Wednesday, 22 February 2023

Britain has finally found the time and the space to erect a statue in memory of its intrepid Prince among Peace Protesters, Brian Haw

Brian, who died at the age of 62 in 2011, was a tenacious peace campaigner who, in 2001 took up residence in Parliament Square, beneath a banner that read : "Stop Killing My Kids" and refused to relinquish his patch for nearly 10 years. He was a symbol of the protest against Prime Minister Tony Blair’s decision to take Britain into war in Afghanistan and Iraq and a 'cause célèbre' for those in Britain who fought for the right of the individual to carry out unlicensed protests in public. Now. twelve years later, Brian's friend, the actor Mark Rylance, has successfully spearheaded a campaign to have a statue, in his honour, created and set up in London.

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Brian was born with his twin brother, in January1949 and was raised, the eldest of five children in a family which lived for a while in Barking, Essex, and then moved to the harbour town of Whitstable in Kent. Before he was born, his father had been a sniper in the Reconnaissance Corps during the Second World War and was among the first to enter the Bergen-Belsen Extermination Camp after its liberation. Back in civilian life he worked in a betting office. At the age of eleven Brian found his Christian faith at the ‘Sunshine Corner’ beach mission on Tankerton Slopes, just outside Whitstable. Then in 1962, when he was thirteen, he and his family faced the tragic news that his father had gassed himself to death in the kitchen at the back of the local Evangelical church. 

Brian left school at the age of sixteen in 1965 and was apprenticed to a boatbuilder, however, he didn't finish serving his apprenticeship and joined the Merchant Navy instead, sending home £4 a week to supplement the family's income. Initially, he worked as a deckhand and, at sea, passed through the Suez Canal, climbed the Pyramids and toured the ports of the Middle East and India. He returned from one voyage to do six months at a college of evangelism in Nottingham, almost certainly St. John's, which stated that its mission was : "To inspire creative Christian learning marked by evangelical conviction, theological excellence and Spirit-filled life, that all who train with us might be equipped for mission in a world of change". It's impact on Brian was reflected in the fact that he now decided to embark on a freelance mission to bring peace to the world.

In the first part of his religious calling, he took himself off to Northern Ireland during the Troubles and at Christmas 1970 could be found with his guitar in Belfast, singing carols in the streets round the Shanklin and Falls Roads and handing out white peace balloons in Republican pubs. On his return to mainland Britain he moved to Essex where he started a removal business and worked part-time as a carpenter. He married Kay, the girl across the road and they later settled on an estate in Redditch, Worcestershire. 

The appearance of family children and family commitments did not dampen Brian's missionary zeal and at the age of forty in 1989, after being powerfully affected by the BBC films of reporter John Pilger, he set off for the killing fields of Cambodia.(link) He stayed there for three months, but when he returned he found that people did not want to hear about it and recalled : “My church gave me 10 minutes in a midweek prayer meeting to talk about genocide”.

Brian now decided to refocus his crusade closer to home and in the 1990s continued his missionary work by taking disadvantaged local youngsters on family jaunts in his minivan. Local anti-social behaviour against him surfaced in the shape of bricks through his window and fireworks through the letterbox and when he sent a dossier on his problem neighbours to the Crown Prosecution Service, his minivan was smashed up beyond repair. 

In 1998 he was inspired to start campaigning after being attracted by the aims of the 'Mariam Appeal', founded by the politician George Galloway, then a Member of Parliament and Princess Sarvath, wife of then Crown Prince Hassan of Jordan, who was patron of the Appeal. It aimed : "To provide medicines, medical equipment and medical assistance to the people of Iraq; to highlight the causes and results of the cancer epidemic in Iraq and to arrange for the medical treatment of a number of Iraqi children outside Iraq". 

The campaign made clear, that shortages were due to the sanctions and in particular the British sanctions, imposed on Saddam Hussein’s regime. As a result, in the summer of 2001, Brian began his protest in Parliament Square,  sleeping in a tent and surviving on food brought by supporters. 

Brian said at the time :I want to go back to my own kids and look them in the face again, knowing that I’ve done all I can to try and save the children of Iraq and other countries who are dying because of my government’s unjust, amoral, fear and money-driven policies”. In reality, his wife Kay, was left bringing up their seven children back in Redditch without him, as a consequence the marriage broke and when he was fifty-four in 2003, they were divorced. (link) Brian's love for his children clearly remained undiminished. (link)

When he took up residency on the pavement opposite the Houses of Parliament, he fell under the jurisdiction of Westminster City Council and in 2002 it applied to the High Court for an injunction to remove him, claiming that he was obstructing the pavement. The Court ruled against the Council, on the grounds that Brian’s obstruction of the pavement was "Not unreasonable". (link)

Brian's days of praying and fasting turned into months of protest as he outlasted others who had brought their temporary grievances to the pavement opposite the Houses of Parliament. Soon, he was no longer protesting about sanctions, but against the build-up to the war in Iraq, then the War itself and the occupation that followed. He stuck it out through wind, hail, sleet, baking sun and torrential rain, haranguing the passers by through a megaphone while fielding the verbal bouquets and brickbats of passers-by.(link)

His rickety 40-metre-long wall was filled with banners, placards, knocked-together information boards, handmade signs, peace flags, photographs and his slogans : “Murderer Bush”, “You Lie Kids Die BLIAR”, “Christ Is Risen Indeed!”.(link) (link)

Brian was now championed by two of the best-known opponents of the wars in Iraq and later Afghanistan, the political activist Tony Benn and the comedian and activist Mark Thomas. Brian himself vented some anger on those who had thought a single march in 2003, would force the Government to stop its involvement in Iraq. In his view, if 100,000 people had arrived and refused to move for a week, war would have been averted and he said : "It wasn't so hard Just to come and sit in front of this place and protest".

Brian's continuous use of a megaphone to get his message across led to objections by MPs. Prime Minister Tony Blair had cited Brian as a symbol of Britain’s love of free speech but by 2005, he too was desperate to get rid of him. Brian's greatest legal challenge came in that year, when the 'Serious Organised Crime and Police Act' was passed by the Blair Government  banning any public protest within one kilometre of Parliament Square. Particularly troubling for Brian was Section 132, which would allow police to remove any permanent protesters in the Square. "Serious organised crime?" Brian asked. "Do they really think I'm the Godfather?". 

In the 2005 General Election, Brian stood as a candidate in the Cities of London and Westminster to oppose the Act which was yet to come in to force. He received 298 votes. Subsequently, he won an application for judicial review of the Act on the grounds that it required all protests to have authorisation from the police : “When the demonstration starts”, a provision which would not apply in his case, as his demonstration had begun before the passage of the Act.

The Government successfully appealed against the judgment in May 2006 and Brian was given permission to remain under strict conditions governing size of his banners and the use his megaphone. However, his failure to comply led to confrontations with the police and later that month 78 police officers arrived and removed all but one of the banners. Other protesters pitched tents on the site to show solidarity with him and attempts to limit his protest led, ironically, to its growth. He acquired the status of a folk hero, symbol of protest and thorn in the side of an unpopular government. In 2006 he was voted 'The Most Inspiring Political Figure' at the Channel 4 'Political Awards'.

In January 2007 the artist Mark Wallinger recreated the protest banners confiscated by police in their entirety as an exhibition entitled 'State Britain' at the Tate Gallery. It attracted wide publicity and won Wallinger that year’s Turner Prize. The judges declared the work to be : “Visceral and historically important” and combining : “A bold political statement with art’s ability to articulate fundamental human truths”. 

The installation consisted of a meticulous reconstruction of over 600 weather-beaten banners, photographs, peace flags and messages from well-wishers that had been amassed by Brian over five years from 2001 to 2006. Faithful in every detail, each section of his  peace camp from the makeshift tarpaulin shelter and tea-making area to the profusion of hand-painted placards and teddy bears wearing peace-slogan t-shirts had been painstakingly replicated. On display, 'State Britain' was configured as one long line forty-three metres in length, which accurately copied the way Brian's protest camp was displayed along the pavement opposite the Houses of Parliament.

Brian now became an internationally recognised figure and appeared on CNN in both English and Spanish versions and for a while had his own daily 45-minute slot on Mexican radio. In Britain, City of London tour guides included him in their itineraries and he featured in documentaries and docudramas about Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war.

As the years passed, his popularity waned, but he kept doggedly on, sustained by food and cigarettes given to him by his supporters who saw him as another in the line of tenacious Christian protesters bearing witness. He was uncomfortable speaking about the practical nature of his life on the pavement and questions about survival, sleeping habits, showers, the fumes and police presence were often ignored or deflected. His skin became leathery and his nose was broken twice. True to the last, when he finally left the pavement in March 2011, where, propped up on crutches, he was still warning onlookers and passers-by of the effects of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Stoical to the end, he was never without his trademark cap covered with anti-war and "Keep My Muslim Neighbours Safe" badges, with his megaphone by his side. 

At the time of his death in 2011, Westminster Council was preparing a court order to remove the protest from the Square altogether. Brian's family and supporters said that police harassment and physical abuse from passers-by had affected him psychologically and, weakened by constant exposure to the elements, his health began to suffer and he died a year after his diagnosis with lung cancer. 

After his death the creation of a permanent memorial to his life and protest was organised by friends, supporters and patrons in the shape the actors Vanessa Redgrave and Sir Ian McKellen, the politician Tony Benn, the film director Ken Loach and the CND veteran Bruce Kent. As a result a maquette, showing Brian leaning on two sticks was made by sculptor Amanda Ward, who was a friend. Fund raising was started for the estimated £60,000 cost of a full size statue and campaigners hoped eventually to win planning permission for the statue to stand near Winston Churchill in Parliament  Square, but accepted that it might be difficult to get Westminster Council to give permission given the fact that it had spent years trying to get rid of him. 

The original plan to erect the statue in dedication to Brian bore no fruit, Now, however, Mark Rylance, Oscar-winning actor who was a friend of the Brian has revived the plan to get the statue erected in his memory and said : "He was a committed voice in Westminster for longer than most of our prime ministers. So on that basis alone he deserves a statue". When he was alive, Brian had made a big impact on Mark,to the extent he said : "I feel like I got my conscience awakened by him". Mark often called in on Brian on his way back from the West End stage and said : "I live in South London so my way home was through Parliament Square, and I would see him out of the window of the bus. Or if I was riding my bike, I'd stop and have a chat with him in the night and take him a sandwich or give him some change or whatever. It was always an interesting thing to stand there with him in the light of Big Ben".

On the basis of the the 72cm-tall likeness of Brian on crutches crafted in the last year of his life by Amanda Ward, the full size statue of this Prince of Peace Protesters now stands outside the School of Historical Dress in Lambeth, poignantly facing the guns outside the Imperial War Museum, opposite. Mark said : "School kids and groups who go to visit the Imperial War Museum, if they bother to look across the street, they'll see Brian standing there. We'll have 'Stop Killing The Kids' written there and a link to a website". Of Brian, Mark said : "It's really important that we honour and remember this remarkable man who stood in our streets for 10 years, because he because he felt that it was wrong to kill kids". (link) (link)

In 2002, when asked about the mice that appeared in Parliament Square around dusk Brian,  pointing his finger towards the Houses of Parliament and replied :

"I don't mind them, It's the rats over there on the other side we have to look out for"

He once recalled : 

“On June 2 2001, the police came along and said : "How long you going to be here, Brian?" I said: "As long as it takes”


Wednesday, 8 February 2023

Britain says "Farewell" to Kit Hesketh-Harvey, its Master where Words meet Music and joyous Renaissance Man

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Kit, who has died at the age of sixty-five and whose polymathic skills earned him the title of 'Renaissance Man', said in 2020 : "I had a very thorough musical grounding as a pupil in the ways that words enhance music and vice versa. Virtually everything that I've done has been in that nexus. I can't call myself a lyricist really. Librettist ? Possibly. (He wrote the libretto for Anthony Bolton’s opera, 'The Life and Death of Alexander Litvinenko' for Grange Park Opera the following year). I'm certainly not an actor. I can't do acting without music". "On my passport it would say: 'Writer. Performer', but I would say, if I think I have a niche, it is where words and music meet". Kit summed up his breadth of achievement in his forty year career, which earned him the epithet 'Renaissance Man', in his first YouTube broadcast last year (link)

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In 1975 gained a place at Clare College, Cambridge to study Music and English as an  undergraduate. He then deferred his entry and said he : "Spent a gap year touring the Middle East, working on a kibbutz and riding in North Africa, as well as teaching English and music. That's when I learned to appreciate Islamic culture, which has, of late, been so sadly misrepresented"

When he returned and joined the University he said he  : "Sang under the guidance of the great John Rutter", but also : "Spent far too much time in the 'Footlights' or undergraduate theatres, with many now well-known and distinguished actors there at that time, including Stephen Fry, High Laurie, Emma Thomson and Gryff Rhys Jones". “We seemed to spend most of our time in frocks, having the most fantastic time”.

K
it graduated from Cambridge in 1979 and then worked for five years as a Staff Producer in the BBC Music and Arts Department. He said : "The playwright Ronald Harwood, a genial man, was my first boss. Later, it was Alan Yentob. It paid badly, so I began singing in the growing cabaret scene in London's Soho". This was in the Raymond Revuebar where, in addition to singing, he was the compere. 
He later reflected :  "I know my voice, since I was a chorister, sounds incredibly prissy". He said he was : "Attracted to bawdiness. In fact that's why I've always been wooed by the coarse side of showbusiness. I was the compere because of my beautiful  beautiful accent;  there were strippers; there was a girl who could hang coat hangers from her nipples; an Irish muscle boy on steroids; drag queens; Ruby Venzuela. They were wonderful times when solo really was 'Soho'.  God knows what was going on in the dressing rooms most of them were on the game. I loved it. Really loved it and if you stumbled out onto the street at the end of the show, it was vomit and scent and I loved it. Really loved it". (link)

In a sense, his apprenticeship with Soho audiences was was to form the third formative influence on his life and he carried his skill with an audience to the urbane and more talkative half of the cabaret-style duo with Richard Sisson, 'Kit and the Widow'. It was here that he combined the confidence of an aristocrat with the flamboyance of an entertainer. Their act was in the manner of Tom Lehrer or Flanders and Swann, with them performing in white tie and tails, while delivering parodies, lyrics and sketches and they were three times nominated for an Olivier Award (link)


He had met Richard, 'The Widow', at Cambridge and Stephen Fry gave them their first engagement and almost a decade later 'Kit and the Widow' were in the West End with a three-week season at the Vaudeville Theatre. Reviewing it for the Evening Standard in 1991, Milton Shulman enjoyed their take on the prime minister’s wife Norma Major arriving at the opera as a mousy creature and being transformed into a Brünhilde in full flood or a tantalising, seductive Carmen and their impression of Margaret Thatcher bellowing, in relation to the Falkland Islands : “This was my war!”

Kit later said about his audiences : "If you can coax them in your beautiful  Oxbridge accent and you choir boy training and careful lyric writing to get their attention and then you stick the knife in, you're not preaching to the converted and you were preaching to the unconverted, which is much more valuable. Too often, looking back, we were perceived as toffs. I'm not really a toff. I'm not really and imperialist, but I can pretend to be a toff and an imperialist". Then, for example, he would 'stick the knife in' drawing attention to Clause 28, the series of laws across Britain which prohibited the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities or would say : "Look, Africa's on its knees. We should  be helping it" and in relation to states in Africa : "But look, China's buying everything".

Kit took great pleasure when he described when he met Margaret Thatcher after she had retired as Prime Minister. He and Richard were to play at Jeffery Archer's house at the Old Vicarage in the village of Granchester, Cambridge, where she and her husband Denis were in the audience. Kit had half an hour's chat with her after the performance. He recalled : "She was just beginning to lose it. All her power at that stage was diminished, but her acolytes were there. You could see her thinking that : 'This is quite an interesting way of speaking truth to power' and the old girl slightly melted". (link)

The house was close to the River Cam and Kit continued : "It was wonderful because Denis was still alive and he was trying to shake off his 'Close Protection Squad' and went down to the secret grove where Rupert Brooke, where the golden children of the Edwardian period used to swim naked and got it out and started pissing away. And all the guards came down on him and tried to drag him back he said : "Can't a fellow have a piss in peace ?" There was wee everywhere. It was lovely. I giggled".

At the age of thirty-six in 1987, it was film producers Merchant-Ivory who had asked him : "To co-script their next project, the award-winning film 'Maurice', I took the job gladly", featuring Hugh Grant in one of his first screen roles. (link)
In 1994, he contributed one script for an episode of the BBC Dawn French comedy series 'The Vicar of Dibley'. The following year he scripted the Rowan Atkinson's 'Full Throttle', a TV autobiographical film about the racing life of Captain Henry "Tim" Birkin, a British gentleman racing driver of the nineteen thirties.(link) On the radio front, over many years he was a witty radio panellist on the BBC Radio 4 shows 'Just a Minute' (link) and 'Quote Unquote'.

In 1990, the great American composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim was made the first visiting Professor of Contemporary Theatre at St Catherine’s College Oxford for one year and Kit was recruited as he he said, as one of his small group of eleven students who were his "disciples".  He said that he benefited from the great composer's "intellectual generosity" and said he had that : "Quiet confidence of a man who knows he's a genius" and : "He upbraided me for rhyming 'sirocco' with 'morocco' saying : "Because it's an 'identity' not a 'rhyme'. Go away and think of something else. A near rhyme is worse than no rhyme at all". Kit concluded : "We all benefited vastly form the experience and the little flames he lit are still burning away, a bit haphazardly, because theatre is very haphazard business".(link)

Kit said that he loved appearing in pantomime, usually playing the baddie such as 'King Rat' in a Dick Whittington at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford, where as a child he had been taken by his grandmother. He regarded panto as an important part of a child’s cultural development and said of his role : "It's always 'villain' and I wouldn't do anything else. Villains traditionally come on first, so you've got a minute and you've got kids in the audience who've probably never been to the theatre before. You've got people in the audience who don't normally go to the theatre. It's a wonderfully diverse audience and you have, in that minute, to tell these kids : "This isn't X BOX. This isn't Disney. This is theatre and theatre is wonderful and astonishing and I'm going to scare the bejesus out of you". My record is nine children carried out screaming in the first minute and you think : "I've done it" and they came back, pacified with sweeties and then they're rapt".(link)

Kit appeared in his first Comedy Prom at the Royal Albert Hall in 2011 and it was one of the last times 'Kit and the Widow' appeared together on stage. He later re-emerged with the pianist James McConnel as 'Kit and McConnel', though the routine remained largely unchanged. He described James as : "A very talented composer and pianist and generally, all-round genial good egg".

Their rendition of Abba’s “Fernando” was rewritten in honour of a well-known chicken restaurant and to Abba’s tune and Kit would begin : “It’s extremely cheap at Nando’s, they’ve got an uber-friendly waiting staff to put you at your ease”, leading to the chorus : “There was something in the food that night that wasn’t right at Nando’s”. Part of the act was when he would extemporise and involve the audience by fixing some unfortunate woman with a stare and saying : “Look at the colour of that jumper, that’s pure Brora, she’s never been to Nando’s in her life”.(link)

In 2020 Kit told Paddy Cooper why it was becoming increasingly difficult for satirists to operate in front of audiences and said : "I try to make what I've always done, to make musically informed, hopefully, politically articulate points of a liberal nature, but there's elephant traps everywhere. I don't know what the answer is". (link) Kit was pessimistic about the future of satirical humourists working in front of live audiences and said : "If you've got an audience that's going to take offence that easily, then crucify you on twitter and kill your career, then you can't be funny".(link)

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Christopher 'Kit' Harvey was born in Africa, the son of Susan and Noël, in the British colony of Nyasaland in April 1957, seven years before it was granted impendence. He recalled : 'I was born in the Officers' Hospital in Zomba, a stunning Dutch Colonial town on the slopes of a high, misty plateau reminiscent of Scotland'. His was to be a privileged, upper middle class, colonial childhood since, three years before his birth, his father became one of the country's twenty-four, Assistant District Commissioners in 'Her Majesty's Overseas Civil Service'. Kit said : 'There were three of us children, of whom I was the eldest. We spent weekends on the Lake shores amid the fishermen, and the crocs and hippos'. He remembered : 'The ayah who looked after me when I was little, she was a wonderful lady. Regularly drunk, she had no front teeth but saved my life after a snake bite, by biting me with her remaining teeth and sucking out the poison'.

His eight years in Nyasaland had a formative influence on him to the extent he said in 2018 : 'It was a magical childhood from which I learned a great deal, and for which I am very grateful. A few years ago, my sister and I visited this second poorest nation on earth. It is run down these days, but the people remain the same - beautiful, positive and sunny'. In 2020 he told Paddy Cooper : "Growing up there was incredibly instructive of human values of kindness of the environment and I hope that, that has inspired what I've written. My politics, despite my horrible imperialist past, are entirely liberal". In Kit's eyes, his father, played a major role in the creation of an independent Malawi and he said : "My Dad's job was to make sure that Nyasaland was handed over peacefully without bloodshed without a revolution with enough legislature and judiciary and a government structure of Nyasaland Africans, capable of running it smoothly and, bless him, he achieved it. There wasn't a revolution and there wasn't too much bloodshed".(link)

Kit also gained his first love of music at home by way of three long playing records played on a gramophone on the house verandah and consisted of a 1956 recording of Julian Slade's 'Salad Days'(link), 'At the Drop of a Hat' (link), the musical revue by Flanders and Swann, described by them as "an after-dinner farrago" with Swann on the piano and in which they both sang songs which were linked by contemporary social commentary and a collection of songs by Noel Coward. Kit said : "For the first eight years of my life that was it musically, for the West, for Europe. However all round us African rhythms, the dancing". In addition, he did have access to the family piano, which was lined with galvanized steel to make it termite-proof. 

Many years later he recalled 'The Nyasaland Cookery Book' and said : 'All wives of district commissioners were given this book, and my mother's battered copy is something I treasure. It's hilarious. Ovens were incredibly primitive, and the book tells you to throw a piece of paper into them. If it doesn't discolour it's alright for meringues; if it goes yellow it's alright for sponges; if it goes brown it's alright for roasts; if it catches fire, your oven is too hot'.

In 1964 Kit was packed off to an alien country called Britain and, in the family tradition, became a pupil at the boys boarding school, the Cathedral Choir School at Canterbury where, as he said : “Instead of football, we ran races around cloisters where Thomas Becket’s assassins once ran; we played hide and seek amid the tombs of kings; and our rite of passage was to piddle off Bell Harry, the 365ft tower of the cathedral”. 

His school experience was to have the second biggest formative influence on his life, as he later reflected : "As a chorister we had to do a service eight times a week, so you got to learn all the great music, a lot about architecture and Latin and how to address an archimandrite and those useless bits of information proved, in the event, terribly useful" and 'In those days, with 30 masters for 50 pupils, it was an intense, extraordinary education'.(link) He considered himself to be : 'A professional musician at the age of 12' and "It was hard work. By God, I was grateful for that". 

In addition, in the company of his fellow choristers, Kit's subversive streak was already beginning to make its presence felt and he recalled :
"To entertain my fellow choristers during the boring sermons, I would rewrite the lyrics of the final hymn surreptitiously, to see if they could get through it without corpsing". He became Head Chorister and when his voice broke he was transferred as a boarder to Tonbridge Public School For Boys which he described as : "A ferociously muscular public school which only cares about cricket and rugger and I was rubbish at. So I thought I'd swim against the stream rather than with it". As a result he concentrated on literature, drama, and music.

Fifty years later, in 2021 'Kit and McConnel' were the star turn at Boris Johnson's 'Chequers  Centenary Dinner' to mark the hundred years since Lloyd George became the first Prime Minister to occupy the rural property away from smokey London. Of the five living ex-Prime ministers, only Theresa May attended the event. Kit delivered a politically incorrect ditty to celebrate Viscount Lee’s donation of the estate to David Lloyd George with : “Lloyd George was none too wealthy / And Welsh; therefore unhealthy”. (link)

His friend Fiona Carnarvon said : 

'He was a unique friend and star – the world is a greyer and quieter place without him'.

(link)

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With grateful acknowledgement to Paddy Cooper's interview with Kit for 'Dark Unicorn' for the insight it provided into his thoughts and character. (link)