WHAT BECAME OF THE PEOPLE WE USED TO BE?

It’s a weird sensation, but there’s often no more sober a reminder of one’s own mortality as when the death is announced of a famous face whose countenance is inexorably bound up with dim and distant formative years. Over the past 24 hours, two such deaths have been announced and both make me feel unaccountably sad. I never met either in person, but actor Rodney Bewes and pop star David Cassidy were in the room when I was opening my eyes. The former was one half of a sitcom duo, whereas the other was the luminous pin-up of the moment. Just turned five, ‘Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?’ and ‘The Partridge Family’ were twin telly treats; one was rooted in a Northern English reality I recognised, whilst the other was a Californian fantasy that nevertheless sold an alluring illusion, one that said a bunch of kids could be in a successful band with their mother yet still lead ordinary suburban lives. Well, why not?

Both Rodney Bewes and his ‘Likely Lads’ co-star James Bolam had made their initial marks as big-screen sidekicks to one of the rising stars of early 60s ‘Kitchen Sink’ cinema, Tom Courtenay – Bewes in ‘Billy Liar’ and Bolam in ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner’. In 1964, the pair came together in the first attempt to transplant the vogue for the North to the small screen for comic effect; the success of ‘Steptoe and Son’ had legitimised the sitcom as a vehicle for serious actors rather than music-hall comedians, and ‘The Likely Lads’, launched along with BBC2, was a refreshing break in the new channel’s otherwise highbrow schedule. Penned by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, ‘The Likely Lads’ was the first outing for a writing partnership that went on to define comedic portrayals of male friendship, as demonstrated in later successes such as ‘Porridge’ and ‘Auf Wiedersehen Pet’.

Sequels years after the event are usually cynical affairs manufactured to exploit sentimental longing for the past and are about as effective in recapturing lost magic as high-school reunions. However, ‘Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?’, which first aired in 1973, actually surpasses the original series by carrying Bob and Terry into their uncertain (and far more interesting) thirties.

James Bolam’s Terry returns home from an overseas sojourn in the Army with a fresh chip on his shoulder, having missed the Swinging end of the 60s and arriving back in Ted Heath’s Three-Day Week Britain. He strolls bewildered through a landscape in which the close-knit back-to-back communities have been swept away by concrete tower-blocks. And with them have gone the characters constituting Terry’s carefree youth, now subdued by marriages and mortgages. Even worse, Rodney Bewes’ Bob has moved up the social scale, engaged to middle-class Thelma and living on a new housing estate, leaving his single life (and background) behind, much to Terry’s chagrin.

‘Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?’ is as potent a study of the crossroads between youth and middle-age as any TV drama has managed, let alone sitcom. The sacrifice of adolescent hopes and aspirations on the altar of a system that will dispense material rewards yet still dump those who submit to it in the cultural vacuum of the suburbs is handled with humour and humanity. Terry is an inverted snob, clinging to his beer and football whilst Bob tries to better himself with wine and badminton clubs, reflecting a now-lost world of social mobility and the belief that things can only get better. For Bob and Terry’s generation, things could get better; but it depended how far one was prepared to compromise. I can imagine Bob ending up as a divorcee with an ulcer after putting the work in, whereas Terry seems the type to eventually win a fortune on the Lottery after bumming around for decades.

When Bob and Terry were engaged in their class war, a graduate of a US TV ensemble piece had already progressed to solo status in the singles charts. A product of an American acting dynasty, David Cassidy made his name towards the end of his teens playing the whiter-than-white Keith Partridge alongside his real-life stepmother Shirley Jones and the impossibly beautiful Susan Dey. ‘The Partridge Family’ capitalised on the earlier success of ‘The Monkees’ by blending sitcom and pop, the main difference being that Cassidy was the only member of Mrs Partridge’s mixed brood with any musical ability. His was the sole Partridge voice on any of the Partridge Family hits, and his launch as a pop idol in his own right was inevitable.

At a time when home-grown pop stars were dabbling with a decadent dressing-up box, David Cassidy and his bedroom wall rival Donny Osmond appealed to the British pubescent female craving for the cute, the cuddly and the unthreatening. Both were more successful here than in the States, inspiring the kind of hysterical reaction unseen since Beatlemania; but whereas Donny Osmond was genuinely clean-cut, David Cassidy soon became irked by his image and attempted to trash it by appearing half-naked on the front cover of ‘Rolling Stone’ and ripping ‘The Partridge Family’ to pieces in the accompanying interview.

His US career stalled thereafter, so he concentrated his efforts on the far more receptive UK. However, his career here climaxed in tragic fashion when a 14-year-old fan was crushed to death during a concert at the old White City Stadium in 1974. Cassidy withdrew from the stage as a result and his recording career gradually declined as he returned to full-time acting.

What do you do when you’ve been David Cassidy, though? You can’t just vanish back into the chorus-line. After a brief brush with the charts again in 1985, he spent the rest of his life appearing on the nostalgia circuit and struggling with his own demons; a long-running battle with alcohol and then the onset of dementia was followed by liver and kidney failure at the age of 67. Rodney Bewes was a decade older than Cassidy, but he too remained linked to his youthful self in the public eye. His falling-out with James Bolam not long after they ceased to be Likely Lads was never resolved, but even the knowledge of their sad spat doesn’t sour the pleasure of watching the two of them together on DVD in a series that grows richer in its poignancy as the decades drift by. And there’s a kind of immortality in that, at least.

© The Editor

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mr-Yesterday-Johnny-Monroe/dp/154995718X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1510941083&sr=1-1

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THE WORLD WON’T LISTEN

Forty years ago, the most damaging verbal assault one could make upon the establishment was to say ‘God save the Queen/she ain’t no human being’; today, simply express reservations over Islam as a ‘religion of peace’ and give the thumbs-up to Brexit. To do so will earn you the same vitriolic condemnation from the establishment and expose you to an identical level of censorship. The main difference now is that the establishment is young and the dissenting voices are old. This upside-down reversal of battle lines has been a long, protracted process, building up over a generation spoon-fed a saccharine soundtrack by the Cowell industry and further sedated by social media. A consensus unquestioned and unchallenged, whether through fear of online ostracism or being lumped in with genuine extremist groups, has stifled debate amongst the young and left those with nothing to lose or prove as the only ones prepared to go against the grain. That these tend to be veterans whose key cultural contributions were made decades ago speaks volumes as to where we are now.

A couple of years back, Chrissie Hynde – feted as an embodiment of ‘Rock Chick Cool’ by a generation judging everything on a pose – spurned her unwanted canonisation by those young enough to be her daughters. She provoked Feminazi outrage with the publication of her autobiography by simply suggesting a little common sense be applied where young women on the town are concerned; and now her near-contemporary Morrissey has fired another contentious missive from his self-imposed exile across the pond, the latest in a long line of them that have served to keep his profile high as his music continues to languish in the same cul-de-sac it’s occupied since the early 90s.

Stephen has always revelled in his contrariness, memorably proclaiming ‘The Wild Boys’ by Duran Duran Single of the Week in ‘Smash Hits’ back in 1984 when he would have been expected to favour some jangly Indie ditty; and whilst he was critical of Thatcherism during its heyday, his loathing never seemed to be a convenient hitch on a fashionable bandwagon in the way it was for many members of his generation, most of whom were later happy to cheerlead for New Labour as they collected their MBEs and Knighthoods. Ben Elton never said he enjoyed the sight of Norman Tebbit being pulled from the wreckage of the Brighton Bombing, for example.

When he was lumbered with the ‘National Treasure’ albatross a decade or so ago, lionised by the likes of JK Rowling, one had the constant suspicion that such plaudits were sitting uncomfortably on his shoulders; his one-time musical soul-mate Johnny Marr publicly expressed he didn’t want David Cameron declaring ‘The Queen is Dead’ to be his favourite album, whereas Morrissey went even further in the eyes of those suddenly singing his praises by taking a big juicy chunk out of the hand that was feeding him. Should anyone have really been surprised, though? This is a man who had called Reggae ‘vile’ and ‘racist’ in the 80s and who was castigated for flaunting the Union Jack at a gig in 1992 by the same music scribes who eulogised Oasis (and Noel Gallagher’s Union Jack guitar) a couple of years later.

Unlike Paul Weller, Morrissey never embraced a particular political party, let alone a specific left or right ideology. He appeared to be above all that and, like Orwell before him, refrained from nailing his colours to the mast. Whichever stance was flavour of the month, he seemed to instinctively adopt the opposite position, and I feel his much-publicised sound-bite support for UKIP was born of the same mischievous motivation rather than a wholesale conversion to Nigel’s Barmy Army. It was just another antagonistic jacket for him to don as a means of getting up the noses of those who were patting him on the head for still being alive.

Yes, it’s true that certain wordsmiths sharing a lineage with Morrissey, such as Philip Larkin or Iris Murdoch, lurched further to the right as they aged; and one could look upon Morrissey’s opinions as belonging to the same process. On the other hand, one could view his refusal to kowtow to the consensus as another example of how his lifelong bloody-mindedness is still intact, even in the face of overwhelming pressure to conform. The furore unleashed by Morrissey’s most recent statements has provoked the kind of demands for his head on a plate that used to accompany similarly provocative comments by those half his age – in short, the kind of reaction rock stars traditionally inspired in the old. What makes today so strange is that it is the old now outraging the young instead of the other way round.

One could equally argue that without his occasional rent-a-gob quotes, Morrissey would still largely be confined to a relatively brief moment in the 80s when he represented an alternative zeitgeist to the prevailing big hair and even bigger shoulder pads that lazy revisionists evoke to sum up the whole era for those who weren’t there. At the same time, however, he no longer has to worry about the kind of career suicide such quotes would threaten twenty-something musicians with; he knows his hardcore devotees will continue to buy his output as they always have, regardless of whether or not their hero is fashionable again. If the mainstream decides it wants him, fair enough; if it doesn’t, he couldn’t care less.

With 35 years of recording behind him, Morrissey has the luxury of being able to afford nonchalance, but those thirty or forty years his junior don’t; they have to conform or they risk losing everything. At a moment when Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are cracking down on any alternatives to the accepted design for life, dissenting voices are being silenced by a ruling class that don’t want democratic debate; they want us all to think and speak the same language. It doesn’t matter what one’s actual political ideology is; we should all be allowed to express it, even if it isn’t one that everybody wants to hear. Otherwise, we’re back to burning books. And it says everything you need to know about 2017 that the only person getting the arbiters of taste frothing at the mouth is someone who arguably hasn’t been relevant for three bloody decades.

© The Editor

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mr-Yesterday-Johnny-Monroe/dp/154995718X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1510941083&sr=1-1

COOL FOR TWATS

Regardless of the silly cult that has enveloped an undistinguished petty criminal called Charles Manson over the last half-century, death probably won’t extinguish the fascination he continues to exude, alas. Manson, whose death at the age of 83 has been announced, finally passed away having spent the last 46 years behind bars. In 1971, he was convicted of instigating the notorious 1969 Sharon Tate murders, with him and his disciples conveniently evading the electric chair by virtue of California outlawing the death penalty during his lengthy trial. However, the Manson legend has continued to cast a spell upon successive generations of pop cultural scholars on account of timing; he committed his crimes at a point in the 60s when the Age of Aquarius Utopia was poised to turn sour, and his activities have been retrospectively tied-in with other Dystopian disasters of the decade’s death throes such as Altamont and the premature departures of Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison.

It doesn’t help that Manson had been on the fringes of LA’s music scene prior to his immersion in messianic murder; having failed the audition for The Monkees, Manson had one of his songs recorded by The Beach Boys and proceeded to move himself and his growing hangers-on into the home of Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson. Wilson’s eventual exasperation with his unwelcome house-guests led to an eviction that provoked threats of a virtual fatwa on Manson’s part. Another target was Terry Melcher, son of Doris Day and top record producer, whose rejection of Manson as a potential recording artist was the reason why Melcher’s mansion on Cielo Drive was chosen by Manson as the site of a ritualistic blood-fest before he even knew it had been leased to Roman Polanski.

Disillusionment with the material riches of the American Dream drew a fair few lost souls to California in the mid-60s; some had talents that enabled them to carve out musical careers, whereas others bummed around looking for something that eluded them as they sought solace in bad drugs. George Harrison’s impressions of a visit to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury in 1967 were of a glorified Bowery, and an undoubtedly charismatic loser like Manson, one who was a generation ahead of such adolescent wastrels, could find willing recruits to his plans for a twisted race war inspired by his interpretation of ambiguous Beatles lyrics. Convinced the Fab Four were harbingers of the Apocalypse, Manson turned-on, tuned-in and dropped out with the White Album as his Koran. A cut-price Maharishi for those lacking the funds to decamp to India, Manson easily indoctrinated the growing followers he christened his ‘Family’, persuading them to do the dirty work on behalf of their guru.

Initially, there was a disturbing sense of humour to Manson’s operations, such as breaking into the homes of the rich and famous to simply rearrange the furniture; the home-owner would come downstairs on a morning, instantly realising he or she had received an unwelcome visitor during the night, yet nothing was missing. If only he’d stuck to a career as an unconventional interior designer, perhaps we’d remember Charles Manson as a prototype Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen rather than a counter-cultural Aleister Crowley. Unfortunately, the devotion Manson inspired meant his followers would indulge in him in any insane scheme he devised, and it was one such scheme that led to the brutal butchery inflicted upon the tenants of Terry Melcher’s house in August 1969.

As with similarly barbaric acts carried out by Jack the Ripper, Pol Pot and ISIS, there have been occasions in which I’ve accidentally stumbled upon photographic evidence of Manson’s Family’s evening out with Sharon Tate. The heavily pregnant actress and wife of Polanski was one of five slaughtered that night, and I defy anyone to uphold the opinion of Manson as ‘cool’ once exposed to images of what was done in his name. The Manson Family’s murderous spree not only put the fear of God into the Laurel Canyon Rock aristocrats – who had momentarily indulged Manson’s musical ambitions – but it also cast a malignant shadow across US pop culture at the turn of the 70s, bound up with Vietnam and Watergate as examples of the nation’s decline and fall. Four years after the conviction of the guilty, a Family member who had evaded imprisonment called Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Fromme attempted to assassinate President Ford.

During Manson’s show trial, enlivened by his female followers shaving their heads and hanging around court hoping to be picked out by TV and press cameras (which they naturally were), his demo recordings were packaged as an LP to cover his legal costs; his peripheral presence on a scene that continues to keep the likes of ‘Rolling Stone’, ‘Mojo’ and ‘Uncut’ in business has maintained his unhealthy legend throughout the decades of his imprisonment. Even an otherwise mediocre band such as Kasabian have played their part in the industry by taking their name from a Manson Family member.

Ironically, in a day and age when celebrities can be instantly cast out as pariahs for looking at images on their PC or being accused of touching a knee years before, Manson’s far more damaging actions are routinely excused. Those who perpetuate the Manson myth hypocritically overlook the barbaric consequences of his imagination in a way they wouldn’t with, say, Peter Sutcliffe or Ian Brady; but the Yorkshire Ripper and Moors Murderer prowled the grim landscape of Northern England; they never resided in exotic LA or auditioned for The Monkees or rented a house from a Beach Boy or released an album. None of these factors should make a difference, but for some reason they do. To be fair, though, vicarious apologists were present from the beginning where Manson is concerned, particularly in the underground hippie press of the period, which couldn’t quite decide if Manson was hero or villain for ‘sticking it to the pigs’.

In theory, his death from boringly uninspired natural causes should finally draw a line under the issue; but if the pop culture that Charles Manson hovered over has taught us anything in the last fifty years, it is that death is merely another stage in a long line of career moves.

© The Editor

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mr-Yesterday-Johnny-Monroe/dp/154995718X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1510941083&sr=1-1

THE SPECIAL ONES

Whatever the reasons behind the recent revelations concerning the contents of Damian Green’s office computer a decade ago – and the scramble for the moral high-ground between accuser and accused is an unedifying spectacle that speaks volumes about both – the fact the current First Secretary of State had such material on his hard-drive in the first place might appear somewhat careless. That the apparently ‘extreme’ nature of the pornography discovered was present a mere matter of weeks before it was outlawed only adds to the stupidity of Green in not deleting it. However, perhaps it was not so much stupidity as arrogance, the kind of ‘breed apart’ arrogance characteristic of either the old school tie or amongst those breathing the rarefied air of elevated social status.

I suspect Green wasn’t unduly concerned with having extreme pornography on his PC at work simply because he regarded himself as untouchable; he could afford to be lax when it came to such things because, unlike anyone in an ‘ordinary’ workplace – where the discovery of hardcore porn on an office computer would result in instant dismissal – he was in possession of the arrogance and sense of entitlement that comes with high office as well as being a by-product of certain seats of learning and the professions these seats subsequently lead to. Why should he have to worry about being caught out? His privileged position exempted him from the likelihood.

Politicians are particularly guilty of exhibiting this arrogance, and we notice it more with them because they’re always on our bloody TV screens flaunting it. Of course, there are the prep-school/public-school/Oxbridge conveyor-belt Honourable Members, whose conviction they were born to rule is bred into them from the off; yet there are also those who maybe didn’t have their inherited advantages but have acquired the same arrogance through mixing in the same circles. The instinctive craving to need someone to look down on is satisfied with promotion to Westminster if an MP emanates from humble origins, and a socialist can progress from cider to champagne with remarkable ease.

The Abbott’s and Thornberry’s of this world as just as arrogant in their own way as Dave and Gideon; that both are profoundly thick is evident whenever they open their mouths, yet what makes them so hilarious is that they’re not aware of how stupid they are. They speak with the confidence of the intelligent and appear to genuinely believe they’re a cut above the plebs; the Tweet that earned Lady Nugee her expulsion from Ed Miliband’s Shadow Cabinet in 2015 was as clear an indication of just how ‘clever’ she thinks she is next to the majority of the electorate. But to single out politicians as especially unique in this field would be to unfairly exclude many other professions that encourage the same Us and The Rest mindset.

Emily Thornberry could easily be the head of a social care department; she has the same ‘bossy fat woman’ demeanour that would complement a Birt-speak job title, enabling her to look down her nose at the distraught parents confronting her across the table like Oliver Twist asking for more. She could equally be running your local Job Centre (taking great delight in informing claimants their benefits have been suspended); she could be a school headmistress and could be a barrister.

Indeed, I have it on good authority from a member of the latter profession (one who mercifully lacks its least appealing traits) that the arrogance so in abundance when it comes to the legal game is practically a qualification for entering it. Law students are amongst the most pompous, smug, conceited, up-their-own-arses set of elite peacocks one could ever have the misfortune of being locked in a lift with, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by their detachment from the real world once they make it to the Bar, one that is blatantly obvious with some via their self-indulgent Tweets.

A friend recently selected (yet utterly unsuited) for jury service was able to eventually be excluded on medical grounds, yet it was hard work getting there; at one point, she contacted a solicitor for advice on how to go about it. The solicitor’s response, which was obviously intended as consolation, inadvertently exposed the arrogance of which I’ve been speaking. The solicitor (a lady) explained she herself also once had to do jury service, despite her exalted status. ‘Even I’, she declared. The phrase ‘Even I’ is imbued with everything employed by those who regard themselves as superior when conversing with their perceived inferiors. Yes, even I – someone who would never have a kitchen containing a washing-machine – had to do jury service! Can you imagine what a sacrifice that was for someone of my standing?! ‘Even I’ has now become an in-joke between my friend and me when in need of a simple description for a certain type of professional individual. ‘She was most definitely an Even I.’ Say no more.

It goes without saying that social snobbery stretches beyond the workplace; it’s there in those who feel the need to employ a cleaner when they can’t really afford one, but gain Brownie points from their peers for doing so; it’s there in those who measure their worth as human beings by how many recommended status symbols they can boast; and it’s there in those MPs who never imagined their own clumsy flirting rituals could drop them in the same hot water as the plebs hung out to dry by changes to the law governing sexual conduct that Westminster endorsed in the belief it wouldn’t be affected by them. Ironically, when it comes to some things, we are all in it together.

© The Editor

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mr-Yesterday-Johnny-Monroe/dp/154995718X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1510941083&sr=1-1

THE FAT OF THE LAND

The great recruitment programme for the Boer War at the end of the nineteenth century was the first eye-opener for the British Army as to how the nation’s diet had substantially altered in an extremely short space of time. From possessing a population in the mid-Victorian era that recent research has shown was healthier than we’ve ever been since, the health of England’s cannon-fodder had been ruined by food imports from the colonies; salt-heavy tinned meat, syrup-heavy canned fruit and sugar-laden condensed milk had served to wreck the iron constitution of John Bull. A different kind of diet, though no less damaging, was exposed this week following emergency surgery on a defector from North Korea, revealing a body riddled with grisly parasites.

Apologies if you’re eating as you read this, but the defector – also a military man – was operated on in Seoul to repair injuries sustained during his escape from South Korea’s neighbour. One parasitical worm removed from the injured man was 27cm long, extracted from his digestive tract by a surgeon claiming to have only ever come across such internal infections in medical textbooks before. One would assume a major qualification for joining any army is to have an above average level of physical fitness, so if this soldier is in such bad condition, what does that imply about the rest of the North Korean people?

Nutrition and hygiene in North Korea have long been suspected as being pretty appalling, though the closed shop the country remains has prevented any sustained study of the nation’s diet. Most of the conclusions made by outsiders are dependent upon examinations of recent defectors, and the kind of parasites discovered during the operation on the latest escapee were apparently commonplace in South Korea half-a-century ago until economic improvements all-but wiped them out. Again, apologies are in order if you’re perusing this post with your egg & chips, but some believe the use of ‘night soil’ (i.e. human excrement) as fertiliser in North Korea could have a lot to answer for. The drying-up of state-supplied chemical fertiliser from the 90s onwards has resulted in this desperate scenario, encouraged by the far-from malnourished Kim Jong-un, a man who probably doesn’t have to eat his own shit.

Corn was also prevalent in the soldier’s stomach; more and more North Koreans are dependent on cheap imported corn from China (49,000 tonnes this year so far) following a series of droughts in the country. The scraps of info available, such as that supplied by the World Food Programme, paint a bleak picture of a populace decimated by drought, famine and a totalitarian regime viewing it as utterly dispensable. According to the WFP, North Koreans are on average 5 inches smaller and 15 pounds lighter than their South Korean counterparts due to decades of poor diet with a distinct absence of protein and fats; a quarter of pre-school children are estimated to suffer from chronic malnutrition. The contents of the escaped soldier’s stomach appear to serve as evidence of what a lifetime of a limited diet imposed by Government can do.

Of course, the West’s health worries are of a different nature; unlike North Koreans, we have an abundance of choice, albeit both good and bad. The plague of obesity may contrast sharply with the widespread malnutrition in Kim Jong-un’s backyard, though even the relatively recent upsurge in home-grown fatties is nevertheless something we’ve been sliding towards over the last affluent hundred years. It can be traced all the way back to the point in the nineteenth century when processed sugar and salt-based foodstuffs superseded the previous dependency on fresh veg, fruit, fish, eggs and nuts. The impact of just one generation hooked on such a diet was as evident to doctors examining volunteers for the Boer War as any exploitative Channel 5 documentary about ‘Britain’s Fattest Bastard’ would today show how dangerously pivotal the innovations of the late Victorian dinner-table have become to the twenty-first century appetite. Ironically, Kim Jong-un has the kind of physique more characteristic of the West than the Far East, though he (like us) has the choice to overindulge if he so wishes.

However, whilst the imposition of physical ill-health via the portly gangster running North Korea may be unique to dictatorships, the mental malnutrition that goes hand-in-hand with it isn’t. A nation such as ours might be able to boast a higher standard of living for its people than North Korea, though the austerity measures of the past seven years, which have hit the poorest hardest, have long been linked to the increasing tendency of more people than ever to prop themselves up with antidepressants. A new report even attributes Tory policies since 2010 to 120,000 deaths. From a steady decline in mortality rates between 2001 and 2010, the authors of the study claim this trend has subsequently been reversed from the Coalition onwards, with more than 45,000 deaths during the first four years of Dave’s stint at No.10 than anticipated as funding for health and social care fell in real terms.

It’s hardly rocket science that if healthcare provision is underfunded, those most reliant on it are at greater risk of their lifespan being reduced. The social care budget between 2010 and 2014 dropped from 2.20% to 1.57%, and the spending constraints then coincided with a sudden rise in the death rates. One of the paper’s authors referred to austerity policies as ‘a public health disaster. It is not an exaggeration to call it economic murder’. Critics have called the conclusions drawn in the study as ‘speculative’, though I often marvel at the fact that the entire population hasn’t formed an orderly queue at Beachy Head, considering the increasing paucity of reasons to keep buggering on. Then again, at least we’re not living off ‘night soil’. Yet.

© The Editor

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mr-Yesterday-Johnny-Monroe/dp/154995718X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1510941083&sr=1-1

HELL PRESIDENTE

Whatever spin the Zimbabwean Army puts on the situation for the benefit of the world’s media, it’s hard to come to any other conclusion that Robert Mugabe being placed under house arrest by the military is a sure-fire sign that the longest-running elected dictatorship in Africa is effectively over. Unlike Fidel Castro, the President of Zimbabwe wasn’t prepared to retire once he reached an advanced age, despite being 93; it seemed the only way he was ever going to leave the Presidential palace was in a box. Now it appears his army has beaten the Grim Reaper to it. Officially, actions that look like a coup in all-but name are being described as a move to protect the President from a coterie of ‘criminals’ surrounding him; these allegedly include Mrs Mugabe, who was suspected of manoeuvring her way to becoming her husband’s successor, especially after his long-term ally, Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa was recently sacked.

Like Mugabe, Mnangagwa is a veteran of Zimbabwe’s brutal and bloody war of independence that essentially spanned the last fifteen years of the county’s previous incarnation as Rhodesia. Therefore, the military hold him in high esteem, for the generation that led the armed struggle against white minority rule – despite the fact the struggle ended almost 40 years ago – is still revered, and its veterans viewed as the founding fathers of the nation. In part, this is why Mugabe has been allowed to maintain his grip on power for so long and why Mnangagwa is regarded as the ideal successor, despite his role in the slaughter of thousands of opponents in the early 80s during his tenure as Security Minister. They can be forgiven for almost anything, with the exception of grooming an ambitious First Lady too young to have participated in the war to take over.

The lowering of the Union Jack in Zimbabwe in 1980 belatedly brought the curtain down on European colonialism in Africa, though it would have happened far sooner if Rhodesian PM Ian Smith hadn’t declared UDI in 1965. Harold Wilson had been pressing for Smith to end white minority rule at a time when an economically perilous Britain was seeking to cut costs by severing the remaining ties with Empire, pulling out of Aden and only hanging onto Hong Kong until the 99-year lease was up. Smith saw neighbouring South Africa as the preferable role model for Rhodesia and his blinkered intransigence engineered a climate that ultimately claimed thousands of lives, often in unimaginably savage and barbaric ways. However, the tendency of native rebel groups in Africa to turn to a Marxist blueprint as an alternative to imperialism inspired panic when the Cold War was still in full swing, so even international sanctions against Rhodesia weren’t as severe as they could have been when Soviet influence in former colonies remained a potent source of concern for European powers.

Ian Smith shocked both supporters at home and opponents abroad when he proposed the implementation of transition to black majority rule in 1976, but perhaps he could finally sense the guerrilla war he had instigated was a lost cause after a decade of fighting it. What followed was a laborious process of diplomacy between London and Salisbury that climaxed with the Lancaster House talks in 1979, paving the way for Zimbabwean independence a year later. The wonderfully-named Canaan Banana was Zimbabwe’s first President, though his role was largely ceremonial; the real power rested with prominent guerrilla figurehead Robert Mugabe, now leader of the ZANU party, who was elected Prime Minister of the new independent nation. In the post-colonial climate, Mugabe was feted by the west and seen as symbolic of a new start for the continent; Stevie Wonder even applauded the birth of Zimbabwe in the lyrics of 1980’s ‘Master Blaster’, though there were a lot of scores to settle.

The African tribal issue, which has been compared to England’s class system or the old clan loyalties in pre-Culloden Scotland, didn’t disappear with independence; within two years of white minority rule ending, Mugabe suppressed ‘dissidents’ in the province of Matabeleland by sending in elite troops trained in North Korea; thousands of civilians were massacred in Mugabe’s name – estimates of deaths range from 3,750 to 80,000. The majority of those executed supported opposition party ZAPU, led by Joshua Nkomo. With his grip on power solidified, Mugabe’s second election victory in 1985 was followed two years later by a pattern familiar to many countries that have been ‘liberated’ from colonial rule: Mugabe altered the constitution and made himself President – effectively for life. Zimbabwe was now a one-party state.

Mugabe’s initial public call for racial reconciliation wasn’t helped by the understandable ‘white flight’ from Zimbabwe to Apartheid South Africa, though those that remained tentatively supported Mugabe until he decided to play the colonial card and demanded ‘decolonialisation’, a process that resulted in the disastrous seizure of white-owned farms at the turn of the millennium. The economy consequently went into freefall as generations of experienced farmers were displaced by Mugabe cronies who hadn’t a clue how to manage the rural economy. The consequences of this were disastrous for a country already being run down, stricken with the HIV epidemic and a pitifully low life-expectancy; hyperinflation followed, with the currency rendered virtually worthless. In the space of just fifteen years, Mugabe had enabled one of the most potentially powerful African nations to become a basket case.

Although opposition grew, Mugabe clung onto power through corruption and electoral fraud, constantly playing upon his war veteran credentials and deflecting international criticism by invoking the ‘sour grapes’ spirit of the country’s former colonial overlords. However, by 2008, international admiration for the great revolutionary had diminished and he was forced to share power with opponent Morgan Tsvangirai, despite the violence he had overseen against his opposite number’s supporters. This uneasy arrangement ended with the 2013 elections as Mugabe proved himself yet again to be a canny electioneer, retaining his office with a landslide.

Since then, however, his judgement and standing at home has come into question; the presence of his wife, regarded by many as the incumbent power behind the throne, has destabilised his support amongst the military, and this week’s actions appear to have finally called time on a reign that seemed destined to end in death. Whatever happens next, the legacy of Mugabe’s rule will take decades to repair, though the enforced installation of another ageing war veteran as President is perhaps not the best way to begin.

© The Editor

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mr-Yesterday-Johnny-Monroe/dp/154995718X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1510840776&sr=1-1

IT’S PUTIN WOT WON IT!

Well, Tsar Vladimir must be crapping himself; receiving a public ticking-off from a woman whose own Cabinet pays no heed to her authority must be like being asked outside by Walter the Softy. The PM last night used her speech at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet to issue a warning to Russia over its alleged cyber interference in recent European affairs, as well as the US Presidential Election of 2016. Trump remains unconvinced Russian online infiltration had any part to play in his unexpected victory last year, though to be honest he’s hardly likely to say otherwise. Granted, no concrete evidence of cyber skullduggery on the part of Moscow has yet to emerge, but the rumours persist.

If the desperate straw-clutching of our Democrat cousins across the pond a year on from Hillary’s disastrous attempt to return to the White House isn’t demoralising enough (for further details, see her whinging blame-game of a book), the need to attribute one’s own failure to another party has continued apace as all responsibility is absolved yet again. In case you didn’t already know, the reason a majority of Brits voted to leave the EU was due to the Russians. It’s official. No proof is available, naturally, but it had to be down to a malevolent alien force influencing the thought processes of those too stupid to make their own minds up, of course. It couldn’t be that many in this country were sick and tired of being dictated to by wealthy elites of tax-evading wankers and told that the grandiose gravy train of unelected Brussels bureaucrats was something their lives would be immeasurably poorer without.

I don’t believe Bob Geldof or Eddie Izzard truly understand the daily struggles of making do and mending at the bottom of the social ladder any more than Iain Duncan Smith does. The latter has never had it hard, so his perspective is formed by a lifetime of material comfort; on the other hand, the former may have both begun in humble surroundings, but were beneficiaries of eras when the edgy side of the entertainment industry offered a way out for terminal waifs and strays. For Izzard, it was the arse-end of ‘Alternative Comedy’; for Geldof, it was Rock ‘n’ Roll.

The Boomtown Rats reaching No.1 with ‘Rat Trap’ in November 1978 was a hugely significant pop cultural moment and shouldn’t be underestimated. No act from the Punk/New Wave scene had scaled the summit of the charts up to that point; yes, The Sex Pistols had unofficially done so the year before, but the music biz had conspired to prevent ‘God Save the Queen’ from hitting No.1 during Jubilee Week, so it was down to a bunch of Oirish Oiks to curtail the reign of John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John a year later. More significantly, the success of ‘Rat Trap’ opened the floodgates for Blondie, The Police, The Jam, Tubeway Army and others over the following couple of years, so it was no mean feat. Sadly, it’s an achievement Geldof himself has summarily trashed with his post-Live Aid activities.

Izzard at one time appeared to be a breath of fresh air, particularly during the ‘Loaded’ Lads era of the mid-90s, challenging stereotypes by openly flaunting his penchant for feminine cosmetics and making those of us who didn’t subscribe to the prevailing masculine trends feel as though we weren’t alone. Since then, however, Izzard has sabotaged his credentials by becoming a self-appointed spokesperson for every ‘phobia’ and ‘ism’ to pollute the dictionary and has engineered an atmosphere in which a teacher can be suspended from his job for the crime of (I kid you not) ‘misgendering’; yes, such a thing apparently exists amongst stupid people obsessed with identity politics trivia that most of us don’t have the luxury of being distracted by.

The late 70s and even the mid-90s are both a long time ago, though; whatever relevance either Geldof or Izzard once possessed is something that has no currency in 2017, certainly not for those who once bought the records of the former or applauded the outré appearance of the latter. Their willing submission to the Gina Miller manual plays upon the cultural importance both could lay claim to in their youth, but one that means bugger all as they career towards their pensions. Narcissistic egos, confronted by the uncomfortable reality of achievements with a vintage of 25-40 years, require fresh injections of the zeitgeist and they have hitched a ride on the Brexit bandwagon as a means of keeping their respective hands in. The mistake both have made is to attach themselves to a vehicle whose passengers are the kind of figures whose detachment from the day-to-day lives of the uneducated multitudes is as potent as hereditary peers of old, and one that inspires similar loathing.

Geldof and Izzard are contemporary cheerleaders for a trait characteristic of the left for decades – the paternalistic ‘we know better than you’ approach to the plebs, one that complements the contempt of the right for the lower orders, and one that treats them with equal condescension. It assumes the position that those who rose from the bottom of the heap in a distant era of easy social mobility are somehow qualified to preach to those that haven’t a cat in hell’s chance of following suit – and are more qualified than those who were born with a silver spoon in their mouths as opposed to those that waited until they could afford said utensil. The distance of the rise, however, renders the opinions of Geldof and Izzard out of touch and out of reach. Both have long moved in exclusive circles, and their grasp of reality is rooted in the reality of their pasts, a reality that is irrelevant to the here and now.

Geldof making a particular hand gesture on a flotilla hired at great expense to cruise down the Thames in the run-up to the Referendum is as detached from the concerns of the average voter as Izzard calling upon half-a-dozen Met Officers to wrestle a pleb to the pavement for nicking his silly beret. Neither has any real notion as to why those they view with such patronising cluelessness voted in a way that jeopardises their tax-evading lifestyles, and the more they sponsor Icke-esque conspiracy theories over Russian involvement in a democratic process, the more they remove themselves from those they purport to support.

© The Editor

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mr-Yesterday-Johnny-Monroe/dp/154995718X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1510587486&sr=1-1

A WOMAN SPURNED

When John Lennon returned his MBE to Her Majesty in 1969, he penned an accompanying, and characteristically flippant, note that defused the potential melodrama of the grand gesture. ‘I am returning this MBE in protest against Britain’s involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing,’ he wrote, ‘against our support of America in Vietnam; and against Cold Turkey slipping down the charts’. Brenda’s reaction was not recorded, though Lennon himself later admitted being a Member of the British Empire was something of an embarrassment re his counter-cultural credentials, even if sending the medal back provoked the ire of his Aunt Mimi, who had proudly displayed it on her mantelpiece for the previous four years.

The award was conferred in 1965, officially as recognition of The Beatles as a Great British Export, though prompted by a canny PM (Harold Wilson) with one eye on a forthcoming General Election he hoped would increase his slender majority. Released from the shackles of the ‘mop-top’ straitjacket in 1969, Lennon’s peace campaigning with Yoko Ono and consequent resurgence of the lifelong anti-establishment sentiments that the Fab Four machine had suppressed earned him the enmity of the ruling class. Mocked and reviled in a manner that may come as a surprise to those who only know the posthumous Lennon as a latter-day Saint (successfully promoted by Yoko herself), Lennon’s gesture was the final act of impertinence from the perspective of the set who had enjoyed patting John, Paul, George and Ringo on the head during the Beatlemania era.

What few mentioned at the time of the mortification that greeted Lennon’s rebuttal of the State’s ultimate Kinder Surprise bestowed upon a ‘commoner’ was that the initial award of the MBE to The Beatles in 1965 had been received with equal outrage from the same people. Numerous war veterans and distinguished gentlemen who had spent most of their adult lives expecting such an award would come their way themselves returned their precious MBEs in protest at long-haired young men devaluing the honour. Four years later, the politicised youth culture that had superseded Swinging London demanded Lennon nail his colours to the mast; Lennon momentarily appeased them, though the Radical Left continued to be critical of him unless they received an invite to his Ascot mansion. He eventually realised it was impossible to please all of the people all of the time and stopped trying.

Forty-eight years on, another grand gesture has been made by another former pop star, albeit one whose days as such are but a distant memory only upheld by the minority tuning in to BBC4’s ‘Top of the Pops’ reruns. Bob Geldof has announced he will be returning his Freedom of the City of Dublin award in protest over the perceived failure of Aung San Suu Kyi to condemn and prevent what has been labelled ethnic cleansing in her native Burma (or Myanmar, if you prefer). The de facto Burmese PM had the same Irish honour conferred upon her, along with similar pats on the head bestowed by the likes of London, Oxford, Sheffield and Glasgow – three of which she has subsequently been stripped of. A portrait of her has been removed from the Oxford University College she read politics at and there are now calls for the Nobel Peace Prize she was awarded in 1997 to be revoked.

During the long years of her house arrest by the Burmese military (1989 to 2010, on and off), Aung San Suu Kyi was adopted as the poster-girl for political imprisonment and became a beacon around which western virtual signallers rallied in the same way a previous generation had rallied round Nelson Mandela. But the problem with such beacons is that the symbolic halo they acquire blocks out the uncomfortable truth of a warts-and-all human being; she was always a human being, even though the interchangeable nature of such cult figures (from Guevara onwards) means when their feet are exposed as having clay-like qualities, those who turned them into a symbol are as distraught as pubescent girls when they discover their pop idol has got married.

Upon her release, when Aung San Suu Kyi was being feted in the west and the usual suspects were falling over themselves to sing her praises and shower her in awards, the one person from these islands she really wanted to meet was Dave Lee Travis, whose radio shows being broadcast on the World Service had made a difference to her during her house arrest. Yes, DLT – not David Cameron or Theresa May, not even Bob Geldof or bloody Bono or any of the other glorified chuggers emotionally blackmailing the have-nots to donate to endless causes whilst they themselves squirrel their considerable assets away in overseas tax-havens. And now their darling has disappointed them by behaving like the actual politician she is (and in a country where the same military that imprisoned her still carries clout), they’ve suddenly decided she’s up there with Mugabe.

The Mayor of Dublin has responded to Geldof’s stunt by pointing out Sir Bob hasn’t mentioned dispensing with his honorary knighthood from Britain, a nation whose reputation in Ireland as an imperial power of old doesn’t really complement Geldof’s principles. Geldof’s reason for giving back his honour is Aung San Suu Kyi’s indifference to the plight of the persecuted Rohingya people of Myanmar and her failure to act on the refugee crisis as thousands of Rohingya people flee predominantly Buddhist Burma for neighbouring Muslim Bangladesh, even if this isn’t the first time it has happened.

For an incredibly complex situation with an extremely long and winding history in the region, the likes of Geldof and others simplifying and reducing it to basic black & white terms of heroes and villains is both condescending to those involved and betrays an ignorance of the far-from straightforward scenario playing out there. Yes, current events in Burma are not remotely pleasant; but Aung San Suu Kyi never asked to be the human rights sweetheart the west manufactured and her actions of late (or lack of them) demonstrate the dangers in projecting western values onto different cultures as much as Dubya imagining American notions of democracy could be imposed upon Iraq.

© The Editor

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mr-Yesterday-Johnny-Monroe/dp/154995718X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1510587486&sr=1-1

NICE ‘N’ SLEAZY

Whilst that odious Jabba Tom Watson weeps crocodile tears over the suicide of Carl Sargeant, seemingly oblivious to the blood on his own hands, the excuse for an administration perched on the opposing benches could have done without what passes for a ‘sex scandal’ in 2017, certainly on top of everything else. But whilst rolling news channels prefer the ridiculous spectacle of helicopters trailing a returning member of the Cabinet en route from Heathrow to No.10 as though she was OJ Simpson being chased by the LAPD, there’s nothing the tabloid end of Fleet Street loves more than what happens, as Peter Wyngarde once said, ‘when sex leers its inquisitive head’. Parallels with John Major’s similarly shambolic Cabinet have come thicker and faster in recent weeks, though it’s no great surprise. One has to go back 25 years to find the nearest comparison of a governing party so viciously divided over Europe and simultaneously saddled with wandering hands.

When the disaster of Black Wednesday hit and Britain was forced to leave the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, a move that cost the Treasury £3.3 billion as desperate attempts to defend sterling’s value proved futile, the same week saw the resignation of high-profile Major Minister David Mellor, following a proper sex scandal. The fact Major dithered over replacing Norman Lamont, his Chancellor during Black Wednesday also suggested the PM was weak and indecisive; even though the economy was slowly improving and unemployment was beginning to fall, confidence in the nation’s leader had plummeted. The inauguration of Back to Basics, unveiled at the 1993 Conservative Party Conference, was seen by many as an attempt by Major to salvage his dwindling reputation and appeal to the right-wing tabloids that had begun to waver in their support.

In retrospect, Back to Basics can be held responsible for the public perception of the Tories as the ‘nasty party’ as much as any of the divisive policies pursued by Mrs Thatcher in the 1980s. Hallmarks of Tory policy that have continued into this century via the likes of IDS were key to this horrible, desperate gamble by Major, singling out a small section of society as the cause of society’s ills, safe in the knowledge that this small section were powerless to fight back.

Along with single mothers, there were criticisms of soft sentencing on the part of the justice system, painting a picture of Britain’s inner cities as lawless hotbeds of unchecked criminality; illegal raves were also held up as a further example of the country’s lapse into immoral anarchy. The blame game is always a sure sign that an administration has run out of ideas, and whilst Major’s accusations chimed with editorials in some of Fleet Street’s more reactionary publications, the vast majority of the press and public found the whole Back to Basics project utterly ludicrous. And, as luck would have it, within a few months of Back to Basics being unveiled, a steady stream of scandals emanating from the Tory party undermined Major’s credibility and highlighted the hypocrisy at the heart of this most ill-advised of political projects.

In 1990, Tory MP Tim Yeo had made a speech in which he declared – ‘It is in everyone’s interest to reduce broken families and the numbers of single parents. I have seen from my own constituency the consequences of marital breakdown’. Just three months after the launch of Back to Basics, the man John Major had appointed Minister for the Environment and Countryside was forced to resign when the press revealed Yeo had fathered a ‘love child’ with a Tory councillor. The same month as Tim Yeo quit the Cabinet, John Major’s Government also lost its leading Peer when the Earl of Caithness resigned following the suicide of his wife, who had shot herself upon discovering her husband’s affair with another woman. The following month, Stephen Milligan – MP for Eastleigh, a former journalist and ‘rising star’ of the Tory Party – was found dead in his flat from apparent autoerotic asphyxiation, strangled by an electrical cord with an orange stuffed in his mouth; elements of cross-dressing and self-bondage made this bizarre, lurid tragedy a gift for the more sensationalist corners of Fleet Street. It also triggered a by-election that was won by the Liberal Democrats, dealing a further humiliating blow to John Major’s shaky administration.

But these weren’t the only scandals to affect the Conservatives in the middle of the 90s. There was also was the Cash-for-questions affair, involving ‘The Egyptian Grocer’ and Neil Hamilton – Minister for Deregulation and Corporate Affairs, no less – not to mention the dramatic downfall of Jonathan Aitken, Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Aitken’s libel proceedings against allegations by both the Guardian and ITV’s ‘World in Action’ dragged on for two years, but resulted in him being charged with perjury and perverting the course of justice and receiving a sentence of eighteen months behind bars. His cell wouldn’t be vacant for long, however.

Jeffrey Archer, one of the most public advocates of Back to Basics, was brought back into the Tory frontline by John Major, who elevated him to the peerage. Archer had evaded prosecution over the Anglia Television ‘shares affair’ in 1994, but when he was selected as Tory candidate for the London Mayoral Election five years later, Rupert Murdoch’s newfound love-in with Labour saw the News of the World dredge up Archer’s 1987 libel case against the Daily Star, when he had been found not guilty of paying a prostitute for her services, and was awarded £50,000 in damages. The new allegations that emerged in 1999 presented strong evidence that Archer had committed perjury during the 1987 libel trial by fabricating an alibi. The Tory Party immediately dropped him as their Mayoral candidate and expelled him from the party for five years. Archer was charged with perjury and perverting the course of justice in September 2000 and when the case came to trial in the summer of 2001, Archer was found guilty of the offence and sentenced to four years’ imprisonment, of which he served half.

Even though there was a gap of four years between Major’s Government being thrown out of office and Jeffrey Archer’s imprisonment, the fact that notable players in that administration were still being subjected to the long arm of the law underlined how the malodorous odour of corruption and sleaze continued to hover around the Tory Party like the scent of unwashed feet on a Twister mat. When former gaffe-prone Major Minister Edwina Currie later revealed she and Major were engaged in a four-year affair during the 1980s, it was the belated icing on an especially unappetising cake. As things currently stand, Theresa May has yet to bake an equivalent confection; but the stench emanating from the Downing Street kitchen is beginning to linger.

© The Editor

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mr-Yesterday-Johnny-Monroe/dp/154995718X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1510503885&sr=1-1

THE LOST WORLD

I was talking to a friend the other night about my brief stint as a Big Gig-goer in the late 80s. I saw Bowie twice, as well as Dylan, the Stones and Prince once each within a three-year period and I did it all whilst signing-on, suggesting the ticket prices (not to mention the obligatory coach travel costs) weren’t that extortionate. The stubs from said gigs are probably gathering dust in my mum’s loft, so I’m unable to announce here and now how much I was charged for the privilege of being squeezed into Roker Park, Maine Road, Wembley Arena and the NEC; but a cursory glance at vintage ticket stubs from the same era on eBay suggests that even when the change in the cost of living is taken into account, the gap between wages (or dole) and ticket prices wasn’t that great a gulf.

It goes without saying that those were the days when touring was a handy sideline rather than the prime source of earning for musicians; like being able to turn up at your local football club on match-day without having to take out a loan beforehand, it was possible to see your musical heroes in the flesh for an affordable amount. The simple reason was that record sales financed their tax-exiles back then; even though there wasn’t much difference between the price of seeing them live and the price of their new album, the album would sell to more people than could attend a tour, thus negating the need to hike up ticket prices to a point where they’d be beyond the reach of fans short on ready cash. Not so now, in this post-Napster world.

Other the Ronnie Biggs model (which is itself redundant now the drugs market brings in a far higher income than an old-school blag), Rock ‘n’ Roll and football were the tried and tested working-class escape routes, as well as passionate pursuits for those who couldn’t sing a tune or kick a ball. The audience projected its own aspirations onto the performer, who had come from the same place, and believed it was possible to do likewise. The view from the terraces on a Saturday afternoon was similarly imbued with possibilities, especially for those youngsters hemmed into ‘the boy’s pen’.

There was considerable media coverage when England’s U17 team won their equivalent of the World Cup a couple of weeks back, though few members of that starting eleven will make it off the bench at Premier League clubs crammed with overseas signings. And unless a boy or girl from nowhere is prepared to suffer the indignity and humiliation of being a Cowell marionette, the only kids who can afford guitars, basses and drums today are the posh ones – which would explain why none of them have anything to say. Classic working-class pastimes have effectively priced out the working-class. But, hey, we’ve got Smartphones, X-Factor and microwave meals – what more do we need, eh?

Even the theatre was once an escape; some of our most iconic actors of the 60s and 70s came from humble backgrounds, but getting into drama school without the fear of being saddled with a lifelong debt and then honing their skills on the regional rep circuit is a lost world in 2017. The slashing of local council budgets that previously funded after-school drama classes and theatre workshops runs parallel with Government emphasis on the arts as a ‘luxury’ in state education (not much point reciting Shakespeare soliloquies when you’re cold-calling, I suppose). By contrast, the arts remain a fixture on the public school syllabus, which would explain why the majority of today’s under-40 household name thespians are Old Etonians. Their parents could afford to finance such ‘luxury’.

Considering the last time the economic climate was probably this grim was in the recession-struck early 1980s, it’s worth remembering what that period produced in terms of art reflecting life; and memorable music aside, it’s been interesting to recently reunite with a one-off TV series of the era that has unexpectedly surfaced on DVD. And, no, it’s not ‘Boys from The Blackstuff’.

‘Johnny Jarvis’ aired just the once on BBC1 at the back-end of 1983, and at the time of its broadcast was a must-see at my high-school. Appearing at the tail-end of the gritty social realism characteristic of ‘Play for Today’, this six-parter accurately documented the scrap-heap we Easter Leavers were poised to be tossed onto. The title character was played by Mark Farmer – a familiar juvenile lead at the time via his stint on ‘Grange Hill’, and who sadly passed away last year. Jarvis is the focus of his best friend, the bookish outsider Alan Lipton; Jarvis is a borderline ‘David Watts’ character to Lipton, both envied and idolised. But whilst Jarvis is dutifully subservient to the system once he leaves school, his subservience amounts to nothing when the firm he’s apprenticed to goes under before he fully qualifies as a skilled tradesman.

Lipton opts out and finds his voice with a guitar, starting a band he continues to write for after he forgoes the spotlight, leaving fame to his ex-bandmates whilst he settles for fortune. The steady progress of Lipton’s musical endeavours as the series spans 1977-1983 is a vivid demonstration of how such a thing was then possible from the starting point of a council flat; Jarvis’s struggles to make a living in the traditional heavy industries that were dying on their arses under Thatcherism are equally prescient for the era, and watching the programme after a 34-year gap really brought home to me how much has changed.

It not only reminded me of how those coming from nothing were able to articulate their experiences and could make themselves heard doing so. It also made me realise how those experiences wouldn’t be dramatised by mainstream television today. There is no working-class representation now unless we’re talking stereotypical chavvy thugs in gangs or victims of sexual abuse; and those playing such parts probably learnt their lines in end-of-term productions on the stages of Harrow or Roedean, anyway. Sixty years ago, Arthur Seaton said ‘Don’t let the bastards grind you down’; well, they have ground us down and they’ve got us where they want us – complicit in our own lethargy. Never mind the bollocks – here’s the Bake Off.

© The Editor

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mr-Yesterday-Johnny-Monroe/dp/154995718X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1510334323&sr=1-1&dpID=41ppifNq5pL&preST=_SY344_BO1,204,203,200_QL70_&dpSrc=srch