Friday, 12 October 2018

Peter Black retires (sort of)

One of the most assiduous and high-achieving AMs of the first 17 years of the Welsh Assembly has announced that he will not be seeking re-election to Cardiff Bay in the next Welsh general election. However, although he has turned his back on national politics, he will continue in public life in Swansea. One suspects that he will remain a power there for many years to come.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Rail: a moral victory

Extract from Hansard of yesterday:

Bill Presented
Railways (Franchises) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Tim Farron, supported by Sir Edward Davey and Tom Brake, presented a Bill to require the Secretary of State to terminate a rail passenger services franchise agreement in certain circumstances; to repeal section 25 of the Railways Act 1993; to make provision for local franchising authorities in England; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 23 November, and to be printed (Bill 271).
The Bill was inspired by an extreme instance of a train operator not fulfilling its contractual duties, namely, running trains. The Lakes Line runs (or should run) in Tim Farron's constituency and he explained its vital significance here. Northern's response to criticism was to restore some trains to the Lakes Line but at the expense of the Furness Line, which it also runs.

As I say, an extreme case but one which will resonate with other rail users. Tim's Bill has practically no chance of even being debated, but the fact that he was able to gain a second reading without objection shows that there is widespread sympathy in the House with the feeling that backsliding train operators should be replaced expeditiously. If the current Minister for Transport, Chris Grayling, does not act on this, then the PM should replace him with someone more proactive.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

More daunting challenges to the funding of overseas aid

As one might have expected, the political media headlines were all about Brexit. Much was made of  the failure of Mmes Mordaunt and Truss to mention "Chequers" in speeches this week and naturally that was seen as part of a challenge to Theresa May's leadership. Then there was Dominic Raab's stonewalling statement in the House about the Brexit negotiations which said nothing that we did not know already.

Surely more important were the Urgent Questions which were granted by the Speaker yesterday. Food Labelling and Allergy-Related Deaths brought out government foot-dragging over loopholes in regulations on proper labelling (for which we have to thank the EU anyway), not to mention the shortage of epipens, and Dangerous Waste and Body Parts Disposal: NHS needs no further comment.

But what worried me most was Penny Mordaunt's response to being called to account for her proposals for the Government Overseas Aid Commitment and Private Investment in it. She was clearly nettled at being hauled back to parliament to explain what was to her no more than an administrative decision but what to most observers was a change in direction which should have been brought to parliament. So often her replies to MPs contained the words "read my speech", bordering on contempt for parliament.

Her speech is not easy to find on the Web, by the way. This is the BBC's summary which must be slightly more objective than those in the press. From what I can gather - and her explanations yesterday may have been deliberately confusing - she wants, in two ways, to reduce the amount of money that the government puts into overseas aid while nominally continuing to hit the 0.7% GDP annual legal minimum. First, she wants to attract private money, and she held up the CDC as an example of producing a good return on development loans. Secondly, she wants to include any interest paid on development loans to be ploughed back into overseas aid but to be treated as new money. Both these proposals will mean changing the OECD rules on development assistance (pdf here) . The exclusion of "primarily commercial objectives" is pretty clear. One trusts that the proposed rule changes will be resisted. However, Ms Mordaunt managed to throw enough red meat to satisfy those MPs behind her who see no purpose in foreign aid other than to provide income for British construction companies and financial institutions.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

The Hanover Bankers

Guido Fawkes reports that one of Health Secretary's first appointments as a special adviser is Richard Sloggett from Hanover Communications. As this blog has previously noted, Hanover is a very Conservative-orientated lobby group, which has among its clients some players in the privatisation business.

Monday, 8 October 2018

Who was Sarett Rudley?

As previous posts on this blogspot have shown, I like nothing better than delving into records. In my first job as a junior civil service clerk in the old Ministry of Transport. I was fascinated by the files going back to the setting up the regional roads office and delighted in burrowing into the old correspondence - something I might go into on another occasion. One can imagine what a boon the Internet and search engines from Lynx through to Google turned out to be.

The World Wide Web also introduced me to the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), now owned by Amazon, but founded and still managed by a Brit. Just occasionally, the excellent Independent obituaries (which sadly did not survive the cull when the paper went online only) provided snippets about screen actors which were not already recorded on the IMDb so I became one of the many contributors to IMDb. I also signed up to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography's (ODNB) daily extract from its extensive archive.

It was an ODNB update which started me on the Sarett Rudley hare. Felicity Anne Cumming (I link to the Indy's obit since the ODNB is a subscription service, albeit a free one) was an adventuress who, it was noted, was first married to Richard Mason. He wrote three romantic novels on which successful films were based, The World of Suzie Wong being the one that provided him with a pension for life. The IMDb has no references to Mason marriages. but I recalled an Indy obit and managed to find it from a back issue (it is no longer accessible online). The obituarist Jack Adrian (probably a fellow-author, Chris Lowder, using one of his pseudonyms - just the first in this saga!) recorded that Mason was married three times but tantalisingly gives no names. When all else fails, try Wikipedia - and, sure enough, there is an entry for Mason which lists Cumming as his first wife, Margot (Maggie) Wolf as his widow and mother of his two children and, in between, Sarett Rudley, with whom he went "to raise sheep on an estate in Wales".

The description of Ms Rudley as a writer of television teleplays for Alfred Hitchcock Presents was intriguing (we are now two degrees of separation from Anne Cumming). There are no biographical details for her on IMDb. She suddenly appears as a screenwriter in 1956, adapting other people's original material, until 1959 when she signs off with an original screenplay - perhaps a leaving gift from the Hitchcock production team? That would fit with a departure for Britain in the late '50s, especially as she also has a 1958 credit for a contribution to ABC's Armchair Theatre. In 1968, she contributed to Journey to the Unknown, described on IMDb as an English series, shot by MGM in the US company's Borehamwood studios, but featuring American actors in the leading parts. A 1989 credit proved to be misleading, because it was a remake of an earlier Hitchock episode. So Sarett Rudley effectively disappeared after 1968.

She almost came from nowhere - but not quite. In 1949, a well-meaning but unfortunately untheatrical "colour problem" play was put on in Brooklyn. How Long Till Summer ran for just seven performances. The authors were Sarett and Herbert Rudley. Herbert Rudley had a long career on stage starting in 1926 and became a stalwart character actor on screen until 1983. He had no other writing credits of any kind that I can discover, so presumably the play was virtually all Sarett's work. Herbert Rudley was actually born Herbert Shapiro and adopted his mother's maiden name as his own fairly early in his stage career. (Obviously Jewish names were out in those times. For instance, Emanuel Goldenberg changed his name to Edward G Robinson. English and French surnames were OK, other continental European monickers a bit dicey.)

It turns out that a Sarette (sic) Tobias became Rudley's mistress in Hollywood while he was still married to Ann Loring, causing an interesting court case. IMDb lists Sarett Tobias as a screenwriter with two credits to her name in 1945 and '46.

A bit more digging turned up a 1948 marriage between Rudley and Tobias, which had not been listed on IMDb previously. That led to a date and place of birth: 26th September 1917 in Colorado Springs, which ties in with a US census return of 1940 showing a Sarett Tobias, the wife of a medical doctor in Los Angeles.

From the time her earlier surname appeared, a faint bell rang. Was there not a leading character named Tobias in a major film? Eventually it came to me: Sarah Tobias was the victim in The Accused, written by veteran journalist turned screenwriter Tom Topor. Pure coincidence, or had the author met the former Sarett Tobias?

So I have clearly identified the second wife of Richard Mason with the (bored?) young housewife and mother in Los Angeles who took to writing screenplays. But where did she come from? Here is where it gets murkier. There is no Sarett listed among the Colorado births, but there is a Sarah Rude of the right birthdate. She takes a couple of journeys by sea (as shown in passenger lists) with her mother, travelling under her maiden name of Teichman, then nothing.  This is almost certainly the same person, but I cannot make the Milton Tobias connection.

And what became of Sarett Mason? Presumably she returned to the States - or did she go to Italy? Jack Adrian reported that Richard Mason remained on good terms with both his first two wives. There is more to discover there.

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Fake bogeys

I enjoyed Al Murray's not-too-solemn history of Germany. Together with Misha Glenny's take on the subject for Radio 4, it made me realise how little I had really absorbed in sixth-form German lessons.

Murray is a descendant of William Makepeace Thackeray and a history graduate, so he is well equipped to front a programme on the History Channel attempting to answer the question: "Why does everyone hate the English?". In his preview in the Radio Times, he poses another question, more pertinent to the current mood in England and Wales: why have British newspapers and the Tories not moved on from the 1939-45 war? He writes of a visit to Hamburg during the making of his series.

Germany, which tipped the world into war, its leader in pursuit of his own racial bogeymen, has a lot to teach us. And in Germany it's taken time and effort to process this history. In the history museum in Hamburg, the story of the wartime firebombing is told dispassionately. The city was destroyed over a few days and nights by Allied "area bombing", a firestorm raging in residential areas. Tens of thousands of people were killed.

You might think this would be a reason to hate the English. Instead, the tone was one of "you reap what you sow". Rather than shaking their fists at the English the way we might at the Germans, what was on offer was a sober assessment of how it had happened. And part of that display? A bust of Hitler, presented not as a bogeyman, but as a warning.

After all, what he did was to gather every grievance, ancient and modern, real and confected, serious and glib, heartfelt and unjust, bundled them all together and pile them onto a bogeyman himself. Warning enough.