SECOND-HAND NEWS

LiberaceIf you’re especially enchanted by vinyl collections that include everything from the ivory-tinkling of Liberace and Mrs Mills to orchestras conducted by either André Previn or James Last – not to mention numerous brass bands and even long-forgotten dance twelve-inches from the early 90s – chances are the record section of the humble high-street charity shop is your favourite corner of said Aladdin’s cave. I’ve uncovered the occasional gem over the years in such locations, though more often than not the LPs crammed in the racks resemble the kind of budget label kitsch yer granny owned and you never heard her actually play. I would imagine the majority of albums that end up in charity shops are amongst the last items standing once family locusts have stripped the home of their recently-deceased parent; unwanted, unfashionable, and – in the case of the Black and White Minstrels – unplayable, these house clearance leftovers remain the staple diet of the charity shop record section, but are also accompanied by the cassette and the CD, with both formats largely echoing their vinyl siblings in terms of terminally-unhip content.

Sharing the enclave containing the shop’s record section are shelves stuffed with DVDs, and their plentiful presence is yet one more pointer to the transient nature of technology; introduced to the UK market a mere 25 years ago, the DVD is already regarded in some quarters as being about as relevant as the 8-track cartridge, what with streaming and downloads all the rage these days. Personally, I prefer my sound and vision on physical objects that cannot be edited or censored by over-sensitive broadcasters, but most movies on those shelves tend to be products of Hollywood’s past decade or so and are therefore both undesirable and unwatchable. Sure, there are the occasional box-sets of decent enough TV shows that one watched at the time without any great craving to watch again, but a large proportion of the motion pictures represented on DVD are what were once referred to as ‘straight-to-video’, i.e. films that had no cinema release due to not being very good.

True, there have been times when rich pickings have been sourced in charity shops, though these were transitional moments between old and new mediums. For example, there was a period in the mid-to-late 80s when men of a certain age were persuaded to re-buy their entire record collections on CD, dumping the vinyl versions at the nearest Help the Aged or British Heart Foundation emporium; I remember purchasing numerous classic albums for next-to-nothing during this fruitful era, and had a similar experience when the VHS made way for the DVD. As with CDs, the DVD was a pricey successor in the beginning, and for those who couldn’t afford either newfangled format, the sudden influx of first LPs and then VHS tapes into charity shops meant collections could be extensively added to with little in the way of expense. Such is the pace of change, however, that charity shops – whilst still accepting vinyl in light of the format’s renaissance as a hip listening tool – will no longer accept VHS tapes. Old enough to recall a time when new VHS releases were priced at well over £20 each on the elite shelves of the most upmarket stores, it’s somewhat strange to see the lifespan of the format has been so brief that even the charity shop won’t act as the elephant’s graveyard for an item that every home once owned in abundance not so long ago.

Books remain something worth checking out in the charity shop, though it often depends on how large the branch is. My local Oxfam is a dependable library of the best the written word can offer, whereas the smaller charity shops in the neighbourhood favour ghost-written ‘biographies’ of daytime TV presenters or celebrity cook books that are reasonable Mother’s Day gifts if nothing else. Meanwhile, clothes are usually the first things the visitor to a charity shop is confronted by, and I’ve bought my fair share of sartorial bargains now and again in such places, albeit not for quite some time. After all, most charity shops sell whatever was fashionable three or four years ago, and there’s no appeal for me personally in the sidewalk catwalk of this century. Perhaps the thought of wearing clothes once worn by somebody else was responsible for the stigma that attached itself to charity shops for a good few years; to some, the prospect of being clad in anything that previously contained the body of a stranger is anathema, and charity shops were regarded by these folks as repositories for smelly old rags nobody with any decency would be seen dead in.

Of course, many people who bought their clothes from charity shops did so because they simply didn’t have the money to buy brand-new gear; but some began to patronise them not because they were skint but because they were skinflints, too tight to fork-out for outfits they could easily afford and instead opting to slum it as a means of saving cash they were hardly short of. At the same time, the cultish popularity of charity shop goods amongst the young led to some being rebranded as ‘vintage’, the difference being a fair few quid could be slapped onto the items, thus pricing out the traditional hard-up patrons in the process. I recall one local charity shop being revamped in this manner, receiving a chic makeover and ramping up the price of goods to reflect their new vintage status instead of their past ‘junk’ tag; it closed about six months ago, though I did pick-up an LP by one of the acts mentioned in the first paragraph during its final day of trading for the sum of 5p, probably the first time I’ve bought anything for a mere shilling in about forty years.

The aforementioned stigma once associated with charity shops lingers to an extent, with their omnipotence on the high-street viewed as indicative of the high-street’s decline; however, recent falls in living standards have forced many into reassessing their prejudices and realising the charity shop may well be the only alternative to the chain-store rapidly moving away from their financial reach. London’s Brent Cross Shopping Centre has this week acquired a so-called ‘pop-up’ shop scheduled to be open for a month; masterminded by Red or Dead founder Wayne Hemingway, what is called a charity super-market resembles an old-school department store in size, though its contents would be familiar to any regular visitor to the local PDSA outlet. Stats quoted by Hemingway’s partner in the project, Maria Chenoweth, suggest the appearance of a larger-than-usual charity shop in such a cathedral of retail as Brent Cross is a sign of the times. ‘When you look at the demographic of people who are shopping in charity shops,’ says Chenoweth, ‘it’s the people who are leading the way in thinking’; according to Chenoweth, 65% of people in the country are dressed in second-hand outfits at least once a week, implying the old stigma is losing its grip on the popular imagination in the face of harsh economic factors.

Apparently, the site the charity super-market has taken over till the end of February was previously a Topshop, which is telling; many of those to have passed through its doors so far have done so with a ‘sustainability’ agenda in mind, preferring to donate their pennies to charities in exchange for goods rather than continuing to feed the corporate chain-store machine. Wayne Hemingway also sees the increasing interest in second-hand goods on the part of the young being reflective of other aspects of their lives, such as struggling to pay the rent and the simultaneous realisation that they might not own their own home before their 40s, if ever. There’s also the eBay element, so engrained in younger generations – i.e. a charity shop bargain could be resold online at twice the price it cost in the shop, thus bringing in a few more extra quid. Wayne Hemingway is hopeful this particular pop-up model can effectively go ‘on the road’, popping-up in other cities across the country and being akin – in his own words – to ‘the fair coming to town’. Perhaps if more people than ever now need charity shops as much as we’re being led to believe, a pop-up should become permanent.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294

Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/789776048

GLOVE STORY

Sooty 3Some characters that emanated from the pages of children’s literature during the medium’s century-long reign as the prime launch-pad for the imagination appear to be in possession of a remarkable durability that enables them to charm successive generations of young readers. The anthropomorphic animals from ‘The Wind in the Willows’, the cast of surreal eccentrics from ‘Alice in Wonderland’, Winnie the Pooh and his engaging sidekicks, Peter Pan and his nocturnal Neverland – all continue to sprinkle the same stardust onto the children of today as they sprinkled onto their parents, grandparents and so on. Most of these success stories have, of course, had their lives extended by being reimagined in other mediums that arrived later – primarily cinema and television; and the latter not only adapted these established franchises for a fresh audience, but eventually created franchises of its own. Some had impressive longevity, whereas others remain known only to those who watched with mother at the time. There are, however, a select few who have continued to wave their magic wands throughout the decades – and once even extended their omnipotence to the breakfast table.

Not only are the plastic mouldings posing as free gifts that once tumbled out of breakfast cereal boxes now frowned upon as planet polluters and health-and-safety hazards, but the cereals themselves are today viewed with puritanical suspicion, guilty of infecting impressionable infants with a nascent sugar addiction; banished from prime-time kids’ advertising slots and – in some cases (such as the late, lamented Ricicles) – expunged from supermarket shelves altogether, these one-time starts to the day have had a hard time of it over the past po-faced decade. How removed from an era when each brand was so key to the childhood experience that their boxes featured familiar faces on the front, whether Florence and Dougal from ‘The Magic Roundabout’, Mr Spock from ‘Star Trek’ or Jon Pertwee’s incarnation of Doctor Who. And, lest we forget, Mr Kellogg also signed-up a famed double act, one so huge that they were both granted a turn as individual cover stars of their own cereals – Sooty on ‘Puffa Puffa Rice’ and Sweep on ‘Coco Krispies’. Yes, that’s how big these two characters were: they were allocated separate cereals.

Sooty this year celebrates his 75th anniversary – not bad for a cheap glove puppet picked up in a Blackpool toy shop by Bradford-born music hall magician and puppeteer Harry Corbett in 1948; trading on a deep-rooted British tradition stretching back to Punch and Judy, Corbett developed an act with the bear he initially christened Teddy and won a slot on an early BBC TV variety show. So popular did the act with Teddy prove to be, Corbett was offered his own programme shortly thereafter, but in order to stand out on monochrome screens, Corbett blackened the bear’s ears and nose, something that led to a change of name to Sooty. The silent glove puppet, who would ‘whisper’ words in the ear of his human assistant between magic tricks and the occasional squirt of a water pistol, soon acquired a sidekick, a dog called Sweep. Sweep was the clown to Sooty’s straight man, immediately recognisable by his high-pitched squeak, and the two became inseparably linked as a double act.

Sooty and Sweep’s popularity in the 1950s and 60s was so great that even an up-and-coming thespian who shared the same name as Sooty’s ‘dad’ had to insert a ‘H’ in the middle of his name to avoid confusion; this popularity was also mirrored in pioneering merchandise such as Sooty’s miniature xylophone-cum-glockenspiel, as well as a yearly Sooty annual published for the best part of 40 years from 1957 onwards, and regular comic strips featuring in weeklies targeting a pre-school readership. The TV shows largely specialised in slapstick sketches in the music hall tradition and gradually introduced other characters to the Sooty family such as female panda Soo (originally voiced by Corbett’s wife Marjorie in a distinctively husky Fenella Fielding-like fashion) and bulldog geezer, Butch. Sooty was part of the childhood wallpaper to anyone raised in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, and the seamless switch from the BBC to ITV that took place in the late 60s had no detrimental impact on the puppet’s popularity whatsoever. So engrained were Sooty and Sweep in British pop culture by the 70s that the pair were central to the puppet government storyline in a memorable episode of ‘The Goodies’, whereby Sooty as Prime Minister and Sweep as Home Secretary were interviewed by Michael Barratt on ‘Nationwide’.

The first significant change to the act took place in the late 70s, when Harry Corbett was reluctantly forced to retire due to ill-health, but he kept Sooty in the family by handing over the reins to his son Matthew, already a familiar face to children due to his appearances on ‘Rainbow’. Matthew Corbett kept his hand in, as it were, for the next 20 years. Sooty even survived Corbett’s retirement in 1998, whereupon he was inherited by Richard Cadell, who maintained Sooty’s presence on TV screens until the outsourcing nature of British television in the 21st century eventually put paid to a show that had essentially run for the best part of half-a-century by 2004. Since then, Sooty and friends have resurfaced on other channels and the most simplistic of children’s characters has remained a fixture in the nation’s collective consciousness to this day. So, happy birthday, Sooty – and why not? From assisted suicide to Sooty in one fell post.

DAVID CROSBY (1941-2023)

CrosbyUpon hearing of the death of David Crosby – coming so hot on the heels of Jeff Beck passing away last week – I remarked to a friend that the 60s generation had become their own Dorian Gray portraits, ageing and decaying before our eyes whilst their over-achieving 20-something selves continued to be their definitive public image, frozen forever in the high summer of youth. Crosby’s CV was a case in point, making his most fruitful recordings as a member of two key American bands of the era, The Byrds and then Crosby, Stills and Nash (with or without Young); but he always had a reputation as being something of an awkward sod. Indeed, Doris Day’s record producer son Terry Melcher worked with The Byrds during Crosby’s tenure in the band as well as Charles Manson when the latter had a failed shot at being a pop star himself; Manson developed a dangerous grudge against Melcher comparable to Adolf’s beef with Jewish art critics, but Melcher nonetheless once stated that given the choice of re-entering the studio with either Crosby or Manson, he’d opt for the future murderous guru.

Crosby’s propensity for falling out with his nearest and dearest was apparently so incurable that even the CSNY peacemaker Graham Nash eventually had his patience tested for the last time and publicly declared the final severance of his long association with Crosby four or five years back. Nash had performed a role in CSNY that is a familiar one where most big bands containing several big egos are concerned; just as Eric Clapton separated Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker in Cream or Maurice Gibb stood between Barry and Robin in The Bee Gees, Graham Nash had to routinely step in and pour oil on the troubled waters gushing from Stephen Stills and Neil Young; and he also had to deal with David Crosby, regularly provoking all three of his bandmates. Nash had managed to paper over these differences with considerable diplomatic aplomb, but he finally grew as weary of Crosby as the other two in the end. Yet, this is the same man who could emit such soothing, seductive vocal warmth in deliciously delicate songs like ‘Guinnevere’, ‘Long Time Gone’, and ‘Déjà Vu’.

Graham Nash often recalled how struck he’d been by the harmonious magic that arose when he combined his voice with those of Crosby and Stills for the first time, and perhaps all three recognised that putting their egos to one side for the sake of their art might be a profitable route to take. Even so, they only managed it for so long before personalities asserted themselves and clashes inevitably interrupted the creative flow. Perhaps, in the case of David Crosby, it really is best to separate art from artist and to simply immerse one’s self in the music.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294

Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/789776048

HUMANE RIGHTS

Logan's RunAlthough forming part of the Dystopian future narrative so commonplace in pre-‘Star Wars’ sci-fi films of the 1970s, ‘Logan’s Run’, the 1976 movie starring Michael York and Jenny Agutter, contains an element in its storyline that is both telling of the era in which it was produced and prescient to where we are now. The citizens of the sealed society housed within a self-contained dome to keep them safe from the polluted air outdoors receive an implant in the palm of their left hands as babies; this implant changes colour as they age and when it begins to blink as they approach 30, they are forced to undergo voluntary euthanasia in an elaborate ceremony attended by crowds in a manner recalling a sporting occasion. At the time the film was made, 30 was viewed as a key cut-off point in a pop culture still trading on the Bright Young Things of the 60s, all of whom were remarkably creative individuals whilst in their 20s – and many of whom died before they made it to 30; 30 being the age at which citizens are deemed over-the-hill and therefore need to be ‘renewed’ seems logical for the era.

However, it is not only the presence of a dubious inorganic implant that sits uneasily in a present day that often speaks in all seriousness about the alleged ‘benefits’ of such implants; the euthanasia aspect of the movie – and the normalisation of the subject – is another element that is a little closer to home today than it was in the mid-70s. Switzerland has been promoting its controversial Dignitas clinic and its assisted suicide programme for the last 25 years, though it has strict criteria for potential patients, requiring sound judgement and the ability to take one’s own life – and it has to be said the majority of those who fork-out for a one-way ticket to Zurich are usually suffering from terminal illnesses that would otherwise result in a long, slow and painful death few would deny them release from. Since its formation in 1998, over 3,000 people have chosen the Dignitas method, capitalising on the fact that Switzerland is – along with Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands – one of the few countries in Europe to legalise voluntary euthanasia. A small handful of other countries in the world have also introduced a ‘right-to-die’ system, including Canada, which is now officially the world leader in assisted suicide, accounting for 3.3% of the country’s deaths.

Dignitas does accept sufferers of severe mental illness who wish to end their own lives, though such cases tend to be in the minority, and – depending on the severity of the patient’s condition – can present a more problematic scenario in determining whether the volunteer is sufficiently of sound mind to make such a judgement alone. The issue of mental illness has also recently surfaced in the proposed extensions to Canada’s own euthanasia programme, with many feeling the assisted suicide legislation is moving a little too fast for its own good as it is repeatedly sold as yet another ‘progressive’ policy of a kind that the administration of Monsieur Trudeau is seemingly obsessed with inflicting on its people. And, let’s be honest, the thought of a government legislating for those with a psychological sickness to be ‘put to sleep’ is a little too, shall we say, Nazi Germany for most to stomach.

Unlike the Nazi euthanasia industry, which selected physically and mentally disabled inmates of institutions for the treatment mainly because they were viewed as a blot on the Third Reich’s ideal of Aryan perfection and had no say in the matter, Canada’s right-to-die business plan emphasises choice is paramount and nobody would ever be put to sleep against their will as part of some mass social cleansing scheme. The motivations for the programme are sold as a compassionate and humane way of ending unnecessary suffering, though it has to be noted that many of those responsible for Nazi Germany’s programme made similar claims when forced to answer for their crimes against humanity at Nuremberg. Naturally, nobody is making a case for Canada’s assisted suicide system as being a reincarnation of the Nazi blueprint, but it does seem to be widening the net of qualification a tad too wide for some.

In Canada, there is already a worrying trend for state-sponsored suicide to come across as a virtual ‘lifestyle choice’ for those who are confronted by poverty and economic hardship, with euthanasia viewed by some as an option when life doesn’t appear to offer anything worth living for. Stories of volunteers for MAID (Medical Assistance in Dying) who are struggling on the breadline, often afflicted by conditions that aren’t life-threatening but aren’t deemed serious enough to warrant sympathetic help from the state, have increased in recent months. Many doctors and psychiatrists in Canada are concerned that some patients experiencing a rough patch in their lives are being seduced by the idea of euthanasia as a panacea for their problems. With a poll last year reporting that a third of Canadians are facing mental health difficulties probably intensified by the country’s excessive Covid restrictions, perhaps it’s no surprise that euthanasia is increasingly regarded as an alternative; after all, one of the hallmarks of clinical depression, for instance, is that the sufferer has a job on perceiving any glimmer of light at the end of the dark tunnel. For those who can’t afford expensive psychiatric treatment from a decent therapist who can convince them the black clouds aren’t permanent, assisted suicide can appear attractive.

Of course, suicide can be viewed as the only way out of a crippling social situation such as loneliness or depression by many without the need for an official government programme to do the job on their behalf; but concerns over the proposed expansions of MAID even from doctors who actually work within the system and perform assisted suicides is growing. Dr Madeline Li, a Toronto-based psychiatrist, says ‘Making death too ready a solution disadvantages the most vulnerable people and actually lets society off the hook; I don’t think death should be society’s solution for its own failures’, whilst Marie-Claud Landry, Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, says ‘Leaving people to make the choice to die because the state is failing to fulfil their fundamental human rights is unacceptable’. Indeed, one Canadian newspaper has referred to the trend as ‘opt-in eugenics’.

In the case of the disabled and mentally ill, plans to expand the criteria for MAID have also met criticism from UN human rights experts, three of whom put their criticisms in writing to Canada’s federal government, suggesting the plans risked planting the idea in the heads of the disabled that death was a preferable substitute for disability. A story emerged last year that a Canadian war veteran and paralympian requested a wheelchair ramp be installed in her home, only to be offered the choice of assisted suicide as an alternative by a Veteran’s Affairs case worker – the fourth such disabled veteran the case worker suggested this to. All of these factors have raised public awareness of the planned extension of the voluntary euthanasia laws and have led to a pause in progress in order to allow further consultation with the medical profession; but the pause may only be temporary as abandoning the plans could be regarded as legally unconstitutional. That’s the problem when such a questionable human right is enshrined in law.

Revelations of the financial benefits for the Canadian healthcare system also cast a somewhat sinister shadow across the issue; a 2020 report by the Canadian government found $13,000 per euthanized patient had been saved under the original criteria for MAID qualification – i.e. sufferers of a terminal illness; the report estimated the plans to extend the criteria to include those not suffering from a terminal condition (far higher in number) could increase individual savings to as much as $50,000. Voluntary euthanasia will always inevitably be a contentious area with the ever-ready potential for abuse, and needs to be approached with caution; but in the rush to gratify every clamour for human rights that comes with the domino effect of appeasing each separate group in turn, Canada risks taking a ‘progressive’ step too far.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294

Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/786315380

THE AGE OF DECADENCE

CaligulaNew Year hangovers aren’t simply physical after-effects characteristic of 1 January; 2023 so far still seems bogged-down by the headlines from last month, many of which were covered in the previous post a week ago. Lack of Winegum action has been in part due to spending a good four solid days on a new instalment of the filthily evergreen ‘Buggernation Street’, now firmly settled in its new home on my Patreon channel; but the aforementioned absence of fresh output on here can also be blamed on a general lack of inspiration arising from the news. Of course, alongside the catalogue of strike action and the annual ‘NHS on the brink’ story, the MSM has been mystifyingly in thrall to the vain, narcissistic, self-aggrandizing public therapy of a ginger whinger; as one half of a couple worthy of comparison to Posh & Becks or Peter Andre & Jordan in terms of class, the ‘spare’ has been flogging his ghost-written misery memoir across newspapers and TV channels that should know better for what feels like the entirety of 2023 to date. The tabloid quarter of Fleet Street professes to despise said twosome and routinely hammers this point home; yet it simultaneously stops at nothing to devote ludicrously disproportionate coverage to them. Both they and the MSM are engaged in an unedifying spectacle akin to watching a pair of pissheads scrapping on the pavement to get at a fiver they’ve just spotted hovering over a grate.

I don’t intend to add to the circus any more than I would write a post about the Kardashians, Amanda Holden or Carol Vorderman – other similarly uninteresting celebrities that the mainstream media appears to believe we all find endlessly fascinating. But I will just say that it was like attempting to extract blood from the proverbial stone getting my grandfather to talk about what he did during the Second World War; yet, had he claimed to have killed 25 Germans in one fell swoop, I doubt I would have believed him and may well have correctly concluded he’d probably spent six years in the Catering Corps, with his most testing time of the conflict coming when he had to feed a dozen hungry troops with just a couple of tins of Spam and a packet of powdered egg. If the stupidity of Henry Charles Albert David Windsor is such that his nauseating naval gazing blinds him to the fact that bragging about how many members of a still-active terrorist organisation he slaughtered during his stint serving granny & country isn’t necessarily wise, so be it; but that doesn’t necessarily earn him the ‘poor you’ sympathy he clearly craves from the self-indulgent victimhood of a wealthy, titled plank.

This has also been the week of an archetypal social media story involving a Police Force writing to a Twitter user and demanding he or she (or ‘they’) attend an interview – and presumably a ‘re-education’ lecture – concerning a Tweet that committed the apparently-blasphemous crime of criticising the prevalence of the ubiquitous rainbow flag; the fact doing so isn’t a crime in law – yet – didn’t prevent Inspector Knacker from behaving as though it is and evidently hoping the said criminal was unaware of the fact. Considering the current climate, which sometimes feels like waking up in a world you’d rather not be living in, what more opportune time to revisit the BBC’s landmark 1976 production of ‘I, Claudius’? Here is a peerless and prescient portrayal of a once-great society on the cusp of collapse into decadence and then destruction; we witness that collapse through the ruling Roman dynasty and their Mafia-like machinations to rule at all costs. Served-up as perhaps the last great television event of the era in which television was the prime medium for telling stories with intelligence, wit and panache, ‘I, Claudius’ is littered with unforgettable set-pieces, spiky dialogue and characters that linger in the collective memory almost half-a-century later.

The cast list alone of ‘I, Claudius’ demonstrates how the reputation of British TV for attracting the cream of the acting crop was at its zenith in the mid-70s: the young Derek Jacobi making his name as the stammering, shambling lead character; the malevolently mesmerising Sian Phillips as the scheming Empress Livia, arguably the most memorable bitch in television history, and a woman who will casually poison the competition to clear the path for her ungrateful son Tiberius (George Baker) to succeed her husband as Emperor; and not forgetting Brian Blessed at his booming best as Augustus. Along the way we encounter numerous then-current as well as future familiar faces such as Patrick Stewart, Ian Ogilvy, John Rhys-Davies, Stratford Johns, Bernard Hepton, Margaret Tyzack, Kevin McNally, Bernard Hill, Peter Bowles, Patricia Quinn, Norman Rossington, and even Christopher Biggins as an especially noxious Nero. But perhaps no other cast member – with the honourable exception of Sian Phillips as Livia – leaves a greater mark on the production than John Hurt as the dangerously insane Caligula.

Fresh from his breakthrough into household name territory via ‘The Naked Civil Servant’, Hurt plays the psychopathic Caesar with the correct amount of genuinely disturbing menace, yet is equally hilarious in a part that another actor could easily have tipped into melodramatic farce. Caligula’s sadistic madness and conviction he is a God merely renting a human form turns those around him into either sycophantic toadies or (as in the case of ‘Uncle Claudius’) forces them to think on their toes, watch what they say, and learn to anticipate the unpredictable whenever in the Emperor’s company – as kids hoping to avoid a beating often do when finding themselves alongside the school bully. Caligula famously promoted his horse to a senator in one of his milder expressions of lunacy, but his more deviant whims were inflicted upon Rome simply because he decreed it, however much the Romans realised he was tampering with the natural order of things by normalising all that was beyond the pale. No doubt if Caligula had added paedophilia to his depraved list of legalised perversions, he’d have reclassified paedophiles as ‘Minor Attracted Persons’ – as indeed a member of another contemporary Police Force did just a week ago.

Caligula’s inevitable downfall at the hands of assassin’s blades comes in the wake of impregnating the sister he married and then – believing himself to be Zeus – following in the God’s footsteps by cutting out the foetus and eating it. The episode that climaxes with this gory scene was originally even gorier, but BBC bosses wilted under the onslaught of outrage from Mary Whitehouse and her comrades-in-offence and censored the offending sight of Drusilla bleeding to death from her horrific wound when the series was repeated. Although the scene in question can never be restored on account of it being lost on the cutting room floor, the edited version actually works much better in that seeing Claudius’s horrified reaction as he gazes upon the carnage is brilliantly effective without needing to see something our imagination has already pictured in all its grotesque glory.

Claudius is eventually the last man standing following the murders of most of the imperial family and is proclaimed Emperor against his wishes; but being perceived as a fool for most of his life due to his physical afflictions has saved his skin and also means he is able to document the saga of his brutal clan for the benefit of future generations. More or less each episode opens and closes with the elderly Claudius almost acting as a geriatric Edgar Lustgarten introducing the latest instalment of a bloodthirsty story, the likes of which has continued to echo throughout every TV series dealing with dynastical intrigues ever since. But ‘I, Claudius’ itself is perhaps the high watermark of a period that had begun with ‘The Forsyte Saga’ a decade earlier, one in which writing, production, direction and acting overcame the limitations of a studio set and managed to manufacture a uniquely compelling halfway house between theatre and television rather than aping cinema, as the small-screen does today. We may not see that era again on TV, but I expect Caligula to return as President or Prime Minister of somewhere soon; the climate seems particularly sympathetic to him right now.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294

Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/786315380

ONE LAST THING…

VWOne strange tradition that never fails to deliver is that of a year entering its final days and the Grim Reaper embarking upon a frenzied period of visiting famous names; for Death, the climax of the twelve-month calendar usually consists of breakneck house-to-house calls as though he’s required to fulfil a specific celebrity quota before 31 December and always leaves it till the last minute. Indeed, he left it so late this year that he ended up calling on two exemplary figures in their chosen fields on the same day, fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and Brazilian football legend Pelé. The latter’s battle with cancer had been publicised and his hospitalisation routinely referenced during the recent World Cup, when Lionel Messi became the latest player to wear the crown that the man born Edson Arantes do Nacimento had copyrighted from the age of 17; in contrast with an anticipated passing that had felt inevitable for several weeks, news that Vivienne Westwood has also died came as more of a surprise, with few beyond her inner circle aware she was fatally ill. Born within six months of each other, one was a king and one was a dame, and both left an indelible mark on 20th century pop culture that will long outlast their mortal remains.

At a time when access to football played beyond Europe was minimal to say the least, the World Cup was the only real window to the global game available to football followers in the UK and on the Continent – and even then it could be something of a logistical challenge for it to reach British and European screens. If the tournament was staged in South America – such as Chile in 1962 – the fact that broadcasting’s satellite age was still a twinkle in Telstar’s eye meant games would be shot on film and then rushed to a waiting plane; in 1962, TV viewers over here had to wait an unimaginable two days after the Final itself was played before they actually got to see the match transmitted on the BBC. Four years earlier, at the least the contest was a little closer to home, staged in Sweden. This was just the sixth World Cup tournament, and up to that point the Jules Rimet trophy had only been held aloft by three countries – Uruguay, Italy and West Germany. Brazil had reached the Final on one solitary occasion – 1950 – and had suffered an inconceivable loss on home soil to Uruguay; they felt it was their destiny to win, but despite their dazzling flair, Brazil never seemed able to leap that final hurdle to immortality. And then, in 1958, they unveiled a prodigy.

In 1958, the 17-year-old Vivienne Swire had relocated from her birthplace in working-class Derbyshire to begin student life on a jewellery course at Harrow Art School; on the other side of the world, Edson Arantes do Nacimento – who had emerged from a poverty-stricken corner of Sao Paulo – was the great discovery of Brazilian club Santos and was a year into his international career when the World Cup in Sweden came calling. Rapidly on his way to becoming a household name in his own country, Pelé (having adopted the time-honoured Brazilian tactic of going by a nickname) was Brazil’s secret weapon in 1958. Although he didn’t make his debut until the third and final group game, by the time the team entered the knock-out stage – which in those more manageable days of just 16 teams was the Quarter-Final – he scored the only goal against Wales; in the Semi-Final Vs France he netted a hat-trick and the rest of the world sat up and took notice. In the Final, he scored twice as Brazil hammered the host nation 5-2 and finally fulfilled their destiny by getting their hands on the most coveted prize in football. Overnight, the teenager had become a global superstar.

Four years later, Pelé’s reputation had grown to the point where Santos had received numerous tempting offers for their greatest asset from a string of eager English and European big guns – including Manchester United and Real Madrid – but had held firm, with the Brazilian Government declaring him an official national treasure in order to prevent his export. He kick-started Brazil’s defence of the World Cup in Chile with the expectations of a nation weighing heavily on his shoulders, but suffered an injury early in the tournament and played no further part in the contest; despite Brazil retaining the trophy without him in Chile, Pelé fared even worse in England in 1966, exposed to the worst ‘professional tackles’ of the era as he was kicked out of the competition by Bulgarian and Portuguese defenders; the holders exited at the group stage and Pelé vowed to never grace the global stage again. Whilst all this was happening, Vivienne Westwood had walked out on her first marriage (from which she took her surname) and had set up home with Malcolm McLaren, a partnership that would prove fruitful for both. Although earning a wage as a primary school teacher, Westwood was already designing her own clothes, and by the early 1970s she and McLaren had opened a boutique called Let It Rock on Chelsea’s King’s Road, one that specialised in vintage Teddy Boy gear from the 50s.

As Westwood and McLaren were establishing themselves on the King’s Road, Pelé had relented from his decision of 1966 and was back in the Brazil line-up for the Mexico World Cup in 1970. Like Maradona in 1986 and Messi in 2022, this was Pelé’s chance to justify his reputation before a global audience, and he – and his team – didn’t disappoint. Even now, over half-a-century later, that Brazil side is still acknowledged as arguably the finest team ever to win the competition; indeed, so overwhelmed were FIFA by Brazil’s performance that they allowed them to keep the Jules Rimet trophy forever as they became the first country to capture it for a third time. Yes, Pelé was the star man, but he was ably supported by players whose names evoked Renaissance artists – Jairzinho, Rivelino, Carlos Alberto – and who played with an artistic flair unparalleled in the history of the game. Prior to the Final, the game of the tournament came between Brazil and defending champions England; Brazil won 1-0, but the match is chiefly remembered for Gordon Banks’ miraculous save against Pelé – as memorable a moment as Pelé’s attempted goal from the halfway line against Czechoslovakia. Brazil defeated Italy 4-1 in the Final, with the opening goal coming from the man himself; it was Pele’s last game in the World Cup, retiring from international football a year later and resisting efforts to coax him out of international retirement in 1974.

By the mid-70s, Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren had renamed their boutique ‘Sex’ and had begun selling the kind of fetish gear normally unseen outside of Soho backrooms; Westwood was certainly ahead of her time, considering such gear is now commonplace with gimps on dog-leads entertaining toddlers on Pride parades. They then tapped into a craze amongst impoverished London art students (including a certain Johnny Rotten) for wearing ripped clothes held together by safety pins; the two strands combined and created the Punk look, which – when stitched to the music produced by the band McLaren managed, The Sex Pistols – ended up selling a lifestyle. It was the springboard for Westwood to become Britain’s most renowned and radical young designer, and she never really looked back. As Punk was bubbling on the King’s Road, Pelé had done the unthinkable and relocated from Santos to the US, helping to launch the North American Soccer League in the colours of the New York Cosmos. Hip Americans who were finding football a hard sell instantly warmed to the fact a black man was considered the planet’s finest footballer, and even though Pelé was arguably past his best at 35, he still outshone most of the competition on the stateside field of play and didn’t finally retire for good until 1977.

Whether an elder statesman still selling his sport around the world or an established fashion designer attaching her profitable name to whichever cause she sought to promote, both Pelé and Vivienne Westwood had become global brands by the time they simultaneously bowed-out of the spotlight and both are pretty much irreplaceable, however many pretenders to their respective crowns they survived in their lifetimes and will continue to withstand in death.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294

Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/769970801

AROUND THE WORLD IN 365 DAYS

Old Father Time2022 – yet another one of ‘those years’; yes, this glorious century hasn’t exactly been short on them, and if you, like me, had a fittingly crap Christmas then you won’t be sorry to see the back of 2022, even if 2023 is hardly loaded with optimistic anticipation. When a year is characterised by chaos, chances are the chaos is as prevalent at the top as it is at the bottom, and we certainly had that in abundance from our ‘betters’ this year. The fact that 2022 saw the UK led by three different Prime Ministers – including one who had the shortest run in the history of the office – suggests either those at the top are keeping up with the rest of us, or they’re largely responsible for the chaos, depending on how one apportions responsibility. But when one recalls the year began with the fall-out from the Partygate affair that eventually led to Boris’s premature exit, and that by the autumn his immediate successor managed to set off alarm bells in the City – provoking an even more premature exit – then looking to leaders for leadership proved an utterly futile exercise, fracturing even further the already fragile faith and trust in our elected representatives.

And then, the Health Secretary overseeing the pandemic response turns himself into a tawdry celebrity with a staggering absence of shame and guilt in a desperate attempt to court redemption; who in their right mind could respect an unprincipled worm like Matt Hancock, a man whose actions seemed as emblematic of the corrupt, degenerate decay at the amoral heart of an amoral administration as Boris Johnson himself? If that’s the way those at the top behave, perhaps it’s no wonder those of us who reside closer to the bottom express nothing less than absolute contempt for them – and no longer have any belief in their ability to make our lives better; and if they can’t, who can? That can’t really be good for democracy. But it’s not as if the UK was alone in being exceptionally ill-led in 2022. Out in the colonies, Monsieur Trudeau reacted to a grass-roots challenge to his authority by unleashing every verbal weapon in the Woke arsenal to demonise and discredit the protesting truckers and their supporters; he even stooped to freezing their bank accounts, exploiting the vulnerability of a monetary system the public has been bludgeoned into depending on and using lessons learnt during the pandemic, when those doubting the wisdom of lockdowns and untested vaccines were smeared as enemies of the people.

Closer to home, in Soviet Scotland, the even more authoritarian and illiberal SNP pressed ahead with their plans to allow men who simply ‘identify’ as the opposite sex to be legally recognised as women – surgery not included – after a mere three-month trial period. Hot on the heels of wee Nicola’s attempt to push for yet another independence referendum being rendered null and void without Westminster’s say-so, the Scottish Gender Recognition Reform Bill not only faces potential legal challenges in the rest of the UK, but could prove to be an Identitarian step too far, certainly if the uproar amongst women’s and children’s rights campaigners is anything to go by. One hopes it might belatedly alert the more English-phobic Scots that their nasty nationalist darlings don’t necessarily have their best interests at heart. The long-overdue revelations of the crimes committed in the name of ‘diversity’ by the likes of the butchers at the Tavistock Clinic and the pseudo-paedophilic charity Mermaids had at last enabled dissenting voices to finally be heard without censorship, yet the SNP turned a blind eye to all this, displaying greater sympathy towards the ‘human rights’ of male sex offenders than in preserving natural-born women-only spaces.

The ‘empowerment’ of confused adolescents by such a bill is a dangerous development that threatens to set back progress just at the point when it was finally being made; the scandal of Tavistock and its ilk was gaining exposure as endless stories of children brainwashed into believing gender reassignment was the answer to all their teenage problems were being heard, yet the SNP bill fails to acknowledge the damage done just as it fails to recognise Transgenderism in its most superficial form is effectively the latest adolescent cult. Online videos of schoolboys in makeup undergoing ‘period pains’ in their bedrooms is a sick trend that recalls devotees of fanatical religious sects being possessed by the Devil; however, unlike past tribal loyalties with a short sell-by date, any emotionally disturbed teenager buying into this particular cult and paying the ultimate price with life-changing surgery can’t simply bin the clothes and haircut that served as the visual hallmarks of the cult once he or she moves on to the next one – as teenagers are prone to doing; and the SNP bill ignores the evidence to appease its rainbow flag-waving activist friends. Mind you, those activists now have such a deep foothold in so many of our institutions that the 2+2=5 dogma they espouse is in danger of becoming legal fact; even revered dictionaries have capitulated to this fantasy reality, further adding to the sense that the West is rapidly disappearing down the toilet.

No wonder Vladimir Putin doesn’t see the West as an obstacle to his imperial ambitions; in his own way, Vlad is as much a fantasist as the Trans activists or the Net Zero climate zealots vandalising works of art, and he’s getting away with it as much as they are; only a couple of days ago, yet another former ally who had the nerve to question Putin’s Ukraine adventure ‘committed suicide’ via the familiar leap from a skyscraper window; I wonder why Putin’s enemies never just opt for the old gas oven or bottle of pills, eh? Funny, that. But while Vlad disposes of his foes on foreign soil completely unchallenged, he found that his assault on Ukraine received its most devastating setback not from the timid West, but from the courageous Ukrainians themselves. The perfectly natural wave of sympathy for the innocents exposed to the merciless march of the Russian war machine led to Brits who just a few months earlier weren’t even allowed to visit each other being encouraged to open their doors to Ukrainian refugees; less public sympathy was reserved for illegal economic migrants hailing from the war-less environs of Albania as the unscrupulous people-smuggling trade appeared to be one of the year’s few boom industries. Whether Rwanda is the answer is another matter; sadly, the Channel has rarely been kind to opportunists.

If Vladimir Putin was shaken out of his complacency by the unexpected resistance of the Ukrainian people, Iran’s similarly ruthless rulers were equally taken aback by a rebellion on home turf, largely led by incredibly brave young women publicly trashing the symbols of their oppression – something that was again met with notable silence from the gutless West. And when overseas protests did receive tacit support from the West, such as those that occurred as a result of China’s futile attempts to maintain a ‘Zero Covid’ policy, that support came from none other than Justin Trudeau, incapable of discerning the parallels between the inhumane authority of the Chinese Government and his own approach to both the truckers and the coronavirus. Indeed, having been presented with unimagined control over their own people during the pandemic, it was unsurprising that many Western leaders have been reluctant to relinquish the powers they’d acquired, continually extending their over-reach into the private lives of their citizens in an insidious trend that needs to be resisted.

Back home, a series of strikes by both rail and postal workers served to gift additional joy to a British public already browbeaten by a surge in fuel costs, though at least the whole ‘cost of living’ narrative has provided the MSM with a boost to the flagging Project Fear plotline. The fact that the one certainty of 70 years’ vintage should breathe her last in the middle of all this chaos seemed almost symptomatic of a year in which nothing and no one could be relied upon or trusted anymore. 2022 was a year bereft of certainties, and after the last twelve months, only a fool would confidently reach for the crystal ball and predict what comes next.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294

Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/769970801

SPECIAL BREW

SpecialsProvincial cities often tend to define themselves more in competition with their nearest metropolitan neighbour than engaging in the futile exercise of trying to out-London London; perhaps the lengthy rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester is the most famous example, with these twin titans of 19th century industry extending their pissing contest well beyond industrial decline and into the arena of pop culture. The football field has long been an outlet for old intercity enmities, with the weighing scales of North-Western dominance sometimes falling in favour of Liverpool FC and sometimes Manchester United; elsewhere, the long shadow cast by The Beatles has always been a thorn in Manchester’s side, though post-Beatles notables like Joy Division, The Smiths, The Stone Roses and Oasis have made enough inroads into the public consciousness to redress the balance, if only temporarily. Beyond the North, what of the Midlands? Birmingham and its Black Country satellites is the behemoth few have ever challenged. The Moody Blues, The Move, Slade, Black Sabbath, half of Led Zeppelin, ELO…no wonder the rest have always struggled to get a look in. However, there was a very brief period at the turn of the 80s when Coventry outshone Brum.

Divided from its overbearing neighbour by the greenbelt of the Meriden Gap, Coventry’s main claim to fame for centuries was as a renowned medieval showpiece city ala York; and then came the Blitz. Rather than demolish great swathes of a historic city centre, post-war town-planners were provided with a clean slate thanks to the Luftwaffe, and a familiar ‘concrete jungle’ facelift was gradually unveiled. The once-prosperous motor industry’s slide into stagnation by the late 70s became emblematic of Coventry’s downturn, and while high unemployment coupled with racial tensions (the city saw large immigration from Asia and the Caribbean in the 50s and 60s) may have made life hard for its citizens, these conditions also provided the perfect breeding ground for a short-lived musical revolution that put Coventry at the centre of the pop map.

The sad death of Specials frontman Terry Hall this week was received with a wave of genuine sadness from people of a certain age, those old enough to remember when his band were the most important post-Punk act in the country; not only did The Specials manage the impressive feat of achieving both critical acclaim and commercial success, but the name of the record label the band established to ensure their independence – 2 Tone – also gave its name to an entire scene that thrived around them, the first scene for kids too young for Punk. They enjoyed two chart-topping singles and maintained their credibility throughout, spurning the silly inverted snobbery of The Clash by regularly appearing on ‘Top of the Pops’ and never once being accused of the heinous crime of ‘selling out’. Moreover, with the exception of The Equals a decade earlier, The Specials were the first notable mixed-race British band to break through, successfully merging the distinctive sounds of the two musical cultures the members of the band had inherited, musical cultures that had served to bring the members together.

The black members of The Specials had been raised on a diet of Jamaican Ska imported to these shores by first-generation West Indian immigrants; but the white members of the band had received exposure too. The skinheads of the early 70s may have drifted further to the Right as the decade progressed, but Ska and Reggae constituted their original soundtrack, uniting black and white at a time when racial unrest – exacerbated by the contemporaneous emergence of the National Front – was spawning an exceedingly unpleasant climate. Punk bands like Sham 69 effectively split due to the far-Right shit-stirrers they inadvertently attracted to their gigs, and the descent of one Punk strand into the unlistenable and politically dubious ghetto called Oi! meant the invigorating marriage of recognisably black sounds with the same energy (and socially-conscious lyrical content) that had fuelled Punk was a potentially combustible mix at the end of the 70s. Happily, the melting pot produced pure gold, and the nation’s singles-buyers responded positively to the new hybrid from the second half of 1979 onwards. The Specials’ ‘Top of the Pops’ debut saw them performing ‘Gangsters’, which refitted Ska legend Prince Buster’s track ‘Al Capone’ with a distinctly cutting-edge engine; so swift was the sound’s rise up the charts that when The Specials returned to TOTP to promote their second single, ‘A Message to You, Rudy’, they were joined on the same show by another 2 Tone act, The Selecter, and a band whose debut single had also been released on the same label, Madness. It was hard not to conclude that here was a scene that was set to carry British pop into the 80s and beyond.

1980 was the real year of 2 Tone, even if – as had happened before with Psychedelia and would happen again with the New Romantics – it was all over and done with in the blink of an eye. Madness opened the first TOTP of the decade performing ‘My Girl’, and barely a month had passed before The Specials achieved their first No.1 single with ‘Too Much Too Young’, an uncompromising ditty about teenage pregnancy that limited its Radio 1 airplay. Birmingham’s The Beat were another band bearing the 2 Tone sound and they achieved several hits throughout the year, whilst Madness were already in the process of becoming a hit machine that would end up transcending and outliving the scene that bore them. But it was The Specials who remained the most interesting and intriguing act of the lot; the hit singles continued – indeed, every single the band released during their original incarnation reached the Top 10 – and they proved their value with the release of their second album, ‘More Specials’, one of those albums that grows richer the further we travel from the moment of its arrival. In fact, it was actually greeted with a degree of bewilderment at the time.

A brilliantly eclectic and adventurous shift away from the formula, ‘More Specials’ sowed the seeds of the band’s demise and exposed the different directions its creative forces were heading in. Keyboard player and founder Jerry Dammers was delving into the kind of movie soundtracks that would later provide the sampled roots of the 90s ‘Trip Hop’ scene as well as exhibiting a fondness for what would eventually be labelled ‘Lounge-core’; the rest of the band were not so enthusiastic. The Specials could have imploded there and then, right at the point when the 2 Tone craze had peaked, but they kept their cool long enough to deliver their masterpiece the following summer, bowing out with a single that rightly ranks as one of the finest slices of pop-as-social-comment ever committed to vinyl, ‘Ghost Town’.

A song such as ‘Ghost Town’ reaching No.1 right at the very moment when rioting was incinerating many of Britain’s inner cities is as retrospectively a mind-boggling occurrence as Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ providing the nation with its unlikely Xmas chart-topper in 1979; but it happened. In some respects, there was nowhere for The Specials to go after that and they finally splintered into both The Special AKA and The Fun Boy Three. Terry Hall was the frontman of the latter, dispensing with the sharp suit that had been the sartorial trademark of The Specials and allowing his cropped thatch (another trademark) to grow a little. The Fun Boy Three were TOTP regulars for a good couple of years and then they too split. Hall’s amusingly glum countenance and deadpan delivery were less visible in the charts thereafter, though he hovered on the maverick fringes for a decade or two before the inevitable Specials reunion and accompanying sell-out tours. Unlike many such enterprises, however, the reunion was regarded as something far more than just another nostalgic cash-cow for hard-up middle-aged musicians. The Specials had always been smarter than the usual music biz mentality, and they always will be.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294

Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/746266089

MESSI PLAYED QATAR

MessiConsidering the nature of events over the past two or three years, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised to find ourselves in a time when the World Cup Final is staged seven days before Christmas Day; the topsy-turvy, upside-down nature of where we are now expects nothing less – ditto the fact that (against all odds) a tournament rightly mired in controversy from the off climaxes with a match that ends up being one of the most edge-of-the-seat contests anyone can ever remember, one that also confirms a 35-year-old is officially acknowledged as the planet’s finest footballer. After all, the natural order was shown the door when this dismal decade was no more than a couple of months old, and ever since then we appear to have been living through a strange age when anything that had previously been logically written-off as fringe lunacy now goes – an era in which double-speak, thought-crime and 2+2=5 are the new normal; and questioning this trend is verboten in polite society. Not that Lionel Messi will be complaining; he’s finally got his hands on the one trophy that has always eluded him in a professional career that began as far back as his league debut for Barcelona in 2004. A lot of the talk over the past month has been focused on ending that career on a high, but there are a small handful of precedents should he care to dip into the history books.

The legendary Stanley Matthews played his last game for England at the age of 42 in 1957 – 23 years after his international debut; the fact he didn’t retire from football altogether until the age of 50 in 1965 is all the more amazing when one remembers he belonged to a generation of players whose careers were interrupted by six years of World War; moreover, he was unfortunate to be playing at a time when England’s performances at the World Cup never matched up to pre-tournament expectations. Lionel Messi has himself experienced many occasions during his five World Cups when the hopes of a nation have rested on his shoulders, shoulders weighed down by the burden of carrying average talents unworthy of his boots; but soldiering on eventually paid off. Due to his quiet, unassuming manner, Messi’s fame within the game has never really transcended football in the way of his flamboyant contemporary Cristiano Renaldo – nor indeed the ghost who haunts Argentina’s international side, Diego Maradona. But perhaps the additional crowning glory to Messi’s career has been to finally achieve global pop cultural status.

On Sunday’s field of play, Messi’s reputation was up against a young contender in the shape of his Paris Saint-Germain teammate, Kylian Mbappé of France. The other 20+ men on display almost seemed superfluous next to the God-like genius present in the feet of these two, certainly if pre-match hype was to be believed; but it was Messi who lived up to that hype in the first half, scoring the opening goal from the penalty spot and inspiring his side to a 2-0 lead that appeared unassailable to the lacklustre defending champions. France’s unexpected comeback towards the end of the game, levelling things at 2-2 and coming close to a shock victory in the dying light of normal time, revived a match that looked to be smoothly careering towards a preordained conclusion. But, as with the late West Germany equaliser that enabled 1966 to loom so large in the collective memory of all Englishmen, extra-time proved to be the making of the 2022 Final; and a game that seemed to contain everything had other echoes of 1966 too. There was Messi’s second goal (making the score 3-2) momentarily disputed at having crossed the line, and there was Geoff Hurst’s 56-year-old record finally being equalled as Mbappé scored a hat-trick, with a late penalty bringing the score to 3-3.

Okay, so it was eventually decided on penalties; but this wasn’t the contrived climax to one of those drab, fun-free Finals of recent years (1994 and 2006 spring to mind) – instead, it served as the only fitting icing to a nail-biting drama unparalleled in the footballing memories of most watching. And, whilst there may have been an interminable wait between the winning penalty and Messi being handed the trophy by a FIFA President who clearly didn’t want to let go of it (not to mention the player of the tournament being inexplicably draped in what resembled a see-through negligee from a 70s sex comedy), in the end the script penned by celestial hands was upheld and Argentina were recognised as world champions for a third time. A month ago, such an outcome had seemed pretty unimaginable, not least due to the fact Argentina had begun their campaign humiliated by the first of many upsets the contest produced, losing 2-1 to Saudi Arabia. Gianni Infantino, the same FIFA President who evidently wanted to bask in Messi’s magic glow on the podium, had opened proceedings with a bizarre press conference in which he responded to justifiable criticisms of the Qatar setting by declaring, ‘Today I feel Qatari; today I feel Arab; today I feel African; today I feel gay; today I feel disabled; today I feel a migrant worker.’ He didn’t add, ‘Today I feel President of an institutionally corrupt organisation that will bend over for any country with enough cash to roger it senseless and drag the sport through the mud.’ But you can’t have everything.

Opening in a key so low only Paul Robeson had previously been there, the 2022 World Cup prompted a generous amount of somewhat belated questions on the part of mainstream TV presenters and pundits from their executive boxes in stadiums built by slave labour prior to a ball being kicked; once the football actually began, anticipation over which players would choose to stage a protest was as widely discussed as any proposed performance on the pitch. As has been said before, however, there was always the 1978 example of the great Johan Cruyff, who opted out of that year’s World Cup in Argentina on account of refusing to condone the country’s ruling military junta – though none of today’s soccer superstars decided to follow suit. Despite rumours that the England team would honour their manager’s Woke credentials once again by running on the field bedecked in rainbow armbands, they restricted themselves to the jaded knee-taking ritual; that this virtue-signalling ceremony is well past its sell-by date was highlighted in an amusingly ludicrous manner when England played the USA, and the American players – who had started the whole thing in the first place – remained standing whilst the England team knelt before them; one could almost see it as a metaphor for the ‘Special Relationship’.

Sure, the German players added to the checklist of virtuous signals by indulging in a spot of pre-match mouth-covering before another embarrassing exit at the group stage, but the one visual statement made by a team that represented genuine bravery rather than the superficial ‘stunning and brave’ accolade routinely awarded to millionaires making a token gesture to ensure they remain on the Right Side of History was made by the Iran team. Their incredibly courageous decision to remain mute during the playing of the Iranian national anthem took balls, especially when one considers their families back home risked reprisals from the powers-that-be, let alone what might await the players themselves upon their return. In some respects, this memorable moment couldn’t be topped, and the focus more or less settled on the sport itself thereafter. And there were various surprises along the way, none more so than Morocco’s remarkable progress to the Semi-final, disposing of favourites such as Belgium, Spain and Portugal en route.

But, of course, whatever sour taste so much of this World Cup leaves in the mouth, at least it enabled Lionel Messi to fulfil his destiny; and I suspect that incredible Final will be the lingering memory of a tournament that should never have happened yet eventually served as a novel distraction from all the other cheery issues of the moment that are bringing so much joy into our lives. And all will recommence again three-and-a-half years from now in North Korea…er…sorry, North America. Well, you never know with FIFA…

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294

Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/746266089 

FESTIVE FEAR

IMG_20221212_0001Amazingly, it seems there are still people out there excitedly awaiting the unveiling of the festive schedules on the mainstream TV channels, as though the DVD box-set or streaming sites cease to exist on at midnight on 24 December, and for the duration of Christmas Day the only option for visual entertainment will be to watch the seasonal special of a BBC1 or ITV show nobody wants to watch the rest of the year. Even as far back as the late 80s, the one-time dominance of television to provide the masses with their yuletide viewing habits was being eroded by the gift-wrapped live comedy video, which would be shoved into the VCR instead of sitting through an over-familiar Bond movie or second-guessing which character would top themselves on the Xmas ‘Eastenders’. Television’s unchallenged power to monopolise leisure time on 25 December was broken long before the novelty of a Christmas Day terrestrial film premiere was rendered redundant by multiple means of seeing said movie months in advance of BBC1 getting hold of it. In a way, I suspect broadcasters are more aware of this than they let on, which is probably why they put so little effort into their Christmas output now than they used to; why waste time and money making festive telly people might want to watch when the people are planning their own personal schedules?

Like most unburdened by ‘family get-togethers’, I myself have the luxury of not having to take anyone else’s taste into account; I could watch ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ at 2.00 in the afternoon on Christmas Day if I wanted to. I don’t, but that’s not the point. Instead, I’ll no doubt dip into those neglected gems from the TV archive that the BBC will only trot out occasionally; indeed, what better way to feel seasonal without opting for the obvious than revisiting the fondly-recalled ‘A Ghost Story for Christmas’ series that annually aired on or around Xmas Eve from 1971 to 1978? An author whose low-key spine-chillers always appear best served by the small screen, M.R. James provided this series with the stories that comprised the first five entries, beginning with ‘The Stalls of Barchester’ in 1971; with its characteristically creepy Victorian setting, the chills are masterfully achieved on a shoestring budget, and though this psychological horror starring Robert Hardy as an Archdeacon tormented by voices and glimpses of imagined spectres in the shadows was intended as a one-off, it prompted a follow-up the following Christmas and swiftly established a tradition that spanned seven years.

There’d been successful televisual attempts to illustrate James’s talent for unsettling the reader prior to the start of this series; in 1968, Jonathan Miller directed an especially nightmarish adaptation of ‘Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad’ in which Michael Horden’s twitchy academic suffers uncomfortably realistic nightmares during a spell on vacation in coastal Suffolk. It followed a familiar James path of placing pompous clergymen and dons in positions of peril, confronted by the consequences of their hubris when up against supernatural forces. ‘Whistle and I’ll Come to You’ (as it was re-titled) made enough of an impact at the time to warrant further James adaptations, though by the time ‘The Stalls of Barchester’ appeared, television had grown out of its monochrome roots and director of all-but one of the BBC Ghost Stories, Lawrence Gordon Clark, made full use of colour location filming in East Anglia to visualise James’s written words. Perhaps the finest example of this came with his second outing, 1972’s ‘A Warning to the Curious’, in which Peter Vaughan stars as an amateur archaeologist in search of the lost crown of the Saxon kingdoms; against all odds, he discovers it, though he bargains without the presence of the crown’s guardian, an out-of-focus figure who pursues Vaughan’s character even when he is convinced enough of the trophy’s curse to return it to its burial place. It remains a uniquely eerie 50 minutes that hasn’t lost its ability to unnerve.

By the time of the third entry in the series, ‘Lost Hearts’, the annual Ghost Story was in danger of becoming as much of a Christmas tradition as the Xmas Day ‘Top of the Pops’ or ‘The Morecambe and Wise Show’ – albeit an alternative sedative to the usual festive cheer, reconnecting with a gleefully disturbing Victorian and Edwardian sensibility which had been lost in the wholesome Americanisation of the season that had become the norm by the late 20th century. 1974’s ‘The Treasure of Abbot Thomas’ returned to recognisable M.R. James territory by featuring Michael Bryant as a smug medieval scholar looking for the lost fortune of a disgraced cleric; when he finds it, the ramifications of his avarice reduce him to a gibbering victim of his own superior attitude towards the unknown. The following year’s ‘The Ash Tree’ delves even deeper into pagan superstition, recalling the witch-hunts of the 17th century and evoking primal arachnophobia with the mutant ‘spiders’ lurking in the tree of the title. However, by 1976 the M.R. James adaptations were deemed worn-out and the series then turned to a short story by Charles Dickens, ‘The Signalman’.

An early outing for the now-veteran TV adaptor of classic fiction Andrew Davies, ‘The Signalman’ features Denholm Elliott as the title character who recounts a bloody train crash on the line outside his signal-box to an unnamed traveller, an event that continues to haunt him in his solitary exile from society. The fact the original story was penned a year after Dickens himself survived similar carnage on a train travelling through Staplehurst in Kent is probably no coincidence, but it certainly taps into the nightmares that remained with the author until his premature death on the fifth anniversary of the incident in 1870. The television adaptation of ‘The Signalman’ bears the same psychological tropes that opened the series with ‘The Stalls of Barchester’ five years previously, and is – along with ‘A Warning to the Curious’ and ‘The Treasure of Abbott Thomas’ – perhaps the most effectively chilling of all the entries in the series.

In 1977, the series received something of a contemporary makeover by dispensing with adaptations of classic authors and commissioning a newly-written story set in the present day, ‘Stigma’; although this tale, starring the dependable Peter Bowles, has its moments by calling upon the same pagan myths that fuelled ‘The Ash Tree’, a key element of the series is lost by relocating events to the here and now, and the trend was carried over into the following year’s ‘The Ice House’, the final Ghost Story of the 70s run. Bar the odd repeat screening, the tradition was discontinued for several decades until BBC4 decided to revive the series during the period when the channel was producing daring drama the mainstream channels had largely abandoned. 2005’s adaptation of a previously-untouched M.R. James story, ‘A View from a Hill’, managed to retain the creepiness of the 1970s adaptations as well as adding a slicker look and feel that made the revival more than merely a nostalgic rehash. It worked well enough to lead to another James adaptation the year after (‘Number 13’) and the series has continued off and on ever since. A new instalment is scheduled for this year, hot on the heels of last year’s ‘The Mezzotint’, and all (bar one) have been derived from the works of the master, M.R. James.

Post-lockdown, the ongoing ‘things can only get worse’ mood of the nation has led to an annual ‘Oh, well – let’s just enjoy Christmas’ attitude that obscures the fact that, for many, this is a time of year when detachment from one’s fellow man is intensified by an overemphasis on convivial group gatherings that not everyone is party to. The likes of ‘A Ghost Story for Christmas’ serves as a much-needed antidote to such facile clichés and any addition to a series that now stretches back half-a-century is a welcome – not to say rare – contribution from mainstream broadcasters that acknowledges the needs of viewers for more than a Christmas ‘Strictly’ special to lure them away from online attractions. Long may it continue.

VICTOR LEWIS-SMITH (1957-2022)

A shadowy, near-mythical figure whose brilliantly offensive and near-the-knuckle manipulations of archive TV illuminated late-night Channel 4 back in the days when the station had balls, Victor Lewis-Smith was also renowned as a witty, sardonic journalist for publications as varied as the Daily Mirror, the Evening Standard and Private Eye. His death at the age of 65 will probably pass most people by, but his pioneering prank calls (which were unremittingly amusing, if deliciously beyond the pale) paved the way for the likes of Ali G; I particularly recall his call to Hughie Green in the late 90s, when he asked the one-time ‘Opportunity Knocks’ host if he’d ever f***ed Lena Zavaroni, which provoked laughter from Green rather than apoplexy. His call to Michael Winner was even better; if Lewis-Smith’s ‘TV Offal’ series is still available on YT, track it down; it also features the Gay Daleks. Say no more. The Winegum salutes you as a master satirist, sir.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294

Vimeohttps://vimeo.com/746266089

7 UP & DOWN

7 SamuraiIt tends to be a given that most works of fiction which imagine the future usually offer an exaggerated vision of the times in which they were written, reflecting the hopes and – more often than not – the fears of the here and now. Numerous elements of a book such as ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ become more worryingly prescient the further we travel from the Cold War nursery that inspired it, though its source material is still unmistakably 1940s Europe. Equally, whilst Anthony Burgess ingeniously kept ‘A Clockwork Orange’ relevant for each generation of teenage hoodlums by inventing slang for his gang of Droogs, their actual genesis was in the moral panic that accompanied Britain’s original adolescent bogeyman, the Teddy Boy. Trying to second-guess what will happen next involves observing the most concerning present day developments and projecting them forwards, imagining how their progress will continue along a similar path, morphing into even more horrific manifestations of their contemporary incarnation. I guess today there are several schools of thought that maintain this tradition, depending upon where one stands on the pressing issues.

For example, by now we’re accustomed to the relentless Doomsday prophesies of the more extreme wings of the climate change lobby, and their forecast rarely varies from the worst case scenario; then there’s the Covid branch of the soothsayer’s union, who only ever seem to see the virus in terms of how many bodies their fevered imaginations can picture; and, of course, there are those who envisage the control of the individual by the State moving closer to the Chinese model as our civil liberties are eroded by successive legislation cloaked in the guise of benign intervention. It goes without saying that images emerging last week of people unable to leave Guangzhou due to the Chinese authorities remotely switching their Covid digital QR passport from yellow to red ought to serve as a warning of what can happen when the individual surrenders the majority of their autonomy to the State; and it’s easy to foresee the leaders of the West pushing for the same powers in the not-too distant future. Then again, every gallows has its humour; after all, it’s hard not to laugh at the utter absence of self-awareness in a risible figure such as Justin Trudeau, declaring his solidarity with protestors in China whilst failing to discern parallels with the way he took back control from Canada’s truckers by first demonising them and then freezing their bank accounts.

If, rather than looking forward, one were to momentarily look back perhaps seven years to December 2015, the pattern of events that brought us to where we are now is easier to discern than predicting the pattern that will take us to December 2029 – even though we instinctively know the direction of that pattern will be a progressively darker one; the feeling is all-but irresistible, yet who can blame us after what we’ve been through over the past seven years? Can anyone seriously argue the world is a better place in 2022 than it was in 2015? One might even come to the conclusion that things have only got worse every year from 2015 onwards. Mind you, what’s interesting is that anticipating the next seven years as something even more awful than the last is far from being the pessimistic prognosis of a wannabe Nostradamus in the wilderness; it’s pretty much become the consensus. The future is now only sold to us as a negative, with a daily roll-call of crises-to-come that hardly make getting up in the morning something worth waiting for; it’s no great surprise so many children are terrified that the Earth will be reduced to a barren wasteland by the time they come of age. Optimism in the future no longer sells.

I think I tried to convey that in a recent post titled ‘Heart and Soul’; this was inspired by watching an old ‘day in the life’ primary coloured-portrait of London from the early 60s called ‘All That Mighty Heart’; it’s the kind of film short that sticks rose-tinted spectacles on the viewer without the viewer’s consent, yet if one can manage to avoid being seduced by the naive nostalgia the film radiates, there’s still no getting away from the fact that it oozes a wonderfully refreshing self-confident optimism in the future – optimism in better homes, better living and working conditions, better roads, better transport, better public amenities, better leisure facilities, and a better life. I suppose the era in which it was produced, long before the ambitious Utopian visions of town-planners collapsed into the rubble of Ronan Point, give it that joyous energy; a generation who had fought the War and a generation that had grown up in the shadow of it took a quick glance over their shoulders and then understandably saw the future as a better place than the past. And they believed it was within their powers to make it so. Maybe that’s why this kind of film can seem such a breath of fresh air when looked at today, a time when we’re so worn down by the MSM generating nothing but negativity when it comes to the day after tomorrow.

Okay, so we overcome one crisis; give it 24 hours and there’ll be another to keep us in a state of agitated anxiety, perennially worrying if it’ll be the next virus that kills us or if hypothermia will beat the virus to it or if the planet will burst into flames and incinerate us before we even get to cannibalism. The cost-of-living crisis is currently being marketed as though it’s the first suffered by a wide cross-section of the British public since the 1970s, though whether we are going through boom or bust there will always be people who are struggling to make ends meet, just as there are always those who are doing alright, Jack – like the landlord of Matt Hancock’s local. Yes, some did indeed have a ‘good pandemic’. Fair enough, he might have had to settle for a knighthood rather than a PPE contract in a brown paper bag, but Chris Whitty is now warning us that this winter’s annual ‘NHS in crisis’ story will consist of multiple deaths arising from all the life-saving diagnoses for cancer and other fun diseases that were sidelined by diverting resources into the likes of empty aircraft hangars called Nightingale hospitals; whose fault was that, Professor Mekon?

Ditto the alarming deaths of children from Strep A; the reintroduction of social interaction in the school environment is being blamed by ‘experts’, yet perhaps if the kids hadn’t been unnecessarily kept away from each other and clad in masks by paranoid parents in thrall to Project Fear, maybe their immune systems would have been sufficiently developed to resist the bacterial infection. Yes, all of these upbeat headlines skimmed from a cursory glance at our beloved news outlets at least bear a relevance to the general tone of this post; but to get back to where we were a few paragraphs ago, what’s all this about December 2015? Well, I didn’t select December 2015 as a random date; the eagle-eyed and long-term amongst you may have realised the Winegum debuted seven years ago this month as of Tuesday just gone (incidentally, this post was ready and waiting to be posted on the actual anniversary, but ongoing ‘internet issues’ prevented me from fulfilling the bloody deadline). Anyway, I struck gold beginning this enterprise when I did; from a purely writing perspective, I couldn’t have wished for a more turbulent time to be documenting and commenting on; it has certainly been a remarkably eventful period of our recent history, and I recognise good fortune when I see it.

Had the last seven years been materially comfortable, culturally static, politically stable and free from drama on both the home front and the global stage, they might not have added up to much in the way of either writing or reading. I suppose if I can put often-unpleasant personal experiences during that timespan to one side and reflect on 2015-2022 solely in terms of ‘art’, I have absolutely no complaints. Duran Duran once infamously claimed they wanted to be the band the people were dancing to when the bomb drops; well, if you’re still up for reading the Winegum Telegram in your cave as you shelter from your plague-infected friends & family, shivering in the perma-winter or sweating in the perma-summer of tomorrow’s killer climate, I’ll keep buggering on.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294

Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/769970801