Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Britain, a country with social media, is no country for an old, Welsh broadcaster called John Humphrys

John Humphrys, the veteran BBC broadcaster is 72 years old. He was born in the first half of the last century in 1943 during the Second World War in Splott, Cardiff, the capital of his native Wales, the son of Winifred, a hairdresser and Edward a self-employed French polisher. Although he went to grammar school, he didn't fit into the middle-class environment and left school at the age of 15 to become a cub reporter on the 'PenarthTimes'.

Since 1958, John's increasing brilliance as a communicator has meant that he has had a long and varied career in various media :

* a commercial tv channel based in Wales
* a BBC district tv reporter for Liverpool and the Northwest
* a BBC tv foreign correspondent in the USA and South Africa
* the main presenter for BBC's tv's flagship 'Nine O'Clock News'
* a presenter on BBC Radio 4's 'Today' Programme
* the author of several books, including 'Lost for Words', in which he criticizes what he sees as the widespread misuse of the English language
* the host of the BBC quiz show, 'Mastermind'.


Having worked in and made a living from various media manifestations for the last 58 years, it might come as a surprise that John is no lover of 'social' media and our veteran broadcaster has revealed the depth of his contempt by lambasting Facebook and the ‘utterly pointless’ Twitter for fuelling ‘idiocies’ and like an Old Testament prophet John has inveighed against the millions who use them. He told the Radio Times : ‘I do not do Facebook or Twitter. I am anti the sort of idiocies that Twitter frequently produces and baffled by people who feel they’ve got to be telling everybody what they’re doing all the time. If I want to hear what ordinary people think then I will talk to them in a pub. Twitter is utterly pointless.'


Friday, 25 March 2016

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to a son of Yorkshire and authentic voice of its people called Barry Hines

Barry who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2009, has died at the age of 76 and his passing gives cause to celebrate the life and work of an unreconstructed socialist and Yorkshireman, who sought neither fame nor celebrity, but was only interested in shining a light on the lives of the people he loved. When he was 'famous' and moved back to his hometown he said : “I’m still Dick Hines’s lad here, and that’s all. There’s no literary talk here, and when I talk to people it’s about people, and about their work. I prefer this kind of existence; it keeps you sane; it keeps the temperature down, and makes you realise what’s important."

He was born Melvyn Barry Hines, the son and coal miner Dick who worked at the colliery just down the street at the age of 14 as a pit pony driver and whose own father had been killed in a pit explosion and Annie, who struggled to raise him and his brother while holding down a full-time job, in the South Yorkshire mining village of Hoyland Common near Barnsley, just before the outbreak of the Second World War in the summer of 1939. Life was tough for young Barry, accommodation was basic and the family shared an outside toilet with neighbours 30 yards from their door.

As boy he, not unsurprisingly, sought out the rolling fields and rich woods beyond the pithead and at the age of 5 recalled : 'My first school was Hoyland Common Primary, near Barnsley, and the only thing I can remember about the teachers was we were scared of them. They stood at the front, used the blackboard and the cane and you learned by rote ' and 'The rooms were dark, the furniture was old and the teachers seemed old - even if they weren't: some of them were in their twenties or thirties but they had the clothes and haircuts of their dads. Mr Blackledge, the headmaster, had some fingers blown off during the war, and your eyes were always drawn to his hand. For corporal punishment, he would crouch down and his hand would go behind your bare legs (we wore short trousers) - and the thought of the gammy hand at the back of my legs, like something out of a horror film, was worse than the actual punishment.'

Barry kept baby magpies as a child, stolen from their nests, fattened them up on scraps of food and had them flying around the house until they were strong enough to be set free, which would roughly coincide with the time his mother said "that bird has to go" and remembered the bird would always sit on the windowsill outside and look in before it finally flew away.
 

The year 1950 meant that : ''Most of my friends then went to Kirk Balk Secondary, just up the road. But I passed the 11-plus. For a lot of children, that was the parting of the ways. But I wasn't an academic boy and I was very good at sport, so that kept me in touch with my friends. I'd be up the rec with them at half past four playing football. So I was one of them."

Ecclesfield Grammar School for Boys, which he reached by a ten mile round trip by bus, was not to his liking. On his own admission he 'struggled all the time.'  Post-War Boys grammar schools were probably the repositories of the least inspired teaching in the 1950s, often with begowned, ex-servicemen with a degree but no inclination to teach who 'just stood there and you took notes.'

He spent his first year messing about in class with a lad from his primary school and expected to be placed in the 'B' stream in his second year, only to find himself propelled down to 'C' : 'It was like football - 1st, 2nd or 3rd divisions. And I didn't want to be in the 3rd division. So after the summer holidays I decided I was going to try my best. There was a nice quiet lad there and I decided I was going to sit next to him so I wouldn't mess about. So I did, and at the end of the year I came second which meant I should have gone up into 3B, because the first two did. But the lad who came third was to 'go up' instead. I was heartbroken.'

Mr Harrison, the Headmaster, hadn't reckoned on Mrs Hines, who went up to the school and got him 'put up'. He found out later that, at a staff meeting to decide which lads went up, he had been written off because 'I'd probably leave at 15.'  His salvation came in the form of one teacher :  'Because I was good at PE, the most sympathetic teacher was Billy Buck. He was genial. I was captain of all the football teams and he'd discuss teams and things with me. I couldn't talk to other teachers like that.'  Barry's 'because I was good at P.E.' was an understatement since he represented 'England Grammar Schools' in an international match against Scotland : 'We played Scotland at Celtic Park, in Glasgow. We lost 2-0' and, in addition, he was and an even-time sprinter.

Despite his criticism towards the school, he was magnanimous when it came to acknowledging what the school had done for him : 'The headmaster of Ecclesfield Grammar looked like a public school head, in a gown, and our school song was 'Forty Years On', the Harrow school song; it was in fact an ordinary grammar school and, although at heart I felt I was still one of the boys who hadn't passed the scholarship, it was right for me.' https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_iZA85mMn4Y&t=0m29s

He 'tried hard and got six O-levels, but I wasn't examined in the things I was really good at, such as sport or woodwork' and left school at 16 in 1955 to work for 6 months as an apprentice surveyor in Rockingham Colliery where his Dad worked and he hated it. Chided by the miners for “not using his brains”, inspired by Mr Buck and thinking of becoming a PE teacher, he returned to the Grammar School to study 'A' Level History and Economics which, when he passed, he thought was the 'highlight of my academic career' because : 'I realised I was not as dumb as I thought.' It was at this time, at the age of 17, that he was paid a visit by a Manchester United scout who offered him a trial, which, to the consternation of his younger brother, he turned down in favour of a career in teaching.

He followed two years study of Physical Education at Loughborough College of Education where, on arrival, he was put on a course called 'Remedial English' because of his regional accent and one of his lecturers was Allen Wade, who a few years later became the new 'National Director of Education and Coaching for the Football Association', but more important, for his subsequent career as a writer, in his second year he 'started reading for the first time - 'Animal Farm' and Hemingway - and I discovered the bug to write.' He recalled : “I was in digs with a chap who took English as a second subject, and he had some books like, and one Sunday afternoon, I said, "Have got anything worth reading?" because I was a bit bored, and he said, "Have a look at that," and it was Animal Farm. I think it was the first novel I’d actually read in my own time, and of my own volition. I’d actually sat down and read a book, and I was 21. Ridiculous. I can’t remember reading anything before."

'Mr. Jones, of the Manor Farm, had locked the hen-houses for the night, but was too drunk to remember to shut the pop-holes.' https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Mcep34DH_s&t=0m05s
.
“Well, I enjoyed that book, and we had this English course at college, and I started doing a few short pieces, descriptions and that kind of thing, and I got decent marks and a bit of encouragement, so then I did one or two stories, and got them in the college magazine, and I started doing a bit of reading of my own in the library. And, I know this sounds like a cliche, but it was like a whole world opening up. I could see. Wheels started turning. I’d never heard of Ernest Hemingway, but when I read his stories I realised there was something special about this simple style, but I couldn’t understand how he got the effect. I realised there was something underneath it, and that’s how the whole thing started to unfold for me.”
He now undertook a year's training as a P.E. teacher in London in 1960, at the brand new 'Rutherford School', made up from an amalgamation of secondary modern and boys' grammar schools in Paddington and spent two years there under the watchful eye of Tom Hughes, the Head of Department who taught him 'a lot about organisation in the gymnasium and group work' before returning to Loughborough for his last year before graduating with the  College's prestigious Teaching Diploma in P.E and 'That's when I started writing. You had to do a thesis, and I wrote a novel. They were so astounded, they didn't dare fail me.' With typical self-deprecation he said : “I produced this thing about a lad who discovered aesthetic pleasure in physical education, all very pretentious and important. I didn’t know how the hell they accepted it, because it was nothing to do with physical education, but I couldn’t stand the thought of doing the usual thesis, you know, esoteric subjects like the roll of the intercostal muscles in weightlifting and all that carry on. "

Of course, there was still time for football and in London he played semi-professional football for Crawley Town and later in the team that won the 1963 'Universities Championship ' with his victorious team mates, future Arsenal goalkeeper and tv 'Football  Focus' presenter, Bob Wilson and legendary Crewe Manager, Dario Gradi.

He now returned home to Hoyland Common at the age of 24 in 1963, married and now 'teaching P.E, and a bit of English' at Kirk Balk, now a modern mixed comprehensive school an experience which would inform 'A Kestrel for a Knave' largely set in classrooms and school grounds and at the same time he recalled that when his Hoyland school mates, including his brother, the 11+ failures, had attended the Secondary Modern, the Head Teacher had been the Ben Robey who would be his model for Mr Grice in 'A Kestrel for a Knave' as he recalled : 'There were legendary stories about Ben and they all seemed wild and exciting. There's an episode in Kes where a lad gets caned for taking a message to the headteacher. That's what happened with Ben. A teacher sent a lad along who'd done some good work. But Ben was so used to seeing boys who needed caning, he just said, "Come in," and caned him.' https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RoF-UrCVaCg&t=1h00m53s

He now started writing 'Billy’s Last Stand', in the school library after the kids had gone home, a play based on the village coalman and underpinned by his intrigued with the fact that a man should live an apparently unrecorded life, untroubled by forms, letters and officialdom. It took him three months and he sent it to Alfred Bradley, 'Head of Northern BBC Radio Drama', because “he sounded like a good bloke to send it to” and had the satisfaction of the play being  produced on the BBC Radio Third Programme in 1966.

On the strength of this success, he now gave up teaching full-time, and spent five days a week writing his first novel, 'The Blinder', which was the story of a schoolboy footballing wizard who also happened to be brilliant academically which started life as his Loughborough College third year thesis : "Anyway, the lad was very average in this thesis, so I thought I’d heighten it a bit all round, and in the novel I made him good at everything, with the result that a lot of people who read the book hate that lad. But I don’t find anything nasty about him; he was just an honest lad.When it was published in 1966, he considered one of the greatest compliments he received was from a professional footballer who told him he knew “what the game was all about”.

He considered his 3 years teaching at Kirk Ball : "one of my most rewarding times. I'd published two novels by then, including Kes (in 1968), was in my early 30s, teaching PE and a bit of English. I took the non-academic stream. Literature wasn't part of their life. Then Longman's Imprint Books came out, with short stories from Stan Barstow and Alan Sillitoe and Bill Naughton and a book by the Liverpool Poets. It was the first time kids from a working-class background could read about themselves. About people going to the pub and getting drunk and having fights. For the first time, they became interested in literature. I felt I was putting something back into that community and I was doing with them what I wish someone had done with me."

In 1969, the year in which Ken Loach directed 'Kes', he was back in teaching at 'Longcar Central School' in Barnsley : "I was teaching on the same staff as Brian Glover. He was a wrestler and every evening he would go off to wrestle (under the name of Leon Arras, a French wrestler who didn't turn up at one match and so Brian went on instead under that name. Wrestling involves a lot of acting and, as all the teachers in film were, or had been, actual teachers, Brian asked me: "Is there a part for me in the film?" He'd been taking part in classroom readings and he'd come into the staffroom to tell us : "I've been playing Captain Queeg in Mutiny on the Bounty - and they applauded me out of the classroom!"

Barry published 'A Kestrel for a Knave' in 1968 and drew inspiration from Kirk Ball : “I thought I would like to show that these kids can do something which is in fact very skilful - not the old tale about them being cobblers and joiners, but something that means they have to get books out of the library. And it’s a technical skill; they’ve actually got to read about it before they can do something like training a hawk. My brother trained a kestrel in these fields at the back, and I wanted to show that kids can do this kind of thing. They can do all kinds of things if only they’re given opportunities.”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RoF-UrCVaCg&t=1h08m50s

His Billy Caspar, a disaffected young lad living on a soulless Barnsley estate, uncovered a fledgling kestrel and for the first time in his life, felt his imagination stirred and started to train the bird. Naturally, Barry's motivation was never about the bird, but always about the boy : “The trouble in school is that you can do so little to help kids because you come up against this dead end of the educational system. I think a comprehensive system is the only answer for these kids, if it is carried through properly. But education reflects the system, rather than changes it. People say it’s an instrument of social change; well, if it is, it’s a bloody slow one. I think education reflects the class system, and the system has to change before education can.”

Who could forget the wonderful comic scenes in the film, which immortalised Brian Glover’s towering, comic, outlandish performance as Sugden, the sports master and still have the power, 50 years later, to bring tears to the eye : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v3cayRMnVb8&t=3m16s

“All my fictional teachers are based on real people. They didn’t know they were funny but if you go into any pub round here (Hoyland Common) and listen to people reminiscing about their schooldays, those same teachers are still causing glee!”

“How often are ‘dreams realised’ in real life? I write about real people and show a section of their life, without the Hollywood endings which rarely happen outside Hollywood. My memory is failing me these days and I cannot remember the exact details, but Walt Disney offered to make Kes, on the condition that the hawk recovered. Should we have sold out? I know which way would always be right for me.”
 
In 1970 his 1965 five character radio play 'Billy’s Last Stand', was staged at the Royal Court Theatre, London, and a television version was broadcast by the BBC in 1971 in its 'Play for Today' series. In 1972 he, again, highlighted working class life in his novel 'First Signs' and went back to school with  'Play for Today' in 1973 and 'Speech Day' with Brian Glover playing a 'Mr Warboys'.

In 1975 Barry wrote 'The Gamekeeper', also to be filmed by Ken Loach who said of it : ' Barry understood class politics, the irreconcilable conflict between workers and employers. His book The Gamekeeper, which we filmed, captured this exactly. The title character is an ex-steel worker who now protects the land of the aristocracy and chases off his former workmates. A life in the open air for him means social exclusion for his wife and family. Is he changing sides or swapping one form of exploitation for another? Barry loved such contradictions' and was on location with Phil Askam who played the lead.

Three years later his two-part tv drama, directed by Ken, 'The Price of Coal', was a vehicle for them to examine class politics when the bosses of 'Milton Colliery' were delighted when the Prince of Wales agreed to visit and they began to spend on a 'top show' by painting the offices and planting flowers. Meanwhile, down below, the lives of the miners were at risk due to faulty machinery and decaying pit-props making the tragic outcome inevitable.

"What about the red carpet are you going to have one ?" : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gDpBuFqWeSs&t=24m57s

"And this gentleman here, this is Walter Hardy. He's one of our longest serving employees, he started work in the mine at 13. He's due for retirelemnt next month after 41 years of loyal service." "Loyal service ? I'd no other bloody choice." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gDpBuFqWeSs&t=35m21s

"They don't fool me riding round in Rolls Royces, waving and shaking hands with folks. There's never been a king or queen yet who's done one thing for working population of this country." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gDpBuFqWeSs&t=43m28s

"How many are there ?" "Eight" : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7y7ewB5q0us&t=23m06s

In Barry's opinion, the best thing he wrote and "wrote itself", was a short play, broadcast by the BBC in 1976, 'Two Men from Derby', based on the experiences of Granddad Hines, who had a great talent for football, but never realised his potential as he was a bit of a 'Jack the Lad.'

In 1981 Ken directed and adaption of Barry's novel, 'Looks and Smiles' in which Mick Walsh, the protagonist wants to be a motorcycle mechanic but bad luck, inexperience and tough economic times prevent him getting a job. The book is a postcard from the grubby economic wasteland of the early 1980s Thatcher's Britain and the film won Ken the 'Young Cinema Award' at the Cannes Film Festival in '81.
"Anyway, what you doing round here ?" "Looking for a job, aren't I." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xtNnJcxMcNA&t=12m11s

Barry's drama-documentary, directed by Mick Jackson, 'Threads', was set at the height of the Cold War and chronicled the effects of a nuclear bomb dropped on Sheffield and Barry drove the story forward with the lives of ordinary : the working class, 'Kemps' and the middle class 'Becketts.'  It may have been Barry's masterpiece based on international paranoia, but it was also an allegory of the harsh effects of Thatcherism on Barry's region of South Yorkshire. The 'threads' of its title pointed to the bonds which united communities and services in relationships of co-existence in peacetime, but their destruction when the bomb dropped.

In 2009 in 'This Artistic Life' Barry wrote :

‘Writing is nothing to do with pretty views. It’s to do with commitment. If you know what you are writing about, and what you are writing for you could write it in a cellar. As it happens, the view from my window is very inspiring. What? they say. Those horrible blocks of flats, all those mucky factories and all that smoke pouring out? Those ramshackle houses down there, that faceless council estate? Well, yes, I say. Most people live and work in places like that. And I can’t think of anything more important to write about. Can you?


Ken Loach wrote this week in The Guardian :

'Barry and I worked on four main projects together and some that didn't
make it to the screen. He was a joyful collaborator. Laughter was never far away when working with Barry. The terrible illness that robbed him of many productive years and was so painful for those close to him was a loss to us all'

The greatest of accolades from Barry's daughter :

Sally Hines    Mar 27

Monday, 21 March 2016

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Goodbye" to its old and avuncular radio and tv broadcaster, Cliff Michelmore

Cliff, who has died at the age of 96, was born just a year after the end of the First World War in 1919 and had his longevity and staying power emphasised by his 59 year old son, Guy, who has said that his Dad had driven himself to his local Waitrose just six weeks ago. He had his career summed up by Nick Higham on the Radio 4 Today Programme last week as : "For years the avuncular, balding Michelmore with his round face, his spectacles and his comb-over was one of the best known presenters in Britain. He was genial and apparently unflappable, the anchor man who guided viewers with a mixture of informality and authority much prized in television, to everything from moon landings to general elections."

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

* was born Arthur Clifford Michelmore in Cowes, Isle of Wight, the son of Albert and Ellen who had moved there before the First War in the vain hope that the fresh air would relives his father’s tuberculosis, but which carried him away before Cliff was two, leaving Ellen to bring up their six children alone in a terrace house near the boatyards and then with the additional sadness of also losing her daughter, Ivy, to TB.

* through family poverty was boarded with his elder sister who was married to  farmer and had to forgo a place at Newport Grammar School for Boys since his mother could not afford the bus fares and went instead to Cowes Senior School, where he became Head Boy and Cricket Captain, was a self-declared 'hearty' and 'joiner' rather than a 'swat' and apparently alarmed the staff with his eagerness to organise everything and everybody.

* briefly considered training for ministry in the Methodist Church, before he left school at 15 and took himself to the mainland and Loughborough College followed by Leicester College of Technology to train as an engineer before joining the RAF in 1937 and after initial training at RAF Halton, in Buckinghamshire (left) and with the outbreak of the Second World War when he was 21, was based in France as part of the 'Advanced Air Striking Force', which he later described as “a stirring title for a far from stirring force.”

* found that his indifferent eyesight which led to him to crash an aircraft in a ditch, ended his career in the air and after the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, worked on the ground, at air stations, group and command headquarters and the Air Ministry and at the end of the war, at the age of 26, was sent to Denmark on an 'Air Disarmament Wing' and on the strength of having done some radio commentaries on 'Inter-Service Games', was sent to Hamburg with the rank of 'Squadron Leader' and the grand title of  'Officer Commanding Royal Air Force Element, the British Forces Network in Germany' and work in an organisation where he was in his element with everyone  expected to do everything : write scripts, act in plays, announce concerts and give talks.

* remembered with special affection Trevor Hill's adaption of  'The Adventures of Robin Hood', where he played with future stars of theatre, radio, tv, opera and film in the shape of himself as 'Little John' with Nigel Davenport in the lead as 'Robin', Raymond Baxter as 'Guy de Guisborne,' Geraint Evans as the minstrel, 'Blondel', Brian Matthew as 'King Richard', Keith Fordyce as 'Will Scarlet' with the 18 and 19 year-olds, Roger Moore and Bryan Forbes bringing up the rear as 'foresters'.

* was assigned the duty of hosting, 'Forces Favourites', the Sunday lunchtime link between the Armed Forces personnel in Germany and their families in Britain, after the regular presenter was taken ill and was sometimes drafted in for Network reportage, with his own not always meeting with approval, after the occasion when he filled in a muffed time-junction with some facetious banter heard by a BBC Light Programme executive who recorded : 'This man must never be let near a microphone again' and no doubt would have said the same about 'a television camera again' had he seen him ten years later on the 'Tonight' Programme with a clip of himself cutting his toenails in imitation of the  camera switch which had caught the great Richard Dimbleby combing his hair on 'Panarama.'

* continued to host 'Two-Way Family Favourites' after the end of the War and before the programme began, used to chat on the 'closed line' to the presenter at the London end, Jean Metcalfe, four years his junior and with a vast public following, in whom he detected a distinctly flirtatious tone which he later described as "love at first hearing" and having wed a nurse in a ill-fated wartime marriage, who he divorced in 1949, conducted his clandestine affair with Jean, with no hint allowed to surface and even the official announcement of their marriage, in 1950, postponed until he had left the programme and reprised his role with Jean when the cost of sending a postcard had reached 7p : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TCQxzffInlc&t=5m45s

* like ex-RAF Flight Commander Raymond Baxter, who had also not gone to public school and university and was not a 'BBC type', he began doing freelance radio work, then got his first paid job on 'Design for Dancing', with 'Geraldo and His Orchestra', scripted it for eight guineas and was hailed as 'Britain’s first radio square-dance caller' : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CLKHxWVTSrs&t=1m09s

* at the age of 31 in 1950 made his first television appearance on Children's Television, billed in the 'Radio Times' as : 'Cliff Michelmore explains the rules and scoring of tennis and introduces the All-England Lawn Tennis Championships from Wimbledon' and honed his skills as an interviewer with kids' sporting heroes : Stanley Matthews, Denis Compton and Godfrey Evans and although, at this stage still mainly a producer, on occasion proved the Michelmore art of improvisation when once asked to put together a magazine programme on 'lacrosse', a game he had never seen.

* got his next break in 1955 and for two years worked on the programme 'Highlight' on which he interviewed, AndrĂ© Maurois, Louis Armstrong and Spike Milligan and Krishna Menon, a Minister in the Indian Government, who was in London to have talks with Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and had caused ructions at the UN over India's stance on Formosa and met each of Cliff's questions with the rebuke : "That question is not cast in the mould of my thinking" and apparently taught him the valuable lesson , as he later said : "You cannot go into any interview over prepared. Under prepared yes, but never over prepared".

* received his breakthrough into mainstream broadcasting in 1957 after the Government
extended the hours available to television following pressure from the new commercial channels by opening up the closed hour between 6 and 7pm, the so-called the 'Toddlers Truce' and it was proposed that the Highlight team, bridge the gap with a nightly show called 'Man Alive' a title dropped in favour of 'Tonight' and at the age of 38, found himself the anchorman of the first nightly 45 minute tv programme to blend current affairs with light entertainment and featured short and snappy items aimed at an audience whose attention span was presumed to be limited, with dads coming home from work and mums putting children to bed and dipping in and out of the programme as household tasks permitted.

* introduced the first edition of Tonight on Monday 18 February 1957 with its specially composed signature tune, 'Tonight and Every Night' written by Felix de Wolfe and a packed running order : the draw for the FA Cup; Cy Grant with a topical calypso penned by Bernard Levin; actor Derek Bond telling the story of 'Bulbous Betty' the statue of Aphrodite that was offending people in Richmond Park ; Derek Hart interviewing the great Ed Murrow and Jonathan Miller (right), giving his impressions of shops in Charing Cross Road.

* for eight years with a peak audience of 8 million and in well over 1,500 editions, was clearly the confident, calm, unhurried and unflappable captain of a team of talented idiosyncratic reporters, like him, making their way in the new medium of television with Fyfe Robertson, Trevor Philpott, Alan Whicker, Macdonald Hastings, Polly Elwes,  Julian Pettifer, Magnus Magnusson as well as  Derek Hart. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XZ21FPr9S2U

* in his tenure at 'Tonight' conducted a range of interviews ranging from Sophia Loren in 1958 talking about her looks and film career and 1964, a teenage David Bowie with : "It's all got to stop. They've had enough. The worms are turning. The rebellion of the long hairs is getting underway. They're tired of persecution. They're tired of taunts. They're tired of losing their jobs. They're tired of being sent home from college. They're tired even, of being refused the dole. So with a nucleus of some of his friends a 17 year old Davy Jones has just formed the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men' : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-ShvccGqsw&t=0m09s

* was no doubt pleased when 'The Evening Standard' likened him to 'the John Bull of the Small Screen' and spoke affectionately of him as having a 'pink-faced middle-brow with middle-class accent, occasional squeak in the voice and mild-as-cocoa manner has a very warm place in the hearts of millions of Britons' and at the end of 1957 when The Daily Telegraph’s L Marsland Gander had no hesitation in naming him as 'The Television Personality of the Year' with : 'He radiates unaffected friendliness and good humour. Being entirely natural and unselfconscious are his great attributes. Moreover there is real intelligence and wit behind his spontaneous interviewing.'

* presented an altogether different picture of himself  when in a mock obituary after a suspected heart attack in 1984, he wrote that he : 'found criticism hard to accept and could be intolerant even when proved wrong. His temper was combustible, on a short fuse, but, to be fair, he would quickly forget the cause of his anger when it has passed' and he was 'slow to make friends. Popularity was not important to him. He was not afraid of losing favour in what he considered a good cause. At times he lacked concentration and the persistence to see a project through to its conclusion. Direct rather than subtle, he never claimed to be a patient man.'

* in November 1963, had given British viewers the first news of President Kennedy’s death and in 1964 introduced the General Election results with : "Good morning. I hope there's somebody there because we're all here again. I tell you it doesn't seem long ago since we were last here either. I have made the most startling discovery. There is a bird which sits in the middle of Television Centre at White City and sings its head off from four o'clock until six. It was my boon companion for an hour o two two, brief, fleeting hours of rest. Now let us get back to where we were at, whatever time it was we left you." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yYMgCn0EDf8&t=0m34s


* soon after 'Tonight' came to an end in 1965 and for thee years, with Kenneth Allsop, took up a late-night slot with '24 Hours' and covered the Aberfan mining disaster in 1966, when a slag heap engulfed a junior school, killing 116 children and 28 adults and clearly moved with emotion reported ; “I don’t know how to begin. Never in my life have I seen anything like this. I hope I shall never see anything like it again.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvBq5ucFw90

* had a stormy relationship with the producers at '24 Hours' to the extent that, on one occasion in 1967, he walked out after being asked to to discuss the question of Stansted Airport with a studio audience with :  “I will not be associated with a third-rate Palladium show” and left the show the following year, partly because of the daily demand of current affairs and partly because, as he wrote : 'There comes a time, even in television, when you begin to feel that it has gone on rather too long for your own comfort. There are those who play the games of power and stay the course far longer, almost for ever... I left that to others.'

* entered the record books when chosen to anchor the programme with the biggest worldwide audience at the time, the 'Our World' satellite link-up of 25 June 1967 with an estimated 400 million viewers.

* turned down the opportunity to take over from Freddy Grisewood on radio’s 'Any Questions'  and replace Eamonn Andrews on 'This Is Your Life' but was back on the box again in 'British By Choice' in 1969, a programme which gave emigrants an opportunity to explain why they had settled in Britain and in 'Across the Great Divide' in 1970 investigated Britons living in America until he settled with 'Holiday' in 1969 which ran for 17 years and involved travelling around the world investigating the offerings of the leisure industry and 25 years later in the Azores reflected that : "In 1969 Clarksons, who brought people here to this hotel had a different job to do. They had to persuade them not to be scared, the flying, the funny foreigb food, the language the fear of getting lost and they had to convince them they could afford it." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4QIh1imSiWc&t=3m00s

* continued in parallel with his series of interviews, 'With Michelmore' with Matt Busby and Ginger Rogers who told him in 1968 : "It's the most satisfying experience to be an amateur painter" and graced the studio with some of her art and Field Marshal Montgomery, who confessed that his favourite tv programme was 'Come Dancing' :  “the one with all those pwetty girls in pwetty fwocks dancing in formation”.

* with Jean published a joint autobiography, 'Two-Way Story' in 1986 and reflected back 30 years to his time on the Tonight Programme : 'The concept of the programme was that it should be on the side of the audience. It would look at people and events as ordinary people looked at them, and take the attitude and ask the questions that ordinary people would ask. At no time were we to give the impression that we were superior. All these years later it seems strange that we had to be so conscious of the patronising attitude which had been so prevalent in many BBC programmes' and at the end of his career, he returned to radio at the age of 77 for 4 years in 1996 with 'A Year to Remember' on Radio 2.

* said with perfect self-effacement :  "They might say I had been extremely fortunate to have achieved a measure of success in broadcasting in spite of lacking the intellectual powers and education of some of my contemporaries and the physical attributes of others."


Thursday, 10 March 2016

Britain is no country for old villains who rob a few Hatton Garden diamond bankers and end up in jail, but is one for young banker-villains who rob everyone and go scot-free

In May last year it was announced that five of the world's largest banks were to pay fines totalling £3.6bn for charges including manipulating the foreign exchange market.
 
The British bank, Barclays, was fined the most, $2.4bn. It said it would sack eight employees involved in the scheme.
 
Regulators said that between 2008 and 2012, villain-traders formed a cartel and used chat rooms to manipulate prices in their favour. One Barclays trader who was invited to join the cartel was told : "Mess up and sleep with one eye open at night" and another said : "if you ain't cheating, you aint't trying".
  
One method they used was to influence prices around the daily fixing of currency levels : A daily exchange rate fix is held to help businesses and investors value their multi-currency assets and liabilities. Until February 2015  this happened every day in the 30 seconds before and after 16:00 in London and the result is known as the 4pm fix, or just 'The Fix'. In a scheme known as 'Building Ammo', a single villain trader would amass a large position in a currency and, just before or during the fix, would exit that position. Other members of the cartel would be aware of the plan and would be able to profit. 
 
New York State 'Superintendent of Financial Services', Benjamin Lawsky said : "They engaged in a brazen 'heads I win, tails you lose' scheme to rip off their clients."
 
All these young banker-villains made an enormous amount of money for themselves and their banker friends. They all enjoy their freedom with no fear of arrest by the police, a trial and time inside prison, at Her Majesty's Pleasure.
 
                                                              **********

Also back in May 2015, Scotland Yard police arrested nine men in a dramatic operation which came after six weeks before, a gang staged the audacious robbery at the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company and escaped with millions of pounds worth of diamonds, cash and valuables. At the time they were described as analogue criminals who hadn't quite made it into the digital age.

Despite their various ailments, the ageing gang clambered down a lift shaft to access a vault, where they disabled the alarm and other electrics. Dressed as gas repairmen, they cut through a sliding iron gate and drilled three adjoining circular holes in the wall of the main vault with a diamond-tipped drill.

Now, ten months later, at the end of their trial at Woolwich Crown Court, five members of the gang, with a collective age of 322 years and the oldest 75 and the youngest 60, have been jailed for a total of 34 years. If John 'Kenny' Collins (left), serves his full term he will be 82 when he comes out of prison. The gang’s oldest member, the 77 year old ringleader, Brian Reader, who was known by his fellow raiders as 'the Guvnor' or 'Master', was absent and will be sentenced at a later date after suffering a stroke in high-security Belmarsh prison.

They were jailed for the robbery and stealing £14m-worth of jewellery, cash and gold. More than £9m-worth of the loot has yet to be recovered, with at least some of it feared to have been taken overseas.

Judge Christopher Kinch said: “The burglary of the Hatton Garden Safety Deposit vault in April 2015 has been labelled by many as 'the Biggest Burglary in English legal history'. Whether that assertion is capable of proof, I do not know. It’s clear that the burglary at the heart of this case stands in a class of its own in scale of ambition, detail of planning, level of preparation, the organisation of the team to carry it out and in terms of the value of the property stolen.”

In his sentencing remarks, he said, despite their age, the men showed some sophistication in plotting the raid : “Far from stumbling into 21st century crime as relics of a past era, the conspirators were clearly highly aware of  the dangers of leaving traces that could lead to their identification."

Explaining his decision to disregard the sentencing guidelines, he said the case involved greater harm than those covered by the guideline : “The theft and damage inevitably caused significant financial and economic loss on an unprecedented scale. The consequences for the company and for some of the individual jewellers were serious indeed. The safety deposit company went into administration, its reputation in ruins and it no longer operates as it did.” 

Two of the robbers said “Thank you, sir” to the Judge after being sentenced.

It must be said that many of the losers were small independent jewellers, including those who were keeping stock for their retirement. The Judge said : “In my judgment it must rank among the worst offences of its type. It would be contrary to the interests of justice to follow the definitive guideline, which was simply not designed with a case of this scale in mind.”

Britain in 2016 : still a country where old, conventional villains are sent to prison : 'Comme un exemple pour tout le reste.'

and young, sophisticated villains go scot-free and serve, well : 'Comme un exemple pour tout le reste.'