Friday 30 March 2018

Britain is a country which once made and now says "Goodbye" to an old actor called Bill Maynard

Bill, who has died at the age of 89 and who, in his long career on stage television and radio, had given so much pleasure to millions, was born Walter Williams in Surrey in 1928. before moving to Leicestershire where he was brought up in the 1930s.

He recalled : "I was born in Heath End, a little village in Farnham, Surrey. My dad was from Ullesthorpe. He was in the Army. He wanted to come home. We settled in South Wigston in a place called Lansdowne Grove, or rat alley as everyone called it. It was opposite the tip. There were rats everywhere. We were poor. I didn’t go to school for a while because I didn’t have shoes."

"Every Saturday night, we went to South Wigston Working Men’s Club. One night, the turn didn’t arrive so they had what was known as a “free and easy.’’ I went up and sang George Formby’s 'Leaning on a Lamppost.' I was eight. I went down a storm. The very next day, I was struck down with scarlet fever. I was in quarantine for 16 weeks in a sanatorium in Woodhouse Eaves. No-one could visit me, so my dad bought me a ukulele and a book on how to play it and for 16 weeks, that’s all I did. When I came out I learned the guitar, the mandolin, I had singing lessons, dancing lessons. By the age of nine, I had an entire act."

A bright lad, he passed the 11+ exam and attended Kibworth Beaucham Grammar School, Leicestershire and after leaving school started his stage career as a variety performer and got his big break at the age of 25 in 1953, with his first television broadcast on 'Henry Hall’s Face the Music' for which the BBC had asked him to change his surname and, as he was walking around London, he saw a poster with 'Maynards Wine Gums' written on it so he said to himself "That'll do."

The new 'Bill Maynard' got himself "a good agent" and he : "worked at Butlins with Terry Scott. We had a double act. I was getting paid £9 a week. I sent £8 home to my wife, Muriel and kept £1. I didn’t need much. I had my digs and food paid. I didn’t drink, not back then. I just drank Vimto. After a tour of army camps with Jon Pertwee, I had a steady stand-up slot at a strip show in London called The Windmill. All the BBC talent scouts came there. They knew if you could make people laugh at The Windmill, you could make them laugh anywhere."

He said his tv double act with Terry Scott, 'Great Scott – It’s Maynard' : "turned me into a superstar. I couldn’t go anywhere. I was a sex symbol. I was treated like royalty. I used to go to watch Leicester City and they gave me free tickets, drinks, a parking space right outside the ground."

By 1960 he a household name. He had it all : TV shows, magazine interviews, top hotels, adoring fans, loads of money - earning £1000 a week, but, as he said : "I went from that to doing local rep theatre, earning £9 a week. Why? Because I has this silly idea that I wanted to be a serious act-or."

It had been a traumatic experience and when he was back on his feet he said to Muriel : “Just promise me one thing, my darling. Never make me go back to the clubs again.’’  With understatement he confessed : "It was a mistake. First, it nearly ruined me. I was paying tax a year behind my earnings. So when I was bringing home £9, I was paying tax on £1,000 a week. I had to sell my house, three cars, everything I possessed in Hampshire. I went back to working the clubs. I was heckled. People called me a has-been. It was awful." 

Part of his recovery involved appearances in a series of 'Carry On' films in the early 1970s : 'Loving,' 'Henry,' 'at Your Convenience,' 'Matron' and 'Dick' as well as serious roles in Dennis Potter's tv play, 'Paper Roses' in 1971 in which he starred as a reporter, Clarence Hubbard, on the last day of his life and Colin Welland's tv play, 'Kisses at Fifty' in 1973 in which he led as Harry.

Bill returned to centre stage with a comedy based on Sapcote Working Men’s Club and in particular, the man who ran it. As he recalled : "I came back to comedy. I enjoyed it, and what took me a long time to realise is that not everyone can do it. I did 'This Is Your Life.' I wrote my biography : 'The Yo-Yo Man.' And I had this idea. I wanted to do something about my local working men’s club, especially this larger-than-life character called Peter Wright. He was a gregarious chap, full of life. Everyone loved him. He loved everyone. Peter became Selwyn Froggitt."

After a pilot episode in 1974, he starred in the Yorkshire Television sitcom 'Oh No, It's Selwyn Froggitt!' over four series from 1976–78 and with viewing figures over 20 million and was followed by 'The Gaffer' which ran from 1981 - 83 and who he described as "a grumpy old so-and-so who hated the world" and was a "good contrast" to Selwyn and "was so well-written, full of great lines: “It’s not what you know or who you know – it’s what you know about who you know.” "

Personal tragedy now struck with Muriel's death from cancer and Bill went on the road performing with actor pals and drinking buddies when he got a call from a tv director who said : “There’s this roguish character. I don’t know if you’re right for it, he’s called Claude Greengrass.” Bill played the lovable old rogue in 'Heartbeat' from 1992 -2000 and its spin off series, 'The Royal' until 2003 when he was 75.

He recalled that : "Greengrass was little more than a walk-on part, but they offered me a nice fee for the first episode so I did it. I worked on him. I gave him a bit of humour. They hadn’t planned that, but they liked it. I did the first episode and you know the rest. I was there for nine years. He put me back on top."

His tenure are Greengrass in Heartbeat was cut short by a stroke : "I spent 16 weeks in Leicester General Hospital. I thought I was buggered. It took my left side, but not my speech and not my marbles, thankfully" and "When they did 'The Royal', a spin-off of Heartbeat, they wanted Greengrass to play a bigger role. I wondered how I’d do that, after my stroke, but he was in hospital, so that was ideal. I went from one hospital bed to another."

In 2003, Bill began work as a presenter on BBC Radio Leicester, where he had last worked in 1968 and his show, 'Bill of Fare', aired every Sunday afternoon for nearly five years, until he was dismissed without notice on 5 February 2008.

According to Bill all went well until a new head of radio was appointed : "She wouldn’t let me play my own choice of music. They moved my time slot around. They didn’t want me talking to the traffic girls. I had to stop being so controversial. I knew what they wanted. They wanted me out. But I said to them: “I won’t leave – you will have to sack me.’’ They did eventually. It took them three years, though. “I hope you’re not going to be too bitter about this Bill,’’ the boss said when I left. I knew what she meant. But I rang the Mercury the next day.”‘I’ve got a story for you,’’ I said. “Radio Leicester sacks Greengrass.’’ And that was the headline the next day."

Bill, who, like many who find their forte by generating laughter, was at heart a serious man and once said :

"I wish, when I was younger, I didn’t have so much fear. Fear stops you doing things. I read a brilliant self-help book once which said you should do something you are afraid to do every day. I did that. Then I did two things, then three. Then I found I was living my life without fear. That’s the key to a good life."

Bill sings 'Heartbeat'

Wednesday 28 March 2018

Britain says "Happy Birthday" to its oldest of old men, Bob Weighton, 110 years old and unhappy with Brexit

"If there’s anything that characterises the present world, it is the recrudescence of tribalism in Brexit, Trump, Putin."

Bob's Britain on the 29th March 1908 :
Ten days after Bob was born, one hundred and ten years ago today in Kingston-upon-Hull, Yorkshire, a young Winston Churchill entered the Cabinet for the first time as President of the Board of Trade; in June, the first major Suffragette rally took place in Hyde Park and an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 people demanded 'Votes for Women'; a loaf of bread cost 2 ½d and a pint of  beer 1 ¾d; across the Atlantic, Henry Ford’s Model-T was introduced, costing $850 and on this side, EM Forster’s 'A Room With A View' and 'The Wind in the Willows' by Kenneth Grahame were published in hardback.

If he was dandled on the knee by grandparents in their 80s, they may themselves reflected that they were babies, like him, at the time of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

During he intervening 110 years between his birth and today Bob has lived through two world wars, seen 21 prime ministers, five monarchs, the rise and fall of communism and fascism, the moon landings, the birth of the NHS, and the transformative power of technology.

Bob :

* stayed at school until he was 16 in 1924 after his father paid an extra £3 a term for his education so that he could take up a marine engineering apprenticeship and, after qualifying, moved to Taiwan, to teach at a missionary school, but first had to spend two years in Japan learning the language.

* in 1937, at the age of 29, married Agnes, in Hong Kong then returned to Taiwan, where his son, David was born and en route back to Britain, was diverted to Toronto, Canada, due to the outbreak of the Second World War.

* fathered two more children in Canada before moving to Connecticut in the USA and worked in a factory that made airplanes for Britain to help them fight the war and also worked closely with the American Secret Service broadcasting propaganda to Japan, before moving to Washington and then back to Britain after the war had ended, eventually taking on a teaching position at City University, London.

* saw Agnes, his wife, pass away when he was 87 in 1995 and his son Peter in 2014 and is now grandfather to 10 and great-grandfather to 25.

Bob's Britain on 29th March 2018 :
Twenty-five days before his 110th birthday Gary Oldman gained an Oscar for his portrayal of Prime Minister Winston Churchill in the film 'Darkest Hour' ; two months before a March4Women Rally took place in London with thousands of protesters calling for gender equality; a loaf of bread cost £1 and a pint of beer £3.60; a Ford Fiesta cost £13,470; Amazon sold the DVD of the film version of E.M. Forster's 'A Room with a View' and Peter Hunt's 'The Making of Wind in the Willows' will be published in paperback tomorrow.

This time last year Bob said that he was a "bit irked" to be celebrating his 109th birthday on the same day Brexit was triggered and although he was "not enamoured" with all of the European Union's decisions and spending, he felt quitting was a "mistake." He said he did not regard Theresa May's signing of Article 50, as "a step forward at all" and joked : "She didn't ring me up to see what my reaction would be." 

He described himself as "very internationally-minded," partly because his grandchildren and great-grandchildren are "scattered around Europe" including some in Germany. He said that Britain leaving the EU would be like a divorce : "You can't just walk away and expect it not to have any repercussions. It's not like resigning from a golf club because you don't like the secretary, it's more like a divorce with all of the heartache and recriminations that follow. However, you have to live with the way things are not the way you would like them to be."

He has lived through “times that have been exciting, times when it’s been very scary, times when it’s been the dawn of a new day. At the moment, it’s a total muddle – you’ve got Trump, Putin, and political stalemate in Britain.”

He was not in favour of Brexit, he said. “I have a son who married a Swede, and a daughter who married a German. I flatly refuse to regard my grandchildren as foreigners. I’m an internationalist but I’ve not lost my pride in being a Yorkshireman or British. I’ve lived in a number of countries and I felt I was at one with the people there. You can make as good a friend with a German or an Argentinian or a South African as you can with the man next door.”
Bob took 'A Level' German at the age of 70 and keeps two small flags, German and Swedish, on his mantelpiece – a nod to his international extended family.

Monday 26 March 2018

Britain, after all these years, still no country for old soldiers like Fergus Anckorn

Fergus or 'Gus' Anckorn, who has died at the age of 99, was a truly remarkable old man whose life in the 1940s, when he was in his twenties, was testimony to the triumph of his will over unimaginable wartime hardship and deprivation. It was also, although he never once complained, testimony the Britain's failure in peacetime in the 1940s and 50s to give him any help to put his damaged mind back together. What was true for Gus seventy years ago is sadly still true for contemporary 'old soldiers' in Britain today. Witness :

In 2007 'The Telegraph' ran an article entitled :
It reported that there were no dedicated mental health wards for Service personnel and
the number of troops who have committed suicide after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan is equivalent to 10 per cent of deaths suffered on operations. Veterans said they were being failed by the authorities as they had to wait 18 months for treatment by an NHS psychiatrist as they were not given priority treatment.

In 2014 'The Telegraph' ran an article entitled :
Wounded soldiers failing to receive the care they are entitled to 
It highlighted a by Professor Tim Briggs that injured soldiers are being left to fend for themselves once their care passes from the Armed Forces and instead GPs should be specially trained to treat war veterans.

In 2017 'The Express' ran an article entitled :
It highlighted the the case of mentally traumatised war veterans are rotting on the streets of Britain because the Government is not adequately enforcing a law which states military heroes must be offered homes.

                                                                   * * * * * * *
Fergus was born with his twin sister in Dunton Green in Kent, in December 1918, just after the end of the First World War, at age 4 he was given a magic set by his mother and as a young boy would perform tricks at parties and by the time he was a teenager was a skilled performer who as 'Wizardus' became the youngest member of the Magical Circle at the age of 18.
After leaving school, he had taken a course in journalism, but despite the efforts of his father and brother continued to work at Marley Tile Company until being conscripted into the British Army and the Royal Artillery at the age of 20 in the Spring of 1939. He remained an enlisted man for the next seven years and three days and received his last Army-related medical care in 1962.

After the outbreak of the Second World War Fergus was posted to India with his Regiment, the 118th Field ,but was redirected to Singapore as re-enforcement for the troops there against the forces of Japan in 1941. He survived five days of combat and after the British Army surrendered Singapore was forced to endure almost four years of extreme hardship and sadistic torture as a POW working as a slave labourer on the Burma Railway.

During this time he :

* had his first experience of death when, at the age of 23, having docked in Singapore and under attack from the superior Japanese forces, he jumped into the water, while six of his friends, who sought shelter, were killed.

sustained serious injury to his hand when hit by a Japanese bomb blast and was shot in the back of the knee while escaping from his burning lorry and when found in a ditch was assumed to be dead and as a result his parents were told he had died in action.

* having found to be alive, was tended to and told his hand would have to be amputated when by chance, the orderly about to administer ether recognised him as a magician from England and told the surgeon to save his hand because he was a brilliant conjuror.

* woke up in another hospital to find his hand still there, but pouring with blood and the building under attack from the Japanese who were systematically bayoneting doctors, nurses and patients, yet miraculously survived what became known as 'The Alexandra Hospital Massacre.'

* recalled that he buried his head under his pillow, muttered to himself, "Poor Mum" and waited to die" and : “When the Japanese were two beds away from me I said to myself ‘I’m dead, it’s all over. I’ll never be 25’. I went into unconsciousness and woke up and everyone was dead but me. Apparently the tourniquet was no good, blood was still pouring out of me and when they came to bayonet me they saw all the blood and thought they’d already done it.”

* found that his hand remained clawed, but saved, after maggots had been introduced to devour the gangrene and that, with the wound in his knee, he could only walk with difficulty and could not participate in the heavy labour, such as repairing the Singapore docks or carrying heavy sacks of rice, but found a job trapping flies to help stop the spread of dysentery, for which he was paid 5 cents a day.

* was then interned with 15,000 men in Changhi Barracks, nicknamed 'The Black hole of Changhi' where he entertained the camp commandant with magic tricks and was able to secure extra food by using bananas and eggs as conjuring tools, knowing the Japanese refused to touch any food touched by a prisoner and recalled : "I was doing tricks with anything that would give me vitamins” and in addition : “We had 10 minutes breaks from work. I’d do magic and the guards would watch turning those breaks into 45 minutes, when my friends would be stealing potatoes from the Japanese stores."

* in 1943 was taken 'up-country' in a metal railway car and travelled five days and nights to build a railway from Bangkok to Burma where he worked for 18 hours a day in 110-120 degree temperatures, as a slave labourer on the Bridge On The River Kwai and was fed on a handful of rice a day and supplemented his diet with rats, cockroaches, maggots and slugs.

* had suffered from vertigo after being bombed and, on one occasion, working on the bridge : “I started climbing up there a leg at a time but when I got to the top I couldn’t open my eyes. I was just clinging to the bridge. The guard came up after me and threw my five gallons of creosote over me and I started to swell up like the Michelin Man. I ended up in the river but so badly burned I was taken away for treatment.”

* was sent to recover at another camp and as he said goodbye to his eight friends he realised that they would never meet again. : “Three weeks later they were all dead. If I hadn’t been burnt I would have been dead as well.”

* in the Chungkai Prison Camp in Bangkok, designated a 'hospital camp' for those coming from the railway and suffering from exhaustion, sickness or injury, worked preparing the dead for burial and on some days, would have prepared up to 15 bodies and forced himself to stay clean shaven, washed and kept active in order to keep his spirits up and, in addition, slept on top of the corpses to avoid sleeping in the mud.

* managed to keep a tiny photograph of himself and his fiancee back home, Lucille, throughout the
War and set it in a discarded wristwatch face and communicated that he was still alive to his wife Lucille and his Mother, on a rare card sent home by incorporating the shorthand characters for 'still smiling' into his signature on the understanding that she would recognise her nickname for him : "Smiler"

* had his final ordeal when he was about to be executed by guards after the Japanese surrender in 1945 who, fearing reprisal, changed their minds at the last moment.

                                                                 * * * * *
Fergus was liberated in September 1945. He weighed just five stone and was sent to Burma to put on weight before the slow boat journey home. He was 27 years old and, like his fellow brothers-in-arms, was condemned to spend years rebuilding his life in a Britain which had little time for heroes and wanted to forget forever the disaster that had been Singapore which Winston Churchill had described as the “largest capitulation.” With hindsight he was clearly and understandably suffering from post traumatic stress disorder,

Sixty-five years later Fergus was able to articulate his feelings when arriving home and in the years that followed to Peter Fyans in his 2012 book : 'Conjuror of the Kwai' :

* 'In the days that followed I really didn't think about things much, I just floated along and took everything in like a sponge. It took me a long time to feel that it was really over. All those years when, at any moment, they could kill you and all that time feeling constantly that something awful was about to happen. All those nights when, in accepting sleep, I had also accepted that I may not wake up again. Now, in my own home and in my home surroundings, no one was going to kill me. I would see tomorrow.'

* 'Unfortunately, just being amongst ordinary people again was a trial for me. I just couldn't identify with them and their busy lives. I felt so out of it that I didn't want to actually meet anybody and so at first I only went out in the dark or in the nearby wood for a walk in the daytime. If I saw someone coming, I'd turn round and go back the other way.'

* 'It was impossible to put it all behind me and blend in. I really couldn't accept that it was all over and there never seemed to be a way of telling people what it was that I and so many others had been through. Everybody at home was full of their own stories of hardship that they felt deeply - how could they ever understand what it was like for us ?'

* 'My elder sister was saying things like, 'I suppose you had plenty of fruit out these - we haven't seen a banana for years ! I didn't really respond. How could I explain the depths to which we'd been plunged ? How men would fight over the smallest scrap of food that might have dropped on the dusty of muddy floor. We had been worse than wild animals. I couldn't even begin to tell them, so I just sympathises with their plight and said little about my own.'

* 'When I left home, I was naive and unworldly in every way. Since then, I'd been though so much and seen so many unspeakable things, I was returning a different person. They could look at me but they couldn't see inside of me. They were simply glad to see me return home with all my limbs and still looking like the person they knew.'

* 'I don't think I was in touch with reality during that time. I was withdrawn, as if stunned by all the goings on around me. I would simple wander around, go into the woods that I loved and look at the trees. I would listen to the wind blow and once again gaze at the cloudscapes. I just felt so happy to be alive.'

* 'I was existing somewhere between the living and the dead. I didn't realise it then but these were typical of the feelings of all those who had returned, while others had not.'

* He ventured on a train to London and on visiting a Lyons Corner house cafe where 'There were the tables, all beautifully laid out with white table cloths. There was the glistening silver cutlery and sparkling clean crockery. I just sat there taking it all in- dumbstruck, like a child again, filled with the wonder of this unbelievable sight. Then, gently, the orchestra struck up with Jerome Kern's Long Ago and Far Away, and that was it.My head went down into my hands and I began to sob. I just wouldn't stop. I just sobbed and sobbed.'

* 'It was all too much. Everything was so fine and so clean and the music so beautiful. Somehow, at that moment, all of the past four years seemed to explode out of me. Things I had kept within myself now impinged themselves upon my mind and tore at my feelings with a vengeance. I realised, on seeing that orchestra perform, how much I had taken it upon myself to entertain my fellows in the camps and keep spirits up. I had been the smiler, the positive one encouraging others, ignoring my own feelings and saying how things weren't that bad or how they would get better. Now, it seemed, the grief of it all hit me, all at once, here in a Lyons' Corner House. Not the best place to fall apart, but that's what happened.'

* 'On another day, I had tried taking myself up to London again and arrived at Charing Cross Station. Suddenly, I didn't know who I was or what I was doing there. The funny thing was - it didn't bother me in the slightest. I seemed to be possessed with a private euphoria at being alive and free.'

* His father met him and took him home 'But going into the house, i found I didn't know where my bedroom was anymore. Eventually, I found it, and for the rest of the day, I went about the house pretending nothing was wrong and believing my memory would come back. But it went on like that for days. The odd thing was that nobody else in the family noticed anything or thought anything was wrong. Life went on as normal. Once again, I was dealing with something privately. Only I should know about it.'

Because of the medical complications Fergus had accrued through his years of maltreatment it was to be another 6 years before he was discharged from the Army in 1952. In addition to serious amoebic dysentery and hookworm 'after a medical check they suspected that I had all sorts of residual infections, including TB, and also found liver complications which I knew was thanks to a rifle butt bashing in one of the camps.' He was eventually discharged with an Army pension based on 'effects of malnutrition and privation; injury to right wrist; injury to left knee; ancyclostomiasis and amoebic dysentery.' Every year until 1962, he had a annual stay in hospital to monitor and treat his conditions.

In the 1950s Fergus picked up the threads of his old life and returned to his job for Marley Tiles where he worked for six years before moving into teaching at West Kent College. He also became a semi-professional magician who was booked and rebooked many times for prestigious venues and tv and led to him becoming, in 1986, a member of the Inner Magic Circle with Gold Star. But it wasn't until he was 87 years old in 2005, that he revisited Singapore and finally laid his remaining demons to rest.

Apart from relying on his own resources, Fergus also owed a large share of his recovery to his wife, Lucille.

'She never pressed me on anything and I felt no need to talk about what happened to me. While I was with her, everything was alright and she knew just how to handle the moods I might find myself in. She would simply take over when there were details to be dealt with - details that to me always seemed so unnecessary and that could easily make me fly off the handle. I was just happy to be alive and to know that nobody was going to kill me today.'

Sunday 11 March 2018

Britain is no country for sick, scarce old, erstwhile Commonwealth citizens like 'Albert Thompson'

He has the assumed name of 'Albert Thompson' and has lived in London for 44 years. At 63, he is scarce 'old', but he does suffer from cancer. He arrived in Britain from Jamaica as a teenager in the late 1960s with his Mum, who got a job as a nurse. His Jamaican passport was lost a long time ago and Albert was never officially registered for British citizenship. Since then, he got married in Britain, has two grown up sons and a 15-year-old daughter, was employed full time as a mechanic and later did MOT work.

Albert's troubles began in 2008 when he was diagnosed with the blood cancer, 'lymphoma' and since then he has been too ill to work. Things got worse for him last July when he was evicted from his council-owned accommodation because officials questioned whether he was eligible for residence. The Home Office said it could find no record of him in its files and he was forced to sleep on the streets for three weeks. He said, with understatement : “I kept myself away from other people, sleeping around the back of shops. It was a bit frightening when you’re not used to it.” 

Since then, after he had surgery for prostate cancer in January last year, he was due to begin a course of radiotherapy at the Royal Marsden Hospital in November, but when he turned up for the appointment he was ushered into a side room by a member of staff for a discussion about his eligibility and costs. “I was expecting to get the treatment, but they gave me a form requesting a British passport" and “The lady wasn’t at all polite. She said you have to produce it or pay £54,000. I said: "Oh my God, I don’t have 54 pence, let alone £54,00."

A spokesperson for the Royal Marsden has said : “Each NHS Trust in England is legally responsible for identifying and charging overseas visitors using NHS services where the patient cannot prove that they are ordinarily resident and legally entitled to live in the UK. In line with Department of Health guidance, from 23 October 2017 the Royal Marsden is now legally required to charge non-eligible patients in advance of any treatment.”

Lawyers at Duncan Lewis are now trying to help Albert, but because there is no legal aid for his kind of case, they can only continue if exceptional funding is raised. Jeremy Bloom, has said the firm had been contacted by a number of people encountering similar problems : “The Home Office routinely fails to recognise people’s permission to be here, regardless of whether a person has been living in the UK, registered with numerous other government departments, paying taxes and contributing to society for decades. This case is particularly serious because of his urgent health needs, and the time that it will take for him to regularise his status here through making the appropriate immigration application. Meanwhile, he is being denied potentially life-saving treatment.”

Albert's case has also been taken up by the migration charity, 'Praxis,' which has seen a sharp rise in cases involving retirement-age Commonwealth citizens who have lived continuously in Britain for about 50 years, but are facing questions about their immigration status, resulting in evictions, refusal of benefits and dismissal from work. In 2015 it dealt with 20 such cases, in 2016 there were 39, in 2017 there were 54 and since the start of this year the charity has already dealt with 13.

Bethan Lant has said : “The numbers are galloping up. These are people who have paid taxes and contributed all their adult lives who are suddenly being stopped and asked : "On what basis are you here?” Their only crime is that they have not filled in a form from the Home Office.”

Sadly, Albert's case is not unique and lawyers at 'Southwark Law Centre' are fighting a similar case involving a man who arrived as a child from the Caribbean more than 40 years ago and who has also been told that he is not eligible for cancer treatment on the National Health Service. Like Albert, he has worked and paid his taxes for decades. After a legal challenge, he has received some treatment but he has been told he must pay for it.

The Home Office has said that it could not comment on the case because it had : 'not been provided with the details that would allow us to investigate these claims.'

Albert has said : “I don’t know what is going on inside; it is really worrying me. It feels like they are leaving me to die.”

Thurs 22nd February :
Britain, after all these years, still no country for old men who came as boys from the Commonwealth

Sunday 4 March 2018

Brexit Britain, in a "pitiful muddle", is no country for an old Historian of 'Empire' called Jan Morris

Page views : 1957

Jan Morris is 91 years old and has had an extraordinary life. She spent the first half of it as a man. She was a soldier in the Second World War and then, as a Times journalist who broke the news, in 1953, of the first conquest of Everest. She changed sex in the 1970s, wrote more than 40 books, including the 'Pax Britannica Trilogy,' the history of the British Empire and through her writing built her reputation as one of the greatest descriptive writers of her time. Now, her latest book is 'Battleship Yamato: Of War, Beauty and Irony,' which deals with the life and death of the largest battleship which fought in the Second World War.

Last week Jan was interviewed by Mishal Husain on the BBC Radio 4 'Today' Programme who asked Jan : "Now we are in a relative time of peace, yet you write of this century as being 'anguished.' 'Our anguished 21st century.' Given the long sweep of you life, when you look at the United States, or indeed, the UK's decision to leave the EU, what is your assessment of the way that powers are shifting ?"

Jan : "It's a mess and a muddle isn't it ?  We're none of  us sure, quite, of anything : a path to take or destination to aim at."

Mishal : "When you consider Brexit and the decision to leave the EU, you, a historian of the British Empire, what do you think it says about the UK's place in the world ?"

Jan : "I think it is complete abdication of our place in the world or, indeed, if we want that place in the world. We've turned into a totally different sort of nation altogether. So, nationally, I've never seen this country in such a pitiful muddle."

Mishal : "Can you see a route that might work, that doesn't lead to a pitiful conclusion ?"

Jan : "No. If you count 'pitiful' meaning 'less than ever place in the world', no, I think that is absolutely inevitable."

When asked about her choice of subject matter for her latest book she said that she'd always interested in warships and didn't know why. The Yamato, operating in the Japanese Navy in the Pacific, had been the biggest and greatest battleship that had ever existed and : "The Japanese who had been reduced by then, chiefly, to to fighting their war by means of kamikaze air pilots, they'd' run out of those. They hadn't got kamikaze pilots any more, but they had this one great ship, which they decided to use as the ultimate kamikaze pilot, so to speak, and to send it into action against overwhelming American forces and sink itself in the course of its final action with the loss of almost all of the 3000 men on board."

Jan is best-known for her travel writing, particularly her portraits of cities such as Oxford, Venice, New York and Sydney. However, she calls her 'Pax Britannica Trilogy', a history of the British Empire, her most important work. Written, thirty years ago and, although her methods and views are now unfashionable in academia and discredited by the presenters of 'Post Colonial Theory,' it still stands as a magnificent achievement.

It is with supreme irony that Jan's greatest work, which focused on the Britain at its zenith as the premier world power, should now in its nadir and "complete abdication" of its place in the world and a country in a "pitiful muddle", should write about the fate of the Yamato. It could well be a metaphor for the fate of Britain which is also involved in a suicide mission as it attempts to cleave itself from the European Union and win a victory in a senseless and unwinnable 'I Want My Country Back' War.