Saturday, October 01, 2016

Bette Davis was Walt Disney's first choice for Mary Poppins



Our Trivial Fact of the Day is taken from How To Be Like Walt: Capturing the Disney magic every day of your life by Pat Williams and Jim Denney:
Walt personally made all of the casting decision for Mary Poppins. His first choice for Mary was surprising - Bette Davis. One of the reigning queens of Moviedom, 
Ms. Davis was in her fifties at the time. In voice and appearance, she couldn't have been more different from the twenty-seven-year-old singer Walt ultimately chose. 
Yet P.L. Travers had given no hint of Mary's age in the books - most readers at the time assumed her to be a middle-aged woman. So the choice of Bette Davis seemed logical. 
But as the Sherman brothers developed the score of the film, there were several songs written for Mary Poppins to sing. Bette Davis was not a singer.
All very interesting. And particularly interesting to anyone who has seen the 1965 Hammer film The Nanny, in which Bette Davis played the title role - a very different character from Mary Poppins though they shared a profession..

"Time for your bath, Master Joey."

Welcome to the new Liberal Democrat bloggers

One blog was added to the LibDemBlogs aggregator in September. Thanks as ever to Ryan Cullen for sending me this information.

More Than Nothing is written by Dani Tougher. I am pleased to see that, in the spirit of independence that characterises the best blogs, it is as much concerned with the arts (particularly ballet) as politics.

A post written back in August combined these two enthusiasms:
If, as greater and wiser minds then mine have argued, the arts have this power, then surely this is a huge argument both for greater cultural investment? To invest more and more often. To support the arts and that culture that helps people, especially in the lower engaged areas, to see life from another point of view, a point of view that may seem alien or uninteresting at first but will help grow empathy and understanding instead of mistrust and suspicion. 
Culture is, in many places, seen as a 'dirty' word; as something synonymous with privilege and wealth. It is not seen as the singing group in the library, or the little festival in the local park, or watching a band play at a nearby nightclub. But culture includes these things along with the sterile art galleries and overpriced theatre tickets.
If you have a blog you would like to appear here next month please add it to LibDemBlogs. You can do so even if it has been running for years.

Maidstone council suspends its litter wardens after woman is fined for feeding 'imaginary' ducks

An imaginary duck yesterday



The Evening Standard wins our prestigious Headline of the Day Award.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Michael Elwyn, Corin Redgrave and The Newcomers



Talking about Joe Orton on last Saturday, Michael Elwyn recounted how he had appeared in the 1960s BBC soap opera The Newcomers.

When he threw it up to join a touring theatre company, Auntie was horrified. Two dozen scripts with his character in them had been written. The solution turned out to be to cast Corin Redgrave as his twin brother and carry on as if nothing had happened.

When I spoke to Michael Elwyn afterwards, he told me he had given Judy Geeson her first screen kiss in the programme.

He also kindly suggested that I was too young to remember The Newcomers. But I do remember it, if only from its last days. It ran from 1965 to 1969.

Only a very few episodes survive, but you can read some memories of the show on Britmovie.

If you look at Wikipedia or the IMDB, you will find no mention of Elwyn or Redgrave. But the BBC Genome site allows me to be exact.

Michael Elwyn appeared in seven episodes of The Newcomers at the end of 1965. Corin Redgrave then appeared in a further nineteen.

There is something wonderful about the idea of a Redgrave appearing in a soap.

You can hear John Barry's theme to The Newcomers above, but I cannot claim it gives me any tingles of memory,but it does sound splendidly Sixties,

The New Statesman on the Liberal Democrat revival

Stephen Bush has noticed that last night local by-elections victories were the latest in a growing line for the Liberal Democrats:
Polling has always been somewhat unkind to the Liberal Democrats outside of election campaigns, as the party has a low profile, particularly now it has just eight MPs. 
What appears to be happening at local by-elections and my expectation may be repeated at a general election is that when voters are presented with the option of a Liberal Democrat at the ballot box they find the idea surprisingly appealing. 
Added to that, the Liberal Democrats’ happiest hunting grounds are clearly affluent, Conservative-leaning areas that voted for Remain in the referendum. 
All of which makes their hopes of a good second place in Witney – and a good night in the 2017 county councils – look rather less farfetched than you might expect.

Tim Farron and Liz Leffman open Lib Dem HQ in Witney


From the Witney Liberal Democrats website:
Hundreds of volunteers are flooding into the constituency this weekend to help with Liz’s campaign in the Witney by-election. 
Tim Farron said: "Taking over such a large building is a real sign of our commitment to West Oxfordshire and to the strength of the campaign we are running here."
Liz Leffman said: "I have been so touched by the huge number of people who have been coming from all over the country to help. This brilliant new HQ has really put us on the map in Witney and underlines that we are the only challengers to the Conservative Brexit government in this by-election."
You will find full details of how to help in the campaign on the Witney site.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Banbury to Birmingham Snow Hill in the 1960s



Lovely footage of steam locomotives hauling passenger and goods trains along this former GWR route.

Look too for some brief appearances by diesels, notably a Western and the Midland Pullman,

The final scenes at Snow Hill are particularly interesting and feature a steam locomotive shunting a DMU car.

It's rather like seeing an aristocrat polishing a peasant's boots after the Revolution.

Poetry Swindon Festival 2016

Richard Jefferies Museum, Coate

From the festival website:
This year our festival will be held at the picturesque Coate Water Country Park, the birthplace of one of the world's greatest nature writers, Richard Jefferies. 
The festival is renowned for creating warm and welcoming poetry events, providing great poetry with enjoyment at its heart. 
The Big Poetry Weekend features dozens of poets and takes place between 6th to 9th October 2016 with Andrew McMillan and Kim Moore as poets in residence.
For details and tickets, including accommodation packages, see the Poetry Swindon Festival 2016 site.

Six of the Best 630

"Is it possible for someone to crave something for so long, and then be deluded about why it happened? To strive and strive, only for the country to fall into a different, meaner, poorer future?" Sam Knight profiles Daniel Hannan, the man who brought you Brexit.

'Baby-boomer' is thrown about a lot these days, usually in a pejorative sense. But, as Flip Chart Rick explains, the concept does not really work in the UK.

"In her 1993 book, Denying the Holocaust, the American academic Deborah E. Lipstadt called David Irving, a British amateur historian, 'one of the most dangerous spokesmen for Holocaust denial'." Ian Buruma reviews Denial, a new film about Irving's unsuccessful libel action.

Jim Burt celebrates the rise of outdoor learning.

Elvis Costello grew up in England but is an New Yorker at heart, says Wendell Jamieson.

Catherine Hokin examines the strange case of the green children of Woolpit.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Emily Fermor chosen by Maidstone and the Weald Lib Dems

Kent Online reports that Emily Fermor is the new Liberal Democrat PPC for Maidstone and the Weald.

That was the seat at which the party threw a lot of money last time round, perhaps because the candidate, Jasper Gerard, had written an admiring book about Nick Clegg.

Emily Fermor was the campaign organiser then and takes over from Gerard, who is now the party's head of press.

She told Kent Online:
"I am incredibly proud to have been selected as the candidate in my home town. It would be a huge honour to represent the people of Maidstone. 
"I am proud of our County Town and I believe we need a local person representing us, with energy, enthusiasm and a commitment to the area – something we have not had for a number of years.
"We have a new army of committed activists who will be joining me on the doorstep, making the case for a strong local campaigner who will fight for Maidstone and The Weald."

When did small boys stop refighting the Second World War?



Phil Aisthorpe writes on Liberal Democrat Voice:
The EU referendum was decided by the baby boomers, the generation to which I belong and a generation that has spent a lifetime romanticising about a conflict in which it had little or no involvement. I spent my boyhood immersed in the glory of World War II.
'Baby boomer" is now used too widely and I am not sure I see cause and effect here.

But it is true that in the 1960s I spent many primary school playtimes refighting Word War II. Whenever we played war we knew the enemy was the Germans.

That is certainly not the case now. Schools are not keen on playing war and I even here stories of ones that are not that keen on playtime.

So when did things change?

Hunted (1952) and Portpatrick harbour



There is a story on the Guardian website today about the way Portpatrick harbour has been saved by the people of the village:
In Portpatrick, a local seaside village, tiers of pastel houses stretch down to a small harbour where boats are moored. The place is so picture-postcard pretty, it’s hard to imagine that the harbour was almost left to rot – and with it, the future of the village – until local residents raised enough money a year ago to buy it. 
As the closest port to Northern Ireland, Portpatrick was once the main crossing to Donegal. But over time the ocean smashed away two grand piers as well as Portpatrick's future as a transport hub. When the crossing moved to nearby Stranraer, sailor numbers dwindled. 
Villagers knew that to get them back, they needed to improve the harbour with modern moorings and improved toilet facilities while keeping its charm, or risk losing precious tourist revenue to competing harbours up and down the coast. 
The harbour's private owners, Portpatrick Harbour Ltd, had applied in 2007 to build a 57-berth marina and fix pontoons to the listed harbour floor. Councillors quashed the plans, saying it was “completely inappropriate for the conservation of the area”. 
Locals then looked for a way to bring the harbour into community ownership where it could be maintained and improved in keeping with the village.
The video below will tell you how they did it.

I though the location sounded familiar, and the photograph above shows why.

It is a still from the 1952 British film Hunted. It is an early Dirk Bogarde picture and is worth seeking out, not least for its use of long-vanished industrial landscapes.

Portpatrick harbour featured in the film and the photo shows the Dirk's young co-star Jon Whiteley there.

Shami Charkrabarti goes to Eton



The latest episode in the slide in Shami Charkrabarti's reputation came on Newsnight yesterday evening when Michael Crick put it to her that she had tried to get her son into Eton.

Her non-denial denial - she just said Crick had "spent too long reading the internet" or something like that - suggests the charge is true.

The story turns out to come from Heat Street a month ago:
A source has told us: "I took my son to Eton to sit the entrance exam a couple of summers ago and was very surprised to soo Shami Charkrabarti there accompanying her son. There is no question it was her. I had assumed Shami was so Left-Wing that Eton was possibly the most offensive four-letter word known to her, but obviously I was wrong."
Heat Street has tried to contact card-carrying Labour member and Corbyn ally Chakrabarti on several occasions to discuss this but she either isn't available or won't return calls.
I had assumed that Charkrabarti was a liberal, which makes her embrace of Corbyn and the regressive left all the sadder.

And she is, of course, free to send her son to school where she likes. It's just that politicians who urge egalitarianism on the voters without practising it themselves are always going to be problematic - see my recent post on the grammar school debate.

What this story reminds me of is one of the SWP activists at York when I was a student there. He was never seen without his donkey jacket and cut quite a figure at student union meetings.

Then someone recalled he had seen him in a suit and tie when they had been trying to get into the same Oxbridge college. We saw him differently after that,

Man bitten on penis by spider for second time

The judges had no hesitation in awarding Headline of the Day to the Evening Standard.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Foxfield Railway Autumn Gala 2016



Loads of industrial steam goodness to enjoy.

Read about The Foxfield Railway on its website. I first came across this line by accident in 1988.

Six of the Best 629

Alwyn Turner paints a portrait of Tom Watson - "an overfed Che Guevara".

"I started out drawing clear lines linking schoolmates to flatmates, Bullingdon buddies and policy wonks, but pretty soon exactly the same people started popping up in new guises — as fellow MPs, cabinet colleagues, party donors — and the lines started to veer into ever more deranged spirals as everyone turned out to be linked, several times over, to everyone else." Emily Hill on the rise and full of the Cameron chumocracy.

Ferdinand Mount reviews a new biography of Karl Marx: "By the end of his life, his was a name to strike terror into bourgeois hearts across Europe, which gave him no little satisfaction. Yet at his funeral in Highgate Cemetery there were only eleven mourners."

In 2013 the poet Geoffrey Hill, who died earlier this year, was interviewed by Sameer Rahim.

"As soon as I saw those huge rust-coloured bridges stretching across the Tyne I knew this was Jack’s manor. Tough, ruthless and uncompromising." Mike Hodges talks to Adam Scovell about Get Carter.

John Fleming tells the sad story of the fallen Blue Peter presenter Christopher Trace.

Nick Clegg to host HIGNFY on 7 October



Nick Clegg is to guest host Have I Got News for You, reports the Radio Times. He will be in the chair when the show returns for a new season on Friday 7 October.

The Chortle website adds:
Last year, Clegg appeared on The Last Leg with Josh Widdicombe, Adam Hills and Alex Brooker and held his own, despite some embarrassing questioning. 
And he is also due to appear in Dave's new political show Unspun with Matt Forde.
I don't know if this is a shot at political redemption or being done with an eye to a media career after Nick leaves parliament, but I wish him well.

HIGNFY, for me, long ago passed from being the sort of show you stay in to watch to being one you catch if it is on.

In fact, it is now in the "Is that still being made?" category.

As David Waywell once observed:
Brass Eye ran for seven episodes, causing more merry hell during that time than HIGNFY has caused in 25 years. Longevity can imply toothlessness or, worse, becoming part of the establishment.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Blow-Up, pareidolia and the grassy knoll



This is the latter part of the bewitching key sequence of Blow-Up. David Hemmings' unnamed photographer thinks he has spotted something suspicious in a photograph he has just taken.

He enlarges a detail again and again until he reveals a murder taking place, then goes to the park and duly finds a body.

On his return to the studio he finds the enlargements have been stolen, except for the very last. Shorn of its context, it reveals little more than a patter of light and shadows.

When he returns to the park for a second time the body has vanished.

In recent days I have been reading about the assassination of President Kennedy and it has made me think of Blow-Up.

Some of those who are dissatisfied with the official account that JFK was assassinated by a lone gunman - Lee Harvey Oswald - have seized upon a photograph taken at the moment the President received the fatal shot.

They claim that if the background is blown up at the right point it reveals the real assassin** ('Badge Man') on the famous grassy knoll. Some claim to be able to detect two or even three figures there.

I can now make out Badge Man, but only because I have seen so many fanciful renderings of that enlargement. In reality it reveals no more than David Hemmings remaining image. Blame pareidolia.

Once you go down the rabbit hold of conspiracy theories on JFK, there is now way back.

The Zapruder film (taken by a bystander and revealing the effect of the two shots that hit the President) was once taken as proof of a conspiracy. Today you will find many sites telling you it is part of that conspiracy - an obvious forgery made to cover the truth.

There mysteries that puzzle me about the affair. Could Oswald really have got from his sixth-floor perch to the first floor*** without anyone seeing him on the stairs in the short space of time available?

And why did the US authorities make so little of Oswald's connections with the Soviet Union and Cuba?

But stay away from the grassy knoll. That way lies madness.


* JFK's shooting is just about my first memory - I was three and just knew that something very grown up and important had happened.

** This links to a video that examines this claim. It does not show the short that killed JFK, which you can see online in the Zapruder film. We think we know all about violence in the cinema, but it is still hugely shocking to see a man shot in the head for real.

*** In British terms he had to get from fifth floor to the ground floor.

Alan Turing and Emlyn Hooson


On Friday BBC News reported that court files recording details of Alan Turing's convictions for homosexual acts have been put on display at Chester Town Hall.

As Helen Pickin-Jones, chair of Chester Pride, says in the BBC report:
"Just a few simple lines of text reveal the appalling treatment of one of our national heroes."
One of the documents displayed in Chester shows the mathematician admitted "acts of gross indecency" at a trial there in 1952.

Turing was working at the University of Manchester when he was arrested for having a relationship with 19-year-old Arnold Murray at a time when homosexuality was illegal in the UK.

The version of it on the BBC site has been cropped, but if you look at the full version on the Alan Turing: The Enigma website an interesting fact emerges.

Arnold Murray's defence counsel was E. Hooson. That was Emlyn Hooson, who went on to be Liberal MP for Montgomery between 1962 and 1979.

He appears to have defended his man by trying to place the blame on Turing. Dark days.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Kate Nash: Foundations



If pop paints an accurate picture of youth culture, we have come a long way from "I Want to Hold Your Hand".

Foundations was kept from the top of the singles chart by Rihanna and her silly Umbrella in 2007.

Celebrating 50 years of Joe Orton's Loot in Leicester


I spent today at the New Walk museum and art gallery in Leicester for a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Joe Orton's play Loot.

The play had first gone on a provincial tour with an extraordinary cast - Kenneth Williams, Duncan Mcrae, Ian McShane, Geraldine McEwan - but had not pleased its audiences and been beset by constant rewrites in an attempt to put things right.

Williams was a friend of Orton, but it is hard to see how he could ever have made a suitable Inspector Truscott.

Loot was rescued by a new production in Manchester and two veterans of it were in Leicester today. They were its director Braham Murray and cast member Michael Elwyn.

Murray had worked closely with Orton to reshape and rewrite they play and described him as a "shy, sweet man".

The Truscott in that production was Julian Chagrin, and when I chatted to them afterwards they were suitably impressed that I knew he had been one of the tennis players in Blow-Up. (I did not reveal my debt to Nicholas Whyte's enthusiasm  the Double Deckers, which led  me to that knowledge.)

Jake Arnott, whose novels I have enjoyed, talked about the background to Loot and in particular the figure of Harold Challenor, the police officer who inspired Truscott.

But the star of the day was Joe Orton's sister. Leonie Orton Barnett. She read from his letters, including one attacking Loot by his creation Edna Welthorpe.

She is about to publish her own story of gaining an education and becoming her brother's champion under the suitably Ortonesque title I Had It In Me.

The cover, featuring a photograph of her as a young woman, looks like a lost Smiths' single. Which is appropriate, as Morrissey is one of many later artists who have acknowledged Joe Orton's influence.

A mention, too, for Bernard Greaves, the co-author of that Liberal classic The Theory and Practice of Community Politics. I did not get a chance to speak to him, but he spoke movingly of the experience of being gay in the era of Loot.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Leicestershire county councillor leaves Labour after Jeremy Corbyn's re-election

One of the more notable names to have left the Labour Party today is the Leicestershire county councillor Leon Spence.

He has announced his decision in an article for Huffngton Post:
No one has to remain a member of Labour, should you disagree with the path the party is taking any member has the right to stop their support. Many decent Labour members did just that under Tony Blair, many others will take the same decision now. 
The time, for me at least, to stop supporting the party has come with the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn. 
I’ve never disliked Jeremy Corbyn, and although I deeply dislike some of the company that he keeps he seems a personable guy, but I firmly do not agree with the direction that he has taken Labour. 
I don’t like Jeremy’s approach to public services where dogma seems far more important than solutions, I don’t like his approach to defence or Britain’s position in the world, I don’t for one second believe he understands what motivates ordinary, hardworking people in communities like mine. 
I can’t ever see Jeremy as a Prime Minister leading our country in tough negotiations or at times of threat.
I wish all the people leaving Labour well, whether they decide to join the Liberal Democrats or not.

It must be an awful wrench to leave a party that has been an important part of your identity.

Trivial Fact of the Day with Petula Clark




As she revealed on Danny Baker's show last Saturday, Petula Clark sang on the Plastic Ono Band's 'Give Peace a Chance'.

You can read how it cane about in an old Guardian piece.

Petula Clark rang me once, you know.

Music in Leicester: A slideshow using a new Getty Images feature

Getty Images has introduced a new feature. You can choose five images, turn them into a slideshow and embed it in your blog.

So, to see if it works, here are five photographs of musicians in Leicester...

Friday, September 23, 2016

Disused railways stations in Sheffield



I remember Brightside from my journeys to and from York as a student. It survived until 1995, as did the nearby Attercliffe Road (which was a different station from the Attercliffe shown here).

In my student days too, the train from Sheffield to Penistone and Huddersfield ran through the disused Victoria station and up the Don Valley.

You tell young folk now and they won't believe you.

Six of the Best 628

The Bog
"There are those who dislike the term Left. I am not one. It is a short hand for those dissatisfied with the status quo. For a season it came, somewhat perversely, to mean political ideas that championed state ownership and regulation." Iain Brodie Brown attended the Social Liberal Forum's Brighton fringe meeting on the realignment of the left.

Dirk Singer offers two questions you should ask Labour MPs who suddenly oppose freedom of movement.

Donald Trump is the second coming of Joseph McCarthy, says Jelani Cobb.

"'Don’t worry, I’ll be back by lunch.' Those were the last words of a Scottish teacher who was murdered at Auschwitz for protecting Jewish schoolgirls, as revealed by the students who watched her being taken away to her death." Esther Addley tells the story of Jane Haining.

Michaelangelo Matos reviews '1966: The Year the Decade Exploded' by Jon Savage and 'Never a Dull Moment: 1971 - The Year That Rock Exploded' by David Hepworth.

Olly Parry-Jones visits The Bog. It's an abandoned mining village. In Shropshire.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Musical Ruth: The video



You've seen her in my photographs. Now enjoy her video.

Incidentally, her appearance on Britain's Got Talent shows what a sham that programme is. Ruth is no wannabee but an experienced artist.

Book her here.

Muff Winwood to be crowned an A&R icon

Good news for Spencer Davis Group enthusiasts from Music Business Worldwide:
Mervyn ‘Muff’ Winwood will receive the prestigious A&R Icon gong at The A&R Awards in association with Abbey Road Studios on the evening of Wednesday, November 2. 
The prize recognises ‘a remarkable individual whose momentous professional feats continue to inspire the UK A&R community’ – a description which perfectly suits the former CBS, Sony Music and Island Records exec.
Muff Winwood, the bass player with the Spencers and Steve's older brother, went on to have a great career on the other side of the microphone.

The website quotes a couple of tributes to him.

Elton John says:
“Muff Winwood is without doubt one of the greatest A&R men in the history of British music. 
“He introduced me and millions of others to countless new talent. He was SO supportive of his acts. 
“He was unbelievably helpful to me and Bernie in our early days which was invaluable and something I will never forget.”
And Mark Knopfler says:
“Muff was hard-working, straightforward and easy to work with and the album was recorded and mixed inside three weeks. 
“I can still hear his Birmingham accent coming over the talk back after a take: ‘If we can’t make a record out of that we’re all custards.’ I still use that one now. 
“Congratulations on the award, Muff, and thank you for everything you’ve done for so many in music.”
All of which is a good excuse to listen to this...

A video of Tim Farron's speech to the Liberal Democrat Conference



The other day I quoted from Tim Farron's speech to the Liberal Democrat Conference.

Here is a video of the whole thing.