Tuesday 31 January 2012

Britain is a country where old men return to the English seaside holidays of their youth

Bad news for old men in Britain over the age of 65 who wish to travel abroad :
Insurers have doubled the cost of your premiums in the last year and experts fear the hike in cost will leave many of you exposed to holiday disasters as the cost deters them from taking cover.

Britain’s biggest insurer, Aviva, has increased the cost of cover for you and your partner going on a cruise by 26 % cent while Direct Line’s rise is 19 %.

Michelle Mitchell, Charity Director of 'Age UK' said:
"These figures confirm our worst fears that older people will be forced to risk travelling without protection or forgo holidays abroad altogether because they can’t afford insurance."

James Daley, editor of 'Which? Money' said :
"Insurers cannot say it is because of older people’s deteriorating health, as many people are much healthier than they were before, so these increases are hard to justify."

The report of the increases in the 'Daily Mail' provoked 'Tom' to write in :
'How long will it be before there's an increase because your ALIVE ?'

While Hector Macduff from Auchtermuchty in Scotland wrote :
'I have been looking for an excuse to avoid airport terminals; airport security, being squashed in seats on aircraft and generally being treated like a pleb. We can also save more £££s by not having passports or travel insurance. Margate here we come!!'

So, Old Men of Britain say :
"'Goodbye' Costa del Sol in Spain and 'Hello again' Margate in England!"

The American writer, Bill Bryson, extolling the virtues of the English Seaside :

Monday 30 January 2012

Britain is still a country for an old soldier, magician and Second World War survivor from the Burma Railway called Fergus Anchorn

Few old soldiers who fought for Britain in The Second World War are still alive and one group in particular have almost gone : those who fought in the Pacific and were captured by the Japanese. One of them is 93 year old, Fergus Anchorn, whose story, has now been told Peter Fyans.

What you probably didn't know about Fergus, was that he :

* as a boy, grew up carefree, in a close-knit family in Kent, endlessly practised conjuring tricks until, at 18, was elected the youngest member of the 'Magic Circle' and is its oldest practising member today.

* married his sweetheart, Lucille, during The Second World War in 1941 and shortly afterwards, embarked with his Army regiment on a troopship for South East Asia, landed in Singapore, was dive-bombed by the Japanese, jumped into the water and emerged to find five of his companions blown to pieces.

* later, back on shore, was ordered to pick up a live jammed shell, which exploded when a bomb landed 3 metres away and when in hospital, dipping in and out of consciousness, pleaded for his hand to be saved from amputation and got help from a medical orderly who recognised him as the conjuror he had seen in England.

* was still in the Alexandra Military Hospital when Japanese soldiers overran the building, shooting and bayoneting patients and doctors and already covered in blood, buried, his head under his pillow, muttered to himself, "Poor Mum" and waited to die
but was spared by soldiers who thought he was dead.

* next survived in Changi prison-camp where his smashed right arm was saved by having maggots devour the gangrene and had another prisoner, a cartoonist called Ronald Searle, make drawings for him. *(See below the link for my posting marking the death of Ronald)

* in 1942, became one of thousands of British prisoners working on the infamous 'Burma Railroad', built to create a supply route between Burma and Thailand with a track which ran through dense jungle, over mountains and rivers, in monsoon conditions and was fed a starvation diet in conditions where fellow soldiers died like flies, plagued by malaria, tropical ulcers, cholera and dysentery.

* grew weaker and when ordered to carry scalding creosote up a viaduct, found he couldn’t move, even when the shrieking guard emptied the creosote over his back, expected a death sentence but was taken to a hospital camp because the Japanese, who scorned weakness, accepted that physical injuries like his burns needed to be repaired.

* when his wounds began to heal and strength renewed, was able him to do some simple magic tricks : making handkerchiefs and playing cards vanish and reappear and found that the Camp Commandant Osato, a ruthless bully who ordered beatings for fun,
turned out to have an insatiable appetite for magic, demanding over and over again to see how his tricks worked.

* was able to get more food and longer rest-breaks for his friends by distracting the guards, in whose eyes, he became almost a human and with the backing of officers, put on ‘concert parties’, with comedians, singers and musicians with a double bass made out of two tea chests and strings from the innards of a cow.

* saw the railroad completed, at the expense of thousands of lives and was transported, deep into Thailand and then Hiroshima and recalled : "I almost couldn’t take the strain of it.  I had taught myself never to think of tomorrow.”

* at the age of 27, returned to Britain and, like his fellow soldiers, set about rebuilding his life in a country which had little time for heroes and wanted to forget the 'disaster' of Singapore.

* became a lecturer at West Kent College, where he often pepped up his lessons with anecdotes about his extraordinary Wartime survival.

* speaking about the book said : "It was a stroke of luck meeting Peter. I always knew I wanted someone to tell my story, for the sake of my great-grandchildren and their great-grandchildren after I've gone."

Fergus talking about his time as a Japanese POW : Part 1 :

Part 2 :

Part 3 :

Part 4 :

The Burma Railway :

* My posting on Ronald Searle who died earlier this month :
Tuesday, 3 January 2012
Britain is no longer a country for and says "Goodbye" to its greatest cartoonist called Ronald Searle :

Sunday 29 January 2012

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Goodbye" to an old Scottish actor with a rasping voice called Nicol Williamson

Nicol Williamson, once described by playwright John Osborne as : "the greatest actor since Marlon Brando", has died at the age of 73.

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

* was born in South Lanarkshire, Scotland, the son of a factory owner who moved his family to England, went to school in Birmingham and left at 16 to work in his father's factory.

* attended the 'Birmingham School of Speech & Drama', which he described as "nothing more than a finishing school for the daughters of local businessmen" and his time there as "a disaster", then served his 'National Service' as a gunner in the Airborne Division.

* in 1960, at the age of 25, made his professional stage debut with the Dundee Rep and London debut in 1963 and as 'Flute' the 'bellow's mender' in Tony Richardson's production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' at the Royal Court Theatre.

* had his first major success came in 1964 with John Osborne's 'Inadmissible Evidence', won a Tony award when it transferred to Broadway in 1965 and in 1968, starred in the film version.

* played Hamlet for Tony Richardson at the Roundhouse which later transferred to New York and was made into a film, with Marianne Faithfull in the cast with whom, according to her, he had an affair while filming.


* played a suicidal Irish soldier in the 1968 film 'The Bofors Gun'.

* after a number of films, appeared in 1981 in 'Excalibur', where director John Boorman cast him as Merlin opposite Helen Mirren as Morgana over the protests of both actors who had appeared together in Macbeth, with disastrous results, disliked each other intensely and he hoped that their animosity would generate more tension between them on screen.

On 25 January 2012, Nicol's son, Luke, announced on his father's website that Nicol had died on 16 December 2011, after a two-year struggle with oesophageal cancer.

'He gave it all he had: never gave up, never complained, maintained his wicked sense of humour to the end. His last words were 'I love you'. I was with him, he was not alone, he was not in pain.'

Nicol, interviewed some years before by David Frost, reading a Samuel Beckett poem and giving his views about death :

Saturday 28 January 2012

Britain's old men say "Happy Birthday" to Katherine Ross whose beauty beguiled them when they were young men

Katherine, the American actress is 70 today, but for many old men in Britain, she is frozen in aspic in two films :

'The Graduate' : as Elaine Robinson which I saw when I was 20 in 1967 :

and 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid' : as Etta Place which I saw at 22 in 1969 :

A tribute :

Thursday 26 January 2012

Britain is no longer a country for and said goodbye to an old pop artist called Gerald Laing

Gerald Laing, 1960'S pop artist, died at the age of 75 at the end of last year.

Things you possibly didn't know about Gerald, that he :

* was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where, to escape "a rather unpleasant childhood" during which he seldom saw his soldier father, immersed himself in the medieval stories of King Arthur and Knights of the Round Table.

* left school at 16 and went to The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst for Army Officer Training and in 1955 was commissioned into the 'family regiment', the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers.

* during a posting to Belfast in 1957, saw John Osborne's play,'Look Back In Anger', realised that he was a rebel and the Army was not the ideal setting for a rebellion and later wrote that: 'The play had a crucial effect on me, for the first time I realised that I was not alone in thinking as I did'.

* left the Army in 1960, took up student life at St Martin's School of Art in London where the mass-produced newspaper photograph with its composition of small dots influenced his painting at about the time as Roy Lichtenstein took the same route in the USA.

* in 1963, spent the summer in New York, employed by Robert Indiana as a studio assistant and was introduced to a world of giant lofts, vast canvases and huge palettes of paint mixed on large sheets of glass where he noted that : 'even their paint tubes were bigger than ours.'

* painted images of skydivers, astronauts, drag racers and starlets and unable to afford to ship them home, left them in Indiana's loft and returned to London to finish his college course.

* a year later, received a telegram from the Chicago gallery owner, Richard Feigen, who had decided to open a showroom in New York which said : 'I've just seen your paintings at Bob Indiana's loft. They are great. How much are they? Will you exhibit at my gallery in New York?'

* now with a young family, returned to New York, at first painting in a rat-infested loft in the Bowery, then in 1968 produced a screenprint of 'Brigitte Bardot'
,European cinema's brightest star and another of Anna Karina, wife of the new-wave film director, Jean-Luc Godard, as a portrait as big as a billboard painted on nine joined canvases.

* began to prosper and enjoyed a bohemian lifestyle but by 1969, became disillusioned by the assassinations of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King and the Vietnam War and returned to Britain, then bought and restored Kirkell Castle in Scotland.

* in 1973, after an 'epiphany' at the Royal Artillery Memorial at Hyde Park Corner, bought some clay, devoted himself to working on the human figure, taught himself to cast in bronze, built his own foundry and produced his 'Galina Series', depicting his wife.

* with the publication of the Abu Ghraib prison torture photographs in 2003, returned to his colourful 1960's pop art style and when his paintings, exhibited in New York in 2005, did not impress the media, professed himself mildly embittered by the absence of critical esteem.

* was drawn to the celebrity of Amy Winehouse after seeing the media depiction of the troubled singer, his picture of her kissing her husband Blake was the first of a series and said : “My work is concerned with the myth, and portrays her as she appeared to us, the public, via the media. Now that the drama has ended, and all is quiet, I hope it will be seen as a tribute from one artist to another.”

* also once said : "My work has been varied, and so has my life – full of ups and downs; on top of the world one minute, descending into alcoholism the next. But life is what you make of it, and when you have the confidence to go out and follow your dreams it can take you on an incredible journey."

Wednesday 25 January 2012

Britain is no country for old men who live in large family homes

This is the Government Housing Minister, Grant Shapps who has said there is a nationwide shortage of housing and pointed out that about 25 million bedrooms in England are empty, largely because old couples have not moved out of family homes into smaller properties.

Grant is clearly a man full of sympathy for and understanding of the old men and women in Britain :

'Older people who should be enjoying their homes have watched helplessly as their properties have become prisons, and many have been forced to sell their homes and move into residential care. Urgent change is needed to ensure the nation’s housing needs are met. Moving to more suitable accommodation can make a life-changing difference for some older people.'

On this basis, Grant wants local councils to help old men and women to move into that 'more suitable accommodation’ to allow their homes to be rented to young families and take responsibility for maintaining and renting the vacated properties at affordable prices, handing any profit back to the old owner.

He says the idea would help older people, many of whom want to downsize but find it hard to do so.

Opposition has, however, come from the over-50s group 'Saga', where Ros Altman described the idea as "outrageous social engineering" and said older people will be horrified that they should be pressured into moving out of family homes they have spent all their lives paying for. She said that any suggestion older generations were 'hoarding housing’ came across as "extremely offensive".

Neil Duncan-Jordan, of the 'National Pensioners’ Convention', said: "The shortage of affordable housing for younger families is not the fault of Britain’s pensioner population."

He said some frail elderly people did want to downsize, but said there was a shortage of sheltered accommodation for them to move to. He added: "If you’re in a three-bedroom house and you actually want to downsize, the market isn’t exactly brimming with retirement accommodation."

Michelle Mitchell, of Age UK, said:
"No one of any age should feel they have to move out of their own home unless it is what they want to do. Nor should older people be blamed for the scarcity of affordable housing or the economic conditions that make it difficult for younger people to get a mortgage."

To move or not to move for my wife and I from our large house ? Grant says "yes" and Ros, Michelle and Neil say "No. Unless you want to".

Tuesday 24 January 2012

Britain is still a country for and says "Happy Birthday" to an old zooligist called Desmond Morris

Desmond Morris, zoologist, ethologist, surrealist painter, television presenter and popular author is 84 today. Apparently, an ethologist studies the 'science of races'.

Desmond has crammed many things into those years. He :

* was born the son of an author of children's fiction and the great-grandson of William Morris, who was the founder of Britain's first penny paper, the 'Swindon Advertiser' and a keen amateur naturalist.

* as a boy, developed a strong interests in writing and in natural history and attended to an independent school in Wiltshire.

* did military service then studied zoology at the University of Birmingham and a doctorate at Oxford for his thesis on : 'The Reproductive Behaviour of the Ten-spined Stickleback'.

* came to public attention in the 1950's as a presenter of the ITV television programme 'Zoo Time' and worked as 'Curator of Mammals' at the London Zoo, until 1966

* achieved worldwide fame in 1967 with his book, 'The Naked Ape', focussing on humanity's animal-like qualities and similarities with apes explaining that human behaviour largely evolved to meet the challenges of prehistoric life as a hunter-gatherer and saw the book been translated into 23 languages and sell 10 million copies.

* published 'The Soccer Tribe' in 1981 which was partly based on research carried out during his directorship of 'Oxford United Football Club' and included analysis of the 'tribal' chanting of fans during matches.

* is a surrealist artist who has contributed to the 'British Surrealist Movement' and was the Executive Director of the 'Institute of Contemporary Arts' in London in the 1960's.

* oversaw the creation of the 'gestural and body language' for the Paleolithic human characters in the 1981 film 'Quest for Fire'.

* has written almost 50 books including 'The Amazing Baby' in 2008 :

Here he discusses the 'The Aquatic Ape' hypothesis :

An excerpt from 'The Human Animal' 1994 :


Desmond extraordinary interview of the singer Kate Bush :

Sunday 22 January 2012

Britain is no country for old men and nor was the Renassiance City of Milan at the time of Leonardo da Vinci

Yesterday I visited the 'Leonardo da Vinci Exhibition' at the National Gallery in London and observed at close range the 'Profile of an Old Man' drawn in pen and ink in 1500 and his 'Five Characters in a comic scene' drawn around 1490 with another interpretation being that the old man was being distracted and robbed by gypsies.

They date from the time when Leonardo was the painter at the Court of Ludovico Sforza in Milan and both of them reinforce my conclusion that : Renaissance Italy was No Country for Old Men.

P.S. This old man found that to be able to observe the assured pen stokes of his genius at close range, a humbling experience.

Leonardo's sketch of himself in his sixties before he died in France at the age of 67 in 1519.

In his notebooks he repeatedly wrote :
'Tell me if anything was ever done.' and on his death bed he apologized to
"God and Man for leaving so much undone."

Saturday 21 January 2012

Britain is still a country for and says "Happy Birthday" to an indefatigable and quintessentially old English actor/singer called Michael Crawford

Michael Crawford, whose career covers radio, tv, film and stage in London's West End and on New York's Broadway, was 70 yeas old on Thursday.

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

* was born in Salisbury, Wiltshire, as Michael Smith, taking his name from his Mother's husband who had died in 1940 in the Battle of Britain in 1940 and was Michael's biological father.

* spent his early days on an Army camp in Wiltshire in the War and the Isle of Sheppey off the Kent coast, where his mother had grown up, living with his Grandparents.
My earliet posts about Sheppey :


* at the end of the War, moved to London with his mother and new Stepfather and under the name of Michael Ingram, was a church chorister and attended the Oakfield Preparatory School, Dulwich.

* had his mother die at age of 44 from acute pancreatitis after a short stormy and abusive second marriage and was taken under the wing by the famous theatrical 'Kendall Family' whose head was the music hall star, Marie Kendall.

* started his stage career as Sammy 'The Little Sweep' in his school production of Benjamin Britten's 'Let's Make an Opera' and got his professional break when hired by Britten to play in a production the Scala Theatre in London, alternating with another boy soprano called David Hemmings.

* had a name clash with another stage aspirant and changed his to 'Crawford' after seeing a lorry with the slogan 'Crawford's Biscuits Are Best' and after playing a number of parts on stage and on radio, at the age of 19, played an American, 'Junior Sailen', in the Steve McQueen film, 'The War Lover' in 1962.

* played the lead role in the 1963 film 'Two Left Feet' :
Watch out for a young David Hemmings :

* was given by Richard Lester, the role of 'Colin' in 'The Knack …and How to Get It' in 1965.

* was next cast in the film adaptation of the musical, 'A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum' with Zero Mostel.

* played in 'How I Won the War' with John Lennon

and then starred in 'The Jokers' with Oliver Reed.

* made his Broadway debut in 1967 in Peter Shaffer's 'Black Comedy' and began to demonstrate his aptitude and daring for extreme physical comedy, such as walking into walls and falling down staircases.

* was noticed by Gene Kelly and cast in 'Hello, Dolly!' alongside Barbra Streisand and Walter Matthau and related that he got the part of Cornelius Hackl, and 'attractive idiot', because Kelly's wife thought he was 'attractive' and Kelly thought he was 'an idiot'.

* saw 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland', in which he played the White Rabbit, enjoy moderate success in Britain.

* next faced a brief period of unemployment, helped his wife stuff cushions for their upholstery business, took a job as an office clerk and saw his marriage fell apart and divorce follow.

* playing the hapless Frank in the tv series 'Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em', saw his career take off again and his extreme physical comedy came into its own.


* played in his first leading man role on the West End stage in the musical 'Billy' and improved his singing under the tutelage of vocal coach and spending perfected his dancing with a choreographer.
Interviewed at this time :

* in 1981, starred in the London production of 'Barnum' after training at the Big Apple Circus School in New York City to prepare for the stunts, learning to walk the tight-rope, juggle and slide down a rope from the rafters of the theatre and became a 'British Amateur Gymnastics Association' qualified coach.

* starred in Barnum for 655 performances and saw it becaome a favorite of Margaret Thatcher and the Queen Mother.

* started his performance in 'Phathom of the Opera' in London in 1981, and continued on Broadway and then Los Angeles winning a host of awards and sang 'The Music of the Night' at the Inaugural Gala for President George Bush in Washington, in 1989.

* at present is playing the role of the Wizard in the musical version of 'The Wizard of Oz'.

A tribute :