Over the past few days, we’ve received two reminders of how societies bereft of basic civil liberties and intolerant of criticism or dissent operate. In Saudi Arabia, the women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul was sentenced to five years and eight months for ‘spying with foreign parties’ and ‘conspiring against the kingdom’. One of the prominent campaigners to demand Saudi women be granted the considerable privilege of putting their feet on a pedal and steering a wheel, she had already been detained for over two years without charge; even though her sentence is to be backdated to her initial detainment in May 2018, her potential early release on parole will come with the caveat of a five-year travel ban and a three-year threat of a return to prison should she be deemed to be committing the same ‘crimes’. Loujain al-Hathloul claims she was tortured and sexually harassed during the period before her sentencing, and whilst her case is an undoubted abuse of human rights, it falls into a familiar middle-eastern tradition that could happen at any time.

A case more pertinent to the unique conditions of 2020 occurred in China when Zhang Zhan, a ‘citizen journalist’ who had posted online critiques of the Chinese Government’s response to the embryonic pandemic in Wuhan earlier this year, was sentenced to four years. Eight whistleblowers have already been punished for criticising how the CCP dealt with events in Wuhan, but Zhang Zhan received a wider audience via her videos and blogs reporting on the situation and challenging the party line. Found guilty of spreading ‘false remarks’ and ‘picking quarrels and provoking trouble’, Zhang has been on hunger strike since June and, following in a proud tradition established over a century ago to treat Suffragettes protesting the same way, she has been force-fed by her captors courtesy of the good old nasal tube. The manner of punishment dished out to both Loujain al-Hathloul and Zhang Zhan should serve as a potent lesson in how a West we are constantly being told is an utterly oppressive place to live has some serious competition for that accolade in other corners of the globe. But maybe our own democratically-elected overlords are the ones learning that lesson.

A government beholden to scientific and medical advisors whose sudden elevation to positions of power has given them carte-blanche to let their fantasy totalitarian blueprints for society run riot is not one any of us should invest our trust in. The general population is not so dim that it can’t calculate the positive effects of the measures introduced to prevent the rise in coronavirus infections that it has endured for the best part of ten months are, at best, minimal. In terms of achieving their overall aim, they just don’t bloody work. If incessant lockdowns, social distancing, the wearing of masks, the cancelling of ordinary social pursuits and the prevention of mingling with family and friends did work, the virus would have been severely downgraded by now – the magic vaccine not withstanding; instead, with the evidence of these policies’ failure all around us, the Government and its motley crew of megalomaniac cranks and quacks are ramping up the restrictions with a dangerous blend of desperation and self-righteousness. Tier 3 wasn’t enough, so Tier 4 came along; and now we’re informed Tier 4 is no good either. How many Tiers does it take to change a light-bulb?

When the public were gearing up to put the restrictions on temporary hold for a few days in order to enjoy Christmas, the ‘mutant strain’ (which had been held in reserve for just such a moment) was suddenly detonated to justify cancelling festivities. How convenient. And, if the latest Tiers produce the same results as all the ones before, who’s to blame for the rising infection rates? Well, not ‘the science’, obviously; no, it’s all the fault of those members of the public who aren’t doing as they’re told, of course. One doesn’t have to venture far into any shopping parade to realise the majority are observing the rules; the idea that the naughty minority disobeying the rules are a big enough section of the population to affect infection rates is laughable, but let’s not let that get in the way of passing the buck and absolving Government and the likes of SAGE from any blame, shall we? Yup, it’s our old default friend, divide and rule again. Point to dying grannies on trolleys in hospital corridors and then point to the nominated guilty parties to neutralise any deviation from the narrative. Question or criticise and you’ve got octogenarian blood on your hands. It’s your fault that new box of Werther’s Original will now never be opened, you sadistic, seditious traitor.

The apocalyptic prophesises of a ‘Covid Catastrophe’ pale next to the grim reality of the ‘Lockdown Catastrophe’, a killer which will have far more catastrophic ramifications for decades if the disastrous approach applied so far isn’t abandoned soon. The Doomsday predictions which repeatedly emanate from that deluded, fantasist clown Neil Ferguson sound more and more like an administration and its crackpot advisors scraping the bottom of a propaganda barrel to legitimise the continuation and strengthening of newfound powers it doesn’t want to relinquish. No, we’re not Saudi Arabia or China – that goes without saying; but where are we going if we stay on this path? Hardly towards a freer democratic society. Look at what we’ve already surrendered without a fight over the last few months, based on the pretext that each sacrifice was for the greater good. This time last year, would any of us have believed the extent of what we’ve given away in 2020? And where the hell will we be this time next year if this situation carries on?

The media lapdogs’ abandonment of their duty to question the wisdom of Government policy in 2020 perhaps reflects the manner in which newspaper proprietors and TV broadcasters have dispensed with their most authoritative and independent voices over the past decade; you can’t move on Fleet Street for the chattering of chickens that have come home to roost in the derelict newsrooms of every once-great paper. If any public service is struggling to cope with the demands placed upon it in the current crisis, chances are it’s because budgets have been annually slashed in a relentless tide of underinvestment that never anticipated a time when it’d be needed again; similarly, don’t expect any media outlet to abruptly regain its long-lost mojo when all the journalists whose talented pens put those outlets on the map have been pensioned off or simply sacked over the last few years. It’s no wonder the MSM response to this situation has been so supine and spineless.

All the most measured, rational, intelligent and eloquent responses this year have been found online. Yes, Twitter has a lot to answer for, but highlighting the worst offenders on social media as evidence that cyberspace is as much a stew of deliberate misinformation, lies and biased bullshit as any medium of older vintage is like holding up ‘Love, Actually’ as evidence that all British cinema is shit. In fact, one cannot but admire the true voices of sanity and reason that have fought for the right to be heard in a climate that has seen big tech try to silence any dissenters that have dared to question the prevailing and suffocating orthodoxy. The mere fact those voices have dared to speak and have made so many isolated individuals genuinely feel they’re not alone in 2020 has been the sole crumb of comfort and sliver of hope for a future that this God-awful year has offered. And, as long as those voices can continue to be heard in 2021, there is hope that twelve months from now we won’t find ourselves living in an offshore suburb of Riyadh or Beijing, bereft of any proof of who we used to be or who we really are.

© The Editor


Say the name ‘Van der Valk’ to anyone of a certain age and the chances are they’ll be provoked into whistling – or at least humming – the theme tune. ‘Eye Level’ by the Simon Park Orchestra represented one of those occasional anomalies in the UK charts of the 1970s, when a freak smash zoomed past the usual suspects and shot to the top spot when nobody was looking; in the case of the theme from one of ITV’s hit dramas of the era, both Slade and The Sweet were kept from the No.1 position courtesy of its unexpected success, which was no mean feat in the frenzied Glam scene of 1973. Simultaneously bombastic and sweetly melodic, ‘Eye Level’ remains an infectious earworm that lacks the testosterone-driven machismo of the cop show themes that opened the likes of ‘The Sweeney’ or ‘The Professionals’. In its own way, however, it works because it mirrors the somewhat erudite lead character of the series as well as the picturesque European city that Commissaris Piet Van der Valk polices – Amsterdam.

Based upon the 60s novels written by Nicolas Freeling, the eponymous Dutch detective was brought to the small screen by Thames in 1972. The language barrier was overcome by having every character speak English whilst implying they’re speaking in their native tongue to each other, as had become second nature when Nazis conversed in the war movies of the period – or the Parisians in that earlier UK-produced detective series based in a European city, ‘Maigret’. ‘Van der Valk’ had an advantage over competing shows of the time by virtue of its novel setting – though the videotaped studio scenes were recorded in London, the location filming was all done in Amsterdam; the programme therefore immediately stood out, for in an era that had yet to see foreign holidays become the norm for the majority of Brits, a city such as Amsterdam retained an air of the unfamiliar. It was good timing, too; from the dominance and brilliance of Ajax and Feyenoord on the football field to the bonkers Prog Rock innnovation of Focus, the Dutch were making quite a pop cultural mark in the early 70s.

The actor playing Van der Valk had a face that rang more bells than his name when he landed the part. Barry Foster had gained a reputation for playing some fairly unpleasant characters in British films of the late 60s and into the 70s – a boorish bully in ‘The Family Way’, a ruthless Republican paramilitary in ‘Ryan’s Daughter’, and most memorably of all, an arrogant rapist in Hitchcock’s blackly comic ‘Frenzy’. He was an interesting choice to portray a good guy, but the character of Van der Valk combined an occasionally gruff exterior with some intriguing hidden depths. The lead characters in the most popular US police/detective shows of the 70s generally had a visual gimmick that distinguished them from one another – Columbo’s dirty mac, Ironside’s wheelchair, Kojak’s bald head, and so on. Their British equivalents tended to be more subtle in what made them distinctive, and with regards to Van der Valk it was mainly down to the man he was outside of the job.

When at home, the Commissaris liked to spend his evenings listening to classical music and enjoying what used to bear the exotic label of haute cuisine; he could indulge in the latter due to the fact that he was a happily married man – and married to an exceptional cook. That Van der Valk wasn’t a divorcee or a perpetual bachelor makes him a different proposition from many TV cops that followed; he and his French wife Arlette are not only very much in love, but intellectual equals. Despite initially having a sidekick in the shape of Michael Latimer’s Johnny Kroon (who sounded as though he should’ve been playing alongside Johan Cruyff), Van der Valk never really had a permanent Carter to his Regan, and Mrs Van der Valk is his one true confidant, the person he discusses cases with over dinner and who often helps him solve them. Their marriage even survives Arlette being played by three different actresses over the course of the series’ lengthy timespan.

One of Amsterdam’s more infamous industries doesn’t figure as prominently as one might expect in the series; the notorious ladies in the windows only feature in a solitary episode, and many of the crimes Van der Valk deals with could happen anywhere. Perhaps anticipating the later ‘thinking man’s copper’ trend for loners rather than team players, ‘Van der Valk’ is not an ensemble piece and there’s a notable absence of screeching tyres and shoot-outs, at least in the first two series. For some strange reason, there was a four-year gap between series two and series three, and when ‘Van der Valk’ returned in 1977 it was produced by Thames’ on-location company, Euston Films. This meant the entire show could now be shot in Amsterdam, but it also required a slight increase in the kind of action Euston specialised in. When series three ended, the programme was then mothballed again, but this time for the best part of 13 years.

By now you’ll have worked out the Dutch detective is my current vintage viewing, but though I recall the earlier series from childhood, I’d never seen the early 90s revival until reaching it on the box-set. Happily, the theme tune and the leading man are intact, but there are several changes to the formula. In tune with the ‘Inspector Morse’-style format of the period, these episodes are movie-length and though the storylines are still engaging and the guest actors impressive, the beginnings of that contemporary curse where TV drama is concerned – intrusive incidental music – does get in the way somewhat. The original series barely had any incidental music at all, but the 90s revival is swamped in it from the off, unnecessarily melodramatic and also badly dated by virtue of it being the awful synth strings of the time.

One aspect of the 1991/92 series that occurred to me when watching has nothing to do with the show itself, but is more of a cultural factor: I couldn’t help but conclude how much nicer young women looked in the early 90s, something I’d never considered until I saw the evidence from a fresh perspective. There are no fake tans, no piercings, no tattoos, and the cosmetics on the countenances are fairly minimal; they look more naturally beautiful than their 21st century equivalents, and whilst I’m no position to judge how young women should or shouldn’t present themselves when facing the world, it was an observation I thought worthy of noting in the context of then and now. It’s often only when one is unexpectedly confronted by the forgotten fashions of a past one lived through that unavoidable comparisons are made.

Barry Foster passed away at the age of 70 in 2002. Outside of ‘Van der Valk’, he seemed to be one of those actors who was rarely out of work, though his portrayal of TV’s most famous Dutch detective understandably overshadows the rest of his substantial CV; the lead role in a successful series tends to be the one the viewing public will always associate an actor with. ‘Van der Valk’ itself was apparently revived anew earlier this year, with Marc Warren stepping into the Commissaris’ shoes. I didn’t catch it, but by all accounts it bore little connection to the original series bar the name; it didn’t even exhume ‘Eye Level’, which is pretty unforgivable. Of course, 2020 bears little connection to most years, never mind the ones in which ‘Van der Valk’ aired first time round, with or without that theme tune. But spending evenings turning back the clock is nevertheless one of 2020’s defining characteristics for your humble narrator. And in that respect, the series is as relevant to now as it was to then.

© The Editor


Although the generally accepted lifespan of the Cold War stretches from the Soviet blockade of Berlin in 1948 all the way to the collapse of the USSR in the early 90s, it was perhaps at its dramatic height on UK soil from 1956 to 1966. This remarkable decade began with the public exposure of Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, five years after their joint flight to Moscow, and ended with the escape of George Blake – another senior British Intelligence figure in the pocket of the KGB – from Wormwood Scrubs. The death of Blake at the age of 98, which was announced yesterday, finally brings the curtain down on a cloak-and-dagger era that inspired some of our finest novels and TV dramas of the 1960s and 70s. That Blake should die within a fortnight of John le Carré, a writer perhaps more responsible than any other author for turning unpleasant (not to say embarrassing) spy fact into page-turning spy fiction, seems somehow fitting. The shadow of the enigmatic traitors whose activities contaminated the SIS for decades not only permeated the likes of ‘Callan’, ‘Special Branch’, and ‘The Sandbaggers’ on television, but turned a former MI5 and MI6 man into one of the world’s foremost storytellers of the subject.

The early 1960s saw a staggering succession of spy scandals that suggested Britain was overrun with KGB operatives – Blake arrested and sentenced to an unprecedented 42 years in 1961; the suburban spies of the Portland Spy Ring exposed and imprisoned that same year; Royal Navy civil servant John Vassall arrested and sentenced in 1962; the exposure of Kim Philby as the Third Man in the Cambridge Spy Ring and his swift flight to Moscow in 1963; and Blake’s escape from prison en route to the same destination as Philby in 1966. There was enough sensational material revealed in that short period to keep le Carré in typewriters for the rest of his life, and it was no coincidence his first best-seller, ‘The Spy Who Came In from the Cold’, was published the year of Philby’s publicised defection. Coupled with the fantasy espionage of James Bond and the cinematic and televisual genre 007 spawned once the 60s began to swing, spy fiction became big business whilst the real thing was exposed as a tawdry trade riddled with dirty tricks and double agents. Even an otherwise-classic British political sex scandal such as 1963’s Profumo Affair seemed incomplete without a Russian spy being thrown into the salacious mix.

By the time of Anthony Blunt’s belated public exposure by the Thatcher Government as the Fourth Man in the Cambridge Spy Ring in 1979, the story of KGB recruitment at Cambridge during the 1930s was already the stuff of legend. Anti-fascist sentiment and the blind eyes turned to Stalin’s purges when Hitler was deemed a greater threat pushed a generation of idealistic opportunists into the arms of the Soviet cause, albeit a cause requiring betraying one’s own country where the young men signing up to the Foreign Office and the SIS were concerned. The scandal surrounding two such sloppy (and squiffy) operatives as Burgess and Maclean had been an accident waiting to happen for years, but the old school tie was both an entrée into upper establishment echelons and a pleb-proof vest that guaranteed immunity from suspicion outside of the elite circles. By 1951, however, that immunity was being severely tested; joint CIA/MI5 investigations into a British mole supplying the Soviets with intelligence prompted MI6 double agent Kim Philby to tip off his old Cambridge colleagues, and Burgess and Maclean bolted.

That it took five years for their defection to the USSR to be officially confirmed perhaps underlines how reluctant the establishment were to publicly shop ‘one of their own’. That it also took another seven years before Philby himself was named and shamed (and also bolted) speaks volumes. The damage done by Philby to the international reputation of British Intelligence ricochets throughout the spy fiction of the decade following his defection; he was believed to be the primary source for the character of Bill Haydon – AKA ‘Gerald the Mole’ – in le Carré’s seminal ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’ – and yet were this kind of un-cricket behaviour restricted to the Cambridge graduates of the 30s, perhaps the damage could have been minimised. As it was, there were many other KGB recruits operating in the UK that bore no connection to that particular spy ring. George Blake was cut from a very different cloth to Blunt, Burgess, Maclean and Philby.

The son of a Spanish Jew who had earned British citizenship through fighting on the British side in WWI, Blake was Dutch by birth and lived in the Netherlands until his father’s death. He was then dispatched to an aunt in Egypt, which brought him under the influence of an older cousin committed to Marxism and Egyptian nationalism; a return to Holland in 1940 coincided with the German invasion and occupation that led to Blake’s recruitment by the Dutch Resistance. He escaped to Britain in 1943 and shortly after joining the Royal Navy was drafted into MI6; an immediate post-war stint in Hamburg was followed by a spell at Cambridge studying languages before he was posted to South Korea; Blake’s mission gathering intelligence on the Communist North was then disrupted by the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950. The conflict proved life-changing when he was imprisoned for the majority of the War and the beliefs inculcated by his cousin in Cairo years before resurfaced; his revulsion at the bombing of North Korean villages by the US Air Force apparently sealed his allegiance to the Communist cause and to Soviet Intelligence.

His cover as a hero ensured upon his release and return to the UK in 1953, Blake’s position in the SIS was secure and he was sent to Berlin in order to recruit double agents. This post enabled him to pass on secrets to the KGB, and he was estimated to have betrayed over 40 MI6 men to the Russians during his decade in Berlin, contributing to the ruin of SIS operations in Eastern Europe. His cover was eventually blown by a Polish defector in 1961 and his recall to London resulted in arrest, interrogation and a trial at the Old Bailey in camera, where he was convicted on five separate counts of spying; the separate charges were responsible for his unusually large sentence of 42 years, though Blake probably wasn’t helped by the fevered climate in which his exposure and trial took place.

Blake was fortunate that his incarceration at Wormwood Scrubs brought him into the orbit of two imprisoned CND activists whose romantic idealism persuaded them he was the victim of an unjust system; they aided and abetted his escape from prison just four years into his sentence and provided several safe-houses upon absconding before their network of do-gooders helped smuggle him across the Channel and through the Iron Curtain, where he was finally reunited with his Soviet handlers in East Berlin. Like Kim Philby, Blake then settled in Moscow, where he was hailed as a hero. It must have been a curious community of old Englishmen abroad as the years rolled by and the cause for which they had betrayed their countries fell into obsolescence. Eking out what one imagines was a pretty dreary existence on a KGB pension, Blake’s status in Cold War mythology remained intact from the Russian perspective, however; at the age of 85, he was awarded the Order of Peoples Friendship by Vlad, whose own former career had relied on the contribution of men such as George Blake.

George Blake’s position is perhaps more understandable than the likes of Philby; the latter undoubtedly bit the hand that fed him, whereas Blake declared he had never felt accepted by the establishment that had nurtured the Cambridge Spies. It was far easier for him to betray Britain because he didn’t feel he was truly accepted as ‘one of ours’ by his SIS spymasters in the first place. But they were a unique breed indeed, products of their turbulent times and an unstable map of ever-changing alliances and allegiances. In the end, it really was every man for himself.

© The Editor


Amidst the twisted tapestry of massaged stats, misinformation and denial, one concrete casualty of the catastrophic Government approach to combating Covid that can penetrate the blind spots of even the most committed lockdown fanatics is the wholesale destruction of the hospitality industry. You can’t avoid it; the cold, hard evidence is there whenever you stroll along any urban parade. When it comes to businesses that have been laid waste by the illogical laws, rules and regulations rushed through and imposed without any evident care or consideration for the economy, cafés, clubs, bars, restaurants and – most visibly of all – pubs have arguably suffered more than any other outlet patronised by the public in 2020. Of course, many pubs were already struggling long before any careless Chinese scientist dropped a test tube thousands of miles away; they’ve been vanishing at a record rate due to various factors over the past decade, beginning with the smoking ban of 2007. But that most traditional (and though I detest the phrase I’ll use it) ‘community hub’ of these islands has been discarded this year with a casual criminality by the powers-that-be that makes a mockery of the faux-Blitz Spirit that the fatuous ‘we’re all in this together’ guff seeks to generate.

Ironically, one way – and the worst possible way – that the ‘we’re all in this together’ slogan actually rings true is in the across-the-board massacre of an industry that employs millions; the humble taverns in the town have been brought to their knees, yes – but so have those higher up the food & drink chain. Yesterday it was announced that London’s prestigious Café de Paris would not be opening its doors again, just four years short of celebrating its centenary. If ever proof were needed precisely how much of a leveller the nihilistic policies drummed-up by public health ‘experts’ drunk on power have proven to be, the closure of such a legendary venue with such a rich history is it.

Naturally, it’s easy to play the yardstick measurement game and regard the demise of a classy nightclub situated in the capital as not being worthy of sympathy when lined-up next to a small provincial business that was utterly inclusive and affordable and provided its proprietors with their sole income; indeed, how can a club in the ownership of a notable restaurant group be remotely comparable a tragedy? Well, for one thing, the Café de Paris wasn’t staffed by robots. It closure means more numbers are added to the unemployment figures, and if you’re made redundant it makes no difference if your P45 came from the Café de Paris in London or Roy’s Rolls in Salford – you’re still out of work.

The moving of time’s goalposts has already seen what used to be referred to as ‘the Naughty Nineties’ rebranded simply as the 1890s both because there’s nobody left alive to recount just how naughty they were and those of us left alive have since lived through another 90s; and now we’ve reached the third decade of the 21st century, will ‘the Roaring Twenties’ suffer a similar fate? The generation that made it out of the First World War in one piece and the one too young to have experienced it first-hand famously shook off the shackles of lingering Victorian conformity and were determined to have a party – those that could afford it, of course. Corsets were cast aside, hemlines rose, cocktails were consumed, cigarettes were smoked, and a frenzied new music called Jazz soundtracked the hedonism. Yes, it all came crashing down along with Wall Street in 1929, but it must have been fun while it lasted. The Bright Young Things that Evelyn Waugh observed and satirised saw various night-spots spring up to cater for their extravagant tastes, but the one that lasted the longest – almost by a full century – was London’s Café de Paris.

Opening in 1924, the Café de Paris was an instant magnet for the It Girls and Boys of the age, one specialising in ‘cabaret’ when that word evoked images of Art Deco-draped decadence most famously associated with the Berlin of the period rather than the naff ‘chicken-in-a-basket’ connotations it later acquired. The Café de Paris swiftly garnered a glamorous reputation as an epicentre of movers and shakers when the playboy Prince of Wales became a regular patron and Hollywood icon Louise Brooks introduced the Charleston to these shores on the venue’s dance-floor. Just as the Swinging London of the 60s was enjoyed by a small group of affluent youngsters, the Swinging London of the 20s was reserved for a similarly exclusive set, if not more so, with the class boundaries far more rigid then than 40 years later. Things only relaxed during the Second World War when the club had no option but to introduce a more democratic door policy in order to remain in business; the premises also took a direct hit from a German bomb during the Blitz, an incident that resulted in over 30 deaths, but enabled what had previously been an elitist enclave to look the London beyond the West End in the eye.

Unlike the Windmill (‘we never closed’), the Café de Paris didn’t reopen until 1948, but even if the Jazz Age was over by then, it didn’t take long to re-establish itself as both a place to be seen and to perform; ‘cabaret seasons’ from the likes of Marlene Dietrich and Noel Coward, as well as performances by A-listers such as Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland, were regular attractions in a post-war era sorely starved of glamour. Changing pop cultural fashions and the eventual rise of a generation eager to establish its own night-spots left the Café de Paris as something of an irrelevant relic in the 60s and 70s. However, as is always the case, the circle eventually comes full and by the 80s the Café de Paris had acquired a certain retro hipness that resulted in a new role as an ideal location for shooting movies set in the recent past; both ‘The Krays’ and ‘Absolute Beginners’ made use of the venue’s charmingly faded grandeur.

By the dawn of the 21st century, the Café de Paris seemed to be in good health again; a postmodern, kitsch concept of cabaret became one of its weekly features and a refreshingly rare dress code was upheld that made the venue one of the few contemporary clubs to spare patrons the blight of the slob ensemble characterised by trainers and sportswear; ditto the fancy dress clichés of the shrieking hen party. One had to make the effort to pass through its doors – and why not? In its heyday, the Café de Paris had been the place for those keen to be seen on the cultural cutting edge; but in its later years it had offered an old-school alternative to the modern nightclub, trading on its past and reinventing itself as an oasis of antiquated sophistication. After WWII it was symbolic of the good life for those prone to dreaming of one in the bombsites of monochrome Blighty, and it could have served a similar purpose in the post-Covid bombsite we’ve all got to look forward to. Alas, it won’t get to perform that function for tomorrow’s dreamers.

The permanent closure of the Café de Paris is due to Maxwell’s Restaurant Group, the club’s parent company, going into liquidation with the loss of 400 jobs. The constant uncertainty surrounding all hospitality venues, the dramatic cutting in customer numbers on account of coronavirus restrictions during the brief spells when they sporadically reopen, and inevitable rent arrears on premises denied making money have all played their part in bringing to a sad end a chapter in the capital’s nightlife that was one of the few surviving links to an era now very much beyond living memory. Surrounded by the obliterations of livelihoods far lower down the social scale, many will perhaps regard the disappearance of the Café de Paris with a shrug of the shoulders and an opinion that others have got it far worse; but when depression hits, escapism and dreaming matter. And we’re going to need them more than ever in the years to come, for we won’t have much else.

© The Editor


So, Boris grabs the Cromwell crown and cancels Christmas. Sir Keir puts the boot in, but still supports the newest addition to the Tier system – 4 and counting – all the same. Just when the nation was giving thanks to our gracious overlords for being granted permission to take time out for a few days of festivities, that nasty coronavirus has gone and done what viruses have a habit of doing – it’s mutated into an even deadlier strain. A shame, because according to the Office of National Statistics, fewer deaths have been registered in the UK this year than at any time over the last five years; that either means the lockdown cycle, social distancing and mask-wearing works, or that this pandemic isn’t quite the apocalypse we’ve been led to believe; and if the latter is the case, where be the justification for the Prime Minister’s latest blow to public morale? The cruelty of an eleventh hour U-turn suggests a reluctance to do the deed on Boris’s part; then again, it could simply be another example of the man’s ineptitude as a leader. Many understandably feel he is playing Lucy to their Charlie Brown, promising not to move the football as hapless, trusting Chuck runs up to kick it and then falls flat on his back once more as Lucy does indeed move it before his kick makes contact.

Overnight images of the multitudes crammed into London’s stations, fleeing the capital like bewildered evacuees in 1939, also evoked the desperation of the citizens of Saigon besieging the US Embassy as the Communist forces approached in 1975. Indeed, in the vivid portraits painted by lockdown fanatics, Covid-19 has now almost taken on the qualities of an invading army; Matt Hancock, bravely holding back the tears on Andrew Marr’s Sunday morning breakfast show and maintaining the hackneyed ‘we’re all in this together’ narrative, declared ‘collectively, we all face the same enemy’ – just like we faced Napoleonic France or Nazi Germany. Thanks to the Government pressing the panic button, Londoners were given barely five or six hours to get out of London before the gates of the capital were bolted; if one buys into the wartime rhetoric and visualises the virus as a physical foe, the last-minute decision announced on Saturday has led to this enemy now being dispatched across the country, delivered to provincial doorsteps like so many gift-wrapped bath salts nobody wants.

A mass evacuation in which social distancing is unavoidably spurned makes ‘acting like you have the virus’ (© Mr Hancock) as much of a farcical piece of advice on a packed train carriage as it does on a crowded shopping street. Or maybe ‘acting like you have the virus’ equates with exercising one’s own judgement as to the risk you pose to others and not spending the rest of your days self-identifying as a leper. Earlier, somebody said on Twitter words to the effect that the current design for life seems to be simply avoiding dying, which isn’t really living, is it? If that was living, then Hillary would never have reached the summit of Everest, the Wright brothers would never have climbed aboard the Wright Flyer, and Yuri Gagarin would have left the space race to dogs and monkeys. Mind you, put the fear of God into enough people and chances are plenty of them will quickly come to believe the most basic and mundane of tasks are charged with the same risk to life and limb that accompanied every giant leap for mankind – and chances are they’ll opt out of undertaking them.

Sad as it is, we have now become accustomed to the constant threat of regional lockdowns that make travelling from one part of the country to another something of a minefield; but we were told it would be possible to journey into the lost worlds of the provinces over Christmas as some sort of reward for enduring the most repressive peacetime restrictions on civil liberties the British people have ever been subjected to – albeit at a cost; the prospect of another national lockdown in January was seen by many as the price to be paid for relaxing restrictions a little for a paltry four or five days in December. This is what it has come to – having to express gratitude to Government for allowing a bit of extended time in the company of loved ones that Government policy in 2020 has kept separated from one another. ‘Please, sir, I want some more,’ said the nation to Boris Bumble, and the Parish Beadle has duly obliged by refusing the request. Having the promised extended time now either cut short to one day (outside of London and the South East) or completely curtailed (London and the South East) means there are an awful lot of folk out there who are seeing their temporary respite from this abysmal year go up in smoke.

Of course, for many people, Christmas is always like this – lonely, empty and unhappy. When it belatedly registered that none of this would be over by Christmas, the news that friends and family would no longer be ringing the doorbell in the anticipated numbers has been a crushing disappointment to millions across the country; but for others, an absence of guests is the norm come December, every December. Christmas isn’t one long-running, sentimental John Lewis advert for everybody; and even if one strips away the Disneyfied sheen and acknowledges that those family gatherings in which festering grievances that are kept suppressed for the rest of the year can abruptly erupt are far more common than ad agencies would have us believe, these unpleasant reunions are not necessarily universal. It should be remembered that not everyone has family members, either with or without festering grievances; not everyone has enough friends to make up a party; not everyone has a partner or spouse to keep them company even in the event of Covid-19 preventing others from calling laden with presents.

Those for whom Christmas is a bleak reminder of their own isolation from the rest of humanity as television, the internet and the media bombard them with annual images of how the other half live are now seeing their miserable seasonal ritual shared by those utterly unused to it. I’m sure only the most mean-minded in that position would feel any sense of smug satisfaction at this development; most wouldn’t wish their kind of Christmas on anyone, and the thought that so many are now poised to experience it shouldn’t serve as any sort of solace. At the same time, perhaps these events could be seen as an invaluable reminder that the Christmas routine we are informed is that of the majority is also a luxury fantasy to the lonely and unloved. Some only appear capable of empathy when they themselves undergo privations, so we can but hope lessons are learned this year that prove useful on the off-chance that we’ve returned to a semblance of normality by Christmas 2021. We’ll see.

Personally, I do feel genuine sympathy for those whose plans for long-awaited get-togethers have now been completely trashed; I appreciate what a big deal this is to them, even if their concept of Christmas is entirely alien to me. Speaking for myself, I would’ve been spending Christmas Day alone with or without coronavirus, anyway, and – bar one divine deviation from the norm in recent years – this is pretty standard Yuletide fare for me. But observing the latest cruel move by a political class seemingly intent on crushing the spirit of the public so that they’ll eventually accept compulsory vaccination gives me no pleasure, and I really would be something of a Scrooge if it did.

© The Editor


This Christmas, I think there should be a festive, Covid-themed ‘Desert Island Discs’ in which Matt Hancock, Nicola Sturgeon, Mark Drakeford and Neil Ferguson are cast away together – all brought to you by Zoom, naturally (stay safe) – and I suspect they’ll opt for ‘Tiers are Not Enough’ by ABC as the one they’d rescue from the waves given the choice. Of course, I’ve taken liberties with the spelling of ‘Tiers’, but it makes more sense given the context. Any scaremongering, wannabe Goebbels who has seen just how easy it is to ensure compliance via the propaganda of fear will never settle for the privations already imposed upon a weary populace such as those applied in 2020. Why stop there? There will be no end in sight, for an apparently obedient people whose response to every nonsensical and disproportionate demand on their civil liberties is to do as they’re told and put up with everything is the ultimate aphrodisiac to the powers-that-be we voted into office. They know lockdowns don’t achieve their intended aim, but like the WWI generals-in-denial that they are, they go on and on and on, constantly sending men over the top as a futile gesture in the absence of genuine solutions.

I seem to remember a recent mini-lockdown in Wales a month or so ago that was supposed to last a fortnight – a ‘wind-break’ or whatever it was called; it didn’t exactly cleanse the valleys of the coronavirus, but it gave the Welsh Protectorate an excuse to close the pubs and also exposed the Puritan mindset at the dark heart of a project intended to make everyone’s lives as joyless as those making up the rules and the lobby groups they’re in the pockets of. After nine months of this, it feels like they’ve succeeded. When people are too scared to do anything or go anywhere because they don’t know if they’re ‘allowed’ to, something has been achieved in terms of control that even Stalin couldn’t manage. This lot don’t need to send tanks up the high-street; they don’t even need to build Gulags to imprison opponents, for they’ve turned everyone’s home into a Gulag. Every address has a Siberian postcode now, and everyone is under permanent house arrest – confined to claustrophobic quarters indefinitely, and only permitted to leave if in possession of a pass signifying one has received the vaccine. It seems as though the world has rapidly morphed into one giant Communist State.

Some have hinted at masks being worn for at least another year. It matters not that the effectiveness of this horrible addition to the outdoor ensemble remains open to question, for it is such a powerful visual symbol of compliance that it will stick. Lest we forget, there are many nations around the world that worked this out a long time ago. Indeed, if only there was an article of clothing already in existence that could spare us having to don a mask, one that would minimise all risk of human contact and super-spreading by comprehensively covering the whole body apart from the eyes; I think there might be one, but I can’t remember what it’s called. Masks weren’t compulsory wear at the point when Covid-19 was killing the most people, yet the mandatory adoption of them since feels like the public are being punished for the failures of their leaders to deal with this back in the spring – back when we were told the war would be over by Christmas. But punishing the public is a tactic that has been employed for months now; every descent into Lockdown 2.0 onwards comes with the implicit threat that what doesn’t work will be our fault; this is pre-emptive buck-passing in action.

For all the talk of that awful phrase, ‘the New Normal’, none of this is normal, nor should it ever be regarded as such. That said, the longer it goes on the more normal it becomes and the easier it is for yet another fast-tracked restriction on democratic freedoms to be imposed without resistance; as the population is gradually institutionalised – not to say infantilised – to the point whereby the independent, informed decision of the autonomous adult has to defer to authority for permission to do anything, the greater the likelihood of a generation being raised with no idea life wasn’t always lived this way. The prospect of the police turning up mob-handed and kicking the door down to prevent a group of friends meeting and choosing to take their own health and wellbeing into their own hands – as is their wont – is a far more effective deterrent than vague threats of personal health concerns; if that bothered people, nobody would smoke or drink. We’re over-18! With so many avenues of pleasure – even the most private – closed down in the great isolation experiment, it almost feels like we’re witnessing the birth of a new form of divide and rule, one in which each individual is divided from the next and all forms of potential gatherings that social animals instinctively crave when threatened are outlawed; the mask – its most potent badge of voluntary oppression – completes the picture.

I reserve the right to disagree with a fair amount of what is being done, and whilst I have no axe to grind with the concept of a vaccine, I reserve the right to retain scepticism until its effectiveness (or lack of) has been proven. The fact that even those who have lined-up to receive it will still have to undergo the self-isolation ritual if they test positive for Covid afterwards seems to render it more placebo than panacea. I am not an anti-vaccer; by all means, give it to those who want it and/or need it, but don’t treat those who harbour reservations as though they’re lily-livered conscientious objectors. To question the propaganda machine is to be regarded as a conspiracy theory crank or unpatriotic, a ‘Covidiot’ who may as well wear a white feather. Highlight concerns on social media and you risk censorship, suspension or exile; protest in public and don’t expect a benign police escort ala BLM, for you belong to a dangerous fifth column that must be silenced. As with Identity Politics and the Brexit factions, opposing views are heresy.

The men at the top are doing alright out of this catastrophe, like spivs flogging black-market goods at extortionate prices in post-war Berlin. No journalist ever asks these men how many lives have been lost as a consequence of lockdowns and all their related social depravations. No journalist asks them about those who have lost their jobs, who have seen their businesses wiped out, who can’t pay their rent, who can’t feed their families, who are locked-up with abusive partners, who carry cancers that will be detected too late because of a backlog that all attention being given to a far less deadly virus has caused, who are suicidal because everything has been taken away from them; no journalist is asking the men at the top these questions. And if anyone raises these important issues, they’re demonised as dissenters. Contradict the consensus at your peril.

The successful absorption of Covid Project Fear is all around us, dictating every decision as millions of diehard law-abiding people are faced with little choice but to become law-breakers. It is impossible to navigate the maze of complex and contradictory regulations without breaking at least one; the country has been transformed into a vast Circumlocution Office, as inept a bureaucratic behemoth as any that Little Dorrit could have confronted. The possibilities for satire and the comedy of the absurd would be a goldmine were it not so serious. The masked masses are a dispiriting enough sight as it is, but seeing toddlers in something which is even less necessary for them is as disturbing as it is tragic, transplanting the blood on the hands of this generation onto the next. The life we knew wasn’t great, but it was better than this excuse for one; and that old life is gone, probably for good. I could cite something someone once said, something about picturing the future as a boot stamping on a human face – forever. But I’ll probably settle for Merry Christmas, ’cause we’re all in it together – innit.

© The Editor


It’s not much of a gamble as gambles go, but purchasing anything on the strength of a good review and a feeling that ‘this looks right up my street’ sometimes pays off. I would occasionally apply this logic way back when there was such a thing as a music press and ‘Single of the Week’ would praise an unknown song by an unknown band; once or twice, I struck lucky, whereas there were far more occasions when I realised the enthusiastic reviewer had probably received a handsome backhander from the band’s manager to shower plaudits on the atrocious single in question. Anyway, when it comes to buying DVDs on Amazon, every once in a while I gamble and I did so last week. ‘The Tyrant King’ is about as obscure a TV series from the 60s as you can get – a children’s drama serial, the first-ever production by Thames Television before it had even superseded ABC and Rediffusion in the London region, filmed in colour but broadcast in black & white, shown once in the autumn of 1968 and never seen on TV again – i.e. it looked right up my street.

Indeed, having now watched this six-part series, I’m still not quite sure if I dreamt it up or not; it certainly has the feel of some imaginary kid’s show from the 60s I’d be watching in a dream and then wake up from, wondering if my mind had concocted it or if it had genuinely existed. To be fair, it does have an exceedingly dreamlike ambience, bearing more of a resemblance in style to a European Art-house movie of the era than something intended to air at teatime. Then there’s the inspired – and, considering the context, quite avant-garde – soundtrack; the likes of Pink Floyd, Cream, The Nice and The Moody Blues are so expertly woven into the surreal fabric of the series it’s as though the bands had scored the show. If my imagination had invented ‘The Tyrant King’, it’s precisely the kind of hazy interlude between Psychedelia and Prog Rock I would have selected; the chosen songs still possess the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ vibe of 1967, but also point to the darker decade just round the corner. With the three lead characters all on the cusp of adulthood, albeit not quite there yet, one might say the soundtrack mirrors their one-foot-in-both-camps status.

As was the case with all ‘child actors’ in TV dramas produced for an audience of under-16s up until ‘Grange Hill’, the trio whose strange adventure the series follows are frightfully middle-class, continuing the ‘Famous Five’ tradition that proved surprisingly durable until well into the 70s. As with Enid Blyton’s gang, this one is inadvertently caught up in a mystery involving sinister grownups, a mystery only they can solve; but this is Enid Blyton if she’d dropped acid en route to Toytown. Yes, the three are archetypes – the brainy, sensible boy; the ‘cool’ kid; and the pretty girl; but the latter two – brother and sister – exhibit a dazzling array of Carnaby Street threads. Bill could almost pass for Monkee Peter Tork whilst Charlotte’s hemlines would undoubtedly be deemed a tad too high for a 14/15-year-old girl these days. All three leads reside in comfortable Suburbia, though the striking house Bill and Charlotte call home looks like it had won some 60s ‘design a luxury pad’ competition, the kind of dwelling I could imagine George Best having as his address.

The two main villains of the piece remain elusive and mysterious figures until the big reveal in the final episode. The charismatic and dependable Welsh actor Philip Madoc – who always possessed a natural flair for simmering villainy – first crosses the gang’s path in a threatening way during a visit to St Paul’s Cathedral; they nickname him ‘Scarface’ because…well, because he’s got a scar on his forehead. Then there’s the gloriously camp Murray Melvin, still best-remembered for his groundbreaking performance as Geoffrey alongside Rita Tushingham in ‘A Taste of Honey’, who goes by the slightly unsettling name of ‘Uncle Gerry’ and dresses like a gay Doctor Who – hat, cloak, cane and all. The gang first stumble upon him whilst exploring an old house they assumed was empty, a house crammed with the sort of eccentric and creepy Victoriana ephemera that was going for a song in antiques shops on the King’s Road at the time. They overhear him on the telephone and the intriguing mention of ‘the Tyrant King’ sets them off on their quest across the capital to discover the secret of something they suspect is dangerous but nonetheless must pursue. Let’s face it, it’d make a pretty dull six episodes if they’d bottled it and decided not to bother.

As the series was shot entirely on 16mm film rather than being slowed down by long videotaped scenes on studio sets, the pace is far quicker than one traditionally associates with dramas from the period; it also enables the full, exhilarating whirl of the toing and froing around Swinging London to be enjoyed in the breathless spirit of the time. The sequence at Kew Gardens in particular is reminiscent of the Maryon Park scenes from ‘Blow Up’ in the way the picturesque location seems simultaneously serene and spooky, but director Mike Hodges shot it with a cinematic eye that pointed the way to his future career (three years later he directed ‘Get Carter’); one wonders if Hodges also had a hand in the ‘out there’ soundtrack that older TV execs probably wouldn’t have opted for in 1968. Even though the series was effectively sponsored by London Transport to encourage folk to travel around town by bus or train, each location visited (including the obvious ones) is shown in a fresh and often disturbing light that works well with the additional snatches of detached dialogue accompanying the disjointed travelogue, ones that seem to be beamed in from a radio picking up the discharge of Numbers Stations.

Inevitably with a series shot wholly on location (and such a visually fascinating location, to boot) there’s the nostalgia factor of a London looking as we grew up believing London looked from snow-globes, biscuit tins or postcards; but it’s equally marvellous to see how the cutting edge of contemporary pop culture (including drugs!) even infiltrated the cosy enclaves of children’s television in 1968, something for which there was precious little evidence until ‘The Tyrant King’ was excavated from obscurity by the ever-reliable DVD company specialising in vintage TV, Network. The series was written by Trevor Preston, one of the great television writers of the era and one who went onto create another weird and wonderful kid’s show, ‘Ace of Wands’, as well as eventually penning the memorable crime miniseries starring Tom Bell in 1978, ‘Out’. Coupled with an adventurous, up-and-coming director such as Mike Hodges, the presence of a writer of the calibre of Trevor Preston shows how much talent was invested in children’s television back then. Yes, it could still dredge up the music hall pantomime of something like ‘Crackerjack’, but when it came to drama, every effort was made to ensure it wasn’t just a watered-down, cheapo version of the adult variety.

With its inaugural project an exclusively film-only one, Thames learnt the lesson of ‘The Tyrant King’ and gradually put together its offshoot company Euston Films, responsible for ‘Special Branch’, ‘The Sweeney’, ‘Van der Valk’, ‘Minder’ and ‘Widows’ amongst many others. ‘The Tyrant King’ is certainly an enchantingly uncharacteristic genesis for a company that became renowned for gritty dramas labelled ‘kick, bollock and scramble’; but in 2020 it serves as yet one more diversionary sidestep into a world almost faintly recognisable, yet one so removed from where we are now that it may as well be taking place in Wonderland after all. And why not? Any series that can have a song called ‘The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack’ as its theme tune is worth a look.

© The Editor


With the economy in meltdown, the threat of a hard border on the island of Ireland, a rocky relationship with mainland Europe, and the public enduring wartime restrictions on their freedoms, it often feels like the nation is in the midst of a most unwelcome 70s revival – minus the great music and wacky fashions that made that decade worth living through. The Three-Day Week and the Winter of Discontent were probably the last occasions remotely comparable to what we’ve had to put up with in 2020, and looking back on those (literally) dark days can no longer be entered into with the same sense of ‘can you believe people put up with all that?’ smug detachment. But the final icing on a quite unappetising cake of nasty nostalgia has now come via the latest chapter in the ongoing Brexit farce, i.e. the prospect of a potential Cod War all over again – or something as near to it as we’ve had since the UK and Iceland battled it out for fishing rights on the high seas. If anything, we’re going even further back in time as we appear to be squaring-up against the old enemy across the Channel, more than a century on from the Entente Cordiale that was supposed to have ended our ancient animosity towards our Gallic cousins.

Actually, disputes over territorial waters with other maritime nations are just as old as our rivalry with the French; and we can blame it on the Vikings. The Nordic rapists and pillagers introduced cod and other North Atlantic whitefish into the British diet, centuries before fish and chips became the national dish. So engrained was our appetite for these delicacies by the 15th century that voyages by English ships into the plentiful Icelandic fishing grounds prompted King Eric of Denmark (who ruled Iceland) into barring Icelanders from trading with the English. Despite efforts to diplomatically resolve what evolved into a long-running dispute, vessels continued to set sail from Blighty and head north for hundreds of years, venturing deeper into Icelandic territory with the advent of steam-power. Denmark eventually declared a fishing limit around Iceland and the Faroe Islands of 50 nautical miles, though this tended not to be observed by British ships. There were a series of clashes at the back end of the 19th century, leading to the 1901 ‘Anglo-Danish Territorial Waters Agreement’; however, British catches in Icelandic waters remained substantial for the first half of the 20th century.

When disagreements rose again in the immediate post-war period, British ports imposed a landing ban on Icelandic fish, a move which proved highly damaging to the Icelandic fishing industry; sensing a way-in, the USSR began to import fish from Iceland, whilst the US – fearful, as ever, of Soviet influence being extended beyond Eastern Europe – did likewise, a move that effectively neutralised the damage done by the British landing ban. When this latest round of the never-ending dispute resulted in the extension of Icelandic fishery limits in 1958, British trawlers largely ignored it and were accompanied for the first time by Royal Navy warships during their forays into Icelandic waters. The ill-feeling between the two nations escalated into what is regarded as the First Cod War, with clashes, collisions and shots fired; NATO ended up acting as a mediator and the conflict officially ended in 1961 with an agreement that allowed British vessels to visit specific Icelandic fishing grounds at specific times of the year. This uneasy truce lasted around a decade.

When what is referred to as the Second Cod War erupted in the autumn of 1972, it somewhat contradicted the image of European unity that the EEC (of which Britain would be a member as of New Year’s Day 1973) and PM Ted Heath were so eager to sell to the British public. Iceland had decided to extend its waters once again, with its new left-wing government spurning the treaty agreed to by its centre-right predecessor, which required the involvement of the International Court of Justice in the Hague should any further disputes arise; aggressive patrolling of the new limits and the cutting of British nets inevitably provoked retaliation. By the beginning of 1973, the Royal Navy had become involved and anti-British feeling was so strong in Iceland that the windows of the British Embassy in Reykjavik were smashed by a mob; but in increasingly harsh economic times, fishing communities on either side were prepared to fight gloves-off to keep their livelihoods going. NATO – which Iceland threatened to leave – eventually became involved again and an agreement was finally reached in November 1973, albeit one that limited British catches in Icelandic waters; this agreement only lasted a couple of years before hostilities resumed at the end of 1975.

Iceland extended the so-called ‘exclusion zone’ once again, and as Britain refused to recognise the extension, the Third Cod War broke out. This chapter of the trilogy proved to be the most violent, with several serious incidents that exceeded the tit-for-tat exchanges of the previous two conflicts. The situation became so dire that Iceland broke off diplomatic relations with the UK in February 1976; when an agreement was reached that June, it may have been one that officially ended hostilities but it was also one with stipulations that resulted in heavy redundancies in ports such as Hull and Grimsby, whose economies were almost exclusively dependent on fishing. What always sounded to me like some sort of ‘joke war’ when I was a child dipping into ‘John Craven’s Newsround’ – after all, I associated cod with chips, not wars – had severe repercussions on British industry at a time when it was hardly in the healthiest of shapes.

40 years on from the end of the Third Cod War, the decision by a majority of the British population to leave the EEC’s bloated successor didn’t initially throw up concerns regarding a revival of disputes over fishing rights. However, with the EU stating its desire to maintain access to fishing grounds within the British ‘exclusive economic zone’, the prospect of a no-deal Brexit would complicate matters; Britain’s cause also isn’t helped by the fact that more than half of England’s fishing quotas are in foreign ownership – though that shouldn’t come as a surprise when one considers what has happened to other British industries in recent years. The seemingly doomed talks in Brussels have provoked the promise of the Royal Navy being deployed once more to police British waters – this time in the English Channel. Although the Royal Navy tends to patrol the seas around Britain anyway, shots are rarely fired in anger; were they required to be, the constant cutting and trimming of the service over the past few decades means it is a shadow of what it was at the time of the Cod Wars, so expecting a fleet of warships to tackle illegal fishing by the French in the Channel is pretty unrealistic.

What has predictably been labelled ‘gunboat diplomacy’ in the wake of this threat could be viewed as the EU deliberately backing Boris into the kind of corner it knows he will react to with a futile jingoistic flourish. The EU has also refused to allow the PM to speak directly to Macron and Merkel, insisting he deal solely with Michel Barnier; indeed, events of this past week seem to have highlighted yet again how the EU is consciously punishing the UK for having the temerity to depart the club. Negotiations were destined to be difficult, but the EU needed them to be in order to make an example of Britain and further dissuade any other member state contemplating following suit. Southern Europe – Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece – has failed to reap the ‘benefits’ of both the Euro and free movement promoted as beneficial in France and Germany, but the less Britain emerges with from the melee, the less appealing the rewards of departure for anyone else. No, if anyone can lay claim to ruling the waves right now, it’s not Britannia, but Brussels.

© The Editor


‘Suppose that, for one reason or another, all the propaganda was in the hands of one or very few agencies, you would have an extraordinarily powerful force.’ No, not a contemporary observation on the small handful of corporations that control the flow of information to the western masses in 2020, but a snippet of an interview with the eloquent visionary Aldous Huxley from US TV in 1958. I stumbled upon this 62 year-old gem the other day on YT whilst that very medium was no doubt logging my ‘like’ in order to suggest something else in its vast archive that might appeal to me based on the information already accumulated. Huxley – along with CS Lewis – died the same day as JFK, so only had five years left to live when this interview was filmed; but he referenced ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ in it, a work written by a former pupil of his (Orwell – as Eric Blair – was at Eton when Huxley briefly taught French there at the end of the 1910s).

There’s something of the torch being passed on here; as well as his association with the future George Orwell, Huxley was also friend to a literary giant from a previous generation – DH Lawrence – during the 1920s, though he himself outlived Orwell by more than a decade. He championed ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ upon its publication, but astutely foresaw that governments would eventually rely less on the intimidating threat of terror in the form of physical violence to suppress their rebels, viz. the methods that characterise Orwell’s novel; Huxley envisaged a more sinister development whereby totalitarian regimes rule by consent, having seduced their slaves into inertia with trivial pleasures that persuade them to accept their servitude with a shrug of the shoulders; they might even grow to love it. The brutal tactics of the Nazis and the Soviets would be superseded by a subtle illusion of democratic freedom, utilising the techniques of advertising to convince man his oppression is not oppression at all and is instead being done with the best of intentions for his own long-term good. State-sponsored chemicals would also play their part in this mass deception; and as someone who requested (and received) the administration of LSD on his deathbed, Huxley knew all about the potency of drugs.

Huxley had outlined the principles of this future society in 1932’s ‘Brave New World’, a society he himself described as a ‘negative Utopia’. Prior to the Great War, writers like HG Wells had predicted humanity possessed the capacity to ultimately resolve its outstanding problems and would emerge triumphant in the end; the generation that lived through the carnage of 1914-18 was less optimistic, and the soulless society portrayed in ‘Brave New World’ – which seems to have anticipated so many of the scientific and sociological advances we have subsequently been persuaded are for mankind’s benefit – is a far more dystopian vision of how the state presents its lethal weapons as must-have luxuries to keep the populace in line. Huxley’s prophesies of the direction the world might take in his absence didn’t involve one of the 1960s’ more erudite rock bands taking their name from his chronicle of mescaline use, ‘The Doors of Perception’, but 2020 in particular often feels like a world to which Huxley and Orwell were joint midwives.

When Huxley wrote to Orwell following the publication of ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’, he said ‘Within the next generation, I believe that the world’s rulers will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient as instruments of government than clubs and prisons’. That said, a combination of the two can be effective. As the curriculum of Britain’s primary schools is gradually immersed in a ‘Janet and John’ version of Critical Race Theory, the indoctrinated grownups recite the oven-ready dogma courtesy of their abundant mouthpieces and the state’s storm troopers turn to Orwell for tips on how to police dissent. Then the spirit of Huxley re-emerges as, following months of clubbing and imprisoning should anyone dare question the wisdom of the programme, we are informed via a media fanfare and crocodile tears from a thoroughly incompetent Health Minister that a wonder drug has arrived to deliver us from evil. It’s not called Soma, the hallucinogenic antidepressant which is a compulsory panacea for the population in ‘Brave New World’, but one of its first ‘volunteers’ was a Mr William Shakespeare. Rumours he was followed by a Miss Austen and a Mr Dickens remain unconfirmed.

As if the first shots of a vaccine wasn’t enough of a Covid-related story to get the MSM excited this week, it’s also been able to indulge in the perennial habit of rounding on one of its own – in this case, Sky’s veteran broadcaster Kay Burley. Most people probably couldn’t care less if Burley celebrated her 60th birthday with a few chums; but perhaps the main reason the event has caused such an uproar and led to a temporary suspension is the fact Burley has been one of the guilty parties in whipping up the hysteria that has accompanied Covid-19 ever since the first lockdown. The same double standards and hypocrisy she relished accusing Dominic Cummings of back in the summer obviously didn’t apply to her restaurant-hopping, tier-breaking birthday bash; yes, it’s yet another case of ‘do as I say, not as I do’. One of television’s prime lockdown cheerleaders and serial demander of ever-tighter restrictions clearly doesn’t believe she should practice what she preaches; now, there’s a surprise.

In a media landscape that seems to require fresh sensation on a daily basis, Kay Burley’s birthday party swiftly usurped the story that opened the week, and that one managed to combine the year’s two favourite subjects. When footballers began the eye-rolling ritual of taking the knee before kick-off a few months ago, the shrewd cultural commentator Douglas Murray suggested one reason they went unchallenged was due to the ceremony being enacted in empty stadiums; he wondered if their narcissistic virtue signalling would be tolerated once fans were allowed back. Well, no – it turns out voluntary submission to a political organisation not exactly overflowing with tolerance itself isn’t actually regarded as being part of the game by those who fork-out for the privilege of watching it. Ah, yes, football fans – the hardcore support that kept the game going during the hooligan decades, when polite society regarded football as being about as cool as cock-fighting or bear-baiting. How refreshing it was to not have them at the ground for once, so the authorities could impose the Woke agenda on sport as well as every other facet of pop culture.

I guess it was unfortunate that Millwall FC – a club with something of a ‘history’ – should be one of the first to let fans back in; the boos that greeted the players’ BLM homage were immediately seized upon by the outraged free-ticket brigade who naturally put the inexplicable opposition to this noble gesture down to racism. What else? Let’s not mention the findings of a recent poll whereby 55% said they believed BLM have increased racial tensions in the UK – and 44% of BAME Brits agreed. No, far easier to stick to the narrative and ignore the fact that taking the knee no more belongs in one of this country’s genuine multiracial success stories than the Nazi salute did when England players were forced to give it in Berlin in 1938. Let’s leave the pat Identitarian lectures to the Vicar of bloody Dibley, eh? Millwall players have already announced they won’t be kneeling before their next fixture; hopefully, the rest will follow suit and this ridiculous charade can leave the field of play. If not, more boos until it does, please – for silence isn’t so much violence as surrender. As Aldous Huxley said, ‘The price of freedom is eternal vigilance’.

© The Editor


You’re probably going to hear the expression ‘I can’t believe it’s forty years since…’ a lot today, though only from those who were actually around forty years ago; for those who weren’t, forty years ago occupies the same time-stream as D-Day or Waterloo; events before our time exist outside of time, whereas events of which we have a memory are firmly rooted in our own personal tree of life. I myself rarely say that any pivotal event to have occurred within my lifetime feels like yesterday; it never does. Sure, I can remember exactly where I was, who I was with and what I was doing when I heard the planes had flown into the twin towers or when I was told Princess Di had died in a car crash; but they all feel like a very long time ago – and felt like a very long time ago almost straight away. Often, it seems any major news story of magnitude serves as a full-stop on how life was lived the second before it happened, acting as an instant dividing line between two different worlds. I could apply the same principle to personal events in my life; they always feel like decades ago once they’re gone.

No, eating my Ricicles at the breakfast table on 9 December 1980, maybe half-an-hour before having to set off for school, certainly doesn’t feel like forty years ago; it feels more like 400. I had no notion that John Lennon had been murdered in New York around four hours earlier (which was still the 8th Stateside on account of the UK/US time difference); I was going through the usual weekday motions that morning. I wondered why ‘Love Me Do’ was playing on the radio instead of a contemporary hit, but it was only when a news update followed the track that I was made aware of what had happened; and I don’t think I thought about anything else for the rest of the day. Once reluctantly shoved in the direction of school, I rightly guessed the subject would be on the lips of friends, for they all knew I was a Beatles fan. It was even referenced in the school assembly; I couldn’t remember anything like that ever happening before. Yes, Elvis’s death three years earlier had been a big story, but I think it was the brutal manner of Lennon’s death that seemed so shocking – even to a generation raised on the routine violence of US TV cop shows. They no longer seemed so far-fetched.

I came home for dinner and recorded Radio 1’s extended ‘Newsbeat’ onto an audio cassette (featuring an early outing for Paul Gambaccini as the unofficial executor of every pop icon’s last will and testament), and as soon as I was back home for good there was no shortage of further coverage on TV, which was abundant in ‘programme changes’ that evening. ‘Help!’ was shown, as was the Bob Harris ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’ interview with Lennon from five years earlier. As by this stage the obligatory B&W portable set had made household viewing choices a tad more democratic, I had free rein to change channels and seek out as much on the subject as I could catch. That night was the first time in my life I actively sought out news programmes to watch instead of greeting them with the archetypal childish cry of ‘boring!’; in fact, childish things suddenly seemed very childish indeed. If ever a day could be singled out as the day my childhood was officially given notice, it was 9 December 1980.

Although I’d had a ‘Yellow Submarine’ colouring book as an infant and was familiar with the sleeves of the Beatles LPs my parents owned, I hadn’t properly ‘discovered’ the Fab Four for myself until the previous Christmas, when BBC2 screened all their movies. A few months later I acquired the famous ‘blue’ compilation – ‘1967-’70’ – which is as good an introduction as it’s possible for a novice to receive. Music now mattered more than what had traditionally captured my attention. I was fortunate the music scene in 1980 was pretty bloody good as well; with 99p singles at Woolies beginning to edge out comics when it came to the spending of pocket money, I was spoilt for choice, with the likes of Blondie, The Police, The Jam and others. But the advantage of The Beatles was that their entire career from start to finish was ready and waiting to be devoured, a task I spent a good deal of 1980 engaged in. Paul McCartney was the most visible ex-Beatle to anyone growing up in the 70s, for Wings were always in the charts and on TOTP; Ringo would surface periodically, whilst George was relatively anonymous. Instinctively drawn to Lennon from the moment I fell in love with the back catalogue, I couldn’t understand why he was absent and acting all ‘Howard Hughes’ when he was the one I wanted to hear from out of all four; then, in the autumn of 1980, it was announced he was back.

Rock stars reaching the age of 40 was uncharted territory at the time; 30 had been seen as the ultimate cut-off point when Lennon’s generation was in its prime, yet when they all got to 30 they didn’t abruptly slip into slippers; they kept going – and this despite the peasants’ revolt of Punk and all its numerous offshoots that were making waves at the dawn of the decade. Therefore, John Lennon re-entering the arena with a new album was still big news and he played the PR game, giving several major interviews; one of them was with Radio 1’s Andy Peebles, segments of which had been aired in the hours before Lennon’s murder; I remember my dad informing me of this, which I’d naturally missed, what with bloody school and all that. Lennon’s new music disappointingly didn’t appear to be along the lines of ‘Instant Karma’, ‘Cold Turkey’ or ‘Working Class Hero’; but I was too green to realise that wasn’t going to happen. I wished the kids at school who ribbed me for being a fan were more familiar with that stuff than ‘Woman’.

At least I knew I wasn’t alone when the charts over the Christmas period were swamped in Lennon material. By the second chart of 1981, Lennon had three singles in the top five, holding both the No.1 and No.2 spot as well as No.5. He’d even managed to swap places with himself at No.1 by the beginning of February. It was a strange couple of months, but the renewed interest in his music, along with the deluge of tribute magazines and books that flowed off the presses in the wake of the events of 8 December, suggested death was something of an inspired career move. Not that this was entirely new, of course; everyone from Buddy Holly to Jimi Hendrix to Elvis and Sid Vicious had experienced an upsurge of sales following their demises, and Bob Marley would shortly receive a similar boost. But the way in which a media that had regularly ridiculed and mocked Lennon suddenly venerated his memory did stick in the throat a little. George Harrison picked up on this when he emerged from his own hibernation with a Lennon tribute in the spring of 1981: ‘You were the one that they said was so weird/all those years ago.’

Mind you, Lennon’s posthumous life was only just beginning. Yoko Ono honed in on one element of her late husband’s oeuvre and repackaged him as Gandhi with a guitar; a fascinatingly complex individual was reduced to the official, somewhat trite slogan of the Lennon brand, AKA ‘All he was saying/was give peace a chance’. He also said ‘Boy, you been a naughty girl/you let your knickers down’ and ‘Curse Sir Walter Raleigh/he was such a stupid get’; but they rarely make the merchandise. Perhaps the grotesque drama of being shot dead by a twisted stalker – a possibility every star was made aware of thereafter – inevitably triggered the path to faux-sainthood that followed; but at the same time, an unconventional character like Lennon was probably never going to quietly conk-out at 80, the age he would now be had Mark Chapman been committed to the institution he evidently belonged in far earlier than he was. So, to echo the previous post on the subject of endings, something definitely ended forty years ago today. For my parents’ generation, it was their youth; for me, it was my childhood. And that does feel like 400 years ago.

© The Editor