The diminishing post-war role of Britain on the world stage must have been evident to anyone who was a regular cinema-goer in the 50s and 60s, though the manner in which this message was received would have been unintentional. A fixture of the Pathé News bulletins for a good 20 years after 1947 was the independence ceremony; the sight of euphoric natives celebrating a colony finally standing on its own two feet was presented in characteristically jolly fashion by these optimistic interludes between the support picture and the main feature. The Queen’s presence implied a gracious acceptance of independence, even if the apparent benevolence of the mother country disguised relief at the breaking-up of an Empire it could no longer afford to run. Yet, for all the dressing-up of such events in a positive style, there’s no doubt the increasingly regular sight of the Union Jack descending down one more flagpole on a foreign field must have had a subconscious psychological impact on national morale – and one that shouldn’t be underestimated.

Bar the 1997 Hong Kong Handover, the last time an occasion of this nature took place was in Rhodesia in 1980. By then, the cinema news bulletin had long been superseded by TV reports reaching the nation’s living rooms via satellite; moreover, there were few people left in the country who clung to the image of Britain that had been inherited from the imperial forefathers. Even before Zimbabwe was dragged kicking and screaming from the Commonwealth womb, Britain had already reduced its global ambition and had settled for a future much closer to home – Europe. The continent had welcomed belated British membership of the Common Market, but the economic woes that plagued the nation throughout the first decade of so of Britain’s seat at the EEC table were something that seemed to give our neighbours a sense of superiority over the ‘sick man’; and the condescending perception of an incurably ill member state lingered.

Britain as a minor Brussels suburb was something the British public never truly embraced wholeheartedly, and it could be argued our mainland neighbours never really regarded us as ‘proper Europeans’ either. Middle-class Brits liked it because it fitted their image of themselves as sophisticated continentals a cut above the native yahoos; but for most in the UK, the Great European Project – especially when the organisation progressed from being a simple trading partnership to a reincarnation of the Holy Roman Empire – began to seem like an unnecessary encumbrance that made us feel like a naughty schoolboy permanently stationed outside the headmaster’s office. Yet, anyone observing the sudden rebranding by some Brits as instant Europeans in June 2016 may have thought otherwise. They reminded me a little of my cousin in 1977, whose bedroom wall became a shrine to Elvis Presley the minute he died, despite there being no sign of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll up there the day before.

England and Wales were the two constituent countries of the UK that sealed the deal in 2016, and will probably play host to the most celebratory reactions when the clocks strike eleven. Even here, however, I suspect celebrations will be muted mainly because the polarised fault-lines now run so deep. The recourse of Remoaners to lazy name-calling of the most basic nature – Nazi, Racist, Fascist etc. – evokes the way in which ‘Scab’ became the ubiquitous buzzword when one side verbally attacked the other during the similarly divisive Miners’ Strike of 1984/5; and just as there were ‘Quiet Tories’ not broadcasting their voting preference at the 2017 General Election, there’s no doubt there are ‘Quiet Leavers’ declining to be drawn into Remain-dominated discourse on the likes of Facebook today for fear of being cast out of the village.

North of the border, the EU has been adopted by the ruling party as a handy addition to the independence portfolio. Indeed, the most obstinate, head-in-the-sand English Remoaners took their cue from those Scots who never accepted the 2014 Referendum result when echoing their demands for a rerun because it didn’t turn out the way they wanted. The SNP promotional brochure that the rest of the UK receives glosses over the fact that during the 1975 EEC Referendum, the SNP was as virulently anti-Common Market as the Brexit Party is anti-EU today; the Salmond/Sturgeon incarnation of the SNP, on the other hand, makes the Lib Dems resemble UKIP. This curious juxtaposition of the desire to be an independent nation yet still chained to a Union that offers it far less leeway than the Union it has been part of for 300 years is not the only contradiction at the heart of Holyrood.

It’s no real surprise the EU is so appealing to Sturgeon’s tartan army. The SNP as a political force contains all the elitist ‘executive’ elements that so alienated 17.4 million voters when it came to the People’s Vote campaign – the same sense of sneering, superior entitlement embodied south of the border in the likes of Lord Adonis or Anna Soubry; it boasts all the worst aspects of Identity Politics that has cost Labour so much of its traditional support; and it has a finger-wagging tendency to persistently incur into people’s private lives by attempting to regulate what they eat and drink, how they chastise their children, and to punish them for smoking – to prioritise Nanny State interference over the far-from impressive condition of many of Scotland’s public services. Yet, like Labour in England, the SNP is keen to sell itself as a ‘party of the people’, picking up the Stop Brexit banner with far more success than any other political party in the UK.

Across the Irish Sea, the resumption of the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont comes at an opportune moment; the peace process, along with the province as a whole, finds itself at something of a crossroads. Many of those who played a pivotal part in the Good Friday Agreement and the crucial early days of power-sharing are no longer around. Paisley and McGuinness are both dead, John Hume is now lost to the No Man’s Land of dementia, and Seamus Mallon passed away barely a week ago. Enough time has now elapsed since 1998 to place the future of Ulster in the hands of a generation who weren’t manning the barricades at the height of the Troubles; and just as significant is the fact that December’s General Election saw Northern Ireland elect more Nationalist MPs to Westminster than Unionists for the first time ever. For those seeking a united Ireland, the prospects have rarely looked brighter.

Along with Scotland, of course, Northern Ireland voted Remain; the DUP may have been the cheerleaders for Brexit during the period when they made up the numbers for Theresa May’s threadbare Tories, but they were hardly representative of the majority in Ulster. The loss of Nigel Dodds at Westminster was an additional blow for a party that punched way above its weight when the British Government needed it; but the British Government doesn’t need it anymore, and one wonders how much longer Unionism can survive as a potent political force when the momentum appears to be with Nationalism. Belated alignment with the more enlightened social policies of the Republic has recently come despite DUP opposition, and it’ll be interesting to see how events develop at Stormont during the next twelve months.

Nationwide, the next twelve months will be just as interesting, if considerably less intense than the last three years. Wherever one stands, this was what the majority voted for and that should always have been reason enough for implementing it. It’s only taken us so long to get here because some just couldn’t accept it; and I don’t think they ever will. Some of us who voted Remain did. We might not have liked it, but hey, that’s democracy. Au revoir.

© The Editor


There’s always something ominous about the brown envelope. For many, it is the least appetising item to pop through the letterbox that isn’t a flyer for inedible pizzas; let’s just say it’s not exactly a colour-coded prelude to tidings of joy. Traditionally, the brown envelope prepared the recipient for a reminder that the payment of a utility bill was overdue, though deregulation has seen that tradition dwindle somewhat as each energy provider competes to establish its own distinctive identity; dropping the grim beige of the packaging is a deceptive trick of the trade, fooling the customer into believing the news won’t be so bad after all.

For those in receipt of benefits, however, the brown envelope retains its role as a harbinger of doom – a paper soothsayer whose imagined contents radiate fear to the point where opening said correspondence can be prolonged so the suspense becomes a sickening inversion of the excitement surrounding the announcement of an Oscar winner. Anyone who has had extended dealings with the DWP (or, for that matter, its predecessor, the DHSS) will be all-too aware that missives from the organisation are not necessarily in competition with a Valentine’s card from a loved one. More often than not, the letters dispatched from the DWP are dispatched to inform the recipient that the fragile safety net they’d relied upon to prevent them falling into a bottomless pit has been removed.

I recently explained to a friend in Canada how the responsibility of British society’s most vulnerable individuals is in the hands of a private company. She had naturally assumed such a delicate and important function of the state would not have been outsourced; and so she should. Take a step back for a moment and contemplate the madness of giving the power to decide the future of the sick, the poor and the desperate to a corporate entity whose duty is to its shareholders – a corporate entity that can guarantee the renewal of its profitable contract if it assesses claimants are faking it, thus bringing down the numbers for the triumphant government statisticians come election time. We should be ashamed that we’ve let this happen.

The body of 57 year-old Errol Graham was discovered in June 2018 by bailiffs; they broke down the door of his Nottingham council flat to evict him and found the emaciated mortal remains of a man weighing four and-a-half stone. He died of starvation in the world’s fifth richest nation. Maybe we’d have expected this kind of outcome for a man with a history of mental troubles and living on the breadline in Victorian Britain; but 21st century Britain? The inquest into his death found Errol Graham had been a long-term sufferer of chronic depression and had been briefly sectioned in 2015. Upon returning to his home, he apparently ignored approaches from mental health teams and his GP; his ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) and Housing Benefit were eventually stopped within a couple of months of each other in 2017, after which lived for more than six months without any financial support.

One could surmise Errol Graham spurned help when he should have actively accepted it; but putting yourself in his shoes can require a considerable leap of the imagination if his world is a world utterly alien to you. The competent, resourceful and practical person you may well be is not the person Errol Graham was, so don’t expect him to react to situations in the same way. According to information released following the inquest into his death, he was last seen in an official capacity by a visitor from Nottingham’s City Homes housing association four months before the discovery of his body. A policewoman who attended the scene reported the only food at the property were two tins of fish that were five years out of a date; the flat was without gas and electricity. Errol Graham simply withered away.

But see him not as just another unfortunate casualty of the system; that’s how the likes of the DWP will see him; instead, see him as a person. Errol Graham was 57 when he died, placing his year of birth as 1961. Picture him as a little boy, perhaps one of the children who set aside pocket-money so that the first seven-inch single they splashed out on could be ‘Israelites’ by Desmond Dekker; picture him as a teenager, inspired to kick a ball about by the first generation of British-born black footballers; picture him as a young man, invigorated by the 2-Tone movement offering hope as the economic prospects of his part of the country entered the irreversible industrial meltdown of the Thatcher era.

Then picture him plunged into confusion by the first signs of depression, reluctantly seeking medical assistance from a GP who may or may not have been sympathetic and might possibly have idly placed him on a course of medication – pills he’d have to squirrel away from his nearest and dearest for fear his condition could be revealed; picture him being referred to a psychoanalyst and undergoing clandestine therapy sessions he is too embarrassed to share with anyone; picture his shame at finding himself in such a position at a time long before mental health became a virtue-signalling T-shirt designed to fit every celebrity, a time when the sinister spectre of the old asylums continued to cast a lingering shadow over plans for ‘care in the community’, a time when male failure to cope equated with weakness.

And Errol Graham’s journey through the minefield of the benefits system will have lifted him out of the straightforward signing-on ritual that would have been familiar to those he had been at school with to the more uncertain and unpredictable end of the maze – the place where doctors and medical personnel become involved and the need to openly demonstrate one’s mental difficulties rather than hide them is a factor in whether or not one is eligible to receive assistance from the state. Errol Graham will have spent the majority of his days attempting to come across as ‘normal’, to obscure the least acceptable side of his nature from everyone comprising his daily social discourse; and then he will have been confronted by a suspicious stranger demanding he whip away the facade of normality that required an immense amount of effort to construct in public and suddenly expose his demons as though to do so was simple. It is like enduring a mental strip search. It is a horribly dehumanising and draining exercise.

This requirement to abruptly drop the persona society demands of its citizens, only to then resume it the moment one leaves ‘the assessment centre’, is no easy ask for anyone in the position Errol Graham found himself in. It is like Mike Yarwood spending his entire life in public impersonating Harold Wilson and then being forced to do a ‘and this is me’ routine before someone he has never met before, someone who is under tremendous pressure to find the ‘me’ impersonation less convincing than his Harold Wilson. But there are no instant thumbs-up or thumbs-down; there is week after excruciating week awaiting the decision of Pontius Pilate, expecting the worst to come through the post every morning. These people have the kind of life-or-death power that those who have never been at the receiving end have no real comprehension of; and if the news is bad, it can feel like the whole world is falling in on you. And if you already feel there is no hope, such news confirms it.

As Sophie Corlett from Mind commented in relation to the sad case of Errol Graham, ‘This gentleman and many people have lifelong conditions that are unlikely to change and yet they are recalled again and again for face-to-face assessments which people find very challenging.’ If the death of Errol Graham had been an isolated incident, it would still be bad; but we all know it wasn’t. Britain, this just isn’t good enough.

© The Editor


The belated pensioning-off of my VCR a couple of years ago was followed by the eventual clear-out of hundreds of VHS tapes, the earliest of which stretched back to the beginning of the 1990s. Whilst this has been beneficial in terms of space, I often notice the absence of what was effectively a comprehensive visual library when I feel the need to check a fact I can’t verify anywhere else. Without a machine to play them on, there was little point retaining these tapes – many of which contained numerous documentaries and factual series that will never see the light of day as commercial releases – so I often scour YouTube to see if any have surfaced courtesy of those who had the equipment to upload obscurities they’d also recorded off-air. Sometimes I find them; other times, I don’t. One such programme I’ve never found again was a documentary transmitted on Channel 4 in 2001, looking back on the day Britain went Decimal.

In it, there was an archive interview with a shopkeeper who refused to go with the flow and accept the currency change. Now unable to re-watch this programme, I can’t name him or the location of his shop and therefore have to rely on memory, though the nature of his protest is easy enough to recall. Footage of him standing his increasingly shrinking ground two years after decimalisation displayed his doomed defiance as he continued to insist his premises wouldn’t accept ‘new money’. By 1973, most of his loyal customers had probably exhausted their un-renewable supplies of defunct coinage and one would imagine his obstinacy cost him his business in the end. But for people of his generation, the loss of traditional £sd, a mere year before Ted Heath signed the country into the Common Market, was symbolic of something greater.

Often, the powerless seize upon something of apparent triviality when they feel the bigger picture is beyond their grasp. We’ve seen it with the so-called ‘metric martyrs’ in more recent years as, for some, the European Union has acquired the autocratic qualities once reserved for longer-established institutions that have wielded widespread influence and power over millions for centuries, such as the church, absolute monarchies or totalitarian regimes. Unable to attack these behemoths with bazookas, the incensed tend to resort to slingshots. Although decimalisation was planned and prepared long before the EEC finally accepted British membership – and the former certainly had a far more immediate impact on ordinary people’s lives – the two were linked in the minds of older generations for whom basic (and seemingly unnecessary) inconvenience was coupled with the loss of omnipotent signposts that had helped define in their minds what it meant to be British.

Naturally, what it means to be British can vary between different demographics. To those largely on the left for whom being British is a rather distasteful notion, Brexit represented their ultimate nightmare come true. As we all know, many of them – unlike the anti-decimal 70s shopkeeper – just happened to be in positions of power and spent the best part of three years abusing that power to try and overturn a democratic mandate. However, if the result of December’s General Election achieved anything of lasting significance, it could well be that it has ironically reduced the over-powerful Remain lobby to the same level as that poor deluded shopkeeper whose own protest was coming from a different place altogether. And perhaps it’s no coincidence that the delicious desperation of the arrogant entitled clique whose perception of its own importance was made possible by a neutered minority administration now finds the ultimate manifestation of its inability to accept the inevitable comes via a coin.

The so-called Brexit 50 pence piece has already had a somewhat troubled history; first optimistically announced to commemorate the original departure date of 31 October last year, the predictable delay forced a swift change of plan. Apparently, 10 million were intended to be minted; whether or not any sneaked out will probably keep collectors of rare coins busy for decades, but the ‘recycled’ version was confidently unveiled shortly after the Conservative victory on 12 December and will enter circulation at the end of this month when overdue departure is finally confirmed. And so, denied the illusion of clout they achieved during the high summer of their opposition to the majority, Remoaners have now fixated on the humble 50p as representative of everything they hate about Britain.

The 50p has become something of a sandwich board for historic anniversaries or celebrations of Great British icons in recent years – everything from public libraries and Paddington Bear to Beatrix Potter and the Battles of Britain and Hastings have been featured on the coin; and it’s interesting that the first such variation on the standard Britannia design to appear came with the memorable Common Market ‘joined hands’ version issued in 1973. The Brexit 50p could be viewed as an inversion of that particular coin’s fraternal message, yet its inscription of ‘Peace, prosperity and friendship with all nations’ essentially conveys the same spirit of international brotherhood as the visual equivalent from 1973 – with or without an ‘Oxford comma’.

The accusation of a grammatical error was made by author (and noted Remainer) Philip Pullman, though one suspects his objection runs deeper. The reaction to the coin amongst the pettiest bad losers within the Remoaner camp is undoubtedly entertaining and has made them look more like Little Englanders in their attitude than those they routinely label as such. Pullman claims he will ‘boycott’ the coin, though does this mean he will vigorously examine his change when being served in a busy shop and then demand a replacement for a Brexit 50p as though it’s one of those ‘funny foreign coins’? The ever-laughable Alistair Campbell echoed Pullman’s sentiments, and it is truly something to see a man who once pulled so many powerful strings with such pig-headed arrogance now taking out his frustrations on a little bit of copper-nickel. Sometimes, the falling of the mighty is worthy of celebration. Maybe a commemorative coin could be minted to mark the occasion?

But perhaps the most extreme example of Remoaner excesses at their OTT worst came from some wag on Twitter yesterday, one who had the insensitive gall to deface the image of the coin with a swastika – on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. His point was that the Brexit 50p and the occasion it commemorated were somehow on a par with the rise of the Nazis and all that led to. Yes, that’s how corrosive the effects of being denied getting their own way has become for some. In many respects, such a response to something as inconsequential as a commemorative coin chimes with the ongoing narrative re the desperate search for something to vindicate victimhood, a trait generally reserved for the privileged and the bourgeois. And the loudest voices on the Remain side of this debate have invariably hailed from that camp. Oh, well. Maybe when we ‘crash out’ and the economic apocalypse leaves them begging for spare change in shop doorways, take pity and slip them a coin. 50p should suffice.

© The Editor


A few weeks ago, I watched an archive programme exhumed as a tribute to the recently-departed Clive James. It saw James retrace his footsteps around the London he’d known when he’d first arrived here from down under in the 60s. I had a feeling I’d watched it on its original airing around 1991, though seeing it again after so long was a sobering reminder of the unfairness of time. James interviewed several people who’d figured in his London life, the likes of Peter Cook, Alan Coren, Terence Donovan and Victoria Wood – all of whom, like James himself, are now deceased. In one poignant sequence, he even strolled through the basement of the glorious old Daily Express Art Deco temple on Fleet Street and the original printing presses were still there, albeit having finally been silenced not long before in preparation for digital relocation. He knew this was already a world that was vanishing before his eyes. Seeing the programme 30 years after it was made, I knew exactly how he felt.

As Clive James was showing one of the true signs of age – that of having lived long enough to witness the passing of a moment that had once seemed perpetually fixed in the present tense – I experienced the same sensation by simply watching him three decades down the line. Three decades? Afraid so. I was seeing the ghosts of people who had contributed something special to popular culture, each in their own individual fields of it, and whose contributions were not being echoed by their successors – because, no matter how hard their successors might try, they reside in a very different landscape. And today, barely a month after the sudden death of Neil Innes was announced, we are informed Terry Jones has joined him. Both were products of the same cultural renaissance that had provided a platform for Clive James’s 1991 interviewees, as was Clive James himself.

Neil Innes had been the musical driving force of the late, lamented (not to say demented) Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band in the late 60s; and although that giant of Great British eccentrics Vivian Stanshall tends to be the first name that springs to mind when the band is mentioned, Innes was the one who was able to use the Bonzos as a launch-pad to greater things. After being called upon to add musical muscle to live Python outings in 1974, Innes was recruited as an unofficial member of the team in John Cleese’s temporary absence for the final TV series later that same year. As the Pythons went their separate ways on the small screen, Innes emerged as a vital collaborator on Eric Idle’s unjustly-overlooked ‘Rutland Weekend Television’ series in 1975/6; this then led directly to the creation of ‘the Prefab Four’, AKA The Rutles, the spoof Beatles tribute act whose imaginary career was memorably documented in the 1978 TV movie, ‘All You Need is Cash’.

Within the Pythons, there had always been creative divisions that underlined how the team had pooled the resources of fruitful partnerships and solo acts to ensure the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. The likes of Neil Innes and even Douglas Adams may have been given backstage passes, but there was an inner core of six, each of whom tenaciously fought their respective corners. John Cleese wrote with Graham Chapman, whereas Eric Idle (like Terry Gilliam) tended to work alone; the other double act was that of Michael Palin and Terry Jones. The latter’s passionate Welsh temperament and creative clashes with Terry Gilliam surfaced most prominently when the Pythons transferred their projects to the big screen; the pair co-directed 1975’s ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’, and though this was an evidently uneasy compromise, it fuelled the two Terrys’ appetites enough for them to embark upon parallel directorial trajectories that have spanned decades.

The first post-Python TV outing for Jones was his collaboration with Michael Palin, the fondly-recalled ‘Ripping Yarns’. Although Palin acted in each of the nine episodes of the series and Jones restricted himself to the unforgettable opener, ‘Tomkinson’s Schooldays’, the pair wrote the lot together, cementing a creative union and enduring friendship that had begun at Oxford. After cutting their teeth as a writing partnership on that mid-60s television university for comedy teams, ‘The Frost Report’, Jones and Palin then progressed to ‘Do Not Adjust Your Set’. Nominally a children’s show, albeit one attracting a strong adult fan-base in a similar way to ‘Tiswas’ a decade or so later, ‘Do Not Adjust Your Set’ also featured Eric Idle and the animations of Terry Gilliam. Jones and Palin wrote for it and appeared on camera, raising their profiles to the point whereby London Weekend offered them their own vehicle, ‘The Complete and Utter History of Britain’.

This near-forgotten series was a forerunner of ‘Horrible Histories’ as it presented historical events in a contemporary television style, such as interviewing William the Conqueror in a changing-room communal bath after the Battle of Hastings, as though he’d just participated in a rugby match. Jones was seriously interested in ancient British history, writing books on Chaucer and presenting TV documentaries on the medieval period; but this more academic side took a backseat when he and Palin united with Cleese, Chapman, Idle and Gilliam for a new offbeat comedy series on the BBC in 1969.

Writing about the impact, importance and influence of ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ in a few paragraphs is akin to doing likewise with The Beatles; in other words, it can’t be done; there are enough heavyweight volumes on the bookshelves that give the subject the time and breathing space it requires in a way I cannot with the limitations of this format. Needless to say, Terry Jones’s contribution was as vital as the rest of the team to the overall product and though their record-breaking ten-show reunion at the O2 in 2014 looks as if it will indeed be the group’s swansong, the loss of Graham Chapman in 1989 had already removed a crucial element of what made them who they were. Modern technology enabled Chapman to ‘virtually’ appear, but Jones himself displayed signs of his fragile health when struggling to remember lines. It was just as well the audience knew them all and gladly acted as impromptu prompters.

One of my all-time favourite Python sketches features Terry Jones on his own, playing the part of the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs. Strolling onstage dressed like a city gent to deliver what seems to be a typically boring, droning politician’s speech, Jones does so whilst simultaneously performing a striptease, ending up in socks and pants with tassels on his nipples. It’s sublimely silly, and pokes fun at characteristic English pomposity in a brilliantly funny fashion – which was precisely what the Pythons did best. Jones went one step further by doing away with the rest of his clothes when adopting the guise of the naked organist with the mad hair who formed a key part of the programme’s opening titles.

It’s now half-a-century since ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ debuted on television; in 2022 it will be sixty years since the release of ‘Love Me Do’. Growing-up in the 1970s, I’d just missed something that was only a blink away, though all of its practitioners were around and still riding the crest of the creative wave that had brought them to prominence – and the fruits of that could be everything from ‘Fawlty Towers’ and ‘Band on the Run’ to ‘Derek and Clive’. Yes, it’s a long time ago, and yes, that sucks. But at least it’s all out there for anyone to sample anew, now as enshrined in the cultural thread of the national narrative as the medieval knights Terry Jones revered. And that is indeed something completely different.

© The Editor


The return of ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ is always welcome, not merely because it is undisputedly one of the funniest TV shows of all time, but because the targets of its humour are so deserving. Astonishingly, it’s now 20 years since the series first appeared on HBO, and when it initially crossed the Atlantic it served as a novel portal for bemused Brits into the American extremes of what used to be called ‘Political Correctness gone mad’. For those unfamiliar with the show (and you should be ashamed of yourselves), it follows the journey of one man through the complex maze of changing social mores in polite (and not so polite) society.

After an on-off career as a stand-up, Larry David established himself as a successful comic writer with the creation of ‘Seinfeld’ in the 90s. Although ‘Seinfeld’ regularly touched on topics that had previously been beyond-the-pale for sitcoms (especially US ones), it had done so within the conventions of a traditional format; when Larry David decided to put himself in front of the camera with ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’, however, he opted to depart the confines of the studio and went for the filmic ‘documentary’-style approach ala ‘The Office’. In ‘Curb’, David plays a fictionalised version of himself and gives vent to his inner demons by saying out loud what most people think; the Larry David of ‘Curb’ basically lacks a bullshit filter and cannot prevent himself from interjecting when anyone else would keep an opinion to themselves. But that’s why we love him.

Living in LA and therefore encountering Hollywood royalty from both the big and small screen, the Larry David of ‘Curb’ runs up against Tinsel Town’s ever-changing checklist of what can and can’t be said in company practically every episode. David’s response to the increasingly dogmatic strictures of the speech police is one of bemusement; but his inability to bite his lip means confrontation of the most inventively foul-mouthed nature is inevitable. Larry has a habit of putting his foot in it, but he never does so from a position of malice, merely understandable confusion.

Surrounded by fastidious practitioners of Woke thinking, Larry is regarded by them as the most un-PC individual on the planet, but he is actually the one character in the show without any prejudice, utterly immune to the pigeonholes that place people in clearly defined groups based on ethnicity, sexuality or gender. This was crystallised during one memorable episode in which he chaperones a blind man on a date with a Muslim woman in a burqa and the three of them end up sharing a raucous meal with a group of special needs car-washers; two members of a golf-club Larry sought to join stumble upon this impromptu gathering and their facial reaction betrays the prejudice that their veneer of social justice usually suppresses in public. In ‘Curb’, Larry David relentlessly exposes such hypocrisy and double standards, and he does so funnier than anyone else; he’s been doing it now for two decades.

Just as ‘Nathan Barely’ satirising a cult of stupidity restricted to a tiny clique of London media twats in 2005 inadvertently prophesised a pernicious trend that would soon spread across the country, Larry David noted what was happening in small showbiz circles long before it infected and polluted the whole of western culture. 20 years ago, nobody imagined the enclosed world David was taking a pot-shot at would eventually colonise everywhere; but it has – especially in this country, where all media outlets and cultural institutions are controlled by those with the loudest voices who all sing from an ever-expanding hymn-sheet of dos and don’ts. In 2020, it would seem we need ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ more than ever.

Yes, it was hard to avoid noticing the weekend was awash with outrage over actor Laurence Fox apparently ‘doing a Nick Griffin’ on ‘Question Time’, the BBC’s once-unmissable debating forum now seemingly on its last legs. Anyone who watched will testify Fox admirably stood his ground and refused to kowtow to the Woke narrative permeating the programme and its panellists; challenging an audience member insistent that a poor little Duchess has been hounded out of the country because the UK is a hotbed of virulent racism, Fox received the customary retort of the regressive left via the playing of the ‘white privilege’ card and shrewdly pointed out that judging him solely on the colour of his skin was racist – which it is; what was it Martin Luther King said about the content of one’s character being the most important factor?

It’s a measure of where we are that one man having the nerve to speak common sense and express the kind of authentically liberal values the majority of people actually live by could be branded far-right for his troubles. Some within the actors’ union Equity are even demanding Fox be subjected to McCarthy-style blacklisting, and his ‘posh-boy’ status is also being attacked. It’s interesting, though, that what this storm in a teacup has shown yet again is how much more the upper-classes and working-classes have in common with each other than either do with the middle-classes; the middle-classes hate both in equal measure – and Woke is inherently middle-class in its imaginary oppression and perpetual victimhood. It’s no coincidence the British electorate chose another posh-boy as their PM just over a month ago.

Laurence Fox was berated by the unelected Shami ‘I won a peerage’ Chakrabarti for not nominating one of the women candidates as his favoured Labour leader; heaven forbid the successor to Corbyn should get the job on merit rather than patronising affirmative action. Rebecca Long-Bailey’s continuation of the Identity Politics agenda in her own predictable response to the tedious Meghan soap opera has simply demonstrated yet again how this stance represents the Labour Party’s estrangement from its traditional supporters perhaps even more than Brexit. But just as Mary Whitehouse could see sex even when it wasn’t there, the far left views everything through the prism of racism (bar the blind spot of anti-Semitism, of course), and it’s been undeniably entertaining watching Grauniad scribes suddenly falling over themselves to defend a privileged pair of millionaires who are beneficiaries of the kind of inherited wealth they’re supposed to be opposed to.

When such smug zealots devote so much energy to crying racism on behalf of a pampered Duchess, it serves to highlight their criminal silence on the ‘wrong kind of victims’ – i.e. those who don’t fit the profile. The tragic consequences of this damaging divide-and-rule approach has been grimly highlighted by the revelations of the so-called ‘grooming gangs’ – or Pakistani Paedophiles, if you prefer – whose decades-long industrial abuse of underage girls in Greater Manchester was allowed to progress unimpeded due to so-called cultural sensitivity. You couldn’t make most of this up; indeed, how can Titania McGrath compete when Sheffield ‘Stasi’ University is recruiting students for paid reporting on the ‘micro-aggressive’ speech and thought crimes of their fellow guinea pigs? The whole Puritan project of Woke is gradually over-stretching to the point where it will (hopefully) eat itself. All we need is Larry David to document its death and we can at least look back in laughter.

© The Editor


Okay, I know – only the third post of the year and I’ve already opted for the most bleedin’ obvious title of all; but I can be excused, I believe, on account of it making sense in one specific context. Curiously, the programme I’ve watched more than any other in 2020 so far has been ‘Vision On’. Yes, you heard right – the BBC children’s show so popular in its day that it ran for twelve years (1964-76) has been required viewing for me over the past week, enabling me to bypass Harry and his missus as well as Iran, Lancashire ‘grooming’ and all the other things that inspire such joy. Regulars will be aware that I often use vintage TV as a familiar escape pod from the here and now, and a serendipitous discovery on YouTube led me to stumbling upon 30 editions of a series that hasn’t had a terrestrial airing for over 40 years. Right now, I seem to need it.

Today, ‘Vision On’ is not so much referenced as an innovative and inventive programme in its own right, but as a launch-pad for the likes of Tony Hart, Aardman Animations and Sylvester McCoy; the latter, of course, graduated to Time Lord status long before his/her adventures became a platform for the Woke gospel. But ‘Vision On’ never made a meal of ‘issues’, despite the fact it grew out of a perceived need to provide television for deaf children. As with many kids’ shows of its era, it stands up as a vibrant example of how the madcap ‘anything goes’ spirit that typified British pop culture from the mid-60s to the mid-70s infiltrated every facet of that culture, even children’s television. Looking at it afresh with the hindsight of four decades, ‘Vision On’ is still a staggeringly surreal showcase for the imagination – the kind that would never get past Auntie’s contemporary army of consultants, executives and focus group gurus.

Produced at the Beeb’s Bristol outpost rather than the more familiar environs of Shepherd’s Bush, the programme-makers were largely left to their own devices and clearly revelled in the kind of freedom today’s equivalents would be denied. Watching as a child, I was vaguely aware the remit of the show was to create entertainment that appealed to the deaf; but this was never worn as a virtue-signalling T-shirt; it was only noticeable through presenter Pat Keysell’s employment of sign language during those rare moments in which dialogue was required. ‘Vision On’ made the best of this pre-subtitled era by focusing on the visual, and it did so in ways that belied the limited budgets available.

‘Vision On’ debuted in an extremely busy year for BBC television – ‘Top of the Pops’, ‘Match of the Day’, ‘Play School’, ‘The Likely Lads’, ‘The Wednesday Play’ and BBC2 all appeared for the first time in 1964; but it was because the corporation was enjoying such a creatively fruitful period that a children’s programme so uniquely original could be given the green light. An immediate success, ‘Vision On’ grew in confidence as the decade progressed and became more adventurous in line with it; but the core presenting duo of Pat Keysell and Tony Hart were pivotal to its longevity.

Pat Keysell came from a theatre and mime background, whereas Tony Hart was already established as the in-house artist for the BBC’s children’s department, famously designing the ‘Blue Peter’ ship logo. Keysell’s mime was a key visual element of ‘Vision On’ whilst Hart’s artistry was another. One of the programme’s most memorable features was to encourage viewers’ own artistic efforts by inviting them to contribute to ‘The Gallery’, a segment that enshrined the vibraphone-heavy easy-listening tune ‘Left Bank Two’ as a musical byword for amateur art thereafter. At its peak, the programme was inundated with between five to ten thousand viewers’ pictures a week; no wonder Pat Keysell famously warned none of the paintings sent in could be returned.

Another distinctive feature was the stop-motion filmed inserts starring ‘The Prof’, an anarchic character in a white coat who seemed to spend all his time running around fields and colliding with various inanimate objects. These short bursts of manic energy were technically impressive when one considers the era in which they were made, and were characteristic of the way in which the series pushed the boundaries of what was possible in television at the time; but the programme was a showcase for such innovation. The studio segments of ‘Vision On’ were punctuated by snippets of avant-garde animation usually accompanied by equally unconventional Radiophonic Workshop ditties. There would also regularly be outdoor examples of Tony Hart’s remarkable ability to draw a huge image on a flat surface that could only be seen correctly from the angle of the camera looking down on it.

Along with ‘Top of the Pops’, ‘Vision On’ was a show that really benefitted from the BBC’s move into colour. Editions from the early 70s are borderline psychedelic – and that’s not even mentioning the dazzling Biba-esque outfits of Pat Keysell and the equally colourful wardrobe of her bearded mime sidekick, the admirably elongated Ben Benison. Completing the classic team was Huddersfield eccentric Wilf Lunn, who came across as Vivian Stanshall’s Yorkshire cousin; this hippie Heath Robinson, forever inventing machines that seemed to serve no purpose other than to entertain, found his true home on ‘Vision On’.

When so much of archive TV can often seem quite slow-paced by today’s standards, it’s amazing how fast-moving ‘Vision On’ is; I suspect, given the opportunity to see it, most 21st century kids would probably find it as stimulating as I did over 40 years ago. One of the joys of watching it comes from never knowing what will pop up next – and it could be almost anything. The impression given is that whatever idea simply sounded good was chucked into the heady mix – and if it didn’t work, something better would come along in the blink of an eye. I particularly used to enjoy the moments when Sylvester McCoy would step through a mirror and stroll around a backwards world in which the film was clearly reversed, yet he would be the only person moving forwards – another impressive technical achievement that must have required a hell of a lot of planning beforehand.

The programme finally drew to a close in 1976, apparently due to producer Patrick Dowling confessing to running out of ideas. Most of the people behind ‘Vision On’ progressed onto ‘Take Hart’ in 1977, a programme that allowed Tony Hart’s TV career to scale even greater heights, albeit with a vehicle that eschewed the more esoteric elements of its parent programme. To me as a child, ‘Vision On’ served as confirmation that the slightly skewed way in which I looked at the world wasn’t exclusive to me – and also wasn’t a nascent indication of madness. There don’t seem to be many outlets providing confirmation now, alas. But you’re welcome to see for yourself. The only difference with the editions on YT and the ones I remember come with the credits and Pat Keysell’s brief spoken links; they’re in French due to the series being a co-production with French-Canadian TV, so separate segments were evidently recorded. Otherwise, it’s as brilliantly bonkers as ever. And they really don’t make ‘em like this anymore…

© The Editor


Well, what have we learnt in the first week-and-a-half of 2020 so far? Perhaps – as is generally the trend when a New Year begins – not a lot that we didn’t know already. Years, never mind decades, take time to establish themselves as separate entities to what has preceded them, and with less than a fortnight on the clock the 2020s have naturally given us more of the same, or a newly-bottled version of the over-familiar. Yes, it was undeniably joyous seeing Ricky Gervais roasting a self-important Hollywood aristocracy demanding a pat on the back for wearing the same tux for the entire awards season (thus saving the planet in the process), but this necessary interlude was followed by hysteria over a list of BAFTA nominees that failed to include any women or ‘people of colour’; with an Identity Politics agenda being so crucial to whether or not a movie is worth watching, such an outrage needed a mention if we are to make sure the colour-blind dinner table of Martin Luther King’s dream remains out of bounds.

Meanwhile, the Duke and Duchess of Woke are fleeing excessive press coverage by making sure they receive excessive press coverage as they flounce off into the taxpayer-subsidised sunset of the Commonwealth; we received shock confirmation that both the US and Iran are run by point-scoring arseholes exercising their machismo by keeping a 40-year-old grudge match going – and woe betide those who get caught in the crossfire, such as the blameless passengers on a commercial flight; evidence suggesting some of Australia’s awful inferno may have been the result of both arsonists and counterproductive ‘green’ policies rather than climate change are being argued over as heartbreaking images of innocent animals suffering continue to flood social media newsfeeds; oh, and attempts to resurrect an opposition to government in UK politics, whilst seemingly back on track at Stormont, are floundering yet again at Westminster.

Yes, the hopefuls making their respective pitches to become Labour Party leader have kick-started their campaigns by merely proving the period of reflection following such a catastrophic electoral annihilation entails learning absolutely nothing from it whatsoever. Rebecca Long-Bailey gives Corbyn 10/10 as a leader, whilst Clive Lewis continues with the ‘all Leave voters were thick racists’ narrative as his launch-pad; both are either too stupid to recognise where their party went wrong or are simply incapable of taking the reasons on board. Emily Thornberry is risking the wrath of the dominant Momentum vote in her bid by daring to suggest Corbyn made mistakes, despite the fact she was telling us all what a great Prime Minister he’d be barely a month ago; and Jess Phillips is doing what Jess Phillips does best – i.e. reminding the world how great Jess Phillips is, though not offering any concrete evidence why, such as in the form of plausible policies.

Maybe it’s no surprise that Keir ‘slimy’ Starmer has leapt ahead as front-runner in this lacklustre contest. As ever, the Starmer chameleon has employed sneaky stealth to progress almost unnoticed, avoiding headline-grabbing statements and courting favour as a ‘safe pair of hands’ by radiating the charisma of an ironing board. I can only assume he’s been able to garner support from both within and without the Labour Party on account of him cleverly avoiding the twin toxic taints of New Labour and Corbynism and therefore giving the impression to those tired of both that he somehow represents the way forward as a bland, faceless ‘moderate’ who can win back all those lost voters. Ignorance of Starmer’s pre-Parliamentary career probably helps.

Lest we forget, Starmer’s insidious (not to say pivotal) role in pushing forward the ‘Believe The Victim’ mantra during his disastrous stint as Director of Public Prosecutions led pretty much directly to the Carl Beech fiasco; though this stage of Starmer’s career is mysteriously absent from his leadership portfolio, he created the climate that enabled Beech to pull the wool over so many eyes. Starmer’s influence helped establish this policy within the nation’s police forces, filtering to the frontline from the top on down, and whilst Carl Beech was the most high-profile example of how fatally flawed this approach is, God only knows how high the numbers behind bars whose cases have yet to be heard beyond the courtroom might be. Not to worry, though; Keir wants to be your Prime Minister.

The whole Beech affair has smoothly slid off Teflon Man Starmer in a way it hasn’t with his departed colleague Tom Watson. It stuck like the jammy residue of a tuck-shop doughnut to Bunter because he’d allowed his ego to seize upon it as a means of propelling his profile into the public consciousness; when Beech was mercifully exposed as a fraudster, Jezza’s deputy suffered the consequences thereafter; something which he had cynically weaponised ended up shooting him in the foot. Watson then had no option but to walk the plank, crushing his obvious ambitions to be Labour leader in the process; however, it is characteristic of the man that he continues to refute accusations of wrongdoing in his post-political existence, seeking forgiveness via TV confessionals ala Michael Barrymore. In denial but in the wilderness, Watson now has to sit back and watch an operator who is far more responsible for Beech and his odious ilk run away with the opening round.

Jezza remains at the helm during this odd interregnum, albeit suddenly rendered utterly powerless at the dispatch box; indeed, Corbyn’s ability to connect with Yoof due to him having the mindset of an eternal gap-year student trapped in a pensioner’s body was something that only worked to a degree in the chamber when the Tories lacked the numbers to neuter him. Now that Parliament has a Government with a majority for the first time in a long time, it would appear normal service has been resumed. The chaos that came to characterise the Commons has completely vanished since business reconvened in the wake of the General Election, and with it has vanished Corbyn’s clout. Imminent legislation being passed onto the Lords with ease is something we’d almost forgotten was possible, yet it is finally happening again.

As his party struggles to cope with resolving the detachment from the electorate that he helped accelerate, poor old Jezza has the hapless demeanour of a past-it comedian in a working-men’s club whose act is being largely ignored by patrons drinking and talking amongst themselves. ‘We are the resistance to Boris Johnson’ was his follow-up gag to ‘We won the argument’; and it’s a pity the ones who really should get the joke are the only ones not laughing. Mind you, unless we simply watch Gervais’s Golden Globes evisceration of Tinsel Town on a loop, there’s not much else to laugh about right now, anyway.

© The Editor


It should really be a source of shame on my part, and I guess it is, actually; perhaps I don’t want to come across as too corny/sentimental/slushy, whatever. But I apologise for never acknowledging ‘you guys’ – that is, those of you who comment on posts here; I admit I rarely – if ever – comment on other blogs myself, so I know to do so takes time and effort, something that can be at a premium if one is merely checking in to a regular blog and there’s only a few minutes spare to simply read, let alone begin a discussion. My own personal opinion, however, is that a blog only really comes to life when comments are posted; otherwise, it can easily feel as though I’m just talking to myself. Yes, I have access to stats, so I can always discern how many readers I’ve got out there – and, believe me, they’re scattered all over the globe; but engaging with them makes the author less isolated, for sure; and writing is one of the isolating professions.

It’s a two-way process, of course. Some posts are better than others, and some posts don’t necessarily invite comments; I’m also not so arrogant that I expect them as a given. Most of the time, to be honest, I’m touched that anyone has taken the trouble to comment at all; but as a writer, it’s always nice to receive feedback. It can get a little lonely up in this wordsmith’s lighthouse. And if it doesn’t sound too cheesy, I like to think that you lot are the best of the bunch. Many of you have been with me for a long time, all the way back to a former writer’s residence I used to rent more than five years ago; and there were a few on there I was relieved chose not to migrate here when I opened for business. Any lively disagreements or heated debates have always been conducted at the Telegram in a grownup fashion, respecting the other person’s point of view and eschewing name-calling.

The more someone comments and does so with increasing lucidity, the more rounded and fuller their characters become. You learn something of their lot in life, their backgrounds, their history, their political affiliations both past and present, their tastes in music, movies, literature, food – whatever. Yes, one doesn’t really ‘know’ them as a real-life friend or family member does; but the person they are whenever they slip into their cyber slippers is, in many respects, somebody we do come to know in a way those physical presences never do. True, there is the obligatory pseudonym, but such nom-de-plumes are not adopted for the reasons trolls use them. If anything, these online identities can add to the mystique of the commentator in the same way that every listener paints a mental portrait of each cast member of ‘The Archers’, one that rarely matches the actor’s actual face if revealed. It all becomes part of an ongoing narrative. For example, it has not escaped my attention that Mudplugger’s C&A jacket will be marking its 50th anniversary this year; and I only know this because Mudplugger has seen fit to share it with us.

It is, therefore, with great sadness that I have to announce one of us has left the building. I discovered yesterday that our very own Windsock passed away last year, on 12 May – exactly one month to the day after his very last comment. He was one of the originals, following me here from the other place and becoming part of the Winegum’s fixtures and fittings over four short years. His absence since April was concerning, as he was extremely candid regarding his illness, and as the months passed I began to fear the worst when his distinctive voice was no longer being heard; I actually emailed him when he’d been away from the blog for a couple of weeks, simply to see how he was doing. Alas, I received no reply, but I now know this was just a few days before his death.

We’d emailed each other a few times when I was facing some problems with those nice people at the DWP in 2016; he’d spoken about helping someone in a similar situation in a comment on the blog and seemed like the kind of knowledgeable chap to go to for advice. It was when rifling through some old emails yesterday that this correspondence cropped up and I decided on the spur of the moment to see if he was on Facebook. This was when I stumbled upon a memorial page to him and found out he bowed out eight months ago. It seems so belated to pay tribute to him now, but I simply couldn’t keep this knowledge to myself when I know many of you were as fond of Windsock as I was and looked forward to his comments as much as I did.

Included on this FB tribute was a link to an obituary in his local paper, which I attach to the end of the post; he was clearly a damn good egg in his life beyond this tiny enclave of cyberspace, devoting time and energy to others even when his own personal health was so precarious. He also sounds like he was good fun to be around, and it is regretful that I never did meet him in the flesh; I’ve a feeling we’d have enjoyed each other’s company. His upbeat, optimistic personality always came through in his comments, as did his humour; this remained a hallmark of his observations to the end, even when he could clearly see that unimaginably painful end coming.

Anyone who has been reading the Telegram for a long time will know he and I didn’t agree on everything; indeed, the last time he was prompted into commenting on here was after taking umbrage with some of the points I’d expressed in a post. But it was characteristic of the man that he accepted my explanation for whatever I’d written with good grace, and there was no trace of rancour, merely the acceptance that there are times when old acquaintances have a divergence of opinion; moreover, it was through him airing his objections with such enlightening conviction that the holes in my own argument were exposed to me. We ended the debate by shaking virtual hands. You don’t always get that online.

Having been through somewhat testing times myself over the last couple of years, Windsock was – along with other members of the hardcore Winegum team – one of the first to express his support and encouragement when I tentatively returned to the fray after five months away from the blog in 2018. It’s no exaggeration to say that without that support I may well have jacked this in altogether; and while it might sound obvious, there’s no getting away from the fact that being told you’re wanted does make a massive bloody difference when you’re riddled with doubt and your faith in your own abilities has hit rock bottom. I needed that boost, and Windsock was at the front of a queue I had absolutely no guarantee would even have formed in my lengthy absence from action. Again, that’s a mark of the man.

It’s a shame to have to open a new year and new decade with such sad news from the last one, but I couldn’t open proceedings any other way. Windsock was one of this blog’s most dependably articulate, passionate, thought-provoking and entertaining observers, and you lot make the Winegum Telegram what it is as much as anything I write myself. So, if you’ve a bottle of anything on hand, top up your glass and raise it to one of our own. RIP Dennis Pearce. We miss you already.

© The Editor