Mole 3Although I’ve never seen it since and have no idea what it was, I remember one childhood Saturday morning catching an archaic comedy movie from the 1940s or 50s – my memory dates it by the fact all the men in it were wearing hats – and a guy was being examined by a doctor for a neck injury. The GP told him to keep looking upwards and the ailment would gradually heal, so he exited the surgery and strolled out onto the street with his head aimed at the sky. As he made his way along, his unusual stance caught the eye of everyone he passed so that they all followed suit, gazing up in the belief the guy had obviously seen something fascinating. I guess it’s an old joke, but it was an old film and the concept still makes me laugh now. I wondered why that scene should infiltrate my head after being absent for several decades, but maybe it’s because such a vaudevillian gag now feels like it was actually making a shrewd point about the way in which a misinterpreted gesture can provoke a chain reaction to ripple through a crowd of people with remarkable ease and breathtaking pace. Perhaps it’s just a classic characteristic of herd mentality, and one ripe for exploitation.

A more scientific explanation came on a 1970s David Dimbleby-hosted programme examining the hysteria at Osmonds concerts. A psychologist spoke of how it would only take one member of the audience when Donny and his brothers hit the stage to set off virtually everyone else at the venue. He’d observed how one girl screaming triggered the girl sat next to her and she in turn triggered the next one and the sound rapidly travelled down the whole row, each girl taking on the pattern of the girls around her so the entire arena could erupt into a cauldron of ear-splitting frenzy within seconds. I suppose a similar thing happens at football matches, though the man who starts the chant does so in the deliberate hope that he will quickly be accompanied by a chorus; the fact he usually is accompanied by a chorus suggests again that herd mentality – whether consciously or unconsciously – instinctively replicates the behaviour of the lone individual so that he or she is soon cocooned by safety in numbers; and at many times over the years, numbers have equated with safety at football matches, where the lone individual would be vulnerable and exposed – especially if he’s playing away.

Just as one member of a crowd can purposely incite the rest of that crowd to accompany him in a singsong if he knows the crowd is primed to respond favourably, the herd mentality can be cynically manipulated by outsiders with an equal minimum of effort. Politicians and their affiliated media outlets have always used this tactic to smear their opponents and nudge the electorate towards ticking the right box in the voting booth; but the past eighteen months have seen the practice used to clinical effect, with the masses becoming more pliable pieces than ever in someone else’s chess game. The way in which the pandemic restrictions were successfully enforced by convincing great swathes of the public that they were barely two-dozen loo rolls away from death was such a resounding triumph for the powers-that-be that it taught them an invaluable lesson. They realised the public were far easier to push in the desired direction than they’d ever dared imagine before.

The media cottoned onto this a long time ago, of course. The press did so far earlier than, say, television (certainly in this country, anyway), for public broadcasting originating in the Reithian ethos clung to the antiquated notion of political impartiality in a way the newspapers and their blatantly partisan approach – which was utterly dependent on the leanings of the paper’s proprietor – never had any moral need to adhere to. Moreover, the populist end of Fleet Street and its unquenchable thirst for sensationalism and scandal stretching all the way back to Victorian penny dreadfuls had accelerated in the Murdoch era, taking the print medium down a dark, grubby alley that television news had yet to visit. Not being a viewer of either Sky or CNN, I personally began to notice news broadcasts on terrestrial TV adopting a more tabloid approach not so much with Brexit, which is usually cited as the moment when journalism as we used to know it doubled down into unashamed propaganda for one side or the other, but when the financial crash of 2007/08 occurred. This was the point at which I really became aware TV news had ceased reporting facts and had instead opted to manufacture drama. Sure, there had been agendas in place before, but a trend appeared to be developing that required a constant flow of drama, possibly because of satellite competition or possibly because there were now rolling news channels with 24 hours to fill.

I recall a news report on either BBC or ITV in late 2007 covering queues outside a branch of Northern Rock when word had got around that the bank was living on borrowed time; as those with accounts quietly waited their turn to withdraw their savings in an orderly fashion, a TV reporter buzzed round them desperately attempting to whip up an atmosphere of panic to support the hysterical tone of his piece for the evening news. It seemed as though he’d come looking for a replay of the scene in ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ when George Bailey’s bank collapses; so, when confronted by a line of Brits keeping calm and carrying on, the reporter resorted to a presentation style owing more to ‘The Day Today’ than the kind of straightforward no-bullshit journalism British TV news was once renowned for. To their credit, the members of the crowd that day didn’t panic; but the manner of the response to Covid Project Fear last year proved how effective a constant stream of panic propaganda pumped into the public’s collective psyche via the multiple media tools of the 2020s can now provoke panic without breaking sweat.

It might not be convenient for the current storyline, but one doesn’t have to even ‘go back to the 70s’ to recall the last time we had lengthy queues and panic buying at petrol stations; it was barely 20 years ago, midway through the New Labour era, when Gordon Brown as the Iron Chancellor was portrayed on the front of a national newspaper as a caricature of an 18th century highwayman. But today’s trend of constantly evoking the Winter of Discontent or the Three-Day Week works better because that period has lived on as a potent lesson of what happens when governments lose the plot, even for those who were a long way from being a twinkle in the milkman’s eye at the time. And one can see the appeal. After all, the panic buying that emptied supermarket shelves last year is still fresh, and the current spate of empty shelves at your local Sainsbury’s can be linked to the pandemic, to the pingdemic, to the loss of lorry drivers from a poorly-paid profession with few (if any) provisions for its workers, to the ‘sudden’ depletion of energy supplies, and – of course – Brexit. Join the dots and we have the potential for a good old-fashioned Great British Doomsday Narrative. And the Great British public are responding accordingly.

Unemployment was far higher in the 70s and inflation was astronomical in a way that today simply cannot compare with – a staggering 40% in June 1975; and whereas trade unions then had the clout to routinely bring the economy to its knees, lockdown has managed the same feat in record time now. What eventually replaced heavy industry in the big provincial cities that had been built on the back of it was the hospitality industry, yet when the continental cafés, bistros, bars and leisure venues that revitalised such cities from the 1990s onwards were closed overnight in 2020, regional dependence on such businesses meant that the damage done was of a kind we’ll probably be dealing with the ramifications of for years. That’s the real crisis. Never mind – send the cameras to the petrol stations and engage in nonsensical arguments about biology for light relief. Apparently, rats suddenly deprived of the scraps of office workers when the workforce relocated to the home have now followed the money and are loitering in our U-bends. Maybe our perennial rodent shadows reckon we’re all doomed as well.

© The Editor




StarmerIf ‘Make America Great Again’ was the political slogan of the 2010s that not only served but exceeded its purpose, the ones that stick in the head from this side of the pond during the same decade tend to be remembered because they ended up as sticks with which to beat those who spouted them. Sure, ‘MAGA’ was swiftly turned into a term of abuse when in the hands of the anti-Trump opposition, but for the devoted it was a virtual mantra; by contrast, no crowd on the campaign trail greeted Theresa May in 2017 by passionately chanting ‘Strong and stable! Strong and stable!’ In the disastrous Tory aftermath of that year’s General Election, if the uninspiring phrase that had been endlessly repeated up until polling day was uttered again it was done so with a sneer, a snigger and a shake of the head. During the Coalition, George Osborne declaring that we were all in it together was patently untrue, so it was a phrase universally mocked beyond the safe space of the conference hall; and Old Mother Cable’s embryonic Biden-ism of gloriously hilarious incoherence, ‘exotic spresms’, was both punch-line and punch-bag within seconds of tumbling out of the befuddled dodderer’s mouth.

A different phrase from the Con-Dem era has been exhumed this week, though as with Jeremy Corbyn recycling Blair’s old slogan, ‘For the many, not the few’, Keir Starmer has half-inched it in the belief his target audience will be ignorant as to the source of the plagiarism. I only know of it myself due to the pure serendipity of encountering it when revisiting my old ‘25 Hour News’ YT series. Uploading another five-minute spoof of news headlines from 2014 to my Patreon channel, up popped a clip of David Cameron from that year’s Conservative Party Conference in which every sentence I put in his mouth contained the word ‘hard-working’; he spoke mainly of ‘hard-working people from hard-working families’, constantly repeating it so that it was rendered as mind-numbingly meaningless as the actual usage of the phrase by Cameron in the real world. And, lo and behold, merely days after renewing my acquaintance with a soulless sibling of Nick Clegg’s ‘Alarm-clock Britain’, there it was cosying-up to a grateful Sir Keir, so desperate for any ear-catching buzzword on the eve of his first in-person conference as party leader that he had rehashed a Cameron cast-off.

An evident absence of inspiration when it comes to slogans or catch-phrases is something of a minor concern for the Labour leader, however. After the conference season was reduced to a glorified Zoom chat in lockdown-riddled 2020, Starmer now finally has his opportunity to address his party face-to-face and give them the kind of performance his abundance of charisma has been threatening ever since his election as leader. And it is the subject of elections that has presented the anxious Auton with a pre-conference flop that doesn’t exactly generate confidence in his authority. Keen to prevent a future repeat of the leadership coup that put his predecessor in charge, Starmer seeks to change party rules on internal elections and return to the electoral college system that Labour used to elect its leader for a quarter of a century until Ed Miliband introduced the ‘one member, one vote’ method. By putting power back in the hands of the Parliamentary Labour Party, Starmer clearly hopes to neutralise the threat of the Left; but his meeting with union leaders to garner support for the proposals has been described as a ‘car crash’.

Keir Starmer appears to have badly misjudged the mood within the unions whose support he depends upon when it comes to the NEC. Arrogantly expecting to receive the green light from them to take his rule change proposals to the NEC for approval (and then onto conference), the Labour leader has instead had to return to the drawing board at the eleventh hour. Unsurprisingly, the proposals were criticised and condemned as an ‘attack on democracy’ by the Labour Left – who, after all, stand to lose out the most should they be accepted; but the fact that union leaders publicly panned them as well effectively killed the idea and ensured the so-called Blairite Right will continue having to contend with the Momentum wing. Had Starmer been able to have these proposals approved by the NEC, they would’ve been brought to conference and served as a means of making the Labour leader come across as a man capable of flushing the unelectable elements out of his party. To be fair, though, that would have been an impression restricted to the faithful; there are far more elements to the Labour Party that make it unelectable than merely Momentum or even the far-from inspiring Starmer himself.

Starmer’s deputy, Angela ‘Thingle Mother’ Rayner, has once again exhibited her immaturity and ultimate disqualification from holding high office by pre-empting the party’s conference with a juvenile rant worthy of a Jezza groupie. Ever since Team Corbyn seized control, Labour seems to have encouraged an adolescent mindset amongst its newer recruits that just looks retarded to outsiders, like the grownups have permanently left the room and the alternative to ‘Tory Scum’ is a foot-stamping brat whose default mode of attack is to hurl childish insults that are toe-curlingly embarrassing to anyone over the age of 14. Every time this kind of behaviour is broadcast to the nation, the amount of potential Labour voters lost must be sizeable, yet someone like Angela Rayner can’t help herself; even Keir Starmer winced over the latest example of his deputy’s infantile attitude. Rayner, like Lisa Nandy and Jess Phillips, has also long-since soured any credibility beyond the diehards by excessively playing to the minority gallery.

Rayner may as well have the fatuous hashtag of #BeKind attached to her every statement, which is the hypocritical hallmark of what Julie Burchill refers to as the ‘snow-fakes’, those irredeemably unpleasant online Labour activists forever condemning the other side for being guilty of every ‘ism’ and phobia available whilst dishonestly portraying themselves as sensitive paragons of virtuous inclusivity. Their vicious assault on Labour MP Rosie Duffield – a former darling of the victim mindset who then had the outrageous audacity to declare only women have cervixes – has resulted in the Member for Canterbury declining to attend her own party’s conference because of the ongoing abuse; and the silence from the likes of Angela Rayner, who once showered Duffield in praise for her feminist sentiments and Remoaner rhetoric, is deafening.

The Labour Party’s nihilistic embrace of Identity Politics comes at the expense of any wider understanding that such issues only matter to a minority chattering class that carries no clout in old ‘Red Wall’ seats; the Tories were able to steam in and clean up because there was no other alternative to a party that spends most of its time obsessing over first-world trivialities and demonising its former supporters as ill-educated and unenlightened racist bigots. The inadvertently iconic image of Starmer and Rayner rushing to take the knee when last year’s BLM protests had barely even got going just made the pair of them look like trendy parents desperate for their kids to see them as ‘cool’ when the kids themselves were cringing.

That photograph seemed to sum up so much of what the Labour Party and its leadership keeps getting wrong, and it’s hard to see how it can get it right at the moment. When the Labour leader claims it was wrong for Rosie Duffield to state the biological fact that only women have cervixes – ‘It’s something that shouldn’t be said. It’s not right’ – it’s no wonder the nation shakes its head and rolls its eyes in unison. This is the alternative? The party can’t even be regarded as a fragile coalition of competing interests in the way it was under, say, the stewardship of Harold Wilson, when its rival wings could at least sacrifice their individual visions for the greater good of governing the country. Right now, the country needs a strong Opposition more than at any other time in living memory – and it simply hasn’t got one.

© The Editor




GasOne of the benefits of my gradual withdrawal from watching ‘live’ television is the removal of that irritant known as the ad break; on the rare occasions now when something airs on commercial TV that I actually want to watch, I instinctively record it so that any pleasure which might be derived from the viewing experience is not routinely gatecrashed by ads. The ability to skip through ads was a genuinely liberating element of the VCR when it became part of the household furniture in the 1980s, but the advent of ‘catch-up’ has detached me further from the in-yer-face aggression of the ad man pushing his unwanted products on me. Quite a change from back in the days without choice, when we all saw the same ads at the same time and consequently all ended up humming the same jingles and reciting the same catchphrases. ‘Naughty but nice’; ‘The sweet you can eat between meals without ruining your appetite’; ‘Hands that do dishes can feel soft as your face…with mild green Fairy Liquid’ and so on. Rather quaintly, there are occasions today when I’m asked if I’ve seen ‘that ad’, and I have to explain I don’t watch them anymore.

This self-imposed exile from exposure to the ad break means I’ve no idea if energy suppliers advertise their wares on TV in the way they used to. Just as the unlikely likes of the Milk Marketing Board once claimed advertising space between programmes, I recall British Gas hiring Noel Edmonds to promote the brand in the late 70s with a characteristically annoying jingle. Why a publicity campaign was deemed necessary in the days before deregulation, when ‘the gas board’ was an umbrella term that encompassed twelve regional boards as a nationalised British Gas Corporation free from competition, isn’t entirely clear; but all of that was destined to be sacrificed at the free-market altar of privatisation come the Thatcher era, anyway. The plethora of competing energy suppliers may have offered a superficial variety of choice to the consumer since the tedious ‘Tell Sid’ auction of 1986, but anyone who has chopped and changed over the past 35 years is well aware that any initial reduction in price when switching from one supplier to another is short-lived, as there is always a gradual gravitation towards the same extortionate cost, whoever the supplier.

Energy suppliers seem to have been a political hot potato ever since plans to reform the system formed part of Ed Miliband’s manifesto in the run-up to the 2015 General Election campaign; it’s probably the sole policy idea from that era of the Labour Party that struck a chord with the electorate, for it was generally felt customers had been getting a raw deal from suppliers for far too long. Speaking personally, I know I’ve had more problems with gas and electricity bills over the last 20 years than any other; the likes of rent, water, telephone/internet, and even the much-derided TV licence (the cheapest of the lot by far) have all remained at a relatively manageable rate, in line with inflation and the cost of living. By contrast, gas and electricity have fluctuated wildly and rarely fall into the ‘manageable’ category; I tend to be informed of a ridiculous hike in prices via a letter (usually overestimating what I should be paying), which then necessitates a lengthy phone call in which I have to try and negotiate a price I can just about afford. And now it appears that same old troublesome utility is all set to spark one more crisis amidst the mounting of many.

This week, threats to gas supplies have been added to the Doomsday narrative that began with Brexit and has continued with Covid Project Fear. Just in case the prospect of the upcoming winter months doesn’t appear bleak enough with predictions of rising coronavirus cases, further lockdowns, and the reintroduction of restrictions, now the talk is of festive food shortages, possible blackouts reminiscent of the Three Day-Week, and astronomical increases in the cost of energy. Last year, Christmas came within a whisker of being cancelled ala Oliver Cromwell due to the Covid factor; this year, the media’s misery soothsayers are relishing one in which it’s okay to have more than six people in the house, but only so everyone can communally shiver and starve by candlelight. And, of course, by the time we’re on the eve of it it’ll be officially the Worst Winter Since 1963 as well – like every winter; and the NHS will be days away from complete collapse – like every winter. Other than that, though, sounds like it’s gonna be fun.

Seven of the smaller energy suppliers have gone bust in the past year – five of them in just the last few weeks – and the global gas market surge, provoked by a cold northern hemisphere winter that drained gas storage supplies, has sent the market price of gas soaring by over 50%; this is especially concerning in the UK, where the price of electricity has also risen due to gas plants generating just under half of the country’s electricity. The fact this is happening during September’s ‘Indian Summer’, even before the descent of the autumnal chill and the annual ignition of the fireplace, is worrying, for we’re hardly at peak usage time right now. The spectre of fuel poverty haunting households that we may well be confined to come the winter is not helped by scare stories about empty supermarket shelves; the ramifications of the energy crisis merges with food supplies via talk of a threatened shortage of carbon dioxide, which is a vital ingredient in the food and drinks industry. CO₂ can be found in beer and fizzy drinks, but it’s also used to stun animals prior to slaughter in abattoirs, as well as being a pivotal component of the protective packaging that keeps food fresh, meaning a shortage of it affects more than merely pig-farmers or dedicated diehard carnivores.

With so much time and effort devoted to imposing renewable sources of energy upon the public (without much in the way of consultation), the need to be seen doing anything to theoretically combat climate change has served to dismiss dependable and unfashionably traditional sources at a moment when they might actually come in handy. Plentiful supplies of natural gas have been left untapped by the fierce opposition to fracking, and nuclear being a dirty word has caused constant delays in the building of new plants to supersede the old ones; yet with the low-carbon PR campaign hindered by the unreliability of ‘green’ alternatives like solar and wind power, the remaining coal-powered stations in this country are now being bribed to stay open in order to cope with the impending new crisis, putting the usual crisis we are routinely bombarded with to one side. It seems the sudden U-turn mantra is jam today, regardless of the jam we’re constantly told we require for tomorrow.

The price rises are scheduled to kick-in next month, nicely timed to coincide with the end of the £20-a-week ‘uplift’ Universal Credit payment introduced during lockdown and the severest Covid restrictions; it was never going to last forever, though most probably didn’t imagine it would draw to a close the same week as a 12% increase in energy bills. It was inevitable that all the financial incentives required to pacify opposition to lockdown were destined to come to a shuddering halt eventually, though the timing of an energy crisis is unfortunate, to say the least. I guess the problem with news of this nature is differentiating between any genuine threat there may be and the scaremongering hyperbole we’ve become accustomed to over the past couple of years; the danger of governments and ruling elites crying wolf too often is that no one will believe them when the big bad wolf really is at the door.

© The Editor




GreavsieI can’t say I’ve noticed policemen are getting younger, though the fact they’re certainly fatter than they used to be is perhaps the contemporary pointer to a generation gap between them and me. If anything, the passing of years seems more accurately measured by the passing of childhood characters that once personified the physical benefits of the sporting life and are now either withered old men diminished by dementia or have already sunk six feet under. Barely a week goes by without one former cover star of ‘Shoot’ magazine in the 1970s being revealed as struggling in the early stages of Alzheimer’s; recently, the likes of Denis Law and Gordon McQueen have joined the lengthening ranks of former footballers who illuminated the game during my formative years and are now feeling the belated after-effects of all those seasons heading heavy balls into the back of the net decades ago. But even more unsettling than the sad, shambling squad of ex-players reduced to shrunken shadows of their past healthy selves is the expanding roll-call of footballers to have had their boots hung up by the Grim Reaper of late. The latest casualty of an alarming list is someone whose time as one of English football’s all-time great goal-scorers predates my memory, yet whose unexpected second shot at fame turned him into a household name all over again.

Every once in a while a prodigious footballing talent emerges whose skills appear to belie their tender years; the teenage sensation appearing out of the blue and unleashed on an unsuspecting opposition like some secret weapon launched without warning is a recurring story in the sport and in 1957 its representative was 17-year-old striker Jimmy Greaves. The press wasn’t averse to generating hype even back then, and the success of Manchester United’s ‘Busby Babes’ inspired the less-well remembered ‘Drake’s Ducklings’, a tag coined to described the young players under the management of Ted Drake at Chelsea. Greaves made the biggest impact of all the Ducklings, scoring on his debut (as he did at every club he turned out for) and ending his first season as Chelsea’s top scorer. When a generation of English football’s bright young things were cut down in their prime by the Munich air crash of 1958, Greaves then became the focus of the future, though he was plying his trade in a team unworthy of his talents and at a time when the fruits of his labours were limited by a maximum wage and the status of virtual serfdom where football’s governing body was concerned.

The exodus of top British footballers to the riches of Italy’s Serie A at the end of the 1950s was robbing the Football League of its brightest stars, so it was perhaps inevitable something had to give. The abolition of the maximum wage was lengthy and hard-fought, but by the time Fulham and England captain Johnny Haynes became Britain’s first £100-a-week player in 1961, Jimmy Greaves had already been sold to A.C. Milan. It was an unhappy move for Greavsie and he played barely a dozen games for the Italians before Milan accepted a bid from double winners Tottenham Hotspur to bring him back home. The sudden improvement of a top footballer’s financial lot in England also affected transfer fees, though Spurs manager Bill Nicholson spared Greaves from the burden of being the country’s first £100,000 player by signing him for the unusual fee of £99,999.

Bill Nicholson needn’t have worried that the big bucks spent to sign Greaves might affect the player’s performance. Greavsie carried on at Spurs where he’d left off at Chelsea, but playing in a far superior side; he ended his first season at White Hart Lane by lifting the FA Cup and his second saw Spurs become the first British team to win a European trophy by beating Atlético Madrid in the Cup Winners’ Cup Final. He scored in both Finals. By this time, Greavsie was well-established at international level as England’s first choice striker and his tally of 35 goals in an England shirt, reached in 1964, set a new record; he played in all four games England took part in at the 1962 World Cup in Chile, and with his domestic goal-scoring remaining amongst the best in the League, his was one of the first names on Alf Ramsey’s team-sheet for the 1966 World Cup. Indeed, he played up front in all three of England’s group games at Wembley and understandably imagined it was his destiny to win the competition on home soil, a crowning glory written in the stars. Alas, an injury ruled Greavsie out of the Quarter Final, and his replacement Geoff Hurst kept the job thereafter; although Greaves was fit for the Final, Ramsey decided to stick with the same side and as this was an era before substitutes, Jimmy Greaves played no part on the pitch, forced to sit and watch from the sidelines with no prospect of participating.

Greaves himself often denied his descent into alcoholism was a consequence of the immense personal disappointment he felt at being denied his destiny in 1966; but by the time he joined West Ham in 1970, his enthusiasm for the game seemed to be waning as his fondness for alcohol appeared to be on the rise. Temptation was hardly hard to come by, however. Off the field of play there was a long-standing, hard-drinking culture within English football, and it was only really with the advent of the Premier League in the 1990s – and the new strict fitness regimes introduced via the influx of Continental coaches – that excessive boozing gradually began to be frowned upon. The rise and fall of George Best is routinely highlighted as football’s cautionary tale when it comes to alcohol, though Best’s pop star profile kept him in the public eye even when he prematurely retired. After Jimmy Greaves quit in 1971 and quickly slid from post-match boozer to professional pisshead, he vanished from sight for several years, only occasionally surfacing to turn out for non-league teams in the mid-to-late 70s before finally slipping out of the game.

Unlike George Best – who never really conquered the bottle – Jimmy Greaves did eventually succeed where Best couldn’t and overcame his demons in a remarkable fashion. By the beginning of the 1980s, Greavsie had become permanently sober and this was the point at which his second career began to take off. After impressing viewers as a pundit on ATV’s regional soccer show on a Sunday afternoon, he was recruited to the ITV team for the station’s coverage of the 1982 World Cup, introducing the whole nation to a sharp-witted middle-aged man at odds with the sad drunken has-been who’d periodically popped-up in the Sunday papers throughout the previous decade. In today’s media landscape of post-modern punditry, where a light-hearted and jokey approach to discussing the game is commonplace, it’s easy to forget how stiff and formal football presentation on television often was at the time Greavsie gatecrashed it in 1982. It could be argued he singlehandedly changed the way in which punditry was presented as an ingredient of the formula, and when he began to appear alongside ex-player Ian St John in the ‘On the Ball’ segment of ITV’s ‘World of Sport’ every Saturday lunchtime, the spark between the two prompted a spin-off.

For seven years, ‘Saint and Greavsie’ was a lynchpin in terrestrial TV’s football schedule, though it’s telling the ending of the series coincided with the arrival of the Premier League and Sky coverage. Perhaps it did seem a bit tired by then, and Greavsie himself was regularly ribbed on the far hipper likes of ‘Fantasy Football League’ from the mid-90s onwards. Nevertheless, the resurrection of Jimmy Greaves remained one of football’s true success stories from an era when there were few – if any – safety nets for players who’d fallen on hard times; he clawed his way back without the aid of any high-profile programme or campaign backed by the virtuous signalling of the FA, and a generation who’d never known him as a player came to know him as an entertainer. A funny old life when all’s said and done, but an admirable victory snatched from the jaws of defeat.

© The Editor




Liz Truss DiscoIt’s an interesting dilemma few outside of politics are ever confronted by – you’re sacked, fired from your job, your very important job, a job that came with a great deal of prestige; and yet your redundancy package doesn’t contain a P45 form, but a nice booby prize of three new high-profile jobs you’ll be doing simultaneously. That’s what happened to Alpha Plank Dominic Raab yesterday. Okay, so he’s no longer Foreign Secretary, but he’s now the Lord Chancellor, the Justice Secretary, and the Deputy Prime Minister. Welcome to the strange world of political dismissal, where a demotion is hardly akin to relegation from the Premier League to League Two or a fast-track to the nearest food bank. Yeah, okay – the Cabinet’s very own Chuck Norris no longer holds one of the four Great Offices of State; but stubbornly refusing to whip off the knotted hanky from your head at a moment of international crisis centred on a disintegrating nation thousands of your fellow countrymen sacrificed their lives to democratise doesn’t exactly embody commitment to the post. As Foreign Secretaries go, Raab may have approached the job by following in the proud traditions of Boris himself, but how much has Dominic Raab really lost?

I guess the tired old analogy of rearranging the deck-chairs on the Titanic has probably already been exhumed to describe the PM’s Cabinet reshuffle, so I won’t recycle it again; but in truth, I can’t really see many of those promoted being quite as bad as those they replaced. Raab was a useless Foreign Secretary as Gavin Williamson was a useless Education Secretary and Robert Buckland a useless Justice Secretary. Nadhim Zahawi’s U-turn on the topic of vaccine passports may have been rightly highlighted of late via the resurrection of his past refuting of their introduction on social media, but many perceive his handling of the vaccine rollout as a relative success; his promotion to Education Secretary, heading a department that arguably failed to tackle the ramifications of lockdown more than any other in government, can only be viewed as an improvement. Ironically, considering the subject of the previous post on here, Michael Gove has indeed lost his job as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, albeit not for something nasty he said as a Tory Boy in the early 90s; besides, becoming the new Housing Secretary doesn’t mean he’ll be signing-on in the near future.

Much will probably be made of Liz Truss replacing Raab, no doubt; only the second woman to be elevated to the post – after Margaret Beckett’s brief stint during Tony Blair’s last year in Downing Street – Truss has often played upon her non-privileged roots ala Sajid Javid. But her roots are only non-privileged in comparison to many of the men surrounding her in government. I remember once reading a Fleet St profile of Truss pointing out she attended a comprehensive school in Leeds as though she’d been running around cobbled streets minus shoes on her feet; the school was in Roundhay, which for those who don’t know is a tad closer to Hampstead than Hackney. Nevertheless, hers is an interesting back-story in that she emanated from middle-class intellectual Socialist stock ala Ed Miliband, and even if she chose the wrong party from her parents’ perspective, Truss occupies a position in that party which appeals to many Red Wall voters disillusioned with Labour; her publicised criticism of Identity Politics certainly struck a chord with those alienated by the opposition’s vigorous embrace of it.

The most recognisable female face around the Cabinet table after Liz Truss will be Nadine Dorries, a Ministerial virgin; the novelist and former contestant on ‘I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here’ is now Secretary of State for that mixed bag of miscellany known as Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. To me, it always sounds like a department that those without hardcore political ambitions would probably enjoy being handed, the antithesis of the surrogate Siberia that the Northern Ireland job represented on ‘Yes, Minister’. But, in the same way the progression of Liz Truss from Secretary of State for International Trade to Foreign Secretary feels a logical one, appointing someone with ‘broadcasting experience’ and a fairly successful sideline career as an author to Digital, Culture, Media & Sport seems pretty sensible promotion. Like Truss, Nadine Dorries can also serve as a counterbalance to the privately-educated majority in the Cabinet, and she even has a ‘Working-Class Tory’ story to fall back on, being a born-and-bred council estate Scouser. Both women’s promotions appear a shrewd move on the part of the PM.

Overall, this reshuffle appears to have been relatively well-received after what has been another difficult couple of weeks for Boris. Not only has he suffered the death of his mother, but the most recent YouGov poll concerning voting intentions saw Labour overtake the Tories for the first time since the beginning of the year – 35% to 33%; this came in the wake of the tax increases via National Insurance contributions being announced, supposedly to be invested in social care and the NHS. Why anyone imagined taxes wouldn’t be raised at some point soon after well over a year of the ‘magic money tree’ furlough scheme is a mystery, but no governing party with a reputation for low taxation was going to be able to dig its way out of this one. Sure, there were the usual backbench grumblings, but the Government won the vote to approve the move fairly painlessly. Therefore, the timing of the reshuffle was convenient in terms of taking attention away from an unpopular (if inevitable) manifesto-breaker, but it also has the feel of assembling a fresh team with one eye on the next General Election, which many reckon will only be a couple of years away. However, there’s always the argument that Cabinet reshuffles are little more than superficial short-term fixes, a temporary shot of Botox rather than a full-on facelift.

In an increasingly-rare appearance on GB News – the station he has now officially walked away from as its main anchor – Andrew Neil yesterday made the point that reshuffles are often detrimental to government in that Ministers routinely fail to achieve anything in their jobs because they’re not given enough time to turn around the fortunes of their departments. Perhaps only football managers are expected to perform miracles in a shorter time span than someone bussed into a Ministerial post that has been failing to deliver under its previous stewardship. It’s a valid point, but so much of politics today is dependent on instant results, and if the same tired old faces don’t appear to be doing the business after several years in office the electorate associates them and the administration as a whole with failure; bringing in fresh faces may well be applying a plaster to a wound in need of surgery, but change tends to generate the impression of improvement overnight; and if the new face fails as well, just bring in another.

If Boris Johnson’s first phase at No.10 was defined by Brexit and the Parliamentary turmoil that accompanied its final stages in 2019, the second has undoubtedly been defined by Covid; with both Brexit and the pandemic having claimed the lion’s share of attention at the expense of other pressing issues over the past couple of years, it could be said this is the moment at which Boris is preparing for both the ‘post-war’ era and the next opportunity to give the country a say. Right now, I don’t think even a crystal ball is capable of showing where we’ll be in 2023 or ’24, so it’s impossible to predict if this reshuffle will play its part in deciding whether or not the Tories will be in a fit enough state to pull it off yet again. I suspect a great deal will remain dependent upon the condition of the Opposition as much as anything else. And that’s another piece of challenging guesswork that will make the brain hurt.

© The Editor




Young Gove‘I awoke one morning and found myself famous.’ So wrote Lord Byron in response to the success of his sprawling narrative poem, ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’; this work, which caught the weary, post-Napoleonic Wars mood of the nation upon its publication, turned Byron into a cult hero for the Romantic generation; and though one cannot dispute his inherited title was probably a fast-track launch-pad that lower-born artists of the era were denied, he still had to deliver the goods to maintain his legend. Had he been a lousy poet, his works wouldn’t have survived his mortality in the way they have. And he lived at a time, as did all artists did up until the growth of mass communication in the 20th century, when at least a modicum of genuine talent was required in order to achieve that by-product known as fame. The concept of people ‘famous for being famous’ was limited during Byron’s lifetime to a small handful of social climbers, debauched aristocrats and their rascally hangers-on, most of whom were unknown beyond their elitist, hedonistic circles. It would take at least another hundred years before such fame (or infamy) would become an international currency.

I only really evoke the ‘famous for being famous’ line because it struck me that the viral spread of this pop cultural cancer, in which we have an abundance of celebrities whose careers seem to consist of simply appearing on TV shows with ‘celebrity’ in the title, is not a million miles away in its aims and aspirations from contemporary politics. The wannabe has an inbuilt craving for fame, whether or not they possess a unique and original talent to achieve it, and if they should become famous regardless of an absence of said talent, the instinctive desire to retain fame at all costs is their sole raison d’être thereafter. The desperate clinging-on of has-beens whose need to remain famous – even if it means being reduced to a laughing stock via whatever humiliations they’re prepared to submit to on television – is testament to how pivotal fame is to their very existence. ‘Famous for being famous’ isn’t really that dissimilar to ‘being in power to be in power’, in that we seem today to have governments whose only real reason to get elected is to recline in the trappings of office.

I suppose at one time we must have had ruling administrations peppered with people who were in politics to improve the lives of others. It just feels like such a quaint idea now that it’s hard to remember if that was ever the case. Certainly in more recent years, and especially with this current shower, we are perpetually lumbered with those whose driving force is merely getting power and then keeping it without doing anything to warrant having it. Perhaps the rise of the career politician has played its part. Travelling along a seamless trajectory that begins with a private education, onto university, into the enclosed bubble of the SPAD, and then election to Westminster, the path of the career politician is a relatively recent phenomenon that prevents its practitioners from coming into contact with ‘real people’ from childhood onwards – and even when they’re pressing the flesh on the campaign trail, it’s still an ‘Us and Them’ scenario in which anyone who isn’t a member of the candidate’s team is an ‘other’, living lives plagued with problems as alien to the politician as someone belonging to a primitive tribe along the Amazon.

This gulf between elected and electorate, the kind that simply wasn’t so vast back when the majority of MPs (on both sides of the House) often went through a series of ordinary jobs unrelated to politics before entering Parliament, inevitably leaves the life experience of yer average Parliamentarian restricted to the insular cocoon of politics, with an inability to understand anything on the outside. It’s perhaps no wonder that, when there’s nothing other than the fatuous greasy pole to relate to as a yardstick, the Holy Grail is just power itself rather than power being seen as the facilitator of the policies that can change millions of lives for the better, power as the necessary tool that is required in order to achieve admirable aims. Today, power for many in politics is the ultimate object of desire, and those that grab it have a habit of forgetting it’s only on loan like, say, the FA Cup is to each different team that wins it. The pull of modern-day political power is almost akin to what the crown represented in ye olde days of rival claimants to the throne waging wars to get their hands on it. Sure, there’s the pretence of old-fashioned altruism as laudable plans for improving the nation are trotted out – usually at party conferences or (particularly) when seeking re-election – but the prime intent appears to be staying in power regardless. The idea of a party wanting a second term in office because it still has good work left to do instead of wanting it merely because it enjoys the prestige of power has become a redundant one.

David Cameron to me never appeared to be anything other than someone who simply wanted to be Prime Minister, end-of; that was the extent of his ambition. His utter detachment from (and disregard of) anyone not like himself or those constituting his social circle was reflected in the way he ran the country, dismissing the concerns of people whose concerns he couldn’t comprehend and didn’t remotely care about; his subsequent activities since leaving office shouldn’t therefore come as much of a surprise. And in Boris Johnson we now have an ideologically, morally and spiritually bankrupt Prime Minister who doesn’t even bother to pretend he’s anything other than a vain, arrogant, avaricious liar. Power to him is a means of elevating his public profile, adding to his already-substantial fortune, and giving him the kind of facile kudos that attracts women who will satisfy the carnal cravings of any pug-ugly doughnut if it gains them a backstage pass to power. For someone like Boris, power is a trophy, and you don’t do anything with it for anybody’s benefit other than your own.

Shame is not a factor of this mindset. Maybe it’s part of the qualification for membership of the political class, though, to know no shame. Tory, Labour and Lib Dem MPs are routinely exposed as hypocrites, charlatans and crooks and hardly ever exhibit any sign of genuine regret at their actions other than the trite public apology wheeled out on the rare occasions they pay for those actions with the loss of power. And it’s possible this ‘so what?’ shrug of the shoulders is in part bound up with the sense of entitlement and special status they feel they have compared to the man in the street, factors that seem to spare them from the feelings most would be tormented by if caught out behaving badly. Besides, what is the extent of their punishment, anyway? A few months out of the public eye and then an eventual return to government as though nothing ever happened; mind you, memories are so short now that it works in their favour – even when the current method of ‘liquidation’ targets them.

It’s not so long since cricketer Ollie Robinson had the brakes placed on his international career when, just days into his first test series, he was ‘outed’ for apparently offensive tweets from his adolescence. This week, a recording emerged of an obnoxiously precocious Michael Gove as he expressed opinions not uncommon amongst Young Conservatives in the late 80s/early 90s, using several unflattering words to describe homosexuals, women and foreigners of a dark-skinned persuasion in a series of hilarious turns at the Cambridge Union. Considering the first time I became aware of the goblin was when he co-presented a short-lived satirical talk show with David Baddiel on Channel 4 not long after that, it wasn’t surprising to hear he’d been at it earlier. There have been predictable calls for his Cabinet post as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to be taken away, but as I don’t approve of cancel culture – especially for the exhumation of vintage comments from a distant youth – I personally think he should stay where he is. But he won’t be sacked, anyway; unlike everyone else who has been for those very reasons, he will be spared it because of who he is – a person with power surrounded by other people with power. And he wants to keep it for no other reason than he likes it. That’s apparently what it’s for.

© The Editor




Rotten ApplesIf the available ingredients are Paul Gambaccini, Larry Elder and 9/11, is there a suitable recipe that can successfully blend them so the end result is a satisfactory soufflé? Such is the dilemma that often faces yours truly when several stories are vying for attention without any inspiring me enough to pen an entire post. If not giving over one post to one story, the task is then to join the dots of apparently unrelated plots and make a valid connection that holds up to scrutiny, regardless of whether or not any common factors jump out and join hands. However, perhaps the one thing these three individual storylines share is the Winegum Telegram itself. Each contains elements of stories that have been covered on here various times over the past six years, whether false allegations, Identity Politics, or reflections on where we are now courtesy of an event that took place two whole decades ago.

As far as Gambo is concerned, there is certainly enough history to warrant a post, though I’ve satirised his self-important pomposity via other online mediums many times; in this particular case, however, a live TV outburst during a down-the-line interview with Victoria Derbyshire on the BBC encompassed other previous topics like the corruption of the Met and the folly of media-driven witch-hunts into ‘historical abuse’. Gambaccini, for all his faults, has become a defiant contradiction to the narrative the BBC has stuck to ever since the Savile scandal almost a decade ago, and seeing him let rip with the enduring anger of a man to whom a criminal wrong was done remains an undoubtedly novel sight on our premier broadcaster. Gambo was invited onto the BBC News Channel to discuss an open letter signed by numerous prestigious parties (including Stephen Lawrence’s mother) who declared themselves victims of the Met’s incompetence and malpractice; the letter in question was a protest at the suggestion Met Commissioner Cressida Dick would have her contract extended for another couple of years. It demanded Boris Johnson curtail Ms Dicks’ role ASAP on the grounds that she has done nothing to alter the corrupt culture within the Met since her promotion.

Ms Derbyshire attempted to uphold the now-redundant BBC pretence of impartiality during the exchange, but something that was once admirable and key to the BBC’s position has been so abused in recent years that it no longer convinces as a tactic. And it prompted an understandably incendiary outburst by Gambo. ‘All throughout the witch-hunt,’ he snarled, ‘the BBC was on the side of the wrongdoers – and this will come out, by the way; don’t think that we are going to go away. We haven’t come for the BBC yet because we’re doing the Met now, but in the years to come – boy, the truth about the BBC complicity in the witch-hunt will be known.’ The fact that this is a former BBC star employee returning to plunge the knife into a corporation that failed to reward loyalty and long service by presuming guilt before innocence is perhaps emblematic of so much that has gone wrong at the Beeb in the last decade or so, and one cannot help but sympathise when Gambo admitted, ‘I’m sorry to have to say negative things about people; this is not why I went into public life.’

Circumstance and unforeseen events have forced the likes of Paul Gambaccini into the place he currently occupies; I’m pretty certain he’d be far happier embedded as the anchor of a long-running show on any of the BBC’s five national radio networks than having to kick his former employer while it’s down, but he no longer has a choice. The climate the Western world currently finds itself inhabiting is one some of us saw coming a long time ago, and we knew it was one in which we’d have to stand up and be counted. Hot on the heels of ‘Exposure’, I’m currently working my way through another of my previous satirical series, ’25 Hour News’, for Patreon uploading. Considering the material is seven years old, it’s nevertheless drawn an enthusiastic response from my subscribers – and one unnerving element of sitting through it again for the first time in a long time is how disturbingly prescient it seems. I saw a genuine TV news story yesterday from Australia that melodramatically reported on a dozen cops pouncing upon a solitary individual seen walking alone in the open air without wearing a mask. If that’s the actual news, then there really is no need for a parody anymore.

Moreover, who would ever have imagined back in a year as relatively recent as 2014 that it would eventually be perfectly permissible for a white activist masquerading as ‘anti-fascist’ to wear a gorilla mask and physically abuse a black politician running for the office of California Governor? That’s what happened this week to Larry Elder, the broadcaster-turned-political candidate who happens to be that most unfathomable breed to the SJW, an African-American Republican. Of course, the outrage that would have greeted this act captured on camera (or Smartphone) had Elder been a Democrat would have made Elder an international household name overnight; the woman in the gorilla mask would be eviscerated by media of both the mainstream and social persuasion and it’d be the lead story on CNN as well as splashed across the front page of the New York Times, held up as yet one more example of America’s systemic racism. As it is, Elder’s political affiliations means the story has been summarily buried by all the media outlets that ordinarily fall over themselves to push the race agenda, which suggests race is not really the issue after all. If it was, then it would be applied to everyone, regardless of where they stand on the ideological spectrum.

The racism inherent in ‘anti’ racism is really laid bare when it comes to how a character like Larry Elder is treated by the left. He refuses to play the oppressed victim card and evidently has the ‘wrong’ opinions; in the skewered logic of the Woke mindset, he’s fair game for racist abuse due to the fact he’s an Uncle Tom, nothing more than a subservient mouthpiece for White Supremacy on account of not sticking to the script whereby everyone has their preordained place. Should Larry Elder become the first black Governor of California, his achievement most likely won’t count in the same way that Margaret Thatcher still doesn’t count to some over here as a glass ceiling-smasher because she came from the wrong side of the divide. One doesn’t have to agree with all his beliefs to hope Elder wins – if only for the fact his victory would shatter the unhealthy omnipotence of the dominant dogma and enable even more people to discern the double standards bullshit at the rotten core of Identity Politics.

And so we ice the cake with some 9/11 topping. It was 20 years ago today? Yes, hard to believe for those of us who were around, I guess; but there it is on the calendar – and we only have to look at current events in Afghanistan to be reminded of its legacy. Amidst the expected TV documentaries which followed a well-trodden path, I did see one which focused on the Presidential perspective, featuring extensive and previously unaired recollections from Dubya and all his key players who are still alive. It was genuinely fascinating to hear how that dramatic day unfolded for the Commander-in-Chief and how his frightened team had so little clue as to what was happening, forced into flying around in circles aboard Air Force One, desperately trying to work out anywhere to land that might be safe. It served as a reminder of just how unprepared America was for 9/11 and how the passing of decades had erased the collective wakeup call of Pearl Harbour; given the diminishing length of attention spans, the sixty years that separated Pearl Harbour and 9/11 has probably been halved so that the impact of 9/11 on the present day will perhaps be gone within ten years from now. Considering how quickly the illiberal nature of certain pandemic policies has been normalised, perhaps we won’t have to wait even that long.

© The Editor




Pierrot le FouAside from perhaps ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’, Hollywood never quite manages to capture the eccentric essence of romance, too often settling for the easy fix of the chocolate box. Even a literary romance as beautifully bonkers as ‘Wuthering Heights’ was bowdlerised for its first well-known big-screen version (the 1939 one with Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff), and as a cinematic genre, romance gradually settled into a comfy, soft-focus groove that utterly detached the subject from reality and fabricated a fairy tale it rarely veers from to this day. Not that there’s anything wrong with fairy tales, and I accept for many that cinema-going is all about escapism, pure and simple. I know my grandmother in particular was a huge fan of Doris Day movies, and that’s perfectly understandable; she lived in dull, monochrome 1950s Huddersfield, so I can imagine that going to see a spectacular Technicolor musical like ‘Calamity Jane’ must have felt like visiting another planet for the evening.

Perhaps fairy tales and fantasy tend to be the default backdrop for cinematic portrayals of romance because even in real life falling in love can be something of an out-of-body experience; how else does one illustrate the insane sensation without slipping into dependable cliché? Well, it can be done, but it takes a bit of imagination. I guess the main problem with the Hollywood approach is that its narrow fantasy is routinely lacking the element of surprise, being as predictable as ‘Snow White’ or ‘Sleeping Beauty’. Moreover, such films are almost overwhelmingly aimed at an exclusively female audience, as though the spirit of romance only ever beats in the heart of a woman; I doubt any straight man ever had a craving to watch ‘Dirty Dancing’ or ‘An Officer and A Gentleman’, for example. No, if one of the most intensely electric emotional adventures either sex can be exposed to in life is ever done genuine justice in the world of cinema, it tends not to emanate from Tinsel Town.

I was thinking of this unlikely topic on account of hearing that the French actor Jean-Paul Belmondo had passed away. He was never a household name in the English-speaking world, though he was a legend across the Channel; the fact that he declined to relocate to California as a means of capitalising upon a handful of brushes with iconic cinematic cool in the early 60s is perhaps to his credit. The trio of films he made with Nouvelle Vague auteur Jean-Luc Godard – 1960’s ‘Breathless’, ‘A Woman is a Woman’ (1961), and 1965’s ‘Pierrot le Fou’ – are all very different, yet each is a classic of the French New Wave. Despite the fact Belmondo became a mainstream movie star in France, the cult success of his collaborations with Godard in international circles were the films for which he remains best remembered outside of France. And both ‘A Woman is a Woman’ and ‘Pierrot le Fou’ are sublimely romantic movies that manage to avoid the corny tropes that constitute the lazy laurels of Hollywood. The former subverts them with mischievous glee, whilst the latter rewrites the rulebook.

On the surface, ‘Pierrot le Fou’ certainly doesn’t adhere to a conventional romantic narrative, featuring several casual murders and a couple of vicious gangsters who think nothing of water-boarding their enemies. However, in the finest tradition of Romeo and Juliet, the couple at the centre of the story – played by Belmondo and the effortlessly sexy Anna Karina respectively – both die at the end, with Jean-Paul Belmondo’s demise being memorably bizarre as he paints his face blue and wraps a dozen sticks of dynamite round his head; after lighting the fuse he has a belated change of heart, but can’t extinguish it on account of not being able to see it due to the dynamite obscuring his vision. Within seconds he’s blown to smithereens; it’s a dramatically stupid death worthy of Wile E. Coyote. So, yes, it’s not a pitch I could imagine being given the green light by a Hollywood studio executive, to be honest; but it is nevertheless a strikingly romantic movie.

Belmondo’s character is a restless married man dragged along to a dreary Parisian party by his bourgeois wife, whereupon he meets guests who speak in clichés that imply their words are being scripted by advertising agencies; I suppose it was a satirical comment by Godard on crass materialism or something, but the director had yet to squander his talents on Left Bank left-wing polemics, and it actually serves as a humorous way of setting Belmondo apart from his peers. Instead, his wavelength is tuned into that of the pretty babysitter (played by Karina), whom he offers to give a lift home to; he does so and then never returns to his own home. The two go on the run in the style of an existential Bonnie and Clyde, making their way down to the South of France and spending a period living a bohemian beachcomber lifestyle before the past crimes of Karina’s character catch up with them, prompting a fresh getaway.

Throughout the journey that follows their initial flight from Paris, Karina’s Marianne nicknames Belmondo’s character ‘Pierrot’, repeatedly provoking his virtual catchphrase, ‘My name is Ferdinand’. But it’s a novel example of the quirky affection the two quickly develop for each other, one that swiftly blossoms into passionate love. ‘Pierrot’ evidently has his suspicions about the unpredictable Marianne, but he’s seduced by this free spirit and she in turn gives every impression she’s as smitten with him. The stunning visual set pieces which became a hallmark of Jean-Luc Godard movies are never better than in ‘Pierrot le Fou’ and they work as a means of expressing the devil-may-care nature of the love affair between the two leads. The Nouvelle Vague as a whole was a breathtaking breath of fresh air, anyway, and Godard was its most innovative and original artist; ‘Pierrot le Fou’ has the same exhilarating rush of a Pop Art comic strip panel by Roy Lichtenstein or the opening chord of ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, and as a romantic movie it brilliantly evokes the joyous madness inherent in love during its first stages in a way that few films do.

On paper, the story itself could have been filmed in a relatively conventional, linear fashion and would probably have made sense to an audience raised on less imaginative fare; but, as with Frank Carson, it was the way Godard told ‘em back then that enables it to convey a mood and a feeling with unique accuracy familiar to anyone who’s been there. Long before I got there, the film made a massive impact on me when I first saw it around 30 years ago and proved that romance wasn’t reserved for the soppy and the sappy; cinema could actually show love as crazy as it really can be, and whilst the film may be as much an example of artifice as a Doris Day musical, ‘Pierrot le Fou’ nonetheless offers a fresh take on the fantasy that is irresistible. Also, the fantasy is balanced by the eventual revelation that Marianne has been cruelly using Pierrot to aid her actual, criminal boyfriend in getting back at his rivals; this gate-crashing of crushing reality exposes the short shelf-life of such ‘too-good-to-be-true’ passion, a telling move more realistic than simply having the pair riding off into the romantic sunset.

The Nouvelle Vague was initially celebrated for its injection of realism into film, dispensing with the archaic, time-consuming methods Hollywood took to light its pictures in order to make the old actresses look beautiful. Francois Truffaut was renowned for taking his camera onto the street and hiring non-actors to create a groundbreaking aesthetic that proved hugely influential in the early 60s, especially on British ‘kitchen sink’ cinema. Jean-Luc Godard was responsible for bringing a touch of the surreal to the mix, and ‘Pierrot le Fou’ is perhaps the crowning achievement of his early career. It gives two adventurous actors permission to spread their wings and it gives the viewer permission to dream an alternative dream. As I said, there’s nothing wrong with fairy tales.

© The Editor




DoomwatchAs political slogans go, ‘Follow the Science’ was a useful default phrase whenever the shifting sands of SAGE pushed the Government into one more U-turn in the Covid U-bend last year. The scaremongering boffins feeding the PM their flexible advice on what to do and what not to do in order to stay safe, save lives and prop-up the NHS evidently felt able to chop and change on a whim because they were science people and whatever they said was therefore scientific; any challenges to their wisdom – though the MSM largely avoided those, anyway – could be rebuffed by essentially saying this is the science and you simply follow it, end of. It’s just as well the voices questioning the validity of the science were few and far between when it came to mainstream platforms, and their small numbers meant they could easily be written off as crackpot conspiracy theorists. It’s a neat way of silencing your critics, but killing potential debate with one word or a phrase is very 2020s, of course. Question Identity Politics and you’re far-right or racist (or maybe being one means you’re both); question the Trans issue and you’re a Transphobe; question Islam and you’re Islamophobic and so on.

One would think anyone so fanatically committed to a cause would be prepared to argue their case with a convincing and persuasive argument; but dogmatic fanatics are not rational, logical individuals who can defend their corner with rationality or logic, which is why they tend to resort to name-calling, trolling, abuse, cancel campaigns etc. They’ve twigged that most will accept their position just because they can scream louder than the opposition – and it’s not a nice sound, after all. Not that one has to scream where Covid issues are concerned, however. ‘Jean in Suffolk’, a listener participating in a Talk Radio phone-in the other day declared ‘Vaccinations should be compulsory for everyone. Some people have to be protected from themselves.’ In a similar vein, an online friend of mine from one of the overseas Anglosphere territories posts daily updates that read like government propaganda bulletins; I wouldn’t have previously credited them with such slavish subservience to the official line, but maybe I too often make the mistake of assuming everyone of my acquaintance has the same instinct as me to question and be suspicious of anything that emanates from a government department. I didn’t put that instinct on hold in 2020 and I’m certainly not doing so now.

At the moment, it feels as though we’re sleepwalking into a very scary place indeed and that sleepwalk is unimpeded by those one would expect to step back and see the bigger picture had they not been cowed into compliance. For example, I’m not quite sure how anyone could realistically defend some of the moves being proposed in that most frighteningly authoritarian pandemic police state, Australia; but somebody must be or else they wouldn’t be happening. According to a report issued last week, ‘People in South Australia will be forced to download an app that combines facial recognition and geolocation. The State will text them at random times, and thereafter they will have 15 minutes to take a picture of their face in the location where they are supposed to be. Should they fail, the local police department will be sent to follow up in person.’ No, that wasn’t written by Chris Morris, nor was it adapted from an embryonic manuscript for ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ that Orwell abandoned because he felt it was too far-fetched. It’s for real.

Pre-Covid, the so-called quarantine app is something that few would have been surprised to hear was compulsory in China, but a Western democracy? Perhaps the manner in which the democratic nations of the free world have taken so easily to Chinese ways reflects the gradual and deepening infiltration of Western government, business, industry, media, academia and institutions by the mighty Yuan over the last decade or so – something that has been achieved with the kind of impressive stealth a neutral could admire were it the work of an evil genius in a Bond movie. I suppose you know the aim of the infiltration project has been all-but achieved when controlling the populace in the style of an unelected Communist plutocracy suddenly doesn’t seem such a bad idea to Western leaders after all. With the curve still defiantly un-flattened, the Government here is now renewing the ‘emergency’ Covid legislation for another six months. Say no more.

And how’s following the science going amidst this adoption of pseudo-totalitarian rule? As a mantra, Follow the Science was so ubiquitous for so long that it’s interesting to see how its most enthusiastic advocates are now choosing to disregard the science because it doesn’t fit their agenda. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (the JCVI), an independent expert advisory panel of almost 60 years standing, was turned to by the Government to provide its usual advice and recommendations, this time on the subject of vaccinating children aged 12-15. The conclusions of the JCVI were that jabs at that age weren’t necessary; this wasn’t what the Government wanted to hear, so it asked them to reconsider; some JCVI members resigned in protest, but those remaining stood by their conclusions, which the Government has apparently decided to overrule by testing out their chosen stance in that ever-dependable arena, the Court of Public Opinion.

But the JCVI are a scientific body, one which presumably follows the science; in response to its recommendations, ones based on scientific calculations, the Government seems determined to push ahead with vaccinating children, despite medical and scientific advice from the experts stressing the opposite. Mind you, this is an administration that appears committed to vaccine passports even though vaccines don’t prevent transmission, so insisting those who least need to be jabbed should be jabbed (and applying emotional blackmail via their trusty MSM support network) isn’t as shocking a move as it might have once seemed. And, as ever, there’s always more going on than receives publicity. An NHS vaccination memo slipped out a few days ago in which the question ‘Is there a financial supplement for vaccinating eligible 12-15 year olds?’ was accompanied by the following answer: ‘Yes. In addition to the £12.58 item of service fee, a further supplement of £10 can be claimed per vaccination dose to eligible children and young people aged 12-15.’ Well, it’s one way of saving the NHS, I guess.

Let’s face it – scepticism is an entirely natural reaction now. Who has broadcast the Covid message? Politicians and the mainstream media. Who has enforced it? The police. None of these institutions have exactly covered themselves in glory over the last 10-15 years, so it’s no wonder so few trust them anymore. One might as well expect yer average Afghan to trust the West after abandoning them to the Taliban. The cynical exploitation of the unique and often frightening situation of the last year and-a-half by those in power has been unforgivable. Certainly, a government engaged in so many anti-democratic abuses of civil liberties under the convenient cloak of a pandemic should provoke mass defection to the opposition, yet this is where there’s so much cause for despair.

Under normal circumstances, one could endure a terrible government because the thought of kicking them out and replacing them with something better is always there; yet when one looks across at the Labour Party in the realisation that they’re the sole realistic alternative to the Tories, one is immediately aware there is no alternative anymore. They’re just as awful, if not worse. But perhaps at a time when so much choice is being taken out of our hands, that’s the abysmal excuse for choice we still have left. Hey, Biden’s a pitiful President, but at least he’s not Trump! Hey, Keir Starmer’s a pitiful Prime Minister, but at least he’s not Boris! If only there was some scientific formula to solve this conundrum, we could follow it.

© The Editor




CallanI was surprised to realise the other day that the box-set currently curtailing my viewing for the evening is one I haven’t actually written about before; I thought I’d covered every archive series on the Telegram, especially those that have been viewed more than once. However, it occurred to me that I’d never penned a post about that most superlative – and, it has to be said, cynical – spy series, ‘Callan’. It’s one I revisit every couple of years, I guess, for ‘Callan’ has a habit of routinely drawing me back. I’ve sometimes wondered why such programmes can do that when I pretty much remember where each episode’s storyline is going within five minutes of sitting down to watch; with the element of surprise absent, I’ve realised it’s the characters – and ‘Callan’ has an abundance of real characters that you can’t help yearning to spend more time in the company of. It really is one of those shows that seem to grow richer whenever I return to it. I won’t use fine wine as an obvious analogy, but…oops, too late. Its vintage spans just the five years (1967-72), and even with frustrating gaps in the monochrome era preventing the viewer from seeing the series in its entirety, there is still plenty to be getting on with in 34 surviving episodes.

Just as ‘The Sweeney’ was spun off from ‘Regan’ the TV movie, ‘Callan’ first saw the light of day as an entry in ABC TV’s ‘Armchair Theatre’. The instant potential for a series is evident in that de facto pilot (which happily survives) as we are introduced to a spy and an espionage landscape as far removed from the glamour of 007 as only John Le Carré had ever previously explored. Played with brooding brilliance by Edward Woodward, David Callan works for ‘The Section’, a shady branch of the secret service that appears to specialise in all the dirtiest jobs the State doesn’t like to think about. This is the Cold War’s grubby, sordid frontline – a place where everything from blackmail to assassination can be utilised to eliminate the enemy – and Callan is its most reluctantly effective hit-man. Callan knows he’s the best, but it’s not something he’s remotely proud of; if anything, the job has left him riddled with self-loathing; every time he takes a life, he marks the act with weary resignation rather than satisfaction, for Callan knows the moment he pulls the trigger he’s morally inferior to the man who failed to pull the trigger on him.

Perhaps befitting a series of its era, class consciousness is a recurrent factor when it comes to the title character; Callan’s background is clearly working-class, whilst his ultimate superior (who goes by the title ‘Hunter’) is old-school public school. This helps exacerbate tension as Callan’s vociferous tirades against the unemotional suits issuing death sentences from behind a desk suggests he almost sees them as WWI generals sending Tommy over the top. It doesn’t help that Callan’s most regularly seen fellow agent is another product of privilege – the arrogant, upper-class Toby Meres (an unforgettable performance by Anthony Valentine). Meres evidently enjoys his job as much as Callan loathes it and the two rub each other up the wrong way in the best possible way for the viewer. Whereas so many aspects of The Section make Callan despair of human nature, Meres isn’t exactly plagued by a conscience; he’s not even troubled by the methods employed by the department’s resident psychological sadist, the sinister Dr Snell, whose basement torture chamber is the destination of all captured enemy agents if they manage to be taken alive.

Rarely has the work of the intelligence services been portrayed with such bleak brutality as in ‘Callan’. The Section isn’t presented as remotely heroic, though Callan himself emerges as a heroic figure if only because the viewer empathises with his simmering disdain for, and seething revulsion at, the world he finds himself in – the sole character in The Section to react this way. His only respite comes via his unlikely hobby of model soldiers and the war-games he engages in with them; he also finds strange solace in the smelly company of the habitual criminal known only as Lonely (Russell Hunter), whose own specialist talents often prove useful for The Section, even if Callan’s superiors strongly disapprove. Although on the surface Callan appears to have as much affection for Lonely as Basil Fawlty has for Manuel, there’s an undeniable bond between the two men that is actually quite touching. Perhaps Callan sees in Lonely’s criminality an honesty missing from the far worse criminal acts carried out with perfect legality by The Section and by himself. Lonely is an unpretentious petty crook, pure and simple, not a cold-blooded killer masquerading as a gentleman. Callan certainly has no comparable relationship with any work colleague, most of whom are as untroubled by the job as Toby Meres.

In the first colour series of ‘Callan’ (1970), Meres is absent and his place is taken by the younger and even more arrogant James Cross, played by a sublimely swaggering Patrick Mower. Callan returns to the fold following a spell of convalescence after being brainwashed into shooting dead the third man to sit in Hunter’s chair, and Cross is visibly miffed at his return; throughout their time together, Cross is attempting to establish himself as The Section’s top man and is incurably jealous of Callan’s status. However, Cross is unexpectedly killed off midway through the fourth series, an event which Patrick Mower once recalled led to ‘Cross Lives!’ being scrawled on the bonnet of his car the day after the episode originally aired in 1972. This incident takes place during a brief period in which Callan himself is promoted to Hunter, though sitting behind a desk is not Callan’s natural place and he soon finds himself back out in the field of Cold War conflict.

‘Callan’ ends on a high, if somewhat ambiguous, note with a superb trilogy of episodes featuring the pursuit of a KGB agent code-named Richmond (played with urbane ruthlessness by T.P. McKenna); each man recognises himself in the other and Callan goes against orders by adhering to Richmond’s desperate plea to kill him rather than take him alive. The climax of the series implies Callan will no longer be employed by The Section as a consequence of his actions, though Callan himself knows all-too well that nobody employed by The Section is ever really allowed to leave it. A rare episode in which Hunter’s beautiful secretary Liz takes centre stage by going AWOL underlines the dangers of one individual carrying around so much top secret information in their head; Hunter’s immediate response when Liz fails to show up for work is to put The Section on red alert, so terrified is he of her falling into enemy hands and being emptied of every sensitive detail.

The chillingly clinical approach to the sanctity of life prevalent throughout The Section is a necessity of the job, but by placing a human being like Callan in that world we the audience can identify with his humanity and be as appalled by the lack of it around him as Callan himself is. It’s a clever way of giving the viewer a stake in the series, though we are able to enjoy Meres’ posh-boy thuggery and Lonely’s seedy body odour in a way that Callan can’t, revelling in the wonderful characterisations, peerless performances, memorable dialogue and exceptional storytelling. Coming back to ‘Callan’ again has made me feel that television’s 50-year progression from studio-based series shot on videotape to filmed series shot on location has somehow resulted in the revival of the more melodramatic tropes that ‘Callan’ provided such a sobering antidote to, making ‘Callan’ itself oddly feel even more realistic half-a-century on than many an equivalent series today. More screen time is given over to the development of the characters into well-rounded, believable people than to the shoot-outs, and the viewer is the beneficiary. Add that swinging light-bulb and haunting, reverb-drenched theme tune and you’re left with one of the true jewels in British TV’s crown.

© The Editor