Sunday, 11 April 2021

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to its Brave and Brilliant, Prince of Public Health, Paul Cosford

Paul, who has died at the age of 57, had worked for Public Health England from its inception in 2012 and was familiar as its public face as Director for Health Protection until 2019, when he was forced to stand down after being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer two years before. He was born the son of Judith and Brian, in the Spring of 1963 in the market town of Thornbury in Gloucestershire as it emerged from the 'Big Freeze' of the winter of 1962-63. His secondary school was Exeter School, which had been founded and endowed as a grammar school for boys by wealthy Exeter merchants in the 1630s and was given the motto 'ΧΡΥΣΟΣ ΑΡΕΤΗΣ ΟΥΚ ΑΝΤΑΞΙΟΣ '- 'Gold is not worth more than virtue'. By the time Paul attended in 1974, the school was co-educational, direct-grant grammar school with most students paying fees.

He obviously excelled in his 'A' Level sciences and at the age of 18 in 1981 took himself off to St Mary's Hospital Medical School, Imperial College, London. In 2017 he told the pupils in his old school : "I chose to enter medicine because I wanted to help others and make a positive contribution to society" and of his career in public health he said : "Although I have not dealt with patients for 25 year, I take great pride in knowing the work we do is saving lives". Clearly, a brilliant student, he graduated after 6 years study with the joint degree of MBBS as a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery in 1987.

As Dr Cosford he now followed a career in mental health, working with adults and those with severe mental illness in North West London in the poorer districts of Camden and Islington, which included children, families and people with learning disability. For the first time in his life it brought him into
contact with the realities of working class life and those with extreme social circumstances and to his credit, he continued to work on the health needs of London homeless to the end of his professional career. 

In 1990, at the age of 27, he became a Lecturer in Psychiatry at St Mary's Hospital Medical School. He stopped dealing with patients directly in 1992 and in his early thirties he was promoted to leadership and management roles in the NHS where he led programmes dealing with the problems of hospital infection and reducing the country's cases of TB. 
In 2006, at the age of 43 he began to increase his experience at the regional level as Medical Director of the East of England Strategic Health Authority (1), followed by the Regional Director of Public Health for the East of England. Here he developed successful strategies for reducing health inequalities and harm from tobacco and obesity. Then, in 2010, he moved to the national arena when he began working for the Health Protection Agency and then its successor, Public Health England.

Paul considered the biggest challenge in his career was dealing with the crisis caused by the 2014-16 outbreak of Ebola and in this he played a leading role in the response in Britain and West Africa. He said : "We closely followed the outbreak in West Africa and led the work to identify any cases and avoid the spread in Britain. In a separate UK emergency, we had to deal with an outbreak of poisoning of premature babies in maternity wards. Within 24 hours, we found the source of the poison, isolated it and treated the infected babies". He saw his role was to "consider the size and scientific aspects of the outbreak and ensure that the response was significant enough to maintain public and political confidence, without unduly alarming the public and causing panic".

In post as Director for Health Protection at Public Health England in 2018, he led its protection and emergency response to the Salisbury Novichok poisonings and advised the Government. In the early stages of the Coronavirus pandemic in 2020, he became a familiar public voice until his medical condition forced him to shield while infection rates were high. He found this hard, since he loved his job and wanted to continue to play his part. He said : "The strength of my reaction caught me by surprise – I was deeply upset. I have always considered myself fit and healthy. My way of responding to having an incurable cancer with a much-reduced life expectancy has largely been to keep calm and carry on, to live life as normally as possible including working, staying as physically active and mentally positive as I can, and spending time with those important to me, especially my family".

For Paul there was : "Nothing more fascinating than taking scientific advice, converting it into practical action and encouraging the public to understand and support the action". Nevertheless, he admitted : "I could no longer do justice to the intensity of work needed during major national incidents such as coronavirus. Nevertheless I feel privileged to be involved still through an emeritus role and able to help wherever I can as the nation responds to the present crisis".

In 2019 Paul was able to delivered a lecture at Chester University on the subject of 'The future of Infectious Diseases'.

He was both philosophical and courageous as he faced death in his country home with his wife and fellow doctor, Gillian. He said : "Perhaps it is the same for us all, whatever our age—if we know that we are approaching the end of our life, it is helpful to have a place of contemplation. I walk from the back door, along an old track and across the field that is the home of two familiar chestnut coloured horses. They raise their heads as I pass, and a poorly constructed wooden bench sits in the field beyond. It is perfectly situated for the view, which appears just as the path starts to descend a sandy ridge. Two rough planks, one to sit on, one for leaning, are fixed to the two decaying tree stumps that form its legs. It wobbles slightly but is strong enough for me to rest and ponder".

"I am not an old man, but like the bench I won’t last long, but I don’t rail against the world as I sit on the bench. I’ve seen enough people die younger and in worse circumstances for that. I do watch the world go through its familiar cycles, knowing that I won’t see many more. The inquisitive lambs of spring, full of life then suddenly disappearing as their short lives end in the abattoir. The crops, subtly changing colour through hues of verdant green, then replaced by the bare soil of the ploughed fields after harvest".

Last December, the broadcaster, Pru Leith invited Paul as a guest on the BBC Radio Today Programme, where she was acting as 'Guest Editor' and started the interview at 2m 15s into the programme :  She asked him about the bench and he revealed that it was a place to "think about some of the things that seem particularly important". He said that one of the things he had "spent time contemplating, is how you actually die and it seems to be the worry more than the fact that I'm going to die. We know, all of us, that we are going to die at some point, but the actual way that you die is quite scary and quite difficult to think through".

Paul said that he liked "the idea that I could have an extra phial of morphine in the fridge so that if everything just becomes too much and the symptoms can't be controlled, I'd have an option to use that in the last few days of life and accelerate things if that was the only way of getting things under control and maintaining any sense of life that I do have, as a reasonable quality. But that's not available within the law at the moment".

In lending his support to an 'Assisted Dying Inquiry' he said : "What I think we do need to do is to have a really clear view of what the problems are that people face as they come to the end of life and what people, who are dying, facing the end of life, actually want to happen. So I think it is important to have an 'information gathering'. What are the views of the palliative care geriatricians and other specialists ? What are the views of doctors as a whole ? Certainly, from my understanding, 80% of the public think this needs to be looked at and quite possibly a law change".

He went on "The dangers that people are worried about, it seems to me, come in 3 different ways. One is that because its legal it becomes an expectation that people have an assisted death. The second is that staff involved, the palliative care physicians involved might feel compelled to participate in assist dying when have a deeply personal view that this is the wrong thing to do. And the third is that peoples lives are sometimes different from the norm, whether its because of a disability or some other issue, that their life becomes devalued in some way".

He concluded "My view is that we need to do that information gathering, then we need a group of people who are expert in medicine, in the legal profession, in public opinion and so on to look at what the potential solutions are, to look at the experience in other countries Oregon, the Netherland and elsewhere and come up with a carefully thought through set of changes. I think its complicated, but I think its not beyond us to sort this out".

Writing in the blog, 'The Hippocratic Post', Paul said : "I was in a bookshop last month and my eye was caught by a book of poems. I am not an avid reader of poetry and haven’t written any since being at school. However, there was something about the style of writing that made me wonder if I could express a little of how it feels in a poem. With apologies to those of you who are experts in poetry, here is what I came up with. As with all poems it is best read slowly, and aloud to yourself if you can do so without looking too foolish".

Paul called his poem 'Scanxiety' and ended with : 

'So how to approach the coming three months                                                                                       Till time brings along the next scan?                                                                                               Honesty tells me I don’t have a clue                                                                                                          I guess I’ll just: keep calm, carry on.'

The poem perfectly expressed the philosophy he had now adopted and he said : "The longer I live with a “treatable but not curable” cancer the more I realise how much good there is in life that I can focus on today, this week, this month. The uncertainty that treatments might work for much longer than expected helps me to keep that focus. It allows me to keep calm and carry on".

"I have found it is empowering when you face death head on. It means you focus your attention on the really important things and it makes me appreciate this life more than ever. When people complain about growing old, as I used to as well, I reply that growing old is a privilege and one that I wish now I could have".

In the event, we must assume that at the end of his life Paul did not have that extra phial of morphine in his fridge to be used by him to alleviate his pain. Much of what he has said about his condition and treatment with its CT scans struck a chord with me. Having been diagnosed with bladder cancer, I underwent a course of chemotherapy and than had a cystectomy to remove my bladder along with a dozen lymph nodes, my prostate and appendix. At the same time the surgeon removed a short length of my colon to create my new ileal conduit. That was 5 years ago. I was lucky. Unlike Paul, my cancer hadn't metastasized and travelled to other parts of my body, like my liver.

Paul, enacted, in his professional life and as a force for good, his advice to others :       

"If you want to make a difference in life, influence those who are                                             around you"                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Why Britain is no country for a brilliant old Brain Surgeon called Henry Marsh who wants to choose his time to die

Henry, who is 71 years old and is one of Britain's leading brain surgeons and a bestselling author, has called for an urgent inquiry into assisted dying after revealing he has advanced prostate cancer which is probably going to kill him. He said dying of cancer could be “a very horrible business” but the law “insists I must suffer”.

If Henry had been Spanish, he wouldn't have a problem, because last month, Spain became the latest European country to approve legislation giving patients with incurable diseases or unbearable conditions the right to choose to end their lives with the assistance of a doctor. The same would apply if he was a citizen of the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Canada, New Zealand and in the USA, a citizen in California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon or Vermont. 

Henry's call for an inquiry is backed by more than 50 MPs and peers from different political parties, some of whom have previously voted against changing the law. Their letter to Robert Buckland, the Justice Secretary, argues that Britain has now fallen behind many other countries on the issue of assisted dying.

At present, under the 1961 Suicide Act, if someone helped Henry end his life, they would be committing a criminal and face a  potential prison sentence of 14 years. The British Parliament last voted on the issue in 2015, rejecting by 330 to 118 a Private Member’s Bill to allow assisted dying for people with a terminal illness who are likely to die within six months. Yet an opinion poll two years ago found that about nine in 10 people believed assisted dying was acceptable in some situations and survey of doctors carried out by the British Medical Association last year found that half believed there should be a change in the law to allow patients to be helped to die.

Henry, whose cancer was diagnosed six months ago, said : “Having spent a lifetime operating on people with cancer, the prospect of dying slowly from it myself fills me with dread. Despite the best efforts of palliative medicine, I know that dying from cancer can still be a very horrible business – for both patient and family, despite what the opponents of assisted dying claim. I fiercely believe that if people in my situation knew they had the ability to choose how, when and where they would die, it would greatly reduce their suffering. Knowing that I had this choice, if life became unbearable, would certainly give me much greater confidence now in facing whatever the future might hold for me. But as the law stands, I am not allowed this comfort, and the law insists instead that I must suffer. Many politicians have shown a striking lack of compassion by ducking this issue for too long, and are inadvertently guilty of great cruelty”.

He continued: “Irrespective of your view on assisted dying, I would hope everyone could agree that our laws should be based on evidence and informed decisions, not alarmist, unfounded opposition that flies in the face of all the evidence from countries where assisted dying has been legalised. It’s time for all MPs to start taking this issue seriously and I urgently call upon them to undertake an inquiry into the law”.

Crispin Blunt, MP and Co-Chair of the 'All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group', said : “In the years since Parliament last scrutinised the law underpinning our ban on assisted dying, 250 million people worldwide have gained the option of a dignified death, new evidence has emerged demonstrating that respect for autonomy can be balanced alongside robust safeguards, and professional opinion has dramatically shifted towards a change in the law”.

The Chief Executive of Humanists UK, Andrew Copson said he was "deeply sorry" to hear about Henry's  diagnosis "The ability to choose how, where, and when we die is a fundamental freedom, which cuts across party political and ideological lines. In coming together to demand an inquiry, Henry and the lawmakers who have signed this letter have put the voices of the terminally ill and incurably suffering at the centre of the debate".

Henry, who is due to start radiotherapy treatment for his cancer in a few months' time has said :

"My own suspicion as to why the opponents to assisted dying oppose a public inquiry is they fear that actually the evidence is so strong that their hypothetical arguments against it don't hold       water, that they will lose the debate".

                                         To support Henry :

Friday, 2 April 2021

Why Brexit Britain's old and quintessentially 'English' Master of Spy Fiction, John le Carré, died a Citizen of the Irish Republic

John, who died last December, at the age of 89 and crystallized his disillusion with Brexit Britain by adopting Irish citizenship and rejoining the European Union just before he died. He once described himself as "English to the core" and deplored what he saw as the aggressive nationalist sentiment behind Brexit. He published his 25th and last novel, 'Agent Running in the Field' in 2019. It has a plot line that was based covert collusion between Trump’s USA and the British Security Services with the aim of undermining the democratic institutions of the European Union.

Interviewed back in that summer he said : " I think it would be impossible to write at the moment without speaking from within the state of the nation. We are part of it. I'm part of it. I'm depressed by it. I'm ashamed of it and I think communicates itself in the book. inevitably. I'm disconcerted by sense of loyalty. I don't know where to place it. I am extremely concerned by the rise of nationalism which is quite different from patriotism. For nationalism you need enemies and for patriotism you need your one conviction and that's the difference".

His attitude to Brexit was expressed by one of the characters in the last novel who said : “It is my considered opinion that for Britain and Europe, and for liberal democracy across the entire world as a whole, Britain’s departure from the European Union in the time of Donald Trump, and Britain’s consequent unqualified dependence on the United States in an era when the US is heading straight down the road to institutional racism and neo-fascism, is an unmitigated clusterfuck bar none".

In the interview he said :"What really scares me about nostalgia is that it's become a political weapon. Politicians are creating a nostalgia for an England that never existed and seeing it as something we could return to. It's used in the rhetoric of the day, particularly on the Conservative side, I believe, as a polemical weapon - that we've got to go back to the good old days, which means restoring the dignity of the British labourer and patronising concepts of that sort, which are completely impractical in our industrial age".

"I saw the film 'Dunkirk'. I thought it was, consciously or otherwise, an offensive piece of propaganda. It excluded, for instance all the Lascars who went across in their boats and it pretended that the small boats rescued everybody from Dunkirk. It was itself a prize piece of reconstructive nostalgia and it did'nt quite happen that way".

"The rest is something I can hardly bear - the wallowing in the '39-'40 experience. We're back to the Blitz. For Heaven's sake, how long ago was that ? I just remember the Blitz. I'm 86 and it's somehow the notion that we were all behind it all the time; that we won single handed".

"Who remembered, watching all those D-Day celebrations, that 30 million Russians died; that the Russians got to Berlin before we did and that there was a Second Front, which coincided with D-Day, in Russia, launched by the Russians which was enormously successful and absorbed a huge amount of Nazi troops".

“The wonderful right wing military historian, Max Hastings, points out that we were bad fighters, that we were extremely badly organised, and our contribution in terms of blood and wealth and material was – I can’t say trivial, but tremendously small by comparison to the sacrifices of the other major powers. We were on the winning side by the end, but we were really quite minor players”.

Now John's son, Nicholas Cornwell, has revealed that : “He was, by the time he died, an Irish citizen. On his last birthday I gave him an Irish flag, and so one of the last photographs I have of him is him sitting wrapped in an Irish flag, grinning his head off”. Prior to adopting Irish citizenship he visited Cork, from whence his maternal grandmother, Olive Wolfe, came and researched his roots. 

When he was interviewed by the late Marian Finucane on her Irish RTÉ Radio 1 radio show in October 2019 he said : “I am indeed applying for an Irish passport. And it means a lot to me for two reasons: firstly, I want to remain in the EU and an Irish passport will enable me to do that; I am a European and I would like the passport of a European. Secondly, I have much to learn. I was completely enchanted by my journey to Ireland where I visited my grandmother’s birthplace in Inchinattin near Rosscarbery in Co Cork and that was where she grew up. And at the age of 16, from there, she went to England as a lady’s maid. That was in 1911 and a couple of years later all hell broke out in that region and there was a terrible religious war and carnage. And she escaped that, so I went and found this tiny little spot, Inchinattin near Rosscarbery. 

Afterwards I went to Skibbereen where there is a heritage centre and a wonderful lady called Margaret Murphy, an archivist, first of all looked rather sternly at her computer for a long while and then she turned up to me and with a beautiful smile said, "welcome home".

When she said this to him his son said : "It was vastly moving for him, a huge emotional shift, an awareness of history and self which had genuinely eluded him his whole life".

John maintained his belief that Brexit was : 

“Without doubt the greatest catastrophe and the greatest idiocy that Britain has perpetrated since the invasion of Suez. Nobody is to blame but the Brits themselves – not the Irish, not the Europeans”.

Wednesday, 24 March 2021

Britain says "Farewell" to Philip Wolmuth, Champion of the People's Photography and Chronicler of the changing face of Speakers' Corner

For half a century Philip, who has died at the age of 70, has been busy creating a photographic record, inspired by his social activism and covering subjects ranging from community groups in Paddington; hostels for the homeless; ex-mining villages in South Yorkshire; schools and workplaces in Britain and banana and sugar plantation workers in the in Caribbean. At the same time he was equally at home taking portraits of senior politicians and capturing either party political conferences or academic seminars and snapping backstage at the English National Opera and Speech Day at Harrow School.

Philip was born in the Autumn of 1950 in London Borough of Islington, the son of Judyta and Henry. The year before he was born his father, a GP, had opened the first new surgery to be set up in the London Borough of Harrow under the auspices of the new National Health Service which, because he hated turning anyone away, soon developed into the biggest singlehanded practice in the area. 

As he grew up Philip would have learnt from his parents that they came from Jewish families once living in the city of Lviv in Poland and with the German invasion of Poland in 1939 and the threat of Nazi anti-Semitic persecution, they had travelled to Paris and after the outbreak of the Second World War had made it Britain, seeking asylum in 1940. Given the fact that out of the Jewish population in Lviv numbering more than 200,000 only 800 survived the Pogroms in the city in 1941 and the Holocaust, it is likely that Philip grew up with no family except his mother and father and younger brother William and sister Victoria. 

A self-taught photographer, Philip carried a camera with him in his spare time from an early age and at school, no doubt with his father's encouragement, had applied to the sciences, excelled in his sixth form 'A' levels and gained a place at Oxford University to follow in his father's footsteps and study medicine. That being said, he found the course "too regimented" and switched to a 'PPP' course of study with Psychology, Philosophy and Physiology and a new world of social interaction, learning, child development and mental illness.  It explains why, when he graduated from Oxford at the age of 21 in 1971, he opted to work in adventure playgrounds which drew him into involvement in grassroots, community politics. 

Philip recorded that : 'I spent most of 1975 working as a play leader on Hornimans Adventure Playground, just over the canal that separates North Paddington and North Kensington' and the photographs he shot in the summer of that year were 'with my first serious camera, an old screw-thread Leica I was given as a birthday present'.

Philip himself recalled : "My first useful work as a photographer came about through involvement with housing campaigners at the tail end of the slum clearance programmes of the 1960s and 70s".

In London, streets of poorly maintained, privately rented Victorian terraces were being torn down like those in Walterton Road, North Paddington and replaced by a brave new world of modern homes in publicly owned estates of concrete apartment blocks. These were the years when Philip moved from South Kilburn to Camden Town, where he lived in a squat and later moved into a communal house and rubbed shoulders with those who shared and reinforced his strong sense of social justice and grassroots activism. In 1975 he was living in Westminster on the first floor of a run down Victorian Terrace which was due for demolition. He recalled : 'calling it a flat is being kind. It wasn't self-contained, the toilet was shared with the tenant upstairs, it had no bathroom, and only running water was a cold tap above a Butler sink on the landing'. 

This was the year the 25 year old Philip captured a group of children standing on the pavement on Kensal Road in North Kensington, where the boarded up houses behind them were soon to be demolished and replaced with a mixture of social housing and industrial units. 

He now came into contact with and was inspired by photographer Paul Carter, who had started the pioneering 'Blackfriars Photography Project' with the community in  Blackfriars Settlement in 1973. Paul later reflected that 'I was already sensing that there was something that was not quite right about the business of photojournalism, about parachuting into people's lives, all for the right reasons and then coming out and leaving them to all that and you getting paid for it. So already there was some kind of tension there'. Paul recently related and illustrated the work of the Project in a zoom meeting.

Philip now set about using photography as a means to, not only document how poorer people lived with their housing problems and low paid work, but also to 'democratize' the medium decades before the advent of digital photography. He applied for a grant from the Gulbenkian Foundation and at the age of 26, set up the 'North Paddington Community Darkroom' on the Harrow Road in West London in 1976. 

Phillip's mission in the 'Darkroom', committee meetings, like the one here in 1978, was to make art accessible to people outside the mainstream art world and empower local residents with a working knowledge of photography. It was located in ideal urban territory, on the border of Portobello and Notting Hill, North Paddington and North Kensington, which were poor areas in rich London boroughs. They were afflicted by economic deprivation, housing shortage, substandard housing, overcrowding, and boarded up properties, along with high unemployment amid the working class immigrant community. Philip's recently published 'Notting Hill 1970s', drew on his archive for these years which included his bicycle and a cleaners trolley next to a wall sprayed with pro-squatting graffiti in Westbourne Grove.

In 1977, Philip also started a lifelong project documenting the face-to-face public debate of speakers, hecklers and audiences at Speakers’ Corner, in Hyde Park and entitled his chronicle, published in 2015 : 'Speakers’ Corner: Debate, Democracy and Disturbing the Peace'. The speaker who tried to convince the audience about their sin was one of the first photographs he shot. Right from the start he said : "I deliberately did not get involved in debates and arguments as I wanted to remain as unobtrusive as possible, the proverbial ‘fly-on-the-wall’. My aim was to capture what was going on in front of me without changing it by my presence, something that was not too difficult at Speakers’ Corner, where so many people are carrying cameras".

Thus he captured the Hyde Park Corner regular, Donald Soper, prominent Methodist minister, socialist, pacifist, opponent of blood sports and active member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Philip conceded that the Corner was "not part of mainstream political discourse" but it was the "last one surviving of the public debating places in London" and was a reminder of the time before, when "Politics, which doesn't happen anywhere now except in the corridors of power, used to happen on the street". Nevertheless, he still felt, at that time "it still has the buzz generated by the energy and eccentricity of face-to-face argument. I love it".

Philip also said : "The things I like the most are when there's an intelligent discussion going on. I also really like some of the humor, the heckling. There's some very funny heckles you get that are sometimes said quite quietly. There's an elderly Irish guy who's been around for some time and he seems to stand at the edge of crowds and just mutter while people are talking. There's some born again Christian preacher really ranting and raving and he just says things like, "I don't want to be born again, look what happened to me the first time." Really funny lines and he just comes out with them; really quick-thinking people".

If Philip was occupied at Speakers' Corner on Sunday mornings, on weekdays at the Community Centre he worked with industry to teach Photography and Darkroom classes, organize displays, build a photographic archive of local events and support the work of community organizations. In 2010 he told the British Journal of Photography that "Community photography was not only part of the wave of grassroots activism of the time, it was also part of a concurrent politicization of photography. At NPCD we were concerned particularly with countering the stereotypical portrayal of women, ethnic minorities, and ‘working class struggle’, a phrase that was soon to go out of fashion in the mass media, The early community arts groups sought to democratise the arts to engage those who did not otherwise relate to the ‘mainstream’ arts world by making the arts relevant to their daily lives and experiences".

In 1982, after six years he left the 'Darkroom' to work as a freelancer and much of his work was commissioned by the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE). He recalled that this was one of his 'most regular and enjoyable sources of work. Its members were the unsung heroes of our public services - ambulance drivers, cleaners, carers, caretakers, cooks, dustmen, home helps, hospital porters and other NHS ancillary staff, street cleaners and more and of my commissions for the NUPE Journal gave me the opportunity to visit a huge variety of work places and the people who worked in them'. Thus, in 1983, he shot 1983 the Laundry Workers at St Charles Hospital in Notting Hill, West London and in 1985 the Southwark Council, Lugard Road Kitchens. In 1986, a domestic worker on a ward in St Charles Hospital, Notting Hill, London, was captured watching a speech by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. It was a good example of what Paul Carter would later say of Philip's work : 'He adds a touch of irony to make a point from time to time, but there are no barbs to his humour'.

In addition, his work with the Dominican Community in North Paddington led to his work in the 1980s in the Caribbean with banana farmers and migrant cane-cutters. In a later visit in 2002 he caught a migrant Haitian cane cutter working on a sugar plantation. He also recorded : 'Maudrie Davroux selects bananas at the packing station on her smallholding in Castle Bruce, in preparation for the fortnightly shipment to the UK under a fair trade scheme. With her son and grand-daughter she packs an average of 55, 43lb boxes per fortnight which end up on the shelves of supermarkets Tesco and Sainsburys'.

In the early 1990s he went to South Yorkshire during the big wave of coal pit closures and after revisiting in later years reflected that : 'The miners fought the closures and lost. "Coal not Dole" was their rallying cry, but the collieries were bulldozed back into green fields. Now, in their place, stand tin shed-style warehouses and call centres offering small numbers of jobs at minimum wage. In the intervening years some new, high tech manufacturing has established itself, but nothing providing the large-scale employment required to make up for the huge job losses of the last 30 years'. In 1991 he recorded one of the last miners to go down 'Deep Navigation Colliery' in Treharris, South Wales, on the day it closed.

Philip also worked on assignments in the Middle East and in the 1980s worked with health workers in the Middle East in Gaza. He captured a woman waiting for the result of a pregnancy test in a mobile family planning clinic in the village of Kfur Abil in Jordan.

In recent years Philip used his camera to capture the currents of activism expressed in 'Occupy London', the 'Grenfell Tower Disaster', 'Brexit: The People’s Vote March', 'Extinction Rebellion' and 'COVID-19' using the same spirit of social activism that had inspired his work 50 years before. He also continued to enjoy the thrill of taking his shot and said : "With many of them I can remember the buzz I got framing something I thought would work, and I do remember struggling to grab a shot of an arrest back in 1979. It was late in the afternoon and getting dark, I was using a Leica with no built-in light meter, shooting on Tri-X at 400ASA, and was down to a shutter speed of 1/30th of a second, nowhere near ideal for capturing a struggling captive being dragged away by two policemen. Luckily one of the frames was useable".

When Philip reflected on Speakers' Corner in the 21st century he said : "The crowds were much bigger, that's one of the biggest changes I think. There were more political platforms, they weren't mainstream by any means, but they were things like the London Anarchist Forum and there were things that were not religious. The proportion has shifted and there are now more preachers of both Christian and Muslim faiths than I think there were back then. There were some preachers who used to go there and rant and rave and other people used to go there and heckle them. In one instance that I saw in one of the newspapers, they even chased them away". 

Philip was interviewed about Speaker's Corner for the BBC World Update series in 2015 :

In recent years his visits to Speakers' Corner were less frequent and he asked : 'Is it just winter, or is Speakers' Corner in terminal decline ? On a recent visit - my first in over a year - religion, always a dominant presence, was the only thing on offer, mostly in the form of squabbles between Christian and Muslim preachers and hecklers. And there weren't more than three or four of those. I don't remember ever seeing such an unimpressive bunch. It was the last, rather miserable, Sunday of 2017. Dull and damp, with occasional spots of rain, and darkness threatening by mid-afternoon. So maybe not a fair basis for judgment. I will be back to check. I hope I am wrong'.

Philip remained up beat about the future of photojournalism. In an article for BBC News in 2011 entiltled : 'Adapt to survive : A photographer's view of the market today' he said : 'I've found the last couple of years the most difficult since I started out - but not fatal. Can the new opportunities replace the fading print market and collapsing library sales? Probably not for everyone. However, many of the old rules still apply. Quality and originality still have value. Niche specialisms are always in demand. Surviving as a freelance in the digital age requires new skills and an openness to new markets, but it is possible - and at least the scrabbling around should feel familiar. One other thing jazz and photojournalism have in common : if you want to get rich quick, try banking'.

Paul Carter, the photographer said : “The word that always comes to my mind when  looking at Philip’s work is ‘warmth'. His pictures are so warm and human. There isn’t an ounce of judgment in them. Yes, he adds a touch of irony to make a point from time to time, but there are no barbs to his humour. I get such a delight from his pictures, the same delight I get from his quiet smile. He just seems able to float quietly into situations and come out with intimate moments, effortlessly composed, timed and full of the quality of light he finds”.

Philip, the photojournalist himself said :

'It is a commonplace that "a picture is worth a thousand words", but I have never been happy with that valuation of the relationship between image and text. I would rather turn it on its head and suggest that, if a photograph is worth a thousand words, it deserves a thousand words - or at least a couple of hundred. An image is not a replacement for text - they complement each other'.

"I have been to places I would never have visited and met people I would never had the privilege to engage with, had I not had a camera in my bag and a story to tell".

He shared his legacy with us in his : 

Philip Wolmuth Picture Library 


Philip's 'Speakers' Corner 1977-2014' 

Saturday, 13 March 2021

Britain says "Goodbye" to an old and much loved actor called Trevor Peacock, who once told Mrs Brown "You've got a lovely daughter"

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Trevor, who has died at the age of 89, had a long career as a stage and small screen actor, screenwriter and songwriter and was best known and best loved for playing Jim Trott in the BBC TV comedy series, 'The Vicar of Dibley' alongside Dawn French, who has read this post and tweeted : ‘This is fab’ and it is ironical that much of Trevor's early life was dominated by church.

He was born in Edmonton, North London, eight years before the outbreak of the Second World War in the Spring of 1931, the son of 'Queenie' and Victor, a commercial traveller for a drugs company and lay minister of the Baptist Church. In addition, to preaching in the church, Trevor recalled : "My old man was the organist and" and to manually maintain the air pressure, "I was always pumping, pumping. Didn't have electricity in those days". "I used to peep out and watch the old girls and the faces they pulled when they sang hymns and so suddenly my Dad would shout : "Trevor. Blow, blow, blow". So quickly I would pump".

Trevor's was a musical background : "In singing hymns 3 or 4 times a week and without knowing it, I suppose one got to know about tunes; middle eights; when to sing loud; when to sing low; the whole idea of creating a tune. I'd never thought I'd use it". His father was a good pianist, as well as being an organist, as was Trevor's brother, while he himself played a mouth organ. He concluded that "music had been going into my head at an early age".

Victor was 9 and living in Tottenham when, in 1940, after the outbreak of War, the aerial bombardment of London started and during the Blitz, he and his family sought shelter in the White Hart Lane underground station. 

He recalled : "I did put on shows during the Blitz time and it was great fun and they, (his parents), thought : 'He's enjoying himself'. But I took it very seriously. I don't know why. I think, though, a church is rather like a theatre. There's music and there's a platform and a big audience". His street entertainment with his friends was well received and he said : “The local papers would print stories like :


He drew inspiration from the comedy his parents had taken him to see at the theatre and recalled : "I loved the Crazy Gang and I wrote to them asking for signed photographs. They sent me these huge black and white photographs. I wrote notes on all their scenes and how they could improve their comedy. I think I was only eight".

When it came to the big screen, Trevor recalled that his parents "didn't like to go into the cinema. In fact, I was banned from it because the cinema was wicked".

However, when he was about 12 years old he was shown how to get into his local cinema through a side door. He recalled : "I saw the screen for the first time. An enormous screen. Clark Gable was the great hero those days. There was his head, as big as the wall and I thought : 'This is for me. This is exciting'". 

Trevor set about replicating the cinema at home : "So I used to hang a sheet up and I'd say to the kids : "You come in from that side and you come in from that side" so it looked just like it did in the films "And you just talk" and they said : "What do we talk about ?" "Anything. It doesn't matter what you talk about". And that's the magic. I didn't think that I'd actually do it and be paid for doing it".

His passion for theatre continued when he took his place, in 1942, at Enfield Grammar School for Boys and he wrote and performed in school plays. The school had been founded at the time of Queen Elizabeth I and its motto was 'Tant Que Je Puis' / 'As Much As I Can'. The time he spent on dramatics clearly prejudiced his academic work and he recalled that when he was in the sixth form, with his final school certificate exams approaching, one master had said to him : "Peacock. You must do some work. Time to do some work. Never attending the classes. You must get to work". To which he'd replied : "Get to work ? I'm writing the plays. I paint the scenery. I'm playing the lead".

Having left school in 1949 he was called up for his two year's National Service in the Army where he served as Corporal Peacock, was a crack shot and, much to his pleasing, was put in charge of entertainment for the troops with whom he was stationed. After returning to civilian life, and without any discernable training, he spent several years teaching classes of at Cuckoo Hall Primary School in Edmonton, Middlesex. 

By the mid 1950s he'd put teaching aside and described these financially lean years as his "poverty in the East End". This was broken when he got his first break on the professional stage in 1956, when he and the future rock 'n' roll impresario, Jack Gold, teamed up to put on a comedy double act at the Windmill Theatre squeezed in between the scenes with female strippers. Trevor had met Jack through their mutual friend, the composer, Vernon Handly, who was at school with Trevor and became involved with Jack in the Dramatic Society at Oxford University after which he'd gone on to study at the London Academy of Music,.

Despite their different routes into show business, Trevor and Jack formed a fruitful partnership and worked together to produce scripts for BBC Radio and Jack's career prospered when he became a Light Entertainment Producer at BBC Television and in 1957 introduced rock 'n' roll to Britain with his innovative series aimed at the young audience called the '6.5 Special'. Jack employed Trevor to write the scripts for the weekly show. This was the time when, as Trevor recalled : "Me and my mate Jack Gold co-discovered these fellows called Cliff Richard and Adan Faith and we laboriously taught them how to sing and gyrate" 

In 1959 Trevor himself compered the BBC television series 'Drumbeat' which aired for 22 episodes and was the BBC's answer and rival to Jack's new ITV' series 'Oh Boy!' When the composer John Barry, who had worked with Trevor on 'Drumbeat', scored the film 'Beat Girl' in 1960, as a vehicle for Adam Faith, Trevor was employed to write two of the songs, including the hit, 'Made You'. The film, incidentally, featured a young actor called Oliver Reed. 

The following year Jess Conrad had success with Trevor's  'Mystery Girl'. Trevor also wrote 'Stick Around' for Billy Fury and 'That's What Love Will Do' for Joe Brown.   

With the coming of the 1960s Trevor concentrated more on his stage work. In 1961 he met the theatre director, Michael Elliott at a party and when he told him that he wanted to be an actor, Michael responded with : "You start next week at the Old Vic", which was where he was working on a series of plays as Artistic Director. These were the years when he played small stage roles and, for example, in 1962 was the old servant Grumio in 'The Taming of the Shrew', in the relaunched Open Air Theatre, in Regent’s Park. 

In addition, he started to make appearances in television drama and in 1963 had an opportunity to both act in and provide songs for an episode in The ITV Television Play called 'The Lads' and is seen here with Tom Courtenay. He recalled : "I started to act on TV and they made a television play about the troubles in Cyprus". It was 1963 and this focussed on the British Army role in the conflict on the Mediterranean Island between the Turks and the Greeks. He continued : "The play was about these soldiers : that you're there to keep the peace. No flirting with local girls. That's forbidden". It was important that the soldiers were entertained by music on their portable transistor radios. "There were three soldiers, Tom Courtenay, Johnny Thaw and myself". Trevor was asked to write six songs for the soldiers, Dobely, Barritt and Adams and was given a week to do it.

His method in song creation was to look for a good line in a play as a starting point, since he considered that all his songs were basically stories. He recalled : "I read this thing and it wasn't 'Mrs Brown' it was "'Mrs So and So' you have a lovely daughter" and that was in a line and as I drove to work I kept saying "Brown""Brown" "I like that and as I drove I sang : "Mrs Brown you've got a lovely daughter". No, no, no, no good. I suddenly found myself singing : "Mrs Brown you've got a lovely daughter. Lovely daughter" and so that's good, that's good".

Four of the songs were released on a 45 Decca vinyl record with Tom Courtenay singing his version of the song and if you listen carefully you can hear Trevor's distinctive voice audible in the refrain and which he described as "I helped him with some bits". It is  accompanied here with stills from Tom's film, 'Billy Liar', which was released in the same year and starring him and the beautiful Julie Christie, who doubles up as Mrs Brown's daughter. 

Trevor recalled about 4 months after the release of the record : "Someone rang me up and said "You've got a song in the American hit parade". They said : "Listen out and you'll hear it" and I said : "Which song ?" and they said : "Mrs Brown". So I said : "That's me and old Tom Courtenay. That can't be true."

This is the best-known version of the song by Herman's Hermits, who took it to Number One on the US Billboard Hot 100 in May 1965 and number one in Canada the month before. The Hermits had never released the track as a single in Britain. It was recorded as an afterthought, in two takes and featured Peter Noone with his Lancashire accented lead vocals, with backing vocals from Karl Green and Keith Hopwood. The band never dreamed it would be a single let alone hit number one in the USA. 

In 1963, when John Barry was given the task of creating the score for the next James Bond film he contacted Trevor and asked him to supply the lyrics which led Trevor to what he called his "greatest failure as a writer". He recalled the conversation with John : "I said : "What's it going to be called ?" He said : "Goldfinger". I said : "The song, it's called 'Goldfinger' ?" He said "Yes". For Trevor the problem was to find lyrics which rhymed with 'finger'. He said to himself : "Finger, inger, linger, twinger. There's no rhymes and at any rate he's a villain". He tried hard to write it but in the end, picked up the phone and said : "John, I can't find the lines for it" and he went to a much better writer than me, Leslie Bricusse, and he wrote 'Goldfinger' and Shirley Bassey sang it. So I missed out on that one". 

In 1964, the year 'Goldfinger' was shown at the cinema Jack Good contacted Trevor to ask him if he would take part in a programme for ITV featuring the Beatles. The Shakespearean sketch featuring, Trevor opened with an an image of the Globe Theatre, with Ringo Starr unfurling a flag with the legend 'Around the Beatles'. What followed was a humorous rendition of the 'play within a play', from 'A Midsummer Night's Dream', with Paul as Pyramus, John as his lover Thisbe, George as Moonshine, Ringo as Lion with Trevor in the role of Peter Quince.

The following year John Barry contacted Trevor to ask him to contribute the lyrics for his first stage musical, 'Passion Flower Hotel', which was to be performed first at the Palace theatre in Manchester and then the Prince of Wales Theatre in London. The musical was based on Rosalind Erskine’s 1962 novel about the girls at a boarding  school who hit upon the idea of losing their virginity by setting up a brothel to attract the boys of a nearby school. It starred Francesca Annis, Pauline Collins and Jane Burkin, who would later marry John and it was not a great success, running for only 148 performances. Trevor (left) was caught on camera at the theatre, in discussion with fellow lyricist Bob Russell, singer Johnny De little and John Barry (right).

Despite disappointment, Trevor, however, had the pleasure of hearing Barbra Streisand record his song ‘How much of the dream comes true’ on her 'Barbra Two' album in the same year.

When it came to his inspiration for 'Mrs Brown', Trevor recalled that the poet Shelley had written : '

'Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought' 

His "was a sad song about this bloke who loves the girl and she doesn't want him and it's sad and if you get the right minor key to sing it in, that's what works. It's amazing".

* * * * * * * * 

In acknowledgement to Mike D McGinty whose 2011 interview with Trevor provided substance and insight into his work and thinking.