It’s probably a sign of undeniably strange times that the murder of a British police officer can provoke less public outrage on home soil than the murder of a career criminal on the other side of the Atlantic. Then again, there may be wider reasons why the reaction to the fatal shooting of Sgt Matiu Ratana in Croydon has been fairly muted. After all, the police force seems to go out of its way to alienate itself from the people it allegedly polices with consent, preferring instead to pander to political causes and ideological fads that matter to the few rather than the many. Moreover, the performance of some forces and individual officers during the lockdown – from dispatching drones to shame isolated dog-walkers in the Peak District to informing householders they were breaking the law by sitting in their gardens – did them no favours; and the blatant contrast between their approach to those promoting issues they approve of and those they don’t further detaches them from the public.

When an anti-lockdown protest marched through the centre of London on Saturday, the boys in blue arrived in full riot gear and let rip, reminiscent of the way in which the Gilets jaunes crowds were dealt with in Paris. The protest was breaking the latest hasty regulations regarding gatherings and social distancing – fair enough; but the BLM ones that took place at the height of the actual nationwide lockdown in the summer were flaunting the rules when everybody was supposed to stay indoors. The police responded to those by taking the knee; yesterday, they opted for batons. The difference was striking. ‘This is not acceptable,’ shrieked Sadiq Khan on Twitter. ‘Large gatherings are banned for a reason – you are putting the safety of our city at risk.’ So were BLM, Mr Mayor; but I guess God (or the Met) must be on their side. Oh, well – just write Saturday’s event off as a ‘far-right’ demo and all will be justified.

At the moment, the police are challenging politicians as the public servants most mistrusted by the public, and if the former can no longer be depended upon, then it really is every man for himself. Mind you, put the entire country under house arrest and it’s only fair to expect a few manifestations of madness after a few months. Pubs were already an endangered species before anyone had even heard of Covid-19; forcing them to call time at 10.00pm – clearly the coronavirus only springs into life at that hour – is the latest kiss of death that could well herald the towels staying on the pumps permanently. Pubs are at the forefront of a hospitality industry dying on its arse, yet any opposition to whichever Cromwellian brainwave this useless administration comes up with next – cancel Christmas, anyone? – naturally means the blood of the NHS is on the hands of every traitor to question the wisdom of those without wisdom. Boris blames the public, of course; far be it from the Government to take any responsibility for their catastrophic strategy.

And don’t forget young people – the least vulnerable appear to be more responsible for the mess we’re in than anyone else, going by the way they’re currently incarcerated. In Scotland and some English cities, university campuses have become virtual prisons, with students paying extortionate fees for the privilege of being locked-up 24/7; Wales, meanwhile, has effectively sealed itself off from the rest of the UK. Never mind, though – we’ve got Covid Marshals to keep us safe. Yes, Captain Mainwaring strikes again! As the call goes out for the nation’s officious little Hitler’s to don a silly uniform and goosestep outside your local Asda for the foreseeable, all those sad men with chips on their shoulders because they couldn’t even pass the audition to become Community Support Officers have now found reading ‘Bravo Two Zero’ over and over again has finally paid off. England expects every nonentity to do his duty, so who needs the police, anyway?

And amidst this insanity that one can often only view through a glass darkly, there are human stories of tragic sadness that inflict unnecessary cruelty on those affected. I read one last week, one of many I receive that is already a fully-formed petition requesting my signature. It concerned the mother of a sick child born at the beginning of the lockdown. When the baby was admitted to hospital, coronavirus visiting rules meant only the child’s mother could sit with him, excluding his father from the picture. The mother had no relief from her bedside vigil because no one was allowed to take her place, meaning she was denied a break from the unimaginable strain of being there on her own with a critically ill child who spent part of that time on a ventilator in intensive care. Whilst there, she met other mothers going through the same nightmare – one of whom had spent eight weeks sat beside a ventilator alone, with no partner allowed in to share the dreadful burden.

According to this heartfelt account, the parents present were tested on a weekly basis, meaning the same could be applied to any other visiting family member whose in-person emotional support would undoubtedly be an invaluable alleviator of stress for the lone parent. As she points out, some of those mothers spending the majority of their time in hospital are managing to go home too, where they will obviously be around other people. The risk, therefore, is fairly minimal. Whereas the rules are ridiculously flexible to suit some – and who doesn’t round-up their chums for a good old stag-hunt or grouse-shoot every once in a while? – what most of us would regard as a humane necessity is not being considered. If this business is scheduled to be as long-term as it would appear, surely priorities are in desperate need of re-evaluating. The mother in question’s petition is aimed at Matt Hancock in the hope he and all NHS trusts can change this policy so two people can sit with a sick child at neonatal units and children’s hospitals. Doesn’t sound like such an unreasonable request, does it?

We’ve already heard stories about people with curable illnesses putting themselves in danger because they’re too scared to enter a hospital as well as the postponement of life-saving operations to accommodate the nonexistent Covid avalanche; but this is another consequence of the panic that needs to be addressed – one more symptom of this slapdash make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach that is causing so much avoidable grief. As with some of the more bizarre rules regulating social gatherings, it sometimes feels as if the old British sense of fair play is conspicuously absent, whether how parents confronted by a worst case scenario are being deprived of sensibly decent treatment at one end or how the police and authorities respond to public demonstrations depending on their political stance at the other. Perhaps one should always wear a BLM T-shirt and a rainbow badge for good measure. They seem to have become today’s equivalent of the old ‘Not the Nine O’Clock News’ sketch in which an American Express card was seen to open all doors. At a time when so many doors appear to have closed, it would be nice to think they won’t stay that way forever – for everyone.

© The Editor


Few musical genres have the ability to paint such pretty pictures in the head of the listener as Bossa Nova. There are very strong visual associations with the sound that may be irredeemably clichéd, but nevertheless retain a naive, innocent charm that immediately evokes a dreamy, summery Neverland free from the concerns and crises that lumber the real world with such depressing pessimism. It often feels that if sunshine had a sound, it would be Bossa Nova. Indeed, Bossa Nova exudes an incurable optimism that permeates even its more melancholy moments; a ‘sad’ song in that style never gives the listener the impression that the singer is condemned to be consumed by sadness for eternity; one always feel they’ll have shrugged their shoulders and picked themselves up in the brief silence before the next song kicks off in a far more joyous, upbeat fashion. There aren’t many musical genres of which that can be said.

As with all ‘new’ sounds, Bossa Nova emerged as an organic amalgam of pre-existing genres and was a novel blend that produced something genuinely fresh. Appearing in Brazil towards the end of the 1950s, the name of the style roughly translates as ‘new wave’, an anglicised tag coincidentally attached to a simultaneous movement in French cinema which our Gallic friends knew as the Nouvelle Vague. The traditional Brazilian samba rhythm was intact in the sound, as was the influence of jazz – although Bossa Nova tends to gently sway rather than swing; the intimate, almost folk-like vocal delivery was an innovation in contrast with the more operatic Brazilian singers that had been popular up to that point; another distinctive hallmark was the percussive classical guitar, and – as with the minimalist jazz ensembles of the era – double bass, piano and saxophone were the other key instruments in the archetypal Bossa Nova combo.

Most musical scenes tend to consist of an incestuous collective of musicians, and Bossa Nova was no different as it rapidly developed into the first true Brazilian sound to spread way beyond the Latin landscape. João Gilberto, Antônio Carlos Jobim and Sérgio Mendes loom large in any discussion on Bossa Nova, but crucial in bringing the genre to a wider audience was American saxophonist Stan Getz, whose collaborations with Jobim and Gilberto gave the kiss of life to jazz when it was in danger of declining into a minority interest following the rise of rock ‘n’ roll; Getz’s endeavours also found favour with the easy-listening listeners of the early 60s. During the recording of the 1963 LP ‘Getz/Gilberto’ in New York – sessions which included the wonderfully-named Milton Banana on drums – the group had a crack at a new Jobim song called ‘The Girl from Ipanema’.

Initially recorded with a Gilberto vocal in Portuguese, the potential of the song was instantly apparent if it could be recorded in English. The only member of the Brazilian troupe who spoke English with any fluency was Gilberto’s young wife, Astrud, who had come along for the ride. The daughter of a German language professor based in Rio, Astrud had never sung professionally before, but her background gave her an advantage on this occasion and she was persuaded to have a go. The end result was Bossa Nova’s biggest international hit as ‘The Girl from Ipanema’, with Astrud’s adorably untrained and naive, natural vocal style enhancing the song’s effortless charm, zoomed up the US Hot 100 at the height of ‘The British Invasion’, perhaps further highlighting the dazzling variety on offer for record-buyers of the 60s. It also, in its own distinctive way, echoes so much of the optimistic vibes that characterise the pop music of the period.

As was the fashion for hit songs of the time, ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ quickly became a standard via the deluge of cover versions that followed; for the remainder of the decade, no set-list of any MOR cabaret performer was complete without their own interpretation of ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ – with some female singers even changing the sex of the beautiful girl whose daily walks past Rio’s seaside Veloso bar-café inspired the song (something that seemed unnecessary considering the original hit was sung by a woman anyway). Instrumental incarnations were just as prevalent as the song established itself as the most ubiquitous ‘Muzak’ tune, providing the soundtrack to endless elevator journeys for years to come.

The exotic Bossa Nova rhythm flowed through every strand of pop aimed at a non-teenage audience in the 60s; outside of coffee and its national football team, the sound was easily Brazil’s most successful export. It sold an especially appealing Brazilian dream to the rest of the world that continues to have a grip on the popular imagination outside of the country itself. Ironically, however, at the peak of the music’s international popularity, Brazil itself experienced turbulent political times, with a 1964 US-sponsored military coup provoking a change of musical style as the largely apolitical Bossa Nova was superseded in popularity on home soil by more socially-conscious musical movements. Sérgio Mendes reversed the trend on a global scale with his Brazil ’66 band, giving the world the best-known Brazilian hit after ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ with his classic, ‘Mas Que Nada’; unlike Astrud Gilberto’s signature song, ‘Mas Que Nada’ was sung entirely in the original Portuguese, but was helped by the patronage of Herb Alpert, who introduced the outfit to an American audience.

Perhaps mirroring the political turbulence in Brazil, all was not well at the top of the Bossa Nova hierarchy by the mid-60s either; following her work on the ‘Getz/Gilberto’ LP, Astrud Gilberto became intimately involved with Stan Getz, resulting in divorce from João Gilberto and a relocation to the US for Astrud. She then embarked on a professional singing career in which she sang in numerous languages, including her native Portuguese; the latter recordings showcase her vocal style at its most exquisite, not to mention pure Bossa Nova at its easiest on the ear. She released a series of albums through the 60s and into the 70s that blended her Brazilian roots with jazz standards and contemporary pop songs, though she never managed to eclipse the big mainstream breakthrough of ‘The Girl from Ipanema’, instead remaining a cult figure on the fringes, albeit one beloved by devotees as Bossa Nova’s premier chanteuse.

The benign images the sound of Bossa Nova conjures in the mind are probably bound up with memories of cheesy easy-listening LP sleeves from the 60s as well as its use in the background of movies from the era whenever a scene is set in a nightclub, casino or restaurant; it’s a very persuasive salesman for a fantasy lifestyle that probably never existed outside of those contexts, but even knowing that doesn’t diminish its appeal. I’ve found it a useful sedative for the here and now in recent months, almost as though I’ve been subconsciously searching for a sound to remind me there is hope after all – and hope is embodied in the sound of Bossa Nova. The simplistic, childlike vocals of Astrud Gilberto in particular provide the most suitable accompaniment to a durable musical form that is easily dismissed as lightweight by some – yet at a moment when we have an abundance of shade, a little lightweight goes a long way.

© The Editor


Here’s a sentence you don’t hear very often: I watched a drama on ITV last week and it was actually rather good. There, I’ve said it. As confessions go, I’ve heard worst – like the one that spilled out of Dennis Nilsen when he arrived home from work one evening in 1983 and found the police inspecting his drains. The remarkably versatile David Tennant played the man responsible for some of Britain’s grisliest murders in ‘Des’, capturing both his chilling indifference to the 12 known lives he took and his narcissistic craving to broadcast the fact (once caught). The Muswell Hill-based Scot, ex-army and (much to the Met’s embarrassment) ex-police, was working at a Job Centre when arrested; one of the many unemployed men whose cases he dealt with in the early 80s was future novelist Will Self. But the men Nilsen preferred were the drifters he often picked-up in gay bars, the ones who were amenable to his invitations to join him back at his place.

After watching this well-handled and refreshingly un-sensationalistic dramatisation of events following Nilsen’s incarceration, it struck me that Nilsen’s killing spree (1978-83) for a period coincided with that of the country’s two other most notorious serial killers, Peter Sutcliffe and Fred West. All three were simultaneously murdering under the radar in different parts of the country, yet all three had targeted the kind of victims whose status within society at that time enabled them to carry on killing without detection for so long. The majority of Nilsen’s victims were gay men, a demographic then regarded by many police forces as unsympathetic perverts; the majority of Sutcliffe’s victims were prostitutes, another group whose welfare wasn’t seen as especially important; Fred West and his missus, meanwhile, had a habit of luring teenage runaways into their house of horrors. The body count attributable to Nilsen, Sutcliffe and West (and, yes, I know that sounds like an early 70s Country Rock act) comprised some of society’s most unloved and invisible misfits, the little people whose lifestyles in some cases were seen as an affront to that society; it was no wonder the outcry was so belated.

40 years on, society as a whole is far more enlightened towards gay men – many now absorbed into the LGBT collective, albeit some vocally resisting their sexuality branding their entire identity; prostitutes have reclassified themselves as ‘sex-workers’, which has less negative connotations as a term and has served to at least elevate the world’s oldest profession back to the semi-respectability it last had during the twilight age of the courtesan 200 years ago. As for the victims preferred by that nice Mr and Mrs West, they remain very much on the margins – easy prey for drug cartels as ‘County Line’ couriers, as well as handy ‘damaged goods’ for unscrupulous grooming gangs and various dubious predators. One of the few saving graces of the BBC’s ‘Newsnight’ over the last year or so has been Katie Razzall’s ongoing investigation into unlicensed halfway houses for troubled adolescents too old for regulated children’s homes and too young to be legal adults deemed capable of looking after themselves. These confused kids, it would seem, remain unseen and unheard by the wider society to whom they appear an uncomfortable embarrassment.

At the other end of the scale, I suppose society’s other durably neglected and invisible demographic is the elderly; that particular group was catered for during – and beyond – the activities of Nilsen, Sutcliffe and West by Dr Harold Shipman. The world’s most murderous GP is believed to have been responsible for the deaths of around 250 of his patients between 1971 and 1998, though – as with Dennis Nilsen and Fred West – the actual number of victims may never be known. Unlike his infamous contemporaries, Shipman’s motive in many cases would appear to have been financial gain; in contrast to Sutcliffe and West, he doesn’t seem to have derived any sadistic sexual kicks from delivering the fatal blow, and nor did he adopt the cadavers of his victims as honorary flatmates to watch the telly with as Nilsen claims he did before chopping them into pieces small enough to flush away. But what four of this country’s most outstandingly prolific population controllers all managed was to exploit the indifference and ambivalence of the public and society in general to figures on the fringes – sexually-promiscuous gay guys, prostitutes, adolescent waifs and strays, isolated old biddies.

As much as prominent politicians might generate impassioned and disproportionately heated hatred in certain circles – and a localised strain of Trump Derangement Syndrome has certainly manifested itself over here post-Brexit – there’s probably a reason why only one Prime Minister of Britain has ever been assassinated (Spencer Perceval, 1812); such a person would be immediately missed and his assassin instantly apprehended. Beyond immediate family members, could it be said that any of the victims of Nilsen, Sutcliffe, West and Shipman were similarly missed or their killers proclaimed Public Enemy Number One when the kiling spree was in its early stages? Society’s invisible men and women are precisely that – unnoticed when alive, un-mourned when dead.

Current circumstances have had the unexpected effect of rendering a far higher proportion of people as invisible men and women than is usual, many of whom would ordinarily not regard themselves as such. The traditionally overlooked demographics have continued to suffer – with care home residents top of the coronavirus hit-list; but the abandonment of the city centre workplace and consequent relocation to the home environment has shrunk the landscape for thousands who would normally be at the heart of the nation’s industrial engine; and whereas this measure was viewed as temporary enough to be discouraged as recently as last week, our U-turning PM has now decided most may as well stay at home after all. Shows such as Radio 4’s veteran consumer rights programme, ‘You and Yours’, have become regular platforms for the concerns of desperate small business owners and proprietors of pubs, bars, cafés and restaurants that are now faced with impending extinction despite rearranging the furniture to fit the ever-changing edicts of a Government making up the rules as it goes along. A lifetime’s investment in the kind of individual enterprise once lauded and applauded by politicians has now been written off along with those whose lives were invested in it – and for what?

The initial nationwide lockdown was a surreal novelty whenever one ventured outdoors for the permitted 60 minutes to be confronted by eerily quiet streets devoid of traffic; but turning every house in Britain into the Ecuadorian Embassy and every householder into Julian Assange was bound to take its mental toll on those unaccustomed to such social alienation. Outsiders and those excluded from mainstream society generally fall into specific and familiar groups – the ones often exploited by our busiest serial killers – but when the rest of the population experiences the strange existential detachment that is the norm to such groups, the effects can be disastrous. They are not equipped with the survival armoury one acquires over decades in order to cope; they were dropped in at the deep end overnight and are now confronted by the prospect of another six months of this at the very least – probably six years north of the border, if Adolph Krankie has her way, I should imagine. The mythical salvation of a vaccine is this century’s fool’s gold, stashed in that pot at the end of the rainbow flag. Now, more than ever before, the people have realised just how dispensable they really are to their lords and masters. A few isolated and immoral individuals realised that a long time ago.

© The Editor


When numerous American cities have been subjected to manmade fires of late, it somehow seems timely to receive a reminder that natural infernos are depressingly regular occurrences in some of the country’s hottest spots – spots that have always been that way and need no additional assistance from man. Less than a year on from the devastating bushfires that cut such a ruthless swathe through several states in Australia, the US has been experiencing its own devastation of a similarly destructive nature. At one time – and no doubt still today in some quarters – such awful occurrences were regarded as the acts of an angry God; the contemporary faith of climate change doesn’t attribute natural disasters of this kind to a vengeful celestial father figure, choosing instead to lay the blame at the door of the creature He made in His own image. But the belief of the new religion’s devotees in the guilt of those they hold responsible is no less unswerving in its conviction than the Bible Belt brigade and their dependable standby of God reading the Riot Act whenever the sins of man ask for it.

In many respects, the sins of man are still what we’re dealing with – just different ones. With God-botherers, it usually centres around man’s carnal appetites when the outraged Almighty intervenes; with the climate change crowd, it’s down to man’s insatiable greed and his indifference towards the damage being done to the environment as long as he can make a profit. Christian fundamentalists have the Holy Book and climate change fundamentalists have science. Both have their merits as source material and both have their failings – though those for whom either the Bible or science are the Gospel will not countenance these failings. Climate change was held up as the guilty party in Australia by some, though the country’s lengthy history of wildfires tearing through the vast landmass is well documented and predates modern global warming. Equally, the climate in California that draws the public to it has also been prone to perennial outbreaks, something that has become more noticeable today in that more corners of the state are now populated than ever before.

It is true that the temperature of the planet has increased in recent years and this undoubtedly means the risk of fires wreaking havoc on the land, on wildlife, and on people will increase with it. The pollution in the atmosphere for which man and his industry does indeed need to take responsibility has certainly played its part in accelerating the process; but to ignore the fact that the earth has routinely heated up and cooled down over millennia, and to turn a blind eye to how the current situation can be viewed in that historical context, is a dishonest bending of the argument to fit one’s personal position. If anything, there are several causes at play simultaneously, with climate change merely one of them. The silhouette of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge against a toxic-looking fiery orange sky is unquestionably a dramatic, apocalyptic image; but it shouldn’t be utilised as political propaganda in the way the Democrats are predictably utilising it in the year of a Presidential Election.

I remember a few years back, watching a documentary on the English obsession with the country life and the craving for a rural idyll. The cliché of the wealthy couple departing the big city and relocating to the green and pleasant land was covered comprehensively, as was the fact that many do so on the misguided understanding that the green and pleasant land will respond to its new residents on the urbanites’ terms. A farmer spoke of recent new arrivals to his village, arrivals aggrieved by the aroma of his manure drifting in their direction or complaining about being woken by his cockerel at the crack of dawn. How bloody inconsiderate of the countryside! Wealthier Californians stretching their legs and setting up home in a great outdoors that has always seen wildfires leaving that outdoors a scorched wasteland seems like an extreme extension of this mindset; just because man has encroached further into one-time wilderness doesn’t mean nature will cease its more nihilistic activities simply to suit him and his concept of getting back to the garden – especially when the temperature is more conducive to such a scenario.

Of course, if our old friends Extinction Rebellion amounted to more than narcissistic circus performers disrupting the lives of city-dwellers with infantile glee, they’d be in California; they’d be rescuing terrified and injured animals from the wreckage, and providing assistance to families who’ve lost everything they own and no longer have a roof over their heads. But they’re not. They talk a good fight, yet are conspicuously absent when their obsession has its Ground Zero locations crying out for help. One of the regular complaints at the height of the Australian inferno was the cutting back on investment in the management of the land, and President Trump appears to have hinted that investment in California’s damaged areas might help minimise the chances of this year’s devastation being revisited on the state in the near future.

But whatever or not investment is made, the fact remains that California has been experiencing a severe drought for the best part of 20 years, and more than 2.3 acres have been lost to wildfires this year alone; the fires are going to happen, so it’s a case of being able to manage them better than the impossible task of preventing them altogether. Intense heat-waves have characterised the last few months in America’s western states, including Washington state and Oregon (where fires have also wreaked havoc); indeed, what is believed to be one of the highest temperatures ever recorded – 130F – was recorded in California recently. At the same time, and perhaps reflecting the variable conditions in such a huge country, other states such as Colorado have been experiencing record low temperatures that have spawned winds which have travelled into the fire-stricken states and contributed to the spread of the carnage. Meanwhile, down south, states such as Alabama and Florida have been battered by Storm Sally; as the hurricane has moved north-east, it has brought severe flooding to Georgia and the two Carolinas. Once again, those in the path of Mother Nature are realising Mother Nature will do as she pleases – even if her timing seems especially terrible.

One might almost conclude that the schizophrenic climactic chaos in the US at the moment is some sort of metaphor for the chaotic state of the nation as a whole; from the outside looking in, America does not appear to be a country at ease with itself. It goes without saying that for a Brit to observe this from a position of smug security would be farcical; we don’t seem to be any less divided on this side of the Atlantic; it’s just that America always does everything on a far bigger scale simply because it’s so bloody massive. Add a global pandemic and its consequently unprecedented restrictions on civil liberties to the mix and you’ve got an inevitably combustible recipe for disaster. The ‘Disneyfication’ of the natural world in recent years has turned a blind eye to the fact that life on earth has always been a battle. As David Bowie once said, ‘the Earth is a bitch’; I won’t say we’ve finished our news and that Homo-Sapiens have outgrown their use, though – not yet, anyway…

© The Editor


Oh, there are so many open goals – I mean, Rule of Six, Number Six; I shouldn’t have to elaborate. After all, it only seems like yesterday that I penned a post on ‘The Prisoner’ when I last gave it an outing a few months back; the remarkable ability of that programme to mirror the present tense whenever one happens to watch it never fails to amaze. Even without rushed legislation intended to enforce the unenforceable in the light of a pandemic that kills less than annual seasonal influenza, there’s enough of the here and now in Patrick McGoohan’s 1967 masterwork to show us that the tools of the future were busily being forged in the past, even if few wanted to admit it. But, of course, to point this out places me alongside the online loonies, the whole ‘It’s a weapon of global social control concocted by China and Israel and the Bilderberg Group to enslave us all’ professional conspiracy theory set, so I have to watch my words. One might almost conclude that conspiracy theorists have been allowed to flourish because their insane endeavours serve to cast doubt upon concerns that an actual conspiracy might be afoot, therefore meaning it can progress unimpeded.

I watched the performance of Priti Patel on Julia Hartley-Brewer’s Talk Radio show yesterday, in which the Home Secretary was presented with a hypothetical scenario whereby her neighbours were hosting a children’s birthday party in their back garden, one in which the guest-list exceeded six by one child. Would Ms Patel dial 999 to report the crime? The fudged response made a mockery of a politician who has built a reputation for herself as a no-nonsense hardliner, the kind of politician Westminster is sorely lacking at a time when the nation needs someone in a position of power to grow a pair; alas, her credentials as a potential successor to shagged-out, burned-out Boris should he decide to throw the towel in next year were damaged in a way that made her look as ineffective and lightweight as Matt ‘scary’ Hancock. Moreover, it further highlighted just how clueless this Government is as it stumbles its way through a crisis by making it up as it goes along, too willing to take the word of scaremongering ‘experts’ relishing the spotlight to devise a consistent strategy.

Today we have been informed that the mediocre administration in control of our shared destinies has given itself a fortnight to see if its Rule of Six works before deciding whether or not to reverse the recent easing of nationwide restrictions and plunge us all back into full-on lockdown. Local lockdowns have already been in operation in certain corners of the kingdom where cases have risen, such as Leicester and Bolton; but this is a threat to return us to where we were back in the spring, albeit with add-on caveats sparing schools and a few social environments. However, whereas recorded cases may have risen in a way that was utterly predictable once the general public began to repopulate the world beyond their doorsteps, the actual death rate has plummeted compared to back in April, when well over a thousand died on the darkest day. The Government is placing great emphasis on testing, but the haphazard manner of its programme so far doesn’t quite match its ambition – even if most of us no longer expect anything less from the current shower.

If one might be inclined towards a more benign frame of mind and look favourably upon a Government confronted by an unprecedented situation in modern history, one could say its initial tactics in preventing the wider spread of Covid-19 achieved its aim; that said, one still cannot assess September’s state of play and come to the conclusion that this cat-and-mouse policy of easing restrictions and then tightening them up again once cases inevitably rise as a result can be employed indefinitely. Yet, it would appear this is indeed the plan. It’s getting to the point where any venture outdoors seems weird without a mask on and a recent poll showing over half of those asked were in favour of continuing tough measures suggested Project Fear has succeeded way beyond the Government’s wildest dreams – or should that be the media’s, as the MSM had a far bigger part to play in the pandemic panic than Whitehall. Gatherings of more than six people being banned in England is intended to prevent cases from rising again, but when the rule is eased the cases will rise; so, it comes back in and they go down; then it’s eased and they go back up. And so on and so on forever.

I should be so lucky to assemble six people, anyway. I’ve spoken to half that number face-to-face in the last six months – three f***ing people in the last six months. I was fairly accustomed to living my life in the style of a medieval anchorite as things stood before any of this happened, but choice and personal circumstance had a hand in that. When Government intervenes and imposes such severe restrictions on the entire population, the majority of who have no experience of house arrest and understandably took their freedoms for granted, the amount of fire being played with is lighting one hell of a future fuse. I dread to think what the long-term psychological effects of this will be, but I’m already seeing signs of it in friends who are exhibiting worrying symptoms of becoming used to their withdrawal from society and have no outlet to alter that anymore. For me, this set up has exacerbated many things that have been part of my internal complexion for a long time; but for those with no ‘previous’ – well, all I can say is that the one industry that will profit from this above all others once a semblance of normality asserts itself will be that of psychotherapy.

I strolled up to my local cinema earlier on today and felt a palpable chill as I looked at posters for movies scheduled to be screened in the spring that never were; it’s been mothballed since the end of March. Those posters reminded me of the bricked-up pedestrian tunnel of a closed London Underground station recently excavated, a preserved time capsule displaying decaying posters for Ealing comedies showing at long-gone picture houses and so forth. Studying their 2020 equivalents today, it was as though I was looking through a portal into a parallel world whereby these movies were indeed shown at the cinema in question and life proceeded along its usual path. But, of course, they weren’t and it didn’t. I think it just reminded me – as if I needed reminding – that this half-and-half excuse for a life we have at the moment is no substitute for the real thing, and it doesn’t feel as if the real thing will be with us again anytime soon.

What this situation has done more than anything is to underline our absolute collective powerlessness. Sure, thousands can march in support of a cause that chimes with the consensus of the ruling elite, but that’s just a narcissistic performance bearing little relation to the limitations placed upon those who have no interest in brandishing placards, pulling down statues and throwing bikes at police horses, those who just want to get on with their lives and can’t. When it comes to the genuinely important stuff, we have no say and can do nothing about it. The powers-that-be can bend us to their will and that’s that. If a rule was brought in tomorrow that proclaimed everyone had to wear bowler hats on public transport and had to wear stilettos in supermarkets, we’d go along with it because we need to get from A to B and we need to eat. As the old saying goes, when you’ve got ‘em by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow – and Patrick McGoohan knew that 53 years ago. Be seeing you.

© The Editor


Heaven knows, anything goes – and the problem with the principle of ‘anything goes’ is that it eventually and somewhat seamlessly translates into ‘everything goes’; and we’ve been here before. The breaking down of repressive barriers is a good thing, but the difficulty is judging when to stop and how far to go before one has gone beyond the pale. The counter-cultural revolution of the 1960s was confronted by this conundrum, when all the genuinely objectionable laws and social mores that had made the immediate post-war era so restrictive for numerous outsiders were gradually eased as we were steered in the direction of a more socially enlightened society. But when the demands of the few are taken into consideration, the demands of the fewer also claim the right to be heard. By the early 70s, the loosening of sexual morals in particular resulted in European film festivals devoted to pornography promoted as though they were on a par with an established cinematic celebration such as Cannes. With the likes of Germaine Greer on the judges’ panel, one even pushed the boat out as far as bestiality – well, if anything goes, everything goes; to object on moral grounds would be to line-up with The Man, no?

The notorious ‘Paedophile Information Exchange’ was a further example of what happens when any form of censorship is perceived as symbolic of a repressive old order that needs to be utterly obliterated. It’s not unlike the ‘all property is theft’ maxim, which essentially means anyone has the right to come into your home and help themselves to whatever you own; transplanting this principle to sexual peccadilloes means any perversion is legitimate and none should be bracketed as deviant. So, this invariably leads to gimps on dog leads openly participating in a jolly Pride Parade for all the family and the endless variations of ‘trans’ can cry discrimination if they perceive the sub-gender they’ve just invented to identify as is being oppressed by the wicked heterosexual patriarchy. If this goes on unchecked, you end up with a situation in which a man who identifies as a woman is publicly referred to as ‘he’ and the offence is a sackable one for the misgendering miscreant. Or a male rapist in a dress can be locked up alongside hundreds of vulnerable women. Raise any objections and you’re part of the problem rather than the solution.

Anyone who remembers the P.I.E controversy of six or seven years back – a long-forgotten issue rescued from obscurity as part of Tom Watson’s imaginary ‘Westminster Paedophile Ring’ crusade – might recall how Harriet Harman was dragged into the scandal on account of her libertarian approach to social issues as a leading light in the right-on wing of the Labour Party at the turn of the 80s. Harman’s exposure as a former ‘loony lefty’ who had endorsed P.I.E as a legitimate fringe group entitled to their rights highlighted the problems with applying the ‘anything goes’ template to everyone who demands to have their personal notion of freedom of expression recognised. Some remain unacceptable for a reason, and a line has to be drawn in the sand at some point.

But what of a film that is marketed as sexualising prepubescent girls by dressing them as twerking lap-dancers? Unacceptable, surely – especially if directed by a middle-aged white man? We’d be in Harvey Weinstein territory, then. But what if the director is a Woman of Colour? Er…well, that’s good, isn’t it? That’s what diversity’s all about, innit? As long as someone fulfils a quota, that’s okay, yeah? Guardianistas have been tying themselves in knots when presented with the ultimate moral head-f**k for the Identity Politics Utopia that is ‘Cuties’. A black woman as a director = good; Paedophilia = bad. What do we do? That’s the problem when someone gets the gig not on merit but because they tick a box – you can’t then backtrack when they f**k up. You have to bend over backwards to defend them, even when they make a movie that wonderfully underlines the double standards and hypocrisy at the heart of Woke. I see Kate Winslet is now wondering aloud how she could possibly have consented to star in films directed by Woody Allen and Roman Polanski. Perhaps she did so because they have both produced a body of work today’s directors can only dream about and she knew it would enhance her career at the time – and it’s not as if the ugly rumours encircling either were utterly unheard of when she did so; maybe it’s more a case of guilt needing to be proven rather than assumed back then. If only they’d both been Women of Colour, eh?

As for ‘Cuties’, a Netflix film that apparently presents erotic dancing as a life-affirming career for little girls, the public reaction compared to the pitiful critical defence has again exhibited the vast chasm between the cultural elite and the consumer. I haven’t seen it and I’ve no intention of doing so; the glimpses of the trailer online were nauseating enough for me. But the fact that Netflix promoted it in the way they did and were then surprised at people’s disgust says everything you need to know. The widespread cancellations of Netflix subscriptions that have followed has been interesting; but perhaps a company that splashes out millions on Duchess Dumb and Duke Dumber for an imminent schedule of Woke lectures shouldn’t necessarily be regarded as the producer of intelligent and groundbreaking television that its early successes suggested. The cancellers have been cancelled – and it had absolutely nothing to do with race, gender or any other Identity Politics agenda.

DIANA RIGG (1938-2020)

The sudden and unexpected death of Diana Rigg comes just a handful of months after the passing of the woman she replaced in ‘The Avengers’, Honor Blackman; both characters these iconic actresses played on the much-loved 60s fantasy series, Emma Peel and Cathy Gale, offered an original take on female role models not just for the time but for now. Patrick Macnee once said the key to the onscreen dynamic between him and Rigg was the combination of an 18th century man with a 21st century woman. Unfortunately, it would seem the manner in which Diana Rigg was treated behind the scenes was rooted in the 19th century – poorly paid, exploited and undervalued.

But it’s testament to Rigg that she continued to embody the independent spirit of Emma Peel by not playing the victim and rising above it, transcending typecasting as she walked away from ‘The Avengers’ when it was British TV’s biggest international money-spinner. She made the leap to the movies by playing the only Bond girl ever to marry the hero in the memorably moving climax to George Lazenby’s solitary outing as 007, ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’; her other most beloved big screen offering was the blackly comic early 70s horror film in which she starred alongside Vincent Price, ‘Theatre of Blood’.

Diana Rigg went on to establish a reputation as a Great British thespian, adding her name to the illustrious Dames of the theatrical world, but she also continued to do plenty of sterling TV work on both sides of the Atlantic for decades, specialising in deliciously horrid dowager-types as she grew old gracefully. However, she never dismissed her time as Emma Peel with the disdain that many ‘serious actors’ do re the fun roles that made their names (Martin Shaw, anyone?); instead, she always came across as recognising she’d been part of something special and that she owed her subsequent success to that uniquely English series which remains quite unlike anything before or since. And it wouldn’t have been so without the great talent that was Diana Rigg.

© The Editor


Along with Burnley and Blackburn, Bolton is one of those old industrial towns whose name is impossible to pronounce without slipping into the kind of antiquated Lancastrian linguistics that nobody under 50 in the vicinity probably uses now. For an outsider of a certain age, it’s hard to resist saying the name of the town as ‘Bowl-ton’, as was a hallmark of the ‘Coronation Street’ character of the 1960s and early 70s, Jerry Booth – as well as the much-missed steeplejack Fred Dibnah. I often do so as a means of gently ribbing my 14-year-old niece, who happens to be a native of the town. She doesn’t speak that way herself and I suspect few do there now anyway. When the late great architectural critic Ian Nairn visited Bolton in 1975 as part of his ‘Football Towns’ series, he opened his programme on the terraces of Burnden Park, original home of Bolton Wanderers, the football club that helped put the town on the national map. Three times FA Cup winners and until relatively recently a solid Premier League presence, the club has experienced tricky times of late, almost going out of business last year and currently languishing in the basement tier of English football, League Two (that’s the Fourth Division in old money).

Ian Nairn’s journey around Bolton town centre saw him give the thumbs-up to the newly-pedestrianised area in front of the Victorian Town Hall and the recent addition of the Octagon Theatre, though he was less impressed with the Arndale Centre, a bland new shopping precinct characteristic of the era; he did conclude, however, that in comparison to other town centres, ‘the twentieth century has treated it quite kindly’. Nairn reserved his ire for what Bolton had done to its architectural heritage in terms of houses of worship; his incandescent sermon in the ruins of St Saviour, a 19th century church in the process of demolition, is perhaps his finest and most moving moment on camera as he struggles to contain his distraught fury at the wreckage before him. ‘We talk about football vandalism,’ he says. ‘I don’t quite know how you would categorise the vandalism of the yobbos who did this. It makes me ashamed to be part of the same branch of biology.’

Ian Nairn made the short trek to neighbouring Preston after his emotional sojourn in Bolton; his programme captured both towns in transition. As with his similar examination of Northampton a couple of years previously, he found places that had been built around a profitable industry that was now in terminal decline, places that were desperate to catch a piece of the contemporary action without really grasping the potential of urban renewal. In the case of Bolton, a town that was once the international epicentre of cotton spinning, Nairn was visiting just as the entire industry was winding-up for good. He had missed its peak years by a good five decades, with 1920s Bolton boasting over 200 cotton mills. For such towns that grew on the backs of businesses that were effectively redundant by the 1980s – and I’d include those fuelled by mining in that – finding an identity and trying to stop the rot has proven to be a difficult task ever since.

Bolton has followed a familiar path in the wake of its traditional industry’s decline, embracing the intellectually-stimulating world of call centres, IT companies and so-called service-based businesses; perhaps the sole old-school business remaining is the Warburtons bakery, a firm that has looked favourably upon Brexit; this stance places it in tune with Bolton West, which voted Leave in the 2016 EU Referendum, but out of step with the Remain constituencies of Bolton North East and Bolton South East. A prominent pro-Brexit business at least gives the town something of its own personality when, having been swallowed-up into Greater Manchester along with fellow Lancashire towns like Oldham, Rochdale, Wigan and other pools coupon names, Bolton could otherwise have the feel of yet another faceless suburb of the metropolitan behemoth on its doorstep.

However, the main reason I use Bolton here is as an example of a town that is today suffering more than most under the draconian restrictions brought about by the Government’s ineffective and doomed strategies to combat Covid-19. Lockdown tactics were intended to be eased in Greater Manchester last week, though this has been abandoned in favour of reintroducing all the tougher measures that made life such fun earlier in the summer. A rise in reported coronavirus cases was inevitable as soon as the more severe rules and regulations were relaxed, yet this is evidently a pattern that will endlessly repeat itself from now on with no end in sight. Pubs, cafés and restaurants in Bolton are back to offering a limited takeaway service and the good folk of Bolton can no longer socialise beyond the borders of their own homes once more.

Matt Hancock lays the blame of Bolton’s high number of Covid cases at the door of those in their 20s and 30s; apparently contact tracers cite several public houses where the spread of the coronavirus has been significant. The Health Secretary has now imposed strict opening hours on Bolton hospitality venues whereby they will be forced to close between 10pm and 5am; visiting restrictions where care homes are concerned will also be revived. Bolton Council had pre-empted Hancock’s announcement at the weekend, proclaiming it would be reverting to the previous measures with immediate effect, informing the citizens of Bolton they can no longer mix and mingle with people from other households either indoors or outdoors and should avoid public transport unless ‘essential’ – and this coming at a time when the Government is now telling everyone they need to return to the workplace ASAP; what – an enclosed space full of strangers from a different household that one has to get to by travelling on a bus full of strangers from a different household? No wonder a population successfully terrified by Project Fear isn’t buying into it.

One could say the decline in the death toll in recent months has proven that the lockdown and all its subsequent spin-offs have worked; but the death toll was never medieval Black Death levels, anyway. Those who were at risk in the beginning remain at risk now, and that was always going to be the case. Of course they need to be protected and the focus should to be on the most vulnerable in the event of a ‘second wave’ just as it should have been at the start of the pandemic. Apparently, the average age of the majority of actual fatalities related to Covid-19 is 82, and the average life expectancy in the UK is between 79 and 83, depending if you’re male or female. Therefore, the appalling failure to prioritise care homes back in the spring remains the best example of how the response from Government has been wholly inadequate.

It should be possible to question and criticise this without being instantly bracketed alongside serial conspiracy fruitcakes like David Icke and Piers Corbyn. It should be possible to question and criticise the mixed messages of social engagement in ‘the new normal’, the dubious wisdom of mask-wearing, and the incalculable damage to both the economy and the future mental wellbeing of the populace without being shot down. Placing hopes in the rushing through of a barely-tested vaccine feels futile, and what Bolton is currently being subjected to will surely simply keep on happening over and over again in different parts of the country if we continue to pursue policies that are clearly unsustainable. At the moment, we appear to be trapped in a Groundhog Day of a nightmare it seems none of us are ever going to wake up from. We all in live Bolton now.

© The Editor


One of the early TV shows that alerted me to HBO and its ability to craft grownup drama free from the formulaic was ‘Six Feet Under’. Originally running from 2001-05, this dark yet deliciously witty series had an undeniably intriguing premise, being a family saga based in the environs of a funeral home. Each episode opened with the death of an unfamiliar person unrelated to the regular cast, and their funeral would then form the backdrop to the instalment as the ongoing dramas taking place in the lives of the main characters continued. If that opening sounds a bit like the clichéd hallmark of the BBC’s ‘Casualty’ – whereby the viewer immediately meets someone they’ve never seen before and then tries to guess what horrific accident will imminently befall them – trust me, it’s not. ‘Six Feet Under’ was a special series in many ways, but on one level it worked so well because it normalised something we all have to deal with – namely, death.

It’s amazing how squeamish western society in general still is around death and the rituals associated with its resolution, even though funeral directors, along with those who sell food, are probably in one of the most secure professions we’ll ever have need of. We all gotta eat and we all gotta go. ‘Six Feet Under’ brilliantly humanised this otherwise mysterious world by going behind the scenes and showing that a profession which many don’t even like to think about was just another business. As with a coroner, corpses to the Fisher family had none of the morbid aura that those who never come into contact with the dead imbue them with. Whilst the burial ceremony is a staple scene of fiction – especially in TV soaps, where no character is ever cremated – ‘Six Feet Under’ dealt with the less familiar preparation that takes place beforehand; and it was this that gave the series such a novel quality.

At some point in our lives we will all attend at least one funeral, and if we somehow manage to avoid doing so whilst living, we won’t be able to avoid our own. The first I ever attended was my paternal grandmother’s when I was a young and extremely green teenager. I think I was a little overawed by the experience, with my only previous exposure to a funeral service coming from whatever I’d seen in movies and TV shows. I remember it was unsettling at that age seeing stoic grownups I’d known all my life in tears – and funerals back then were perhaps the only social scenario in which it was permissible to cry in public. It was equally eye-opening at my grandma’s house afterwards when the adults – and everyone else present was an adult – seamlessly clicked into a routine that they’d evidently been through many times before; I was the only one who didn’t know what you were supposed to do in that situation. Of course, I’ve been to a few since then and whilst they can rarely be viewed as enjoyable occasions, they’re never dull.

When it comes to family, funerals are often the only time I see various aunts, uncles, cousins and so on nowadays – though I’m hardly unique in that respect; and there’s no escaping the fact that some actually look forward to a funeral. There can be a degree of theatricality to the trimmings, none more so than if the star of the show arrives in a horse-drawn hearse. Whilst traditionally a speciality of decrepit East End villains, even this can have its poignancy; I remember once seeing both hearse and horses coloured white as the cortège drew to a halt outside a church I was passing and it did look rather lovely. Moreover, some women can appear inappropriately attractive in their funeral outfits. Many years ago, I lived opposite a middle-aged Italian couple; when the wife died, the female family members gathering outside the house before departing looked like they were lining-up for a Vogue shoot. Lots of sexy Italian ladies in black preparing to bury a loved one – yes, I felt very guilty.

One of the best episodes of ‘Steptoe and Son’ deals with the funeral of one of old Albert’s numerous elderly siblings. It perfectly captures just how such events bring out the worst in people and how they can highlight the sham of blood being thicker than water as the various interested parties greedily stake a claim on the possessions left behind by the recently deceased. This episode also serves as a wry comment on the way in which some try and claim ownership of the occasion, something I remember witnessing at the funeral of my maternal grandfather. The service inexplicably concluded with the unlistenable power-ballad that is Whitney Houston’s execrable rendition of ‘I Will Always Love You’ – a song that had no relevant association with my last grandparent but had been selected by relatives intent on stamping their own personal (lack of) taste on someone else’s send-off. If anything, this selfish action upset me more than the service itself. It was bad enough when the song was No.1 for what felt like six months, but I certainly didn’t want to hear it there and then.

A degree of sober solemnity has always characterised the Great British Funeral, particularly the austere C-of-E variety; other cultures often seem to do it in a manner that reflects the personality of the deceased rather than adhering to a one-size-fits-all approach, celebrating the individual life as well as mourning the loss of it. I suppose the ultimate example that most will be familiar with is the jazzy ‘New Orleans funeral’, but there has been a tendency here in recent years – certainly as we morph into a more secular society – to bend the accepted rules a little; one innovation I was made aware of re the funeral of a friend of a friend was the wearing of bright colours as opposed to customary black in order to mirror the colourful character being buried. Ditto the move away from the more traditional hymns and similar religious dirges in favour of the deceased’s favourite pop songs – which is fine unless one of them happens to be ‘I Will Always Love You’, I guess.

Yet, for all this, death remains an unpleasant eventuality many pretend happens to other people somewhere else. Care homes, hospices and hospitals tend to be the locations we like to think of where people go to die, whilst the final resting place of the cemetery has a habit of being on the edge of town, far enough away for us not to have to look it in the eye. At one time, it was commonplace (whatever one’s denomination) to have the open coffin in the front parlour, where family, friends and neighbours would pop in to pay their respects as though ogling Lenin’s pickled cadaver. There was less squeamishness surrounding death because people were more accustomed to it, whether down to war, wider poverty, or diseases and ailments which have subsequently been rendered non-fatal due to advances in medical science; a century ago, larger families also meant many tended to lose some children or siblings at a criminally young age. Death was certainly a bigger part of life then – or seemed to be – whereas we have become more insulated from it now.

I think there is a certain dignity in the old way of saying goodbye, but there’s much to be said for giving such a ceremony the personal touch too. A marriage of both is probably the best way – especially if the dearly departed had the opportunity to specify what they wanted before they went. I know I’d hate for my own funeral to be along the lines of some of those I’ve attended, but I equally wouldn’t want it to resemble a fancy dress party in a tacky nightclub. I’m hopeful whichever friend is entrusted with the unenviable task of overseeing it knew me well enough to get it right; it’s just a pity I won’t be there to see it. Mind you, I remember Reggie Perrin managed to attend his own in the guise of ‘Martin Wellbourne’, so there’s always the possibility I might make it. Don’t say you haven’t fantasised about it; we all have.

© The Editor


Probably eligible for some disability benefit considering how many times it’s shot itself in the foot of late, the BBC has belatedly woken-up to smell the roses and has surmised it needs to act – and fast. How much difference a new DG can make to stop the rot is debatable; chances are his appointment has come too late in the day, but at least he appears to have hit the ground running. The roll-call of faux-pas made by the senior national broadcaster over the past couple of years is too comprehensive to go into here; but in an exceedingly short space of time, Tim Davie has reversed the ill-judged decision to mute the lyrics of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ on the Last Night of the Proms and has announced his intention to shake-up the corporation’s undoubted left-wing bias when it comes to its comedy output; he’s also declared that any high-profile BBC employees expressing a personal political opinion on social media will be reminded of the BBC’s commitment to impartiality before receiving the axe. Gary Lineker, beware – regardless of how virtuous renting out one of your spare rooms to an illegal immigrant may well be. For some reason, the old Harry Enfield sketch of a middle-class couple adopting a pet Geordie springs to mind, but there you go.

The Beeb has been controlled by the London-centric Woke elite for far too long, but Tim Davie’s appointment at the expense of the unremittingly useless Tony (Lord) Hall is no smooth transition. The new Director General has to confront a system that has seen the Oxbridge intelligentsia serve as recruitment material for the corporation for decades; all the talk of ‘diversity initiatives’ and diverting license fee funds into such idealistic schemes overlooks the fact that colour is not the issue – despite what the career-secure historian David Olusoga might say – but diversity of thought, opinion and class. Like the Labour Party, the BBC is not reflecting the views of those who continue to financially support it across the country, but instead obstinately echoes the enclosed bubble of the M25 clique whose insular outlook dictates the nature of its networked programming.

When it comes to comedy – one of the first targets addressed by Tim Davie – talk of left and right can be somewhat misleading in that many who are the butt of jokes on the likes of ‘Mock the Week’ wouldn’t necessarily regard themselves as on the right, anyway; sure, to the opportunistic North London-based Woke comedians that constitute the panellists on such shows, anyone who voted Leave or viewed the prospect of a Corbyn Government with dread is to the right of Hitler, but out in the real world the smug superiority of these unfunny hypocrites is regarded with indisputable contempt. The viewers (or listeners) aren’t as stupid as the programme-makers assume and can see through the patronising and condescending attempts at indoctrination via entertainment that the powers-that-be have been attempting for years. This is why campaigns along the lines of ‘Defund the BBC’ are gathering pace and why viewing and listening figures for shows aimed at educating the ill-educated masses are failing to set the ratings alight.

It’s worth remembering that the first electrifying rush of ‘Alternative Comedy’, with the likes of ‘Not the Nine O’Clock News’, ‘The Young Ones’ and ‘Blackadder’, aired when Bob Monkhouse, ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ and Little & Large were still in production at the BBC. Forty years ago, the corporation was genuinely inclusive enough to encompass all concepts of comedy. This is something that has been lost along the way; perhaps the changing landscape of broadcasting over the last couple of decades has persuaded the BBC that the way forward is to become a niche broadcaster catering for one specific audience. However, this neglects the fact that the majority of the viewers and listeners that still broadly support the BBC belong to generations that remain loyal to the television set and the wireless; the youngsters the Beeb seems intent on fruitlessly courting tend to tune-in via different, less antiquated devices. This is why sacrificing one of the corporation’s few redeeming channels, BBC4, in the new DG’s overhaul would be a mistake; most BBC4 viewers, I suspect, still watch it on the telly rather than on the iPlayer. Ever since becoming an online-only incarnation, BBC3 and its appalling output (to anyone over 50) has completely suited its teen and twenty-something viewership with the unwatchable likes of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ and so forth; but these are not products of loyalty to a particular broadcaster, and those who look forward to such trash will not do so if it’s only available via the TV. They’ll just find it elsewhere online. There’s a lot of it about.

Unfortunately, the arrival of any new Director General spouting grandiose statements that he intends to make sweeping changes to the BBC evokes memories of Alan Partridge’s nemesis Tony Hayes and his ‘evolution, not revolution’ maxim – to which Norwich’s most famous son responded with ‘I evolve, but I don’t revolve’. The threat of throwing out the baby with the bathwater is always present and Tim Davie needs to make sure the work that undoubtedly needs doing doesn’t damage the few remaining vestiges of what makes the BBC so unique at its best. Last night, I watched Ravi Shankar’s daughter Anoushka deliver a mesmerising performance at the Proms – the kind of performance it’s inconceivable to imagine any broadcaster other than the BBC transmitting – and it reminded me just how vital it is that the BBC survives against all odds.

Ironically, considering it shifted the majority of its television output to the hideous ‘Media City UK’ white elephant in Salford in order to demonstrate its commitment to the regions, the BBC has summarily failed to uphold one of its traditionally strongest advantages over the competition ever since. All it seems to have done is export the enclosed London mindset to the provinces, no different from ex-pats patronising English themed bars in Spain. The effective cancellation of the multi-region ‘Inside Out’ series, in which local news stories are delved into with far greater depth than the 6.30 regional magazine shows will allow, has exposed how the Beeb has struggled to define what distinguishes it from Sky or ITV. Such programmes appeal to the precise audience the BBC needs to hang onto during Tim Davie’s regime; if it doesn’t, the arguments for its special treatment as a broadcaster will become even harder to defend.

As for the radio output, I do wish Davie would give Radio 4 a kick up the arse. The once-unmissable comedy strand of the station has become a platform for the worst excesses of Woke ‘humour’ of a kind that only provokes a titter amongst those who produce it; moreover, whilst I have no objection to general ‘diversity’ in voices heard on R4, how refreshing it would be for that word to include a wider spectrum than merely those who adhere to the Identity Politics dogma based entirely on ethnicity, skin colour and sexuality. Then there’s the current affairs issue, something that has caused the likes of ‘Newsnight’ and ‘Question Time’ to haemorrhage viewers this past year – your humble narrator included amongst them. Yes, there is a hell of a lot that needs doing; but Tim Davie appears to have made an encouraging and positive start. He might be up against the entire weight of the ‘W1A’ class at Broadcasting House, though someone has to at least try to take them on – otherwise, there is no justification for the BBC at all.

© The Editor


Events, dear boy – how they have a habit of forming history’s judgement; and the trouble with events is that they happen at the least convenient time. Alas, poor Eden – Anthony spends the best part of a decade in Winston’s shadow, gets his big break at last, and then Nasser nationalises the Suez Canal. Of course, events test the mettle of leaders, but it all depends how long Prime Ministers have to prepare for them; Churchill saw WWII coming for years and had plenty of time to get ready for the call, knowing all along he was the right man for the job. As for the incumbent tenant on Downing Street, he appears to have been caught completely unawares. Boris withstood the relentless onslaught of the Remoaner alliance both in Parliament and in his own party for the first few months of his premiership, yet the sweeping victory in last December’s General Election probably gave him the impression he’d triumphed over the worst setbacks he’d ever have to face at No.10. Was it a case of complacency in the immediate aftermath of the most comprehensive Election win in a generation that caused the PM and his victorious administration to underestimate a certain Chinese virus? Or did it simply expose how incompetent he and his team actually are?

Well, the latter certainly seems the case when one looks at indirect consequences of the pandemic – particularly the exams issue, with the Government putting its faith in an algorithm that downgraded results across the country; the U-turn that followed the subsequent uproar was one of a dazzling run of them that must have provoked a fair amount of spinning in Mrs T’s grave. No wonder the nation doesn’t know where it stands re coronavirus restrictions half the time – Boris and co don’t seem to know either, sending out constantly changing mixed messages on a daily basis; his administration is still behaving like a minority one, not really exhibiting the clout and confidence that usually comes with a large majority. The lame, belated reaction to the most disruptive BLM protestors and the damage they did to city centres in the summer as they flouted the lockdown was the timid and spineless response of a Government terrified of saying the wrong thing and misjudging the public mood. But this is a Government that can afford to; it has an 80-seat majority. In some respects, Bo-Jo shares something with Richard Nixon in that he wants the people to love him; they certainly won’t respect him if he doesn’t grow a pair.

The swagger and bluster that has always been a Boris Johnson trademark has undeniably been muted these past few months; how much that is down to his own – by all accounts – extremely serious brush with Covid-19 or his basic inability to cope in a crisis is open to debate. But the fact is he has been an often-absent and routinely ineffective leader at a time when the country has required a Prime Minister with authority and gravitas; he has provided neither. I suspect his reluctance to be viewed as an illiberal, authoritarian politician caused the dithering and delay in taking the extreme and unprecedented decision of closing the country down, and then when it happened it was so sudden and ill-thought out that the ramifications for the nation have been disastrous.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has hinted hefty tax rises are imminent – though these were inevitable when the Government has been paying the wages of workers not working; the hospitality industry is attempting to get back on track, but social distancing rules and the uncertainty over mask-wearing is preventing it attracting the amount of money-spinning punters it depends upon. An economic recovery won’t hail from that quarter. Many white-collar workers are still dragging their feet in returning to the workplace, though much of this has been blamed on the difficulties of social distancing in that environment. At the same time, manual workers from a very different demographic have kept the country running and have done so without the luxury of home ‘work spaces’ from which to conduct Zoom conferences. Middle-class professionals having 80% of their earnings covered during the furloughing scheme managed to manage – though this didn’t translate quite so well to lower income households with far tighter budgets. But even beyond the economic fallout of the lockdown, there is the human cost.

Too little thought was given to the impact on the mental wellbeing of friends and families suddenly separated as though the Berlin Wall had appeared between them overnight. Elderly relatives marooned in care homes, confused special needs children in care homes of their own barred from seeing their parents for months, terminally-ill patients unable to say goodbye to loved ones – and what of those living alone and having their isolation intensified as the few contacts they had with the outside world at the best of times abruptly ceased? It’s no great surprise that cases of depression and suicides are both on the rise.

And still Project Fear staggers on, with its damage already done. A couple of weeks ago, I was out walking, not intending to pop into a shop and therefore mask-free; I saw a girl up ahead and skirted the kerb as best I could in order to give her plenty of room to avoid me – and it was an especially wide pavement, with a grass verge next to it. I noticed she headed in the direction of a garden gate and I assumed she was home; then I saw she hadn’t entered the premises, but was stood under a tree, a good twenty feet away from me; as I walked on, I glanced back and saw her emerge from the shadow of the tree and proceed on her journey. It seemed ludicrously disproportionate behaviour re the limited threat I posed to her; I mean, how close would she have to get for me to infect her with my corona-free germs? I laughed and shook my head and then paused, wondering if she’d lost a friend or family member to the virus; perhaps her caution in that context was understandable, but it still seemed OTT and maybe the end result of months of a media bombardment.

Indeed, the mainstream media continues to report coronavirus cases as though each equates with coronavirus deaths, keeping the panic going; local lockdowns are now regular occurrences as mothballed businesses reopen and then have to close their doors again, causing untold stress to their owners and a sense of being trapped in a perpetual Groundhog Day for the general public. It’s a bit of a bloody mess, but our leaders are there to deal with it, aren’t they? Yes, this is the time when strong, solid leadership is needed; and we ain’t getting it. One could argue nobody expected any of this, and it’s true few did; but these are the kind of unpredictable situations that serve as defining moments for Prime Ministers, and how they manage them measures the success or failure of their tenure in the job.

At the moment it looks as though Boris Johnson will be tarred with Covid-19 in the same way the loss of America tarred Lord North, Suez tarred Eden, the Three-Day Week tarred Heath, Iraq tarred Blair and Brexit tarred both Cameron and May. Naturally, there are the anticipated ‘rumblings’ from the backbenches, but that doesn’t necessarily mean an administration with an 80-seat majority over the opposition need quake in its boots. As for the man heading that administration, who knows? Is he up for the challenge ahead?

© The Editor