Robin Williams: good guy

August 12, 2014 at 5:32 pm (cinema, comedy, good people, Jim D, RIP, solidarity, theatre, tragedy, TV, unions)

The late Robin Williams was, by all accounts, a good guy. He was certainly on our side:

Robin Williams.
H/t: Pete Gillard (via Facebook)

Very good obit in the New York Times, here

Permalink Leave a Comment

The BBC’s 1964 ‘Great War’ series: ‘On The Idle Hill of Summer’

August 2, 2014 at 8:21 am (BBC, hell, history, imperialism, posted by JD, TV, war)

This is part one of a brilliant 1964 BBC series on WW1. It contains the best archive film then available, and is narrated by Michael Redgrave. It gives due emphasis to  the socio-political background to the conflict, including the role of the labour movement. Well worth watching the whole series if you have the time:

H/t James Bloodworth

Coatesy has some interesting stuff on France’s entry to WW1 here

[Please note that I shall be incommunicado for the next week or so. I’m hoping Rosie and/or one or two other occasional Shirazers will step into the breach while I’m away, but if not normal service will resume on my return – JD]

Permalink 3 Comments

‘Come Rain Or Come Shine’ with Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith and Thelma Carpenter

May 17, 2014 at 7:11 pm (jazz, Jim D, music, Sheer joy, song, TV, whisky)

I was up late last night (well, this morning, to be precise), drinking single malt and surfing the net. I came upon this Youtube clip, featuring the great Harlem stride pianist Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith and a singer I’d been only very vaguely aware of, Thelma Carpenter. It’s from a 1964 TV salute to bandleader/promoter/man-about-jazz Eddie Condon, and is not typical of the hot music (sometimes called “Dixieland”, though Eddie hated the term) that predominates in the rest of the show: it’s the sophisticated Johnny Mercer/Harold Arlen ballad ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’, a song whose difficult chord sequence and structure momentarily wrong-foots even the usually impeccable trombonist Cutty Cutshall.

In truth, Thelma Carpenter isn’t a singer in the same league as, say, Billie Holiday or Ella Fitzgerald (or, indeed, Eddie’s favourite, Lee Wiley), but she does a good enough job here, and seems to have been an engaging personality. The Lion’s opening banter with her reminds us that he was – believe it or not – Jewish, and on his business cards described himself as “The Hebrew Cantor.”

Al Hall is on bass and the great George Wettling is at the drums. Melting-pot music…

Permalink 6 Comments

Final part of Schama’s ‘Jews’ series

September 29, 2013 at 6:02 pm (anti-semitism, BBC, history, israel, Jim D, Judaism, Middle East, palestine, religion, revolution, secularism, TV, zionism)

The fifth and final part of Simon Schama’s The Story Of The Jews airs tonight [Sunday 29 Sept] at 9.00pm on BBC 2.

In my opinion this has been a superb series and one of the finest examples of so-called ‘popular history’ ever to have appeared on TV: accessible but not simplistic, personal but scholarly, and passionate whilst remaining objective.

Schama makes no secret of his Zionism – albeit a liberal, two-states Zionism that acknowledges the suffering experienced by the Palestinians. On screen he wears a yarmulke much of the time, and lets viewers know what his personal views are, up to and including a statement concluding with the rarely-heard (at least on the BBC) words ” … that’s why I’m a Zionist.”

This has enraged the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) who wrote a most revealing letter of complaint to the BBC, including the following:

“We also note the new BBC Two series The Story of the Jews, presented by Simon Schama. In an interview in the Radio Times (31 August-6 September), Schama describes himself as an ‘historian-Zionist’ and says he will be making ‘the moral case for Israel’ in the final episode of this five part series.

“We find it alarming that the BBC is giving a platform to an openly pro-Israeli commentator to make the ‘moral case’ for Israel. Schama’s views will go unopposed, unchallenged and unanalysed. This is a far cry from the balanced and impartial broadcasting that the BBC claims to champion.”

In other words, these people (who sometimes – especially when seeking trade union backing – claim to support two states) actually object to the idea of someone presenting the case for the very existence of Israel.

The final part of Schama’s series, tonight, deals with the creation of Israel and Jewish relations with the Palestinians and the Arab world, bringing the story up to the present. Watch it, judge for yourself how fair it is, and feel free to send us your thoughts.

NB: the BBC2 series is based upon Schama’s book of the same name, which we will be reviewing shortly.

Permalink 18 Comments

Dennis Farina

July 23, 2013 at 10:07 am (cinema, cops, film, Jim D, RIP, TV, United States)

Ex-cop turned actor, star of Law & Order and Hill Street Blues and, by all accounts, all-round good guy, Dennis Farina is dead.

Here he is with Gene Hackman in Get Shorty (1995):

New York Times obit here

Permalink Leave a Comment

The limits of satire, by Jonathan Coe

July 15, 2013 at 5:01 pm (academe, comedy, history, intellectuals, Roger M, satire, TV)

Roger McCarthy recommends this and comments:

“(A) superb takedown of anti-establishment satire from novelist Jonathan Coe

“Particularly love the quotes from Peter Cook in Beyond the Fringe ‘Oh my goodness four minutes warning doesn’t seem a very long time but ‘I’d remind those doubters that some people in this great country of ours can run a mile in four minutes’

“And ‘when opening his club, The Establishment, in Soho in 1961, Cook remarked that he was modelling it on ‘those wonderful Berlin cabarets which did  so much to stop the rise of Hitler and prevent the outbreak of the  Second World War”.’

Above: the civil defence sketch from Beyond The Fringe

*****
 By Jonathan Coe (London Review of Books)

In 1956, James Sutherland, a professor of 18th-century literature, delivered the Clark Lectures at Trinity College, Cambridge on the subject of ‘English satire’. ‘In recent years,’ he announced, ‘there have been signs of an increased interest in satirical writing,’ but even he couldn’t have seen what was about to start unfolding in a year or two, on his very doorstep. Beyond the Fringe is routinely credited with starting the ‘satire boom’, but that accolade should really go to The Last Laugh, the 1959 Cambridge Footlights revue, directed and largely devised by John Bird. CND was just beginning to gather momentum and the show opened with a huge nuclear explosion, following which, in the words of the producer William Donaldson, the audience was treated to a whole evening’s worth of ‘terrible gloomy stuff – the punchline of every sketch was people dying.’ Nonetheless, it was undoubtedly a strong influence on Peter Cook (one of the original cast members) and the other three-quarters of the Beyond the Fringe team (Alan Bennett, Jonathan Miller and Dudley Moore), who would go on to present their own take on the nuclear threat, in a sketch called ‘Civil War’.

In that sketch, a worried Moore listens trustingly as a succession of posh-voiced government spokesmen seek to reassure him that all the appropriate measures are in place in the event of a nuclear attack. When he voices disbelief that a four-minute warning would be enough, and Cook drawlingly retorts, ‘I’d remind those doubters that some people in this great country of ours can run a mile in four minutes,’ the satire actually bites. It was certainly one of the most scathing and well-targeted sketches in Beyond the Fringe. Otherwise, if this truly represented the first high point of the ‘satire boom’, the tensions and contradictions inherent in the movement were already visible. Miller’s long-winded monologue about trousers, ‘The Heat Death of the Universe’, is a flight of whimsical fantasy which reminds us that it was fashionable, at that time, to admire N.F. Simpson and his theatre of the suburban absurd. Cook’s ‘Sitting on a Bench’, in which a delusional tramp informs the audience, in a glazed monotone, that he ‘could have been a judge if he’d had the Latin’, is Beckettian in its bleakness and oddity. Altogether, the subjects of each sketch are so various, and the collective point of view is so moveable, that one can pin it down no more closely than by calling it ‘anti-establishment’. Michael Frayn may have excoriated that phrase – in his brief, brilliant introduction to the published text, Beyond the Fringe, in 1963 – as denoting ‘a spacious vacancy of thought’, but really, I don’t see how we can do any better. Any real ‘establishment’ is impossible to define (this being a principal source of its power and durability), but as far as the Fringers were concerned the British version circa 1960 seems to have included at least the Church of England, the army, the government, the judiciary, the public schools and the class system, all of which were held up as worthy of incredulous laughter. And so, in discussing the movement that Beyond the Fringe helped to kick off, perhaps it would be better not to talk of satire (satire being only one of its ingredients) but ‘anti-establishment comedy’. Another thing worth remembering is that practically every one of its leading figures had been to Oxford or Cambridge and could, therefore, be seen to have at least a foothold in the establishment they were criticising: in the words of Cook’s biographer, Harry Thompson, these were not rebellious outsiders but ‘young men questioning a system they had been trained to lead’ and laughing at ‘the society that had reared them’.

The four cast members of Beyond the Fringe soon decamped to New York, where the revue achieved even longer-running success on Broadway than it had in the West End, and were out of the country by the time the BBC discovered anti-establishment comedy and gave it a national platform in the shape of That Was the Week That Was, which first aired on 24 November 1962, presented by David Frost. With the cancelling of that show little more than a year later, ostensibly on the grounds that it interfered with the BBC’s duty of impartiality in the run-up to the 1964 election, the heyday of anti-establishment comedy was already over. Yet its influence on British radio and television has never died out completely. There was never much social comment in Monty Python (until they made Life of Brian), but the (Oxbridge-educated) Not the Nine O’Clock News team at the beginning of the 1980s sometimes aimed for satire, and Armando Iannucci (University College, Oxford) has blazed such a trail through broadcast comedy in recent years that no one would begrudge him the OBE he recently accepted from the establishment he has worked so hard to undermine. Meanwhile, on Have I Got News for You and The News Quiz respectively, Ian Hislop (Ardingly, Magdalen) and old Harrovian Francis Wheen tirelessly carry on the work that the Beyond the Fringe team started more than half a century ago.

When Have I Got News for You moved to BBC One more than a decade ago it began to lose some of its teeth: so much so, after a while, that one regular panellist, Will Self, announced he would no longer be taking part. At its erratic best, however, it remains a worthwhile show. In fact the Guardian columnist Martin Kettle went so far a couple of years ago as to call Ian Hislop, on the basis of his weekly appearances there, ‘the single most influential voice in modern British politics’. He was not paying a straightforward compliment. ‘Week in and week out’, his message ‘is that pretty much all politicians are corrupt, deluded, incompetent, second-rate and hypocritical’. This message, Kettle said, is delivered with ‘enviable deftness and wit’, but it is also ‘extremely repetitive’. Steve Fielding, an academic, went further and argued in 2011 that in accepting this view of politicians as uniformly corrupt and useless, the public are embracing a dangerous new stereotype, since it ‘can only further reinforce mistrust in the public realm, a mistrust that some political forces seek to exploit’. ‘Comedy,’ he continued, ‘has always relied on stereotypes. There was a time when the Irish were thick; the Scots were careful with money; mothers-in-law fierce and ugly; and the Welsh stole and shagged sheep. The corrupt politician is one such stereotype, one that is neither racist nor sexist and seemingly acceptable to all.’ The idea that politicians are morally inferior to the rest of us is ‘a convenient view, for it means we, the audience, the voters, are not to blame for anything: we are not to blame because we are the victims of a politics gone wrong.’

Fielding’s remarks were eloquent and timely; but it is remarkable how fully they were anticipated by Frayn in 1963. Even then – in the very year of That Was the Week That Was – Frayn was using the same analogy, and could see, just as clearly, how anti-establishment comedy was letting its audience off the hook: ‘To go on mocking the Establishment,’ he wrote, ‘has more and more meant making the audience laugh not at themselves at all, but at a standard target which is rapidly becoming as well-established as mothers-in-law. To do this is not to undermine but to confirm the audience’s prejudices, and has less in common with satire than with community hymn-singing – agreeable and heartwarming as that may be.’ And Frayn, indeed, was echoing what James Sutherland had pointed out seven years earlier when he said that ‘certain kinds of satirical writing (political satire is a good example) are not normally intended to convert one’s opponents, but to gratify and fortify one’s friends.’ Or perhaps we should give the final, gloomiest word on this subject to William Cowper, writing in 1785:

Yet what can satire, whether grave or gay? … What vice has it subdued? whose heart reclaimed By rigour, or whom laughed into reform? Alas! Leviathan is not so tamed.

Despite all this, it always seems that successive generations of entertainers, bent on laughing people out of their follies and vices, remain optimistic about the power of anti-establishment comedy at the outset of their careers: it’s only later that reality kicks in. When Humphrey Carpenter interviewed the leading lights of the 1960s satire boom for his book That Was Satire, That Was in the late 1990s, he found that what was once youthful enthusiasm had by now curdled into disillusionment. One by one, they expressed dismay at the culture of facetious cynicism their work had spawned, their complaints coalescing into a dismal litany of regret. John Bird: ‘Everything is a branch of comedy now. Everybody is a comedian. Everything is subversive. And I find that very tiresome.’ Barry Humphries: ‘Everyone is being satirical, everything is a send-up. There’s an infuriating frivolity, cynicism and finally a vacuousness.’ Christopher Booker: ‘Peter Cook once said, back in the 1960s, “Britain is in danger of sinking giggling into the sea,” and I think we really are doing that now.’

The key word here is ‘giggling’ (or in some versions of the quotation, ‘sniggering’). Of the four Beyond the Fringe members, it’s always Peter Cook who is described as the comic genius, and like any genius he fully (if not always consciously) understood the limitations of his own medium. He understood laughter, in other words – and certainly understood that it is anything but a force for change. Famously, when opening his club, The Establishment, in Soho in 1961, Cook remarked that he was modelling it on ‘those wonderful Berlin cabarets which did so much to stop the rise of Hitler and prevent the outbreak of the Second World War’. And his comment about giggling (or sniggering) as we sink beneath the sea was developed in a Beyond the Fringe sketch called ‘The Sadder and Wiser Beaver’, about a bunch of young, would-be radical journalists who won’t admit they have sold their soul to a rapacious newspaper proprietor:

COOK: Whenever the old man has a cocktail party, there’s about ten of us – young, progressive people – we all gather up the far end of the room and … quite openly, behind our hands, we snigger at him.

BENNETT: Well, I don’t know, that doesn’t seem very much to me.

COOK: A snigger here, a snigger there – it all adds up.

The sketch makes it clear that laughter is not just ineffectual as a form of protest, but that it actually replaces protest – a point also developed by Frayn in his introduction. Ruminating on where the sudden public appetite for satire might have come from, he wrote:

Conceivably the demand arose because after ten years of stable Conservative government, with no prospect in 1961 of its ever ending, the middle classes felt some vague guilt accumulating for the discrepancy between their prosperous security and the continuing misery of those who persisted in failing to conform, by being black, or queer, or mad, or old. Conceivably they felt the need to disclaim with laughter any responsibility for this situation, and so relieve their consciences without actually voting for anything which might have reduced their privileges.

If anti-establishment comedy allows the public to ‘disclaim with laughter’ any responsibility for injustice, the sticking point is not really satire itself (for satire can take the gravest of forms) but laughter (or ‘sniggering’, to use Peter Cook’s term) in the face of political problems. Have I Got News for You presents thousands of practical demonstrations of this, so let’s look at just one of them, from the edition of 24 April 1998. It was Boris Johnson’s first appearance as a guest on the programme,[5]​5 and Ian Hislop was tormenting him on the subject of his notorious phone call with Darius Guppy, when they are alleged to have discussed the possibility of beating up an unfriendly journalist. Hislop was doing what he does best, remaining genial but suddenly toning down the humour and confronting the guest with chapter and verse for a past misdemeanour. As the exchange develops, Johnson looks distinctly uncomfortable, describing Hislop’s intervention as ‘richly comic’ and protesting: ‘I don’t want to be totally stitched up here.’ He calls Guppy a ‘great chap’, to which Hislop answers: ‘And a convicted fraudster.’ Johnson concedes this, and admits that Guppy made a ‘major goof’, and then begins to ramble and bumble in his characteristic way, groping for a way out of the corner; sensing, visibly, that Hislop has got him on the ropes, he mentions some of the other things that he and Guppy discussed during that conversation, including their military heroes. And suddenly, Paul Merton interjects with the line: ‘Hence Major Goof that you mentioned just now.’

It’s a lovely joke, which gets a terrific laugh and a round of applause. But its effect on the exchange is noticeable. An uncomfortable situation is suddenly defused: Johnson relaxes, the audience laughter gives him room to breathe and gather his thoughts. When he next speaks he is back on track, and says winningly: ‘Since you choose to bring up this unhappy episode I won’t deny a word of it. I’m not ashamed of it’ – and off he goes, into one of those endearing, self-deprecatory apologies of which he is now, 15 years later, a consummate master. Read the rest of this entry »

Permalink 2 Comments

Irshad Manji head to head with Mehdi Hasan

June 23, 2013 at 9:49 pm (Islam, islamism, Jim D, liberation, religion, secularism, TV)

Fascinating stuff as the self-styled  “reformist” (not “moderate”) secular Muslim Manji deals with the condescending lightweight Mehdi Hasan on al Jazeera:

http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/headtohead/2013/06/201361091619207870.html

No doubt Nooman  would consider Ms Manji an “Islamophobe”… or at the very least, someone who gives aid and comfort to “Islamophobes” (clearly also Mehdi Hasan’s view).

Permalink 9 Comments

When Labour told the truth about Thatcher

April 16, 2013 at 2:12 pm (elections, history, Jim D, labour party, Thatcher, Tory scum, truth, TV)

While searching Youtube for the famous (infamous?) “Kinnock: The Movie” 1987 election broadcast, I came upon this less well remembered, but excellent broadcast from the same election. I understand that Ed Miliband’s in a rather awkward position right now (not helped by Blair’s disloyal intervention), but he really ought to have a look at this, and reflect on the fact that there was a time when the Labour leadership felt able to tell the unvarnished truth about Thatcher, the Tories and what they represent:

Permalink 4 Comments

T&G’s shameful role in 1960s Bristol bus racism

February 25, 2013 at 2:35 pm (BBC, history, Human rights, immigration, Jim D, protest, Racism, truth, TV, unions, Unite the union, workers)

A BBC South West programme, Inside Out, will tonight look back at the racist practices that stopped black people from working on the buses in Bristol.

In 1963 a young black man in Bristol was refused an interview for a job on the buses because of the colour of his skin.

It sparked a protest which attracted national attention and ultimately led the way to the Race Relations Act.

Bristol bus boycott 50 years on

 
But for those who had been refused job interviews, there was never an apology from the Bristol Omnibus Company nor from the union (the T&GWU) preventing them getting work on the buses. I’ve heard, but have yet to find confirmation, that Unite has now issued an apology for the racism of its predecessor union.

Reporter Alastair McKee has been to meet and interview some of the people involved in the boycott.

It is essential viewing for anyone with illusions about the history of the Bristish trade union movement, or who thinks UK unions have a qualitively better record on dealing with racism than, say, the Israeli Histadrut. Many of the arguments used at the time by union members and lay officials (see clip above) will have a familiar ring to anyone who follows the antics of today’s anti-EU fanatics of both right and “left.”

Inside Out West is broadcast on Monday, 25 February on BBC One at 19:30 GMT and nationwide for seven days thereafter on the iPlayer.

Permalink 5 Comments

Trial by incompetent jury…

February 21, 2013 at 1:05 am (BBC, comedy, crime, Jim D, Lib Dems, strange situations, TV)

Mr Justice Sweeney said he had concerns about the “absolute fundamental deficits of understanding which the questions demonstrate”. He added that, since most of the answers were in his directions to the jury, he doubted that “the extent to which anything said by me is going to be capable of getting them back on track again”.

“I am like Mr Edis in the position that after 30 years of criminal trials I have never come across this at this late stage,” said the judge. “Never.”

Mr Justice Sweeney’s remarks as he discharged an incompetent jury in the Vicky Pryce case, somehow reminded me of this little classic:

Permalink 4 Comments

Next page »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 511 other followers