I don’t subscribe to Netflix, but I do have a friend who can ‘access’ it (if you know what I mean), and she kindly stuck some of its more celebrated output onto a memory stick for me recently. I appreciate I’m receiving a miniscule sample, but what I’ve seen has pissed on most home-grown TV drama output I’ve encountered in the past five years. The first two seasons of ‘The Crown’ easily surpassed my low expectations, and ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ – the one about the orphaned girl who rises to become world chess champion in the 60s – is, I have to admit, utterly gripping viewing. Sometimes the hype is justified. In the make-believe landscape, this is permissible, especially at times like these. Quite frankly, if I wasn’t watching ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ in my online downtime, then it’d be back to all the vintage television and cinematic produce I routinely review on here. Perish the thought I’d be tuning into ‘Newsnight’ instead. Not that the dear old BBC is operating in a vacuum, mind.

If you believe the balanced impartiality of CNN, for example, America has gone from Pearl Harbour to JFK’s Camelot in barely two weeks. Yes, just in case you blinked and missed it, the West has pulled back from the kind of earth-shattering precipice to rank alongside 9/11 and the Wall Street Crash and has strolled into a glorious sunrise in which Critical Race Theory is reintroduced to the curriculum and male athletes can smash women’s sports by identifying as female. And, let us not forget, US tanks are rolling back into Syria now that the nasty ‘Literally Hitler’ era of non-interference in foreign affairs is mercifully over; Team America is restored to its rightful place as the World Police Force. Moreover, the sick bucket that has been empty ever since Obama exited the White House four years ago has been retrieved from the Oval Office broom cupboard, now swilling to the brim with a fresh intake of puke courtesy of both Kamala Harris’s cosy TV chinwag with her old man and the response to a cute little Girl of Colour reciting a poem preaching unity in a nation poised to heal the great divide by impeaching the Bad Orange Man in order to satisfy Nancy Pelosi’s deranged appetite.

It was interesting that the heavy military presence in Washington on Inauguration Day passed by without the MSM outrage that would’ve accompanied a similar show of strength had Trump been sworn-in again, but equally poignant was the fact that Antifa were burning flags and vandalising Democrat premises in Portland, Seattle and Denver whilst Sleepy Joe was taking the oath before his afternoon nap; the party is quietly disassociating itself from the Brownshirts it was eager to egg on last year. Having served their purpose, anarchist collectives are suddenly finding they’re surplus to requirements; more fool them for thinking the new administration would still need them now they’ve seized power. A flurry of Antifa-related accounts vanished from Twitter as soon as Biden took office, underlining their usefulness has now expired as well as highlighting how deeply engrained big tech is in this New Woke Order. The nauseating euphoria bleeding into social media is the sound of a million silly sods receiving an antidote to the self-inflicted mental illness they were struck by in 2016; Trump’s exit is their vaccine. But if they want to believe things can only get better, let them; after all, only a mean killjoy would tell a child Santa Claus doesn’t actually exist.

Anyway, Biden’s not my President anymore than George Washington was; not that you’d know it if your sole newsfeed was that of the mainstream variety. When was the last time the UK’s most-watched terrestrial TV channels devoted live airtime to the swearing-in of a French President or a German Chancellor – or even the man heading the Government of one of the USA’s neighbours like Canada or Mexico? Good luck with finding an answer to that question if it happens to be anything other than ‘never’. Sorry, I momentarily forgot about the Special Relationship. Immediate post-war Governments in the UK were torn between the choice of maintaining that and forging alliances with former enemies on the Continent; half-hearted unions with mainland Europe from 1973 onwards never really supplanted our ongoing love affair with America, so it’s no great surprise a majority of the electorate rejected the EU in 2016. Perhaps if a fast-food chain specialising in bratwurst or frog’s legs had seduced the Great British palette in the 80s, things might have turned out differently.

Not that it really matters; the showbiz circus of US politics is a mere distracting sideshow from domestic concerns, anyhow. Now that half of the country is living in the new workplace, the SNP’s aims of criminalising private opinions in the private space has acquired a greater relevance, for home is no longer where the heart is but has instead become both classroom and office for those whose escape from either is restricted to bedtime, an environment in which every move is being observed and monitored by outside forces. I have friends in relationships whereby one half is permanently engaged in Zoom conferences that the other half has inadvertently gatecrashed with a bollock-naked stroll-by as the mystique of work colleagues’ home life has been exposed to a nation of nosy parkers. One of the many memorably chilling sequences in the John Hurt version of ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ is the interactive TV set nailed to the living room wall whereby the proto-Joe Wicks fitness instructor transmitting the daily regime to the proles is able to see the viewer’s performance. As far as I can remember, she doesn’t go by the name of Alexa, but who knows?

Oh, well – let the plebs deliver to the door and the rest can continue to self-isolate in unison with the corporate world at the kitchen table. True, curtail the furlough scheme tomorrow and see how long the pro-lockdown class support the policy – yet throw £500 at infected lepers and watch the cases rise in line with the dubious stats as the rush to identify as a victim soars. Yeah, less than a month in, and 2021 is proving to be one hell of a new dawn. Bar the mandatory mask parade, the novelty of Lockdown Mk I is nowhere to be seen now as traffic flows along roads that were temporarily emptied last April and a weary populace sinks into shoulder-shrugging amnesia; no, on the surface, it doesn’t feel quite the same. But twelve months of Project Fear has undoubtedly imbued the sufficient level of compliance with undemocratic Government edicts, so the people being frozen in the kind of paranoid stasis that suits nobody but the professional fear-mongers and those who are having a ‘good lockdown’ appears to be a satisfactory compromise.

Yes, I’m rambling because no singular story has prompted a post, and like most, I’m invariably still reflecting on how the New Normal is impacting on me personally. I couldn’t attend my friend Barbara Hewson’s funeral in Ireland last weekend because of it all, but I did manage to dispatch a wreath over the phone, which was the best I could do. I went to the trouble of sourcing some appropriate lines by Yeats for the accompanying card and hoped they’d suffice. The service wasn’t streamed, but having the anticlimactic experience of ‘attending’ an online funeral described by a friend who’d been through it, I concluded those denied being there in person were perhaps better off setting private thoughts aside for the dearly departed on the day. The likes of ‘Songs of Praise’ is staged by expert TV technicians well-versed in overcoming the variable acoustics of old churches and bringing the best virtual recreation to the audience; expecting such venues to suddenly acquire these skills and please potential attendees forced to watch events on their PCs is a tall order indeed. Maybe PC monitors should be reserved for ‘bootleg’ copies of ‘The Queen’s Gambit’, even if a chessboard and its pieces are racist. They must be by now, surely?

© The Editor


I remember around a year ago I had the difficult task of announcing that one of our most passionate and consistent contributors, who went by the username of Windsock, had sadly left the building. Being one of the original team, Windsock was someone most long-term regulars had interacted with throughout the first three years of the Winegum Telegram, and the announcement was greeted with a heartfelt outpouring of genuine sorrow and affection for the man. From my own personal perspective, having to put that announcement into the right words and do Windsock justice was one of the hardest posts I’ve written; I felt like the copper in a scene so familiar to viewers of TV drama that it has inevitably become a cliché – having to inform someone that their loved one has passed away. Anyway, I think I just about managed it. In my position I have no real excuse not to pay tribute, no excuse but to try and articulate the sudden removal of a beloved character from the cast in a way that will hopefully register with readers; it feels like a duty that I have no right shirking from.

I appreciate the older one gets, the more frequent one begins to lose those who have impacted upon one’s life, yet the unfairness of it never lessens. Today I lost a friend some of you may have heard of, the barrister Barbara Hewson. Unlike Windsock, she wasn’t part of this community, but she was an important person in my life over the past decade – not central to it most of the time, but always there if I needed her; and I often did. In some respects, the way in which her passing will be marked by different tribes on social media is a telling signpost of our divisive, troubled times. This was something Barbara was an early victim of because she stood up to the vicious brickbats of the trolls and refused to compromise; one side recognised her as a brave, gutsy warrior of a woman and the other demonised her to the point whereby she was little more than a cartoon She-Devil. I guess Barbara was one of the first notable figures whose character was assassinated in such a manner, and her experience is one many have undergone since – even if few have been exposed to the sustained, relentless ferocity Barbara received online for several years.

I’m sure there will be other tributes paid to her that can cover her career and its achievements with far greater accuracy and detail than I could manage. And, to be honest, that’s not necessarily something I feel qualified to do or even really want to. It’s easier – and more fitting – for me to simply try and describe how she came into my life and the difference she made to it. Quite frankly, I’m in a bit of a state of shock just writing this; at the time of beginning it, I’m only an hour or so away from hearing of her passing, and I’m hammering at the keyboard because I feel a bit lost and don’t know what else to do.

Barbara Hewson was someone who appeared on my radar around seven or eight years back when I was producing one of my early YouTube series, a parody of the post-Savile Yewtree witch-hunt, titled ‘Exposure’. This, for those of you who never saw it, was a satirical take on the moral panic that replaced ageing Radio 1 DJs and TV personalities of the 1970s with popular small-screen puppets from the same era; to begin with, the humour was characteristically crude and bawdy, but as the series began to attract attention way beyond my usual YT viewers and subscribers, I was introduced to people personally affected by events, all of whom supported the series. Stretching to an eventual 14 instalments, the later episodes of ‘Exposure’ benefitted from the input of these supporters, something that made the satire far sharper in the process. I gradually became aware of Barbara as one of a small handful of brave souls questioning this particular narrative and quickly realised she was receiving a great deal of grief because of that.

Looking back to the height of the Yewtree hysteria, it’s interesting that there were perhaps less than a dozen of us publicly commenting on events in relative isolation, each in our own different, distinctive ways, and each as valid as the other; having come to conclusions that so few seemed to be coming to at the time, it’s no surprise that we attracted one another’s attention and then ended up befriending each other. A shrewd and incisive 2013 article penned by Barbara for ‘Spiked’ – the online platform for alternative opinions that is mercifully still with us – saw her commit the heinous crime of condemning Yewtree for destroying the rule of law, a piece that was also heavily critical of both the NSPCC and the Met. In possession of a higher profile than most of us courtesy of her lengthy and successful career in Law, Barbara was thereafter an easy target for some of the most unhinged and fanatical zealots of that dubious moral crusade. In an early example of ‘Channel 4 News’ displaying the reprehensible tendencies that have subsequently made it unwatchable, Barbara was invited on to give Matt Frei the opportunity to play Robin Day, a shameful set-up I redubbed for an ‘Exposure’ episode; Barbara enjoyed my impression of her.

Of course, the eventual – if belated – revelation of Carl Beech as a loathsome charlatan encouraged in his twisted delusions by certain despicable MPs, numerous Twitter vampires, the MSM and, naturally, the Metropolitan Police Force utterly vindicated Barbara’s stance; but she paid a heavy price for her commitment to the truth. Her suspension from practising Law by the Bar Standards Board in 2019 was a consequence of ongoing online assaults to which she understandably retaliated at times; coupled with launching a libel suit against the Times following a defamatory article about her in the pages of that august publication, it was no wonder Barbara’s health suffered. I remember her contacting me during her BSB tribunal, asking if I could provide her with a short statement; hard as it was for me to believe, one of my YT videos satirising Operation Midland was being used as evidence against her; in the end, she didn’t require the statement as the BSB unsurprisingly rejected the video. Even during this testing time for her, Barbara emphasised she was – in her own words – ‘praising your talent’ when the video came up in court.

Considering the controversies that pursued Barbara throughout the time I knew her, she will no doubt be bracketed as a ‘divisive’ figure; but I take people as I find them, and Barbara was nothing to me but kind, generous, supportive and helpful. When my minimal ‘criminal past’ was being illegally investigated by a rogue cop in the Met, I turned to Barbara for advice; when I wanted to know where to go for information on a trial my late friend Alison had been involved in 20-odd years earlier, I turned to Barbara for advice; she was always willing to provide it. More than anything, she was a huge supporter of my more satirical YT videos, twice requesting a box-set of the ‘Exposure’ series and on one occasion sending me a financial ‘thank you’ that I neither requested nor expected but certainly appreciated. I recall once chatting to her and she told me she was having lunch later on with Merlin Holland, who just happens to be the grandson of Oscar Wilde; she even collaborated on a book he wrote about his rather well-known grandpa. It was evident to me she certainly had a wide circle of fascinating friends, which made me feel rather flattered that she counted me as one of them.

My last contact with Barbara Hewson was around a month ago, when she informed me of her condition; she herself had only learnt of it in August, by which time it was terminal. The Times had finally given up the ghost and apologised; this was followed by the lifting of her BSB suspension. Too little too late. I messaged her on Saturday, congratulating her on the news. I had no idea she’d already gone. I can’t really say anything else other than I’ll miss her support and her friendship. She made a difference to a lot of people’s lives, including mine. RIP.

© The Editor