Sunday, 30 December 2012

The Hobbit

The film off the Hobbit has opened to mixed but generally favourable reviews.  Having seen it in 3D I would award it an excellent rating.  The critics seem to have honed in on a few points - the length of the film,  that the story takes a while to get going and the use of high speed 3D.

The first two points are related. By making use of the other writings of Tolkien, particularly the appendixes of the Lord of the Rings, the film is able to fill in the background information to the dwarfs quest.

This actually makes the film easier to follow and is to be welcomed in my view.  The film takes a while to 'get going' because the book takes a while to get going, but the early chapters of the hobbit are brilliantly imagined - keeping faithful to Tolkiens story without allowing the very childish passages of the book to change the tone of the film.

The bewildered Bilbo Baggins as the dwarfs ransack his larder is played to perfection. Of course it it difficult to distinguish all 14 dwarfs - but it is thus in the book and the film does a better job than the book does !

The film is largely faithful to the book, with the usual cinematic licence needed  to convert what is on the page into something on the screen.

The encounter with the trolls is comic, and that with the  goblins scary and that with Gollum deeply moving.  It is striking that Gollum comes across so sympathetically and one feels for a creature who is actually - only an animation. Definitely a highlight of the film.

It is great to see Radaghast the Brown given some scenes and these add to the arc of the story, especially as in years to come people will watch the hobbit followed by the extended version of the Lord of the Rings.

I didn't watch in the high speed version so i can't comment on that but The 3d effects are used sparingly and effectively.  I particularly enjoyed the eagles in flight and the various birds and butterflies flitting out into mid air.

The only worrying note - the great Goblin reminded me of  the late astronomer Patrick Moore.

Monday, 10 December 2012

from the telegraph comments

We spend £25 billion on working tax credits, in effect subsiding poor paying businesses and creating awful incentives for both employer and employee. Wouldn't it be simpler to get rid of working tax credits and increase the minimum wage, instead of having an inefficient bureaucracy in the middle collecting tax to only redistribute it back as a wage subsidy?
Similarly, instead of continuing with the £25 billion housing benefit bill madness, which is trapping ever more working people as rents rise whilst wages stagnate, shouldn't we be building social not for profit housing to house people in long-term affordable rents and remove the market distorting housing benefit from the for profit housing sector which only works to inflate rental prices for everyone? Over 90% of new housing benefit claimants are working and the housing benefit bill increased by £700 million last year, a £27k cap on the outliers is not going to dent the overall cost of this benefit

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

The world didn't end shock

Oh my goodness an election has taken place in England and Wales using a preferential voting system and the world didn't end :-O   North Ireland and Scotland already use preferential voting for many elections.

A little noticed outcome from the Police and Crime Commissioner elections is that in 8 contests the outcome was changed by the counting of supplementary votes.

In Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Humbershire, Lincolnshire, Norfol, Suffolk, Surrey and Warwickshire the candidate with the highest vote tally on the first round was defeated on the second.

The overall effect was that the Independents gained 5 more posts (4 from the Conservatives and 1 from Labour) while the Conservatives won 2 posts where Labour had been ahead.  Net result: Independents up 5, Cons down 2 Labour down 3.

The implications for the next set of elections (if there are any) are interesting.  In several places the contest for 2nd place was close and if someone else had finished second they may have stood a better chance of picking up transferred votes.
Will the success of Independents spawn more independent candidates next time ?  It might go either way but I suspect there will be fewer independent candidates, but they will be better organised and more likely to win. If there prefered candidate is eliminated, given a choice between a party candidate and and independent, in the current political climate and for these post most people choose an Indepent.

If that happens the political parties enthusiam for preferential voting might decline even more, but the public might start to like it and demand it for other elections.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Labours plan for jobs - a spoof surely ?

Below direct from the Labour Party Website is their plan for jobs.

1. A £2 billion tax on bank bonuses to fund a real jobs guarantee for all young people out of work for a year and build 25,000 more affordable homes.

2. Bringing forward long-term investment projects schools, roads and transport - to get people back to work and strengthen our economy for the future.

3. Reversing the Tory-led Government's damaging VAT rise now for a temporary period - a £450 boost for a couple with children - immediate help for our high streets and for struggling families and pensioners.

4. A one year cut in VAT to 5% on home improvements, repairs and maintenance - to help homeowners and small businesses.

5. A one year national insurance tax break for every small firm which takes on extra workers - helping small businesses to grow and create jobs.
So basically - three one off measures ! one shuffling of spending and a new tax which is with the economic margin of error of not existing.

1.  The Government spends around £630 billion a year.  Another £2 billion is not a change.  You might note that the Government is spending £125 Billion more each year than it gets in Taxes - so taxing bankers bonuses - while welcome will not solve the fundamental problem.  One wonders why Labour didn't tax the bankers bonuses when they Labour were in power ?  25,000 more affordable homes would be welcome, but it is really a drop in the ocean compared to the need for affordable housing. Labours record on providing affordable Housing 1997-2010 was appalling, the worst of any Government since 1906. 

2. 'bringing forward' means - no new expenditure. Just money earmarked for spending in 2018 might in theory be spent in 2016 or 2017 - but it won't be spent in 2018.  In practice the coaltion governement has already tried to

3. Does cutting VAT boost growth ?  It would certainly cost the Government a lot of money and it might make a few families feel slightly better off for a short while - but it's hardly investment for the future.   The 'rule' is VAT rises under Labour - sound budgetary management - VAT rises under the coaltion - bad budgetary management.

4. Oh my goodness - a one year cut in VAT for home improvements - what will they think of next ? Do I really have to criticise this for people to see how small scale this is.

5. More tinkering - I imagine that a few businesses might take on staff - but mostly - it will not be the National Insurance that prevents businesses taking on staff and a one off, one year cut is not much of an incentive.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012


Yay !  Obama wins. Hopefully it will lead to the Republicans moving away from the religious right and tea party extremism.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Morecombe and Wise

The Book Wot I Wrote - Eddie Braben ISBN 0 340 83373 4

Eddie Braben is best known as the writer for Morecombe and Wise during their most popular phase.

This book covers anecdotes from his life, tips on comedy writing, working with Eric and Ernie and more.

Braben came up with the role of 'play wright' for Ernie Wise and made him much more of a funny man than a just a feed to Eric Morecombe

The humour is slightly old fashioned (as Braden readily acknowledges) and often based on word play.

For people who like Morecombe and Wise this book will be both interesting and amusing. Braben also wrote for Ken Dodd and many other top comics.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Left Luggage

Left Luggage - From Marx to Wilson by C. Northcote Parkinson.  C.Northcote Parkinson, if he is known at all today, is remembered for his classic book Parkinsons Law - which ought to be compulsory reading for anyone involved in business, politics or running any organisation.

This is a great book by a great author.  Although it was written in 1967, almost all of it remains relevant today.   The only real air of nostalgia is the idea that Labour MPs believed in something called "socialism"

It is a swift and entertaining history of socialist thought - and highlights it flaws, failings and limitations. He is particularly effective in criticising Trade Unions, the co-operative movement more for what they don't do than what they do.

Parkinson is slightly less effective in defending Conservatism - you get the feeling he is too nice a person to be other than a paternalistic what used to be called a one nation tory or tory-wet.

One question puzzles, what does the C in his name refers to ? and did he prefer to be called Northcote ?

Localism what's gone wrong

Already the search is on for excuses for the low turnout for Police and Crime Commisisoners elections. 

The obvious answer is that the Police and Crime Commisioners are a joke - they have no real powers.  At a basic level most people understand that their vote with make little difference to who is elected let alone what happens after they are elected.

The Conservatives made a big fuss about "localism" but fundamentally many Conservatives don't believe in localism at all - which is why is has fallen so flat.

Local Councils can't even put up Council Tax.  they are told by the Government that Coucnil Tax will be frozen. 

Local Government Cabinet Minister Eric Pickles over rules Councils on planning decisions and issues edicts on everything from waste collection to council magazines.

So here's an alternative - One way to get turn-out up is to give powers to Local Government. Powers and Revenue raising ability.
Triple Coucnil Tax and withdraw the same amount in Central Governmemnt funding.  People will wake up to how much their council spends and what a warped funding system Council Tax is.   Stop over ruling local Council Planning Decisions - let the wind farms and new houses go to the areas that want them.   Areas that decide not to have them will end up facing the problems of expensive housing and high eneregy bills.

Friday, 2 November 2012


Trident - I just don't get it. I have never supported Trident - I never understood how anyone thought that the UK should have the right to plunge the world into a nuclear war.

Now years after the cold war has ended, the Conservatives are pressing on with plans to replace Trident. Why ?

A Conservative was on the radio explaining that we couldn't foresee the enemies the UK would face in 30-50 years and an independent nuclear capability was needed to act as a deterrent.  Top of the list is to deter terrorists and 'rogue states'. 

I wonder why it is that the USA, which has considerably more nuclear missiles than the UK was still unable to deter the terrorist attacks of 9/11 ?

UK nuclear missiles didn't deter Argentina from invading the Falklands.

Can we destroy a country, a region or perhaps the world because a rogue state uses a nuclear weapon ?
Replacing Trident will be spending money we can't afford on something we don't need.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Not the rolling stones

I went to see "former members" so called because they are former members of various groups.

This band are absolutely phenomenal. Bruce Barthol bassist from Country Joe & The Fish, Greg Douglass - lead guitarist of Steve Miller Band, Roy Blumenfeld - drummer of Al Kooper's Blues Project - and David Bennett Cohen, Grammy nominated piano player from Country Joe & The Fish.

The youngets of these Bruce Barthol about 68 years old,  all of them having played and performed profesionally for over 50 years.

They were fantastic - it was a privilege to watch them play and a delight to see their enjoyment at playing.   They have all played at massive rock festivals and with a host of other great musicians - here they were at a small pub with a small audience and giving a masterclass in playing.  You got the impression they could play anything anywhere.

The musicians in the audience were just blown away, I overheard one person describe it as like being in the presence of a jazz or blues great in the 20th century.

Monday, 22 October 2012

The Naked Island

The Naked Island by Russell Brandon (ISBN 0-330-02169-9) is his story of joining the Australian Army in 1941 and his capture and imprisonment for 3 years by the Japanese Imperial Army.

This was apparently one of the first books written about such experiences, and was first published in 1952.

It is a powerfully written and evocative account.  Russell writes with a keen eye for detail, a amazingly robust sense of humour and excellent character portraits.

His description of training and deployment by the Australian Army ought to be read by anyone interested in the military.  The farcical deployments and movements and 'training' contrast appallingly with the courage and heroism displayed by the troops in combat.

His time in captivity, is harrowing, and I can only describe it as being like memoirs of a concentration camp survivor.  The treatment of prisoners by the Japanese Military was appalling beyond words. In fact, at one stage in the book, Brandon himself struggles to describe the existence he endured.  The relentless 18 hours of work and brutality passing in  a haze where one incident blurs into an endless stream of torture  so bad that few incidents stand out for recall. Working 18 hours a day subject to beatings and witnessing unimaginable cruelty, Brandon survived by determination,luck and telling himself nothing mattered.

That the suffering inflicted by the Japanese Army was both deliberate and unnecessary is without doubt.  I can't help but feel for the British/commonwealth/USA troops who had to endure it and who saw their comrades suffer and die, yet were treated abysmally after the war and got little in the way of compensation or apology.

Blakes 7 is back

The way through the woods

Dr Who - The way through the woods - by Una McCormack - ISBN 978-1-849-90237-3

The strange wood - the Roman Road bends to avoid it, as does the modern motorway as did the neolithic track. 

The Dr, Amy Pond and Rory is a stolid adventure which very much captures the essence of the TV programme. 

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Dead Wrong

Watching the awful "Psychic Sally" on TV this morning was quite stomach churning.

As a display of cold reading - it was fairly second rate. Sally passed on such pathetic messages as "x mises you" and "you were a good mum."

I am undecided as to whether Psychic Sally is a fraud or a pious fraud - that is someone who truly believes in what she is saying.

Most of the time Sally semed to fish for information - "Who is Sarah ?" -
begging for the reply - "I don't know Sally - your the one talking to the dead, why not tell me who they are refering to."  Strangley enough there was someone in the audience who was or knew a Sarah, but Sarah has usually been one of the top five girls names in the Uk for the past 100 years !

Mary or Jennifer or Susan would have been good bets for a response.

An audience member came out convinced that Sally had "confirmed what we already knew" - well that's the thing about psychics - you tell them things but word, body language, appearance, reaction etc and they tell you what they have picked up from you.  Sally was particularly blatent along the lines of
Sally - who is Barbara ?
Punter - My mother
Sally -  yes that's what she's telling me, Barbara is your mum 
Punter - Amazing she knew my mums name

Worst still - most "psychics" mix in hot readings as followers and staff send them information about their concerns which can then be fed back to them.
Well wouldn't you ? Your son or daughter or parent died and someone tells you they might be able to talk to them ?

Odd how Sally won't be tested properly.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Fagin's Last Hour

I have been a fan of James Hyland (actor/writer/producer)  since seeing his supurb one man show "A Christmas Carol - as told by Jacob Marley (Deceased)"

Fagin's Last Hour is an amazing retelling of Oliver Twist from the point of view of Fagin.

Hyland gives an incredibly energetic performance and conjours up Fagin, Oliver, The Artful Dodger,
Bill Sykes and Nancy.  That a man with a full beard is utterly convincing as a woman tells you what  a great atmosphere Hyland creates. Spell binding.  He shifts roles with alarming ease, keeping the dramatic tension and the play flowing.

The set, costum and make up are excellent. Dickens sadly seems very relevent today, when the squalor and division of victorian Britain re-emerging.

Now at last someone (Hyland) has persuaded me to read Oliver Twist.


David Cameron said in his conference speech.

"I'm not here to defend privilege, I'm here to spread it."

Privilege - is commonly used to mean  "a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group"

It is a sad day when the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom doesn't know what a word means.
Or does he ?

The reason for the existence of the Conservative Party has always been to defend privilege.  A few Conservatives feel privilege ought to be justified in some way - e.g for 'wealth creators' but for most of them the existence of a hierarchy is a good in itself.

Middle English: via Old French from Latin privilegium 'bill or law affecting an individual', from privus 'private' + lex, leg- 'law'

Thursday, 27 September 2012

More book reviews

David Lloyd George - the Great Outsider - by Roy Hattersley.

ISBN  9781408 700976

One would hope that Roy Hattersley as a former deputy Labour Party Leader and Cabinet Minister would bring some useful insights into Lloyd George.

I think he does a reasonable job - it is not very sympathetically written but it serves as a good introduction into what was a long and complicated life.  I was struck how often Lloyd George and the Liberal Party  really were the great reforming party of the 20th Century.

The Hairy Dieters - Dave Myers and Si King

Some good recipes and sensible advice on healthy eating - but a bit too meat based for me.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

The modern welfare state

In 1945 the majority of the UK wanted to implement the Beveridge report. So what did it do when given the opportunity to vote for the man himself ?

Berwick on Tweed
[E] Conservative gain
RAF ThorpeConservative12,31543.29%
W BeveridgeLiberal10,35336.39%
J DavisLabour5,78220.32%

Electorate: 41,978; {Civ: 38,570; Bus: 0; Serv: 3,408};
Turnout: 67.77%; Majority: 1,962 (6.90%

Oh well, you can always rely of the commonsense and collective wisdom of voters :-)

Beveridge was elected in 1944 as MP for Berwick on Tweed but at that time he faced no Labour or Conservative opponent as part of the war time 'truce' on campaigning made between the three main parties.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Welcome to AV elections - despite the referendum

Well who'd have thought it, in November everyone in England and Wales will get to vote in an Alternative Vote election.  Hang on, I hear you cry, that was rejected in the referendum.
Well, it is the election for Police and Crime Commissioners which will be held under a variation of the Alternative Vote called the "Supplementary Vote".

How does it work ?  In the election you will get the opportunity to cast two votes, the first for the candidate you support the most then you also get to cast a "supplementary vote"  (you could literally call it an Alternative Vote)  for another candidate which will be counted only if the candidate you voted for is eliminated.

After the first count takes place and if no candidate has scored 50% of the vote,  the top two candidates remain in the election and the other candidates are eliminated.  The ballot papers cast for the eliminated candidates are recounted with any "supplementary votes" going to the two remaining candidates are counted towards their total.

As an example, the first count result might be

Conservative 10000
Labour  9000
Independent 8000
Lib Dem 4000
Expolice officer 3000
Green 2000
UKIP 2000
Different Independent 1000

All the candidates apart from Conservative and Labour are eliminated and the "supplementary votes" a sort of second preference is counted.
You may have spotted the flaw in the system - if your favourite candidate is eliminated, you don't know when casting your supplementary vote who will be left in the contest.   If you cast your supplementary vote for a candidate who is eliminated, it doesn't count.

The think is, with proper alternative vote, the one rejected in the referendum, you list candidates in order of preference, 1,2,3,4 etc until you don't care who win. It's a better system.

So who supports supplementary vote - well Labour introduced it for elections to Mayors of local councils and the Conservatives introduced it for elections to Police and Crime Commissioners - yet they both largely opposed Alternative Vote - weird or what ?

The loan that isn't a loan

Monday, 17 September 2012

High on arrival

High on arrival is a memoir by Laura Mackenzie Phillips, aka Mackensie Philips - best known as an actress in various USA films and TV shows.

Mackensie was/is the daughter of the late John Philips of the hugely successful US Group The Mamas and The Papas.

Mackensies' tale is not quite relentlessly bleak, but it is close to being so. She says she first tried cocaine at 11 and she catalogues a huge list of drug abuse and illegal drug use - mostly centres on cocaine and heroin.
Despite spells in rehab and a long period (15 years) of being drug free - the relentless hold of drugs and the squalor and awfulness they bring is the overwhelming theme.  I am not even sure if this is intentional on MacKensie part - it just seems like as honest an account as she can provide.

The book contains allegations about her father, which others have disputed and which he is not alive to answer, but I suspect that very sadly they are true and inevitably linked to the huge amounts of drugs both of them were taking.

It is said no one wants to grow up to be a junkie - but Mackensie says in a weird way she did - and that is the real sadness at the heart of this book. The junkie existence - no matter how great the trapping of wealth and success is not a life - but an existence and an awful one at that.  Injecting yourself every 20 minutes for two years - that is a form of unbearable torture for anyone.

Lessons for Labour from the greatest Labour Prime Minister

Clement (Clem) Attlee was Prime Minister of the UK from 1945 to 1951. 

It is surprising Attlee isn't more studied as one of the most successful Prime Ministers of the UK and certainly the best Labour Prime Minister ever.
Attlee came from a affluent background and was converted to socialism by volunteer work he undertook in the East End of London.

Luck played a big part in Clement Attlee's success. Attlee became leader of the Labour Party in 1935 after the National Government swept almost all before it. Attlee almost lost his seat too. Had there been a General Election in 1939 or 1940, Labour would have certainly have lost and Attlee might have been a footnote in history. As it was the 2nd World War intervened.  Attlee served with distinction in the War Cabinet and even as Deputy Prime Minister but he was often in behind the scene roles and he remained a very private figure.

In 1945 Attlee became Prime Minister - much to the surprise of many who expected the usual 'Karki Election' win for the 'man who won the war' Churchill.

Oddly no one seems sure why Labour won a landslide victory in 1945 and why it lasted such a short time.
Part of the explanation must be that the extent of Labours win in 1945 was although a big majority in seats was not based on a huge lead in terms of share of the vote.  In my view 'socialism' in action in the war years probably played a huge part - rationing and Government direction could be seen as promoting a better life for the many, efficient and not the 'communism' that was a vote loser in the inter-war years.   An oft offered explanation is that people blamed the Conservatives for the economic troubles of the 1930's and appeasement before the war.  In reality, the economic policies of the National Government (Conservative in all but name) won huge election majorities.  Indeed it was Labour who rejected the far more radical policies to reduce unemployment being proposed by the Liberal Party.

Appeasement was a popular policy and probably was preferable to the pacifism of much of the Labour Party.  So as an explanation it relies of voters being very inconsistent - which of course they can be.

The Labour Victory in 1945 was followed by perhaps 3 years of major and lasting reforms.  The Beveridge Report was implemented and the NHS founded, reforms that last to this day. Several industries were nationalised - Coal, Railways, Airlines, Telephones, electricity.

Attlee's style of Leadership was very much the hands of chairman - he rarely expressed strong views himself and he saw it as his role to implement the agree policies of the Labour Party. Partly this was a reaction against the 'strong' leadership of people like Lloyd George, Churchill and Ramsey McDonald - leaders who each became 'bigger' than their own parties.

This chairmanship style at times proved very effective - but at others when leadership was required, it fell short.  Oddly, Attlee, the most collegiate of men took the decision to make a British Nuclear Bomb without informing the Cabinet, and it was kept secret from all but 3 of them.

Issues come and go - Attlee's political life was dominated by issues such as Independence for India and Pakistan.  Pacifism and appeasement vs rearmament.  The idea that India could part of the British Empire was outdated even in 1945, yet independence and partition was marred by violence.  Even with the experience of Ireland, UK politicians struggled to get a good outcome.

It is perhaps difficult to get enthused by the internal Labour party battles between Bevin and Bevan and Morrison.
A very cold winter in 1946-47, fuel shortages, particularly of coal combined to make the Government quite unpopular.  Perhaps the very things that had led to Labour winning the election - rationing, the Trade Unions, particularly the miners now contributed to the unpopularity of the Labour Party.
By 1948 - Labour had run out of steam and pressed on with Nationalising the Iron and Steel Industry without having any reason for doing so - apart from a belief that nationalisation as a concept was better than private ownership.

By 1950 Labour scrapped a majority at the general election, this brought problems as ill health meant Labour MPs had to be on call all the time and they were harried by the Conservative Party.

In 1951 Bevan, the Health Minister resigned from the Cabinet because he objected to being told by the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Hugh Gaitskell to make £13 million of savings to the health budget out of total Government spending of £4000 million.  Bevan was right in saying the £13 million saving he was asked to make was tiny and Gaitskell had budgeted for a huge increase in defence spending, which was not delivered.

This split had a lasting impact on Labour politics, right through to the 1980's !
In 1951, Clem unwisely called another general election, which Labour lost.
1951 was a nadir for the Liberal Party and most of their former supporters voted Conservative and although Labour scored their highest tally of votes ever and more votes than the Conservatives - they lost the election and remained out of power for the next 13 years.

Attlee was a conservative with a small c politician. An essentiallly modest man
he achieved great things by quiet behind the scenes work.

Labour won in 1945 with a clear plan of what they wanted to do and from 1945-1948 they set about implementing it.   That was clearly their most successful period even though they suffered mid term unpopularity and

The contrast with say Tony Blair in 1997 is very noticeable. Blair was elected on a platform of things are really bad, but we won't change anything much.  The reforms that have lasted from the Blair years - devolution for Scotland, Wales and London, proportional representation for European Elections are all things that were of little interest to Blair and done to win round Liberal Democrats and driven forward by reformist in the Labour Party like Robin Cook.  Blair had a strategy to win power, but less idea about what to do with it once he had won it. Blair says he wishes he had been bolder - but the person responsible for the lack of boldness was Blair himself !  With a huge majority and a crushed opposition, Blair could have pursued a far more radical agenda, but he didn't really have one to follow.  Winning had after 18 years of opposition become more important than having a clear idea of what you wanted to achieve and how to achieve it.   As Attlee found by 1949, without such a plan Government becomes mere management.
Looking at the current leader of the Labour Party, Ed Milliband and asking what difference it would make if he was Prime Minister - it is difficult to envisage him as a man with a plan.

(Ref. Attlee, A life in Politics Nicklaus Thomas-Symonds, ISBN 978-1-84511-779-5)

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Only Fools and Horses

Only Fools and Horses - the story of Britain's Favourite Comedy by Graham McCann ISBN 978 0 85786 054 5

Graham McCann has written books on Dad's Army, Frankie Howerd, Terry Thomas, Morecombe and Wise, Gary Grant, Spike Milligan and co.

This book is a good mix of insights and trivia as one would expect from the experienced and knowledgeable McCann.

As well as a through analysis of how the programme came into being and how it developed.

The huge debt OFAH's owes to Hanocks Half Hour, Steptoe and Son and the writing partnership of Galton and Simpson is fulsomely acknowledged.   Interestingly so to is the debt writer John Sullivan owed to Charles Dickens who inspired him to write and the teacher who introduced him to the work of Dickens.  John Sullivan not only wrote OFAH's but also many other successful sitcoms, all but one as the sole author.

I think it was Denis Norden who said that Hancock Half Hour was a more like a Novel than a sitcom. In a similar way to describe OFAH's as a sitcom is to undersell it.

OFAH's was a sitcom which evolved into a cross between a sitcom and a soap opera.  It started in the 30 minute format and grew to 50 minutes episodes before extending to 90 minutes 'specials' a series of linked 3 x 50 minute specials.

Characters died (not something that happens in Terry and June) and real emotions and pathos and drama blend with the comedy.  It's influence on other comedy shows is so immense, it is almost easy to overlook.

McCann is good on both the strengths of the show and what are some of it weaknesses.  I think he probably believes that returning to the show after the Trotters had become millionaires was a mistake - and I tend to agree.  However, he also suggests a weak episode of OFAH's is better than most other sitcoms. 

Like many of our great TV programmes - chance and luck play a huge part - and who would guess that David Jason - who seems so perfect for Del Boy was not favoured for the part by John Sullivan and was only the third choice when considering who to cast?

Friday, 14 September 2012

On the buses

The making of On The Buses by Tex Fisher isbn 978-0-9565634-1-5.

For those who don't know, On The Buses was a very successful UK TV comedy which ran from 1969 -1973.  Centred on Bus Driver, Stan, his conductorr mate Jack, his enemy the Inspector aka Blakey, his mum, his sister Olive and brother in law Arthur.

The thing that appeals most about this book is that Tex Fisher must have been just 18 or 19 when he wrote it.  He first watched on the buses in 1997, when he was 6, 24 years after the show had ended.

The show can still be found on TV today.

Despite dating somewhat, the show is interesting and was hugely popular in it's day - being about the lives of ordinary working people trying to make their life abit easier and trying to get one over on the boss and each other.   Sometimes the show is accused of racism as the recurring Black character is referred to as Chalkie. Although this is these day inappropriate - there doesn't seem to be any other racism in the show - and  at least it had black and Asian people on screen, unlike most other shows made at the same time.  The actor who played the part (Glenn Whitter) is also quoted as saying he didn't have any problems with the show either then nor now.
The one part of the show that really grates are the jokes about Olives size. Not only are jokes about size rarely funny, while actress Anna Karen could hide her looks  to appear dowdy and unattractive, she could conceal the fact she wasn't in the slightest bit overweight !

My favourite character in the show is Arthur, played by Michael Robbins, his brilliant looks to camera and dry wit often steal a scene.

Best snippets - the spin off film On the buses made in 1971 was the biggest grossing film of the year - beating even James Bond.  The Film cost under £100,000 and was made in just 4 weeks. (even the notoriously quick carry on films were made in 6 weeks!) so the profits for Hammer Films were very good.

Co-star Anna Karen - who played Olive got just £75 a week for three weeks work! No wonder the cast refused the same terms when the 2nd feature film was made.

It was debated at the time whether a film would work because it was felt people might not pay to watch something that was free at home on TV, others felt that as most TV's were still Black and White - people would pay to see a bumper 90 minutes of their favourite stars in colour.  Oddly the film was almost given an adult rating ! but a temporary film censor gave it a more suitable rating.  To be honest, the film itself is rather dire.

Actor Reg Varney (playing Stan Butler) was 53 when the show started and as his charecter was meant to be about 40 had to be made to look younger.  Stephen Lewis was 33 and had to be made to look older as the Inspector.

Writers Ronald Wolfe and Ronald Chesney admit that some of their other sitcoms - Romany Jones,Yus, my Dear and Don't drink the water were all weak.  "Yus, my dear was awful" say Ronald Wolfe's wife.

Anyway - all in all probably a book that tells you all you could ever want to know about on the Buses and a bit more.  It comprehensive with anecdotes, technical stuff, bloopers and funny scenes etc.

In a way it is sad it was such a long wait for a book as so many of the cast had already died, but on the other hand, they would be chuffed to bits to think that the programme they made was still going over 40 years later although they might regret that they get no royalties from the repeats or dvds.   

Country Joe McDonald's Tribute to Country Joe McDonald.

After much consideration it occurred to me that no one will ever do a tribute to me ... at least while I am alive. And so I am proud to introduce my own tribute to myself: Country Joe McDonald's Tribute to Country Joe McDonald. Using the same format I used with my tribute to Woody Guthrie and my tribute to Florence Nightingale, I will sing songs and tell stories. Among those stories will be how County Joe and The Fish started the smoking banana thing and how the Fish Cheer turned into the Fuck Cheer and lots of other fun stuff. Also singing those great audience favorites from over the decades.

Can it still shock?

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Inspirational old people

I suppose there is a view that dying young is a sort of immortality. 

I prefer the opposite approach.  I think the phrase your never too old is a tad optimistic but some people are lucky or otherwise manage to carry on living life to the full as long as possible.

Here is a list of people who show they way:

Tom Baker - The Doctor Who actor - now 78, but has returned to recording Dr Who audio (radio/CD) adventures for Big Finish Productions.  Still interesting in amusing in interviews - I love his quote - "I wish I was 70" "or even 75"

Dave Allen - The comedian - sadly died aged 68 - but retained a philosophical and humorous attitude to life until the end.  He became an enthusiastic painter in later life. He was always looking forward and rarely allowed his shows to be repeated.

Harry "Buster" Merryfield - aka Uncle Albert in the long running TV show Only Fools and Horses - despite a long amateur involvement he only became an professional actor at 57.  I liked his idea of a chat show where he proposed he would interview people over a few drinks in a bar - sadly this was never commissioned.

Humphrey Lyttelton - Chairman of the radio 4 programme I'm sorry I haven't a clue. Enough said for those who have listened to the programme.

Monday, 20 August 2012

More on Mitt Romney - you couldn't make it up

Mitt Romney Republcian Presidential Candidate made the following comments while refusing to release his tax returns:

"over the past 10 years I never paid less than 13 percent. I think the most recent year is 13.6 or something like that."  ... "I’ve paid at least 13 percent and if you add in addition the amount that goes to charity, why the number gets well above 20 percent.”

he prefaced these words with:

“I just have to say, given the challenges that America faces – 23 million people out of work, Iran about to become nuclear, one out of six Americans in poverty – the fascination with taxes I’ve paid I find to be very small-minded compared to the broad issues that we face. But I did go back and look at my taxes and" 

One wonders if Mitt will ever see the irony of what he is saying.   Could there be a link between a huge gap between what the Government spends and what the Government gets in in taxes because people like Mitt pay hardly anything?  Could there be a link between 1 in 6 Americans being in Poverty - but many of them paying a  bigger percentage of their income in Tax than Mr Romney does ?   Clearly if all Amecians paid just 13% tax, then the system is unsustainable.  I am not anti-charity - but I am uneasy when someone can afford charity only because of their unethical behaviour.

The top rate of tax in the USA is 35% - wow Mitt - you pay just 13%.  It may be worth noting that Mormons usually pay 10% of their income to the Mormon Church.  So when Mitt talks about his big contributions to charity - he is including that contribution to the Mormon Church.  Personally, I don't get why Churches are considered charities. 

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Hereditary Police Commissioners ?

Hereditary Police Commissioners ?

While our MPs are busy ensuring that their wont be any elections to the House of Lords - they have at least given the consolation prize of elected Police and Crime Commissioners.

Anyway, there hasn't been any great outcry over the dropping of elections to the House of Lords - even Liberal Democrats who are usually reported as ultra-in favour of an elected Lords don't seem too miffed.  The wiser ones
probably realise they do better under the current crazy appointment system than they would do under elections.

So in November you will be able to vote for your 'local' Police and Crime Commissioner.   I bet you haven't been so excited since you had the chance to take part in the referendum on the Alternative Vote system.

Oddly enough many of the arguments against an elected House of Lords apply to elected Police Commissioners. Well, probably not oddly, as politicians, like the rest of us, tend to be a contradictory and flexible lots
There is no great public demand for Police Commissioners, the existing system though illogical seems to work sort of OK, no one seems sure what the purpose of elections is when the are contested in huge constituencies where few people know anything about the candidates and most crucially what powers they have (virtually none)

Elections for Police and Crime Commissioners are already descending into farce.  Third rate ex-MPs who in the old days would have gone to the Lords or become an Euro MP can now sew up a £80,000 a year job on the basis of
the votes of a few hundred party members.

We know that the winner in Surrey will be the Conservative nominee just as we know Liverpool will elect the Labour nominee. Turnout is predicted to be so low that even Postal Vote Fraud will be OK as long a sit ups the turnout.

In contrast defenders of the Lords tend to be enthusiastic about the institution -  plenty of people think the totally and later mainly Hereditary Lords should never have been got rid of. Rather then elections, they warm to the idea of "experts" being appointed to the Lords.

So why not consider Hereditary Police Commissioners - and if they didn't want to take up the post they could appoint an expert in their place until they wanted to take up the role.  It would be alot cheaper than holding elections with a derisory turnout  for a post with no real power.

I am joking. Really Police and Crime Commissioners are a bad idea and should be scrapped.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Bloody Foreigners - More Books

Bloody Foreigners by Robert Winder

This book examines immigration to Britain since Roman times, highlighting the often immense contribution immigrants have made to what are often thought of as quintessentially British or English things.

Roman, Saxon, Jute and Dane, French Huguenot, Indians, Jews, Irish, Jamaican, the list goes on.

I thought the book was quite balanced - neither a rose tinted spectacles view of immigration nor a sub-BNP misery and woe.  Lucidly written with a balance of detail and broad sweep that gives a sense of understanding of the complexities involved.

More than anything one might conclude that immigration is neither inherently good or bad, but that it has always happened.

The country into which we are born is not something we control, so it is strange that some people make such a fuss about it.

Some of the treatment given to immigrants - or often off spring of recent immigrants has been appalling but generally, better than in most countries.

I wonder it there will be a companion book - because Britain own record of emigration to the rest of the world far exceeds the amount of immigrants who have come to live here.

How cruel is that ?

You might not wished to be diagnosed with the fear of long words - hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia :-) 

Harold Steptoe - The life of Harry H Corbett

The actor Harry H Corbett is instantly recognisable to many people as Harold Steptoe - I imagine that more people will recognise Harold Steptoe than will be able to name the actor who played the role.

Strangely, there hasn't been a biography of Harry H Corbett till now.  The attitude of Harry and his wife and family was to let his work speak for itself  -
Sadly this biography was rather prompted by a couple of docu-dramas which were very misleading. When Steptoe met son on Channel 4 and The Curse of Steptoe on the BBC.
The care taken by BBC is easily illustrated. They had the actor playing Harry H Corbett wear brown contact lenses - to hide his blue eyes. Harry had blue eyes - as any colour photo or colour episode would have shown !

One of the authors of the docu-drama discovered the 'shocking' fact that when Corbett and Brambell toured Australia they travelled in separate cars and had separate dressing rooms. This is given as evidence that they hated each other, rather than the more obvious conclusion that Harry travelled with his family and that as stars they would expect their own dressing rooms.

Despite entirely justified complaints that the programme was unfair and inaccurate, it took the BBC years to concede the obvious and grudgingly accept they were wrong.  Does it matter if these things are wrong ?  Even today Harry's co-star Wilfrid Brambell name is often given as Wilfred Bramble !   If Harold wins the Battle of Hastings - is that artistic license ?
Is Mel Gibson's Film Braveheart a film or a history lesson?

So Harry's daughter, the actress and author Susannah Corbett has written the book (The Front legs of the cow, ISBN 978-0-7524-7682-7 the History Press) 

It is an excellent book, well written and researched and comprehensive. May favourite discovery was that the film The Bargee - was originally given an X certificate :-O  by after cuts was releases as a U.  That such drastic editing was made makes me yearn for a directors cut, to see the original concept of the film.
The appeal of Steptoe and Son was enormous,  viewing figures of 27 million ! That puts it  up there with the Olympics opening ceremony, Royal weddings, etc

Was Harry H Corbett  trapped by the curse of Steptoe ?

There is a debate about actors and actresses and the 'dangers' of type casting and being for every associated with one role.  

I think the dangers are overplayed  - most actors wish to earn a living- they have lifestyles and usually families to support. To be cast as a major part in a long running series is usually seen as a godsend.

The evidence of Harry being 'cursed' by Steptoe is rather thin.  As he himself pointed out - "I had appeared a hundred times on TV in the six years before Harold Steptoe came into my life. And I can't count the number of parts I have played in the theatre."

He appeared in at least 32 films, and actually the money he earned from Steptoe and Son allowed him to have more choice about what other acting he did.

Harry wasn't the stereotype clown  that wanted to play Shakespeare - he was an actor, not a comic and he did play Shakespeare.  

I fear the reality is that it is the public as much as casting directors who type-cast actors.  In the USA, the film system was basically run on actors playing to type.  

Few actors are lucky enough to make a massive impression in more than one TV role.  David Jason - as Derrick Trotter, Granville, Pa Larkin and Jack Frost did it. 

Harry wasn't stopped from having a glittering film career by Steptoe but by the state of the British Film  Industry in the 1960's and especially 1970's.

However brilliant Harry was on stage - and everyone agrees he was brilliant - a few hundred or several thousand people could see each performance - minuscule compared to the number who saw him on TV.

I think the worse things about the 'curse of Steptoe' theory is that it rather belittles the towering achievement that Steptoe was.    For some people who work in Theatre or on Film, TV, especially in the 1960s and 1970s was seen as inferior. To me - it is neither better or worse, just different.   Steptoe was hugely influential on almost all the comedy and many drama shows that followed.  It is a fantastic legacy that can still be enjoyed today.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Cleggian Rhapsody

With apologies to Queen

Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
there was no landslide,
hung parliament a reality
Rolling your eyes,
Look up to the skies and see,
I'm just a Lib Dem, I get no sympathy,
Because I'm easy come, easy go,
Little high, bigger low,
Any way the polls blows doesn't really matter to
me, to me

I just killed a party,
Put a gun against its head, pulled my trigger
now its dead
Mama... power had just begun,
But now I've gone and thrown it all away
Mamaaaaa oooh,
Didn't mean to make you cry,
If I'm not back again this time tomorrow,
Carry on, carry on as if nothing really matters

Too late, my time has come,
Sends shivers down my spine, body's aching all
the time
Goodbye, ev'ry policy, they've got to go,
Got to leave you all behind and face the truth
Mamaaaaa oooh, (Anyway the wind blows)
I don't want to die,
I sometimes wish I'd never mentioned tuition fees at all

I see a little silhouetto of a man,
Cameron! Cameron ! Will you do the
George Osborne?!

Thunderbolt and lightning, very, very frightening
coalition, coalition
coalition, coalition
coalition, figure go ! magnifico

I'm just a poor Clegg, nobody loves me
He's just a poor Clegg from a rich family,
Spare him his life from this monstrosity!
Easy come, easy go, will you let me go
Coalition ! No, we will not let you go
(Let him go!) Coalition! We will not let you go
(Let him go!) Coalition! We will not let you go
(Let me go) Will not let you go
(Let me go)(Never) Never let you go
(Let me go) Never let you go (Let me go) Ah
No, no, no, no, no, no, no
Oh mama mia, mama mia, mama mia, let me go
Miliband has a devil put aside for me, for me,
for meeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

So you think you can stop me and spit in my
So you think you can love me and leave me to
Oh, Tories, can't do this to me, Tories,
Just gotta get out, just gotta get right outta

Nothing really worked out, Anyone can see,
Nothing really worked out,
Nothing really worked out to me...

Anyway the wind blows...

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Misconceptions about Tony Hancock

Tony Hancock has been chosen as one of the new Elizabethans - one of the notable figures in the reign of Elizabeth II.

The first misconception is that Hancock got rid of his co-stars from the radio series.  Although it is true that Hancock was unhappy about the 'snide' character played by Kenneth Williams, it was Williams himself who left the series a couple of episodes into the 6th radio series.  He was unhappy about the number and quality of the lines he was getting - but perhaps it was more Kenneths ego here than Tonys which caused the problem.

Another myth is that only Sid James from the radio series made the move to TV with Hancock  - actually both Hattie Jacques and Kenneth Williams appeared in the television version, although as supporting characters rather than as the same character each week .  Writers Ray Galton and Alan Simpson say it was they who made the decision to cut down the regular supporting cast as Television is a much slower medium than radio.  Hancock can hardly be said to have blocked the appearance of Hattie and Kenneth in the TV Series.   Hattie in fact appeared with the Hancock film the Punch and Judy Man, which shows they were still friends after the TV series.

True Hancock blocked Sid James being in his films, but James made dozens of films without Hancock, and no one complains about that.

In fact Hancock had often gone out of his way to get parts for his friends as Dick Emery, Graham Stark, Hugh Lloyd, Mario Fabrizi and others attest. Hancock felt most comfortable working with people he knew.

Another myth is that Hancock fired writers Galton and Simpson, in truth they did fall out over a Film script which Hancock rejected without even reading, but, Hancock never intended the split to be final and on several occasions  approached Galton and Simpson to ask if they could provide scripts. For example before his series for ATV, but Galton and Simpson were too busy with other projects like Steptoe and Son.  They almost worked together again on a musical "Noah" but this never got off the ground - perhaps thankfully in view of Hancock aversion to long stage shows.

Another myth is that Tony died in a hotel room in Australia, this is probably due to the play Hancock's last half hour, in fact he was staying in a basement apartment linked to the house of the director of the TV series he was working on at the time.

Perhaps the strangest myth is that Hancock was never as funny solo as when he was with Sid James - Galton and Simpson rebut this - they say look at the Radio Ham, The Blood Donor, the Lift - the shows indelibly associated with Hancock and for a time British Comedy and the British Way of life - Sid James wasn't in any of them, neither was Kenneth, Hattie or Bill Kerr.

Tony strove to make his comedy 'realistic' that is if a policeman called at the door, he wanted the audience to beleive it was a real policeman, not Kenneth Williams doing a  funny voice. I think Tony was right, that is why so much of his comedy stands the test of time, even though the context has dated some of it. 

They have all this money but they are not actually happy.”

Monday, 9 July 2012

Private Godrey

Was Arnold Ridley - best known as Private Godfrey in Dads Army like the character he portrayed?

Godfrey's Ghost is written by his son, Nicholas and is an affectionate portrait of a father.   More of a memoir than a biography, it is usual is style.

Arnold Ridley was formerly known as a playwright - his most successful and well known being "The Ghost Train."  When he was through no fault of his own, in financial difficulties - he sold the amateur right to the play for £200.  With hindsight that was a very bad move, as the play went on to earn hundreds of thousands of pounds, but Ridley was never bitter or resentful and accepted that neither he nor other could have foreseen the play being so successful. The book in fact sets out how even being a hit in the first place was down to chance, luck and some sharp promotion.

The book recounts how the idea for the ghost train came to him after seeing a particularly bad play ! and how  he had spent hours on a  deserted station in the middle of nowhere at 3.30 -5.30 in the morning waiting for the connecting train to take him to his girl friend.

As his son asked - why didn't he write books, they seem so much more reliable than plays.

Other snippets - Ridley was called up for WW1 and had a dreadful time in battles like the Somme. He and a group of soldiers were recommended for a military medal but his commander recommended him for an even higher award.  In the end the others all got medal and he didn't get one.  That kind of luck seem to typify his life.   He suffered from nightmares for years after WW1 and then was called up for WWII. 

Ridely wrote his autobiography, but his son says it was not good and was repeatedly rejected by publishers.  Partly because his recollection of events (apart from his early life) was hazy and partly because despite spending so many years in dads Army he covered that in just 3 pages !

The book dwells a lot on the relationship between father and son and being the son of a pretty famous dad.   Nicholas seems clear that his dad wasn't to him "Private Godfrey" but that is the way he was often treated by the public.

Arnold Ridley won the football pools - only £1200, but enormously welcome to him at the time.

The world of repertory companies is now gone, but the often precarious nature of the actors profession remains - while some gain great wealth, for every Tom Cruise, there are those that never get beyond the bit parts and chorus, in between, are what John Le Mesuier called the jobbing actor - mostly in work, mostly not highly paid, but making a living.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

A Bob for Bob - More Book Reviews

The unpublished Bob Monkhouse -  A interesting memoir about comedian Bob Monkhouse by his friend and fellow comedian of whom I have never heard.  Bob comes across as incredibly hardworking and professional, kind and thoughtful in all he did.  His friend doesn't come across so well, which at least shows commendable honesty !  There are plenty of Monkhouse jokes to make you laugh and interesting insights into his professional and private life. 

On the Way Home
is the diary of Laura Ingalls Wilder - of Little House on the Parie fame. It records a trip that she made in 1894 with her husband and daughter moving from South Dakota to Missouri. It is basically a day to day commentary on who they have met that day, the local crops, land prices, where they camp etc.  Nothing much happens, quite often they meet people in waggon going from Missouri to South Dakota seeking a better life ! It must have been a strange time in the history of the USA.  The native Americans had been almost obliterated, there was no longer a frontier or new territory to settle.  Years of bad harvests meant real hardship for many. In all a historic record of interest to few I guess.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Just Greedy

It has been revealed that comedian Jimmy Carr has been paying tax at just 1%. Given that he is already a very rich person, it is just plain greedy.   The Prime Minister thinks it is morally wrong, other have said he is acting within the law and if anyone is to be criticised, it is the Government for not closing tax loopholes.
The two views are not mutually exclusive.  In terms of avoiding tax, the arrangement seems little more than fraud.  Mr Carr gives someone else his pay then borrows it back as a 'loan'  - but a loan he won't be asked to repay.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Food Fraud

Anyone with a unwheming belief in the power of the free market ought to take a look at "Swindled - The Dark History of Food Fraud from Poisoned Candy To Counterfeit Coffee" by Bee Wilson.  ISBN-13: 978-0691138206.

Not so long ago, left to the market, Pickles were green from toxic copper, children's sweets gained their bright colors from lead and other poisons, and the white bread of the upper crust was often bleached with alum. 

Nor sadly does government legislation solve everything - Wilson makes it clear that watering down, coloring up, bulking out, and plain poisoning are still with us, as are dyes, flavorings, and the catch all 'additives'. Even labeling is of limited use as it has not been kept upto date.

Advertisers continue to con people with for example highlighting "low fat" while not mentioning the high salt and sugar they have replaced the fat with. Buyer beware indeed !

Friday, 1 June 2012

The sex pistols are possibly the most overrated band in history. 

They are trying once again to cash in on the Jubilee as they did in 1977 when it was the Queens Silver Jubilee.

Sadly, their song is utter tripe - "God Save the Queen, Fascist Regime" - well it wasn't and has never been a fascist regime in the UK.  Its a insult to people who have experienced fascism.  Johnny Rotten wanted to call the song after one of the other lyrics - "No Future" - as a prediction it was way out, we now know his future was doing adverts for butter on TV and appearing on celebrity programmes.

As for being anarchist and an anti Christ - not only does it not rhyme, it a slight exaggeration to put it mildly.  Still they have a loyal following amongst people who don't like to think to much. Apparently they are exciting :-O.

I concede happily that a lot of bands latched onto 'punk rock' but the vast majority of these had little in common with the sex pistols and quite often wrote good songs to good music.

Friday, 25 May 2012


Only just over half the people who voted for the Scottish National Party plan to vote for Independence for Scotland in the referendum.

There is an inherent contradiction in people voting for a  party who fundamental premiss they actually oppose.   Actually though it has been obvious for a long while that people vote SNP without supporting its primary policy.  

A mistake many of the SNP opponents have made is to think that attacking the SNP on the issue of independence will seriously dent support for the SNP.

It is often claimed that a no vote in the referendum will kill independence for a generation - which may be true, but, will it kill the SNP ? Not so likely.
Part of the attraction of voting SNP is that the referendum acts as a brake on the SNP.  One can safely vote SNP in the knowledge that by itself that doesn't mean independence.   A huge part of the SNP appeal is what the americans call "pork barrell politics"  - it makes the westminster government sit up and take note and start to divert fund towards scotland in an effort to buy votes off the SNP. 

The SNP is not alone in this, quite often people vote BNP or UKIP.  Many Green voters would be horrrified if the green manifesto was implemented.  The First Past the Post Electoral system encouarges people to vote for parties other than the one they most prefer - and although it is often said the Lib Dems ask for tactical votes from Labour and Conservatives, Labour and Conservatives are always quick to say the Lib Dems are a wasted vote and the 'real choice' is between Conservative and Labour.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

What if the Lib Dems hadn't gone into coalition

The Liberal Democrats it is rather obvious to say have not achieved great opinion poll or electoral success since agreeing to take part in the coalition Government with the Conservatives.

So with hindsight, were there better alternatives?

The most commonly heard suggestion is that had the Liberal Democrats not gone into coalition then the Conservatives would have formed a minority Government and soon called a general election on the basis that the Country needed strong government and a clear mandate to sort out the economic crisis.

Co-incidently, Labour and Lib Dems would have lacked the cash for a second general election and the Conservatives would have had enough money to win a workable majority.

The idea of a rainbow coalition of Labour, Lib Dems and all the minor parties working together was far fetched.  It would have been very unstable and short lasting.  The people most aginst it were found in the Labour Party, and they would have wrecked it. Ironically though it might have served the Lib Dems better.

The history of coalitions has not been kind to the smaller coalition parties.  They tend to get the blame for anything bad (you could have stopped it) and little cerdit for anything good (it would ahve happend anyway).  To prosper, smaller parties have to point to a number of clear and popular sucesses with electoral appeal and have clear future aims that command electoral support.

I think it is important to understand the feelings of the Lib Dems who genuinely felt they were putting the interests of the country above the interest of their party. How often voters ask for that and how little they have rewarded the Lib Dems.

The problem facing the Lib Dems in 2010 was that clearly despite sometimes high poll ratings, they polled only a slightly higher percentage of the vote than in 2005 and the actually returned fewer MPs, many in very marginal seats.
The prospect of another general election  anytime soon was not appealing.

The alternative to a coalition - apart from another general election or a minority government of some sort was a so called "confidence and supply arrangement" whereby the Liberal Democrats woudl agree to support another party - in all probability the Conservatives, in votes of no confidence and on issues of government finance. Other issues would be voted on depending on Lib Dem policy or negotiations with the Government.

The Liberal Party had failed to form a coalition with either Conservative or Labour between the two general elections in 1974. Their support declined as people concluded that firstly the Liberal could only elect a handful of MPs (13 out of 635) and secondly, given a choice between supporting Labour or Conservatives, the Liberal chose neither. In reality, neither Conseravtives or Labour were interested in a deal with the Liberals, the Liberals called for a Government of national unity, but that was never likely, and therfore compounded the view that the Liberals weren't coming up with realistic proposals.   The situation in Feb 1974 was much like 2010 - Liberal and Conservatives combined still fell short of a majority (the same as Lib Dem and Labour in 2010)

I expect most MPs expected David Cameron to do what Harold Wilson dis in 1974, form a  minority Government, introduce a few popular measures and call a new general election as soon as decently possible  arguing that the Government needed a proper majority to get the job done. Tellingly, the Conservatives co-operated with the Labour Government, allowing them to govern.

Most Liberal Democrats seemed very surprised that the Conservatives offered a coalition in 2010, I wasn't, but more of that in another post.  Basically, I think Cameron was copying the approach of Tony Blair - who saw coaltion with the Lib Dems as a way to co-op them into a 'big tent'. For Blair the balance of MPs was never right, for Cameron it was.

In 1976-78 the Lib/Lab Pact kept the unpopular Labour Government in power,  but didn't reap huge benefits for the Liberal Party at the time.

Although the idea of voting for or against the Government on an issue by issue basis seems attractive - but it is highly likley that the public would have got peeved with the Lib Dems 'will they won't they'

Of course anyone who disagrees with the Government would want the Lib dems to stop the Government doing X, even if they Lib Dems suppported x, or the Govt. didn't need Lib Dem approval as other parties supported the Government.

Friday, 11 May 2012

The Chancellors

The Chancellors  - By Roy Jenkins

A collections of brief essays on Chancellors of the Exchequer by Roy Jenkins who himself held the office. It stops just after WWII so historical rather than

Interestingly it suggests that Lloyd Georges people's budget of 1909 which introduced old age pensions wasn't as radical as is often thought.  It also highlights that WWII itself was proportionately more paid for by taxes than many previous wars. 

Chancellors are often very powerful and pivotal figures in Government, yet they rarely get the coverage given to the PM.  Perhaps most chancellors are like windsurfers, and not as in control of what happens as some people would like to think.  Even more so in the world today where 'gobalisation' and interdependency/connectedness is in many way predominant.

Monday, 23 April 2012

French Election Result

The choice in the French Presidential election was not inspiring.  The incumbent President has done some good things and some bad.  Mostly I suspect that the job of President is too vast for anyone to do really well. If ever there was an argument for more devolution of power - Presidents are it.

It was disappointing to see 18% of the  vote going to the Front Nationale - a French equivalent of the BNP.   On the other hand, they probably expected to do better than they did and this might be a high water mark for them.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

The man who invented the Daleks

The man who invented the Daleks - the strange worlds of Terry Nation
by Alwyn W. Turner Isbn 978 1 845136093

Terry Nation was one of the most prolific and successful writers for Tetelevision that Britain ever produced.

He started as a comedy writer - working for Frankie Howerd, Tony Hancock and many others before getting a big break when he invented the Daleks for Dr Who. Dalek mania swept the UK and he probably ensure the success of  Dr Who  when otherwise it may have been a short run show.

As well as Doctor Who he wrote Blakes 7, Survivors, and for the Avengers, and many others.

Sometimes labeled a science fiction writer - he was more a writer of adventures.  Although his main work was for TV, he also did a few films.

This is a great book that covered both his work and life and the times he lived in.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The necessary aptitude - Pam, Ayers

Pam Ayres  shot to fame after appearing on the TV talent progame opportunity knocks in the early 1970's.  Since then she has branched out into other things like radio 4 comedy shows just a minute and her own shows; Ayers on the Air and Potting On.

This book is a memoir of her time before she was famous. It is fascinating insight into life in the 1950's and 1960's.  Poverty and hardship are mixed with tales of the excitement of simple things and the joys of a simpler age.

Whereas some memoirs are a bit onesided and self serving, this is very honest about some of the cruel things Pam did as a child, usually to other children and her incompetence at her many jobs before she found her calling as  a poet.

It was interesting to find out that the Album the Free wheelin Bob Dylan, was hugely influential in sparking her love of words which led to her career as an entertainer.

I may be biased as I like her poems and stories - but in would recomend this book as a great read.

Monday, 19 March 2012

influencing elections - how not to do it

It is reported that many Doctors are to stand for Parliament in the hope of unseating coalition and particularly Liberal Democrat MPs.
I am all in favour of people getting more involved in democracy - but don't think this is really the best way.    Firstly, this is the single issue campaign - so where does that leave the candidates on all the other issues ? If you vote for one of these candidates - even if you 100% agree with them on the NHS bill chances are you disagree with them on other issues. Conversely, even if you 100% disagree with an MP on the NHS bill, chances are you will agree with them on many more issues.   Can life be reduced to one issue ? 
Even on a single issue - politics is rarely (never ?) black and white.   Inevitably, politics involves compromise - even dictators have to compromise when they run up against reality.   
Politically, it is also naive. The people most likely to vote for a GP against the NHS bill is most likely not voting for a sitting coalition MP anyway.  So the effect is to "split the vote" of the opposition candidates.  Say a Conservative MP has a majority of 2,000 over their Labour challenger, every Labour voter who switches to a GP against the NHS bill makes Labour less likely to win  and increases the likely Conservative majority - the opposite effect of what is intended.   That is why Conservatives tend not to mind if socialists and greens stand, because they feel that in their absence, many of their supporters would instead vote Labour.  Similarly, Labour tend to be relaxed about UKIP and  independent candidates, as although some people may switch form Labour, they assume that overall it means fewer people voting Conservative.

Thirdly, the NHS bill is long and complicated and is open to many different interpretations - from what I have read, there are something that I would support and others I wouldn't and much that frankly I don't understand.  To me the worse thing about the bill is it seems very similar to what Labour did in Government and not that radical at all.  

So as always the question is what would the GPs do instead ? Leave the NHS exactly as it is ?  How will increased expenditure be funded - what taxes will be raised or other expenditure cut to pay for it ?  Choice choice choices and all politics. Some might even say party politics.  If it is, I believe that is no bad thing.  So instead of standing themselves, I would urge the GPs and others to get involved in party politics. Join the debate, deliver leaflets, go and camapign with party candidates - take part in the process of forming policies.  Make your views know but  strengthen the political process - don't step outside it.

Monday, 5 March 2012

50p Tax rate

There is a debate underway about the 50p tax rate. People in the UK on high incomes are meant to pay income tax at 50p for even £1 of income above £150,000.    In theory that is, as in practice, very few people do pay income tax at 50%.    Partly that is due to tax avoidance and tax evasion - but partly it is because there are a myriad of tax allowances that people on high incomes can exploit to reduce their tax bill.   Perhaps the most enormous of these is pension tax relief - so anyone on the 'higher rate' of income tax - 40%, can effectively claim back that money if they pay their income into a pension.  

This si very expensive for the tax collector.  It is also a very bizarre system - the people who have the most money to save for pension get the biggets tax breaks ! The people with the smallest amount of money to save towards a pension get the smallest tax breaks.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Davy Jones of the Monkees RIP

Is it a confession to own up to liking the Monkees ?  One might get the impression that they are a guilty pleasure - to be liked 'ironically'

I was sad to hear of the death of Davy Jones.  I have seen the Monkees twice - once at the Royal Albert Hall in the late 1980's and once in 1997 in Bournemouth - with all four Monkees on tour for the first time since 1968.
Both were great shows.

It saddens me that even in death, the media is still misreporting the Monkees.  I suppose as a fan, I know a lot about them, but even the much derided wikipedia has been more factual than some of the write up of their history.

The Monkees were essentially 4 actors who became a band. That is rather strange - as if Hugh Laurie in House  became a real Doctor.  Or David Jason became a real police detective. 

All four members had some musical background - Mike Nesmith as a folk singer, Mickey Dolenz  as a guitarist and singer in a  band, Peter Tork was a skilled multi-instrumentalist and friends with people like Stephen Stills, Davy Jones could draw on the great british musical hall/west end show tradition.

Not only did they all play well enough to perform their own concerts, all four Monkees became song writers - think about that - how many proper bands have even one song writer - let alone four.

That the music of the Monkees is still played and recognised 45 years on - is testament to how good it was.  Long after more hipper respected acts have faded or been forgotten, the Monkees were still entertaining people.

Admittedly, some of their most popular songs were written by others with the Monkees just adding vocals - but the same is true for really revered bands like the Beach Boys and The Mamas and Papas  - and goodness knows how many boy and girl bands since the 60's.    What I would say is that some of the Monkees most interesting and rewarding music was written and performed by themselves.  The albums Head and Justus in particular standout as strong albums any band would be proud of.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Divorce Law Reform

The process of divorce is probably not one most people consider until they have to go through it.  Divorce law has evolved over time and is now a complete jumble.  There are five reasons that one can get a divorce - but not the one that most people would wish - 'because we both want one'.

One of the divorce myths is "irreconcilable differences"  - i think this applied in the USA, but not in the UK.  Divorce has moved away from finding fault  - although this is often achieved by utilising "unreasonable behaviour".  Bizarrely people are told that the reason for the divorce will 99%+ of the time have no influence on financial settlements or arrangements for any children. 

My suggestion is that divorce could be entered into like marriage by mutual consent.  One partner could fill in a form with a sworn statement that they wish to divorce and the other partner could be sent it to sign again with a  sworn statement that they wish to divorce.   As almost no divorces are contested it would allow 99%+ of divorces to start not on grounds of unreasonable behaviour or adultery, but on a neutral footing.

No-one really likes receiving a petition based on their unreasonable behaviour and a very common reaction is, "I'm not having this. I'm going to defend it and issue a petition based on your unreasonable behaviour." In most cases this would be counterproductive, increase costs, delay the whole proceedings and the end result would be the same. So why encourage it ?

Another bizarre feature of divorce is that the person petitioning controls the speed of the process.  In a  recent survey the majority of people says they used delay as a weapon in divorce. This is quite shocking.

Why is it that after a degree nisi is granted - the petition can apply for a degree absolute after 6 weeks but the respondent has to wait four and a half months !
Usually it is because of disputes over financial issues - but the delay rarely resolves the disputes - it just increases costs, stress, aggravation and drags the process out till one partner or other gives up from emotional and or  financial exhaustion.   For people coming to terms with a a break up of a relationship, often coping with being a single parent, working, struggling with legal costs or legal aid, delay is just another cross to bear.

Why no put it on a equal footing - so once the process is started - one side can't drag it out.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

The Ladykillers

The Ladykillers is one of the most famous ealing comedies.  It help propell a young Peter Sellers to Stardom.

As a film, it is pretty flawless - there is black comedy, menance and fine acting, a great plot a moral tale and social observation.

Recently there has been a stage version of the Ladykillers, written by Graham Lineham, best know for co-scripting the Channel 4 sitcom Father Ted.
The play as a fascinating insight into how to transfer a film to the stage.
Largely, Lineham has rewritten the film, partly because of the limitations of the stage and partly i feel, because that is what is needed for it to work well.

The play is fantastically performed and I would say that even though at the performamnce I saw, two of the main charecters were played by understudies - if one hadn't been told, you would never have known.

Professor Marcus was played to perfection by Peter Capaldi -
Ben Miller (of Armstong and Miller) asd Loius and James Fleet (Vicar of Dibley) as the Major, were obviously still having enormous fun playing the parts well into a long run.  The other members of the gang, Harry and One Round got loads of laughs - more than in the film.   Running gags were execlelntly incorporated into the performance.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Psychic Powers ?

Uri Geller rose to fame as  a psychic - who could bend spoons using just the power of his mind
and his hands and fingers.  Strangely for someone using the power of his mind, he still had to touch the spoon, key, fork etc.

Presumably the power of his mind was meant to travel out of his fingers into the spoons  to bend them.
Tellingly, he could never bend things that couldn't otherwise be bend by hand, or by for example using a table or a chair to bend them against. So if he was using the power of his mind, he was bending spoons the hard way.  All of which makes me wonder how he has continued to make a living of of a rather feeble collection of conjuring tricks.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Mrs Thatcher and saving money

Files released by the National Archives under the 30-year rule include a note about the cost of refurbishing the Prime Minister’s official residence, in which Baroness Thatcher pointed out that she and her husband, Denis, used only one bedroom and already had their own crockery. She wrote: “I will pay for the ironing boards and other things, like sufficient linen for the one bedroom we use. The rest can go back into stock. MT”
So the nation saved £19 on the ironing board, and it was instead paid for by Mrs Thatcher, who was married to Millionaire Denis. The cost of the entire refurbishment is listed at less than £2000, far less than the £600,00 refit for David Cameron.

Ironically, it is the same Mrs Thatcher who authorised the purchase of Trident Nuclear Submarines - for what even in those days was a cost of £10 billion pounds.

There is a saying look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves. Save all the small sums and they will add up to a big sum.
In this case I think the appropriate phrase is penny wise - pound foolish.
Save the little sums but waste the big ones !

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

News of the World

Anyone doubting that the unethical practises at the News of the World started recently ought to take a look at the book "News of the World, Fake Sheikhs and Royal Trappings"

I picked up my copy in poundland - which is probably less than a copy of the News of the World would have been.  A tell example of most people's values.

Familiar names like Andy Coulson and Piers Morgan turn up, along with a well researched and evidenced examples of how the News of the World invented stories, told blatant lies and ruined the lives of innocent people.

The usual defence of the News of the World is that the bad is outweighed by the good -  but, actually, there are few examples of good journalism amongst the garbage that filled the pages of what was the UK most popular paper.

Many people might say they never believe what they read in the papers, it's all harmlesss fun and celebrities deserve it. However, the reality is that it is often believed, it isn';t harmless and no one deserves to have malicious lies told about them.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Friday, 6 January 2012

Screaming Lord Sutch

The man who was Screaming Lord Sutch - by Graham Sharpe ISBN 1-85410-983-9

David Sutch was best known as Leader of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party, he was also  one of the UK's first rock stars.  

His book is both a fascinating and ultimately sad read.

Sutch was a unique talent - he was one of the first people to have really long hair (2ft) way before the hippies.  He had a inventive knack for creating publicity and for many years entertained the public with his 'horror' rock act.

He was a pretty terrible singer and never had a hit record, but he managed to make more than a living out of music.  Some of his early records are surprisingly good.
He overcame many obstacles, such as being dyslexic and suffering from depression (probably bi-polar disorder)

He mixed with a huge number of people involved in music and has a cult following amongst those who care about such things

Politically, he could genuinely claim to have influenced mainstream politics far more than most MPs - from lowering the voting age,to introducing commercial radio to killing off the SDP- Lord Sutch had a hand.

In later years both politically and musically he became a pale parody of his former glory. Sadly, he became a compulsive hoarder and finally committed suicide.


The europhobes are out gunning for the Euro.  They keep repeating the Mantra that a single interest rate cannot work across more than one country - and that is why the Euro Zone economies are in trouble. Scrap the euro, allow the currencies to devalue and hey presto, problem solved.

Like all much economics, this view is both political and prejudiced. Economics used to be called political economy such was the obvious link between political views and what economic outcomes might be sought and therefore how to achieve them.

I question whether the Euro zone has a single interest rate.  Conservative MP John Redwood was this morning without irony pointing out that Government bond rates in several Euro zone countries were much higher than their neighbours.  

"Hungary, a candidate to become a member of the Euro saw her bond rates forced up to almost 10% and is now seeking help from the IMF. Italian state 10 year borrowing rates went above the magic 7% again, whilst Spanish 10 year rates also rose to 5.63%." So much for a single interest rate.

Of course UK interest rates are officially 0.5%   - do you believe that if you have a mortgage or a credit card or take a loan at 2000% pa as advertised on TV ?     

Even if the europhobes were right and a single currency/interest rate is better/worse for some areas, this applies as much within countries as between them.

Would Wales be better off with it's own currency ? the Isle of Wight ?  Liverpool ?

How quickly people forget that devaluing currencies did not often solve economic problems - more often it switched them or made them worse. Rarely is it mentioned that the Euro was partly popular because of the actions of currency speculators who could pick on individual countries on the currency markets in turn with impunity and cause them huge economic problems.

It seems to me that the Europhobes look back with rose tinted spectacles to a time that is long gone. The root cause of the problems in the Euro seem to me to be that Government borrowed and spent to much and that people in financial markets created 'mirage' profits and paid themselves vast sums or doing so.