Saturday, 3 December 2016

Britain is finally a country for and Westminter Abbey a place to commemorate an old poet called Philip Larkin

A memorial stone to the poet Philip Larkin, inscribed with lines from one of his most famous works – “our almost instinct almost true/What will survive of us is love” – was unveiled in Westminster Abbey on Friday evening, the 31st anniversary of his death.

When Larkin attended the unveiling of a memorial to fellow poet WH Auden in 1974, he remarked in a letter to his mother : 'Poets’ Corner seems to be getting pretty crowded! No doubt there will be room for me.'

He will finally took his place alongside Britain's other best loved poets, between Ted Hughes and Rupert Brooke and at the foot of Anthony Trollope and a few places away from Lord Byron and Dylan Thomas. The Abbey’s masons, according to tradition, have placed a new penny under the stone to date its installation.

The decision to honour him was made by the Dean of Westminster, the Very Rev Dr John Hall who said : "Philip Larkin is one of the great poets of the 20th Century in English and it's been pressed on me by a number of his colleagues and friends that it's the right time to memorialise him."

Philip, who was born in Coventry in 1922, studied at Oxford University and had his first poems published when he was 18 in 1940. He took up the position of librarian at the University of Hull in 1955 and, in the same year, published his acclaimed collection, 'The Less Deceived'. His last collection, 'High Windows' was published when he was 52 in 1974.
In December 1984, a year before his death from cancer, he was offered the chance to succeed Sir John Betjeman as 'Poet Laureate' but declined, being unwilling to accept the post's high public profile.

Professor Edwin Dawes, who chairs the Philip Larkin Society, said that he was quoted more frequently than those of any of his twentieth poetic contemporaries and : "The memorialisation of Philip Larkin in Poets' Corner will be warmly welcomed by his many admirers in all walks of life. We are delighted that in 2016 Larkin will take his place at the very cultural heart of the nation, in Westminster Abbey amongst Britain's greatest writers."

So why has it taken so long for Philip to be recognised in the Corner ?
The answer resides in the posthumous publication of his letters in 1992, followed by a 1993 biography by Andrew Motion, which caused controversy and led to accusations that he was racially prejudiced, bigoted and misogynistic.

They revealed that he, for example  :

* was strongly against the award of Arts Council grants to 'wogs like Salmagundi or whatever his name is'.

* suggested :
'Prison for strikers,
Bring back the cat, 
Kick out the niggers, 
How about that?'

* thought of Hull : 'God, what a hole, what witless crapulous people, delivered over gagged and bound to TV, motoring and Mackeson's stout . . . Hull is a frightful dump.'

* observed : 'The lower-class bastards can no more stop going on strike now than a laboratory rat with an electrode in its brain can stop jumping on a switch to give itself an orgasm.'

* in 1978, wrote to Robert Conquest: 'We don’t go to Test matches now, too many fucking niggers about.'

*  commented : 'I find the “state of the nation” quite terrifying. In 10 years’ time we shall all be cowering under our beds as hordes of blacks steal anything they can lay their hands on.'

But of course, he had written :

'Toads' in 1955 :

Why should I let the toad work
  Squat on my life?
Can't I use my wit as a pitchfork
  And drive the brute off?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dqa6L22m0rY&t=19m8s

'Afternoons' in 1959 :

Summer is fading:
The leaves fall in ones and twos
From trees bordering
The new recreation ground.
In the hollows of afternoons
Young mothers assemble
At swing and sandpit
Setting free their children.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dqa6L22m0rY&t=28m41s

'The Whitsun Weddings' in 1964 :

That Whitsun, I was late getting away:
    Not till about
One-twenty on the sunlit Saturday
Did my three-quarters-empty train pull out,
All windows down, all cushions hot, all sense
Of being in a hurry gone. We ran
Behind the backs of houses, crossed a street
Of blinding windscreens, smelt the fish-dock; thence
The river’s level drifting breadth began,
Where sky and Lincolnshire and water meet.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c9eTF6QNsxA

'This be verse' in 1974 :

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
  They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
  And add some extra, just for you.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dqa6L22m0rY&t=2m44s

So now, far from plot 81 in Cottingham Municipal Cemetery near Hull – where he was buried under a stone starkly inscribed with his name, dates, and the single word 'Writer' – his own memorial has finally been installed in the Abbey.

Poets' Corner became established at Westminster Abbey after Geoffrey Chaucer's remains were
interred in a tomb there in 1556.

Philip described himself as “an agnostic, I suppose, but an Anglican agnostic, of course”.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to Paul Findlay, the forgotten Director of the Royal Opera House who extended its reach to more people both young and old

Paul, who has died at the age of 73 and whose passing has gone unremarked in the media, was a dynamic presence at the Royal Opera House for 25 years He spent his formative years in the egalitarian 1960s and it is no accident that he will be remembered for his efforts to democratise both opera and ballet and make it accessible to groups beyond Britain's cultural elite. Two of the innovations he introduced 30 years, the 'Schools’ Matinees' and the 'BP Big Screen' are still with us today.

He was born Paul Hudson Douglas Findlay in Dunedin, New Zealand during the Second World War in 1943. the son of John Niemeyer Findlay, who was born in Pretoria, South Africa and Aileen, a New Zealander. His parents had met and married in 1941, while John was serving as Professor of Mental and Moral Philosophy at Dunedin University, New Zealand. At the end of the Second World War. in 1945. Paul was moved with the family to South Africa for three years, where his father took up a post at the University of Natal at Pietermaritzburg.

In 1948, when Paul was five, he came to Britain as a result of his father becoming Professor of Philosophy at what was Kings College and later became the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. Mary Warnock, the philosopher, later referred to him as a 'noted Hegelian scholar and notoriously bad-tempered man.'

From the age of 11 he attended the prestigious independent school for boys, University College School, London with its magnificent hall and in 1961 gained a place at his Father's old Oxford College, Baliol, to study Greats. He followed this, after graduation in 1964, with study at the London Opera Centre. In the next two years he had a succession of appointments : He got his first job, at the age of 24, as 'Production and Technical Man' New Opera Company, followed by a brief spell as 'Director of London, Sinfonietta' in the same year. In 1968 he became 'Stage Manager' of Glyndebourne Touring Opera and English Opera Group and then in the same year moved to the Royal Opera House, Convent Garden as Assistant Press Officer, a position he held for the next four years.

At the age of 29 in 1972, Paul moved to work for senior management as 'Personal Assistant to General Director', John Tooley, a position he held for four years until his own appointment as 'Assistant Director of Opera'. Finally, he took over the mantle of 'Director' at the age of 44 in 1987. It was during his six year tenure that he did his ground breaking work to make opera and ballet accessible to new audiences and, as he said, ‘as wide a public as possible.’

Paul, seen here at the age of  37 in 1980, confessed that he would "sit gobsmacked" at board meetings as great minds like Noel Annan and Sir Isaiah Berlin debated the 'Ethics of running an opera house.' More importantly, he discovered Valery Gergiev when he was unknown outside Leningrad and did much to support artists in their early struggles. Norman Lebrecht in the Independent said : 'He was forever seeking to expand the audience base. Unlike most opera chiefs, he had no ego whatsoever.' With this in mind, he played a leading role in creating 'Schools’ Matinees', the first of which, in 1978, was sponsored to the tune of £20,000 by the Royal Opera House Trust and Friends on Convent Garden. In 1980 he got IBM to cough up £30,000 and J, Sainsbury £53,000 the following year. By this time six Matinees were being held each year, three opera and three ballet with about twenty presented in the regions by the Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet Company. His programme of matinees was backed up a scheme for low price performances for school parties. By the mid 1980s about 38,000 from 2,500 schools were attending each season.

He also initiated 'Big Top Performances' for The Royal Ballet and Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet, where the ballet companies performed in circus tents around the country and thus reached parts of the country it had never reached before.

In 1987 he masterminded the first 'BP Big Screen' in Covent Garden Piazza and said at the time : "When it became known that we were going to give free performances of Boheme with Domingo, it's not a work that he's appeared in here for some time, and we knew there would be tremendous pressure on tickets and therefore we were very, very concerned to find a way to make these performances more available to the public."
Placido Domingo described the event as : 'such a wonderful and moving experience.'  
In addition to the 750 promenaders in the stalls and 1300 more in the circle and gods inside the Theatre, thousands, outside in the Piazza, watched the performance relayed from five  tv cameras on the big screen and listened for free, Paul had seen to it that the £45,000 cost was met by sponsors.

Paul also pioneered open-air opera concert performances at Kenwood House, Hampstead Heath, in addition to broadcasts of opera and ballet on BBC TV and radio. Further initiatives included, in 1991–2, The Royal Opera’s performances of 'Turandot' at Wembley Arena, seen by more than 50,000 people.

It was Paul who introduced the use of surtitles at the Royal Opera House, transforming audience response to opera performed in its original language by increasing its accessibility. Long after Paul was gone, Judith Palmer, surtitler in 2011 explained her role : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2sdHgFiYPSo

He was committed throughout his time at the Royal Opera House to ensuring there was access for the disabled to see performances at Covent Garden and was active in exploring new ways for audiences to enjoy opera and ballet at home. In pursuit of this, in 1979, as Assistant Director, he launched 'Covent Garden Video Productions', the first video arts company of its kind and in 1989, set up  'Covent Garden Records'. Further innovations included what was known as the 'computerisation' of the box office and the introduction of phone credit-card payments, taken for granted now, but ground-breaking at the time.

Between 1976 and 1988 he arranged more than 50 tours of the Royal Opera House companies to more than 30 countries, including China, India, Korea, the Soviet Union and New Zealand. At the same time he was responsible for bringing many visiting companies to the Royal Opera House, including La Scala, Milan, New York City Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, Bolshoi Ballet, Kirov Opera and Ballet, Dance Theatre of Harlem and Central Ballet of China. He also strengthened links with other British companies through co-productions and shared performances, particularly with Scottish Opera and Welsh National Opera.

As Director he was responsible for the British premier of Berio’s 'Un re in ascolto' in an award-winning production by Graham Vick and world premiere of Harrison Birtwistle’s 'Gawain', broadcast on BBC TV and Götz Friedrich’s 'Ring Cycle', conducted by Haitink. In 1988 he saw to it that Sian Edwards became the first woman to conduct at Covent Garden, conducting performances of Tippett’s 'The Knot Garden.'

In relation to the end of his contract at the Royal Opera House, in the opinion of the philosopher Mary Warnock, who interviewed Paul for her book, 'Nature and Mortality', he told her he wanted to get out of, what he referred to as 'this place' and was looking for another job. 'I don't think Findlay's desire was generally well known. He was, in fact, eased out by Nicholas Payne, a far calmer character and better musician.' Paul put his own gloss on events when he referred to the new General Director, Jeremy Isaacs : 'My contract was coming up and he wanted to have his own men.'

Paul's next appointment was in 1993, when, at the age of 50 and for two years he became Managing Director Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. According to Anthony Everitt in the Independent, he 'took the biggest gamble of his life by joining the RPO. The slight change in his employer's initials marked a move from Britain's best-funded arts organisation to one that was apparently on the brink of extinction.'

As Everitt wrote of Paul in 1995 that he was : 'an enthusiast, always optimistic and always full of energy. He talks with extraordinary rapidity, words and ideas tumbling from his lips. He soon persuaded the RPO that the future lay in developing its work outside London, while maintaining a metropolitan presence. He quickly negotiated a residency in Nottingham, established a special relationship with the resurgent Royal Albert Hall and, in partnership with Raymond Gubbay, adopted some of the techniques of rock and pop concerts (laser lighting and the like): RPO performances became not just musical but theatrical events.'

In relation to his short tenure, Everitt described him as : 'a good guy with bad luck. The players of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra have just sacked him as their managing director. He does not deserve the blow that has struck him down.' He went on to say that Paul was 'essentially defeated by circumstances beyond his control. The RPO is not the first self-governing orchestra to resent the strong leadership that is today essential for success.'


In 1997 he became Planning Director of the European Opera Centre and then in the same year and for the last 14 years of his career, until his retirement at the age of 68 in 2011, the Director of the 'Arts Educational Schools', which was founded in 1919 and grew to provide specialist vocational training training in musical theatre and acting for film and tv.


Alex Beard, Chief Executive of the Royal Opera, said of Paul :


'His dedication and commitment to this great institution was coupled with a determination to extend the reach of both opera and ballet, ensuring that both new and wider audiences had the opportunity to enjoy these remarkable art forms.' 

           What better valediction might an old opera company director have ?
       

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Britain is a country where even more old men, marooned in rural England, lose their bus lifeline to the outside world

This is likely to become a more common site in future : pensioners like Duncan Foster thumbing for lifts out of their villages.
Duncan lives in the village of Whittington in Lancashire where the number of buses serving the inhabitants has been reduced from 111 a week to 5, all of which are school buses,
Duncan told BBC Radio 4's Today Programme that the situation was so bad he had been forced to resort to hitch-hiking from the village bus stop in a hi-visibility jacket and said it was "a sad state of affairs" and he and other residents feel "totally abandoned" as a result of the cut in services.

"Virtually anyone living in Whittington is obliged to have the use of a car and people have to rely on local taxis now to go to hospital appointments. I know an elderly gentleman who had to go to hospital quite regularly had to leave the village. One or two other people don't appear to be able to get out anymore. The company which ran the buses stopped doing it because they weren't being subsidised, and the local authority says it hasn't got the money to keep subsidising them and that is down to the Government."

Duncan is right : research by the Local Government Association says subsidised bus services in England have been reduced by more than 12% in the past year as a result of Central Government cuts to Local Government budgets.

The LGA Transport Spokesperson, Martin Tett said "Years of underfunding of the scheme has forced councils to spend millions of pounds of taxpayers' money to subsidise the scheme. This is now impossible with councils having to make savings while struggling to protect vital services like adult social care, protecting children, filling potholes and collecting bins."

Duncan and Martin, however, can set their minds at rest, since a Department for Transport Spokesperson has said :
While decisions on funding for local bus routes are a matter for local authorities, we provide around £250m to support services every year, serving local communities up and down the country. Our Bus Services Bill will give councils powers to work in partnership with local transport companies to improve the service passengers can expect and boost bus use."

The new Bill makes pedestrian reading. It begins with :

IMPROVING RURAL BUS SERVICES
Rural Bus Services – the challenges

'The loss of a local bus service, particularly in rural areas, can leave people isolated or dependent on friends and family to help them travel. But it can also be in rural areas that commercial services are most difficult to provide, because the critical mass of passengers required for a regular service can be difficult to achieve.'

It goes on to state that 'through the provisions in the Bus Services Bill .. the Department provides a range of tools and options to help local authorities deliver better local bus services, particularly in rural areas.'

Apparently these new 'tools' or 'powers' : 'include the ability to work more effectively
with bus operators through advanced quality partnerships or enhanced partnership
schemes, and the potential to establish a system of franchising.'

So there we have it 'enhanced partnerships' and 'franchising' and nary an extra £ in sight.

No extra money but a new Bus Service Law and all will be well. Magic.

My earlier post on rural isolation for old people :

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Britain is a country where more and more old men, marooned in rural England and Wales, lose their bus lifeline to the outside world

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to and old Pharmacologist, devoted to philanthropy and music called Ralph Kohn

Ralph whose brilliant mind allowed him to make major contributions to Britain's life and culture as a medical scientist, musician, entrepreneur and philanthropist and has died at the age of 88.

He was born Rafael Kohn the son of Lena and Max in Leipzig, Germany in 1927, the youngest of four children. The family were well-off. Max ran prosperous textile business and the children received an orthodox, Hasidic, Jewish upbringing where Lena, born a Berliner, saw to it that they spoke 'High German'. All was to change in 1933 when Ralph was six and Hitler and the Nazis came to power in. His Father was no stranger to persecution, having been born in a part of Poland known as Galicia, now the Ukraine, he had left Lvov in fear of his life in 1901. Ralph recalled that he came "to Germany from the East where they were used to excesses, the Cossacks and every so often you had a major massacre of Jews" he "was much more sensitive of the unrest which took place in the Weimar Republic, 1918 -33" and "any manifestations of anti-semitism, more so than the German Jews and with Hitler's coming to power. the family made arrangements to leave."


The move took them to Amsterdam where young Ralph was to enjoy seven years of stability. At the age of six, he studied the violin with a member of the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and at the same time he came under the influence of a cousin who "stayed with us in Amsterdam, whereas his parents went to Palestine in the '30s and Gegi stayed with us in order to do medicine at Amsterdam University and he qualified as a doctor and he had a huge effect on me because he lived with us since 1935 until 1940 and that's when he completed his medical studies."


Ralph was 12 when the Second World War broke out in 1939 and with the German invasion of the Netherlands, his life, along with that of all Jews in the country was in danger. It was Gegi, who was a doctor working for the Kindertransport, who brought the family word that the SS Bodegraven was to leave Ijmuiden, for Britain. The family dropped everything and left. On the 30 mile drive to the port they had to run the gauntlet from snipers and German parachutists. Ralph, at 13, took charge of the situation and insisting the family stay together the six of them got out on this last ship to leave Amsterdam before it was overrun.


The sea crossing to England was fraught with danger, He recalled : "German planes machine gunned us. Minutes before they shot at us, we were told to go below deck. The next morning we saw machine gun bullets all over the top deck." At the end of the seven day voyage to Liverpool they were down to eating dry bread washed down with tea.

While young Ralph had only the clothes he was wearing, his father carried his tallit and tefillin, his mother her jewellery, everything else had been left behind, including Ralph's beloved violin. "We were refugees, we had absolutely nothing," he recalled : "We were in a new country that we did not know. We thought: 'What is going to happen to us next? Are we going to be sent back? Let loose? What are they going to do to us? Who is going to feed us? Where do we get clothes?' We did not know where we were going to get our next meal from. We had no house, no room, nothing."

The ship docked in Liverpool and fortunately, both his parents had expired Polish passports "and when we arrived and we were able to show Polish passports even though they were no longer valid we were acclaimed as friendly aliens, allies because the War started as a result of Poland being invaded by the Germans."


The family settled in Manchester and Ralph was barmitzvah in Kersal Crag Synagogue on the day the Germans first bombed Salford in December 1940. He'd gained a place at Salford Grammar School for Boys and inspired by Cousin Gegi he recalled : "I wanted to do biology because at the back of  my mind was the idea that I might become a doctor, a physician, do medicine." There was another connection and with medicine and inspiration in the family in the shape of a Professor Selmar Ascheim, who before the War had worked as a distinguished gynaecologist at the Charité Gynecological Clinic in Berlin. "So I had two points of reference Ascheim and my cousin. So I thought I'd follow in that tradition."  In fact in 1931 when Ralph was 4, the Nobel Prize Committee had suggested that Selmar should be recognised for his discoveries, with Bernhard Zondek, on the importance of front pituitary segments for sexual function and their discoveries regarding physiological pregnancy responses.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ghsbo1I552Q&t=9m10s


On arrival in England Ralph's violin studies came to an end as he recalled : "With leaving Amsterdam in 1940 coming to England refugee there was really no way that I could start again, but I didn't really think the violin was my instrument, but I listened to music continuously, I went to the concerts of the Halle Orchestra which was the Manchester Orchestra and I remember on one occasion Gigli, who performed at the Belle Vue, who was perhaps the greatest tenor of his time, came to Manchester and he gave a recital which he gave only with piano accompaniment and he sang these marvellous magnificent arias and he kept us spell bound for two hours singing one magnificent song after the other and I thought : 'This is the ultimate I've never heard anything like it' and I became very interested in vocal music."

Ralph's ambition to become a physician was not to materialise because : "It didn't work out because when I completed my higher school certificates, that was about 1946, I applied to various universities to study medicine but I wasn't accepted for the very good reason that priority was given to returning ex-servicemen"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ghsbo1I552Q&t=13m35s


Shortly after the end of the War Ralph began studies for his Bachelor of Science degree in Pharmacology having correctly foreseen an era of new drug discovery and wanting to be part of it. He completed a PhD on histamine sensitization phenomenon induced by whooping cough vaccines and its possible implications for immunizing children. His chief, was Professor A. D. MacDonald, a highly respected pharmacologist and outstanding administrator.

Ralph recalled meeting Alexander Fleming : "When I was about to submit my PhD my supervisor said :"Kohn, I'm going to give the Wright-Fleming Lecture at St. Mary's Hospital this year. Will you prepare some tables for me, some graphs, because I want to present your thesis to this gathering," He said : "You must come and listen to my lecture" and after that there was a cocktail party in Fleming's room and I shook the great man's hand."

It was a recognition of Ralph's brilliance as a student that, in 1954, at the age of 27 he left Britain on a 'travelling fellowship' to carry out three years of postdoctoral research at the 'Istituto Superiore di Sanità in Rome'. He recalled : "I got a fellowship to take me to Rome to work with this man Daniel Bovet, who was perhaps the leading pharamcologist in the world, in fact he got the Nobel Prize in 1957 for three major discoveries." Bovet had discovered the first antihistamine when Ralph was at Salford Grammar in 1937.

Ralph was aware that the distinguished Ernst Chain was the "Head of the Microbiology section in Rome and had huge funding from the Rockefeller Institute" and recalled : "I hoped I might meet chain and possible join his team on some research project. This opportunity arose much more quickly than I had imagined. Shortly after my arrival we met in the lift with his English technician. When he heard us speak English he asked me instantly whether I was working at the Institute ? As we stepped out of the lift, he told me of a project that needed pharmacological support, would I be interested in joining his team on the study of intermediate metabolism of carbohydrates ? I was clearly immensely excited to have such an instant proposal and when I sought my chief Bovet's approval, he told me with a smile : "Professor Chain might not be the easiest person to work with but you have my blessing." We collaborated most harmoniously over a period of thee years and I cannot recall a single occasion when we had disagreements perhaps our musical collaboration also helped." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hQsW_CkXsxA&t=20m20s


Socially he "was mixing with some of the bohemians in Rome and many of them were sort of studying singing in Rome and I was told "you have a suitable voice to sing". I was introduced to Marcantoni, one of the top voice production teachers." He got Marcantoni to arrange a meeting with his friend Ggili. "So he said : "How can I introduce you ?" So I said, he at the time was in heart failure and he was a diabetic, so I said to Marcantoni : "Why don't you tell Gigli that here is a young man, a doctor, who is working with diabetic animals, that he knows a lot about all the treatments for these things and he's also so very enthusiastic in his singing. Would you be prepared to meet him ?" It was arranged for us to go to Gigli's mansion and we spent the most fantastic two hours together and then at one point he said to me : "What will you sing  for me ?" and I had with me the aria, 'Bella siccome un angelo', Malatesta's aria by Donizetti and I sang that to Gigli and at the end of it he says "Molto bene", "Very nice" and he sang it in the baritone key for which it was written, of course, He gave me various tips and then he wrote too, a little letter me afterwards to say : 'I've heard Ralph Kohn and I can attest to his having...very musical, but he's not ready yet. But if he perseveres. he should be able to make a professional career."
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ghsbo1I552Q&t=25m27s


It was whilst in the States that he became a fan of the Metropolitan Opera and acquired, what would become, a lifelong passion for Bach, Having left Rome, Ralph spent a further year from 1957-58 as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York in the Department of Pharmacology with the distinguished pharmacologist Dr Alfred Gilman whose 'The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics' Ralph referred to as "the Bible of my training." It was whilst in the States that he became a fan of the Metropolitan Opera and acquired, what would become, a lifelong passion for Bach,

His student days over, Ralph now joined the pharmaceutical industry in the Research and Development Division and Head of Exploratory Pharmacology at 'Smith, Kline & French' and worked on phenothiazine drugs used in phsychiatry and cephalosporins for infectious diseases. After seven years with the company, moved to the position of Managing Director of Robapharm, a small Swiss biological company looking to modernise itself.

Then, in 1971, at the age of 48, he took the step that changed his life and set up his own company and turned his formidable intellect to the conduct of clinical trials. He found that the way most of them were planned and carried out was too often 'ad hoc' and amateurish and recalled :“I was not impressed. I thought this is not the way to do it.” As a result he constructed, through better design and management, improved trials which helped foster a change in the way that trials for drug companies were conducted in Britain and beyond. He said : "I set up the first independent clinical research organisation not beholden to industry or doctors. It is so important to find out what a drug does and report it clearly and honestly without manipulating data." The company, 'Advisory Service (Clinical and General)', received the Queen’s Award for Export Achievement for 'Services to the Pharmaceutical Industry' for its successful assessment of treatments for osteoporosis, amongst other conditions in 1990.


His continued friendship with Ernst Chain was cemented by their love of music and when in Rome, they sometimes gave a recital together at the end of a company symposium with Ernst providing the piano accompaniment to Ralph's vocals and they gave public recitals together and he recalled : "two in particular we gave recital in the Banqueting Hall Whitehall in 1971 for the Jewish Anti-Defamation League and we gave an after dinner recital for the Royal College of Physicians for the British Rheumatological Society." Here he is performing with Ernst and his daughter at the piano with Ernst's wife Anne in the foreground.


Although Ralph given up on the idea of becoming a professional singer, he confessed : “There was a stage when I started seriously thinking whether it might be an idea to switch to music”, he took his music with him everywhere. “I would never travel on business without a score. If I was going to do, say, a Schubert cycle I would always spend at least an hour every day learning the music and humming it.” He gave public and private recitals, recorded with the English Chamber Orchestra and and graced the stage at the Royal Albert Hall and Queen Elizabeth Hall and performed as a classical baritone at Wigmore Hall. He produced his first commercial CD in his sixties and published his memoir, 'Recital of a Lifetime' in 2015.

Ralph brought the musical and scientific strands in his life together in the shape of the 'Kohn Foundation' which he created at the age of 68 in 1991 and whose purpose was to support research and innovation in science, medicine and the arts which awarded prizes that recognised the achievements of young scientists and musicians.


In 2004, he was a guest on Sue Lawley's BBC Radio 4 programme, 'Desert Island Discs', where he chose Raffaello Rontaini's 'Se Bel Rio / If A Beautiful Brook' sung by himself, backed by the English Chamber Orchestra' and where his 'Castaway Favourite' was Bach's Sinfonia from Christmas Oratorio by the 'The Monteverdi Choir' at 18m46s into the programme : 

Accolades now came in the shape of his election as Fellow of the Royal Society at the age of 79 in 2006 and it was with the Society that his significant patronage helped to establish the 'Kohn Centre', the 'Science in Society Programme' and 'Kohn Award for Science Broadcasting.' Four years later he was knighted for 'Services to Science, Music and Charity.'

Ralph said of the country which he adopted and which adopted him : "What I have done for Britain is very little compared to the fact that they saved our lives, fed us when we had nothing and clothed us. They gave us opportunities to work, to develop ourselves. And the little I have done, Britain has recognised to the full."

When he was 77 years old in 2004 he said :
"Whatever I do in life, I do with great passion and great conviction and energy and enthusiasm, even if I don't succeed. I look at something and if I'm going to do it, then I will put everything into it. That is an obsession I still have."

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Britain, already no country for old judges in the High Court, will soon become one for even older ones in the Supreme Court

Three High Court judges who have hit the headlines have a collective age of 188 years. The oldest and most senior, at 69, is Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd who became Lord Chief Justice and Head of the Judiciary in 2013. Behind him, the 65 year old Sir Terence Etherton is the second most senior judge in England and Wales and head of the civil – as opposed to the criminal – division of the Judiciary. The junior member of the trio, Lord Justice Sales, is just 54 and became a High Court Judge in 2008 and an Appeal Court Judge in 2014.

In the recent three-day hearing over which they presided, the Conservative Government had argued that nothing in the European Communities Act of 1972 restricted the Crown’s and therefore the Government's power to withdraw from European Union treaties using the Royal Prerogative without the consent of Parliament. The judges were having none of this and the Lord Chief Justice told the Court that the Government’s arguments had been contrary to “fundamental constitutional principles of the sovereignty of Parliament”.

Neither 'The Daily Mail'


Nor the 'Daily Telegraph' liked the verdict.


In order to cast doubt on his impartiality the 'Daily Mail' emphasised the Europhile credentials of John Thomas by telling its readers that he was  'a founder of the European Law Institute, a club of lawyers and academics aiming to ‘improve’ EU law' - paper's emphasis, not mine. In addition : 'He was also President of the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary for two years.'

Terence Etherton's impartiality was questioned by the fact that he qualified 'for the 1980 Moscow Olympics as part of the British fencing team – but boycotted the games in protest against the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan.' For good measure it added that he 'made legal history a decade ago as the first openly gay judge to be made a Lord Justice of Appeal' and 'In 2014, he and his partner, solicitor Andrew Stone, took part in the first Jewish ceremonies at a UK synagogue to convert a civil partnership into marriage.' Obviously, highly questionable behaviour.

Philip Sales was charged with the fact that he 'charged taxpayers £3.3million in six years during his tenure as Mr Blair’s First Treasury Counsel – a lawyer who represents the UK government in the civil courts' and 'his appointment in 1997 had caused consternation in legal circles because he was only 35. He had been a barrister at 11KBW, the same chambers as Mr Blair and then-lord chancellor Derry Irvine, leading to claims of cronyism.'

Having lost its case in the High Court, the Government has appealed to the Supreme Court which is expected to support the decision of the High Court and whose judges can expect to be on the receiving end of the bile of the 'Daily Mail' and 'The Telegraph.'


What have the old judges in the Supreme Court done, which might add grist to the newspapers' mill ?

President of the Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury at 68 is the one judge who might be to the Daily Mail's liking because, in 2010, he gave a controversial, dissenting judgement that the trade union 'Unite' had not complied with ballot rules under trade union legislation and in the same year he ruled that peace protesters in Parliament Square who had camped out in 'Democracy Village' should be evicted after the protesters lost an appeal.

Lord Mance is 73 years old and up to his eyes in matters Europe. In 2000 he became Chairman of the Consultative Council of European Judges and Trustee of the European Law Academy in 2003.

Lord Kerr of Tonaghmore is a 68 year old Judge with a Northern Irish pedigree. He was born in County Armagh and educated at St Colman's College, Newry and read law at Queen's University Belfast and was called to the Bar of Northern Ireland in 1970. He served as Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland from 2004–09 and we know that that 56% of voters in Northern Ireland voted 'Remain' in the referendum. That should be enough for the 'Mail' to question his impartiality.

Lord Clarke of Stone-cum-Ebony is 73 years old and has all the hallmarks of a dangerous progressive, who in 2010 predicted that 'judicial review' will grow in the future, commenting that citizens are more aware of their rights than they once were and are willing and able to challenge decisions and that the Supreme Court will play an important role in the development of administrative and public law.


Lord Wilson of Culworth, 71 years old and another progressive who wonders how long Northern Ireland would "be able to hold back the tide in favour of same-sex marriages." In addition, he has said that incorporating the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law had led to dramatic improvements for minority groups, like gay and trans-gender people and over 20 years, it had "raised our life together in this kingdom to a higher level of mutual respect." 

Lord Sumption is a 68 years old who 'The Guardian' once described as, being a member of the 'million-a-year club', the elite group of barristers earning over a million pounds a year. In a letter to the paper as long ago as 2001 he compared his 'puny £1.6 million a year' to the vastly larger amounts that comparable individuals in business, sports and entertainment are paid.

Lord Reed, just 60 years old, who back in 1999 sat in the Grand Chamber Judgements  on the appeals of Robert Thompson and Jon Venables as part of his role as one of Britain's ad hoc judges at the European Court of Human Rights. His involvement in European affairs did not end there : he acted as an expert adviser to the European Union Initiative with Turkey on Democratisation and Human Rights between 2002 and 2004 and has been Chairman of the Franco-British Judicial Co-operation Committee since 2005.

Lord Carnwath of Notting Hill is 71 and also up to his armpits in Europe. He was joint founder of the EU Forum of 'Judges for the Environment' and held the position of Secretary General for this EU Forum between 2004 and 2005.

Lord Hughes of Ombersley is 68 years old, another dangerous progressive who has a particular interest in developing and monitoring sentencing guidelines as the Deputy Chairman of the Sentencing Council and has attracted controversy in a number of high profile cases, including 'R v Owen', commonly known as 'The Baby P Case,'

Lord Hodge is a mere 63 years old, but he is a Scot, educated at Croftinloan School, and Trinity College in Perthshire, then after Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, the School of Law of the University of Edinburgh. We know that 62% of Scots voted to remain in the EU which should be quite enough to prejudice his impartiality.

Lady Hale of Richmond, the only woman serving on the Supreme Court is 71 years old, but is as equally suspect as her male colleagues having given, in 2015, the Caldwell Public Lecture at the University of Melbourne, Australia, on the topic 'Protecting Human Rights in the UK Courts: What are we doing wrong?'



Britain, a country where Senior Judges in its Supreme Court, bastions of an independent Judiciary, are to be lined up and shot by a hostile press as ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE.