Wednesday, 12 August 2020

VJ - and the men who came back

There are rightly many articles devoted to the end of WW2 in SE Asia in Radio Times this week, in advance of Saturday's commemoration of VJ-Day. Among them is "Finding my father", Libby Purves's write-up of an interview with Eleanor Holland, daughter of Colonel Henry Ross Power. Col. Power had served in Burma, been captured by the Japanese and survived until the end of the war in a Rangoon jail. He had written a secret diary which he preserved in a box in the family home. It was the Covid lock-down's forcing her to suspend her day job volunteering at the National Maritime Museum in  Cornwall which spurred her to fill the empty hours by investigating her late father's belongings. The result was the touching story recounted by Ms Purves.

There will no doubt be more discoveries of what veterans of the conflict and, too often, of cruel incarceration, expressed in writing that which they were unwilling to talk about once they were repatriated. May those discoveries continue to be made as we - and more importantly our children - inevitably lose the living testament of the survivors. 

Tuesday, 11 August 2020

Sunak's meanness liable to put dangerous accused back on the streets

 Chancellor Rishi Sunak wildly increased the UK's indebtedness in order to "save the economy". He has not shown similar concern about the safety of our streets, as a post from The Secret Barrister demonstrates.

Whether somebody awaits trial on bail or in custody is based on an assessment of risk. You generally have a right to bail unless a judge finds substantial grounds to believe you will flee, commit further offences or interfere with witnesses. 

[However, there are Custody Time Limits (CTLs),] regulations setting the maximum time that somebody awaiting trial can be remanded in custody before their trial. [...] CTLs in theory guarantee you a quicker trial. The maximum time you can be detained before your Crown Court trial is 182 days (6 months).

This can, however, be extended by the court in certain cases. The test is whether the reason for the extension is: an absent defendant/witness/judge; the need for multiple trials for a defendant; or some other "good and sufficient cause". The prosecution must also show they have acted "with all due diligence and expedition". 

If a CTL expires without an extension being granted, a defendant is released on bail. This can obviously have serious consequences. People have been killed when dangerous defendants have been released due to "CTL failures" in the legal lingo. 

Now Covid has caused problems due to the suspension in March of jury trials. So the senior judiciary introduced a protocol confirming that this amounts to a good and sufficient cause to extend CTLs. 

All well and good, but the government has done nothing to get these trials going again. There has been a consistent programme of selling off courts (totalling hundreds according to our learned friends), but, apart from setting up ten emergency "Nightingale Courts", government has not built any replacements. Getting rid of Victorian (or earlier) buildings which do not meet 21st century standards and can not be easily adapted to do so is sensible, but it also makes sense to provide capacity which does conform to current standards. 

This was too much for a Crown Court judge at Snaresbrook

While there may have been good reason to keep people in custody longer when Covid struck in March, five months on the government has sat on its hands and refused to fund the courts to get the trials running. So His Honour Justice Raynor has ruled that this does not amount to a good reason to extend.

Now this is just a Crown Court decision. It does not set a precedent. But if other judges form the same view, this will result in potentially dangerous offenders being released onto the streets pending trial, all over the country. All because the government won't pay for justice. 

"All over the country" includes Wales.

Monday, 10 August 2020

Diversity in cinema

 Sir Alan Parker, who died last week, rose from the post-room in an advertising agency to directing some of the most significant films of the late 20th and early 21st century. His description of British film's being a cottage industry and other scathing remarks made good copy for the tabloid press. In his friend David Puttnam's words, he saw through the laziness of the business as compared with the hard-driven advertising background they shared. What received less attention was Parker's interest in improving matters. Although he made virtually all his movies in Hollywood, he became an effective chairman of the British Film Institute. He was also founder chairman of the UK Film Council. Never forgetting his north London roots, he pushed the British industry to be more diverse. He started a company in Birmingham so that young film-makers not in London could make their first films. 

Coincidentally, last week's Film Programme on Radio 4 opened with a diatribe by a guest presenter against the nepotism and class structure of English drama. 

It seems to me that we have come full circle. The British films of the nineteen-forties and -fifties were replete with trained actors from a middle- or upper-middle-class background. When called upon to speak in a regional or working-class accent, their efforts were often painful. It was the British "New Wave" from 1959 onwards which  redressed the balance. A whole generation of actors of both sexes from the regions were encouraged by the new breed of film-makers to use their natural tones, even though many had been trained in RP by drama schools. Later, there was also encouragement for natural actors like Bob Hoskins. That generation has largely passed on, though Sir Tom Courtenay is happily still with us. Otherwise, it is all private-school or Estuary English, with the occasional Welsh or Scottish voice thrown in.

Will there be another "New Wave"? Probably not in cinema or on the stage. The administrators of institutions in decline tend to circle the wagons and not let fresh blood in. BBC Radio is consciously doing its bit, but rumours about the intentions of the Johnson/Cummings government throw its future into doubt. Perhaps something will come from the Web, from gaming or from Internet personalities. We shall see.

Saturday, 8 August 2020

Nagasaki August 8th/9th 1945

I am almost convinced that the destruction of Hiroshima was necessary to bring an end to the world war in the East. However, there was surely no need to obliterate Nagasaki, the charming, most European-facing of Japanese cities. The writer of this New Yorker article seems to agree.

One trusts that Schnittke's oratorio would have been performed on this day in the Royal Albert Hall (as it was in 2009) if the Covid-19 emergency had not intervened.  Perhaps next year?

Friday, 7 August 2020

The Putifying of the Tories

There have been previous examples of Tory venality while in government. Ernest Marples shamelessly used his positions in government to further the civil engineering company he co-founded. Harold Macmillan in his "Wind of Change" tour of African capitals, admirably promulgating liberal values, incidentally promoted the text-books published by the education arm of the family publishing firm. 

But these were isolated instances of individuals enriching themselves or their kin. What is new is the virtual sale of the entire Conservative Party apparatus to outside interests, mainly Russians making use of the London money laundromat

It was John Major and Michael Howard, wittingly or unwittingly, who set in train the systematic corruption of the Conservative party and eventually government through the "golden visa" scheme. The Blair-Brown administrations did nothing to remove the bolt-hole afforded to Russian oligarchs, enemies and friends of Putin alike. It is probably no coincidence that Peter Mandelson was entertained by oligarch Oleg Deripaska on board his yacht - as was George Osborne, later to become Chancellor.

A fresh government prepared to "clean the swamp" might however find that driving out the "hot money" too quickly would damage the economy.

Thursday, 6 August 2020

The walk to Tesco is getting more irksome

Around the time that Don Shepherd announced his retirement when he seemed to be bowling as well as ever, he confided to John Arlott (who had a soft spot for Glamorgan cricket club) that "it gets you in the legs". I know what he meant.

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Kicking the table over

Mariella Frostrup has sadly left Radio 4's Open Book programme for fresh Murdoch woods, but she has left behind a cache of excellent interviews, including this one with Robert Harris. Towards the end, he accepts Frostrup's suggestion that he is a political novelist, even though he is generally described as a thriller writer. 
Scandal, ambition, they are worldly subjects, not interior, they are not domestic, so that there is almost no language for this, except for the thriller

The interview took place before the current pandemic was declared, but well into other pattern-breaking events:
Something lies behind Brexit and Trump and all the other things that are going on and the interesting novel would be to try and find what that other thing is [but we may have to wait] ten or twenty years to really get a sense of what it is that has shaken up our world so much. [...] It's like the period before the First World War where you had a long period of peace and relative prosperity but it's almost as if we as a species had got bored and we wanted to kick the table over and try something different and we had these new technological means to fight war and everyone wondered whether it would be worth a try [and] there was a sort of general ferment and I wonder whether we are living through something like that now.

Part of the trouble is the tendency of empires which see their power beginning to diminish, or at least see stronger rivals emerging, lashing out in a demonstration of military prowess. This is not an original theory; some old Greek, whose name I have forgotten, put it forward thousands of years ago. The pattern has repeated down the ages. The UK demonstrated it in South Africa and Austro-Hungary in the Great War as power inexorably slipped towards the United States. I would argue that Russia's doomed adventure in Afghanistan is another such case. In 2016, US voters, sensing their position in the world slipping, elected a president professing to "make America great again", conducting trade wars and seemingly intent on picking a fight with the new rising power, China. 

But something else is going on. Other rising nations like Brazil and India, which should be comfortable with the current situation, have elected ultra-nationalist, divisive leaders who can only impede their development. China, which has no need of a confrontation, is equally as provocative as the US. It does seem as if the world is bent on collective suicide.

Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Keep right on

The reason for anthems becoming attached to particular football teams can be obscure. There is no doubt about Liverpool's adoption of "You'll never walk alone": scouser Gerry Marsden had a Top Ten hit with the song from "Carousel" shortly after the Red Men rose from the old second division under Bill Shankly and climbed to greater heights. (Rodgers hated both the Gerry And The Pacemakers treatment and it becoming a football anthem, by the way.)  "Bubbles" link to West Ham United goes back further and involves the nickname of a 1920s player, a crowd favourite. But why "Keep right on to the end of the road" and Birmingham City?

It turns out that this connection goes back only to 1956 and City's big FA Cup run that year. The Birmingham Mail records:
Blues were on their way to Leyton Orient in the fourth round of the FA Cup and manager Arthur Turner got the squad to sing the anthem as a pre-match ritual to calm the nerves before a big game. Birmingham City legend Alex Govan, a winger who played for Blues during the 1950’s, introduced the team to Lauder’s famous song as the club went on to reach the FA Cup final in 1956.

The song was written by William Dillon and the great Scottish comedian, inspired by a tragedy in the Lauder family. His son had been killed in action during the Great War. There will probably continue to be arguments as to whether he or Will Fyffe best represented the Scots and Scottish humour, but Lauder should be given his due on the 150th anniversary of his birth.