Monday, 14 April 2014

Britain is still a country for and old men say "Happy Birthday" to a screen goddess called Julie Chistie, whose beauty beguiled them when they were boys

Julie is 73 years old today

I first remember seeing her in the 1961 science fiction series on BBC television called 'A for Andromeda'.
I was 14 and she was 20.

Before she reached the black and white tv screen she :

* was born during the Second World War in 1941 on the Singlijan Tea Plantation in Assam in British India which was managed by her father who separated from her mother when she was a child.

* back in England, from the age if six, was brought up by a foster-mother and studied as a boarder at the independent 'Convent of Our Lady School' in St. Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex, from which she was later expelled for telling a risqué joke which reached a wider audience than originally anticipated.

* at Wycombe Court School, played the role of the 'Dauphin' in George Bernard Shaw's 'Saint Joan' and after leaving, studied at the Central School of Speech and Drama before her part in Andromeda.

Then, when I was 16, she played Liz, the friend and would-be lover of the eponymous 'Billy Liar', played by Tom Courtenay.

When I was 18, she played the amoral model, Diana Scott in 'Darling'.

In the same year she appeared as Lara Antipova in David Lean's adaptation of Boris Pasternak's novel 'Doctor Zhivago'.

When I was 19, she was in Truffaut's 'Fahrenheit 451'.

A year later, with me at 20 and she at 27, she played Thomas Hardy's heroine 'Bathsheba Everdene' in Schlesinger's 'Far from the Madding Crowd'.
And that wonderful scene with Terrence Stamp as Sergeant Troy on Maiden Castle :

In that same year for 'The Kinks' rock band, Ray Davies wrote 'Waterloo Sunset' :

I believed for many years that the lyrics :
Terry meets Julie,
Waterloo Station,
every friday night

alluded to an affair between Julie and Terrence until Ray Davies denied this in his autobiography and claimed in a 2008 interview, "It was a fantasy about my sister going off with her boyfriend to a new world and they were going to emigrate and go to another country."

When boyhood was gone and I reached 21, she played the lead character, Petulia Danner, opposite George C. Scott, in Richard Lester's 'Petulia'.

Warren Beatty described her as "the most beautiful and at the same time the most nervous person I had ever known."

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Britain is no longer country for and says "Goodbye" to an old twentieth century intellectual called Richard Hoggart

Richard, writer of 15 books and editor of more, who held six important jobs in 40 years, has died at the age of 95.

What you possibly didn't know about Richard, that he :

* was born in the Potternewton district of Leeds in 1918, just before the end of the First World War, one of three children living in abject poverty in a damp, cockroach-ridden stone cottage with a father who was a housepainter and had been a regular soldier in the Boer and First Wars and was dead of brucellosis, possibly contracted from consuming infected undercooked meat, before he was a year old.

*  was left with vivid memories of his mother who he found collapsed on the floor in the last stages of death from tuberculosis when he was eight and later said : "When I see, or see film of a driven bird flying to its nest and anxiously, earnestly feeding the open mouths, the image of our mother comes to mind. When you have seen a woman standing frozen, while tears start slowly down her cheeks because a sixpence has been lost ... you do not easily forget."

* was split from his siblings and taken to live with a loving, widowed grandmother in Newport Street, Leeds and spent his formative years life in an overcrowded Hunslet back-to-back with the only bathroom connected with running water in the street, where he 'slept in the attic with Uncle Walter, first in a big double bed, then in a small one of my own with a flock mattress'.

* in 1928 at the age of 10, went with his Granny to stay with an uncle in a mean, cold semi-detached house in Harrogate, from which the two of them escaped for a walk each afternoon and later said : 'What we talked about I do not remember. We certainly did not discuss the inadequacies of our hosts; that would have been unthinkable. But we both knew we knew without having to enter critical analysis. Much more important, we were bound together by unspoken affection and, in my case, by an emotional dependence I felt for no one else. It was a cardinal lesson in human relationships, in the power of love.'

* was a healthy, mainly cheerful, tough little boy who, helped by 'hardship grants' from bodies such as the Board of Guardians and the Royal British Legion and despite failing his 11-plus maths exam paper, got a 'scholarship' to go to Cockburn Grammar School (left) on the strength of his English essay, supported by a plea from his Jack Lane Elementary School Headteacher.

* in the summer of 1932 at the age of fourteen, suffered a brief nervous breakdown brought about by his consciousness of being a poor orphan, tying to hold his own with boys and girls from more fortunate homes than his, having to walk twenty miles a week to and from school, living in a house without books, dominated by a fiery Aunt and in the company of a drunken cousin and spent two weeks recovering in a convalescent home on the Yorkshire coast.

* at the age of sixteen, had his headmaster write on his end of year report : 'should think of a professional life' and after the sixth form, in 1936, won a Leeds University scholarship after his aunt gave him elocution lessons because he couldn't pronounce his 'Rs' or 'Ls' and became, in his own words : 'a very hard-working student and because there were no books in the house, I would spend long periods in the reading room of the library. I discovered Swinburne for myself there, and other poetry, which was wonderful." 

* at a 'freshers' party' in the same year, met his future wife, Mary, the daughter of teachers and took her to see 'Green Pastures' at the cinema on their first date, a film which depicted stories from the Bible as depicted by African-American characters and so began a lifelong match which continued to his death.

* and in 1939,  while studying for his MA thesis, was called up to fight in the Second World War and joined the Royal Artillery as an anti-aircraft gunner, served in North Africa and Italy, where he narrowly escaped being burned alive, worked in education and intelligence and ended Army life a staff captain.

* partly as the result of the influence of his Grandmother who had 'a respect for learning, not so much as a way to wealth, but chiefly for the pure idea of learning as a liberation for the person', decided to go into university adult education which 'would have been instantly comprehensible to her, and sympathetic' and at the age of 28 in 1946, became a staff tutor at the University of Hull and five years later published his first book, a study of W.H.Auden's poetry.

* in 1956 -57, at the age of 38, spent a year teaching in the USA where he later wrote that he learned from Americans 'about directness, openness before the emotions, fidelity towards ambiguous experience, intellectual honesty' and strengthened his 'understanding of the worth of that English "neighbourliness" which is at least in part born by the sense that life is going to offer few opportunities and so you must stand by one another - "all in the same boat", "sink or swim together", "help one another because no one else will do it for you." '

* in 1957, at the age of 39, became a national figure and earned a place in the 'Daily Herald Portait Gallery of Angry Young Men' with his 'The Uses of Literacy', in which he gave a detailed picture, written with knowledge and affection, of the British northern working-class, caught them at the point where their lives, values and culture were being changed by postwar advertising, mass media influences and Americanisation and in which he was, and remained, one of them in his loyalties.

* was an advocate of the building new secondary education comprehensive schools,  in the wake of sociological studies which showed that the supposedly 'class-neutral' 11-plus exam for grammar school entrance  was biased against working-class children and would have welcomed the building of Eltham Green School, which I attended along with 2,500 other South London kids in 1957 and which gave working class lads like me a leg up to university and a profession.

* became Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Leicester, at the age of 41 in 1959 and in 1960 was called as an expert witness in the trial dealing with the publication of D.H.Lawrence's 'Lady Chatterley's Lover', where his argument that it was an essentially moral and "puritan" work, which merely repeated words he had heard on a building site on his way to the court, was considered as having a decisive influence on the outcome of the trial.which reduced censorship and ushered in the permissive 1960's.

* sat on the Pilkington Committee on Boadcasting 1960-62 and wrote the lion's share of its Report which led to the creation of  BBC2 as a quality television channel, then became Professor of English at Birmingham University at the age of 44 in 1962 and founded its Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies two years later and was its Director until 1969.
* was offered three jobs at once in 1969 : an Australian vice-chancellorship, a New York professorship and an assistant Director-Generalship at Unesco in Paris and puzzled friends by choosing Unesco and in his 3 year tenure, travelled three times round the world, was appalled by what he regarded as its misconduct, bureaucracy, infighting and laziness and in 1975, resigned and wrote a 'An Idea and Its Servants' in criticism.

 * on his return to Britain at the age of 57, in the mid-70s, became warden of Goldsmiths College in South-East London and then served and was Vice-Chairman of the Arts Council until dropped because Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, did not regard him as 'one of us' and had Sir Roy Shaw its Executive Head say of him : "he has never become in any way pompous, no matter how important his job was. He always stayed an ordinary bloke, although in fact he was always an extraordinary, ordinary bloke."

* retired from Goldsmiths College in 1984 and said "goodbye" to the main building which still bears his name but kept busy and published 'The Way We Live Now' at the age of 77 in 1995, in which he regretted the decline in moral authority which religion had once provided and attacked contemporary education for its emphasis on the 'vocational' and 'cultural relativism' and tendency to concentrate on the popular and meretricious.

* in 1998, when writing the introduction to the Guardian's 'Yearly Anthology', might well have been speaking of himself with : 'A newspaper such as this has to have above all a hinterland, a background, body, bottom, moral texture, rather than merely a daily succession of rhetorical 'ooh-ahs'. It says implicitly: 'There is more to life ...' '

* has said of himself : "I was driven by my childhood to get on, but not in the sense of becoming a millionaire or anything like that. The ambition was to do something useful and interesting and somehow involving my writing. And I did have an impulse to criticise because there was a lot to criticise. I was brought up in a world where just about everyone assumed they would stay there all their lives and I resented that deeply. There are two types of life; the first is the escalator life, where you move inexorably upwards, the other type is the carousel where you go round and round. One of my arguments is that there are enough people making it their business to ensure that people stay on the carousel."

* was never comfortable with life and wore a metaphorical hair shirt and in 'A Measured Life', referred to 'the psychological, the emotional, the intellectual pressures on a boy who climbed out of the working class through the use of his brains and forever felt between two worlds.'

Richard's son, Simon, who predeceased him in January and born into the professional middle class had no such problem :

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Britain is no longer a country for an old and rare political sketch writer called Simon Hoggart who wielded a truthful, witty pen

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Britain is no longer a country for and said "Goodbye" to an old South London tv script writer called Bob Larbey who drew on his 1950s to reap success in the 1970s

Bob, who was renowned as a television sitcom and screenplay writer with his professional partner, the late John Esmonde for 30 years, has died aged 77. Bob and John are most remembered for 'The Good Life' in the mid 1970s

* was born in the summer of 1934 in Lambeth, South London, where his father was a carpenter and at the age of 11 at the end of the Second World War, attended  the Henry Thornton School in Clapham, where he was captain of tennis.

* in the small school of 450 boys, got to know John Esmonde, three years his junior, who had been born in Battersea in 1937, found they shared a similar south London schoolboy humour and later said : "We'd make each other laugh a lot, sometimes other people too" and could been in the 1948 school photo as a second year pupil standing in the row behind the teachers.

* acquired and kept his London working class speech pattern with its 'would of' for 'would have' and 'could of' for 'could have' for the rest of his life as indicated in him talking about his last collaboration with John in the 1990s with the tv series, 'Mulberry', in which Karl Howman as the Son of Death, disguised as a manservant, parried the barbs and put-downs of his employer, a cantankerous old spinster played by Geraldine McEwan.

* left school and worked as a printing-block maker, in an insurance office in Soho and then did his National Service with the Army Education Corps in Germany and by the time John had finished his National Service in the RAF and was a journalist writing about food processing and packaging, had a job in a foundry.

* "moan over our egg and chips, saying "God, we've got to get out of this!" We just thought writing might be a way to do so, and it proved to be right" and after two years of  rejection slips, the BBC eventually accepted for a radio programme which included Cyril Fletcher and earned them a joint fee of five guineas.

* started on television in 1963 with sketches for 'The Dick Emery Show' and had a breakthrough with a radio sitcom at the age of 31 in 1965 with 'Spare a Copper' featuring the 'Carry On' film star, Kenneth Connor, as a bungling policeman which provided the money with John to become a full-time writers.

* had a first tv series, 'Room at the Bottom' in 1967, set among the maintenance workers at Saracens Manufacturing Company with the comedy revolving around the confrontations between the workers'  leader, Gus Fogg played by Kenneth Connor and the company's personnel director, Deryck Guyler, which did not prove a success.

* saw the next idea become one of television's most popular sitcoms when in 1968 turned down by the BBC, 'Please Sir!' was snapped up by ITV and became a favourite with 20 million viewers running for four years until 1972 and set in Fenn Street Secondary Modern School, with John Alderton as Bernard Hedges, the fledgling teacher trying to keep order among the unruly pupils of Class 5C.

* was said by Peter Cleal, who played 'Duffy' in the series to have called upon his and John's own experience, presumably in creating the teachers and pupils, which could only take them back to the Henry Thornton School and memories of its teachers (right) in the 1950s.

* with his next success drew on his and John's National Service experience in the 1950s to create 'Get Some In!' which ran from 1975-78.

* as he celebrated his 40th birthday, with John, moved away from his own experience with their most popular and successful series, 'The Good Life', screened in 1975, poking gentle fun at the middle classes, with Tom Good, a draughtsman for a plastics company, played by the late Richard Briers, turned 40 and seizing the occasion to drop out of the rat-race in favour of suburban self-sufficiency with his wife Barbara played by Felicity Kendal.

* later said : "We already knew Richard Briers, who was the same age as me, and that was really the start of our thinking: a man who reaches 40 and is just fed up. Fed up with what he's doing and with life generally. How does he break out of it? We hit upon self-sufficiency - but could just have easily decided that he bought a boat and sails around the world. Although that'd have been difficult to film!"

That other great sitcom writer, John Sullivan, who died three years ago, who gave us 'Only Fools and Horses', was born twelve years after Bob and was also a working class South London lad. Born in Balham, fifteen minutes away from Lambeth, his father was a plumber.

Bob and John and John, old men of Britain say "Thanks for the laughter you gave us, blessed as you were with a sense of humour given to you by your South London working class boyhood".

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Britain is still a country for and says "Happy Birthday" to an old artist-inspired film director called Peter Greenaway

Peter Greenaway, whose films are noted for the distinct influence of Renaissance, Baroque and Flemish painting and references to the past as a way to talk about the present and to draw comparisons with our current 'civilization', is 72 years old today.

What you possibly didn't know about Peter, that he :

*  was born in Newport, South Wales, during The Second World War where his mother was a teacher and father, a builder's merchant had moved from London to avoid the Blitz bombing and moved to Essex with the family at the end of the War when he was 3 years old.
* attended Forest School in North-East London and at the age of 12 decided to become a painter and became interested in European cinema and the films of Bergman, Jean-Luc-Godard and Resnais.

* began studies at Walthamstow College of Art at the age of 20 in 1962, trained as a 'muralist' and made his first film, 'Death of Sentiment', a churchyard furniture essay with crosses, flying angels, typography on grave stones in four large London cemeteries.

* at the age of twenty-two, bought his first 16mm Bolex camera and decided to focus his future within the film industry and having been rejected by the Royal College of Art Film School, started his career as a film editor and director at the Government's Central Office of Information, responsible for making public information films.

* complementary to his daily job, started making his first experimental short films : in 1966 directed 'Train', about the last steam trains at Waterloo Station and 'Tree', a homage to the embattled tree growing in concrete outside the Royal Festival Hall and in the 70's 'Verticle Features Remake', an examination of  arithmetical editing structures and a journey through the maps of a fictitious country called 'A Walk Through H'.

* made ' The Draughtman's Contract' in 1982,
'A Zed and Two Noughts' in '85,
'The Belly of an Architect' in '87,
'Drowning by Numbers' in '88 and his most successful and controversial film, 'The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover' in '89 with a role for an old fellow student and musician Ian Dury :

* in 1989, collaborated with artist Tom Phillips on a tv serial, 'A TV Dante' :
and made 'Prosperos Books' in '91 :

* in the early 1990's, added ten opera libretti his 'Death of a Composer' series dealing with the commonalities of the deaths of 10 composers, some fictitious, but including Anton Webern and John Lennon and said :

* made 'Rembrant's J'Accuse' in 2008 :

* said in 1987 :
' If my films didn't entertain they would have failed right from the beginning. I make the greatest effort to be entertaining in every area : in the discovery of images, in the composition of the picture, in the fleshing out the character in form and content, in the utilizing of music, in the work on the sound track.'

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Britain is no country for and says "Goodbye" to an old human rights activist called Peter Ashman

Peter Ashman, human rights lawyer and activistPeter died from the effects of pancreatic cancer on February 21st. He was 63 years old and doubtless would have continued to fight for human rights if his life had not been cut short by the disease.
What you possibly didn't know about Peter, that he :

* born in St Albans, Hertfordshire and had a peripatetic childhood as his father pursued a career as an airlines radio operator and Iraq, Libya, Lebanon.

* back in England, lived in Westcliff-on-Sea in Essex and attended Southend High School for Boys in the 1960s and then in the early 70s studied law at King's College, the University of  London and after coming out, took his first steps into the world of gay rights activism, becoming involved with the newly formed 'London Gay Liberation Front'.

* after his bar finals, worked in a commercial law practice, found the work boring and in 1977, at the age of 26, became and for the next 15 years worked as the Legal Officer of 'Justice', the British section of the 'International Commission of Jurists', drafted dozens of influential working party reports for its members and briefed politicians about human rights long before they carried the weight that they do now.

* in 1977 joined the 'Campaign for Homosexual Equality', the leading lesbian and gay advocacy organisation which in its founding press release affirmed the then novel idea that 'freedom from discrimination on the grounds of a person’s sexual orientation is a fundamental human right'.

* co-founded the 'Campaign's Law Reform Committee' and played a leading role throughout the 12 years of its existence and at the 1978 conference co-organised a meeting of activists from 14 countries to set up an international gay rights organisation and took charge of and infused a sub-group, which became the 'International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association', with its human rights ethos and objectives.

* working with the Association over the next 25 years achieved for sexual orientation the :
- removal of  'homosexuality' from the World Health Organisation 'Classification of Diseases'.
- prohibition of discrimination under the European Convention on Human Rights.
- prevention of discrimination in employment under European law.
- bringing of litigation cases against criminalisation laws in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
- bringing cases against discriminatory laws in Greece, the USA, Canada, Germany, Australia and the USSR.

* in the late 1970s when Merlyn Rees was Home Secretary, took up the case of Robert Weeks, who, when 17, had been given a 'discretionary life sentence' for stealing 35p from a pet shop while armed with a starting pistol and released on license, was reimprisoned on the orders of the Minister after an incident of drunken behaviour.

* when Robert was refused early release, represented him and successfully challenged the decision before the European Court of Human Rights in what proved to be the first of a number of cases which eventually resulted in the powers for review of life sentences being transferred from the Government to the Judiciary.

* helped Robert get out of a vicious circle of re-offending by assisting him to abscond from an open prison, organising travel documents, then, with the compensation awarded by the European Court of Human Rights, helped him buy a small plot of land in France for market gardening and when he returned to Britain, put him up until he could find a home, found him a job, and even organised his marriage and continued to support him in one way or another until his death about 10 years ago.

* in the late 1970s, took on the legal preparation of the Case of Jeff Dudgeon, a Belfast shipping clerk who was challenging the 'law against same-sex relations' in Northern Ireland before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
* asked Lord Gifford QC to present the case which led to the historic 1981 ruling that criminalisation of same-sex relationships violated the European Convention, the world’s first successful LGBT rights case brought before an international human rights tribunal which was followed over the next 20 years, 23 European jurisdictions decriminalising homosexuality and so freed millions from the fear of prosecution.

* encouraged by the success in the Dudgeon Case, organised three further cases, challenging discrimination in the 'age of consent', 'privacy laws' and the 'Armed Forces' all of which were rejected out of hand by the Court which refused to apply the principle of non-discrimination to lesbians and gays and continued to do so until in 1997, when it started to adopt a less discriminatory approach and in 1998 finally gave the ILGA 'consultative status'.

 * had a quiet, irrepressible optimism and belief that, however worrying the immediate circumstances or bleak the outlook, eventually things would come right and worked patiently and positively for LGBT rights through the dark years of the 1980s.

* concerned that miscarriages of justice in Britain were going unremedied, suggested a tv series which led in 1982 to BBC's 'Rough Justice' in which he acted as legal commentator, supplied many of the cases, saw the programme become  instrumental in securing the release of 18 prisoners and contributed to the setting up of an official body for reviewing miscarriages of justice.

* in 1989 joined the working group to set up 'Stonewall', a lesbian, gay and bisexual rights charity and for the first six months of its life, allowed it to operate from the front room of his house and saw it emerge, in the years which followed, as the largest gay equality organization not only in the Britain, but in Europe.

* in 1992, moved to Brussels to set up and direct the office of the 'European Human Rights Foundation' and working with Stonewall and ILGA, published 'Homosexuality: A European Community Issue' which demonstrated how the human rights protection offered by the EU could be applied to gay men and lesbians and was an important first step in the process of convincing officials of the need and practicality of taking measures against sexual orientation discrimination which eventually led to the historic adoption in 1997 of 'Article 13 of the Treaty of Amsterdam', which saw member states empower the EU to take action to combat sexual orientation discrimination.
* as Executive Director of the Foundation, led a team with offices in Prague and Warsaw which ran European Commission programmes in support of civil society in East and Central Europe, the Balkans and the countries of the former Soviet Union and untroubled by convention, on one occasion, surprised a visiting Commission official who found him in shirt-sleeves and brandishing an electric drill.

* in 2001, joined the European Commission, working on human rights policy, before returning to London in 2004 to become a human rights adviser at the Foreign Office and drafted a programme for British embassies to support LGBT rights around the world which served as an example for the EU and the US State Department.

What made Peter special as a human rights activist, who left the world a better place for having been here, was his exceptional knowledge of the law, legal procedures, international human rights instruments, how institutions worked and most importantly : how to get things done.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Britain in climate change will be no country for more and more old men who will die in the heat

In her article for the Guardian today reporting on the latest UN Report on climate change, Suzanne Goldenburg US Environment Correspondent said :
Picture of Suzanne Goldenberg'Pensioners left on their own during a heatwave in industrialised countries. single mothers in rural areas. workers who spend most of their days outdoors. slum dwellers in the megacities of the developing world. These are some of the vulnerable groups who will feel the brunt of climate change as its effects become more pronounced in the coming decades.'

Suzanne quoted directly from the Report :
'People who are socially, economically, culturally, politically, institutionally or otherwise marginalised are especially vulnerable to climate change.'

Marginalised and left on their own, many old men and women living in Britain certainly fulfil these criteria. In a post during the heatwave last July entitled : Britain is no country for hot old men in a heatwave, I quoted Professor Ben Armstrong, an epidemiological statistician at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who said:

“Our previous studies have shown that as temperatures rise above a certain threshold, the risk of death increases. Using the same model, we estimate that the current heatwave has caused the premature deaths of 650 people. The excess is likely to have been overwhelmingly among the elderly, especially those over 75, some of which may have been among people who would have died just a few weeks later if there had been no heatwave.”

It is certain that old men and women will die in the heat in Britain in larger and larger numbers, the more so now that Government financial cuts dictate that 250,000 of them are no longer receiving  care and support in their own homes :

Question : Why will an excessive numbe of old men die in increasingly frequent heatwaves in Britain ?

Answer : Because they :
* won't drink enough to keep their bodies hydrated.
World Meterological Organization (WMO) secretary general Michel Jarraud gestures during a press conference as he releasea his agency's annual climate report on March 24, 2014 in Geneva. Disasters in 2013 including Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines and drought in Australia are consistent with the human role in climate change, the head of the UN's weather agency said. (AFP / FABRICE COFFRINI)* will close the widows to protect themselves from burglars.
* with air conditioning, will get cold and then turn up the thermostat to get warm.

Michael Jarraud, Secretary-General of the World Meterological Organization, gestured during a press conference as he released the climate change report in Geneva.
For the world and the old men within it, 2013 was the sixth-warmest year on record. Thirteen of the 14 warmest years have occurred in the 21st century.