Sunday, 23 November 2014

Britain is no longer a country for and said "Farewell" to an old, 'invisible' star of television, Paul Vaughan

Paul, who has died at the age of 89, presented BBC TV's 'Horizon', science documentaries and Radio 4's arts magazine, 'Kaleidoscope' in the last quarter of the twentieth century and was instantly recognisable from his 1995 Orange mobile phone advert : "The future's bright. The future's Orange" :

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

*  was born in 1925 and grew up in Brixton, in the borough of Lambeth, South London, which he recalled as 'a clattering, grimy district', where his Grandfather, who died from the effects a gas attack in the First World War when he was a year old, had worked as a prison warden and his Father worked as the secretary of the 'Linoleum and Floorcloth Manufacturers' Association'.

* was 9 years old when the family moved to a new semi in New Malden, Surrey with the countryside within walking distance and
first attended Malden College, then in 1936 at the age of 11, Raynes Park County School, a boys' grammar school opened the year before with the 33 year old, John Garrett, as its charismatic headteacher.

* benefited from : Garrett's large circle of friends including poets, novelists, theatre people and fashionable dons,
who visited the school and talked to the boys ; the presence, on the staff, of the novelist and poet Rex Warner, who taught classics; the Euston Road Group painter, Claude Rogers (left), who taught art; readings from poet Cecil Day-Lewis and WH Auden (right), who wrote the school song and its motto, adapted from Marx : 'To each his need, from each his power' and the presence of T S Eliot, inveigled into presenting prizes on speech day.

* with his life in New Malden and at the school, later said that it 'was shaped by two quiet different phenomena of the 1930s : the rapid redistribution of population that went with the creation of the London suburbs and the literary and artistic movement of the times. In Raynes Park, the Man on the Clapham Omnibus came face to face with the Auden generation' and found that Garrett 'with the manners and bearing of an Oxford aesthete, he brought an exotic distinction to an ordinary, outwardly colourless corner of suburban England'.

* later recalled : "We all lived in these suburban houses, self-improvement was the thing. It was very important for people to better themselves and you could do that by being able to speak proper English. Talk proper" and had his speech shaped by 'Mr Gibb who taught 'Geography and English Grammar, and took the latter to include pronunciation. He would go round the class making each of us say, in turn "how now, brown cow' and 'put caols on the fire', grimacing at our nasal South London dipthongs and exhorting us to listen carefully to the BBC announcers and their faultless dialect-free English'.

* left school in 1943, during the Second World War and started his undergraduate studies in French and English at Wadham College, Oxford, interrupted when he was enlisted into the Army with  the 'Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers', set up and responsible for the maintenance, servicing and inspection of equipment in the combat and described by Field Marshal Montgomery as : "REME exists to keep the punch in the Army's fist".

* enjoyed a brief friendship with a Lance Corporal called John Schlesinger and weekends spent in the sophisticated family house in Berkshire where he was 'propelled into a beautiful new world : but it made me feel clumsy and gauche', returned to his studies at Wadham after the War in 1947 on a Government grant of £267 p.a. and an Oxford "filled to bursting point with returning servicemen- older than the average pre-war undergraduate and eager for the kind of intellectual stimulation they'd been denied.'

* was, for three terms, the Films Editor of 'The Isis', the oldest undergraduate magazine and after graduation stayed on briefly to study for a B.Lit  but flunked the exams, returned home and then worked for five years exporting pharmaceuticals for 'Menley and James' in Camberwell makers of 'Mother Siegel's Syrup' for dyspepsia and 'Dethblo' for ringworm and 'Antidipso' for alcoholism, but recalled that 'it was boring work and the more I did it, the more boring it became.

* at the age of 26, in 1951, married Barbara Prys-Jones, daughter of Welsh poet Arthur Prys-Jones and in 1955 started  work as assistant to an 'almost unbearably twitchy' PR officer at the British Medical Association, rose to the position of 'Chief Press Officer', where he was involved in the fuss over the surgical separation of a pair of Siamese twins in Hammersmith Hospital filmed for the tv programme 'Your Life in their Hands'.

* started occasional work for the BBC and in 1962, recorded a talk with James Watson and Francis Crick about : 'how they discovered DNA ? whether their discovery of DNA changed the direction of scientific research ? and regrets about what they did and didn't do ? '

* in 1965 left the B.M.A, but continued his links with the medical profession with the publication of 'Family Planning: The Family Planning Associations Guide to Birth Control' in 1969, with po-faced anatomical drawings, including one of the erect penis, helpfully labelled 'Penis' and 'The Pill On Trial' by Penguin Books in 1972, dealing with how the medical profession coped with the first throes of the sexual revolution.
 * in 1968 at the age of 43, started his 27 year career working as the main narrator of the BBC's science documentary series, 'Horizon' in a period rapid development of science and technology, with much to report in biology and electronics.

* later recalled that "I realised my voice was a saleable commodity. I was the voice of 'Horizon' and there's a difference between someone like me- a journalist, basically doing that and an actor who will give a performance of a man reading a commentary and somebody else who reads the commentary, understands what it means, a kind of intelligent appreciation of what the script was all about" and put his voice to good use on the BBC World Service, 'Science in Action' and 'Discovery' and on Radio 4's, 'New Worlds'.

* in 1977 in Horizon's 'The Chips Are Down', apparently watched by Cabinet Ministers seeking enlightenment, dealt with the invention of the silicon chip, the predicted death of the Swiss watch industry and the new 'word processor' , which would see the end of the typing pool and was followed by a debate with a Government Minister about what could be done to prevent a  future of mass unemployment.
* saw his older brother, David's career flourish, as a dance archivist and historian and himself moved into 'The Arts' presenting the BBC Radio 4 magazine 'Kaleidoscope' from its beginning in 1973 until its closure in 1998 and on Radio 3, used his musical expertise, not the least as a lifelong clarinetist, in presenting  'Record Review' from 1981.
* memorably interviewed Gerald Scarfe on 'Kaleidoscope' in 1982 about his reportage drawing in SE Asia and Northern Ireland, reducing characters to abstracts, the influence of other artists and his drawing process and making sculptures in paper mache.
*  narrated the visceral, 1984 Hot War tv drama, 'Threads', dealing with everyday life in 1980s Sheffield, devastated by a nuclear missile attack and its aftermath which drew upon research and footage from director Mick Jackson's 1982 QED documentary, 'A Guide to Armageddon.'

* in 1988 narrated an 'Horizon' programme, filmed and based on interviews in Newcastle and Burnley, which examined the theories to explain why working class people were more likely to suffer ill health and die young than those in professional classes :

*  published his autobiography 'Something in Linoleum: A Thirties Education' in 1994, a reference to the comment he suspects his old Headmaster wrote about his father's occupation after his interview, as an 11 year old, for a place at Raynes Park County School and followed it in 1996 with 'Exciting Times in the Accounts Department' about his time at the BBC, with references to the 'bored, off-hand, unsmiling' Otto Preminger, 'modest, almost embarrassingly polite' David Niven and Tony Benn's exclamation : 'Golly. It's James Mason.'

* in 2010, at the age of 85 provided narration for the British English edition of the Japanese Nintendo Wii video game 'Kiby's Epic Yarn' and in 2013 narrated the audiobook, 'Paddington and the Grand Tour' :

* had fellow Kaleidoscope presenter, Paul Gambacinni say of him on the BBC Radio 4 'Last Word' this week : "He did have a remarkable voice and he knew how to use it. He was a master of tempo, enunciation and he used this gift... it was absolutely riveting; it commanded attention. It's how people would speak if they could speak well, an example : "The futures bright. The future's Orange". Six words, two of which are 'the' and yet entire generations know them because of the way Paul Vaughan said them."

* Paul also said that he presented the last regular edition of Kaleidoscope about Arthur Miller, who had been asked :"what he remembered from the opening night of 'Death of A Salesman' because there was no recording of it ?" and Miller said : "All that's left are memories of voices in the air and that's not nothing. Well, after this week's news, all I have are  memories of Paul Vaughan's voice in the air and that's not nothing."

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Adieu" to an old actor called Richard Pasco who, for half a century, beguiled it with his voice and presence

Richard, an actor who, whatever role he played on stage and screen 'invested it', in the words of Michael Billington, 'with authority and adorned it with an unforgettable voice that could switch naturally from trumpet to cello', has died at the age of 88.

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

* was born in in 1926 in Barnes, West London, the son of Phyllis and Cecil and educated at the boys' independent school, King’s College, Wimbledon, which he left at the age of 16 in 1942, during the Second World War and joined as an 'apprentice stage manager' and occasional actor at the Q Theatre near Kew Bridge.

* made his London debut at the age of 17 in 1943 as Diggory in 'She Stoops to Conquer' at Queen's Theatre and then was called up for War-time Military Service in 1944, served until he was demobbed in 1948, then trained at the Central School of Speech and Drama, graduated with a gold medal in 1950 and began his stage career proper at the age of 24.

* had two at seasons at the Old Vic, followed by the Birmingham Rep, from 1952 to '55, under the directorship of Douglas Seale and increased his versatility with work in British, Greek and French drama including 'The Enchanted' (right), by Jean Giraudoux in 1955.

* in 1957, at the age of 31, played the dastardly Rodriques in the Robert Shaw tv series, 'The Bucaneers' (two thirds into the clip) : and Jimmy Porter at the Royal Court in John Osborne’s 'Look Back in Anger' and in the same year, Archie Rice’s son, Frank, in 'The Entertainer' and, as his friend John recalled, sang : “Don’t be afraid to sleep with your sweetheart” at the lively first-night party.

* in 1959 played 'Teddy' (left) with Lawrence Harvey in the screen version of 'Room At The Top' : ttp://
and in 1960, the 'treacherous Earl of Newark' (right) in the Hammer Production : 'Sword of Sherwood Forest', with a young Oliver Reed as Lord Melton : , then in 1964, for Hammer again, played Paul Heitz, in the company of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in 'The Gorgon' :

* back on stage, after West End appearances, in 1964, at the age of 38, joined the Bristol Old Vic and for three successful seasons played Henry V, Hamlet, Berowne in 'Love’s Labour’s Lost', Angelo in 'Measure for Measure', Peer Gynt, John Tanner in Shaw’s 'Man and Superman'.

* in 1966, played an 'intriguing' Cardinal Richelieu in the tv production, 'The Three Musketeers' (as seen two thirds through you tube clip) :

* signed up with the Royal Shakespeare Company, at the age of 43 in 1969 and played Leantio in Middleton's 'Women Beware Women', acting for the first time with Judi Dench, as Bianca, and later recalled that he found it 'the most fiendishly difficult text to learn. I didn't think I'll ever learn it; it's one of those texts where if you don't go over it at least once every two days it'll never come back to you. We were often doing it after a break of eight or ten days, without even a word-run sometimes, so Jude and I endured that together.'

*  stayed with the RSC, more or less continuously, until 1980, playing in his first season, Polixenes in 'The Winter’s Tale', Proteus in 'The Two Gentlemen of Verona' and Buckingham in 'Henry VIII' and graduated to his favourite as Becket in 1972 in Terry Hands’s production of TS Eliot’s 'Murder in the Cathedral'.

* had his finest hour in 1973 in the famous alternation of Richard II and Bolingbroke, with Ian Richardson, using John Barton’s revelatory idea of seeing the two leading characters as mirror images of each other, rather than violent opposites, their interchangeability underlined before scene 1, when an actor dressed as Shakespeare arbitrarily placed the crown on one actor rather than the other.

* in the same season, played Jacques, to Eileen Atkins’s Rosalind, in Buzz Goodbody's  'As You Like It'.

* received his CBE with his son and wife, Barbara Leigh-Hunt, when he was 51 in 1977.

* in 1979 played Brutus to Charles Grey's Caesar in the tv production of 'Julius Caesar' and in 1982, with John Barton, Associate Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, took part with many of the finest British actors of his generation in one rehearsal room, in a grapple with the work of  'Playing Shakespeare' in 'rehearsing the text' , 'irony and ambiguity' : and Richard II's : "Tell Sad Stories of the Death of Kings" speech :

* in 1980 contributed to 'Birds, Beasts and Flowers : a programme of poetry, prose and music' reading  'The Unanswered Question: Miracles' : and 'The Lark Ascending: Proud Songsters' :

* played the Bastard in 'King John', Aleister Crowley in Snoo Wilson's, 'The Beast' and Timon of Athens in Ron Daniels’s 1980 production, at first with the air of an innocent prodigal, but later as Michael Billington wrote : 'With his red-rimmed eyes, patchwork costume and habit of gnawing passionately at root vegetables, he is the picture of desolation: a poor, bare, forked animal with vast reserves of hate.'

* in 1984 at the age of 58, starred in the six episode, Yorkshire TV mini-series, 'Sorrell and Son' as a decorated First World War hero, raising his son Kit alone after his mother had deserted husband and child :

Michael Bryant, left, and Richard Pasco in Murmuring Judges, the second of the plays that went to make up David Hare's trilogy, National Theatre, 1991.* with Michael Bryant, played in David Hare's 'Murmuring Judges' at the National Theatre in 1991 and was back on stage in '93 in the David Hare trilogy about religion, the law and the Labour Party, especially memorable as the Bishop of Southwark, in 'Racing Demon', “brass balls clang as he walks”.

* at the age of 71 in 1997, played the physician, Dr Jenner, to Judi Dench’s Queen Victoriain 'Mrs Brown' in a period when he made appearances in popular tv series : 'Inspector Morse', 'Kavanagh QC' and 'Hetty Wainthropp Investigates'.

* in 1995 produced an audio cassette, 'How Pleasant to Know Mr Lear !' with his wife Barbara.

* in 2008 at the age of 82 produced a 'Frankenstein' audiobook in 13 parts : and in 2010 in a 'Short Stories' compilation read Edgar Alan Poe's 'The Tell-tale Heart' : 'One of his eyes resembled that of a vulture -- a pale blue eye with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me my blood ran cold, and so by degrees, very gradually, I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye for ever....'

* could look back with pride over a life well spent, thrilling audiences over fifty years on stage, screen and television : and should have the last word reading, with that beautiful voice, Robert Frost's 'The Span of Life' :
      The old dog barks backwards without getting up.
      can remember when he was a pup.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Britain is no country and the BBC no corporation for an old Northern Irish balcksmith called Barney Devlin

Barney is the 94 year old blacksmith at Castledawson,  County Londonderry in Northern Ireland. He worked in the smithy there, when Seamus Heaney, the Nobel Laureate poet, was growing up in the local 'Mossbawn Farm', the first of nine children. He walked past the smithy on his way to school in the 1940s, when Barney was hammering at the anvil inside, a young smithy in his twenties. He didn't go inside but knew and spoke to Barney, both in their Northern Irish, English. Barney recalled that : "He walked up the side of the road for years on his way to school."

In 1969, when he was 49 and Seamus 30, he composed his poem, 'The Forge' and as a result "the visitors came in carloads. One day Seamus came himself and I'll never forget it. People don't realise it but he actually wrote the poem before he even crossed the dark door. When he arrived he laughed because everything was in place as he wrote it."

All I know is a door into the dark.
Outside, old axles and iron hoops rusting;
Inside, the hammered anvil’s short-pitched ring,
The unpredictable fantail of sparks
Or hiss when a new shoe toughens in water.
The anvil must be somewhere in the centre,
Horned as a unicorn, at one end and square,
Set there immoveable: an altar
Where he expends himself in shape and music.
Sometimes, leather-aproned, hairs in his nose,
He leans out on the jamb, recalls a clatter
Of hoofs where traffic is flashing in rows;
Then grunts and goes in, with a slam and flick
To beat real iron out, to work the bellows

Sesamus died last year, at the age of 74. Barney has an enlarged photograph of himself with him above the television in the family home and in a frame, a handwritten version of 'The Forge', with Seamus's comment : 'Hammer on Barney.'
Barney has said that when he learnt of his death it "annoyed me immensely. He was a grand fella and I knew all of his family. He'll be sadly missed.Seamus was a very humble man known for his poetry yes, but locally known for his football, farming, humour and community spirit."

Barney's forge has been well preserved and become a tourist attraction and it was here, this year, that Barney was interviewed for BBC's 'Countryfile' tv programme at the forge, about its association with Seamus. This was broadcast on Sunday and has raised emotions, since in production, the decision to add subtitles for Barney's Northern Irish speech.

The BBC has said : "No offence was intended. We wanted as wide an audience as possible to appreciate Barney Devlin's evocative memories of blacksmithing and of Seamus Heaney. We discussed with Mr Devlin using subtitles and he was happy for this to happen."
One wonders, however, if they would have been added if Barney had been 34 and not 94 ?  Either way, Barney's treatment has united both sides of the political divide in Northern Ireland.

The Sinn Féin MP for the area, Francie Molloy, was unappeased. Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster, said he was very unhappy with the programme : "I think this is part of an ongoing process by the BBC of insulting the Irish people both in culture and language, in this occasion putting subtitles over the voice. The subtitles were only coming up for Barney and in other episodes of the programme which covers different parts of the country, indeed the world, it's very seldom that you do see subtitles being used. Seamus Heaney was from the same part of the country and he was never subtitled. The people of south Derry have complained to us so we're passing that on to the BBC."

The Democratic Unionist Party Member of the Legislative Assemby, Peter Weir, told BBC 5Live that
 : "I felt that what Barney had to say was relatively distinct and that the use of subtitles was both unnecessary and somewhat insulting to a 94-year-old man. I sometimes see Countryfile and I can't remember another occasion, despite the wide range of accents you hear in the United Kingdom, that I saw somebody subtitled. Somebody at the BBC has acted in a slightly patronising and unnecessary way."

Ian Milne, Mid Ulster Sinn Fein, M.L.A, claimed to be “shocked” by the use of subtitles, demanded an apology and told the Mid Ulster Mail that : “Following the death of Heaney last year, Devlin was interviewed by media organisations from across the world, including the BBC and they did not see the need for subtitles. This has caused anger in the local community who are insulted by this unnecessary move. It is yet another example of the BBC’s lack of respect for Irish people and culture.”


Sunday, 16 November 2014

Britain is no longer a country for and said "Farewell" to an old Brummie saxophonist called Mike Burney

Mike, renowned and accomplished saxophone player, who gave pleasure to innumerable audiences, working with diverse artists from both sides of the Atlantic in a career which spanned over fifty years, has died at the age of 76.

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

* was born in 1944, during the Second World War in Great Barr, an area staddling the boundaries of Birmingham, West Bromwich and Walsall and went to Hamstead Junior School, followed by Churchfields Comprehensive School in
1955 and at 16 in 1960, for two years to the Bromsgrove College of Further Education which had been built with a good hall and music facilities.

* came under the influence of the Music Department headed by Joseph Stones who started the 'Bromsgrove Festival' in 1960 and with little money, brought distinguished artists to the town, including the great cellist, Paul Tortelier, the composer, Dame Janet Baker and legendary pianist John Ogden and by the time his later, fellow-saxophonist, Nick Pentelow (left), attended seven years later, was run by Harold Taylor who brought in the then, unknown artists, Ravi Shankar and Julian Lloyd-Webber.

* in 1965, at the age of 21, played in 'Everett's Blueshounds' (right) and in 1968 joined Billy Fury's backing band (left) and remained for two years, then had his life change forever in 1972, when, as he later recalled : "I'd been doing really boring big band gigs on the ballroom circuit, so when Roy (Wood) offered me a job in Wizzard  I was just knocked out" and made his debut with the band at a Rock ‘n’ Roll Festival at Wembley in August, followed by an appearance at the Reading Festival later that month.

* became part of the most picturesque group in the British Glam Rock Era, with Roy's distinctive warpaint make-up and colourful costume and the band's regular appearances on BBC TV’s 'Top of the Pops', in which members and friends appeared in pantomime horses, gorilla costumes and roller-skating angels, often wielding custard pies for good measure.

* later recalled repeated conversations in which he said : '"Roy, being in this band, it's like Christmas every day" and, as far as I know, Roy picked up on that as a song title' for the 1973 Christmas single he had decided to make because "they'd been unfashionable for years. We thought it would be worth trying a real rock'n'roll Christmas song " : 'I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday'

* had already provided the sax along with Nick Pentelow, for their fist 'Top Ten' hit, 'Ball Park Incident' in 1972 : and for their biggest hit and second single : 'See My Baby Jive' in 1973 : , Roy's affectionate tribute to the Phil Spector 'Wall of Sound', which made No. 1 in the UK singles chart for four weeks

* the following year played 'Angel Fingers (A Teen Ballad)' : , wrote the 'B side' to the Christmas hit with : 'Rob Roy's NIghtmare' : and backed “This Is The Story Of My Love (Baby)” : and 'Rock 'n' Roll Winter' in 1974 : and worked in the band for another two years before it disbanded, when he was 32, in 1976.

* formed 'The Old Horns', named after the Great Barr pub where they first played, with Wizard' saxophonist Nick Pentelow and keyboard player Bob Brady.

* could look back on a career in which he toured, accompanied and sessioned with   :

From the States :
- Rat Pack star, Sammy Davies Jnr
- rock band, The Beach Boys
- jazz singers : Mel Torme and Sarah Vaughan
- swing band leader, Billy Eckstine
- bluesman Gene, 'The Mighty Flea' Connors
- guitar legend, Mickey Baker
- blues singer and pianist, Memphis Slim
- blues singer and harmonica player, Sonny Boy Williamson
- singer song-writer, Chaka Khan
- singer Dionne Warwick

- Jamaican R and B and soul singer, Ruby Turner,

From Britain :
- Adam Faith,
- Matt Monro
- Cliff Richard
- Cilla Black,
- Engelbert Humperdinck
- Petula Clark
- Stevie Winwood

* appeared on Morecambe and Wise shows in the 'Syd Lawrence Orchestra' where he played on the extreme left :

* in 2013 and four years into his treatment for cancer, married his partner Sue in Walsall, who he had taught to play the flute when she was 12 years old :

* in 2013, unable to play the sax and recovering from surgery, was absent from the 'Birmingham International Jazz and Blues Festival' for the first time for 29 years, which saw the Roy Wood and Steve Gibbons Bands and The Old Horn Band and R&B combo, King Pleasure and the Biscuit Boys, put on a benefit concert for him at the Asylum Club.

* had Roy remark, in his absence : "I learned a lot from him and sincerely hope Mike will get back to form and make a full recovery" and Nick Pentelow, who was 21 years old when they met : "I always loved trad jazz, blues and rck 'n' roll, but when I met Mike he had so much knowledge of all the modern jazz music, he completely opened my eyes to it."

* after his passing on Thursday had Jim Simpson, from 'Big Bear Music' pay tribute to him : “Saxophonist Mike Burney was probably the finest jazz musician this region has produced, but more than that he was self effacing regarding his talent, generous with his time, advice and support and with a monumental never-dimmed enthusiasm and love for music and for life. He never knowingly passed-up an opportunity to play music, whether paid or otherwise. He put no store on financial gain which he disdained, music and friendship and family were his priorities."

* had once seized such 'opportunity to play' in a version of Ray Charles's 'Mess Around' with 'The Old Horns' in 2009 :

* had his stature acknowledged by Jim who said : “Visiting American musicians, knowing of his reputation as a world-class player, would seek him out and get to play alongside Mike, who was totally unphased by their reputations and revelled in playing in top company."

* and his stoicism, when he : "faced his long battle with cancer with strength, optimism and his indefatigable sense of humour. Only a few hours before the end, when pianist Andy Peate passed him a drink of water, Mike commented ‘I’d settle for a half of Bathams’.”