LIBRARY PICTURES

A hidden track on his first solo album and a single that understandably failed to pick up much in the way of airplay, ‘Running the World’ by Jarvis Cocker achieved modest notoriety via its catchy chorus, which repeated the simple phrase ‘C***s are still running the world’. One could argue the lyrical sentiment of the song should qualify it as a far more apt number to be covered by a multi-artist ensemble for victims of the Grenfell Tower disaster than an obvious, irrelevant anthem like ‘Bridge over Troubled Water’. But what else can we expect when a clueless cretin like Simon Cowell, a man for whom music is merely a means to a big car and a big house, is the mastermind behind assembling so many practitioners of the vocally histrionic and emotionally sentimental under one roof?

Yes, it’s been a good year for c***s so far. One I’ve referenced in the odd past post, instigator of divorce proceedings that labelled me as an ‘adulterous unknown’ and somebody who also hired a mate from the Met to trawl through my private records without cause or permission, has proven himself king of the c***s yet again with recent actions, though that’s neither a surprise nor something I can elaborate on, unfortunately. But the Karma Police will get him in the end (woah, going backwards to the previous post for a mo there, sorry). Anyway, the wider world has its fair share of the C U Next Tuesday brigade, whether they subscribe to Radical Islam or the EDL, so why go on about it if we all know, eh?

No, I’m not here to moan or whinge or dwell on the dark side; I thought I’d let a little glimmer of hope slip through the bleakness for one post at least. The image accompanying this post was one I captured on camera earlier today, having passed it yesterday. I don’t know who is responsible, but they deserve a medal for making me feel all is not lost, for their glorious creation served as a reminder that, even if c***s are still running the world, some of those not running it are bloody marvellous.

A wooden cabinet attached to a post fixed into the grass beside the pavement, and inside the cabinet, two shelves of books. Seemingly hand-painted in exquisite florid bird motifs, the cabinet announces itself as a ‘Little Free Library’; the only other words on it are ‘Take a book’ and ‘Leave a book’. Apparently commonplace in some corners of the world – friends in Canada tell me they’ve come across them in their neck of the woods – this innovation is new to me and it made my day. Put simply, what a lovely idea.

A couple of hundred years ago, libraries were the province of the academic and the wealthy, incorporated into universities, civic buildings and country houses that excluded the common man, and not just because more often than not he couldn’t actually read. Then came the Victorians with their evangelical zeal for self-improvement in both body and mind; it may be easy and fashionable to mock them, but boy did they leave a hell of a legacy behind them. The Public Libraries Act 1850 was arguably one of the greatest pieces of legislation to come out of the nineteenth century, enabling local boroughs across Britain to establish free public libraries, opening the book of knowledge to all. Further amendments to the Act within a decade of it becoming law extended the reach of that knowledge so that a public library became one of the fixtures and fittings of every village, town and city in the UK; a settlement would appear as incomplete without one as it would without a church, a pub or a post office.

We take libraries for granted at our peril, and it’s no coincidence an army of volunteers has regularly stepped up to the job of running them without payment when the local library has been threatened with closure; and a hell of a lot have been threatened with closure in the last decade. The attitude of our so-called superiors in government is that public libraries, as with the Arts, don’t really matter unless one attended the right school or university, probably because enriching one’s intellect isn’t necessarily related to making a profit, which of course matters more than anything else. Alan Bennett compared the closure of public libraries as tantamount to child abuse; he was quite viciously criticised and condemned by philistine Ministers entrusted with the job of closing them, and while his description was possibly a tad melodramatic the sentiment behind the statement was understandable. For a child, free access to books is as important a right as free access to education.

I became a member of my first local library aged around seven, a majestic Victorian edifice with a Gothic clock-tower; and throughout my childhood, whenever my mother ventured to the ‘town street’ to shop when I was at school, she’d pop into the library and pick something up for me she reckoned I’d like. When I was in my teens, this library was one I visited alone, selecting books from the shelf that reflected my changing tastes. Ironically, this was actually the very same library that had been Alan Bennett’s local one when he was growing up, one he returned to in a recent biography on BBC2. I haven’t been there myself now for the best part of 25 years or more (it’s no longer my local), but I’m pleased it’s still there and hopefully providing the next generation of readers with their introductions to the magic of the written word and its occasional illustrations.

Even with the revolutionary arrival of Penguin and their sixpence paperbacks in the 1930s, the price of books has always been beyond the reach of many, meaning public libraries remained the main route to reading for great swathes of the population. But, of course, they also existed for pensioners to go somewhere warm and scan the daily papers on cold winter mornings; more recent decades have seen them expand their portfolio to incorporate records, CDs and DVDs as well as housing photocopiers, printers and the internet – all of which can provide an invaluable service for so many that to write them off as expensive luxuries unworthy of investment or maintenance is to raise earthly bread over heavenly bread.

That one unknown individual or group of individuals took it upon themselves to plant their own miniature library alongside the pavement, offering a wonderful alternative to the dog turds, dried sick and broken glass lining that pavement, is such an inspired and touching gesture that it’s almost enough to restore one’s tried and tested faith in humanity. And that can’t be a bad thing, can it?

© The Editor

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THE LAST WALTZ

A few weeks ago I marked the half-century of ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ in a post intended as a little nostalgic interlude from the contemporary doom ‘n’ gloom that has invariably continued to dominate posts ever since. Although I’m not adhering to precise dates, another landmark album – albeit one that characterised the ‘post-Rock’ age we still reside in – also appeared in the month of June, thirty years after The Beatles’ magnum opus and twenty years away from today, Radiohead’s ‘OK Computer’. The media may have neglected to mark the occasion, but in many respects, ‘OK Computer’ is the landmark album the media doesn’t like to talk about. I’d almost forgotten two decades had elapsed since its release, for it still sounds like the soundtrack to the here and now.

Where ‘Sgt Pepper’s’ marked the optimistic maturity of a new musical form that had come on in adventurous leaps and bounds over a brief period of four years, ‘OK Computer’ carried the history of the generation raised in the shadow of the 60s on its weary shoulders and tried to look forward in the process; what it saw ahead of it wasn’t exactly cause for celebration. Yet, appearing as it did at the fag-end of ‘Cool Britannia’ and barely a month after New Labour were elected into office, the album marked the decisive end of a period of false hope by anticipating not only the corrupt charade of Blair and the mass hysteria of Diana’s death, but essentially the mood of the century we’re lumbered with.

The two years leading up to the release of ‘OK Computer’ had been a curious albeit conscious diversion from the grim alternative of Grunge, which had culminated in the suicide of its most articulate and charismatic spokesman. Oasis wanted to ‘Live Forever’ and Blur wanted to escape into an imaginary musical universe where Madness starred in ‘Help!’ instead of the Fab Four. It was fun, frivolous and a breath of fresh air whereby bands once destined for the Indie ghetto temporarily usurped the tedious test-tube boy-bands at the top of the charts. Yet even when Britpop was dominant, Radiohead were striking a more dissonant chord with 1995’s ‘The Bends’, a stunningly brilliant album that had combined critical acclaim with commercial success without conceding to the prevailing trends. Two years later, when Liam, Noel, Damon and Jarvis were unlikely tabloid darlings, Radiohead re-emerged with a record that both caught the mood of the moment and predicted what was to come.

I purchased ‘OK Computer’ on the day of its release, given an inkling of what to expect by the trailer of ‘Paranoid Android’, a bizarre beast of a single that bore more relation to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ than ‘Wonderwall’, though the LP still surprised me when the needle touched down on the vinyl. At the time, I was living in a crack-den-cum-brothel that wasn’t exactly the ‘Country House’ Blur had sarcastically sung the praises of in a promo video reminiscent of a Benny Hill sketch; if ever an album said (to turn Morrissey’s lyrical quote on its head) something to me about my life, ‘OK Computer’ seemed to more than any other in 1997. Things couldn’t only get better – not for the moment, anyhow.

Whilst the mass media’s eyes were focused on the narcissistic vacuum of Oasis’ ‘Be Here Now’, Radiohead sneaked under the mainstream radar with a record that was less about wallowing in a self-indulgent, coke-fuelled cul-de-sac as it was about the morning after the Britpop party. It pre-dated the NME’s calling out of Blair with its ‘Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?’ cover and mirrored the sudden change in mood heralded by Blur’s inspired retreat into lo-fi darkness with their eponymous fifth album and then reiterated by the bleak grandiosity of The Verve’s ‘Urban Hymns’. Greeted with more or less unanimous critical praise upon release, ‘OK Computer’ shot straight to the top of the UK LP charts and soundtracked what proved to be a strange summer.

Lazy summaries of Radiohead as a band (ones that continue to dog them) appear to have their foundations in ‘OK Computer’, which is perceived as a depressing album in a late Pink Floyd vein, usually by those who haven’t actually heard it. Most of the music on it is staggeringly beautiful, but in a challenging manner that demands the listener re-evaluates their concept of beauty. ‘No Surprises’ echoes the sweetness and light of The Beach Boys’ ‘Wouldn’t it Be Nice’ but retains the melancholic undercurrent that runs through the album, whereas ‘Karma Police’ borrows a chord sequence from The Beatles’ ‘Sexy Sadie’, reinforcing the fact that the British music scene of the mid-90s had bypassed a revival of Psychedelia and had gone straight to the less joyous landscape of ‘the White Album’.

The overriding theme of ‘OK Computer’ is one of disillusionment, something that registered as much with me while I staggered through the dying months of my 20s as it did the generation behind me, who were about to be dropped like a stone by the new government they’d been wooed by that spring. It taps into the paranoia and fear of the future that surfaced as the Millennium edged closer on the horizon and does so with a musical tapestry that is rooted in the familiar whilst simultaneously stretching to develop a new narrative for a form weighed down by its illustrious past. The cold detachment of the Stephen Hawkin-like electronic vocal on ‘Fitter Happier’ chimes with the lyrical content of the record, which seems to second-guess the isolating impact of the internet as well as the impending collapse of corporate globalisation. ‘OK Computer’ may have been of its time, but it was also ahead of its time; it’s arguable no act since its release has commented on the present as effectively as Radiohead managed before that present had even arrived.

Radiohead’s performance at Glastonbury the summer of the album’s release was probably one of the last occasions in which the festival was headlined by a band at the peak of their creative powers, marking the end of an era in more ways than one. One could even go as far as to say ‘OK Computer’ was the last time a contemporary band tuned a cracked mirror on its era and reflected that era back at its audience. Like The Beatles and Bowie before them, Radiohead looked beyond the limitations of their peers operating in the same genre and tried to incorporate elements of other genres, in Radiohead’s case the electronica of DJ Shadow and the trip-hop of Portishead. The end result may have sounded like neither influence, but ended up as a unique hybrid of both blended with more formulaic Rock insignias. Who has even attempted that since?

It wasn’t twenty years ago today that Sgt Yorke told his band to play, but it’s near enough; at the same time, it’s a long time ago. And I find that fact increasingly hard to believe; but then, I’m old enough to have been there. And it amazes me more that I’m still here to state that fact, for I certainly didn’t think I would be in 1997. But I doubt Sgt Yorke thought his band would be either. It turns out there were surprises, after all.

© The Editor

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SUMMER IN THE CITY

‘Forces of anarchy, wreckers of law and order: Communists, Maoists, Trotskyists, neo-Trotskyists, crypto-Trotskyists, union leaders, Communist union leaders, atheists, agnostics, long-haired weirdos, short-haired weirdos, vandals, hooligans, football supporters, namby-pamby probation officers, rapists, papists, papist rapists, foreign surgeons, head-shrinkers – who ought to be locked-up; Wedgewood-Benn, keg bitter, punk rock, glue-sniffers, Play for Today, squatters, Clive Jenkins, Roy Jenkins, up Jenkins, up everybody, Chinese restaurants…’

The famous rant from ‘The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin’ by Reggie’s unhinged ex-army brother-in-law Jimmy (a man forever experiencing a ‘bit of a cock-up on the catering front’) is counteracted by Reggie himself, who points out the kind of people Jimmy’s proposed right-wing private army will attract – ‘Thugs, bully-boys, psychopaths, sacked policemen, security guards, sacked security guards, racialists, paki-bashers, queer-bashers, chink-bashers…rear-admirals, queer admirals, vice-admirals, fascists, neo-fascists, crypto-fascists, loyalists, neo-loyalists, crypto-loyalists.’

The figures of hate may have changed in forty years, but an equivalent rant could easily be penned today, whether one’s parting is on the left or on the right. The level of anger and awareness of his own impotence in changing the world for what he perceives to be the better that’s implicit in Jimmy’s rant forces him into contemplating a doomed military coup, albeit an unspecified idealistic one he knows hasn’t a cat in hell’s chance of success; but he’s willing to give it a go, anyway, because there’s nothing else keeping him alive but hatred. It’s the sole emotion that makes him feel anything anymore. He’s been laid off by the army, the only profession he ever knew; he’s redundant and looks around at a society he doesn’t recognise, and hatred is the one thing he’s got. That at least retains its relevance.

There are a good few people in society today whose passions are fuelled by hatred in the absence of anything else, propelled towards extreme actions by the media message (or holy book) they decide supports and validates their viewpoint. There are many more that mercifully baulk at extreme actions but nevertheless focus on what they regard as the source of their misery with an intensity that is as illogical as it is understandable. John Lennon’s bitter recollection of the petty arguments that marred the ‘Let it Be’ sessions – whereby a bum note by one Beatle is responsible for why another Beatle’s life is lousy – highlights a simplistic blame game that appears to be the default mindset of many right now. Angry people in North Kensington blame government; angry people in Birstall blame immigration; angry people on London Bridge blame western civilisation; angry people in Finsbury Park blame Allah.

The gloomy prognosis of Maajid Nawaz, co-founder of the Quilliam Foundation counter-extremism think-tank is that both far-right and Islamic extremists threaten a virtual civil war if events of the past month are allowed to escalate further. ISIS-inspired or sponsored attacks are designed to polarise and Nawaz predicts they’ll continue to do so unless certain fundamental issues are addressed; and if trying to address them is greeted with cries of racism or Islamophobia (usually from non-Muslims on the left for whom Muslims are their pet Victims) then we ain’t get gonna get anywhere. ‘The desire to impose Islam and the desire to ban Islam are simply two ends to a lit fuse that can only lead to chaos,’ says Nawaz.

It doesn’t help that it’s so bloody hot at the moment either. Excessively warm weather doesn’t itself provoke chaos, but it can exacerbate simmering tensions; it did in 1976 at the Notting Hill Carnival, just as it did in Brixton and Toxteth in 1981; and, lest we’ve already forgotten, a host of cities across the country in 2011. All occurred during the uniquely claustrophobic cauldron of an urban English summer, when people are denied the need to breathe that the wide open spaces of rural areas afford their residents. The current heat-wave comes at an extremely perilous and unstable moment in this nation’s modern history.

The tragedy at Grenfell Tower, the indecisive General Election result, the weekly terrorist atrocities, the Brexit negotiations, the perceived indifference to austerity by those untouched by it – all ingredients in a combustible recipe that has the potential to boil over; and bringing in COBRA to keep an eye on the kitchen won’t necessarily turn down the temperature. Let’s hope we’re in for a cold spell, then.

ISIS destroying ancient monuments in Syria and a Momentum stormtrooper burning two-dozen copies of the Sun on social media may be worlds apart, but both are demonstrations of the same self-righteous arrogance and forcible imposition of a belief system that criticism of is forbidden. After the last terrorist incident – though I am losing track of them now, to be honest – I wrote a post I opened with a quote from Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919): ‘Freedom is the freedom to think otherwise’. That quote should be scrawled on campus walls, inscribed on the first page of the Koran, and carved into the front door of 10 Downing Street. The majority of people in this country probably agree with the sentiment, but those that don’t have the loudest voices. And they’re angry.

BRIAN CANT (1933-2017)

Only three weeks ago I penned a post in tribute to childhood giant John Noakes and mentioned how Noakes’ memorable persona was in the ‘daft uncle’ tradition so prevalent on children’s television in the 1970s. A name that cropped up in this post was that of Brian Cant; and now Cant too has gone. He was the same age as Noakes – 83 – and was held in the same affectionate esteem by those of us who watched him as kids.

One of the longest-serving presenters of ‘Play School’ – for a staggering 21 years – Cant also starred in its more madcap Saturday afternoon incarnation, ‘Play Away’, for 13 years; but it was narrating Gordon Murray’s ‘Trumptonshire’ trilogy of ‘Camberwick Green’, ‘Trumpton’ and ‘Chigley’ that earned his reputation as the owner of golden vocal chords that remain music to the ears of anyone for whom those magical little shows were pivotal to the pre-school experience. Along with Oliver Postgate, Richard Baker, Arthur Lowe and Ray Brooks, the voice of Brian Cant is one guaranteed to instil serenity in a way few pharmaceutical indulgences can.

We need our daft uncles more than ever right now, and they’re leaving us. It’s shit growing-up.

© The Editor

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OLD KING KOHL

The death of Helmut Kohl last week was understandably overshadowed by more dramatic events in Blighty, but I’ll be fair and declare that Kohl (for good or ill) was the most influential German since Franz Beckenbauer or the collective members of Kraftwerk, rather than that funny fellow with the toothbrush moustache – who was really an Austrian, anyway. Kohl passed away on Friday at the age of 87, having retired from public office in 1998; but he was German Chancellor at the most crucial stage of the country’s post-war existence, overseeing unification in 1990 and consequently becoming the first properly elected Chancellor of a united Germany since a certain Mr Hitler in 1933.

Born in Bavaria in 1930, the timing of his birth meant Kohl was legally required to join the Hitler Youth when turning fifteen, though he avoided being recruited into Adolf’s increasingly juvenile forces on account of the Second World War ending at the moment he was drafted. As with many factors in the life of Helmut Kohl – including growing up in West rather than East Germany – he found himself in the right place at the right time. Spared military service, he studied Law in Frankfurt and then history and political science in Heidelberg before entering the business world, though he’d been active in politics from university onwards, joining the newly-formed Christian Democratic Union Party. In divided post-war Germany, the legacy of the recent past necessitated a clean slate in politics as much as every other aspect of daily life, and Helmut Kohl was in attendance right at the very birth of modern German politics.

Kohl’s professional political career began in earnest with his election to the state assembly of the Rhineland-Palatinate Landtag in 1959, and he moved up the greasy pole of federal government throughout the 60s, elected Minister-President of Rhineland-Palatinate in 1969. With his centre-right stance, Kohl was at odds with the more conservative wing of the CDU; but the loss of power for the party after twenty years to the Social Democrats of Willie Brandt was compounded by Brandt’s attitude towards the GDR, which the CDU (unlike Kohl himself) officially opposed. In 1972, as West German Chancellor, Brandt instigated the Ostpolitik, a programme of rapprochement towards East Germany that attempted to establish formal relations between the two separate German states for the first time since their division.

The CDU leader Rainer Barzel gambled on public opposition to Brandt’s East German policies when he first provoked a vote of no-confidence in Brandt’s government (which he lost) and then ran as the CDU candidate for Chancellor in the 1972 federal elections; the gamble backfired again and Brandt was re-elected. Barzel’s failure gifted Helmut Kohl a clear run to becoming West Germany’s effective opposition leader, elected as Chairman of the CDU in 1973. After being a prominent figure on the German political scene for the best part of twenty years, Kohl finally led his party back into power in October 1982 at the expense of a coalition led by the Social Democrats’ Helmut Schmidt, which collapsed after losing a vote of no-confidence; and Kohl then strengthened his position via the ballot-box in the federal elections of 1983.

The previous decade had been a traumatic one for West Germany; the country’s economy may have emerged as one of Central Europe’s strongest (certainly when compared to the UK’s at the time), but the nation was as vulnerable to terrorist assaults as we were. The notorious Baader-Meinhof Gang – or, as they were more commonly known in Germany, the Red Army Faction – had repeatedly targeted holders of public office they claimed had been Nazi Party members during WWII; whatever legitimate grievances they may have held, however, were undermined by the violent means with which they addressed Germany’s recent past. Those born either during or after the war carried the guilt of their parents and resented the fact; Helmut Kohl, born before it, was equally determined to address Germany’s recent past, but by diplomatic and economic means.

Keen to forge a stronger bond with one of Germany’s oldest enemies, Kohl developed a close friendship with French President François Mitterrand; but Kohl’s plans for greater European integration and Germany being central to it were hampered by the inconvenient fact that his country remained divided. However, when the Berlin Wall tumbled down following the unexpected collapse of the East German Government in the autumn of 1989, Kohl had the opportunity he’d been waiting for. After eliciting the support of the USSR, Kohl wasted little time in drafting a reunification treaty that was signed within a year of the first civilian hammer hitting the Berlin Wall. Germany was back in one piece and Helmut Kohl now had the chance to, well, ‘make Germany great again’.

Along with Mitterrand, Kohl was the prime mover behind the Maastricht Treaty, the evolution of the EEC into the EU, and the creation of the Euro. Angela Merkel, an East German whose entry onto the national stage of German politics was as a member of Kohl’s first post-unification administration, is the most notable beneficiary of the rebirth of Germany her former boss instigated, whereas the rest of Europe now views Kohl’s achievement with decidedly mixed emotions.

Wherever one stands on the EU issue, however, there’s no denying Helmut Kohl was perhaps the most influential European politician of his generation, a man whose career spans the entire post-war history of Europe, and a man who played a major part in shaping that history by remaking the continent in his own image. That’s no mean feat.

© The Editor

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A REPEAT PERFORMANCE

The old complaint always used to be that there were too many repeats on television; but I suppose it depended on what was being repeated. A classic BBC series such as ‘The Forsyte Saga’ benefitted from being repeated, with the programme and the audience joint beneficiaries. It earned its household name popularity when receiving a repeat run on BBC1 in 1968, having originally been screened on BBC2 the year before. At the time, the majority of the country’s viewers couldn’t receive the Beeb’s second channel on their ageing 405-line sets, so it was a shrewd move by BBC1, intended to justify the considerable expense spent on the serial. One is made aware of just how poor the image quality must have been on those 60s tellies when watching ‘The Forsyte Saga’ on DVD today; some of the makeup used to age the actors doesn’t necessarily bear up to digital scrutiny.

Glancing through musty copies of the Radio Times from the early 70s, it’s surprising how few repeats there actually are in the listings, something that contradicts the complaints about repeats even then. It’s worth bearing in mind, however, that complicated Equity rules regarding repeat fees throughout the 70s effectively limited how many programmes could actually be repeated; moreover, there was a gradual reluctance to rerun monochrome programmes from the 60s when the BBC and ITV were forever extolling the superior delights of colour television. And, lest we forget, the standard practice of wiping shows not long after their initial broadcast precluded them being seen again, anyway. Television had been, for most of its life, a transient medium that existed very much in the present; but that was about to change.

By the mid-70s, television had been around long enough to begin developing a sense of its own history, and the first wave of TV anniversary shows, such as the BBC’s ‘Forty Years’ in 1976, belatedly awakened the compilers of programmes reliant on archive material just how poorly-served the archives were. Added to this, there was an increasing interest in the back catalogues of long-running series like ‘Doctor Who’; even if there was no real medium available for the commercial release of the series’ archive, the salvaging of old episodes poised to be incinerated began in earnest during this period.

The arrival of Channel 4 in 1982 not only ushered in a fresh age of edgy broadcasting reflecting the here and now; it also revived several series that hadn’t had a decent repeat run in years, though the approach of this new kid on the broadcasting block to television’s heritage was as different to the regional ITV companies’ repeat policies as a charity shop is from a vintage one. The likes of ‘The Avengers’, ‘The Prisoner’, ‘Budgie’ and ‘Callan’ weren’t hidden away in the twilight hours, but given prime-time slots and elevated to the status of classics. Enough time had now passed since their first broadcasts to warrant the label.

The growth in the home video market from the early 80s onwards was initially focused on the produce of the movie industry, but television soon realised the potential too. VCRs sent many broadcasters scuttling in the direction of their depleted archives, hoping they could find the odd episode of a once-beloved series to stick out on VHS for twenty quid. Even if the rare case of a series preserved in its entirety meant it could have received a full video release, tapes were extremely expensive to buy at the time and could usually only hold a couple of episodes of anything at most. Many favourite series I now own in full on DVD were ones I just had a few episodes of on VHS releases for years; and in a lot of cases, the complete series on DVD cost about the same as two episodes on one tape would have cost me twenty-five years ago. Not all progress is bad.

The deregulation of TV in the wake of the 1990 Broadcasting Act meant there were many more channels suddenly available, though with numerous hours to fill, the cheapest way of filling them was to repeat old programmes. Yet, this also nicely chimed with an upsurge in nostalgia amongst 30-somethings for childhood shows; and when the more obvious and best-remembered of these finished their runs, one intriguing side-effect was that channels such as UK Gold and Granada Plus were then forced to excavate programmes that, in some cases, hadn’t been seen on British television for twenty years or more. Mid-90s off-air recordings of these can still sometimes surface on YouTube.

The arrival of the DVD and the innovation of the box-set finally took the decision of what old shows would or wouldn’t be repeated out of the hands of the broadcasters and did what even the VHS failed to do – it enabled fans to own the complete series of a favourite programme at a reasonable price, and usually (when old prints were digitally cleaned-up) in a better condition than even when they’d first been transmitted on TV. Companies like Simply Media, Acorn, 2 entertain and, best of all, Network have ploughed a similar path to the oldies channels of the 90s by following the release of the best-remembered series with the availability of the half-remembered and the near-forgotten; the half-remembered and the near-forgotten, however, are often worth investing in if one is interested in archive TV, as they regularly throw up pleasant surprises.

Whilst the advent of Netflix and other similar systems are now being heralded as not only the end of old-style appointment TV on terrestrial channels but as the end of the DVD box-set as well, when it comes to archive television it would seem the DVD is still its most fitting home. Yes, it may also be its retirement home; but opting out of television’s endless peak-time talent contests by escaping into a parallel universe of personal choice is the same as rejecting the radio and sticking the music on that you want to hear rather than the music someone else is shoving down your throat. At the moment, I’m back with Edward Woodward and his hygienically-challenged sidekick Lonely as they slip in and out of their shadowy and seedy, vanished 70s landscape of Cold War wallpaper. And in 2017, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.

© The Editor

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A TALE OF TWO CITIES

‘They thought they could snub the conventions of decent society when they seized the sixty-room mansion and transformed it into hippie house!’ No, not a Daily Mail leader, but the booming tones of the British Pathé News reporter covering the end of the celebrated squat at 144 Piccadilly in 1969. The film clip covering the Met’s raid on the property after it had been taken over by the London Street Commune, a loose collective of ‘hippies’ formed to highlight homelessness in the capital, is unsurprisingly one-sided in its perspective as what the narrator describes as ‘the spongers who call themselves hippies’ are evicted from the residence they’d occupied for a week. The commentary goes onto say ‘by their shameless actions, (they) disparage the plight of decent people who cannot find homes’. Decent as in those who regularly visit a barber, one wonders?

There’s no doubt what began as an admittedly ‘radical’ (in the jargon of the time) attempt to bring homelessness to the public’s attention worked as a PR campaign, and whilst there would have been deserving cases taking advantage of the operation, there would also have been a fair few rich kids slumming it and bumming around from one squat to another as they indulged in a bit of counter-cultural backpacking; the additional infiltration of Hell’s Angels and drug-dealers then made its dramatic ending inevitable. But the roots of many homeless charities we take for granted today were in such stunts and in that respect they served a purpose, even if the media coverage was more or less entirely from the viewpoint of the short-back-and-sides generation.

It’s interesting when watching the Pathé report to notice that virtually all of those being herded out of 144 Piccadilly look to be under 30. A good half-decade of Swinging London propaganda had attracted young people to the capital from across the globe, like monochrome moths drawn to a psychedelic flame, even though many of those arriving soon found themselves in a similar situation to the one that befell the lead character in Ken Loach’s landmark BBC TV play ‘Cathy Come Home’ in 1966. Today, London retains its attractiveness to the overseas eye, though there’s a glaring divide between those imported as a cheap labour force (with employers recycling the hackneyed excuse that ‘British workers won’t do these jobs’) and those with the big bucks to buy up huge chunks of the capital.

The tragedy that occurred at Grenfell Tower in North Kensington in the early hours of Wednesday morning has already been politicised, though not necessarily by politicians themselves. Whilst the cause of the appalling event would appear to have been an accident, the shoddy corner-cutting workmanship and lacklustre fire safety precautions that enabled the inferno to take hold of the tower block with such frightening speed seems to be symbolic of a vast chasm between rich and poor, not just in the capital as a whole, but in one specific corner of it, where the haves and have-nots sit cheek-by-jowl. London Mayor Sadiq Khan received a rough ride from residents when he attempted to give a media statement at the site, whereas Theresa May’s decision to avoid residents and speak to fire-fighters away from cameras and microphones was the latest PR own-goal of a PM giving Gordon Brown a run for his money in the ‘most unsuitable candidate for the job ever’ stakes.

Far be it from me to imply there’s any political mileage to be got out of this terrible disaster, but Jeremy Corbyn seems to have captured the mood of the moment in a completely natural manner that contrasts sharply with his awkward opposite number in Westminster. His ease with the general public has been demonstrated yet again in the wake of Wednesday’s events; of course it won’t do him any harm with the electorate, though it really would be churlish to suggest his visit to North Kensington and to the church where many of the survivors have congregated was some sort of points-scoring exercise. If it was, then he once again trounced Mrs May, who doesn’t seem capable of doing anything right at the moment.

During an emergency session of Parliament, briefly recalled to respond to the tragedy, Corbyn made a salient point about the housing crisis in London. ‘It can’t be acceptable that in London we have luxury buildings and luxury flats left empty as land banking for the future while the homeless and the poor look for somewhere to live,’ he said, and then added: ‘Kensington is a tale of two cities. The south part of Kensington is incredibly wealthy; it’s the wealthiest part of the whole country. The ward where this fire took place is, I think, the poorest ward in the whole country and properties must be found – requisitioned if necessary – to make sure those residents do get re-housed locally.’

The new MP for Kensington, Emma Dent Coad, is (lest we forget) Labour, though it has emerged she was actually on the board of the discredited quango running the flats on behalf of Kensington and Chelsea Council, the one that gave the green light to the fatal refurbishment of the block last year. That naturally doesn’t look good, though this fact has been overshadowed by the predictably hysterical headlines from the likes of the Mail claiming Jezza has called for private property to be ‘seized’ for the benefit of those made homeless by what happened at Grenfell Tower. This isn’t another example of his so-called ‘Robin Hood’ policies, but seems to me a genuine attempt to once more underline the social inequalities of life in the capital.

It goes without saying that these social inequalities have been part of London life for centuries; after all, what better chronicler of the capital than Dickens, who documented the disparity between rich and poor in fictional form over 150 years ago? Yet, the nightmarish scenario in North Kensington now looks like something that was a long time coming, just as the collapse of the Savar sweatshop in Bangladesh was in 2013. Jeremy Corbyn has managed to articulate the anger arising from Grenfell Tower better than any other politician, but people are angry. And they’ve every bloody right to be. That’s why they stormed Kensington Town Hall today. This could prove to be a crucial turning point in the way this country is run as much as Hillsborough was for the way our national sport is run. Time will tell.

© The Editor

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CLAD IN BLACK

I suppose there’s a genuinely valid point to be made about the manner in which Central London has descended into a shameless, superficial whore exclusively opening her legs for every disgustingly wealthy, greedy, grasping Oligarch and Arab to buy her favours and own her outright. Maybe. The appalling inferno that consumed Grenfell Tower in North Kensington in the wee small hours has led to a loss of life that we’ve yet to be told the extent of; but the suggestion that the spread of the fire may have been caused by the cladding recently installed around the tower’s exterior in order to make a characteristically ugly 70s council block more aesthetically easy on the eyes of the building’s luxury apartment neighbours could be summarised as the story of our capital city over the last twenty-five years in a nutshell.

The shocking extent of the blaze, engulfing what appeared to be the entire building, was reminiscent of a similarly horrific fire that destroyed the Summerland entertainment centre on the Isle of Man in 1973. Summerland had been opened for just two years, boasting swimming pools, games rooms, restaurants and dance halls all under one roof; it was intended to increase tourism by appealing to families, but the untested modern materials used in the building’s design proved to be fatal for those trapped inside when a fire broke out on 2 August 1973. The fact the fire exits were locked and bolted to prevent people sneaking-in without paying exacerbated the tragedy that unfolded, one that eventually claimed up to 53 lives – at the time, the worst loss of life via fire since the Blitz.

Images of the gruesome Summerland carcass were echoed in North Kensington today; the charred remains of Grenfell Tower even resemble a hideous evocation of HMS Sheffield during the Falklands War, whilst the horror of a tower block going so badly wrong is reminiscent of the Ronan Point disaster in Newham, East London, in 1968. And if the insulation wrapped around the building was indeed to blame for the speed with which flames swamped the building, there’s a hell of a lot of questions requiring answers.

Part of a social housing complex of the kind we will probably never see erected again – certainly not in Central London – Grenfell Tower has stood for 43 years. It was only last year that an £8.6 million refurbishment under the guise of ‘regeneration’ came to that corner of the capital, motivated in part by a desire to upgrade the appearance of the building, surrounded as it is by the architectural hallmarks of the mega-rich that have indulged in a ghastly game of Monopoly in recent decades. Planning documents for the regeneration of Grenfell Tower claimed the changes, little more than cheap cladding suggesting ‘gentrification’ of the shallowest order, was clearly intended to improve the view seen from apartments of a different nature in the nearby neighbourhoods.

It’s emerged in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire that residents had repeatedly aired fears of the block’s safety relating to fire, and it’s not too far-fetched to speculate that the materials used to insulate the tower were not necessarily the expensive variety proven to be non-flammable; such cladding is apparently commonplace when it comes to representatives of an unfashionable architectural era and corners are undeniably cut, especially when the residents of such residences are amongst the poorest in London. Fires have broken out in other London tower blocks in the last few years, few of which actually contain sprinklers; but it would seem potential dangers have been overlooked and ignored. And look at where that has got us.

An early and somewhat unlikely story of the fire starting via a tenant’s exploding fridge appeared to be one of those that are usually circulated, especially in the 24/7 news age, before facts have been established. But it’s seeming more and more likely that the materials used for the cladding of the building played a large part in the terrible disaster that has reduced what was home to hundreds of people to a charcoal skeleton akin to those we’re familiar with seeing in archive film of the Blitz. An outsourced private company running the flats on behalf of Kensington and Chelsea Council had been criticised by residents associations online long before what happened last night, but ears have been deaf to such protests until now. And now it’s too late.

ANITA PALLENBERG (1944-2017)

A Swinging 60s It Girl and one of many women whose immersion in the unhealthy circle of The Rolling Stones both made her and came close to claiming her, Anita Pallenberg was one of her era’s most exotic and alluring butterflies. Of Italian and German descent, she’d been amongst the hangers-on at Andy Warhol’s Factory until leaving New York for London; she then became the woman on the arm of the Stones’ most stylish member, Brian Jones, with the couple morphing into the stunning Siamese Twins of what Twiggy’s mentor and manager Justin de Villeneuve referred to as ‘the new social aristocracy’.

However, Jones was a troubled soul and it would seem the pair weren’t exactly well-suited; an ill-fated trip to Morocco with Brian and Keith in 1968 saw Pallenberg swap partners; she and Keith were partners in both the romantic and narcotic sense for the best part of a decade, though she bore him three children. Early on in their relationship, she played one of Mick Jagger’s two female companions in the sublimely dark ‘Performance’, a part that Keith remains convinced wasn’t entirely acted.

Anita Pallenberg had a few more notable movie roles, including a deliciously sexy villainess in Roger Vadim’s ‘Barbarella’, but her reputation as a Swinging 60s survivor in the decades thereafter was largely based on ‘Performance’. I pen this brief obituary because that film, as disturbing as it occasionally is, remains one of the most unforgettable and irresistible cinematic temptations I’ve ever been seduced by. Part of me still wants to be Turner Purple and still wants to inhabit that malevolently erotic household; Anita Pallenberg sold a dream that was also a nightmare, but I can’t see anyone today opening such a lascivious portal to such a divinely decadent world; and our world is all the blander for it.

© The Editor

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