Noel ClarkeIf you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to apologise for, right? Seems like basic common sense, really. You’re a kid at school; a classmate’s dinner money is nicked; he points the finger at you, even though you didn’t nick it; you deny it – however much his lie is believed by everyone around you, you deny it because you didn’t nick it. Simple. Even if the rest of the school is convinced of your guilt and the suspicion surrounding you sticks for the duration of your education like the proverbial mud, as long as you yourself know you are innocent, you do not need to issue an apology. Take this scenario out of the schoolyard and place it in the real world – or social media, which could be considered the unreal world, and apply the same logic. What you don’t do is indulge in a fudge. You don’t say something like – ‘I vehemently deny any sexual misconduct or criminal wrongdoing,’ and then add – ‘Recent reports, however, have made it clear to me that some of my actions have affected people in ways I did not intend or realise. To those individuals, I am deeply sorry. I will be seeking professional help to educate myself and change for the better.’

So said Noel Clarke – actor, writer, director and producer. For those who still watch ITV, Clarke has been the star of a new drama series by the name of ‘Viewpoint’, one of those that requires instant viewer commitment by being serialised every night from Monday-Friday; well, ‘Viewpoint’ actually aired Monday-Thursday, for in an inspired act of scheduling that perhaps says a great deal about the blurred lines that now exist between innocence and guilt, ITV decided to drop the final episode of the series to the delight of 3.5 million viewers who had invested in it for the first four episodes. Bizarrely, however, the concluding instalment of ‘Viewpoint’ will be available to view on ITV’s equivalent of the iPlayer, ITV Hub, until Sunday. I don’t suppose that comes as much consolation to the majority ITV audience of pensioners who perhaps aren’t online, like my mother – who refers to the internet as ‘that computer thing’.

Why did ITV take this drastic action when they appeared to have a hit on their hands? Well, I guess for the same reason BBC4 took the scissors to so many vintage editions of ‘Top of the Pops’ from the 1970s and 80s when they were repeating them a few years back. The Ministry of Truth tactics of erasing an accused individual from history is now second nature, and the cultural law of the land decrees the said non-person can only henceforth be mentioned in the context of the accusations against them. Otherwise, they simply never existed. Therefore, Noel Clarke is everywhere today bar the one place his stellar career suggests he should be – i.e. acting in a well-received drama on one of the country’s mainstream TV channels; he has been ‘culturally cancelled’, but can be named and shamed as long as the context isn’t a work of art.

I guess it would have been so much easier to digest had Noel Clarke simply been a middle-aged or elderly white man. Then, the behaviour of which he’s been accused would make sense because that’s what middle-aged or elderly white men do, isn’t it – well, that’s what we’ve been led to believe for the past decade. It’s something that is utterly exclusive to that particularly pernicious breed of toxic masculinity male. Noel Clarke couldn’t be guilty of such despicable and reprehensible acts on account of him being a poster-boy for ‘diversity’ in an industry that prides itself on its unimpeachable Woke credentials, where heroes and villains are clearly defined along racial, sexual and ethnic lines. I mean, for God’s sake, it’s only a few weeks since Clarke was showered in glory by BAFTA with a gong for his Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema; this proves he didn’t get his award for just being a black man in the right place at the right time, but there are factors involved that probably didn’t hinder his nomination, knowing the way Arts organisations tend to tick their boxes.

No, in all seriousness, Clarke has come on in leaps and bounds since he first sprang to prominence in the rebooted ‘Doctor Who’ the best part of fifteen years ago, long before the show itself committed Hara-kiri by embracing the extremities of Identity Politics. He rapidly showed he had more strings to his bow than merely being a stooge for David Tenant and Billie Piper by masterminding the critically acclaimed urban cinema trilogy that began with ‘Kidulthood’. Indeed, Clarke has established himself as one of the country’s creative movers and shakers over the past decade and his is the kind of success story that the white middle-class intelligentsia that controls the MSM absolutely adores – which is why the revelations that gate-crashed the Guardian (of all places) will be so hard for some to swallow. BAFTA apparently received advanced warning of the imminent allegations against Clarke before the ceremony in which he was awarded went ahead, but it chose to ignore them and award him regardless. Perhaps it just didn’t want to believe him capable of what he was being accused of.

And what was he being accused of? Well, it seems the double standards of an industry that continues to revel in its holier-than-thou hypocrisy have not been hindered by the Weinstein’s of this world; if the allegations that surfaced in the pages of the Grauniad are even remotely true, the casting couch and the unrestrained arrogance of men to abuse their positions of power behind closed doors whilst preaching ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusivity’ to the public gaze remains intact. The allegations paint a sleazy portrait straight out of 1930s Hollywood, with aspiring starlets submitting to ‘nude auditions’ and the like in the belief that refusing to submit to the whims of celluloid kingpins would scupper their chances of stardom.

It’s a sorry story as old as moving pictures, but one that seemingly flourishes even in the post-MeToo landscape. 20 women who have drifted into Noel Clarke’s professional orbit have accused him of ‘sexual harassment, unwanted touching or groping, sexually inappropriate behaviour and comments on set, professional misconduct, taking and sharing sexually explicit pictures and videos without consent, and bullying’. All these incidents are alleged to have taken place between 2004 and 2019 – which is basically the lifespan of Clarke’s career.

Overnight, the industry that lionised Clarke 24 hours previously has unceremoniously abandoned him to his fate in the Court of Public Opinion. BAFTA has suspended him, ITV has dropped his latest hit show on the eve of its denouement, and Sky has also removed him from further participation in its crime drama, ‘Bulletproof’. On the strength of allegations published in a newspaper, Noel Clarke’s career and his professional reputation have been killed without the involvement (so far) of the police, the Law or the judiciary. That’s the way it works today. We’ve seen it endless times over the past ten years, though rarely has it penetrated the ring of steel protecting those who embody qualities so prized (and profitable) in the Woke era.

If Noel Clarke is an innocent man – and, lest we forget, anyone accused is supposed to be innocent until the due process of the Law proves otherwise – then he should have refuted the allegations completely and not inserted an apologetic caveat; that just makes it seem as though he is guilty and is trying to suggest that even though he did do what he’s accused of doing he didn’t realise what he was doing was wrong. And that just makes him look f***ing stupid on one hand and guilty as hell on the other. I would say the jury is out, but Noel Clarke hasn’t even got that far yet – if he ever does.

© The Editor


Boris and FosterThere are certain tunes that need to be pensioned-off from their role as tired musical cues in TV documentaries about specific eras of recent history. Enough. ‘You Really Got Me’ by The Kinks when we’re talking ‘Swinging 60s’; ‘Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)’ by The Pet Shop Boys when we’re talking the Yuppie 80s; and ‘Sisters Are Doing it For Themselves’ by The Eurythmics when we’re talking the rise of feminism. This is nothing to do with the individual merits of the individual songs – I personally love the Ray Davies songbook and recognise what a landmark in pop culture the first Kinks hit really was; but ‘You Really Got Me’ has been so overused as lazy shorthand to retrospectively define a moment in time by unimaginative TV producers and editors that both it and the endlessly recycled Pathé footage of Carnaby Street boutiques it seems permanently conjoined with have now gone way beyond retirement age.

As for the Feminism Theme Tune, it’s not a song I ever cared much for anyway; had it not been taken up by the same guilty parties for the same reason as the other two pieces of music, it would probably have been justly forgotten. I only really rated The Eurythmics when they were doing their electronic ‘Synth Pop’ stuff in 1983/4; the minute they hit big in the States and started wearing that archetypal mid-80s badge of MTV honour – i.e. black female backing singers in leather skirts – they ceased to be of interest. Hiring Aretha Franklin to duet with Annie Lennox on that particular hit was a further indication of the clout the duo wielded at the time, but I don’t exactly think it’s up there with ‘Respect’ or ‘I Say A Little Prayer’ in the Queen of Soul’s illustrious back catalogue. Anyway, where does Arlene Foster fit into all this, you might well ask – or not, as the case may be.

I suppose I was looking ahead to how the last, say, ten years of politics in this country might be looked back on in a decade or two from now – and what tunes the TV producers of tomorrow might choose to frame their documentaries; I had a scary premonition that ‘Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves’ may be exhumed once again to soundtrack a period in which talk of glass ceilings for female politicians would rightly seem nonsensical. I remember at one point in the 2010s, it belatedly dawned on me just what a change had occurred. Women were leading almost all of the political parties that were impacting on people’s lives. Regardless of one’s personal opinion of either the politicians in question or their respective parties, it seems churlish not to recognise the electorate was witness to a quiet revolution. Tellingly, the party which was the keenest to promote the theory that women in politics were thwarted in their progress at every turn by toxic masculine MPs was the only one not led by a woman; indeed, Labour remains the only major political party in the UK not to have been led by a woman. I wonder why? Maybe because, outside of the Identity Politics bubble that has become Labour’s comfort zone, people don’t place such great emphasis on their sex or use it as an excuse to obscure their true failings. They just get on with it.

The Conservative Party leader (and Prime Minister) 2016-19, Theresa May; the SNP leader (and First Minister of Scotland) from 2015 onwards, Nicola Sturgeon; the Plaid Cymru leader 2012-18, Leanne Wood; the DUP leader 2015-21 and First Minister of Northern Ireland 2016-21, Arlene Foster; Sinn Féin leader from 2018 onwards, Mary Lou McDonald. The Green Party has been led or co-led by a woman since 2008, most prominently by Caroline Lucas; the Liberal Democrats had a few months with Jo Swinson in charge until she famously lost her seat at the 2019 General Election; and even UKIP had a woman – Diane James – leading it for 18 days in 2016. At the 2017 General Election, all four corners of the UK were led by women. What’s that crunching beneath the heels on the floor of the debating chamber? Must be the glass that fell from the ceiling when it was smashed, I suppose.

Sturgeon aside, the woman who had the most longevity – and courted the most controversy – as leader of a UK political party has finally fallen on her sword after six eventful years, Arlene Foster. Faced with little option but to step down following a vote of no confidence in her leadership by her peers, the now-ex DUP leader and First Minister of Northern Ireland has hardly left Ulster a better place than she found it when succeeding Peter Robinson in 2015. Co-ruling the Northern Ireland Executive with Martin McGuinness until the Sinn Féin man’s resignation in January 2017, Foster demonstrated all the worst bullish hallmarks of Unionist intransigence at this key moment in Northern Ireland’s recent history. The scandal of the Renewable Heat Incentive project – one Foster had been cheerleader for during her stint as the Province’s Minister for Enterprise and Investment – eventually cost the taxpayer the best part of £490 million and was mired in corruption; McGuinness pressed Foster to step down but she refused and played the sexist card by accusing her detractors of misogyny. McGuinness’s resignation and the scandal plunged Stormont into a state of suspended animation it didn’t eventually stir from until last year.

With her joint stewardship of the Executive scarred by the three-year deadlock, Foster received a glimpse of power beyond Stormont in the aftermath of the 2017 General Election, when Theresa May’s decimated majority forced the desperate PM to broker an ‘agreement’ between the Conservatives and the DUP, a glorified Lib-Lab Pact for the Brexit era. This mirage of importance on the mainland gave Unionists their greatest sense of punching above their weight since Ian Paisley had withdrawn support for Ted Heath’s Tories in the wake of the Sunningdale Agreement on power-sharing, an action which played its part in Heath’s loss of power in February 1974. However, the DUP were to learn getting into bed with the Tories wasn’t so much the beginning of a beautiful affair as a shoddy one-night stand; as soon as the Conservatives won a landslide in 2019, they dropped the DUP like the proverbial causal conquest.

At the time of the 2017 agreement, the company the Tories were now keeping certainly provoked many questions, not least the DUP opinion on certain social issues – chiefly abortion and same-sex marriage, both of which have been traditional no-go areas for Unionists. Seemingly out of step with progressive thinking in Ulster, let alone the rest of the UK, the DUP suffered a serious setback at the 2019 General Election, finding itself for the first time since partition as the minority Northern Ireland party at Westminster. Yes, Sinn Féin MPs famously don’t take their seats there, but Nationalists now outnumbered Loyalists on the list of Northern Ireland politicians elected to Parliament. With Sinn Féin electoral successes to follow in the Republic, the prospect of a united Ireland suddenly seemed closer than it had at any time since 1921.

And then there were the realities of Brexit implementation on the Province, the threat it posed to the Good Friday Agreement, and finally the resumption of serious civil disorder on streets where not much of an excuse is ever really needed for a tear-up. Foster decided to jump before she was pushed, though the move by 80% of MPs and MLAs within her own party to oust her being apparently prompted over fears of Foster becoming ‘too moderate’ perhaps tells you all you need to know about the future direction – and survival – of Unionism in Northern Ireland. That said, Arlene Foster’s tenure in power has been just as bogged by scandal, corruption, controversy and failure unrelated to her sex as those faced by her female contemporaries in other corners of the country – which surely proves the sisterhood did indeed achieve political equality in the end.

© The Editor


CummingsI guess at one time it must have been relatively easy to avoid the news. All you had to do was not switch the telly on at 9 or 10 in the evening and not buy a newspaper. Even if one adheres to a similar principle now – as I do – being online makes it much harder; after all, the news is always just a click away. Opening my inbox is a bit like living on a cul-de-sac with only one way in or out, and I have to walk past Yahoo News every time; even if it has an inexplicable obsession with Amanda Holden and no longer allows comments (which were the one thing that made a story there worth reading), it serves a purpose of sorts. Sure, it helps to have some kind of awareness of what’s going on out there, and Yahoo News headlines can sometimes pique my curiosity; this here blog would simply be a nostalgia/pop cultural fest all the time otherwise. But I do have an inbuilt system that keeps the news at a distance unless required – a well-honed instinct that also suggests which story can be written about; this comes in handy when there’s such an overwhelming amount of information available.

You know that feeling when a rumbling in the tummy heralds an imminent fart? The genesis of a Winegum post is a bit like that. Yes, there are occasions when posts are planned in advance – marking a particular anniversary, for example; but most just materialise out of nowhere, sparked by a story that catches the eye. I always know when an article is on its way due to this early warning system. Phrases, analogies, sentences and paragraphs begin to formulate in the head, and once they’re jotted down I glue them together by adding further content, confident the separate segments will gel and constitute a satisfactory whole. The average gestation period is around a couple of hours, and when I feel no more can be added I press the ‘publish’ button. If there’s any delay once the piece has been written, it usually comes from not being able to find the right picture to illustrate it or failing to come up with a suitably snappy title featuring a classic tabloid pun.

Whichever story I write about tends to pick me rather than the other way round; and this method means certain topics on the online radar which one might assume will provoke a comment on my part sometimes fail to appear. A lot can depend on my mood at the time of writing and whether or not I’m feeling fatigued with an ongoing narrative, something that can make it difficult to motivate my mojo. Race-baiting mob rule in the US dictating the outcome of a jury trial on the promise that the wrong verdict will bring about anarchy – as threatened by astonishingly irresponsible Democrats who accused Donald Trump of a similar crime not so long ago, and pre-empted by the prejudicial dodderer masquerading as the President – is an important issue, of course; but I’m so weary of the whole business that penning a post about YouTube (see last time) seems so much easier when there are a thousand-and-one other things to attend to. Handing over the creative section of a full day to researching and composing a response to the preordained outcome of the George Floyd trial is not an appetising prospect, to be honest; and let’s face it – everyone else has covered it to death, anyway.

Similarly, the return of Sleaze to the Conservative Party in Government should serve as the cue for a forensic dissection, yet there’s an inevitable shoulder-shrugging reaction that online discourse used to sum up with a solitary word, ‘Meh’. Come on – the Tories bogged-down in scandal; I mean, what’s new about that? Every bloody time the Tories are running the country there’s some sort of sleazy scandal; if it’s not connected with sex, it’s connected with money. And hearing SNP and Labour MPs attack Boris Johnson’s failure to address the issue when neither opposition party can feasibly lay claim to the moral high-ground – Alex Salmond or Peter Mandelson, take your pick – is hilarious hypocrisy beyond parody. Any idiot knows by now that the incumbent occupant of No.10 is one of the most untrustworthy individuals ever to occupy the office, but the electorate knew that before it gave him a handsome mandate when the alternative was Comrade Corbyn. Therefore, is it any wonder that the only people who appear to be getting their knickers in a twist over recent developments are the MSM and, in particular, Fleet Street? The fact is that both have been so nauseatingly supine in their attitude towards the powers-that-be during the pandemic (and uncritically supportive of Project Fear) that nobody takes their opinions remotely seriously anymore.

The ghost of a former PM haunting Boris was, again, no shock revelation; David Cameron’s crooked lobbying – who saw that coming, eh? Matt Hancock having shares in companies benefitting from Covid, companies run by someone he was at school with or is related to – yeah, big deal. The Prime Minister allegedly promising tax breaks to Brexit exile Sir James Dyson – so what? Does anyone really expect anything better from this shower? And then we have rumours that Boris intended the refurbishment of the Downing Street to be paid for by Tory donors – and who did these rumours come from? Yes, the former Public Enemy No.1 (in the eyes of the media), Dominic Cummings. The ex-puppet master of No.10 has resurfaced to wreak revenge upon his one-time marionette by claiming the PM attempted to prevent an official inquiry into leaks concerning Lockdown Mk II once he was made aware such an inquiry may well implicate a close friend of Carrie Symonds. That there is little love lost between Boris’s other half and Cummings obviously had no bearing on any of this, naturally.

The Cummings missive appeared on the former Svengali’s blog – though as he apparently has a habit of doctoring his posts on there when they later contradict changing opinions, it may not remain in its current form for long. The buddy of Ms Symonds is SPAD Henry Newman; Cummings claims it was Newman and not him who was responsible for the leak last October that precipitated the second lockdown, an error of judgement that would presumably lead to Boris having to fire Carrie’s chum; far easier to pin the blame on Cummings, with him now safely out of the way. Preventing an inquiry into the leak would also keep a lid on the truth. ‘It is sad to see the PM and his office fall so far below the standards of competence and integrity the country deserves,’ writes Cummings; perhaps Cummings’ damning indictment of Boris and those around him would carry more weight had the competence and integrity the country deserves not been so noticeably absent when Cummings was pulling the strings.

Boris himself has publicly responded to Cummings’ outburst by saying, ‘I don’t think people give a monkey’s about this issue’, and in many respects I think the PM is right; it does have a very ‘Westminster Bubble’ feel about it. The majority of the public just want to get back to a semblance of normality, even if that may prove difficult for some with the reported presence of ‘Covid Anxiety Syndrome’ symptoms that are a direct consequence of a full year of being bombarded with a steady stream of panic propaganda. A timely open letter signed by 22 (non-SAGE) scientists and academics has appeared in the Telegraph, criticising the Government management of the pandemic and demanding an end to social distancing, mandatory mask-wearing and all restrictions by the end of June. The letter suggests the widespread take-up of the vaccine, along with falling death rates, should accelerate the end of lockdown measures as well as negating the introduction of ‘Covid passports’. All very laudable, but feasible? We shall see – and no doubt I’ll end up writing about it…or not.

© The Editor


YTAs BBC1 litters its post-‘10 O’Clock News’ weekday schedule with cheap, tacky BBC3 drivel and wonders why niche, minority interests are attracting niche, minority audiences, the abject failure of the senior visual broadcast medium to entertain the nation during lockdown is evident in spades; and blowing the seizure of the day has perhaps fatally weakened its already-diminishing clout. BBC1 during the hours I would be most likely to switch-on now reminds me of that old 90s Channel 4 show, ‘Eurotrash’, a programme that was a kitsch giggle during its day, but not one I imagined would serve as a blueprint for the national broadcaster 20-odd years down the line. At least ‘Eurotrash’ never pretended to be anything other than a frivolous celebration of the absurdly camp, though; it didn’t come with a fatuous political ‘message’, AKA a lecture in BBC Diversity to demonstrate just how on trend the Guardianistas running the Corporation really are. And they can’t understand why millions of licence fee-payers are turning away quicker than you can say ‘Normal service is being suspended because the Duke of Edinburgh has conked-out’.

Where are they going? Well, a sizeable chunk of the audience has found on YouTube what it once used to find on television – innovative, original, educational, informative and entertaining output. Not everything on YT is worth watching, of course; but there’s a hell of a lot more worth watching on there than can currently be found on terrestrial television. I must spend at least 85% of my viewing time on YT as opposed to TV and there are ‘favourite programmes’, as it were – channels to which I subscribe and look forward to their new videos appearing every few days. Some are remarkably professional, whilst others are endearing in their amateurishness, where an absence of media-training slickness comes as a welcome breather because it allows the heart, soul and personality of the presenter to shine through (not to mention the fact they actually possess such attributes), just like TV used to do back when it could attract the likes of John Noakes or Fred Dibnah.

Some YT channels have viewing figures that jaded TV execs still living off the back of ratings achieved in the 80s and 90s can only dream about today, which is further proof of how people are rejecting television and finding their entertainment elsewhere. I’ve seen with my own YT channel just how this works. Having quit YT a couple of years ago in the wake of all my videos being demonetised and constantly blocked and banned, I’ve recently returned with two new instalments of my most popular ongoing series simply due to the unprecedented and overwhelming demand for more in the last few months, a clamour I eventually realised I’d be foolish to ignore when so many have told me my old output has brightened-up dreary lockdown days. With the innovative ‘premiere’ system now a feature that didn’t exist during my uploading heyday, I’ve been able to set a fixed time at which a new video will appear and a window relaying live comments as it plays enables me to gauge an instant, real-time reaction from viewers. The latest video premiered at 6.00 last Sunday evening; within less than 24 hours, it had accumulated over 24,000 views. Four days later, it’s now on 48K.

But fear not – this isn’t merely a solo trumpet recital, for I spend far more time watching other people’s videos than making my own. There’s Joolz and his eccentric excursions into fascinating corners of the capital; Jago Hazzard and his arch, knowingly-nerdish tales from the Tube; John Heaton and his laidback dissections of Classic Rock back catalogues; light relief canine capers with Reuben the Bulldog and Oliver the Beagle; and (of course) the ‘controversial’ chat on ‘Triggernometry’. And those are just some of the ones I subscribe to and view each new video from. There are dozens of others I regularly come across and routinely dip in and out of, just as there used to be TV shows I’d watch intermittently without tuning in religiously every week. I can’t remember the last time television provided me with this abundance of viewing. At the moment it seems like every few weeks I stumble upon yet another YT channel that engages me and makes me search through the channel’s individual archive.

A few months back, I got into a genre of video that seemed the ideal tonic for anyone itching to venture farther afield than their own neighbourhood at a time when doing so was verboten. These ones are little travelogues without an on-screen presence; instead, the host has a camera attached somewhere on their person – hard to say where; possibly hidden in a hat, for no pedestrian they pass reacts in the way they would to a visible camera – and they walk on a set route for between half-an-hour to an hour. We see what they see; in fact, the picture is so seamlessly steady, it feels like we’re a drone gliding through the streets of London – and the ones I watch tend to be in the capital. Last summer there was a wonderful one strolling around Hampstead Heath (albeit not the route George Michael used to take); this was during the day at the height of a mini-heat-wave; another from the same time glided around Soho in the evening as the heavens opened. Hearing only the sound of the public, traffic, and the rain made the experience one of near-virtual reality – and reminded me of an updated interlude; this was ‘Slow TV’ that moved.

One character I discovered recently goes by the name of John Rogers. He has the quiet charm – and appearance – of Richard Thompson; but rather than treating us to an obscure English folk tune, he embarks upon intriguing walks in various uncelebrated areas around the outskirts of London. I watched one yesterday in which he visited the medieval village of Harmondsworth, which sits on the Western periphery of the capital. Harmondsworth comes across as something of a forgotten oasis surrounded by the environmentally-toxic M25 and M4, not to mention Heathrow itself on the doorstep. A sizeable chunk – over 700 homes – of Harmondsworth stands in the way of plans to build Heathrow’s third runway and opposition there is understandable. It’s ironic at a time when ‘Green’ is the favourite colour to spew forth from the scripted lips of politicians that such a carve-up of characteristically picturesque semi-rural England could be countenanced, and for a notoriously polluting industry that many have been happy to see put on ice due to you-know-what.

The building of Heathrow Airport back in the late 40s necessitated the obliteration of at least one centuries-old hamlet, and if the third runway eventually goes ahead, the entire village of Longford will also fall beneath the wrecking-ball. The area already had a history that the airport wiped from the map, including one of the myths of Middlesex, concerning ‘the last wolf in England’, which legend had it was killed in a wooded labyrinth on Hounslow Heath called Perry Oaks – a location that now lays buried beneath Terminal Five at Heathrow. I learnt all this just from watching the video, but the one-man band nature of these outings, whereby a solitary unskilled presenter with a naturally intimate, chummy style draws the viewer in and tells a fascinating story, is what makes them such a sedate and seductive format. BBC4 is still capable of producing similar programmes, but it’s been noticeable of late how much of that vital channel’s budget has been siphoned off to fund the trashy produce of BBC3, leaving many an evening schedule on BBC4 a veritable ‘greatest hits’ of its laudable music documentaries.

Then again, who needs TV? The old catchphrase of an annoyingly memorable theme tune once declared ‘Why don’t you just switch off your television set and go and do something less boring instead?’ – and it seems plenty of us are doing just that. Television only has itself to blame.

© The Editor


FansBack in the 1990s, Professor Rogan Taylor – a Liverpudlian cultural commentator whose appearance as a talking head was once compulsory on documentaries about football – made a simple but telling point on the origins of the national sport. Around the time football was becoming fashionable again in the wake of Gazza’s tears and the birth of the glamorous Premier League, he reminded everyone that football clubs are not named after people, but places. So familiar are the names of clubs dotted around these islands via years of subliminal exposure to the football results, we can easily forget how such institutions were founded to represent their community, not some prominent individual within it. It’s West Bromwich Albion, not West Maurice Albion; West Ham United, not West Stan United; Peterborough United, not Peter United. The Industrial Revolution created the modern metropolis, but if industry turned little provincial hamlets into big, bolshie cities that quickly demanded parliamentary representation, the codification and formation of association football in the late 19th century gave those towns and cities something that would eventually outlast the industries that initially defined them.

The vital branding that a football club brought to so many corners of the country previously only known for what they manufactured was something that still lingers beyond the lush emerald carpets of the Premier League. This is why when a club such as Bury FC goes to the wall, as happened a couple of seasons ago, the town it belongs to suffers the kind of existential trauma that reflects how deeply engrained in its very DNA the club is. Take away Bury’s football club – no matter how under-achieving it might be – and what else does a small, one-time mill-town long ago swallowed up by Greater Manchester have going for it in terms of identity and sense of belonging? This is the very ‘grass-roots’ that football pundits and commentators are prone to uttering with the same token tone applied to buzzwords such as ‘global warming’ or ‘diversity’ when they emerge from the mouths of politicians.

As a term, grass-roots is often casually bandied about by wealthy clubs raking it in at the pinnacle of the precarious pyramid – as though the pennies that trickle down to the bottom are contractual charitable contributions for which the recipients should be grateful; but so cosseted are the global brand mega-clubs from everything outside of their own jet-setting bubble, they can no more relate to the realities of the clubs propping-up the rest at the foot of the old Fourth Division than the CEO of a billion-dollar corporation would recognise the goat he purchased for some distant African village as a means of signalling his virtue. Most of the men in whose ownership such clubs sit would struggle to recognise their own supporters, never mind those who congregate at Carlisle United on a dank November evening.

Once upon a time, the majority of clubs used to be in the hands of small-pond big fish who were the characteristic self-made men born of the Industrial Revolution; you might remember the guys I’m talking about. These civic dignitaries were fond of reminding their detractors how they once ran around without shoes on their feet, but now ran the local council, rode around town in a chauffeur-driven Rolls and were probably Master of their branch of the Freemasons; they were the regional money-men depicted in ‘kitchen sink’ novels of the 50s like ‘Room at the Top’. They may have been intolerably pompous, avaricious egotists full of their own self-importance, but they were inexorably bound to the locations they sprang from; being chairman of the town’s football club was the ultimate feather in their capitalist caps. It said they, and their town, amounted to something.

Foreign ownership of a football club changes that dynamic completely, and at its most seemingly superficial it can be seen both in the way an outsider makes his purchase and instantly decides to change the colours a club has always played in or rename the ground after a corporate sponsor – acts that instantly rouse the fury of the lifelong supporters who intrinsically understand how each separate, historical component of a club is crucial to what it really adds up to. These incidents have routinely been written off as little more than isolated storms in parochial teacups. What does it matter what colour strip the players are wearing? What does it matter if the home stadium is now named after a Japanese phone manufacturer? Well, down in the football basement, it matters quite a lot – and scratch beneath the surface of the glamour clubs who court the fair-weather fan with no geographical attachment to his chosen team and you’ll find a hardcore of supporters for whom it also matters.

When I think of some foreign owners of football clubs, I can’t help but recall those lines from ‘Money’ by Pink Floyd – ‘New car, caviar, four-star daydream/think I’ll buy me a football team’. To them, a football club is indistinguishable from a diamond ring or a Picasso original; they come to it with no knowledge of (or affinity with) the club’s back-story or the town it belongs to, so we shouldn’t be surprised when these bloodsuckers put their heads together and devise a fresh way to maximise their investment. In a sporting weekend that saw the cautious return of spectators to several high-profile events after a year of fixtures being played behind closed doors, the so-called ‘Big Six’ football clubs decided to announce something that detaches them even further from the actual fan-base that they’ve managed without during this strange knee-taking, crowd-free spell. A new European ‘super league’ comprising Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur from England, along with Italian giants AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus, as well as Spanish titans Atlético Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid, has been mooted as a way forward for these greedy, overblown corporations whose craving for the cake they can already claim sizeable chunks of is apparently insatiable.

Lest we forget, the global brands whose arrogant entitlement as founding members of a grotesque European elite implies they’re the cream of the crop aren’t all setting their respective leagues alight at the moment. As things stand, the two Manchester clubs may hold the leading spots in England, but as for the other contenders, Chelsea are fifth, Liverpool are sixth, Spurs are seventh (on the day they’ve sacked their manager) and Arsenal are ninth. On merit this season, Leicester, West Ham and Everton rank higher than some of those included in this breakaway proposal, so what are their rewards? Condemnation has been universal across Europe, with notable German clubs such as Bayern Munich rejecting the proposal, whereas the game’s birthplace has seen an impassioned evisceration of the idea, with divisive ex-player and current pundit Gary Neville earning overnight admiration for his diatribe against the entire concept. Even someone whose playing career was spent in the privileged cocoon of Old Trafford recognises the disastrous consequences of the game’s leading lights abandoning the ‘lesser teams’ to indulge in a soulless competition based solely on the prospect of financial gain, with the kind of annual giant-killing thrill thrown up by the FA Cup or the possibility of a shock championship snatch like Leicester managed five years ago being rendered redundant.

If a once-great club like Bolton Wanderers can be confronted by points deduction, relegation and possible expulsion from the league after simply struggling to make ends meet, I doubt few would dispute Gary Neville’s suggestion that the clubs seeking to line their fatted pockets further by throwing their lot in with this hideous idea deserve the same treatment. Let’s see how long they all last with their players barred from international football and their glorified Harlem Globetrotters brand of the beautiful game boring the pants off TV subscribers the world over. They might finally realise they didn’t come into existence in 1992, but have always been ultimately dependent on the faithful whose faces they have farted in with such cavalier contempt.

© The Editor


LutherTaking some therapeutic advice from a friend, I’ve recently made the effort to paint my fingers green, though the absence of garden, greenhouse and allotment has been a severe impediment to observing the life cycle from seed onwards. Get to a certain point and individual re-potting is required, something that space restricts and somewhat scuppers; therefore, limiting myself to interior window-box, I purchased compost and shrubs to play daddy to some antirrhinum, which looked exceedingly pretty on the picture that accompanied the tray the baby plants came in. Anyway, the window-box now sits between the previously-mentioned Triffids masquerading as rubber plants on my sun-drenched windowsill, occupying the prime solar spot in the whole flat and having no excuse not to flower into blooms worthy of being picked by Monty Don and Percy Thrower on a day trip to Pepperland.

And then the thought occurred to me that indulging in this pastime might be misconstrued as a racist gesture. After all, what is an urban orchard but an approximation of a rural idyll by the inherently metropolitan? And as we all know, the countryside is racist, meaning those of us not engaged in sexual relations with our siblings or cattle should stay in our lanes. Farms are racist, fields are racist, trees are racist, grass is racist, cows are racist, sheep are racist, sheepdogs are racist, pigs are racist, chickens are racist, flora is racist, fauna is racist, incest is racist, tractors are racist, harvest festivals are racist, digging for victory is racist, growing your own is racist – bloody hell, it must be all that toxic white supremacy flowing through my veins like incurable Original Sin that turned me into a gardening Nazi and I hereby apologise, to take the knee till Kingdom Come and beg for the forgiveness that will never come my bigoted way. Just as well I never pandered to racial stereotypes by voicing an Indian shopkeeper on ‘The Simpsons’ for the best part of 30 years, else then I would be really buggered.

Mind you, could be worse – I could be a prominent British black actor, a trailblazer for mainstream ‘diversity’ who accepted a leading role in a police drama from the nation’s premier TV channel on the basis that here was a character whose skin colour was immaterial to his persona and wasn’t there to be a token negro. Yes, I could be Idris Elba, fresh from playing a glorified drug dealer on US television and coming home to step into shoes previously filled by the likes of Barlow, Regan and Hunt. A cop who just happened to be black, yet wasn’t participating in all the approved ‘black pursuits’ those nice Woke folk running our MSM have decided are authentic traits for People of Colour as we pat them on the head for fulfilling their limited expectations. Yes, shock horror! – Elba played a part that didn’t involve him dealing drugs or fathering children he abandoned or stealing cars or knifing rival gang members or even displaying some of that Caribbean rhythm by treating viewers to the occasional dance to a bit of reggae with a spliff welded to his lip. Maybe Elba’s African heritage had something to do with that, but let’s not let geography get in the way of anti-racist progressive groupthink, eh? He’s clearly an Uncle Tom.

In case you haven’t been paying attention, Idris Elba has played ‘Luther’ on BBC1 screens intermittently from 2010 onwards. I remember I watched the first series, largely attracted by the presence of Ruth Wilson, an actress I have a soft spot for; I thought it was OK, if a bit routine, but wasn’t sufficiently hooked to keep watching thereafter. I’m trying to work out if not keeping watching was racist or if watching in the first place was racist. By sticking with the opening half-dozen episodes, was I guilty of cultural appropriation, intruding upon something not intended for me and displaying an inbuilt strain of white supremacy, being no better than the middle-aged multitudes that tuned in to ‘The Black & White Minstrels’ back in the 60s and 70s? Or by abandoning the series after the first six instalments was I displaying an inbuilt strain of white supremacy by rejecting the time-honoured television role of the maverick police detective if not played by a white actor? Oh, it’s such a bloody conundrum innit; but that’s what you deserve when you fail to see skin colour, sexuality and gender as the sole characteristics that define us.

And now it appears the BBC itself is similarly confused. Despite ‘Luther’ being regarded, up until now, as a feather in its inclusivity cap, the Beeb is suddenly not so sure. Miranda Wayland, the Corporation’s ‘Head of Creative Diversity’ (nice work if you can get it) has aired Biden-like concerns that Luther as a character ain’t black enough. ‘He doesn’t have any black friends,’ she said whilst conscientiously spreading some reggae sauce on her jerk chicken (probably). ‘He doesn’t eat any Caribbean food – this doesn’t feel authentic.’ I never considered Idris Elba might be a self-loathing black man by not adhering to cultural clichés; perhaps he should have insisted ‘Camptown Races’ was the theme tune for ‘Luther’ and perhaps he could have waved his hands about a bit every time he nicked a villain. Heaven forbid his character might have demonstrated skin colour was no impediment to rising up police ranks in the same way Patel and Sunak have shown there’s no colour bar in politics if you refuse to make a career out of playing the oppressed victim because it upholds the ‘institutional racism’ narrative. What a terrible message that must have been to send out to any non-white viewer watching. What unconscious racists we all were in 2010.

Of course, there could well have been a token element to the creation of ‘Luther’ to begin with, but the series seemed to be suggesting something positive amidst the hackneyed diversity factor that was possibly behind its inception. But that’s not enough in 2021, a time when an esteemed television scribe like Russell T Davies puts forward the theory that only gay actors should play gay characters – and does that also mean gay actors can only play gay characters? If so, there’s going to be a hell of a lot of competition for the few gay roles on offer. Surely straight characters shouldn’t be played by gay actors, then, if we are to preserve this line of thinking. But if actors, along with all other creative types, have to stay in their designated lanes, how does that explain the casting of a dark-skinned black woman in the part of Anne Boleyn, which has recently been announced in the case of British actress Jodie Turner-Smith? Are we supposed to view this as progress and spurn historical accuracy because history is racist? I dunno, but I look forward to Mackenzie Crook playing Malcolm X in response, which is surely the logical outcome of a make-believe, myopic cinematic world in which colour is both blind and crystal clear.

I suspect we are rapidly careering towards what Rod Liddle has labelled ‘peak wank’ when it comes to Identity Politics – whether it’s the racism thing or the trans thing. A world in which some genuinely believe Idris Elba is not black enough and that men can menstruate is not a world in which one should expect either common sense or consistency. In its own small, insignificant way, I don’t doubt that – other than lockdown fatigue – one of the main factors as to why satirical videos I posted on YouTube from 2010 to 2018 have received such a dramatic upsurge of enthusiastic views over the past couple of months is that people are sick to the back teeth of all this shit and are relieved to laugh without having to check their thinking beforehand. I didn’t expect this to happen, but perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised. To quote a comment I received on a video yesterday, ‘You are rapidly becoming the best channel anywhere, exactly what is needed in these questionable times’ – and that was in response to a video I uploaded in 2017. Anyway, I’ve got to go and watch some antirrhinum grow. It’s better for me than watching Rome burn.

© The Editor


WilliamsAs has become evident in recent years re what can no longer be said in polite company, once words drift out of the colloquial lexicon, it’s rare for them to be welcomed back. Like ex-lovers or disgraced celebrities, all evidence of them is wilfully erased to the point whereby they only continue to exist within the context of whatever caused them to be blackballed in the first place. Many words which disappear are never seen again in the present tense; and if they happen to unavoidably feature in a work of drama produced before their social exclusion, contemporary witnesses are warned of their presence as a kind of trigger disclaimer. A few words that don’t fall into the ‘rebranded offensive’ category simply fall out of common parlance because they sound so old-fashioned or are too associated with a past no longer relevant. Random words heard routinely during my own childhood such as courting, demob suit, shop steward and goolies spring to mind. Added to that could be housewife – once a valid job title, yet nowadays usually uttered by actual housewives in a rather embarrassed tone of voice that implies it’s a poor substitute for a real career.

I’m sure ‘housewife’ is regarded in some circles as a demeaning insult, though it used to describe an entire – and considerable – demographic; famously, of course, it even inspired a hugely popular radio request show that ran on the BBC Light Programme for 20 years, ‘Housewives’ Choice’. If ‘Woman’s Hour’ was intended to act as an afternoon instruction manual for those whose workplace was the domestic environment, ‘Housewives’ Choice’ soundtracked the morning following the exodus of hubby and the kids; the presenter spun discs chosen by the listeners and established an intimate relationship with the audience, providing something that was as near to an interactive experience as was possible in the pre-internet age. The best illustration of this comes in the wonderful opening sequence of the 1963 movie, ‘Billy Liar’; it brilliantly evokes a vanished Britain with a montage of all houses great and small across the country, accompanied by a burst of ‘Housewives’ Choice’ as a million women hanging out their washing wait to see if their request will be read out on air.

Despite the radical revival of feminist rhetoric during the 1970s, being a housewife remained the majority option for half the population – indeed, ‘The Housewife’ was a much-coveted figure for advertisers and politicians alike. This is particularly notable in party political broadcasts of the period; whenever one of the small number of well-known female MPs appears they tend to address ‘women’s issues’ as ‘housewives’ issues’. When Shirley Williams was, along with Barbara Castle, the most prominent female member of Harold Wilson’s team, she appeared in a February 1974 Election broadcast brandishing a shopping basket, pointing out how various items of foodstuffs had increased in price under Ted Heath’s Government. It was impossible to imagine Tony Benn or Jim Callaghan doing likewise, but Williams became Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection when Labour returned to power, so I guess her supermarket sweep made a kind of sense.

Prior to the General Election victory of February ’74, Shirley Williams had served two years as Shadow Home Secretary, which was an unprecedented promotion for a female MP at the time. It’s a shame her stint took place during the era before the broadcasting of Parliament, for it would be fascinating to see how Williams squared up against an old-school Tory Alpha Male like Reginald Maudling. In office, however, Shirley Williams’ Cabinet position reflected the ‘home economics’ role most female members of the electorate were still familiar with; she’d been Minister for Education and Science in Wilson’s second administration in the late 60s, a period when few Westminster women could expect to ascend the heights later reached by the likes of Priti Patel, Theresa May, Jacqui Smith, Margaret Beckett or – naturally – Margaret Thatcher. So, in her own way, Shirley Williams – or, as she was eventually known, Dame Shirley, the Baroness Williams of Crosby – was something of a trailblazer. Her death at the age of 90 means this here blog is in danger of reverting to an ongoing obituary again, but as a break from Covid-19 or Woke-21, marking the recently-departed can actually come as rather welcome breather for yours truly. Besides, I find any politician from the era Shirley Williams made her mark in interesting, because they were genuinely interesting times.

Shirley Williams’ status as one of the Labour Party’s original glass ceiling-smashers is somewhat overlooked now. If she’s recalled at all in Labour circles, it’s more likely to be with a regretful sigh following the part she played in abandoning the Party to the Left in 1981, alongside Roy Jenkins, David Owen and Bill Rodgers. As one quarter of ‘the Gang of Four’, Williams didn’t so much cross the floor of the House as move into a new conservatory christened the Social Democratic Party, better known by its acronym of SDP. She’d been elected to Parliament at the 1964 General Election as Member for Hitchin after three previous failed attempts, though – as with many MPs of her generation – she was far from being a career politician, even if her eventual destiny almost seems preordained when one considers her background. She came from classic academic, upper middle-class liberal stock.

The product of a highly intellectual household – her father was the philosopher Sir George Catlin and her mother ‘Testament of Youth’ author Vera Brittain – the woman born Shirley Vivian Teresa Brittain Catlin was schooled in old-school Socialism from a young age, though it’s curious that she was initially drawn towards acting. As an evacuee in the USA during WWII, she even screen-tested for the leading role in ‘National Velvet’, losing out to Liz Taylor; she carried on treading the boards as a student, playing Cordelia in a touring production of ‘King Lear’ by the Oxford University Dramatic Society. After graduating from Oxford as a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy, politics and economics, Williams studied further at New York’s Columbia University before following in the Michael Foot-steps by beginning a career as a journalist upon returning home. Barely had she begun, however, before her eagerness to enter politics was evident as she stood at the 1954 Harwich by-election.

Europhile Williams was a key figure on the right of the Labour Party at a time when simmering tensions between both wings of it were masterfully kept in check by Harold Wilson’s expert man (and woman) management. When Wilson resigned in 1976, Jim Callaghan just about held things together, but defeat at the 1979 General Election – when Williams lost her seat – proved to be the writing on the wall for the post-war political consensus, not merely within British politics itself but within the Labour Party. Williams was the first SDP MP elected to Parliament when she won the 1981 Crosby by-election, though she lost the seat at the 1983 General Election and never returned to the Commons thereafter. The breakaway formation of the SDP may have been a short-lived experiment, but it certainly contributed towards Labour’s 18-year exile from government; that said, the SDP’s brand of democratic socialism also undoubtedly proved to be a major influence on New Labour. By the time of the Labour landslide of 1997, Shirley Williams was already a Lib Dem Peer, though she was officially based in the USA as a Harvard professor.

Whether or not Shirley Williams can be spoken of in the same breath as some of her political contemporaries is something open to debate; she lacked the ruthlessness required to be a contender for the first female PM, though her impact on Blair’s generation was indisputable, and I’ve no doubt her high profile at a time when politics was very much a boy’s club helped pave the way for an increase in women entering Parliament. But she’s one more player from an era of giants gone to that great debating chamber in the sky, and her departure yet again shines an unflattering light on the dwarves struggling to stand on those shoulders today.

© The Editor


DukeQuestion: What have Igor Stravinsky and the Duke of Edinburgh got in common? Answer: Nothing that I’m aware of, which is why Radio 3’s ‘Composer of the Week’ suddenly mentioning the ancient Greek’s name in the middle of something by the eminent Russian composer during its daily lunchtime slot caught my ear. The programme was playing quietly in the background when I noticed it wasn’t following the script; pretty quickly, I guessed by the tone of the gate-crashing announcer’s voice that the time had finally arrived to fly the flag at half-mast and all that. I suppose when anyone makes it to within a whisker of a century, there must be an awareness that the end could come at any moment; sure, we all know a bus or a mugger’s dagger or a sudden terminal diagnosis could bring that moment about prematurely, but if you manage to get as far as, say, 80, I reckon you must be conscious that another ten years will be a bonus, let alone fifteen or twenty. Prince Philip being such a public figure for such a long time has meant most of us have probably been expecting today’s announcement for a while; it’s just a surprise it took so long to get there.

The last twenty years of his record-breaking 69 as the Queen’s Consort have largely seen the Duke of Edinburgh playing the part of the most high-profile granddad-prone-to-saying-inappropriate-things in the country. During the slow and painful post-Diana infiltration of the Royal Family by a strain of touchy-feely Wokery utterly alien to a man of Philip’s generation, he has enjoyed a seamless transition from cantankerous middle-age to ‘I don’t give a f**k’ old age, whereby every private faux-pas picked-up by a journalist’s microphone has been tolerated (and secretly relished) as an unavoidable side-effect of advanced years. We’ve all had grandparents like that and we cut them the kind of slack denied the young; remarks that, had Philip made them 20-30 years before, would have provoked sensational headlines came to be dismissed in more recent times with a shrug of the shoulders and a muffled chuckle because that’s just the kind of amusing shit the elderly come out with. In fact, we were probably robbed of the Duke’s best gags, for I suspect they came during strained family dinners. I mean, with children and grandchildren like that, there would’ve been no shortage of material for Philip to work with.

Like Donald Trump, Prince Philip was one of those household names many were reluctant to admit were funny because what made him funny is what we’re not supposed to laugh at. Moreover, whereas everything about Trump which is so undoubtedly objectionable can make laughing at him when he says something funny difficult for some, the Duke of Edinburgh being such a long-serving member of an institution which continues to divide opinion often meant responding to any humorous gaffe would be in constant combat with negative feelings concerning his privileged position. It’s no wonder social media reaction to his death is either the fawning and occasionally nauseating ‘dedicated servant of the nation’ kind or the frothing-at-the-mouth, anti-monarchy rant, both of which to me say more about the commentator’s opinions on the institution Prince Philip represented rather than the man himself.

One of the ironies about the Duke of Edinburgh was the fact that, for a man who came to embody an establishment, he entered it as very much an outsider looked down on by those who ran that establishment in the 1940s. He was the ‘poor relation’ and a foreigner, to boot. He was routinely reminded of his lowly status and made to feel inferior by courtiers, private secretaries and the rest of the inner circle that keep ‘the Firm’ ticking over when he married Princess Elizabeth in 1947. Understandably, he had a small albeit intense chip on his shoulder for a while, confronted by the same diminished sense of emasculation as Victoria’s Albert when his young bride found herself Queen Elizabeth II within five years of their marriage. However, rather than running crying to the media and playing the victim by accusing the ruling elite of being ‘institutionally racist’, he took them on and eventually won. Philip certainly had as much of a difficult and dysfunctional family background as anyone responsible for more recent bad behaviour in Royal circles, but he didn’t play upon it in a way that would be expected today.

Philip’s sterling wartime service in the Royal Navy had helped his eligibility as a suitable suitor for the heir to the throne, but when one considers two of his brothers-in-law were fighting on the other side during the conflict we have just one of the tricky factors that made his beginnings so complicated. His four sisters all married German princes at a time when Nazism was on the rise and they wholeheartedly embraced the ethos; even if doing so was a means of survival, the association – coupled with the lingering toxic shadow of the Duke of Windsor’s fascist flirtation – never really left Philip or his generation of royalty. His formative years were scarred by disruption, beginning when he was just a babe-in-arms as a military coup forced Philip’s uncle, King Constantine of Greece to abdicate and provoked the family’s frantic flight from his birthplace. Philip’s childhood was spent shuttling between England, Scotland, Germany and France as his mother had a mental breakdown and was committed to an asylum whilst his father buggered off to Monte Carlo. I wonder what Oprah Winfrey would’ve made of all that.

After siring one heir and a trio of spares, it can’t be said that Philip didn’t do his duty, though the fact that three of his four children ended up divorcing their spouses whilst his own marriage spanned 74 years is perhaps more indicative of the different era that spawned him. It’s hard to imagine any marriage lasting that long now, but ‘duty’ was as important an issue to Brenda and her husband on the domestic front as it was in terms of service to the country and the Commonwealth. However begrudgingly he may have accepted his role as Consort in the beginning, Philip gradually settled into the part and was able to develop solo projects such as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme and becoming the patron of upwards of 800 organisations. He even opened the 1956 Melbourne Olympics on his own as part of a trip on the Royal Yacht Britannia that also took in a visit to Antarctica. Even when finally retiring from public life at the age of 96, he still demonstrated his reluctance to slow down when involved in a car crash near the Sandringham Estate in 2019. 97 at the time, it was probably a good idea for him not to be behind a wheel, though who else but Her Majesty would have the nerve to suggest so?

Once described by David Starkey as ‘HRH Victor Meldrew’, the reputation of the Duke of Edinburgh that most of us found the most interesting thing about him emanated from numerous ill-timed jokes usually made when meeting members of the public, many of which he claimed were wrongly attributed to him. Still, it livened up the institution with a bit of light relief, I suppose; and one could be generous in seeing him as the comedian to Brenda’s straight man. Even though the last year or so of his life appears to have been dogged by ill health not uncommon in an individual pushing 100, it’s nevertheless hard to picture Her Majesty without him beside her. Queen Victoria had 40 years as a professional widow, but at the age of 94 such a lengthy spouse-free spell is not a prospect her great-great-granddaughter has to look forward to. Wonder how long it’ll be before the next edition of ‘Composer of the Week’ is interrupted? Hmm, sounds a bit like the kind of tactless question the Duke of Edinburgh might have posed, that.

© The Editor


DonkeySad but true: Cynicism is now so entrenched as the default response to each public utterance by a politician that we naturally expect them to go back on virtually every statement they make. If one week a Minister says ‘We will not be doing this’, we express little surprise when, come the following week, they do precisely what they’d told us they wouldn’t be doing the week before. This acceptance of how language is so casually abused inevitably enables those who abuse it to carry on abusing it as though to do so is perfectly normal and nothing to feel any shame about. Even when confronted by evidence of their current claim contradicting their previous one, the politician will simply abuse the language further by pretending what was said before actually equates with what is being said now. I don’t really want to quote Orwell yet again, because it’s almost become a pointless exercise on a par with highlighting the religious affiliation of the Pope or the toilet habits of bears in their natural habitat. It’s long been a given that politicians lie, but it’s now also a given that it’s perfectly acceptable and nobody gives a flying f**k anymore anyway. We anticipate nothing less from the political class.

It’s like emphasising to a child the wrongness of eating a chocolate biscuit on the eve of a meal, then standing back and watching as the child scoffs a Twix five minutes before dinner is served; we video the incident, play it back to the child, the child denies it ate the Twix and then repeats the action again before mealtime the following day. And we say nothing. We say nothing because we don’t believe saying something makes a difference. How many marched to stop the invasion of Iraq all those years ago? Opposition was recorded, yes; and the invasion went ahead anyway. I’ve a feeling the unprecedented scale of that protest may have galvanised a generation into direct action whilst simultaneously killing the belief that direct action achieves anything. In its own way, the 2003 Iraq march was as historically significant as the Aldermaston walkabout in 1958 – and just as ultimately futile.

We now have a tenant of No.10 who has made a career of contradicting himself, a Prime Minister surrounded by a cabal of contradictors similarly schooled in such linguistic bullshit. If one were to play devil’s advocate, one could attempt to place the unique circumstances confronting them in the context of a pretty freak scenario for which there are few post-war precedents, therefore justifying the shifting sands upon which they stand; however, at the same time, one could equally argue the pandemic has provided them with the excuse to say one thing one day and the contrary thing the next, free from forensic examination. Their inconsistencies can be bracketed alongside the constantly mutating virus itself, never standing still and presenting the public with an ever-changing position that mirrors the unstable nature of our times. That is somewhat letting them off lightly, though, just as it lets off Sir Keir Starmer as he unpicks a fresh set of splinters from his backside after a year of sitting on the fence.

The Leader of the Opposition – and Opposition is up there with the most abused words in the political lexicon of late – has recently stirred from his pusillanimous slumber to indicate there might actually be a Government policy he dares to disagree with. Let’s face it – it must be something bad for the plastic man to show something resembling a human spine; and it is. After months of repeatedly denying so-called ‘vaccine passports’ will play a part in the lifting of lockdown restrictions, the ruling party has obviously gone back on this and is now advocating presenting one’s papers not merely to actual passport officials at airports and seaports, but when seeking to be served in a pub or restaurant or gain access to a sporting or musical event once they resume. It goes without saying that additional instruments of Project Fear propaganda posing as opinion polls have already given a tacit thumbs-up to this latest U-turn, and I’ve no doubt a vast majority of the masses have greeted the news in the same way they greeted the imposition of masks as a mandatory measure – mildly annoying, but we’re all in this together, so let’s sacrifice personal civil liberties for the greater good, eh?

Scare a population half to death by exaggerating the dangers of a virus to which a minority of them are especially vulnerable, then subject them to a year of house arrest, and finally inform them their confinement can end on the condition they submit to the kind of permanent tracking and tracing that the Chinese Communist Party would wholeheartedly endorse. How do you think a weary populace desperate to return to a semblance of normality will respond to the enticing carrot on the end of Boris’s stick? Reports of blood clots as a particularly severe reaction to a vaccine that – lest we forget – didn’t even exist this time last year has now prompted the temporary withdrawal of it and the offer of an alternative to the under-30s; but one can’t help but wonder if under-30s really require a vaccine of any persuasion for actual health reasons or if it’s being administered in order that they’ll be able to function as members of the society that will eventually arise from the post-Covid ashes. Is this to be a two-tier society of ‘the clean’ and ‘the unclean’, a society of the voluntary and the involuntary?

It’s probably just as well that first-hand memories of life under Nazi occupation are rapidly fading, and even the generations raised on the second-hand TV and film reinterpretations are ageing; the old joke German accent demanding to see one’s papers is one largely unfamiliar to those preparing to inherit the Earth, so the prospect of having to show one’s papers in order to procure a pint or simply enter a tavern in the town won’t be accompanied by an impression of Freddie Starr’s impression of Adolph. Those who emigrated to Western democratic societies at a time when the Eastern Bloc was under the Bolshevik boot are also getting on and their offspring have inherited such reminiscences as nothing more than oral heritage for which there is no personal experience. Therefore, any opposition to vaccine passports based upon it being an illiberal, totalitarian abuse of liberties that should be a given in a democracy is, to put it bluntly, the pissing in the wind of a minority with an awareness of a history that is being wilfully erased a little more with every day that passes.

‘Covid status certification’ is the official name for the proposed vaccine passport, and – of course – this will only be a temporary measure, just as social distancing was, just as masks were, just as the lockdown was. Anyway, it’s no big deal, is it? Certainly not if it saves the NHS and keeps granny alive, something ‘Cockers’ would no doubt endorse. I refer there to our beloved Health Secretary. This nickname was reported to me via an old friend whose spouse has spent the past couple of years working in Whitehall; some of her meetings now reduced to Zoom calls have included ‘Cockers’ on the multi-wanker screen. Apparently, one of his chums addressed him as such during a conference, implying a degree of familiarity that reeks of prepubescent hair being spontaneously washed in public school lavatories as an impromptu jape. No doubt the spiffing chap who called Hancock ‘Cockers’ was awarded a million-pound contract to produce packaging for f***ing syringes or something vaguely Covid-related on the strength of this familiarity.

We’re the lucky ones, though. We can remember a time of what now seems increasingly like genuine freedom, not the paper-showing, mask-wearing, social-distancing, tracking-and-tracing, perma-vaccine brand of freedom that ‘Cockers’ proclaimed the Government would cry as soon as the vulnerable had endured their stint as guinea pigs for the jab. As we edge closer to that carrot, formative memories are being forged in nurseries and primary schools, memories deprived of the luxuries we took for granted. And we think we’ve got it bad.

© The Editor


Spanish Inquisition‘God is dead’ Nietzsche infamously proclaimed in 1882. He was issuing a then-provocative statement within the context of a wider discussion; but as a snappy slogan it was inevitably misconstrued by his critics and appropriated by atheists whose righteous conviction in their chosen belief system can often make them as sanctimoniously zealous as the followers of the faiths they decry. Religion, whether worshipping a living God or a dead one, always divides as much as it unites, with rival factions of the same faith having a habit of engaging in never-ending family feuds that can cost hundreds of thousands of lives when elongated over decades and, in some cases, centuries; and then there are the opposing faiths that routinely square up to one another every few years in order to prove whose God is bigger than the other. So many religions, so many Gods, so much unnecessary bloodshed – no wonder so many societies are secular today compared to the past.

A modern multi-faith democracy has to accommodate all of these spiritual ideologies, yet whereas the ultimate judgement as to which religion takes priority over the rest is traditionally in the hands of those following the dominant faith (for they tend to hold all the power), if secularism is their common currency, favouritism can be influenced by other factors. Whilst most would argue the majority of Brits today inhabit a secular world that mainly only acknowledges two Christian festivals – Christmas and Easter – this is still technically a Christian country, albeit one our Christian forefathers would sometimes struggle to recognise as such. To take the changing, diverse nature of the nation’s worship on board, our law-makers have done their best to ensure none of the myriad religions on offer today is discriminated against; however, there can be shades of an Identity Politics approach at play when ring-fencing faiths that aren’t associated with any of the British traditions which are now criminally unfashionable.

The foot-soldiers of the law-makers are dispatched to enforce those laws, and the undeniable existence of two-tier policing is evident in the way ring-fencing a minority at the expense of the majority produces one rule for one and one rule for another. Just as few MPs of recent years have seen active service in the armed forces compared to previous generations of politicians – therefore making it far easier for them to deploy troops when they have no notion of what operating in war-zones really entails – there probably aren’t many honourable members who’ve been policemen or women. I should imagine passing some ill-conceived new law is simple enough if you’re safe in the knowledge that you personally won’t be sent out onto the streets to enforce it; and if you’ve never been in that position, your grasp of the realities of doing so is probably limited to watching one of those ‘Police Camera Action’-type cheapo docs on Channel 5. Moreover, if those making up the rules have none of the inbred loyalty to Christianity that a Christian country implies, they won’t necessarily exhibit sensitivity towards its worshippers in the same way they might with other (more politically beneficial) faiths.

An illegal gathering of individuals outlawed by Covid restrictions – we’ve all seen such gatherings dispersed in an often-OTT manner by the police in online videos shot by those present; this is what we’ve come to expect. Not so in Batley, however. An illegal gathering outside a school there included the likes of Shamima Begum’s lawyer and was organised by an organisation which has apparently received effective sponsorship from the local branch of the teaching union – something that might further explain the silence and absence of support for the teacher now in hiding from the intolerant bigots who believe he didn’t show the followers of their faith the respect they’re not automatically entitled to. An illegal gathering breaking the restrictions the rest of us have to abide by and the incitement of religious hatred – two issues that surely should have led to police wading in and dispersing, no? No, of course not. Contrast this with events on Good Friday when the Met gate-crashed a service at a Polish Catholic church in South London with such brutish and arrogant insensitivity it was a wonder they didn’t declare ‘Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!’

A scenario impossible to imagine being enacted in a mosque – and it would be no more enlightening or laudable a spectacle there than in a synagogue or a Methodist chapel – the interruption during the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion at Christ the King Polish church in Balham doesn’t require a devotion to the faith in question to send shivers down the spine. On the widely-circulated video, the leader of this glorified Gestapo makes the most of his moment in the spotlight by showing the worshippers who is boss. ‘You are not allowed to meet inside with this many people under law,’ he declares. ‘At this moment in time you need to go home. Failure to comply with this direction to leave and go to your home address ultimately could lead to being fined £200 or, if you fail to give your details, to you being arrested.’ It was like a scene from a movie set in the post-Reformation 16th century, when Catholic practices were outlawed in England and forced to be secretly staged in clandestine priest holes in constant danger of being raided. One might almost imagine we have a fresh network of spies dotted about the country reporting suspected services to the authorities. Perish the thought.

The protestors in Batley were not in the process of commemorating a Muslim Holy day – which may have led to an understandable softly-softly approach by the police; they were denouncing an ‘infidel’ and placing him in fear for his life with their vile rhetoric as they forced the closure of a school. The worshippers at the church in Balham, on the other hand, were celebrating the most solemn day in the Catholic calendar; and the police deliberately brought it to a close halfway through by striding into the church wearing their size-nines and barking their orders at the small congregation from the altar. This was a service that was being streamed online and had, according to reports, complied with the regulations at a time when the coronavirus is declining in the capital; that the police didn’t even have the decency to wait until the service was over would have robbed them of their melodramatic money-shot, one they clearly imagined would emphasise their authority and instil fear into those considering breaking the law. Yet it just made them look even more like an out-of-control private army drunk on its new powers.

As a long-term, prominent immigrant community in the UK, Poles have historically set up home here after fleeing persecution under totalitarian regimes that weren’t exactly tolerant of their faith. That a Polish church in particular should have been singled out for this unedifying treatment seems an especially damning indictment on the way in which two-tier policing is now dispensed in this country as well as highlighting a glaring lack of insight and understanding as to the kind of ghosts such an incident can evoke. Immigrant communities and their descendants carry the scars of their ancestors, packed into the collective suitcase when departing the homeland and then passed down the generations as part of the family silver, helping to forge a shared identity. Worship can often form a key element of this identity, yet one doesn’t have to be a believer at all to find the clumsy actions of the police in Balham a fairly shameful desecration of that worship which would be just as bad were it applied across the board to all forms of worship. That it isn’t being applied this way makes a mockery of both the law and the law enforcers, neither of which are generating the feeling that we’re all in this together. Because we’re clearly not.

© The Editor