Wednesday 28 May 2014

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Goodbye" to an old jobbing poet called Gerard Benson who brought light to the lives of children and underground travellers

Gerard, who published 10 volumes of poems and prize-winning collections for children and whose autobiography, 'Memoirs of a Jobbing Poet', is to be published this summer, has died at the age of 83.

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

* was born in 1931 in Golders Green, North London, the son of a young, unmarried Irish schoolteacher who arranged to have him fostered and consequently spent his first 10 years living with a family of Christian fundamentalists, whom he believed to be his parents and remembered as a time of "punishments, an absence of love".

*  was visited by his glamorous 'Auntie Eileen' at weekends until evacuated from London to Norfolk at the outbreak of the Second World War and on his return, found the Auntie had become 'Mum' married Romanian composer, Francis Chagrin and became a boy in a new world of artists, writers and musicians and a baby step brother called Julian (right) who years later became R.White's 'secret lemonade drinker'.

* was a troubled teenager, who at school came into conflict with his teachers, undertook counselling at the Tavistock Clinic and attended boarding school followed by, at the age of 18 in 1949, two years National Service in the Royal Navy as an intelligence coder in Gibraltar which, as a lover of words and puzzles, he found convivial.

* after a row with his Mother, the surname of the father on his birth certificate, Arthur Bayard 'Benson' and in his twenties drifted from acting to student life for a year at Exeter University, to work as a clerk and a porter with evening drama classes at Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop and a tour as assistant stage manager with a play, 'Lilac Time', based on tunes by Schubert.

* undertook a year's teacher-training at the Central School for Speech and Drama, London and then served for 20 years as a member of staff, teaching voice production, diction and verse-speaking.

* while teaching,  joined the 'Barrow Poets', who in the early 1960s, took their anarchic programmes to pubs and village halls, with appearances on radio and TV, in which he excelled on the kazoo and took part in renditions of Thomas Love Peacock's 'Three Men of Gotham' and wrote 'The Pheasant Plucker's Son'.

* was a prime mover of the 'Poems on the Underground' scheme along with Judith Chernaik and Cicely Herbert that started in the late 1980s offering a wide range of poetry to a mass audience in his belief the arts should be accessible to all and reflected : "Just as we had hoped, the poems provided relief, caused smiles, offered refreshment to the soul – and all in a place where one would least expect to find anything remotely poetic.”

* in 1990 edited 'This Poem Doesn't Rhyme', designed for young children, to help them discover free and blank verse through Beowulf,  John Wesley, Tennyson, Kurt Schwitters and Bob Cobbing followed by collections of his poetry : 'The Magnificent Callisto' at the age of 61 in 1992, 'Evidence of Elephants' in 1995 and 'To Catch an Elephant' in 2002.

* a Quaker in religion, with a strong moral drive, ran writing workshops for psychiatric patients, prisoners and the disabled, had joined the 'Ban the Bomb' Aldermaston marches in the 1960s and the million-strong London protest against the Iraq war in 2003.
 * in 2008 became the City of Bradford's first and only Poet Laureate and took his role seriously, from helping children in libraries and schools to get the most out of poetry and writing verses to commemorating civic events :  Holocaust Memorial Day, Bradford City Fire Disaster Memorial Services and the Lord Mayor’s Installation Service and where his widow said : “He loved the multicultural ambience of Bradford..the City Hall and the mirror pool, which he extolled to others who had never seen it, suggesting they should visit on a summer’s day.”

* was the first poet-in-residence at The Wordsworth Trust, attended workshops at the Welsh centres Celmi and Ty Newydd and undertook regular stints at Aldeburgh and British Council residencies in Kenya, Egypt and Norway.

* earlier this year, recorded his poems for the digital 'Poetry Archive' and opened with his wry sonnet, 'Beginning':
'Believe me, I hadn't asked to be born,
but still I pressed head-first toward the light … Adventure, sorrow,
puzzlement, delight were waiting. I pushed on through,
breathed air, then wailed – and so again began.'  

A last word from Gerard reading 'A Good Time' :

Tuesday 27 May 2014

Britain is still a country for and says "Happy Birthday" to an old movie actor and forever 'Prince of Darkness' called Christopher Lee

Christopher Lee, film actor, well known for his deep, strong voice and imposing height. wis 92 years old today. remember watching him in those Hammer House of Horror movies when I was a student living in Brighton 40 years ago.

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

* was born in 1922 in Belgavia, Westminster, the son of a contessa and Edwardian beauty and an Army Lieutenant-Colonel, who separated when he was very young and taken by his mother to Switzerland, was educated in 'Miss Fisher's Academy' in Wengen  where he played his first villainous role as Rumpelstiltskin.

* returned to London and his mother married a cousin of Ian Fleming and attended Wellington College, where he won scholarships in classics.

* at the age of 17 in 1939, volunteered to fight for the Finnish forces during the Winter War against the Soviet Union, went on to serve in the Royal Air Force, intelligence services and the Special Operations Executive and retired at the end of the War with the rank of flight lieutenant.

* In, at the age of 24 in 1946, signed a seven-year contract with the Rank Otganisation and made his film debut in a gothic romance, 'Corridor of Mirrors' in 1947 and his first film for Hammer, 'The Curse of Fankenstein' ten years later, in which he played Frankenstein's monster which in turn led to his first appearance as the Tansylvanian vampire in the 1958 film 'Dracula'.

*  returned to the role of Dracula in Hammer's 'Dracula : Prince of Dasrkness' in 1965 and with no lines, merely hissed his way through the film and saw his subsequent films as the Count give him little to do, but a good income.

* in 1966 played Rasputin in 'Rasputin, the Mad Monk' : and had apparently met Rasputin's assassin, Yussupov, when he was a child.

*  was responsible for bringing acclaimed occult author Dennis Wheatley to Hammer and starred in 'The Devil Rides Out' in 1967
and played Lord Summerisle in the cult classic, 'The Wicker Man' in 1973, which he  believes to be his best film :

* since the mid 1970s has eschewed horror roles almost entirely and in 1974 played the James Bond villain, Scaramanga in 'The Man with the Golden Gun' in 1974.
and in 1998, starred in the title role of 'Jinnah', the founder of modern Pakistan, which he declared to be, by far, his best performance :

* played Saruman in the 'The Lord of The Rings' trilogy
and has performed roles in 275 films since 1946 making him the Guinness World Record holder for 'most film acting roles ever'.

* in 2009 was knighted at the age of 87 by an old Prince for 'services to drama and charity' and received the BAFTA Fellowship Award in 2011 : 

* in 2011 whilst giving a speech at the University College Dublin admonished the students against baneful occult practices warning them that he had met "people who claimed to be Satanists. Who claimed to be involved with black magic. Who claimed that they not only knew a lot about it. I warn all of you never, never, never. You will not only lose your mind, you'll lose your soul".

My earlier post about 'The Wicker Man' :

Sunday 25 May 2014

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Goodbye" to an old and forgotten debt-busting philanthropist called Martin Dent

Martin, the eccentric with trousers held up with a tie, shirt hanging out and his dog on a string in attendance at the lectures he gave at Keele University, but also a man with acute intellect and formidable determination, who inspired the Jubilee 2000 Coalition, the largest international coalition of organisations and individuals ever seen, has died at the age of 89. Apart from a short obituary in the Guardian, his death has gone largely unregarded.

What you possibly didn't know about Martin that he :

Martin Dent* was born in 1925 in Harlow, Essex, son of a father who married into a family of brewers, was educated at Eton College and undertook a Royal Artillery short course at Aberdeen University during the Second World War before joining the Essex Regiment, attached to the 18th Royal Gahrawal Rifles, Indian Army, at the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun in 1944, where he served until his discharge at the age 22 in 1947.

* when back in Britain, studied for a history and economics degree at Trinity College, Cambridge and then a postgraduate, 'colonial service' degree at Worcester College, Oxford, before joining t
he Service in 1952 and left Britain to work as an administrative officer in Northern Nigeria for nine years until the age of 36 in 1961.

* in Nigeria, concentrated his efforts on the Tiv, the fourth largest ethnic group with 3.7 million speakers, learned how to speak their language, fought discrimination against them and worked tirelessly to improve the educational opportunities of their children, offering scholarships funded from his own earnings. 

* in 1960, quelled touble in Tiv territory, went in unarmed, called for order and got 2,000 people in two antagonistic factions to lay down their arms and invited the two rival chiefs to join him for tea.

* in 1961, after Nigeria gained independence, defended Tiv senator, Joseph Tarka, against charges of treason was hauled before his British boss and, as he later said, "was told what I had done was bad for the British Empire, an Empire which I believed no longer to exist in Nigeria at that time. I was sent on leave, dismissed in my absence and I lost my pension."

* returned to Britain and after studying politics as a post-graduate at Cambridge University, at the age of 38 in 1963, joined the teaching staff at Keele University with specialism in African politics and issues related to the peace-making and peace-keeping in multi-ethnic societies..

* in the 1980s, became increasingly concerned as the neediest nations struggled with rising payments, often for loans to corrupt regimes during the Cold War from banks, less than cautious about how much they lent to Third World nations, now paying more and more interest as they plunged deeper and deeper into debt.

* was convinced that, as the great-great-great-grandson of Thomas Foxwell Buxton, who took over the leadership of the abolition of slavery movement in the House of Commons after William Wilberforce retired in 1825, it was his duty to follow in his footsteps and argued that financial debt which imposed a 'new slavery' on countries in the developing also required abolition.

* applied the idea of a 'debt amnesty' to Third World countries for the Millennium in 2000, based on the old Judaic tradition of a 'jubilee year', when a ram's horn was blown and all debts were forgiven in one unrepeatable action.

* launched the amnesty in 1990 with students at Keele University, sending the UN Secretary-General a petition calling on him to declare the millennium year one of 'Jubilee and Debt Remission' for the World's poorest countries.

* in 1992 at the age of 67, was made an 'Honorary Chief' by the Tiv tribe, the first non-African to receive the title, 'Asoor Tiv' or 'the peacemaker of the Tiv' and continued to sort out disputes such as the one over ownership of a 10 sq km patch of land by the River Kungwa Jov, which had claimed more than 100 lives.

* after initial enthusiasm or debt remission had faded, used his time in retirement to write to MPs, ambassadors, bishops and bank chairmen and prayed twice a day for help until, in 1993, he joined forces with the Bill Peters who had ended his career as High Commissioner in Malawi in the early 1980s, just as the debt crisis began to bite and noted that "it was a very striking thing, children began to appear with potbellies, houses had no roofs."

* in 1996, together with Bill, used his charisma and Bill's realpolitik to create the 'Jubilee Debt Coalition’, which included Churches, faith groups, aid agencies, the BMA and the TUC and in 1998 gained publicity by organising the six mile, 70,000 strong 'Human Chain' with symbolic chains being grasped and ram's horns blown, around the G8 Meeting with President Clinton and his counterparts in Birmingham :

* by the turn of the century, saw more than 20 million people from 155 countries add their names to the Petition, with Archbishop Desmond Tutu as a patron and support from  Bono, Muhammad Ali, Bob Geldof, Peter Gabriel and Youssou N'Dour. 

* had George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, say of him in reference to 'unsung heroes' in his BBC tv speech on New Year's Day 2001 : "Or maybe you've heard of the Jubilee 2000 campaign aiming to mark the millennium by cancelling the debts of the world's poorest countries. This movement of ordinary people has already wiped out $100bn of those debts ... a mighty achievement considering the idea came from Bill Peters and Martin Dent, two retired gentlemen who no-one's ever heard of."

*  received from Kofi Annan the acknowledgement that : “A flame of hope has been kindled in the poorest countries of the world…. On behalf of the United Nations, I extend my deep gratitude to you all for your indefatigable efforts…  millions of people are indebted to you.” 

* along with Bill received the Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award in 2000 in recognition of their efforts and the success of the Jubilee 2000 campaign, which ‘made possible the provision of basic education and health-care to thousands of people.’

* was conscious that the success of the campaign had, in reality, been limited with only 11 countries receiving debt relief and only one having any debt cancelled and said : " I don't think God ever gives you 100% victory in what you set out to do", but nevertheless was convinced that others would follow in its footsteps when he wound up the Campaign.

* in 2012, at the age of 87, shared afternoon tea with members of the Tiv when they visited his nursing home and had who Chief Ullam, aged 67, who he had helped as a boy said of him : "The Tiv people have a lot of affection for him because he fought very well for the welfare of a minority group and with that came the fight for justice. He was a very fair man."
* after his death  Bulent Gokay, Professor of International Relations at Keele, said of him :
"He was one of those very rare, extremely inspirational and visionary individuals. He is described by former students and colleagues as a well-loved lecturer, a great English eccentric, a campaigner for justice, a fantastic academic and a true philanthropist."

* and Martin Harrison, former Head of the Politics Department at Keele :"He was the sort of teacher that people remembered affectionately and they would always have some sort of anecdote, particularly about his generosity and enthusiasm. When people referred to Martin, it was always with a smile."

*  said of himself, with perfect self-effacement, as groups moved in, took the credit for Third World debt relief and downplayed his role with Bill :  "Among the Tiv people there is a saying, 'Or Sor on tar a ye ga' - the one who heals the land never eats.They mean that if someone is looking for personal honour he will not succeed in his high task."

Tuesday 20 May 2014

Britain is still a country for and says "Happy Birthday" to an old rocker and son of Sheffield called Joe Cocker

Joe Cocker, the singer best known in the 1960's for his gritty voice, idiosyncratic arm movements and cover versions of popular songs, is 70 today and although he lives on 'The Mad Dog' ranch in Colorado, he will always at heart be a Sheffield lad and son of Britain who last year said "I’ve been living in the States so long that I thought about becoming a U.S. citizen, but I’d have to renounce my allegiance to the Queen. As a proud Englishman, I don’t think I could do that."

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

* was born in 1944, the last year of the Second World War, in Sheffield, England, the youngest son of Madge and Harold, a civil servant and had his first experience of singing in public at the age of  12, when his elder brother invited him on stage to sing during a gig of his skiffle group and in 1960.

* left school and worked as a gas fitter for the East Midlands Gas Board and at 16, formed his first group, 'The Cavaliers' then, in 1961, with 'Vance Arnold and the Avengers', played in pubs performing covers of Chuck Berry and Ray Charles and in 1963 supported 'The Rolling Stones' at their Sheffield City Hall gig.

* in 1964, released his first single, a cover of the Beatles' 'I'll Cry Instead' with Jimmy Page playing backup guitar, which was a flop, then recorded 'Marjorine' , moved to London, got a residency, formed a new band and entered the big time with a groundbreaking rearrangement of 'With a Little Help from My Friends'.

* toured Britain with 'The Who' in 1968 and in the U.S.A. where he played at Woodstock,
the Newport Rock and the Denver Pop Festival then released his second album, 'Joe Cocker' and impressed by his cover of 'With A Little Help From my Friends', was allowed by Paul McCartney and George Harrison to use their songs, 'She Came in Through the Bathroom Window' and 'Something' for the album.

* saw his album, recorded during a break in touring in the spring and summer, reach number 11 in the US charts and garnered a second UK hit with the Leon Russell song, 'Delta Lady'

* since the 1970's, continued to tour, battled with addictions and depression and had success with a cover of Billy Preston's 'You Are So Beautiful' : and recorded the duet 'Up Where We Belong' with Jennifer Warnes for the soundtrack of the 1982 film, 'An Officer and a Gentleman'

* performed for President George H. W. Bush at an inauguration concert and was awarded an OBE in the Queen's 2007 Birthday Honours list for services to music.

My favourite song, written by John B. Sebastian : 'Darling Be Home Soon' :

And talk of all the things we did today.
And laugh about our funny little ways.
While we have a few minutes to breathe.
Then I know that it's time you must leave.

But darling be home soon,
I couldn't bear to wait an extra minute if you dawdled.
My darling be home soon,
It's not just these few hours, but I've been waiting since I toddled,
For the great relief of having you to talk to.

A wonderful song using the words "dawdle" and "toddle" and a line like "for the great relief of having you to talk to" with 'dawdle' being a 1650–60 variant of 'daddle' to 'toddle'.

I wonder if John or Joe knew that ?

Isn't the English language wonderful ?

Monday 19 May 2014

Britain is still a country for and says "Happy Birthday" to an old rocker and philanthropist called Pete Townshend

Peter Dennis Blandford Townshend, known principally as the guitarist and songwriter for 'The Who' with a career which spans more than forty years, is 69 today.

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

* was born in Chiswick, London into a musical family, his father a professional saxophonist in 'The Sqaudronaires' (right) and mother, a singer and was drawn to rock and roll as a boy and saw Elvis in 'Rock Around the Clock' repeatedly at the age of 11.

* got his first guitar when he was 12 and was influenced by Link Ray, John Lee Hooker, Bo Diddley and Hank Marvin until he heard "heard rhythm and blues and it was all over."

* said : " The first record I remember was 'Green Onions' by Booker T.  I never listened that much to Muddy Waters or people like that. It was Steve Cropper (right) who really turned me on to aggressive guitar playing."

* left school Acton County Grammar School at the age of 16 and enrolled at Ealing Art College with a view to becoming a graphic artist and at 17 with school firend, John Entwistle formed 'The Confederates', a Dixieland duet and played banjo with John on horns.

 * moved on to 'The Detours', a skiffle/rock and roll band fronted by Roger Daltrey, another former schoolmate and in 1964 renamed themselves 'The Who' along with drummer Keith Moon who had joined them. 

* using a Nagra tape recorder given to him by record producers Lambert and Stamp, at the age of 20 in 1965, created 'I Can't Explain' in the wake of the Kinks hit, 'You Really Got Me' and landed a contract with their producer, Shel Talmy

* wrote a series of successful singles for the band :
- 'My Generation' : at 21 in 1966
- 'Substitute' at 22 in 1967
'I'm a Boy' and 'Pictures of Lily' at 24 in 1969
- and 'Pinball Wizard'

* became known for his eccentric stage style with lengthy introductions and a signature move in which he would swing his right arm against the guitar strings, reminiscent of the vanes of a windmill and most spectacularly, became one of the first musicians to smash guitars on stage, repeatedly throwing them into his amplifiers and speaker cabinets.

* created the rock operas 'Tommy' and 'Quadropenia' and saw 'The Who' continue to thrive, despite the drug related deaths of Keith in 1978 and John in 2002.

* suffers from partial deafness and tinnitus believed to be the result of extensive exposure to loud music including the concert at the Charlton Athletic Football Club,London, in 1976 listed as the 'Loudest Concert Ever' where the volume level was measured at 126 decibels 32 metres from the stage.

* has been involved with various charities and other philanthropic efforts both as a solo artist and with 'The Who' and organised his 1974 benefit show to raise funds for the 'Camden Square Community Play Centre.'

* has donated money through his services to :
- drug rehabiltation programmes
- children with autism and mental retardation through the 'Music Therapy Foundation
- the Californian 'Bridge School Benefit' for children with severe speech and physical impairments
- the Chicago 'Maryville Academy Children's Charity'
- the British 'Teenage Cancer Trust'
- 'Amnesty International'

* in 2011, launched with Roger, 'The Daltrey/Townshend Teen and Young Adult Cancer Program' at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Centre in Los Angeles funded by The Who's charity, 'The Who Cares Trust'.

Sunday 11 May 2014

Britain is still a country which rightly continues to initiate wealthy and once-powerful old men into the Knights of the Order of the Bath

This week Westminster Abbey was the scene for the important 'Service for Knights of the Order of the Bath'. If the Queen, as the Sovereign had presided over the proceedings, dressed in an elaborate, cumbersome robe with a full train, worn over an evening dress and with the heavy Queen Mary tiara on her head, she would have been required to walk up and down a short, but steep, flight of steps in the Lady Chapel of Henry VII. However, following a dress rehearsal on Thursday night, her aides reluctantly admitted that negotiating the steps in full regalia would be too much for the 88 year old and although she did attend the service, she sat and watched from the relative comfort of her stall as her 65 year old son and heir, Prince Charles, stood in for her.