead and discredited in the Soviet Union, the GDR stuck more rigidly to Stalinist notions of state control than any other nation housed within the Soviet Bloc. The limitations placed upon the personal freedoms and aspirations of those closest to the dividing line of Europe were uniquely cruel. Any East Berliner born after 1961 would never have known any different, so suddenly being free to stroll into the half of their city that hadn’t been locked in the deep-freeze of 1940s totalitarianism must have been one hell of a culture shock.

Yet, a felicitous portrait of East Germans crossing into West Germany as though they were a lost tribe of savages encountering civilisation for the first time isn’t entirely accurate, for many in the GDR were able to receive TV transmissions from the West, and consequently had a rough idea of how the other half lived. With old Berlin physically obliterated by Allied air-raids and the invading Red Army at the end of WWII, the Brutalist landscape that arose from the ashes once the city was split in two included one notable landmark that inadvertently backfired on architects and planners seeking to instil pride in the alleged beneficiaries of the great Communist experiment. East Berlin’s impressive TV Tower – the Fernsehturm – opened for business in 1969, yet its public observation deck offered GDR natives a view beyond their side of the city, as did the pictures it enabled them to pick-up on their television sets.

However, seeing something presented as a rather abstract image via the cathode ray tube and then being able to observe it in the flesh are two very different experiences. Once the barrier to the West was abruptly gone, GDR viewers of the West German way of life were finally able to see that life for themselves. Those belonging to the first wave of East Germans to pass through the holes in the Wall without being shot at often speak of supermarket shelves, of being beguiled and bedazzled by the abundance of choice when it came to a solitary item. Westerners naturally took it for granted that there might be half-a-dozen different brands of baked beans on offer; not so East Germans.

But what could have been a gradual, sensible transition to democracy in the East – leading to the eventual and inevitable unification of Germany – was scuppered by the short-sighted intransigence of the East German authorities. Deliberate misreporting by West German TV of a bumbling announcement on the slight relaxation of travel restrictions from East to West provoked an unstoppable march to the Wall by the people in November 1989; had the East German Government accepted the wind direction provoked by Gorbachev’s reforming agenda and dismantled the system with delicacy long before, instead of being reluctantly pushed into abandoning it overnight by the impatient masses, perhaps three decades later the former GDR wouldn’t still be the poor relation of its neighbour. But they wouldn’t (or couldn’t) loosen their grip on power until the eleventh hour, so whilst the rightly unlamented Stasi vanished from East German lives, so too did the more benevolent elements of the State that the people had become dependent upon.

The West German Government handed out cash incentives to the newcomers in the wake of the Wall’s removal, hoping it would help complete the absorption into the bosom of capitalism. Malnourished by their exclusion from the seductive extremes of the material world, many understandably became drunk on an excess of luxury items as though they were contestants grabbing the goods on the ‘Generation Game’ conveyor belt; meanwhile, the long-term security the GDR at its best had given them swiftly evaporated. But with the Wall gone, the domino effect across Eastern Europe was set in rapid motion; in many of those countries, revolution was already brewing; it merely took events in Berlin to legitimise the overthrow of the old order. The virus of democracy eventually made it to the gates of Moscow within a couple of years and Europe was a united continent again for the first time in half-a-century.

As with the 2008 election of Obama as US President or the end of Apartheid, the fall of the Berlin Wall was one of those remarkable events that spread beyond the emotional euphoria of those witnesses to it at the scene and become communal experiences for worldwide audiences to share as a rare reference point of collective optimism. Most generations have one such moment – VE Day, the first Moon Landing etc. Such moments tend to simultaneously mark the death of bad old orders it had been difficult to imagine ever been overthrown and signal the dawn of a better age in which so many hopes and dreams are invested. Unfortunately, these moments invariably fail to live up to their promise, yet that doesn’t prevent the deep desire for them to realise their potential to change the world for the better.

When one looks at Eastern Europe today, with the malevolent spectre of a former GDR-based KGB man hovering over it, and when one considers the traumatic carnage in the Balkans that the collapse of the Soviet Empire unleashed, it’s understandable that some find curious comfort in the certainties that a black & white division between East and West represented. But we can’t go back to that Cold War. We’ve got one all of our own.

© The Editor


One factor that made the prospect of an early General Election a little mouth-watering to a weary electorate (if one momentarily removes the B-word from the mix) was the enticing opportunity to eject Parliament’s abundance of dead wood. At least the anticipated tsunami of ‘Portillo moments’ through the night would have made making a fourth trek to the local polling station in as many years a worthy journey. Yet, maybe expecting such a motley crew of freeloaders and chancers to honour their contract with the people was a tall order; we make the effort by voting, but they don’t complement it by standing. Yes, it would’ve been out of character for the majority of those names whose scalps were most sought for them to show a bit of backbone and face their constituents. Rather than strolling to the gallows with dignity intact and heads held high, a number of high profile parliamentarians have bottled it and headed for the hills like the gutless charlatans we all knew they were.

Exempting the veterans who’ve put the hours in for decades and are understandably looking forward to the state-subsidised retirement home that is the Lords, many of the MPs jumping before being pushed are surprisingly young, declining to stick it out and follow in the footsteps of their far senior colleagues before calling it day. But they’re not stupid. They know what we know. An MP going back on promises made during a campaign is hardly a new development, but an unlimited number of the current crop have taken that time-honoured practice to an unprecedented level over the last couple of years, and they were aware that they’d pay for it when the voters got their chance to have their say again. So, they’ve denied voters that say and have taken the Goering-at-Nuremberg route instead.

The most unexpected albeit welcome resignation of all was announced yesterday evening: The former Paedofinder General himself, Tom no-longer-tubby Watson, has stood down as Jezza’s second-in-command and as an MP. The usual nauseating guff was spewed out across news programmes from former colleagues and cohorts in the wake of the announcement; but this master opportunist has walked the plank because he’s run out of bandwagons to hitch a ride on. His position in the party has been increasingly marginalised with the defection of so many other so-called ‘moderates’ to the Lib Dems – those whose stance he failed to publicly support because it placed his own precious ambitions in jeopardy; yes, he survived an attempted coup on the eve of the Labour conference, though the People’s Vote smokescreen was to be the last ‘cause’ Watson would desperately use as a tool of self-promotion.

But perhaps the personal reasons Watson has offered as an explanation for his sudden exit are related to issues outside of routine party politics; perhaps Watson realised if he rose any higher in public office the level of scrutiny of his past activities would escalate; and Tom Watson has quite a record that even a snake like him would struggle to wriggle out of. The sentencing of Carl Beech earlier this year served as belated, official confirmation of something many of us had long known – that Beech was a dangerous serial fantasist who had already duped the police by exploiting their unswerving adherence to the ‘Believe the Victim’ mantra; he had also handsomely profited from a compensation culture that failed to dig any deeper into his own unsavoury predilections. And Tom Watson bought Beech’s bullshit because it suited his career path.

As an obscure backbencher with ravenous ambitions, Watson first made a name for himself by exhuming the nonexistent corpse of a distant ‘dossier’ listing the members of an imaginary Westminster Paedophile Ring that had been rightly dismissed as cack back in the 80s. Opportunistically tapping into the hysteria generated by the fallout of the Yewtree witch-hunt – and crucially supported by Beech’s celebrity abuse fantasies – Watson’s flabby bulk all-but burst out of his ill-fitting suit as he achieved his spot on the news bulletins and legitimised the scurrilous stories that had been doing the online rounds for years, stories spread by some of the most unpleasant individuals ever to approach a keyboard. An audience with Beech himself sealed Watson’s central role in a saga that would never have scaled the horrific heights (or plumbed the damaging depths) it managed thereafter when refashioned as Operation Midland had he not endorsed it. The casualties of Watson’s irresponsible intervention in a crusade that cost the tax-payer millions and achieved little beyond inflicting untold misery on endless innocent lives will never forgive him, and nor should they.

For some, however, it doesn’t matter that Beech has been convicted and sentenced and the entire affair has been exposed as the product of several sick imaginations; they remain convinced truth was at the root of it. This is their religion. What the sponsors of the Westminster Paedo Ring fable required in order to rise above the plethora of wild conspiracy theories keeping narcissistic sociopaths awake at night was the endorsement of a public figure outside of their toxic circle; and when Tom Watson seized upon the story as a means of furthering his career, they got it. No longer the province of Icke devotees and flat earth fruitcakes, this was now an official scandal because an honourable member believed it. Or did he?

As a Labour MP, Watson realised there are millions of voters out there who hate the Tories so much they are willing to believe any awful rumour because it confirms their prejudices – and might make them vote Labour. So, Ted Heath is still reviled by many for signing us up to the European project; say he was a child-abusing/murdering cannibal Satanist all along and that vindicates the disproportionate distrust the late PM continues to inspire. As any leader writer for the Mail or Guardian knows, it’s not hard to make biased bigots feel better about themselves by telling them they’re right – and Watson’s worrying promotion from backbencher to Deputy Labour Leader during the Corbyn revolution placed him in a position of power that appeared to give further credence to the crap that had put him on the front pages.

Viewed as a moderate voice essential to maintaining the ‘broad church’ illusion of equilibrium within the Shadow Cabinet, Watson held onto his post even when his allies gradually drifted away from the party – even when the persistent cancer of anti-Semitism proved too much for most of them. Yet, one never got the impression Watson stood firm because he was a lone heroic figure resisting the Momentum takeover; with Watson, it has always been all about him. Sensing which way the wind was blowing, he abruptly embraced the Second Referendum fad as a means of laying the foundations for a leadership challenge and capturing floating voters who could never warm to Jezza. The concern was he’d succeed in his aim. But Tom Watson has at least spared us all from that with his surprise announcement – and perhaps spared himself more awkward questions he still needs to be asked. It’s not a noble sacrifice; it’s still all about him.

© The Editor


Ken Dodd once said it was the greatest gift that he possessed, but happiness remains problematic when it comes to a defining description. ‘Forget your troubles; come on, get happy’ sang Judy Garland, yet one doesn’t need to see Bridget Jones doing an impersonation of Liza Minnelli’s mom to be aware of how happiness effectively eluded Dorothy throughout the brief 47 years she spent as an all-round entertainer. When David Bowie released an album in 1977 with the far-from upbeat title of ‘Low’, the coke-fuelled black clouds encircling the (allegedly) Nazi-saluting Thin White Duke suggested listeners were in for quite a walk on the wild side; yet Bowie’s genius was to marry a despairing line such as ‘Pale blinds drawn all day/nothing to do, nothing to say’ to the most joyous of melodies in ‘Sound and Vision’; hell, he even roped-in Mary Hopkin for backing vocals. And as much as I love them, Radiohead wouldn’t do that.

Painting a portrait of darkness comes easier to artists than attempts to portray the flipside; light is far harder to encapsulate either on canvas or in verse than shade. When they try, they inevitably fail – or the critical reception they receive persuades them that the task is a fruitless one. Whenever Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles domestic bliss was manifested in song, he tended to be torn to shreds by critics and – early on – by his former musical soulmate as well. Perhaps the problem was that McCartney’s concept of happiness (or his methods of portraying it) diverged from that of those paid to review his releases – though their concept clearly diverged from that of the record-buyers who continued to provide Macca with hits; and this, in a nutshell, is what makes happiness such a tricky proposition to put into words that speak to everybody. It is entirely relative.

Private passions that constitute many a Saturday or Sunday are often as incomprehensible to outsiders as the chosen pursuits of those outsiders are to the practitioner they cannot fathom. Renovating steam-trains can be as alien a hobby to those who queue-up to cheer on, say, Northampton Town FC during drizzly midweek November evenings down in League Two as much as it can be to those who spend a small fortune ordering an LP from Japan that they already have half-a-dozen different copies of, merely because the label or sleeve design vary from the rest, despite the track-listing being identical. Whatever makes you happy, eh?

Music that has generally dealt exclusively with ‘feel-good’ factors is routinely written-off as disposable, though I’d argue a landmark of pop perfection such as ‘Dancing Queen’ probably required more work putting into it than ‘A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall’; that’s not to say Abba’s polished jewel in the 70s crown is superior to Dylan’s nightmarish end-of-the-world tour de force at all; both have their place. But just because one embodies joy and the other embodies despair doesn’t mean the latter is entitled to special privileges in the critical canon. To my ears, pop culture artefacts encapsulating emotional extremes at both end of the spectrum coexist as a necessary yin and yang if music is supposed to provide a soundtrack for all that life has to offer. You can’t have one without the other.

Whenever official bodies attempt to co-opt happiness and impose activities they imagine will inspire happiness on the population, I tend to recoil. I had the same reaction to organisations such as the Scouts when I was a child; and for all their merits as raisers of funds for undoubted good causes, the likes of Children in Need and Comic Relief provoke a similar response in me as an adult. Being told to smile because you’re not starving or being pressurised into having ‘fun’ because others can’t have it is unnatural; genuine happiness when it strikes is generally a spontaneous sensation impervious to planning. Announcing in advance when one should feel happy always reeks of tactics once employed by Butlin’s redcoats or the Radio 1 Roadshow to me – at times even reminiscent of being ordered to radiate fake joy during the taking of a childhood photo on a miserable family holiday. The very personal nature of what actually constitutes happiness in the individual does not always make it a communal experience; granted, it can do when it comes to a Cup Final or a big gig, but such events are atypical as a rule.

The Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan is noted for its philosophy of Gross National Happiness, incorporating the concept into an index that measures the wellbeing and happiness of its people, rating such a theory as highly as other governments value Gross Domestic Product. The Constitution of Bhutan regards the collective contentment of its populace as being as important to the nation as the usual economic considerations, and the UN was sufficiently impressed to instigate its annual World Happiness Report from 2012 onwards; the current holder of the ‘Happiest Country in the World’ title is Finland, though the Finnish probably didn’t have to worry about competition from Syria or Yemen when the votes were counted. As always, happiness depends on multiple factors when it comes to a nation as much as it does the individual sons and daughters of that nation.

Now is perhaps not the best of times to undertake a happiness survey of these discontented isles, though previous attempts at gauging the mood of Britain have often yielded surprising results. Apparently, the peak of recorded happiness for the population of the UK remains 1976 – yes, the supposedly bleak mid-70s, the era of the Three-Day Week, industrial disputes, strikes, IRA bombs and The Bay City Rollers; maybe the Long Hot Summer of that year played its part, though the democratisation of must-have accessories and household appliances along with the social mobility that had yet to stall probably helped. It’s also worth remembering a large proportion of the population at that time would have lived through the Great Depression, WWII and post-war Austerity, so I would imagine colour TV, central heating and affordable housing seemed satisfactory consolations for any minor hardships.

So, no – happiness can never be entirely quantified either by the compilers of statistics or artists attempting to capture it in art; it is down to the individual, and even the individual cannot necessarily explain why one thing inspires happiness and another doesn’t. Moreover, unless one happens to be a puppy, happiness is a transient state that can go as quickly as it comes. The agony that arises from its departure is in the not-knowing when – or if – it will return, for the addictive nature of personal happiness can create a craving destined to disappoint. I know with absolute certainty what the single happiest moment of my life was without question, but I also know that moment exists now solely as a memory and will probably never be surpassed; and that’s shit. But that’s life. It is rough and it is smooth, so come on. Get happy.

© The Editor


If the trio of topics advisable to avoid in polite conversation are religion, football and politics, I haven’t got it as easy as I imagined. Most people I know are agnostic at best and atheist at worst (too secure in their convictions to convince), so faith is a bit of a conversational dead-end. Few of my acquaintances follow the beautiful game, so I tend to watch ‘Match of the Day’ alone and enact the time-honoured tradition of shouting obscenities at a referee who cannot hear me – which, in the absence of company, somehow seems even sadder. When it comes to politics, however, failing to fall in line with whichever consensus one’s peer group advocates can be tricky; and nothing galvanises opinion quite like a General Election, even if the spirit of Brenda from Bristol hovers over events like the Ghost of Christmas Past – the Christmas Past in question being 1923.

It’s probably best not to use 1923 as an optimistic example of how the festive hustings can result in a positive outcome. That December’s General Election ended in a Hung Parliament. Conservative Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin had succeeded the ill Andrew Bonar Law in the summer, and though the Tories had won the General Election held just the previous year, Baldwin sought his own mandate and sent the country to the polls prematurely. What is it about Tory PMs and snap elections? Baldwin found, like Ted Heath and Theresa May long after him, the confidence that comes from a comfortable majority can be fatal at the ballot-box.

The 1923 General Election was notable for being the last occasion in which a third party gained over 100 seats. That party was Asquith’s Liberals, who ended with a tally of 158; in second place was Ramsay MacDonald’s Labour Party, with 191; the Tories managed 258 – a long way from the 308 then needed for a majority. When Parliament resumed after the Christmas break, Baldwin intended to stay in power with anticipated Liberal support; however, the Liberals conspired with Labour to reject that January’s King’s Speech and helped put Ramsay MacDonald in No.10 as the first Labour Prime Minister. If Boris is as great a scholar of British political history as he makes out, he must surely be aware of 1923’s ominous precedent. If so, though, he will also know there was another General Election less than a year later; that time round, Baldwin regained the Tories’ lost majority and was re-elected on two further occasions.

What any of this tells us about what awaits us not much more than a month from now is open to question. But the campaign is already well underway on social media, with all kinds of doom ‘n’ gloom predictions being aired if voters opt for the ‘wrong’ party. The most excited-looking of all the party leaders right now is undoubtedly Jeremy Corbyn; despite the reservations of many of his MPs – who were enjoying toying with a weak and depleted Government (and would have been content to carry on doing so) – Jezza will relish being back in his element, preaching to the converted and punching his fist in the air. He has always been a politician of protest, and never appears entirely at ease at the dispatch-box when he’d much rather be on a stage stating what he’s against. And Corbynistas seem to be doing likewise via Facebook, Twitter and the rest – making the most of their favourite sport. When they’d spent what felt like forever calling for Cameron to quit, their muted deflation when he suddenly walked in 2016 was telling. The fun is in the protesting.

Naturally, divisions within the electorate are more prevalent now than they have perhaps been in more recent General Elections; lest we forget, last time round the two main parties enjoyed their biggest share of the vote since 1970, seemingly marking a return to the duopoly of power that Labour and the Tories traditionally enjoyed. In the last couple of years, however, divisions have transcended the old left/right-red/blue divide for obvious reasons; but this schism in the voting population is maybe a mirror on the way Westminster itself is split, for the political class was never truly divided by party, certainly not in the way Brexit has drawn up battle-lines. Any MP bemoaning the disintegration of parliamentary harmony is giving away the fact that the Commons was relatively harmonious even when daggers were supposedly drawn between government and opposition of whatever colour – and that contradicts the narrative pedalled to the electorate for as far back as anyone can remember. They’re not too keen on actual disharmony in the Palace of Westminster, but disharmony ‘out there’ is good for business.

The old ‘divide and rule’ principle works well for the political class. To concoct a hypothetical – and perhaps obvious – example, take a mixed, low-income neighbourhood; should those living there realise poverty is colour blind and their common ground could be utilised as a weapon, this realisation poses a threat to the powers-that-be. So, better to fracture potential unity and separate them – either literally or through media channels; therefore, the poor white residents can blame the ‘immigrants’ for their predicament and the other side can claim to be victims of a white privilege conspiracy to oppress them. All energies go into hating the false enemy and the upholders of the system that keeps them in their place and prevents them from rising up as one are secure.

This principle could be equally applied to any source of perceived division within society – black/white, male/female, Jewish/Muslim, Catholic/Protestant, Leave/Remain – and most of these divisions are largely illusory. The only factor that divides any of us is class; same as it ever was. If there is an Us and there is a Them, the Them are the political class, not our neighbours; they’ve got the same shit to deal with as we have; and that’s what should unite us. Yes, nothing new about this theory, I agree; but it’s always worth remembering, especially at times like these, when division puts politician’s bums on seats.

Having said that, we have to vote for somebody, and the pressure on the voter is fairly intense in 2019 – does he or she stick with traditional party loyalties or throw caution to the wind by choosing whichever party advocates their own stance on Brexit? With so many different permutations in the offing once polls close, this is not an easy decision; going either way in the polling booth could result in the least desired outcome. Boris has been using that one as a response to Farage’s threat to field candidates in every constituency – whereas Jezza appears curiously oblivious to the serious encroachment of both Brexit Party and Lib Dems into Labour territory. And another factor that cannot be ignored where the voter is concerned is the absolute paucity of inspiring leadership. It’s utterly appalling. Never before have the stakes been so high and the options so bloody pitiful. It’s going to be quite a month.

© The Editor