The only episode of ‘The Sweeney’ I was allowed to watch when it originally aired was a late entry in the series; the bargaining chip was the inexplicable presence of Morecambe & Wise as guest stars. I suppose maternal permission was influenced by the expectation that Eric and Ernie would help tone down the violence for which the show was notorious in 1978. Unbeknownst to my mother, I’d already seen an episode screened past my normal bedtime whilst staying at my grandparents’ place during a school holiday; there was never any set bedtime there, so I sat in on ‘The Sweeney’ with granddad and grandma and was treated to a full-frontal pair of tits on their little telly as a reward. If there was one element that gave the adventures of Regan and Carter playground plus-points in the 1970s, it was the perennial possibility of naked female flesh. Along with the anticipated car chases and punch-ups, there was always the outside chance of a scene in a strip-club. There’d be no proper swearing beyond the use of ‘bastard’ (pronounced baa-sted) a lot, so a glimpse of bristols was the next best thing.

I don’t know why it was such a big deal when even our house’s tabloid of choice at the time – the Daily Mirror – had its own equivalent of page 3 back then, so it’s not as if you couldn’t catch a snatch of mammaries, anyway; but ‘The Sweeney’ had a special position in the minds of 70s children. It was the Holy Grail of adult TV shows. Everyone at school claimed to watch it regularly, but such claims were no different from pubescent bullshit bragging about sexual encounters. 9.00 was the cut-off point for most when it came to viewing habits; you might be familiar with the show’s theme tune wafting up from the front room as your head reluctantly hit the pillow, but few from my generation saw it during its original run. It was regarded as ‘hard’ TV – far more realistic than ‘Starsky and Hutch’, and routinely featuring unsettling cockney villains with stockings on their faces, robbing banks clutching sawn-off shotguns – just like the headline crimes you heard during the bongs on ‘News at Ten’ before you finally fell asleep.

To a 70s child, ‘The Sweeney’ had a similar mystique as X-rated movies or girlie magazines, a grown-up world you yearned to be part of but knew you frustratingly had to wait for – a wait that felt like an eternity. In the absence of the real thing, your imagination painted a picture so graphic that by the time you were old enough to see the series during its first full run of repeats in the early 80s, half of the entertainment value came from the dated fashions. Reruns continued well into the 90s, passing through numerous postmodern and ‘ironic’ appreciations or condemnations. Then came the spoofs, the parodies, the pastiches and the eventual homage of ‘Life on Mars’; along the way, the series was simultaneously praised as a slice of gritty realism that blew ‘Dixon of Dock Green’ and ‘Z-Cars’ out of the water as well as a misogynistic example of old-school macho attitudes we were well rid of. ‘The Sweeney’ remains all of these things, yet so much more.

After the best part of 20 years without seeing a single episode – though consistent viewings of VHS off-air recordings preserved numerous lines and scenes in memory’s amber for decades – I recently got round to adding ‘The Sweeney’ to my bulging library of archive British TV shows on DVD. I decided to start proper with the movie-length pilot, titled ‘Regan’. Even 46 years on, it’s possible to see the promise of both the lead character and the set-up in this groundbreaking entry in the ‘Armchair Cinema’ anthology series. John Thaw was a familiar face to viewers by 1974, appearing as a guest star in endless programmes as well as managing an early starring role in the mid-60s series about the military police, ‘Redcap’; but in the gruff and grizzled, hard-boiled character of DI Jack Regan, he stumbled upon the role of a lifetime.

Produced by Euston Films, the Thames division established to make drama entirely on film, ‘The Sweeney’ had some of its ground laid by the final two series of ‘Special Branch’ (1973-74) and recruited Dennis Waterman as Regan’s sidekick Sgt Carter, having impressed in an episode of the earlier series. ‘The Sweeney’ would take the approach of ‘Special Branch’ and push the grittiness to a new level for television. Unlike its predecessor, by focusing on the cases of the Flying Squad, Regan & Carter didn’t have to concern themselves with occasional espionage interludes and had free rein to concentrate on ‘blags’ of the kind that were commonplace when most businesses had physical cash delivered to their premises on pay day.

‘The Sweeney’ is far from being crass, one-dimensional action, however. There’s an abundance of wit in the dialogue, and Regan & Carter are well-rounded, wholly believable characters whose banter and buddy-buddy relationship rings true in the context of their situation. The line between copper and criminal was never more blurred than in ‘The Sweeney’, though in his own way DI Regan possesses as strong a moral streak as Sgt Dixon; he’s averse to bribery and would never be in the pocket of a villain. At the time of its original broadcast, a series of high-profile exposés on real-life Met corruption hogged the headlines, so for all its seemingly unflattering portrait of Scotland Yard, ‘The Sweeney’ actually paints the police in an encouragingly positive light. If anything, Regan’s true nemesis is not the blagger, but the ‘fifth-floor bottlers’ at the Yard, forever frustrating his investigations with bureaucratic interference. Regan is more comfortable as the Wild West sheriff than being marooned behind a desk, happier tooled-up with a shooter than pushing a pen, in his element on the street rather than undergoing ‘diversity awareness’ courses.

In many respects, ‘The Sweeney’ is the definitive British TV series of the mid-70s; the landscape that Regan & Carter screech their tyres through is one of a rundown, worn-out country falling to pieces – and Regan himself often appears to mirror the state of the nation. Despite being able to chase villains on foot, he and his second-in-command smoke a breathtaking amount of cigarettes, they drink like borderline alcoholics, and they each bed a different ‘scrubber’ every episode. Men like them probably still exist, but they’re not portrayed on emasculating primetime television anymore. In one episode, Regan’s ex-wife looks despairingly at him and says ‘You’re 35 and you look 45’, and it’s true that all the men in the series whose ages are stated do indeed look at least a decade older by today’s standards, though I guess all those fags, booze and birds took their toll. Interestingly, however, very few of them are obese.

Regan & Carter take no prisoners and no outsiders are exempt from their contempt. They don’t single anyone out for special treatment, failing to distinguish between posh-boys, northerners, Scotsmen, Irishmen, blacks, Arabs, gays, lesbians, prostitutes – all are fair game for piss-taking and disdain, and all have their derogatory nicknames characteristic of the era. Watching it with a 21st century head on is a pointless exercise; one has to enter into the spirit of the times as much as viewing a Hollywood Film Noir from the 1940s; it’s a different world and one with its own surreal rules and regulations. Even something as basic as the bizarre side-partings and fuzzy barnets of the bad guys becomes the norm after a few episodes, as does the slang. One quickly accepts this world as a separate entity from reality – which is ironic considering realism was a key factor that gained the programme such critical and commercial success first time round. Coming to it anew at a moment when the contemporary world seems a more uncertain environment with each passing day, there’s something oddly comforting about the world inhabited by ‘The Sweeney’; it’s rough and it’s ready, but you know where you stand.

© The Editor


Lest we forget, this is an age in which Marks & Spencer can apologise on behalf of a brown-coloured bra because its name – tobacco – offended a customer for whom it evoked the spirit of George Floyd; yup, everything is racist in 2020, even lingerie. And if you reckon colour is merely skin deep, according to an edict issued by the British Library, that’s tantamount to ‘covert white supremacy’; mind you, I know someone who used to work at the British Library, and from what she told me of her former employers, they’re not quite as enlightened as this latest opportunistic PR stunt paints them. How surprising, as the preachers of Identity Politics are usually such open-minded souls. Yes, we all know by now that more or less every public body, corporation, company and cultural institution in this country is under the Woke yolk, so I suppose the situation becoming even sillier is a natural progression; but the thing with Identity Politics is that one can never give enough inches to the mob when there are so many miles to take.

Somewhat predictably, museums are again ‘reviewing’ their contents, debating whether to return some of their overseas artefacts to their country of origin because educating the public on historic civilisations and cultures is obviously racist too; the fact that a fair share of these exhibits emanate from some of the world’s most unstable regions means many could well have gone the way of Nimrud in Iraq had they not been ‘plundered’; but, hey, at least ISIS smashing them to smithereens isn’t racist. It’s so much better not to have wicked imperialists marching in and salvaging the neglected riches of the Ancient World when one can have home-grown philistines reducing them to rubble. The British Museum has now removed the bust of its 18th century founder from public display, and the institution’s director has also stated that we the British people need to revisit our troubled history; he’s German, by the way. Topf, wasserkocher, schwarz, as they say in the fatherland.

So, as ice cream manufacturers deliver lectures on illegal immigrants and Woke celebs line-up on the shore to embrace those fleeing the deadly war-zones of mainland Europe – though probably not giving over their spare rooms – I guess we shouldn’t really be surprised that Last Night of the Proms has provoked predictable debate in this fevered, f***ed-up climate. I remember writing a post on here either last year or the year before on how much I love the Proms, but I made it clear that I’ve never been a big fan of the Last Night; it bears little relation to the rest of the festival and gives a false impression of this Great British institution to the passing viewer. Considering the heavy investment the BBC has in the Proms, the jingoistic pomp of the Last Night must stick in the Beeb’s throat, so anachronistic is it to the corporation’s worldview – like granddad gate-crashing the last course at an Islington dinner party and treating the guests to a rant about ‘darkies’.

Last year, they attempted to drape the event in the rainbow flag and even opened proceedings with a new composition actually titled ‘Woke’ (instant classic); having ticked the LGBTXYZ box on the diversity checklist, this year the BBC is clearly having a crack at racism – and what could be more racist in the current catch-all meaning of the word than the self-indulgent, flag-waving patriotic excesses of Last Night of the Proms? Culturally governed as we are by those with an inbuilt hatred of our culture, I guess a good definition of institutional racism is the Last Night. A nation repeatedly informed it needs to carry collective guilt over the crimes of its long-deceased sons and daughters surely cannot expect the climax of the Proms to evade censure. After all, this is one evening of the year being handed over to a shameless celebration of a country’s past glories via a few irrelevant old tunes; it’s hardly a nationalistic call-to-arms heralding a declaration of war. It’s as harmlessly sentimental to the British as Republican ‘Rebel’ songs are to the Irish. However, one suspects the Beeb has been itching for an excuse to oust the traditional season finale medley of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’, ‘Rule Britannia’ and ‘Jerusalem’ for quite some time, and Covid-19 appears to have provided it.

Under normal circumstances, the Proms season would be in full swing by now. For me, it’s up there with Wimbledon as a summer signpost; but, of course, these aren’t normal circumstances. Just as many of the gaps in the TV schedules caused by cancelled sporting events were filled by rerunning memorable moments from the events’ pasts, the depleted Proms of 2020 has taken a similar approach. This year’s re-jigged festival has so far consisted of a kind of ‘greatest hits’ – with a smattering of new performances to follow shortly. Not that, as both listener and viewer, I’m complaining; the standard has been as high as ever, and if I hadn’t been informed beforehand that the majority of this year’s broadcast concerts were archive ones from the past 15 years or so, I’d probably be none the wiser. However, it would seem the Last Night will be going ahead as usual, albeit in some surreal, socially-distanced shape.

Initially, it was announced that the Last Night sing-along would be dropped, presumably because there’d be no chinless wonders packing the Albert Hall to sing-along. I wasn’t too bothered because I’m not especially keen on it, anyway. Then, following the expected outcry from the likes of the Telegraph and the Mail, the BBC said it would keep the medley, but only in the form of an instrumental version; again, I wasn’t too bothered because I think it works better as a purely instrumental piece, anyway. But I just knew the absence of an audience wasn’t the reason behind the decision. It would appear the scheduled conductor for the Last Night, who happens to be Finnish, had expressed his belief the event could do with a facelift – something to do with that renowned patron of classical music, George Floyd, I think.

At one time, opposition to such a move by the Beeb would be limited to the anticipated editorials from the Right side of Fleet Street; but in the internet age, everyone can have their say; and, as we all know, it doesn’t take much time to galvanise angry folk online. Promoted by the man who is the antichrist to the Woke brigade, actor Laurence Fox, a mischievous campaign was swiftly instigated to embarrass the Beeb by putting Vera Lynn at the top of what today passes for the charts; the song sung by Dame Vera was, of course, her version of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’, and the response has seen the recently-departed National Treasure take over the entire top ten in Amazon’s best-selling songs. The Amazon music chart may or not be the actual top ten in 2020 – I’ve no idea; but along with an online petition signed by tens of thousands demanding the BBC reinstate the missing lyrics of the Last Night medley, the public reaction has highlighted once again the gaping chasm between those who pay the licence fee and those who impose it.

Considering there are calls from some quarters on both sides of the Atlantic to establish ‘all-black’ universities – segregated education based on skin colour; wonder why nobody’s ever thought of that before? – it’s no surprise the Identitarian obsessions of academia have spilled over into the workplaces that many graduates of the leading universities are steered towards. The arts and cultural institutions are overrun with them, with the BBC being perhaps the most visible example to Joe Public in that it is subsidised by the bigoted masses. If the Beeb wants to diminish its standing even further by indulging in another narcissistic bout of self-flagellation, let it; but the patience of its paymasters can only be stretched so many times before it snaps completely.

© The Editor


For good or ill – usually the latter in recent years – the US tends to introduce trends that are then exported to this side of the pond with increasingly indecent haste; we’ve already unfortunately become accustomed to American-style militant race-baiting via the latest strain of a seemingly incurable virus (i.e. Identity Politics), and a recent essay I came across on the current state of America’s most exciting city, New York, could well prove to be the shape of things to come. Of course, anyone with a long memory will know NYC has been in a bad way many times before and has always shown a Phoenix-like propensity to rise again. One only has to recall the trauma of 9/11 as an example, and even a quarter of a century before that the city was on the brink of complete collapse. With a failing economy due to deindustrialisation, and an appalling crime rate that drew the dregs to the city and kept fresh investment away, New York was confronted by bankruptcy.

Never was this state of affairs portrayed with more gruesome eloquence than in the words of Travis Bickle, the antihero played by Robert De Niro in 1976’s ‘Taxi Driver’, arguably Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece. Privy to the diary entries of the disturbed Vietnam vet, the viewer sees the Big Apple from the despairing ground level perspective of the New York cabbie whose bleak reflections on the city and humanity in general are understandably formed by what he experiences on his journeys. ‘Thank God for the rain which has helped wash away the garbage and the trash from the sidewalks,’ he writes. ‘All the animals come out at night – whores, scum, pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies…each night when I return the cab to the garage, I have to clean the cum off the backseat; some nights, I clean off the blood.’

When he picks-up an unexpected fare in the shape of Presidential hopeful Charles Palantine, Travis tells the politician the city is ‘like an open sewer, full of filth and scum…whoever becomes the President should really clean it up…just flush it down the fuckin’ toilet.’ At the same time ‘Taxi Driver’ was at the cinema, my own view of NYC was being shaped by the ultimate flipside courtesy of Saturday afternoons watching BBC2 – primarily the 1949 MGM musical ‘On the Town’; yes, that’s the one with Gene Kelly and a young Frank Sinatra playing two of the wholesome sailors on shore leave in New York. When one thinks of the joyously innocent way in which the Big Apple is portrayed in the all-singing, all-dancing classic, it’s hard to envisage a greater contrast with the-then contemporary image of the city on the big screen; but one was a knowing fantasy and the other was rooted in realism.

Another movie from around the same era as ‘On the Town’ that presents New York as an enchanting safe-space is Vincente Minnelli’s lovely little romantic drama, ‘The Clock’, starring his soon-to-be missus Judy Garland at her most adorable. There were echoes of the film’s charming village-like re-imagining of New York in 1961’s ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’, especially the delightful sequence in which the characters played by George Peppard and Audrey Hepburn spend the day together doing things neither has ever done before; as with ‘The Clock’, New York is presented as a exquisite playground in which a splendid time is guaranteed for all. Neither of the movies foreshadows the decay and the despair that runs through ‘Taxi Driver’, though Scorsese’s film gives no positive hint of the economic rebirth of the city that came in the 1990s.

However, even when NYC was in its mid-70s death-throes, the dirt-cheap slum housing in pre-gentrified neighbourhoods provided affordable bases for the city’s influential Punk scene that produced the likes of Blondie, The Ramones, Talking Heads, Television and Patti Smith, whilst the more moneyed hipsters could get decadent at Studio 54, the nightclub that was the epicentre of the Disco scene. But how does this pop culture history lesson relate to New York in 2020? Well, the New Yorker James Altucher has written an essay on – of all places – LinkedIn, one he titled ‘New York City is Dead Forever’; and if anyone should know, a New Yorker should. Looking long and hard at his home through pandemic-tinted spectacles, Altucher finds little evidence of the city’s legendary ability to rise again after five months of lockdown. What he has to say serves as much as a poignant comment on the contemporary city as Travis Bickle’s monologue did for 1976.

The centre of business in NYC, Midtown Manhattan, is like a ghost town; offices have reopened, but most of them are empty; workers are staying at home and doing their jobs online without feeling the need to return to the office. The thrusting phallic towers of New York that are so key to its skyline were built to emphasise the prestige of business and the fact that each building needed to be big to contain its thousands of employees; without them in it, you’re effectively looking at an edifice with as much relevance as a monastery after Henry VIII’s dissolution. Not only are workers staying at home – they’re making their homes elsewhere. New York is currently experiencing an unprecedented exodus; rents and the value of houses are in freefall. If you want to sell your property in New York and relocate to another part of the country, you’ll struggle; the prices of property in places like Miami, Salt Lake, Nashville, Dallas and all the other far-flung destinations to which New Yorkers are fleeing are soaring. So desperate are New Yorkers to get out, they’re buying without even having viewed their new homes in person, merely relying on a Zoom-tour by the estate agent. And they have to be quick to pick these places up ‘site unseen’ before they’re gazumped.

Those that left the city during the coronavirus outbreak fully intended to be back in a month or two; they’re still away. Then a further batch departed during the rioting and looting that followed; unsurprisingly, they see no need to come back either. The pop cultural element of New York is in the same deep-freeze as business – live venues, museums, theatres, galleries, cultural centres, Broadway et al are all yet to reopen their doors; these are the kinds of places that not only employ tens of thousands of individuals whose lives are on ice, but also bring in a vital revenue for the city from tourism. For those who believe the city will recover as it always has in the past, James Altucher has no crumbs of comfort. ‘This time, it is different,’ he writes.

A video that appeared online shortly before the James Altucher piece almost acts as an accompanying illustration. In many respects, it’s 2020’s equivalent of Travis Bickle’s drive through the city’s underbelly – only, we’re not in the Bronx or Harlem; we’re on Fifth Avenue. The camera follows a path along what should be one of New York’s commercial hubs, yet virtually no window is without boards over it; virtually no shops or businesses are open. It really is akin to an apocalyptic scene from an old future-shock movie like ‘The Omega Man’ or ‘Escape from New York’, and it’s worth remembering this is the effect of the aftermath of the lockdown. These places aren’t barricaded to keep out Covid-19, but to keep out rioters and looters. The streets of New York have seemingly been reclaimed by those Travis Bickle would have held responsible for the state the city was in almost fifty years ago. And if the trend of America doing first what the rest of the West then replicates continues, we’re looking at the future. Don’t have nightmares.

© The Editor


I suppose it’s inevitable that a medium in such a state of perilous uncertainty over its future as television will go out of its way to promote and overhype some programmes; these tend to be those it hopes will grab the headlines and fuel 24-hour social media discourse, thus providing another stay of execution. In the meantime, the few remaining gems that sparkle under the clickbait radar are usually the ones worth investing in. A wonderful example of this is ‘There She Goes’, which recently completed a second series on BBC2. The central premise of the programme is not an easy sell, dealing as it does with the challenges faced by parents with a severely mentally-disabled child. Not, one would imagine, the formula for a classic sitcom; however, ‘There She Goes’ hovering between humour and pathos actually isn’t that far removed from a good example of the classic sitcom such as ‘Steptoe and Son’, which often had bleak moments worthy of the finest drama – perhaps reflecting the fact it was the first comedy series to employ actors as leads rather than comedians.

Written by Shaun Pye and largely drawn from his own personal experience as the father of a learning disabled child, ‘There She Goes’ demonstrates how humour can even be derived from what on paper appear to be the least humorous circumstances imaginable. Miley Locke, the little girl who plays Rosie in the series, is not learning disabled but gives an astonishingly convincing performance in a part that no child with such a condition could possibly have reproduced on cue. At times, Rosie is akin to a Tasmanian Devil let loose in suburbia, with no comprehension of social mores or awareness of how to behave in public; she takes the obsession with random objects and the endless repetition of routine that are hallmarks of autism to extreme limits. Whilst all parents are familiar with the way in which babies are no observers of adult sleeping patterns, most understand this will pass; ditto the anarchic hyperactivity embodied in toddlers who have just mastered the art of putting one foot in front of the other – not to mention the difficulties of non-verbal communication that are overcome when speech develops. However, in the case of a child like Rosie, those early-years characteristics remain intact and permanent while she physically grows.

The two parents in ‘There She Goes’ are played by David Tenant and Jessica Hynes. Hynes in particular is outstanding as the mother worn down by the pressures of raising a little girl whose condition would at one time have been categorised as ‘mentally handicapped’. She manages to convey the stresses of the situation with beautifully understated acting, able to sum up what can feel like the wretched hopelessness of her life with a simple weary facial expression. The strain on Tenant’s character is manifested differently; at times, he can come across as selfish and indifferent to his wife’s sufferings, yet the honesty in both the writing and acting accurately portrays the reality of how even the most trying of situations bringing out the best in people can also provoke nihilistic despair. These parents are not saints selflessly dedicating themselves to a noble cause; they have no choice. They’re human beings who sometimes just want to enjoy life like everybody else, yet can’t.

‘There She Goes’ can be both comic and tragic, at times heartbreakingly sad yet simultaneously warm and witty; there’s no way that living with a child like Rosie can be dramatised unless it encompasses the exhaustingly wide range of emotions such unique circumstances can inspire. Perhaps the fact the family in it happen to be living in a leafy middle-class London neighbourhood could suggest to viewers with no personal experience of Rosie’s condition that it never happens to those residing in less salubrious surroundings. Rosie’s parents inhabit a nice big house with a nice big garden and are able to get her into a nice special school environment that is designed to deal with her needs. No, they’re not exactly struggling ala ‘Cathy Come Home’, yet they still have to encounter the constant interference of ill-equipped social workers and the condescending approach of teachers and medical professionals whose understanding of living with Rosie 24/7 is minimal; it’s something that can’t be learnt by acquiring a degree.

If one were to take Jessica Hynes’ character and make her a single mother, placing her and Rosie in a council flat, it’s possible the series would adopt a much darker tone; then add the lockdown scenario, whereby even the paltry few hours’ break Rosie’s mother has from her child when she’s at school is removed and she’s entombed with her all day long. Social media and the MSM have been inundated with the whinges of parents locked-in with mentally sound and able-bodied kids ever since schools closed their doors, yet how much worse it could be. There are endless untold stories of the damage being done by what feel like unnecessary measures imposed upon people who will never overwhelm the NHS or die of Covid-19 even if they catch it. And I couldn’t help but think of both this fact and ‘There She Goes’ when the saddest story of the week was reported.

Olga Freeman, the 40-year-old ex-wife of a ‘celebrity photographer’ (the angle seized upon by the MSM) was this week in the dock at the Old Bailey, charged with the murder of her 10-year-old son Dylan. According to reports, Dylan was disabled and required 24-hour care; his specific disability was not mentioned, though the court was told his mother had been ‘struggling to meet Dylan’s care needs for the last year, as he became older and bigger’; the boy’s behaviour was described as having become ‘especially challenging’; it was said that ‘during lockdown, he was not able to attend school and the burden of care had fallen more heavily on the defendant, together with assistance from her friend.’

Within those two statements are two poignant observations – firstly that a child, possibly similar to the one portrayed on ‘There She Goes’, may be just about controllable when small; however, the fact they will physically mature as normal whilst remaining mentally frozen places even greater demands on the parent. Secondly, the inhumane imposition of the lockdown has increased the burden of living with such a child to the point whereby some might understandably crack, especially if deprived of a wide support network of family and friends. Of course, the lockdown cannot be held wholly responsible. Virginia Woolf’s wartime suicide is often attributed to her inability to cope with air-raids, yet not everybody disturbed by German bombing took their own life just as not every parent locked-down with a disabled child will take its life; but what the Luftwaffe did to Woolf was what the lockdown may well have done to Olga Freeman: it exacerbated something that was already present.

Extreme special needs children are poorly prioritised by both private and public sector at the best of times; in the worst of times, their care should not be regarded as something to be shifted solely onto parents for the duration as though the children can be simply lumped-in with ‘ordinary’ kids. It’s hard enough for such parents during actual school holidays, but at least they have an end in sight then; the decision to shut down society doesn’t seem to have taken them into consideration at all. The sad death of Dylan Freeman will be an extremely difficult case to judge fairly by those with no first-hand experience of the challenges faced by these parents; a mother murdering her own child goes against every instinct we hold dear, yet I sincerely hope reporting can avoid any ‘Myra Hindley’ portrayals of this particular mother, even if the revelation of the full details paint a less than flattering picture of the accused. A series such as ‘There She Goes’ feels fresh because it’s unearthing a side of life TV viewers have previously been denied; but it shines a small light on a truth for many families that can have unbearably tragic consequences for all concerned if they’re effectively abandoned.

© The Editor


In the absence of any volunteers to blow it on my behalf, I again raise my own trumpet and embark upon a tune. It’s a familiar melody, one that I’ve played many times before here; but it’s my party and I’ll blow my own trumpet if I want to. Anyway, the fact that publishing houses have closed their doors along with all other businesses happily doesn’t stifle the creative or publishing process for the independent artist; and knowing one’s endeavours will be available to anyone interested within weeks of the last word hitting the page is a nice benefit of being ignored by the mainstream industry. The removal of alternatives courtesy of Covid-19 has had one personal positive for your humble narrator in that it has channelled 99% of my energies into my art, and it has certainly proven to be the next best thing to compensation. I’ve written and published (via Amazon) three books this year so far – my first collection of short stories; my fifth collection of poetry; and my first book on a facet of pop culture I’ve previously written about on here but never before in book form.

The fact that all three books are completely different – fiction, verse and non-fiction – not only reflects my restlessness and reluctance to repeat myself, but that I was able to have them on sale ASAP also highlights one of the bonuses of not being dependent on the lumbering monolith of the publishing industry. In fact, were I signed up to one of those prestigious houses, I have a feeling I’d currently be promoting something I wrote over a year ago instead of something I finished a month ago. The disadvantage to self-publishing, as ever, is the limited means by which the writer can alert the world to his work; I don’t get reviewed in the press, on the radio or on TV, and I’m not bombarded with requests for interviews or invites to literary festivals; and, of course, I sell very few copies, which means I make very little money. But, hell, at least the work is out there and it’s ‘Instant Karma’, as it were.

I appreciate my prolific work-rate might give the impression I’m something of a hack, but the reason I can write so much in such a short space of time is simple: I haven’t got anything else going on in my life. That has never been truer since March; accustomed as I am to necessary isolation, the sudden absence of the usual periodic (and welcome) breaks from it has meant there haven’t been any distractions; no excuse not to work when there ain’t nothing else is why this year has seen me maintain my work-rate without breaking sweat. Yes, there have been times when I’ve wondered if all this flows out of me because I’ve not got long left and it’s a subconscious way of leaving the only legacy behind me I can; but I guess morbid thoughts have room to breathe when one goes months without speaking to another human being in person. Anyway, I’m pretty sure now the same fate that awaited the likes of Van Gogh and Nick Drake is to be my probable destiny – if I’m lucky. We shall see. And, even if I don’t get to enjoy the material fruits of my labour, at least I haven’t wasted all my life; plenty do.

The latest title to be added to ‘Solitaire’ (the short stories) and ‘Year Zero’ (the poetry) is called ‘No Place for Boys’; it’s a non-partisan celebration of a pop cultural event that took place fifty years ago this year, the 1970 FA Cup Final. Now, this just wasn’t yer average game of football. I place the event in the context of other things that happened to be happening around the same time. For example, the day before the game, news broke that The Beatles had split; pretty big news story. The same day as the game, Apollo 13 launched; again, pretty big news story. And between these two stories, another unfolded at the old Empire Stadium, Wembley. Yes, one could argue the same story had unfolded there every year once a year since 1923; but 1970 was different.

Thanks to the impact of George Best, the national game was undergoing something of a facelift at the beginning of the 1970s. The traditional followers of the sport, whose Saturdays were devoted to forking out five bob to pass through the turnstiles and huddle together on the terraces, had been confronted by a challenge to the short-back-and-sides hegemony as 60s pop culture began to infiltrate the last bastion of old-school masculinity. Increased television coverage and the influence of the Belfast Boy had a particular impact on one football club situated in the epicentre of Swinging London, Chelsea FC; with Stamford Bridge a stone’s throw from the hip boutiques lining the King’s Road, it was no real surprise the team should embody the spirit of their neighbourhood. They played an especially attractive and flamboyant form of football that contrasted sharply with a club that had competed with them in particularly combative fashion over the previous five years, Don Revie’s Leeds United.

When both sides reached the FA Cup Final that year, it felt like the footballing equivalent of the Battle of Waterloo, the deciding clash of two rival powers. Yet to slip into clichéd stereotypes of Hard Northerners Vs Flash Cockneys is to overlook how well-matched Leeds and Chelsea were; the London boys could be as ruthlessly brutal as the Yorkshiremen on the pitch, whereas Leeds could be as creatively attacking as Chelsea. It made for a fascinating encounter, and the Final at Wembley has rightly gone down as a classic, even if it was played on a surface reminiscent of Aintree the day after the Grand National. At the end of 90 minutes, the score was stuck at 2-2, and the sides couldn’t be separated after extra-time. Never before had an FA Cup Final at Wembley had to go to a Replay, but it did in 1970. The end of the season that year had been brought forward to accommodate England’s preparations for the World Cup in Mexico; with a congested schedule of League and European campaigns to conclude the pair had to wait two and-a-half weeks before they met again, this time up at Old Trafford.

The delay built up anticipation on the part of the public for the rematch, and when it eventually came round over 28 million viewers watched on TV. It remains the fifth most-viewed programme in British television history, and the only football match to have attracted a larger audience was the 1966 World Cup Final. The game itself was officiated by a retiring referee who allowed play to run unimpeded by interference on his part; as a result, the viewers were witness to a remarkably uncensored exercise in physical play as five years of intense rivalry culminated in a memorably visceral 120 minutes of football unlike any seen before or since. The title of the book is lifted from the BBC commentary of Kenneth Wolstenholme; confronted by the carnage on the Old Trafford battlefield, he declared it was ‘no place for boys’. In the end, Chelsea eventually beat an exhausted Leeds (playing their 62nd game of the season) 2-1.

The way in which the two-legged battle between Leeds and Chelsea captured the attention of the nation transcended the normal level of attention the game attracted and helped cement the sport’s union with the zeitgeist for the first half of the 70s – until the scourge of hooliganism forced the wider public to fall out of love with it for a good decade or more. Of course, 1970 is a million miles from 2020 in many ways, not least football. What my book hopefully does is show how the Leeds and Chelsea players of 1970, for all their differences, had far more in common with each other (and their respective supporters) than they do with the tattooed millionaires playing to the prawn sandwich brigade of today. I’ve tried to tell the story of 1970 in a way that might even appeal to those who wouldn’t regard themselves as football followers but who maybe find that era in British pop culture intriguing and interesting. I believe I’ve succeeding in doing so, but as I am the one blowing the trumpet, I would, wouldn’t I? If I’ve piqued your curiosity, check out the trailer…

No Place for Boys Trailer from Johnny Monroe on Vimeo.

© The Editor


‘Follow the Country Code’ was one of numerous mottos stuck on the end of the Central Office of Information Public Information Films that put the fear of God into schoolchildren during the days when I myself could be counted amongst their ranks. It’s a subject I’ve raised before, but it’s always worth mentioning that the TV shorts this underfunded and overlooked Government department that Dave’s administration dispensed with during their initial Coalition axe-wielding served as a highly effective propaganda tool that got the message across far more efficiently than any other comparable campaigns. Whether consciously scaring the shit out of the population – see the mid-70s rabies series and the notorious Hammer-esque, Grim Reaper-by-the-river nightmare narrated by Donald Pleasence – or choosing to opt for comedic interludes featuring thick animated working-class couple Jo & Petunia (no relation), the PIFs of the past registered with the public and undoubtedly taught more than one generation to look both ways when crossing the road and to refrain from throwing bangers around on 5 November.

One only has to endure a shopping expedition at the moment to feel as though we are all currently living through a big-budget remake of a 70s PIF, so perhaps the need to reinforce the message via television reboots is unnecessary; there were a few half-hearted attempts early on in the pandemic, though these were unworthy of being lined-up alongside the classics of forty-fifty years ago. Anyway, to return to the opening sentence of this post, the PIFs that dealt with countryside matters were less reliant on shock tactics than tapping into the romantic allure of olde Albion. Other than the ones advising day-trippers to make sure they always closed gates behind them and didn’t offload their litter in farmer’s fields, the main rural-based PIFs were distinctively eerie travelogues profiling Great British beauty-spots that were generally deserted locations when the COI film crew turned up. Most included crumbling ruins of historic conflicts, the battles at which were painstakingly simulated by the cameraman shaking his equipment as the echoes of medieval swords clashing emphasised these tranquil surroundings once played host to unimaginable carnage.

I guess this particularly specific strain of PIFs was aimed at an audience poised to be tempted by the newfangled affordability of foreign travel and attempted to remind them of the attractions on their own doorstep. Holidaying at home has long been regarded as the poor relation of ‘going abroad’, yet many overseas excursions often become little more than glorified equivalents of the old ‘Wakes Week’ vacation, when blue-collar workers would descend en masse upon traditional British seaside resorts; it didn’t take long before the likes of Benidorm became Blackpool without the rainfall, so I suppose the PIFs that acted as promos for the various regional tourist boards were intended to offer an alternative. I can’t say that the appeal of either Blackpool or Benidorm has ever registered with yours truly, though if home-grown holidays have been the preserve of both the historical connoisseur and those on a limited budget during normal circumstances, the situation imposed upon us in 2020 has rendered Blighty the destination for the majority of natives – and the outcome of this unexpected ‘staycation’ has exposed how much Blighty has benefitted from exporting its least desirable elements to mainland Europe during the summer months.

Although a few took advantage of brief lockdown relaxations and holidayed abroad earlier in the summer, the sudden quarantine regulations relating to an increasing roll-call of nations have probably put paid to that for the time being; therefore, it would appear the British Isles will be the only option in the immediate future. Perhaps demonstrating how unaccustomed many are to holidaying at home, the manner in which some have treated their own backyard has mirrored the sole scenario they associate with the great outdoors – the festival circuit. Barbeques, rubbish, DIY bogs and the leaving behind of tents and garden furniture have so far characterised the mark made by ‘fly-campers’ on the rural landscape. Seemingly incapable of differentiating between the Lake District and Ibiza or the Peak District and Glastonbury, this generation of ill-educated holidaymakers deprived of the ‘Country Code’ manual via PIFs have created headaches for wildlife conservationists and nature rangers alike as they invade locations they have no notion of how to behave in. One Devon warden commented, ‘Anything you would expect people to understand, such as littering or people using the countryside as a lavatory, they ignore.’

Lest we forget, this is supposedly the über environmentally-aware generation, forever lecturing the rest of us on the danger of plastics clogging-up the oceans and the environmental Armageddon mankind is inflicting upon the planet; yet, paying lip-service to the cause of the day only stretches so far, it would seem. Decorating the countryside with nitrous oxide canisters or shitting in the open air because of coronavirus fears re public conveniences somehow don’t register as proper pollution. The potentials of fire, especially when the climate is conducive to spontaneous combustion, are something these eco-friendly charlatans don’t equate with their own approach to the rural life; tree-hugging only appears to be applicable when dispensing a lecture to everyone else. Mind you, anybody who has ever lived in a neighbourhood populated by visiting students with a twelve-month visa will be familiar with the wide chasm between saying and doing when it comes to consideration for the environment.

140 acres of Surrey heath-land was decimated by fire a couple of weeks ago, and emergency powers have been handed to the Dartmoor National Park Authority to prevent fly-camping, following one evening when over 50 fire pits were dug. With the final Bank Holiday of the year imminent, it’s understandable that those entrusted with care of the countryside are mindful that the last such weekend saw moorland fires causing chaos in the New Forest, Peak District and Yorkshire Dales. It can be bad enough having to inhale the noxious fumes of scorched slabs of animal hide emanating from a back garden, but at least the only prospect of an inferno resulting from that kind of repulsive banquet in urban surroundings is at the home of the chef; transplanting it to the country threatens something on a far greater scale.

There certainly seems to be a disconnect between ticking all the right eco-boxes and actually knowing how to act once in a rural location; a gap in education could probably explain the failure to join the dots, and I suspect there’s a little more to it than merely the abolition of the Central Office of Information. I don’t doubt that environmental concerns for some are authentic passions and motivated by genuine worries over what will remain for future generations; but so much of what we see today in terms of alleged love for the natural environment is a fashionable pose engineered to paint a flattering portrait on social media – the same superficial cyber virtue-signalling that can apply as much to what ‘issues’ the account holder supports as it can to a couple eager to fabricate a fairytale relationship that has little in common with reality. When it comes to demonstrating how much some care about ‘the environment’ once in it, too many are showing they couldn’t care less if it won’t adhere to their urban routines.

© The Editor


I suspect as soon as Kamala Harris was unveiled as Sleepy Joe’s running mate she was referred to as ‘African-American’; if one was to take that ubiquitous phrase literally – i.e. indicating a US citizen descended from slaves – it doesn’t apply to the prospective Vice President. Her scientist mother was from India and her economics professor father was from Jamaica. But, as we all know by now, Identity is everything on what passes for the Left these days, and I guess the Californian Senator can identify as whatever she wants as long as it fits the required model. Because Harris is an American ‘woman of colour’, she’s therefore automatically ‘African-American’. And, of course, being female means she ticks two boxes. The foregone conclusion that Biden’s choice would be a woman of colour meant her selection was no great surprise; the worrying mental decline of the patsy shoved forward as the Democratic nominee implies his potential tenancy of the White House may well be brief, thus opening the back door for Kamala Harris to become the first female US President.

There was no evident display of kinship between Biden and Harris during the battle for nomination; then again, there wasn’t between Obama and Hillary in 2008 and that didn’t prevent Obama handing Clinton a prestigious post once elected. Despite giving the impression he struggles to remember his own name most days, the old hair-sniffer has done his duty in choosing a woman of colour as his running mate; he declared that mate would be female as long ago as March, and post-Floyd America decreed that mate would also need the correct skin tone to pass muster. The Democrats are so Woke-infested that an elderly white man with a string of inappropriate allegations hanging around him only had one way of appeasing the critics within his own party, and he’s done his best.

Ironically, Kamala Harris is not that beloved by the regressive Left; her tough approach to crime when Attorney General for California certainly didn’t win her any Woke points, but she has made token concessions to the Cause in order to get where she is now – and, of course, her personal politics were ultimately not that great an impediment on account of other factors weighing heavier in her favour. Whereas the Democrat-sponsored lobby groups demanded the hanging, drawing and quartering of Brett Kavanaugh, they have chosen to opt for ‘innocent till proven guilty’ where Biden is concerned; and it would appear they’re prepared to overlook any policies that would ordinarily be regarded as ‘problematic’ in the case of Harris due to the two winning cards she has in her hand. Having to rely on her sex and colour as sufficient evidence she’s the right person for the job is a potent comment on the ideology that got her the gig.

Even so, it’s a tricky path to traverse, aiming to please the fanatical Woke wing of the party as well as appealing to the wider, less fanatical electorate. The fact that Biden and Harris are the most palatable Democrats to that electorate highlights just how unelectable the other options were, even if those Democrats obsessed with first-world minority causes fail to appreciate this. It’s a situation not dissimilar to the Labour Party over here. A charisma-free android was elected leader simply because the other contenders were oblivious as to how symptomatic they were of everything that has alienated Labour from floating voters and traditional diehards. Before 2020 panned out the unexpected way it has, the predictable failure of the impeachment farce and an ailing ex-Vice President being presented as the best of an exceedingly bad bunch to take on Trump looked like a second term for the Donald was a no-brainer. Now, who knows?

Biden is currently ahead in the polls, and though we’ve all learnt not to trust them, his lead has undoubtedly been aided by a factor unique to this oh-so strange year. The usual rallies associated with the campaign trail have been conspicuous by their absence so, much like the low profile afforded our own beloved leader during last December’s General Election, Sleepy Joe has had fewer opportunities to put his foot in it and jeopardise his chances. For Biden’s opponent, however, the restrictions imposed on public gatherings have been disastrous. As with Jeremy Corbyn, Trump is in his element when preaching to the enthusiastic converted; denied the grandstand events that characterised his run for office in 2016, Trump has struggled to make much of an impression so far; his suggestion that the potential corruptibility of postal voting could lead to the postponement of the Election just looked like a desperate move by a man who was contemplating losing.

The structure of America’s political map, whereby individual States operate almost like self-governing principalities of the Holy Roman Empire theoretically loyal – albeit not necessarily answerable – to the seat of power, means Washington often has very little say over policy; never has this been more evident than during the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, those cities where anarchist collectives have seized control of neighbourhoods and reduced them to lawless ghettoes undeniably make the President look incredibly weak. If great swathes of the nation appear to be up shit creek, it’s more likely the man in the White House will carry the can rather than the State Governors whose actions (or inaction) are more responsible. And whereas Trump’s regularly bizarre statements and Tweets could be tolerated as an amusing irrelevance when the US economy was on the up, they don’t seem quite so funny when so many face losing their jobs and their homes. People don’t really want to hear Trump going on about changing the definition of a showerhead to allow increased water flow and thus improving his own personal hair routine.

The one real hope Mr President has of regaining control of the race will come with the first TV debates against Biden. Last time round, these produced some of the most gruesomely compelling and brutally uncomfortable television ever aired – the kind that made you feel like having a shower after watching, with or without a personal hair routine. In 2020, the prospect of a cornered Trump at his nastiest being let loose on doddery old Joe will probably make the viewer feel like a shameful spectator at a public execution. If the Donald plays it right, it could kill Biden’s chances overnight and expose his mental frailties in the cruellest fashion imaginable. And Trump wouldn’t care if he came across as a bully because it upholds his image as a ‘strong’ leader. Yet it’s an indication of how advanced Trump Derangement Syndrome is in Democrat ranks that they’re prepared to put Biden through it.

I suppose the strategy could be to hope Trump’s unpopularity and perceived failure to deal with Covid-19 will help turn a blind eye to Sleepy Joe’s shortcomings and push the former Vice President over the finishing line; by selling such a familiar brand to the US electorate, the Democrats know they can then swiftly install the first female President without the need for another Election to put her in the White House. Kamala Harris probably wouldn’t win if she were standing alone against Trump; but if Biden proves incapable after a few months in the job – which many think will be the case – he can quickly handover to his Vice President with the minimum of effort. It’s not exactly a dignified swansong to a long political career like Biden’s, but the Democrats have tried everything else.

© The Editor


Originally an essay and then expanded into a 1992 book, ‘The End of History’ by US political scientist Francis Fukuyama was an instant philosophical response to the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, the climax of the Cold War, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Retrospectively perceived by some as having its judgement clouded by the same wave of euphoric optimism as the rest of the West at the beginning of the 1990s, perhaps we can forgive the apparent naivety in declaring the final triumph of liberal democracy after an ideological battle that had spanned half-a-century; it’s easy to forget how such moments feel – and how they lead us to get carried away by possibilities – because it seems so long since the world experienced one. Yes, we know now that the party was pooped by successive gate-crashers like sectarian civil war, ethnic cleansing, Radical Islam, the resurgence of Russia and China, and Identity Politics; but the early 1990s was probably one of the last times people looked to the future and saw something other than dread. It’s understandable if nostalgia for that feeling occasionally surfaces, especially at a time when endless Doomsday narratives have made the future as unappealing as the present.

The future as a construct of the imagination always swings between Utopia and Dystopia; but it can depend on whose imagination is picturing it as well as the present in which that future is being imagined. It was telling that when Europe joined hands and strode into the brave new world of universal capitalism in the early 90s, the futures that had been envisaged for decades on either side of the Berlin Wall vanished. Suddenly, there was no need to dream them; now we were all singing from the same hymn sheet we could finally consign the bad futures to history and make the good futures a reality. Only, we didn’t quite manage it. And as it gradually became evident we weren’t managing it, those old abandoned futures unexpectedly re-emerged as solace for some. A collective sense of loss has a long and winding tradition in British cultural life, though it usually hankers after an irretrievable Golden Age just beyond living memory; this time round, the Paradise Lost was not an imagined past, but an imagined future.

As the brief promise of the post-Cold War world swiftly began to disintegrate, the real beginnings of ‘retro’ as a commercial and a creative force developed as a response; this was represented not only via a continuous revival and recycling of past trends, fads and fashions whilst contemporary progress appeared to grind to a halt, but as a conscious reclaiming of the future we never got. In the more esoteric corners of pop culture, retro adopted the fanciful genre term of ‘Hauntology’ and could be manifested as a newfound fascination with, say, the 1960s output of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. This ‘retro-futurism’ celebrated the electronic soundscapes we were supposed to be chilling out to in our Moon-bases or colonies on Mars, the very places that Radiophonic composers such as Delia Derbyshire no doubt pictured when creating sounds intended to accompany the futures we were robbed of. Analogue recordings on vinyl or cassette and vintage synthesizers have all been resurrected as symbols of a past that looked forward, regardless – or possibly because of – their sonic imperfections; but it would be wrong to dismiss this as kitsch. This isn’t ‘Mama Mia’; there’s more to it than that.

The revived popularity through repeat screenings of Gerry Anderson’s 60s puppet shows in the 90s was itself a commentary on this yearning for a future we had been led to believe was ours; strings aside, these were always set in near-futures, mirroring cinematic ‘live action’ contemporaries such as ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ or ‘A Clockwork Orange’; even the first few films in the original ‘Planet of the Apes’ franchise clearly had the astronauts catapulted into the planet’s dim distance from an almost-recognisable present day, give or take a decade. When Gerry Anderson finally ditched Supermarionation and hired flesh-and-blood actors with the 1970 series, ‘UFO’, he set it no further than ten years ahead. The memorable opening titles of the show routinely flashed up the year ‘1980’ on the screen. Of course, it didn’t take long to get to 1980, and by then the programme’s late 60s Pierre Cardin concept of ‘the future’, with its shiny silver fabrics and purple wigs, already seemed quaintly antiquated. Within a decade, the naive vision of space exploration for all had been curtailed by earthbound economic realities and a decline of interest on the part of the public.

As a five-year-old watching James Burke host the last Moon Landings on TV and straining my eyes to see the Moon Buggy driving along the lunar surface from my bedroom window at night, I was utterly convinced this would be as common an experience as taking the train by the time I came of age. All the landmark dates on the sci-fi calendar – 1984, 1999, 2001 – always appeared just out of reach throughout my childhood, yet when we did reach them, they bore little resemblance to what the creators of 60s and early 70s sci-fi and futuristic fantasy had prophesised. 2001 isn’t now remembered for a manned voyage to Jupiter, but a manned voyage into the World Trade Centre.

Whenever I Skype someone, I think we have at least achieved one thing that past visions of the future promised we would have – an effective ‘video phone-call’; but how much failed en route? I watched a mid-70s TV ad for Concorde the other day, and even now it still looks like the most space-age form of travel on Earth imaginable; yet, as we all know, the supersonic aircraft age ended in 2003. The hovercraft as a commercial passenger vehicle could cross the water from England to France in half-an-hour before the advent of the Channel Tunnel – and it looked sufficiently futuristic; but this was another casualty of competition and circumstance during the first few years of the 21st century, before we even got the personalised hovercraft ‘Tomorrow’s World’ once implied we’d all have to get us from A to B quicker than a car or a bike. Meanwhile, the jet-pack has never really progressed beyond movies or staged stunts, electric vehicles remain an expensive luxury for the ecologically-minded, and driverless cars are still an option denied the general road-user.

An entire meal in a pill is technically here if one thinks of the vitamin-packed liquid supplements provided to those with life-threatening illnesses incapable of digesting food, and mass communication is one area that has surpassed the technological achievements envisaged half-a-century ago. We have little bits of the old future on tap, yet it still doesn’t feel like we’re there. The laudable racial harmony achieved by the crew of the USS Enterprise was something we were pretty close to when Obama was elected President in 2008, yet the cancer of Identity Politics intervened and is now carrying us back to the safe space of separate drinking fountains. A week in which a mediocre race-baiting Labour MP can milk an incident so that it slots into an oh-so predictable narrative and a Presidential running-mate gets the gig solely on the basis of her sex and colour doesn’t say to me that we’re poised to boldly go where no man person has gone before.

Yes, one could say our 2020 should comprise listening to the Radiophonic Workshop on Quadraphonic eight-track cartridges as we consume a meal condensed into a Tic-tac from the comfort of our homes on the Moon; but it doesn’t. We’re more concerned about gender pronouns and whether we can refer to ‘individuals with cervixes’ as women without being cancelled by polite society. Academic Sean Albeiz described Hauntology as ‘sonic fictions or intentional forgeries, creating half-baked memories of things that never were – approximating the imprecise nature of memory itself’; when the new future seems deprived of the one thing the old future offered us – hope – it’s no wonder the allure of the old future wins out.

© The Editor


‘People hate anything well-made, you know; it gives them a guilty conscience.’ So said John Betjeman when surveying the irreparable damage to a railway carriage after it had been (in his own words) ‘smashed by Teds’; this example of vandalism captured on camera in the early 1960s anticipates the familiar wreckage visited upon carriages a decade or so later. That was when British Rail would segregate football fans travelling to an away game from ordinary passengers. The so-called ‘Football Specials’ became notorious mobile war-zones; presumably hoping the supporters would exhaust their appetite for destruction on the train and spare shopkeepers and homeowners around football grounds, the trains laid on for fans were deliberately dirty old stock – after all, if they were going to be smashed up, there didn’t seem much point providing travellers with the latest luxurious carriages. So they weren’t.

As someone far too young to be exposed to such anarchy around this time, I was more likely to be instinctively attracted to other pleasures when out and about; if in the vicinity of a public park, for example, there could only be one destination. However, a Sunday was not a good day for innocent desires to be satisfied. Many much older than me will probably have memories of the swings, slides and roundabouts being padlocked on the Lord’s Day; presumably an austere, God-fearing Victorian hangover born of concerns that poor people might harbour hedonistic designs on the Sabbath, locking-up such an innocuous source of escapism as a children’s playground seems incredibly mean-spirited in retrospect. Also, as all parks had park-keepers back then, they no doubt figured they were entitled to their day-off; preventing kids from enjoying the facilities was probably one way in which they could express their Jobsworth tendencies without having to be there in finger-wagging person. However, I suspect minimising vandalism was a prominent factor behind the practice by the time I was of the age to be enticed by the swings.

Public information films of the era warned parents to keep tabs on their offspring in order to prevent them lapsing into antisocial activities. One particular classic portrays the aftermath of an evening’s vandalism inflicted upon a typical new-built suburban housing estate as a group of irate adults engage in a clean-up operation. Despite having the distinct whiff of a wife-swapping clique, the couples in question mount the moral high-horse and declare their own children would never have been involved. Actually, the mess is a bit OTT, looking more like the chaos left behind by a tornado rather than a few unsupervised kids. God knows how they were able to do such damage without being chased off by one of the adults – though perhaps the adults were ‘busy’ indoors. Anyway, ‘Where’s Your Lad?’ was the tagline of this specific PIF series, and apparently all vandals were exclusively male.

If vandalism of the juvenile kind is the most extreme discharge of raging testosterone deprived of other outlets, it isn’t – and never has been – restricted to manmade objects. I once saw an archive clip of Spike Milligan mourning the desecration of ancient Aboriginal cave-paintings in Australia, and only the other week I caught a headline about a venerable old oak tree being vandalised somewhere in England. Vandalism of the landscape doesn’t seem to distinguish between the products of nature and man; the target appears to be anything intended to improve or make that landscape easier on the eye. We’re all familiar with urban saplings being uprooted days after being planted by the council, almost as if the ugliness the saplings would eventually diminish the power of has too great a grip on the perception of the vandal. Trees? Flowers? Something to bring colour and natural beauty to the grim, grey concrete surroundings? No, that doesn’t compute. Keep it grim. That’s what we know as home.

As with most Wilde quotes – even ones I know I’ve quoted before – paraphrasing takes over; when asked why America was such a violent society, Oscar replied it was down to American wallpaper being so terrible – or words to that effect. His point was made with characteristically witty frivolity, but there was truth behind it. The theory is that an aesthetic environment that doesn’t make you want to throw yourself out of the window when you pull back the curtains and look at it will curb the craving to indulge in criminal damage. The problem is that when some have never known anything but an aesthetic environment of unremitting ugliness, any sign of beauty that destabilises the equilibrium has to be destroyed as a subconscious means of restoring the natural order of things as they know it.

Even the cult of graffiti-as-art that exists today doesn’t validate the vast majority of graffiti, most of which has no such pretensions, is unequivocally awful, and makes an already grubby neighbourhood look even worse. But that’s probably the aim – a subliminal expression of helplessness when faced with such dire surroundings that a tree or floral display only further highlights the direness of. It’s like when a shiny new stand is erected at a football stadium; all it does is make the rest of the ground look crap. To return to Betjeman’s observation that opened proceedings, there’s also an undoubted feeling of inadequacy that can overcome some when confronted by a beautiful object, whether authored by Mother Nature or man. The gut reaction to the sobering realisation of the beholder that he can never emulate or replicate such beauty is to erase it from the landscape out of spite, reducing the artist to his own lowly level; in turn, this momentarily cures the vandal’s inferiority complex.

Okay, it’s a theory; but as an explanation for a base act of physical destruction that often appears so aimless and inexplicable, it’s one that could even be applied in a far wider context. Just as some refuse to countenance the fact that the greatest theatrical canon in the English language could have come from the pen of one exceptional individual, the levelling of the creative and the mediocre (one that he who vandalises beauty achieves) is regarded in some circles as an egalitarian and democratic move, meaning we are all on the same level of mediocrity and there are no exceptional individuals. The absence of charismatic figureheads in the leaderless movements of the past decade – Occupy, Extinction Rebellion, BLM – could be viewed as another symptom of this collectivist approach; it obviously underscores recent manifestations of Marxism and the attendant craving to destroy symbols of culture and civilisation that were created by the creative to celebrate beauty and achievement.

Had the Guardian existed during the English Civil War, it’s not hard to speculate which side it would be supporting; even now, it reads like a rag written both by and for the most pious of puritans; and its mindset is echoed in the diversity and inclusivity agendas of institutions and corporations that relegate merit and ability to secondary factors. If the world’s next creative genius isn’t a non-binary trans-person of colour with the right opinions, chances are we’ll never hear of them or enjoy their work. And, as fulfilling narrowly-defined quotas generally precludes the independent spirit of the creative genius, we probably won’t produce one anyway – just an endless succession of average artists making average work that will never be in danger of making anyone feel inadequate because none of it will come close to genius. Vandalism can take many forms.

© The Editor


There are times when that most basic human necessity – to have a roof over one’s head – becomes a crisis that demands action. The years following the devastation of housing stock during WWII air raids was one such time, even if many of the dwellings destroyed by the Luftwaffe were poor, insanitary slum residences that had already been condemned. Those homes of similar quality to survive the Blitz staggered on through the 1950s and into the 60s, however unfit for human habitation they might have been; unsurprisingly, most were situated in high-density urban areas and were home to people on low (or no) incomes – the kind of dilapidated hovels often captured on campaigning documentaries of the era, the kind infested by bugs, vermin and rising damp, boasting inadequate facilities, outdoor privies and tin baths in front of the fire.

Whilst the big money went on designing New Towns, the rest of the urgent housing needs were solved by ‘Large Panel System Building’, the revolutionary production line process whereby the components for (primarily) tower blocks were cast off-site and then assembled on-site like Meccano. It was a fast and – more importantly – cheap method of re-housing that those re-housed from Victorian slums understandably regarded as luxurious, suddenly finding themselves in shiny new flats with all mod cons. This was the last gasp of the great – and, on paper, laudable – social housing project spanning the first quarter-century after the War, and it took a disaster to curtail it.

In May 1968, Ronan Point, a 22-storey tower block in Newham, East London hit the headlines when a gas explosion provoked the collapse of one side of the building. Because the block had been open for just a couple of months, only a tiny handful of its apartments were occupied and the death toll was restricted to four people. But the shocking image of the damage done I would imagine sent a collective shiver down the spine of those living in identical flats comparable to the impact the Grenfell inferno had on those whose streets in the sky had also been redecorated in flammable cladding. Ironically, the planning regulations that eventually came into force as a result of Ronan Point have been stated by some as saving Grenfell Tower (opened in 1974) from collapse when it was ablaze. While Ronan Point may have effectively ended the era of the tower block as a solution to a housing crisis, many of those erected prior to 1968 – and those built immediately afterwards, which had been given the go-ahead beforehand – were also riddled with defects reflecting the speediness of their construction and the poor quality materials used.

As a child, I had an auntie who lived on a huge housing estate comprising interconnected low-level blocks of around half-a-dozen storeys; virtually isolated on an island surrounded by busy roads, the estate was nicknamed ‘Alcatraz’ and was a sprawling, aesthetically ugly concrete jungle of a home. It had only been built around the same time as Ronan Point, yet even in the early 70s I remember it seemed to be falling apart, plagued with all the problems that came with the LPS process. My auntie’s flat had the permanent unmistakable odour of damp flowing through it that was as pungent as the stench of piss in the lifts that carried visitors up to her floor. The whole rotten estate was demolished in the early 80s, after standing for no more than a decade. But the failure of such schemes, driven by ambition and destroyed by corner (and cost) cutting, seems to have led us to where we are now. Similar estates that survived were refashioned as a dumping ground for ‘problem families’ and antisocial tenants that nobody wanted living next-door. Social housing became a dirty word.

The news that the Government is to shake-up planning rules and regulations in order to fast-track the desperately-needed delivery of new houses has received a mixed response. Boris Johnson has attempted to alleviate the worries of those who cannot afford to own their own homes at a time when a post-lockdown ‘mini-boom’ has pushed house prices back up to their usual astronomical levels; he stated social housing would constitute a large part of his reforms. The lockdown has exposed not only the fears of homelessness amongst many renters whose landlords have not exactly been sympathetic to their furloughed tenants, but has also highlighted the cramped conditions families have had to endure in order to ‘stay alert’. The fact that the old ‘No Irish, no dogs, no blacks’ requirement is now rightly consigned to history doesn’t alter the fact that many contemporary renters on Housing Benefit already have enough to worry about, still confronted as they are by the ‘No DSS’ bar, which is just as antiquated a form of discrimination, especially considering the DSS hasn’t existed since 2001.

Of course, not all planning regulations were created to thwart and frustrate noble property developers; we’ve all seen the way some homeowners and landlords attempt to skirt around current rules, squeezing extensions into every available space, erecting endless dormers and converting garages into dwellings. Many are concerned any relaxation will be exploited by less benign builders and will push even more into miserable surroundings. A friend of mine rented a recently-built house on a shiny new estate around 20 years back and I remember being struck by the low ceilings and claustrophobic rooms; the small scale of the interior was as though it had been designed to house a family of Munchkins. That experience confirmed to me that the dimensions of new homes were undoubtedly smaller in the same way photographic evidence makes it clear how Mars Bars have shrunk over the years.

The Royal Institute of British Architects has expressed concerns that the reforms could lead to shoddy slum properties, whilst housing charity Shelter is worried social housing will be a casualty of what Labour has called a ‘property developer’s charter’; the proposed changes imply decisions over where to build will be taken out of local council hands and give more power to central government; and it goes without saying that central government will be less sensitive to local issues, risking provoking ‘Nimby’ protests, particularly when it comes to greenbelt land. However, the Local Government Association claims the housing crisis in this country is not due to the planning system but to the fact that nine out of ten approved planning applications given the green light end up not being built. What all this makes clear is that something needs to be done, but can we trust this Government to do it right?

The concerted effort to clear the streets of (and house) homeless rough-sleepers during the lockdown shouldn’t have taken a pandemic to instigate, but it equally shouldn’t take the eventual submission of Covid-19 before it becomes enshrined as official policy that no one should have to sleep in a shop doorway. At the same time, the place we know as home should also be a step up from a kennel. If the new planning regulations lead to a long-overdue building programme reminiscent of the ones that spanned the 50s to the 70s, great; but it is to be hoped the same mistakes made then can be avoided. Having somewhere to live needs to be recognised as a universal human right, but the quality of that living space matters too; the ministerial trumpeting that often accompanies ‘the creation of thousands of new jobs’ can come across as meaningless box-ticking if the nature of the work is deemed secondary to the simple fact the job has been created. We don’t need a housing version of Government coronavirus policy, whereby people are being kept alive whilst simultaneously being denied living.

© The Editor