Thursday 28 September 2017

Britain is no country for old men with a respect for the Ronald Ridout rules of English grammar

Old men in Britain, regardless of their school and social class would have all learned the rules of English grammar, thanks to the books of Ronald Ridout who died at the age of 78 in 1994 and whose 500 books sold 91 million copies world wide. In the late 1950's and the early 1960's his textbooks were on school desks across the length and breadth of Britain and many an English lesson began with the teacher instructing the class with : "Take out your Ridouts."

Born in 1916 Ronald always considered himself a socialist and at the beginning of his teaching career, had to move from job to job as headteachers objected to him discussing Marxism in the classroom. Educated at a grammar school in Surrey, he gained an Oxford degree, entered teaching and became 'Head of English' at a Portsmouth secondary school.

Initially he produced his own worksheets, which he submitted to the publisher 'Ginn,' whose editor wrote back saying : 'Mr Ridout, we think that this is the book we have been waiting 25 years for.' Which Ronald, no doubt, would have corrected to : 'for what we have been waiting.' As a result he had his books turned into the 5-part 'English Today' and the course which directed English teaching in secondary schools for 20 years.

Apparently, when his books began to sell overseas, he set off to learn about Africa and walked across Nigeria and Sierra Leone in baggy shorts and sandals, carrying a huge basket of his books. He realised how inappropriate some parts of his books seemed and produced new ones without references to 'snowball fights' and 'skating.' A dapper, bronzed man who could be puritanical, he was described as 'neither proud, nor arrogant.'

Most old men in meritocratic Britain would find it laudable that 37 year old Angela Rayner, who left school without qualifications as a pregnant teenager, became the Member of Parliament Ashton-under-Lyne in 2015. They would also find dispiriting the fact that, as the Shadow Secretary of State for Education, who aspires to hold Government office where she would be responsible for upholding standards of literacy within the education system has, herself, a tenuous grip on the rules of English grammar.

Interviewed by Mishal Hussein on the BBC Radio 4 'Today Programme' yesterday and questioned about the Bombardier Aerospace Company, threatened by President Trump with punitive import tariffs she said :

"The Bombardier situation is quite a crucial one because these are UK jobs that we depend on -  thousands and actually the Government were in that contract process and were robust and I think that we have to defend the fact that the contract was awarded and we followed the rules"......"That contract, in particular, what we was talking about, the fact is, that we followed the rules, we won that contract fair and square. You can't turn round and say you don't like it now, well that was the rules and we followed the contract in terms of that and the Government need to be robust in their defence of that."

Ronald, if he was still with us, would have suggested :

"The Bombardier situation is quite a crucial one because these are UK jobs upon which we depend 
(thus following the rule that sentences do not end on a proposition)
-  thousands and actually the Government was involved in that contract process and was robust
(it is permissible to treat 'Government' as either a plural or singular noun, in this case it strengthens her argument if she treats at a singular)
and I think that we have to defend the fact that that contract was awarded and we followed the rules"......" That contract, in particular, which we were talking about,
(self obviously 'were' instead of 'was')
the fact is that we followed the rules, we won that contract fair and square and the Government must ensure that we protect. You can't turn round and say you don't like it now. The fact is that, they were the rules 
(the plural 'rules' demands 'were' and not the singular 'was') 
and we followed the contract in terms of that and the Government needs to be robust in their defence of that."

One might argue that the standard of Angela's grammar as Shadow Secretary of State for Education who will become Secretary of State, if the Labour Party win the next general election, really doesn't matter. Just as it doesn't seem to matter that school teachers no longer need a good command of English grammar. I am reminded of a young trainee secondary school teacher whose lesson I was observing asked the class : "What was them books we was using last week ?"

Old men also jibe the change in pronunciation of the young in London and the South East, known as 'Estuary English' over their 'Received Pronounciation' which grates on their ears which includes the use of :

* the broad A and pronouncing words such as 'fast' as 'farst' and 'path' as 'parth'

* the glottal stop and not pronouncing the letter 't' in most words, so that 'water' is pronounced 'war'er.'

* th-fronting and prouncing words, which start with a 'th', with an 'f,' so that 'three' becomes 'free,' 'think' becomes 'fink' and 'north' becomes 'norf'. At the same time, if 'th' is in the middle of a word, it is usually replaced with a 'v,' so for example, 'other' becomes 'ovver' and 'southern' becomes 'sovvern.'

* l-vocalisation, which is not pronouncing the letter 'l' in certain words and using a 'w' sound instead, for example, 'fall' becomes 'faw' and 'milk' becomes 'miwk'

* h-dropping : not pronouncing the letter 'h' at the start of most words, so that 'here' becomes 'ere' and 'hate' becomes 'ate'

* g's being dropped at the end of words so that 'swimming' becomes 'swimmin'

Phonological change in pronunciation might initially take place only in one particular geographic location and remain local, so Estuary English may be confined to the South East or, it may over time, spread nationally and thus affect all varieties of English. 

Of course, Britain, being such an old country and English an even older  language, we have been here before. During the eighteenth century, Jonathan Swift and many other influential figures, felt the English language was in a state of serious decline and that a national institution, such as existed in France and Italy, should be created to establish rules and prevent further decay. Old men in Britain today may deride new words and expressions, innovative pronunciations and changes in grammar which they consider to be inferior. Ultimately, however, they should fear not. English, because of its adaptability and durability, will survive.

Ronald wrote in English Today in 1947 :

'What we must do is to steer between these two extremes and develop a way of speaking that most effectively expresses what we want to say. We want a speech that will do its job well. Everything that does its job well has a beauty of its own. Hence we talk of a beautiful runner, a beautiful dancer, a beautiful engine. They all have functional beauty, the beauty of functioning perfectly, the beauty of being perfectly suited to the job they have to do. So with speech: we want an instrument that is beautiful, not because it puts on decorative airs, but because it does its work beautifully, perfectly.'

Monday 25 September 2017

Britain is a country which once made and has now lost its old wildlife artist and outspoken conservationist, David Shepherd

David, who has died at the age of 86, was born in Hendon, North London, in the Spring of 1931, the son of a hotelier, Raymond, and his wife Joyce, a horse breeder and farmer. He was eight when the Second World War broke out in 1939, the same year he won a children’s painting competition in Nursery World magazine.

He was nine years old when he experienced air raid shelters during the London Blitz in 1940 and during the next year when 34 high explosive bombs were dropped on Hendon. As a small boy in the Summer of 1940 he was thrilled witness to the aerial dogfights between RAF and Luftwaffe pilots over the City in the Battle of Britain and recalled : "I used to watch the air raids and the ‘Battle of Britain’ on the way to school. It was so exciting – we didn’t realise people were killing each other." By the time the War had ended, he was in his early teens and his parents had coughed up the fees and packed him off to the boarding school for boys, Stowe School in Buckinghamshire.

The school was set in the image of J. F. Roxburgh, its founding Headmaster, whose aim had been to produce a modern public school concentrating on the individual, without the unpleasantness of fagging or arcane names then common in other schools. Instead, he sought to instil a new ethos enthused with the beauty of Stowe’s unique environment where the best of traditional education would be tempered by liberal learning and every pupil would “know beauty when he sees it all his life.” Roxburgh had started as Head when the school was opened in 1923 and retired in the year David left when he was 18 in 1949.

The school, with its motto : "Persto et Praesto" - "I stand firm and I stand first," tempered by Roxburgh's liberal philosophy, clearly had a formative influence on David who said : "Up to that point, my only interest in art had been as an escape from the rugger field. The game was compulsory at school and I was terrified of it. I couldn't see any fun in being buried under heaps of bodies in the mud and having my face kicked in. l fled into the Art Department where it was more comfortable and painted the most unspeakably awful painting of birds." The key point was that he was allowed to "escape" from sport. He also visited the school library where he found and borrowed as many books as possible on big game wildlife.

He was a teenager whose ambition "was to be a game warden, so when I’d finished my education at Stowe, I went out to Kenya believing I was God’s gift to the National Parks. I knocked on the door of the Head Game Warden in Nairobi and said, "I’m here, can I be a game warden?" I was told I wasn’t wanted. That was the end of my career in three seconds flat." In fact, David lacked the required academic qualifications, such as zoology, as well as  knowledge of the bush and Kenyan citizenship. The Parks Superintendent consoled him by taking him in safari in which he saw the National Park and Amboseli Reserve for the first time.

Disconsolate and believing  his "life was in ruins,” he withdrew to Malindi on the Kenyan coast, where, deflated and homesick, David took a job as a receptionist in a hotel on the Kenya coast with a salary of £1 a week where he "painted some more bird paintings on plasterboard and I sold seven of them for £l0 each to the culture-starved inhabitants of the town and paid my passage home to England on a Union Castle steamer."

He recalled that in 1949 : "Arriving home, I was penniless and had two choices. I could either become an artist or a bus driver. I suspected that most artists starved in garrets, life as a bus driver seemed the safer bet. But my Dad was marvellous. He said that if I really wanted to be an artist, I’d better get some training. The only school we knew anything about was The Slade School of Fine Art in London, so I sent them my first bird painting. They turned me down, saying I had no talent."

He himself confessed that his “painting of birds of dubious ancestry, flying in anatomically impossible positions over a lavatorial green sea” didn't have much to commend it and it was now that a chance meeting at a Winchester cocktail party, when he was introduced to the Australian painter, Robin Goodwin, would change his life. Robin was a professional painter who specialised in portraits and marine subjects who didn't and wouldn't take students, but agreed to have a look at David's work.

David recalled that : "The next day, I trotted up to his studio in Chelsea and a miracle happened. I showed him that very first bird picture, which I still have and, for reasons that I have never been able to understand, he decided to take me on." "The very first half-hour I had with him ended in tears. "First of all" he told me, "if you think that because you're creative you're different from anyone else and that you can mop your forehead and wear pink trousers and go all Bohemian and only work when you feel like it, you can shove off. In November when it's so dark that you can't even see your canvas, you're going to be painting for the tax man, the food bills, and the school fees. Throwing paint at the wall and 'expressing yourself' doesn't pay the bills. Artists, like everyone else, have to work- eight hours and more a day, seven days a week to meet their responsibilities."

Robin tutored David for the next three years in the studio he rented from Augustus John in Tite Street, Chelsea, where he painted commissioned portraits for money and seascapes for love. Davis later described him as " A fully qualified, sensible artist who taught me to paint. If I had not met him I would be driving a bus. I owe him everything." Having said that, he was clearly a hard task master : "Robin never said anything complimentary about my work and he knew just how far to push me. Once I stormed out of his studio, determined never to return, but he leaned out of the window and called down to me in the street: "Don't be such a coward - I'm still teaching you, so you can't be that bad." "

He described his youth in 2015 :

With his training over in 1953, David began painting aviation pictures, inspired by memories of the skies over London when he was a boy during the War and he later recalled : ‘I got a permit, which gave me access to Heathrow Airport. In those days it was a friendly place, not the concrete jungle it is now. I could go almost anywhere I wanted, and lovely old planes like that became my subjects.’ He won a commission from the Chairman of BOAC and was then flown to Kenya by the Royal Air Force where : "Again, my life changed course.  When I arrived they said to me : “We don’t want paintings of aircraft. Do you do local things like elephants?”And that’s how it all started.’ When he sold his first wildlife painting of a rhino for £25, his career took off.

David's artistic method was simple : He sought to be realist without being photographic and would typically honour something large and magnificent, such as an aeroplane, steam train or large mammal, which he would either set in a vast expanse of a sky, a plain, or other stage-like backdrop.

In 1955, at the age of 24 he was the subject of an episode of 'Astra Gazette,' the RAF Cine Magazine for its personnel, produced by British Pathé, in which the narrator told the cinema audience that David's painting of a steam locomotive "was alive in atmosphere, in character and rhythm. Alive because the artist has the power of understanding his subject; living with it until until he has the effect he desires. The artist is David Shepherd, his age - 24. Surprisingly enough, Shepherd is not a specialist. His versatility is apparent in studies of every description, yet the fundamental feature is always realism, something inevitably acquired by first hand knowledge. Little things like the brilliant glow of the sun's refection from an aircraft in flight. The vivid scenery below a Britannia over Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest mountain. One remembers that Shepherd once went to East Africa to be a game warden."


As his career began to prosper he reasoned, that if he gave his paintings to the airlines, they would feel obliged to repay him with commissions and the ploy worked. It was through them that he met his future wife, Avril, who was working as a secretary for Capital Airlines of Washington in Britain. In addition, the R.A.F. began to take an interest in David and asked him to paint pictures of military stations in Kenya for them, acting as a ‘peacetime war artist’ and flew him anywhere he wanted to go in Arabia and Kenya. He recalled : "I did one picture of an Arab dhow and it led to 63 commissions. In Aden everything is paintable, people are culture hungry, and there is no one to paint for them."

He was 29, when in 1960, the RAF flew him to Kenya as their guest : "When I arrived they said to me, : "We don't want paintings of aircraft, we fly them all day long. Do you do local things like elephants?" And that's how it all started. I hadn't even painted a rabbit before then." David charged the the Force £25, including the frame, for his very first wildlife painting of a rhino and, as he later reflected : "My career took off, and I've never looked back."

The visit would prove to be important for him in another way when, in one single dramatic moment, he became a conservationist. He found a waterhole poisoned by poachers, around which were lying 255 dead zebra. He realised then that, through his paintings, which were already in great demand, he could repay his debt to the wildlife and said : "The greatest thrill of my life is to be able to repay in fair measure the debt I owe to the animals I paint and which have brought me such success. We all have a debt to pay for our stay here. This is mine. "

Since that day 57 years ago, David has raised over £8 million for wildlife conservation, initially by donating the proceeds of the sale of his paintings to charities such as the 'World Wildlife Fund' and then, since 1984, through the efforts of the 'David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation' which campaigns to protect endangered species and combat poaching and its trade.

In 1962 he sold Boots the Chemists the copyright of 'Wise Old Elephant' for £100, which went on to sell 250,000 copies and twenty years later would be seen gracing the wall of the living room of the Trotter's flat in Nelson Mandela House in the BBC sitcom, 'Only Fools and Horses.'

David once said :

"I want to live to be 150. It will take that long to do everything I want to do. Unlike some people who perhaps lead a humdrum existence, I run almost everywhere I go because I am so anxious to get on with the joy of what I am doing next. "

Saturday 23 September 2017

Britain, on the eve of Brexit and in decline, is no country for an old novelist called Martin Amis

When great countries decline, the process is never gentle, but is marked by seismic shifts, as when the Romans pulled their legions out of Britain to defend the imperial capital in 410 AD.

Martin Amis, the novelist, is 68 years old. He was a year old when his father, the then 28 year old Kingsley, wrote 'Lucky Jim' in 1950. Four years later it was published and two years after, in 1956, that John Osborne's play, 'Look Back in Anger' premiered at the Royal Court. It was against the background of Britain's failed mission in the Suez Crisis and the Hungarian Uprising that the term, 'Angry Young Men' was coined to describe the new generation of politically disillusioned writers. Much to his chagrin Kingsley was also factored in as an Angry Young Man. Be that as it may, when Martin was seven, Britain experienced with Suez, a seismic shift in its position in the world which would prove to be a landmark in its decline as a great power.

Now, 60 years later, with Brexit upon Britain, Martin reflects on the next major shift in Britain's position in the world which heralds an acceleration in its decline. This week, on the Radio 4 'Today Programme' he said about Brexit :

"I'm as depressed as my friend Ian McKewan about it. I think a self-inflicted wound and I don't like the kind of nostalgic utopia that was being booted about, that it will return to just the sort of England that I don't like, which is the country town-rustic-beer drinking- family butcher England."

"To step away from what was a sort of political coalition and go it alone seems like a denial of decline which is the first thing to accept and England has always accepted that, I think, with great maturity, partly because it feels guilty about empire and wishes it had never had one, rather than regretting the loss of it. To then flip back into thinking you're a weight on the world's stage is. I think. stretching it."

Britain should accept decline "because it's historically inevitable. It's finding how to accommodate yourself to it, which I said, England's always been impressive on that question. What worries me is how America will respond to it, because it's coming and Americans are more prone to illusion than Britain."

Monday, 13 March 2017

Britain, a country where the "air is very foul", is no longer one for an old novelist called Ian McEwan

Thursday 21 September 2017

Britain was and still is, very much a country for wealthy, lazy, old lords

The are 826 members of the Second Legislative Chamber and 76% are men, mostly old men, since average age is 69 years and what has the Electoral Reform Society found out ? Their analysis of the voting, speaking and expenses records in the Lords, show a ‘something for nothing’ culture among the old men and peers who haven’t spoken in the Lords for an entire year have claimed nearly £1.3m in expenses and allowances.

Apparently, 115 Lords, that's one in seven of the total, failed to speak at all in the 2016/17 session, despite claiming an average of £11,091 a year, while 18 peers failed to turn up to vote on legislation , but still claimed a total of £93,162.

In addition, the findings show that most peers - 58% of those attending the whole 2016/17 session, now claim more than the average full-time Brit’s take-home pay for what is essentially a part-time role since in the 2016-17 Session they only sat for a total of 141 days. Those days were constituted of :
Mondays and Tuesdays from 2.30pm
Wednesdays from 3pm
Thursdays from 11am
some Fridays from 10am

with the proviso that the House of Lords usually sits until 10-11pm, occasionally much later and sometimes all night.

Peers who voted ten times or fewer claimed £1,032,653 in 2016/17 and £4,086,764 has been claimed by the 36% of peers who spoke five times or fewer in the past year, many of whom don't speak at all and simply turn up to vote.

Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, used these figures to make a number of points :

“These figures are a damning indictment of the state of the House of Lords. There appears to be a growing ‘something for nothing’ culture in our Upper House, with tidy sums being claimed by those who barely contribute. And there are a worrying number of couch-potato peers and lobby-fodder Lords at a time when there is plenty to scrutinise, ostensibly the Upper Chamber’s role." 

and :

* "Over £4m is being claimed by those who speak only a handful of times a year shows just how dire this undemocratic situation has become."

* "It’s completely unacceptable that peers can claim thousands without even speaking or voting in the House and it highlights the reality that there is no accountability for peers."

* "Rather than spending immense sums on peers who fail to even speak up in Parliament, we need a fairly-elected upper House with a much smaller number of salaried peers ending the rolling expenses scandal the Chamber has become."

* "We need to move to a much smaller Upper Chamber, one that is properly accountable, so that the Lords is no longer seen as a retirement home for party donors but something fit for the Mother of all Parliaments."

“From lobby-fodder Lords who only turn up to vote, to couch-potato peers who fail to turn up at all, the situation in the Second Chamber is a scandal. Now let’s fix this broken House before the situation gets any worse.” 

'Tis the case in 2017. 'twas the case in 1917 and no doubt, 'twill be the case in 2117.

Britain, a country where, with wealth and privilege, nothing changes.

Sunday 17 September 2017

Britain was once a country which made and has now lost its old and greatest Impresario and Theatre Director, Peter Hall

Peter, who has died at the age of 86, grew up in a post Second World War Britain which gave him a unique opportunity to demonstrate his theatrical genius. As a teenager "hungry for art. Avid for culture," standing at the back of the wartime theatres in London and Cambridge for sixpence, he loved what he saw and recalled that : "At about 14, I thought I knew what I wanted to do - be a director." As an undergraduate at Cambridge in the 1950s he identified that there was "A post-War vacuum in the directing field. No question. there was a hole." Peter, subsequently, more than helped to fill it.

He was born at Number 24 Avenue Approach, Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, in a bay windowed, red bricked, two bedroomed, terraced under a slate roof on 22 November 1930. He was the son of Grace, who worked in a haberdashers and Reg who was a clerk in the local station goods depot and after his promotion to 'stationmaster', the family relocated to rural Barnham in Suffolk and later to Cambridge and then Shelford, outside the city. Peter later over- embroidered his working class childhood when he said : "People always giggle when I say that I grew up on a single-line railway station with a pump outside, no running water, no electricity, oil lamps, but in the 30s that's the way it was."

Peter remember his father as : "one of the wisest, nicest, least ambitious men I've ever met," but it was clear that the driving force in the family came from his mother and her conviction that Peter's route to betterment would be through a good education. He remembered her as “hugely ambitious” and in “a state of permanent fury” at his father, with his "sunny, controlled temperament and no ambition at all.” It is difficult to judge his attitude towards his mother when, in his  autobiography, he said that she "had a distinct aura of piss-elegance," which in old parlance meant that she 'put on airs and graces.' No doubt she was anxious to disguise the fact that she was a shop worker, her father had worked as a pork butcher and Reg's father as a rat catcher on Queen Victoria’s Norfolk estate.

Peter recalled that in his early years : "Like most directors, I had a toy theatre as a child. My puppets were of cut-out cardboard and wood. They did what they were told, but only what they were told. I remember the excitement when a magical group of professional puppeteers visited my kindergarten in Bury St Edmunds."

He was 9 years old when the Second World War broke out and living in Cambridge where he attended : "Morley Memorial Junior School, which seemed very rough. Being an only child, and a loner from the wilds of Suffolk, I was mocked by brawling boys and giggling girls. It was bearable because it was just round the corner from home so, if the worst happened, I knew it would take only two minutes to reach the safety of my mother."

Reg and Grace recognised and encouraged his precocious talent and he recalled : “They encouraged me to be different and from the age of eight I was conscious I was different and would escape.” At his request on his 10th birthday, they took him to a performance of Mozart's Requiem in King's College, Cambridge. Nearly seventy years later he recalled that it was in the same year that he "got a scholarship to the Perse Boys School, an ancient grammar. I think four of us had scholarships. Our fees were paid and our books, marked 'Minor Scholar's book – to be returned on demand', were supplied by the school and were scruffy; all other boys had new books from their parents. It still rankles."

Peter's 'ancient grammar' with its hammer beamed hall, founded in the 17th century with its motto 'Qui facit per alium facit per se' usually taken to mean "He who does things for others does them for himself," fed him with inventive ways to explore literature and drama and he and he recalled : "My first encounter with Shakespeare was at the age of 10. Instead of having to listen to a boring teacher reading out the principal part, we would go down to "The Mummery", which was in the basement of one of the school's Victorian wings, dress up with helmets, cloaks and swords and shout lines of Macbeth at each other. My history master, John Tanfield, had a long, horsey face and chain-smoked in class. He had been a professional actor and, poor man, directed me as Hamlet in my last year." He later said that : "It never occurred to me not to love Shakespeare. He was thrilling and blood-soaked and full of witches."

By the time he left school in 1948 Peter had : played his Hamlet, become head boy, learned the art of public speaking, edited the school magazine, made it into the tennis team had become an accomplished organist and pianist and during the War and showed he had an impresario’s touch when he led a band that played village halls around Cambridge in aid of the
Red Cross.
It was, however, Peter's extra-curricular activities which cemented his ambition when : "Largely because of John Gielgud's Hamlet, which I saw at the Cambridge Arts Theatre during the War, I decided at 14 that I wanted to be a director, though I didn't know what a director did." He was ideally placed because the evacuation of the theatre community from Blitz-bombed London meant : "There was an absolute welter of plays, concerts and recitals and I was there with my pocket money and newspaper round, imbibing them."

One of the perks of his Father's position as the master at Whittlesford Station in the London and Midland Region meant Peter could travel by rail free of charge and in addition to taking himself off to stay, in the school holidays, with an Aunt in Lewisham, South London, he also availed himself of the opportunity to visit theatres in the West End. In 1944 the Governors of the Old Vic had successfully approached the Royal Navy to secure the release of Richardson and Olivier and as a result he : "Saw Richardson's Vanya, Falstaff and Cyrano, Olivier's Richard III, Hotspur and Astrov and Peggy Ashcroft as the Duchess of Malfi. It was still wartime and there was the danger of bombs, sometimes buzz-bombs or V2s. Nobody seemed to take any notice." The Times thought the Vanya was "the perfect compound of absurdity and pathos," the Astrov "a most distinguished portrait" and in Richard III, according to Billington, Olivier's triumph was absolute : "so much so, that it became his most frequently imitated performance and one whose supremacy went unchallenged until Antony Sher played the role forty years later."

Still only 15 in 1946 on a school trip to Stratford-upon-Avon, he was enchanted by the 21-year-old Peter Brook’s production of 'Love’s Labour’s Lost' and it made him decide he would like, one day, to run the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre himself.

In 1948 at the age of 18 he won an 'exhibition' and a county scholarship to read English at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, but was first called up for two years National Service as an aircraftman at West Kirby, Warwickshire, from whence he was posted to Germany, to teach economic and business management to RAF veterans in Bückerburg. During his stay there he was impressed, when he saw first-hand evidence of the civic impact of arts subsidy. Perhaps, more importantly, at less than 20, having fallen in love with a "porcelain-faced member of the WRAF" he got himself engaged to be married and "I forced myself to think that a career in the theatre would not be wise for a young man about to marry, I resolved to become a teacher and settle down." 

Peter's engagement explains why, during his subsequent first two years at Cambridge, he held back, apart from the occasional acting stint and studied hard. He took on board the primacy of Shakespearean verse-speaking over scenic decoration recommended by the eminent don, George “Dadie” Rylands and, in addition, from FR Leavis he learned the importance of textual rigour and the moral power of art.

In his third year at Cambridge he blossomed. As a back-up, just in case his Forces romance foundered, which it duly did, he had secretly booked a theatre and chose Jean Anouilh's 'Points of Departure', an updating of the Orpheus legend, for his directorial debut at the ADC and recalled : "I do remember an almost physical sense of release and pleasure rehearsing a play. I thought this is what I want to do." In the cast as a fresher, Joan Rowlands, who was later better known as the journalist, Joan Bakewell, who said : "I remember him being very unobtrusive but yet very present. He didn't go for great expositions of Anouilh and his place in French culture or in drama or anything like that. He was very practical." 

He followed this with John Whiting's bleak and pessimistic 'Saint's Day', which was reviewed in the Daily Telegraph as : "Excellently handled by Peter Hall" who was complimented by the fact that the cast "play together like a team." At this point Peter, more or less abandoned his studies and threw himself into further productions of 'Uncle Vanya' and 'Love's Labour's Lost.' John Barton recalled that in a joint production of 'Romeo and Juliet' he undertook with Peter they had "Churchill sitting in the front row of the stalls with a copy of the first folio, glowering at us."

Peter relished the joy at being in a rehearsal room, making discoveries about a play-text and the exhilaration of  : “The actors, the director and everyone concerned take strength from each other and by working together, make themselves better, more perceptive and more talented than any of them knew they had it in them to be.”

Two weeks after graduating in 1953, and having directed more than 20 student productions, many of them for the Marlowe Society, he made his professional debut at the Theatre Royal, Windsor in 1953, directing Somerset Maugham's 'The Letter.' Then his undergraduate production of Pirandello’s 'Henry IV' was given a two-week London run at the Arts Theatre in London and subsequently he quickly made his name with productions of Lorca’s 'Blood Wedding' and Gide’s 'The Immoralist.' At the age of 24 he was offered the directorship of the Arts and so found himself running his own London theatre.

Eight months later came a key event in Peter's career: his own production of an experimental play written in French and then translated into English by an obscure Irish writer named Samuel Beckett. called 'Waiting for Godot.' At the time he didn't fully understand the significance of the play : "I remember it was highly original because of the idea of waiting as a metaphor of life. And I thought it was terribly funny and well written and had a marvellous rhythm to it. But I didn't say to myself : 'This is the epoch-changing play of the mid-century.' I simply thought: 'What a wonderful thing to do in a slack August'."

It established Beckett as a major playwright and Peter, alongside Peter Brook, as the most enterprising of a young generation of directors. The following year he sealed he secured his place at the theatre's top table by marrying the film actress Leslie Caron who in a memoir described him as : “tall, handsome, brilliant, charming, ambitious and beguiling.” 

Interviewed by Vogue and appearing on Panorama, the boy from the two-bedroomed terraced house in Bury St. Edmunds, educated in a war-torn and austerity-wracked post-war Britain had arrived.

Peter once said :
"I see my role as an interpreter. My job is to try to find out what the writer meant and then to try to find a means of conveying what he meant in terms that mean something to our audience. I don't believe in walking into a rehearsal room, saying 'here is the concept and we are going to force everything into it.' That is anti-creative and anti-art."

Monday 11 September 2017

Britain is no longer a country, but Europe is a Continent, where old men live longer and longer.

Sir Michael Marmot, who is the Director of the Institute of Health Equity at University College London, is calling for the Government to make an immediate investigation into why a century of lengthening lives for old man and women in Britain has come to an end ? He raised the alarm in July over static life expectancies, pointing out that until 2010 old Britons were gaining a year of life every four years, but since then the rise had almost ground to a halt.

Could this be because life expectancy was nearing its natural limit ? Sir Michael, the author of a Government-ordered Report on 'Health Inequality' thinks not. He compared progress in Britain with that of other European countries, many of which already have longer life expectancies and found that the gap was getting wider, with growth in female life expectancy at birth the worst in Europe and male growth the second worst, according to the EU statistics body Eurostat.

Increase in life expectancy for old men from 2011 to 2015 in %
( actual life expectancy in years )

Writing in 'The Times' today, Sir Michael has warned : “Were this to keep up, we would soon become the sick man and woman of Europe. This is a new and worrying trend” and has written to Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, urging him to set up an inquiry into the slowdown. He said that “austerity is an obvious candidate”, with health and social care spending under pressure and real wage growth slower in Britain than in
any other country except Greece. He concedes, however, that there are clear counter-arguments. Many countries that cut health spending far deeper, including Spain, Portugal and Greece, are still doing better than Britain. Germany, which has been relatively unscathed by the economic downturn, is the only country where life expectancy has also stalled, but it should be borne in mind that it “had a major issue in incorporating East Germany where health was much worse.” He believes that : “It’s not going to be as simple as austerity leads to worse health. Greece has always stood out as a country with remarkably long life expectancy despite being relatively poor. It may be the diet in Greece.” 

Shirley Cramer, Chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health said : “When respected authorities such as Sir Michael Marmot raise the alarm about stalling life expectancy, the government needs to take notice. He is right to say this is an issue of more urgency than a winter bed crisis.”

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Tuesday, 18 July 2017
Britain is a country where most old men can no longer expect to live longer and longer