PAUL CALLAN AT LARGE

      The General Election grinds on and on. And with it the usual Niagara of promises from each of the competing parties which, should you be daft enough to believe the rhetoric, will transform Britain into a golden New Jerusalem, glowing with opportunities for all.

      Our Green and Pleasant post Brexit Land will thrive as never before. There will be permanent smiles of joy on our faces, children will glow and there will a new sense of confidence.  Sound familiar?

      Yes — we’ve heard it all before and all delivered with those ringing Messianic tones. The trouble is that the politicians delivering this hard sell actually believe  these promises. Well, some of them do.  All you have to do is to vote for them on June 8 and, hey presto, our land will start overflowing with milk and honey. Oh joy!

        As a journalist of many years, I have been involved in the coverage of countless General Elections, starting when Harold Macmillan — he who told us that “we never had it so good” — sought the highest office in the land.

         Macmillan, whose patrician manner belied a sharp intellect, had a certain grandeur about him. He possessed an aristocratic drawl, despite his claims that he was descended from humble Scottish crofter stock. And he displayed what the press described, in somewhat unflattering terms, his “grouse moor image.”

          Watching him tour the country he could easily have been a Victorian actor-manager, a fact borne out his grand performances as a speaker. He was unfailingly polite and greatly enjoyed playing tricks on (then) young reporters like me.

              I once asked him what he thought of a new book by Harold Wilson, who would himself one day be Prime Minister.  “Political banality,” he said loftily. “Could easily be the scribblings of a easily led undergraduate.”

            Was I on the threshold of a magnificent scoop? Sadly no, for (with a cheeky twinkle in his eyes), Macmillan added: “If you quote me on that, I shall deny it.  It was all off the record.” And he walked off chuckling to himself. In those days we respected such “off the record” censures. These days, we would go ahead and print it!

          Then there was Wilson — a brilliant mind but as cunning as a snake.He would puff on a pipe, the very picture of trust. But the moment the cameras were off him, he lit up a huge cigar and took refuge in one of the finer cognacs.

        There was Edward Heath, whom I grew to like despite his strange, tortured manner. But he could be quite insulting, even to his own constituents. Once, as he engaged the public in the streets, a shabby-looking man came over and complained that he could not find any work.

         “Oh dear,”said Heath, “well, I’m alright. I’ve got a job.” And he walked off, leaving the poor man with his mouth open in astonishment.

          Margaret Thatcher was fierce when  it came to electioneering. If anyone dared question her, she would turn her blue eyes on them like lasers.  She was the re-incarnation of the Medusa — particularly to other women.  With men, however, she never hesitated to use her considerable sex appeal. The late French President, Francois Mitterand, summed her up perfectly when he said she had “the mouth of Marilyn Monroe and the eyes of Caligula.”

        On the electioneering road, James Callaghan lived up to his “Sunny Jim” reputation — all smiles and bonhomie. But he was often bad tempered if matters didn’t going his way.

           In more recent years, Tony Blair also smiled a lot as he preached his doctrine of New Labour. He,too,was all boyish charm as he misled the nation. His nickname of “Bambi” was well-deserved and one could not help being instantly suspicious of a man who was so synthetic.

         Ed Milliband was, quite frankly, hopeless.  He had the on-road manner of a student activist. And, as for Gordon Brown, well, he just could not connect with ordinary people. He was perpetually grumpy, touchy if asked leading questions, and would descend into political gibberish on many an occasion.

         David Cameron, when faced with the public, was cheeriness personified and sprayed the public with a certain Etonian charm. But he could be testy on occasion.

         And what of St Theresa?  From what I’ve seen, she does deserve to be likened to a grammar school headmistress.  There is a certain firmness of manner and one can easily imagine her calling out “walk don’t run, Clarissa” at some erring pupil.

         Will she win? You can’t be too precise about the British voting public. Stranger results have emerged — who, for instance, would have predicted that the nation voted to leave the EU?

           And what of Jeremy Corbyn, should he win? It could happen. Just think of it — A Marxist in No 10. And a State Visit by that fat chap who runs North Korea to follow.

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       So, as if we didn’t know, Pippa Middleton has married a nice-looking chap called James Matthews. Golly gosh. Well done,Pips.

       It all seemed a pretty lavish affair, good nosh and lots to drink. The Daily Mail, as usual, went completely over the top with its coverage — particularly about how cute (ugh! What a horrid word) Prince George and Princess Charlotte, Pippa’s nephew and niece, looked on the big day.  All together now…..AAAAAHHHH!

         But I couldn’t help thinking that the entire event was just a bit, how shall I put it, well, er,….COMMON. Just too OTT.  More Essex girl than a sister of a future Queen.

         My own Chelsea Register Office wedding — 44 years ago, yes, that long — to my lovely American was sweetly modest by comparison. But two memories stood out. The first came when the lady registrar performing the ceremony came to that part which asked for anyone who had “just cause” why we should not be spliced to stand or “forever hold his peace.”

        At that exact moment the door opened and in swept one of my future wife’s former flat mates — who was eight months pregnant. Signal roars of laughing from my many Fleet Street chums there present — and a glare from the registrar!  “Not mine” I mouthed to the folk sitting behind me. Talk about timing.

      The other memory concerned a wedding present from Mrs Portsmouth,a mature lady who had been my secretary at the Daily Mail. She was a  shorthand typist in the Intelligence Corps at the end of the war.

           Finding herself in Berlin, she had a tour of Hitler’s old Chancellery and even managed to rifle his huge, marble desk. I’m glad she did, for she found something that proved a perfect wedding present for yours truly.

             And that is how I came own a sheet of Adolf’s personal writing paper.  Better than a toaster.

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        JOYOUS PERSONAL NOTE:  Come early November, I shall be a grand dad for the second time. My lovely daughter Jessica is due to give birth to baby number two. He/she will be a companion for elder sister Scarlett.  A wonderful new life. And the happiest of grand parents!

PAUL CALLAN AT LARGE

     It is fifteen years since that chilly March afternoon when the 101 year old Queen Mother slipped away in her sleep. She had been unwell for a month, but her frailty proved too much. The Queen, her much-loved daughter, was at her bedside and held her hand until those last moments.

    To the British people, even the most hard-hearted of Republicans, had felt a certain affection for this sweet-faced old lady, known for her large feather-adorned hats and warm smile.  Many regarded her as “the nation’s granny” and her passing also marked the end of one of the few remaining links with the Edwardian era.

     She is back in the news with the publication of a new book, Behind Palace Doors, by Major Colin Burgess the Queen Mother’s former equerry.  Parts of this intriguing memoir has been serialised in the Daily Mail and, true to its title, provides some glimpses of life in the Queen Mother’s service.

    Her public perception was one of warmth and considerable affection. But there was far more to it than that captivating smile, gentle wave and air of kindliness. The truth is that she was an astonishing spendthrift who expected — and demanded — her lifestyle to be expensive and extravagant.

     It is astonishing that, despite pleas from the Queen and her bankers Coutts, she ran up an overdraft of — wait for it — of £7 million. Yes — £7 million. Nor did she ever show any intention of cutting back on her expenses.

    The Queen shelled out £2 million a year to keep her in the style and manner to which she had become accustomed and Prince Charles helped out from his own pocket. (It was as well he was her favourite grand child).

    She had five homes, most of which were fully staffed as well as up to 60 full time servants who catered for her every demand. These ranged from housekeepers and chefs, ladies in waiting and chauffeurs, gardeners and footmen.  There was even an elderly night watchman with lamp who sat outside her bedroom at night.

     Every “need” was catered for. For instance, at her lodge on the Balmoral estate, flowers were planted to bloom to co-inside with her arrival in August and a log fire burned in every room —  summertime, too.

     Nothing was forgotten. In her bedroom at Clarence House, her London home, even the clothing of the two cherubs on her four-poster bed had their angel’s clobber washed and starched regularly.

    She loved food and drink — particularly drink. No day would pass without considerable amounts of gin and Dubonnet, wine and “snifters”.  She also greatly enjoyed entertaining and the cost was an irrelevance. It was considered vulgar to raise such a matter — particularly when someone else was paying.

     Sunday lunch was always a grand affair and she felt hard done by if she was ever told her menu was too expensive. Not that anyone, even the Queen, ever said so. A typical Sunday lunch would comprise soufflé, lobster croquettes, rare lamb, new potatoes and peas from Windsor with sugar sprinkled on top, followed by raspberries with Jersey cream or meringue with black cherries in liqueur.  Just a snack, really.

      How can any of this be justified? The reality was that the Queen Mother came from a different age, the Edwardian period, when it would be unthinkable for a member of the Royal Family to live any other way. And many, of her generation, think she was entitled to such a lifestyle as a fitting reward for her morale-boosting presence during World War Two.

      It will be interesting to see whether any of this extravagance is commented on in Major Burgess’s book. Her cost to the finances of the Royal Family (let’s face it, they’re not exactly on the poverty line) would have amounted to many millions by the time of her death. And that’s before you count in the cost of her race horses and her personal betting.

      One of her regular guests put it neatly: “When you were with the Queen Mother, enjoying her company and hospitality,it was like going back in time to a world that vanished with her passing.”

       But nice work if you can get it.

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     In hospital, it is usually in the cold dark of the early hours that death makes a call. I have just spent two nights in a small ward of an London hospital where I witnessed such a grim visit.

    There were six of us, all elderly men, in this corner of the NHS. A couple had suffered strokes, another clearly had dementia and would call out at night “Where Am I? Where is Rita?” (Rita turned out to be his late wife — so his cry was very sad.)

    Others were recovering from various serious illnesses and there was me with a hip problem. But the moment of truth — that death is really never far away — came in the early hours of my second day.

    I was awoken by the sound of scampering feet, of that rattle made when when the curtains around a hospital bed are pulled and of a whispered conversation. Nurses and a night duty doctor were grouped around one of the beds. Even in the darkness there was an atmosphere of foreboding.

    Two of the nurses left, one to return with a porter and a trolley. There was the sound of someone being lifted and through the half gloom I saw a blanket-covered form wheeled past. I later learned that the poor, demented man crying out for the late wife in those cold hours had himself died.

    And I shall never forget the terrible sadness in those cries.

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PAUL CALLAN AT LARGE

            When it comes to real life soap operas, there is nothing to beat The Royal Family. The ee-bah-gummery of Coronation Street, or the gor blimey antics of Eastenders, even the sex ‘n’ scalpel passions of Holby City — well, none can compete with the lives of Those Who Would Wear the Crown.

         I say “lives” because this week morbid details have emerged of what will happen when the Queen takes residence in that Great Palace In The Sky.  Although she as a reputation for being a practical person, it must be depressing for HM to peruse the details of what is planned for her mortal remains when the dreaded moment comes.

        It cannot make pleasant reading — particularly the four word code that has been chosen to inform of her passing. It is “London Bridge Is Down”.  Hardly gentle or poetic, is it?  Calling the much-loved monarch “London Bridge”, an unattractive fixture spanning the Thames, is insensitive, even cruel.

       There will be nine days of mourning and details have been worked out so precisely that it is known it will take exactly 28 minus to slow march the coffin from St James’s to Westminster Hall for the lying-in-state. Oh — and there will be a special three inch high rim built onto the coffin’s false lid to accommodate the Crown Jewels.  All rather depressing reading for a 90-year-old lady who is not, like the rest of us, looking forward to her date with the Grim Reaper.

       Her death means that Prince Charles will become King. But King Who?  We have not been told what name has been chosen — he could be “King George VII” or even “King Charles III” (my money’s on this). But there are rumbles in the court about what his wife, presently known as the Duchess of Cornwall, will be called.

        Word has it that Princes Charles is determined she will be called “Queen Camilla”. He wants her to get what he considers to have ultimate recognition, complete with 15 gun salute that goes with the title as well as the right to wear her very own crown.

        But there is a strong force of opinion against this. It is twenty years ago since Princess Diana was killed in Paris — haven’t those years flown by? — and the turmoil caused by Prince Charles’s affair with the then Camilla Parker Bowles is still a sensitive issue in certain influential royal circles.

        Some courtiers are determined that Camilla will never acquire the title of “Queen” because to do so would suggest that adultery doesn’t matter in the long run. They consider that she should be called “The Princess Consort”, less grand, perhaps, for royal enough.

       She has come a long way and faced a difficult journey to gain public approval. She is more popular now and long gone are the times when she was pelted with bread rolls, by furious Diana-adoring middle class women, in a Cirencester super market.

      In person, I have found her to be a very pleasant woman, with a fine sense of humour and a certain warmth. She likes a drink or two and, when photographers are not around, she will light a Benson and Hedges with a certain relish.

     Personally, I do not consider whether or not she should be called “Queen Camilla” as one of the major issues facing the country. There are greater challenges to cope with — handling the fallout from our stupid decision to leave the EU being one of them.

     So if we must continue to have a monarchy — and the majority of the British people seem to want that — let’s not only have a King when the times comes, but let him have his Queen as well.

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           I learn, with great sadness, the death at 88 of one of my great heroes — Jimmy Breslin, the New York columnist, writer, great character, whose journalistic style — much copied and always envied — brought that teeming city so alive that his words leapt from the page.

         He was a great bear of a man, with masses of dark, uncontrollable hair, with a voice and accent so loud that he could have been born intact to patrol the street with a notebook and pen.

        I met him many times, and in various bars (although he had given up booze) around New York in the years I worked there. Sometimes he was funny, even displaying a hint of charm, but others less so. He would growl, tell you that English journalists were empty-minded mother-fuckers who couldn’t write a sentence without — as he once tenderly pointed out to me — it sounding as if I “had two pokers stuck up my ass”.

       He wrote about the streets, the ordinary Joe, the blue collar guys and they loved him for it. He had no time for the button-down Ivy Leaguers, the smooth liberals of Park Avenue.  Breslin came from the hard streets and wrote about them.

       His journalism shone with originality. Such as the time he was sent to Washington to cover the funeral ofPresident Kennedy. “When I arrived,” he said, “the city was filled with journalists all interviewing each other.”

      So, being Breslin, he took off to Arlington National Cemetery, where America lays down its heroes, and interviewed Clifton Pollard, a 42 year old World War Two veteran.  He was an “equipment operator” at the cemetery and was grade ten — which meant he was paid @3.01 an hour for digging the graves.

      “Polly”, as his fellow diggers called, was an ordinary guy until that day. He entered American Presidential history because he dug the grave where JFK would rest for eternity.

       And it was Jimmy Breslin who found him that cold November morning in 1963 and immortalised a working stiff with words of solemn beauty.

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PAUL CALLAN AT LARGE

     There’s an old joke that did the rounds of the bars of the Houses of Parliament in 1945. It went like this:  “Knock, knock.” “Who’s there?” “Winston.” “Winston Who?” “Ahh…how quickly they forget.”

      There is a certain poignancy to it. In the General Election of that post-war year,  Churchill was unexpectedly booted out of office, despite having been the awe-inspiring PM who led the country and boosted morale with the brilliance of his drum-roll speeches during five years of conflict.

      But that war had radically changed the way most British people viewed those who governed. The age-old class structure, although much of it still in place, had changed. Returning soldiers had experienced new attitudes towards those in command. There was a fresh sense of equality abroad and the country demanded, and got, change in the form of a Labour government.

        For Churchill, this was a crushing time. He was astonished, felt betrayed by a thankless nation and plunged into a dark chasm of depression (his notorious “black dog”). So low did he feel at this rejection that he told Lord Moran, his doctor, that “it would have been better to have been killed in an aeroplane”.

       But, as I have been reading, help was at hand in the formidable form of his astonishing wife, Clementine (aka the much-adored Clemmie). In a new biography, First Lady: The Life And Wars of Clementine Churchill, historian Sonia Purnell reveals just vital Clemmie was to the war time Premier and how involved she became in making some of the most crucial decisions of the war.

        Not only was she Winston’s firm emotional rock during those troubled years, her personal influence was such that would be astonishing, even by today’s standards. Their marriage, which lasted 57 years, was fuelled by a great love,much patience (mostly on her part as Winston demanded that things be done instantly), considerable tolerance (again, by her) and a huge amount of mutual respect.

        Winston could be grumpy and often rude and thoughtless to others.  But after some firm but loving words from Clemmie, he tried to be much nicer to those who worked for him. It worked.

      It was clear that he was a difficult man to be married to — strong, assertive, often intolerant of lesser mortals and capable of wounding by words alone.  But it was always Clemmie who, while never contradicting him in public, was never afraid of him and would face him privately and point out that he was wrong.

       Their rows were epic — not least because of Clemmie’s  fierce temper.  Thus Winston, silenced for once, would apologise like an errant schoolboy.  He also believed in the admirable marriage rule that one should never “let the sun set on one’s wrath.”

       There were some sore points early in their relationship — among them, Votes For Women. Clemmie was a supporter of the cause and was hardly impressed by some of Winston’s views on the subject.

     As with this pompous observation: “The women’s suffrage movement is only the small edge of the wedge. If we allow women to vote it will mean the loss of social structure and the rise of every liberal cause under the sun.  Women are well represented by their fathers, brothers and husbands.”

       You can easily imagine Clemmie’s furious reaction to such sexist tosh. Winston soon learned that there were “No Go” areas as far as his highly opinionated wife was concerned. But they remained close and always enjoyed the splendid intimacies of marriage.

      As was the habit of the upper classes of the day, they had separate bedrooms.  He liked to stay up late, often drinking brandy, puffing on his cigars and enjoying political gossip with cronies. Clemmie liked earlier nights and needed her sleep.

       Their sex life, it seems, was a lively and loving matter. To gain admittance to her bedroom,  Winston was often miaow like a cat — and the door would click open. But the historian Sonia Purnell believes that both were probably virgins when they married.

       This may well be true of Clemmie. But Winston had been a serving soldier and both officers and men usually took advantage of the sexual freedoms that were on offer while abroad.

       Even so, Winston did not want to make a clumsy impression on his wedding night and went to the person he knew could give him the best advice — his mother, Jenny.  She had enjoyed many lovers and would have been ideal as to how Winston should treat his bride. By all accounts, all went well and he observed that they had “loved and loitered”.

        It is likely that Winston remained utterly faithful to Clemmie despite continuing to enjoying the company of attractive women. And anyway, as he once put it, “a woman may be a woman, but a cigar is a good smoke”.

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      So many of my journalist colleagues, both past and present, have declared their intention of producing a major work of fiction, the biography of a noted figure, or even their memoirs of life at the coal face of newspapers.

       But very few ever achieve their goals. Some are too idle, while others realise that their lives as working journalists had not been really interesting enough (I mean, My Scoops On The Penge Bugle is hardly a best seller).

      But some do manage it — a few,like Frederick Forsyth, very successfully. And I’m pleased to add to those who have managed to appear between hard covers the name of T.P.Fielden.

       Step forward my former Daily Express colleague Christopher Wilson (T.P.Fielden being his nome-de plume). The dapper Christopher (easily the best-dressed man in Fleet Street) has introduced a new name to the world of fictional sleuthing — Miss Judy Dimont, a “corkscrewed hair” reporter for The Riviera Express, the local rag in th quiet and quaint Devonshire seaside town of Temple Regis.

      It is a place where Miss Dimont reports on church fetes, council arguments….and murder. In this rattling good read, La Dimont discovers a local reporter’s dream story.  The heart-throb star of the silver screen, Gerald Hennessey, has been murdered on the 4.30 pm from Paddington.

     Why was a man like Gerald Hennessey coming to sleepy Temple Regis? And what about the second murder? Judy Dimont, aboard her trusty moped Herbert, quickly sets about chasing the biggest (so far) stories of her career.

      Find out more by ordering The Riviera Express By T.P.Fielden, published by HQ (an imprint of Harper Collins).

       One thing is certain: it was never like this on The Penge Bugle….

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PAUL CALLAN AT LARGE

          The Gothic nightmare that is Donald Trump’s presidency worsens, it seems, by the hour. Switch on the news and you can reasonably expect details of the latest lunacy, be it banning those who pray to a different god, building a Berlin-type wall to seal off a neighbouring country, even unpicking some of his predecessor’s caring achievements.

          There is something quite horrific about the man and standing there in his poorly cut, shapeless suit and sporting a red tie that seems to reach his knees, what is it about him that strikes a familiar chord?

           Why is that arrogant pout so familiar? Where have I seem that jaw-jutting hint of belligerence? Or heard the limited vocabulary and the hectoring tone. Or witnessed the growling ego and the glassy stare that means he is not listening to anything  you say.

            Yes — it is all so familiar.  Have you guessed? If you worked for the Daily Mirror group at a certain time, the answer will spring into your mind. Who? The late and totally unlamented Robert Maxwell, that’s who.

         There is so much in the Trump manner, body language and appearance that reminds me of the old monster, that it is both uncanny and scary. Just forget The Donald’s American accent and listen to the words — there is Maxwell.

          The voice booms, the language is simplistic and similarly sloganeering in style. Maxwell, too, loved the word “Great” – as in “Let’s Make The Mirror Great Again”.  For Trump, it is America that he wants to transform into greatness.

          Now, before the President’s lawyers get busy and start complaining, let me say I am not suggesting, even for a second, that the Mighty One is a shady crook in the Maxwell style, nor will he run off with a pension fund or even end his days very mysteriously aboard a yacht. No — perish such thoughts.  I have only been struck by the similarities between the men.

         For an America so used to a totally different style of President, Trump has come as a great culture shock.  Even Tricky Dicky Nixon or George W had more polish and their speech writers gave them a certain something. But Trump, in those rambling diatribes, sounds like a man lost in a sea of confused thinking.

         Washington, always a boiling pot of rumours, has overflowed with theories about him. I particularly liked the notion that he is a Manchurian Candidate — that is, a man in the grip of mind control by the Kremlin (which would explain his close links to the cunning Putin).

         For the record, The Manchurian Candidate was a clever 1959 novel by Richard Condon about at the Communists controlling an American presidential candidate. It was made into a very exciting 1962 film starring Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey and featured Angela Lansbury, posing as the extreme right-wing (but really Commie) wife of the puppet candidate. It is a chilling movie, complete with a fierce climax at a political convention during which democracy is saved by a couple of bullets.

         There are those in the US who, considering everything Trump is up to (much of it pleasing to the Russians), think that the Manchurian Candidate is not so far fetched.  Well, as they say, stranger things have happened in Bootle on a Saturday night.

         But one good thing has emerged from Trump Land.He appears to have hit it off with our fragrant PM, Theresa M. Apparently, all fears were allayed as soon as they met and, rather than making any indecent lunge at her, he was charm personified –and the “Special Relationship” remained intact.

          I could not help wondering how all this would have worked out if the Iron Lady had still been in No 10. It is well known that Thatcher got on wonderfully with President Reagan, even to the point of much mutual flirting.  And Trump has dubbed La May as “My Maggie”.

         St Theresa blushed a little and even lent Trump a helpful hand as they walked down a slope. But the picture flashed around the world and it did look as though they were a cosy, middle-aged couple enjoying a bit of hand-holding.

         There is no doubt that Trump would have been daunted by Thatcher for whom, as he has often said, he had the greatest respect. And had he even mildly considered stepping out of line, there would have been that mighty handbag to contend with.

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        It was very sad to hear that Lord Snowdon had died. I grew to know him well over many years and he often proved helpful in stories I was writing. He was always passionate about helping the disabled — he couldn’t move too quickly himself in later years — and I recall the day he called me at home, clearly incandescent with rage.

       “Those idiots who run the Chelsea Flower Show,”he said, “they re trying to ban the blind with guide dogs. They say they’ll cause problems. Threaten to write about it. Are they mad?”

         I called the organisers and spoke to a senior official who, much to my amazement, actually said: “Well, blind people can’t see the flowers, can they?  And other visitors might fall over the dogs and injure themselves.”

       I wrote the story for my column which appeared in the Daily Mirror. Result?  The next day blind folk plus dogs were warmly welcomed.

       Although their marriage was often marked by fierce rows, there was never any doubt that Lord Snowdon still felt deep love for Princess Margaret. Even years after their divorce, there was evidence of this affection.

        On his desk at home in Kensington was a large picture of the Princess, one that he had taken himself. I was interviewing him that day and he suddenly broke off and gazed lovingly at the portrait.

        “Isn’t she so beautiful,”he said very quietly. And he started to cry.

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PAUL CALLAN AT LARGE

        Television being so dire, particularly at this repeat laden time of the year, it is a joy to stumble over a hitherto unknown channel that is actually entertaining.

       Trawling wearily through Freeview the other day I came across a gem called Talking Pictures TV. (If you have Freeview, it comes up by pressing 81 on your remote).  What is so good about the channel is that it is devoted to mostly old black and white British movies.

      I have always been a enthusiast of old films and particularly those made in the late 1940s and 1950s. This was an era when the British film industry was flourishing and highly watchable movies were churned out at such studios as Ealing Films and at Pinewood.

       They were not, of course, all Oscar-worthy — far from it. Many, due to minimal financing, were poor and made cheaply. The scenery in studios often shook, scripts bordered on the banal, acting was stiff, and in many of the street scenes, spectators had gathered to watch, thus ruining the action.

        But there were also many classics being produced and some of these are being run on Talking Pictures TV. It was, for instance, a renewed experience to see a young Tom Courtney again in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, the film that made his reputation as an actor.

       And there was a showing, too, of Albert Finney in the memorable Saturday Night, Sunday Morning. You could almost smell the grime in the air of this saga set in an industrial town.

      And being British, the channel is replete with war movies — all complete with obligatory starched upper lips, extremely understated acts of bravery, and even the predictable coward who “comes right” in the end. (Poor Richard Attenborough played at least two of these craven characters — one in Noel Coward’s In Which We Serve and the other in the submarine drama Above Us The Waves.)

        But some subjects were tip-toed around. Sex, for instance, was treated as if it was something rather nasty.  There were none of the up close treatment  one sees today.  Scenes in which a couple actually “did it” were either suggested or, following a a few rather poor kisses, the camera would pan away and you were left to assume they “got it on”.

       But what is really valuable about Talking Pictures TV is that it is social document about the way we lived, spoke, what we wore, how we treated one another and — above all — how the domination of class in Britain was reflected on the screen.

        There was hardly a British film made during this period when the clipped tones of the upper classes were not heard. The actress Celia Johnson, and many like her, wold pronounce words like “actually” as “ekcherly”. On screen, such ladies treated their inferiors — usually Cockney house keepers and curtseying maids — with a certain patronising decency.

         Social advancement was presented in a dubious light. If some working class aspirant wanted to better him or herself, there was inevitably some character (usually the splendid old actress Kathleen Harrison) who would look incredibly worried and say that such-and-such was “Not for the likes of people like us”.

       One social oddity was the accent of the pretty daughter of a working class family in comedies.  These films often starred the comic Norman Wisdom,whom I never found in the least funny, but was very big in then-Communist Albania (presumably because he symbolised the little man fighting against the ruling classes).

        These films usually featured a pert starlet who spoke as though she had just left a “gel’s” public school, despite having Gor-Blimey parents (Kathleen Harrison again). Norman Wisdom stumbles around in  his unfunny way, pausing to serenade the pert one with awful saccharine songs like “Don’t Laugh At Me ‘Cos I’m A Fool” (he was right about that).

         They were pretty harmless films, but they did portray a divided country where everyone was supposed to know their place. Only when the grittier films of the 1960s appeared did we see a more truthful representation of life in this country.

       The comedies also became more accurate at this time. The wonderful I’m Alright Jack, starring Peter Sellers as Fred Kite,was a brilliant indictment of the ignorant mentality of the union man.  Watching one of the real life leaders on television the other day explaining why he and his members were bringing miseries to rail users, it seemed as though Fred Kite was re-incarnated in real life.

      If you possess Freeview channels on your set, then tune in to 81 and you will find yourself back in a Britain where not only were the films in black and white, but so were the issues they dealt with.  Yes, “ekcherly”.

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      I must pass on a joke which comes courtesy of The Times Diary, edited by my friend Patrick Kidd. It goes like this:  A married woman goes into a pet shop and asks about beautiful parrot sitting in a cage.

     “How much is it?” she asks.  “Well, we’re only asking £20 because it picked up some strange habits when it lived in a brothel,”said the pet shop owner.

       “Oh well, I’m not worried about that,”said the woman.  When she got the bird home, it suddenly spoke.

“Nice house,” it said.  And when she took it into the sitting room, it observed: “Lovely room.”

       Soon, the woman’s husband came home and walked up to bird, now in it’s cage.  “Hello Keith,” it said.

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         This my last blog before Christmas and the final one of 2016. Writing it has been enjoyable and thank you for your kind comments.  In 2017 I hope to produce it more regularly.  Meanwhile, have a Very Jolly Christmas, drink and eat far too much (I know I will) and hope for a prosperous and kindly new year.

        Oh — and I intend to spend much time immersed in my newly acquired collection of Alan Bennet’s Diaries called “Keeping On Keeping On”.  He is a great collector of overheard observations, many of which are unintentionally hilarious. I particularly liked (one woman to another):  “Palm trees mean nothing to us in Torquay.”

          Pip, pip!

                             ———oO0———–

PAUL CALLAN AT LARGE

     The thinking world — and here in the cosy suburban warmth of Wimbledon — is still electric with shock at the decision of much of America’s silent majority to elect The Puce Faced One, aka Donald Trump, as President of the United States.

      Except, of course, that they were not silent. They roared with long pent-up indignation at being ignored,  trampled over and treated like something one steps in for so long by the Washington elite.  The shifty Hillary Clinton symbolised the sleek corps of senators, cunning representatives, silken-tongued lobbyists and silver-haired, time-serving Methuselahs who appear on American television uttering weary wisdom.

     It is like something from one of those black and white movies made in the 1930s about the “little man” having a voice in big events (the young James Stewart usual appeared in these) and in which someone utters the inevitable statement that “The People Have Spoken”. And in this case, the people not only spoke, they roared.

     Democracy can be a fragile vessel, but it has proved admirably strong in this amazing Presidential election. To say the result was a shock is to ill-define that word. More of a country-ripping earthquake. An electoral Pompeii.

      I stayed up until the near-dawn hours watching the results roll in — always an exciting marathon, and more so as Trump took the lead in States where it was expected that La Hils would comfortably win. After all, hadn’t the political pollsters and most of those Harvard-speaking smoothies — once well-described in the person of the fictitious “Carl J.Pipesucker” — told television audiences that Hillary C. was a dead cert.

      All wrong. The Donald — as he loves to be called –had swept in  and the world had another large whisky to anaesthetise the shock. I know I did at four o’clock that morning. Then I went to our bedroom where the American-born, Democrat-voting (albeit not a great Hill’s admirer) Mrs C.was gently slumbering. She stirred and opened one eye.

       “What time is it?” she said sleepily. “Oh, four o’clock,” I said calmly. “Stayed  up for the result.” Sleepy voice then asked: “How did Hilary Clinton do?” I thought it best  to beak the news as gently as possible.

        “Well, no quite as she would have hoped,”I replied in masterly understatement. “What do you mean?”she said. There was a telling silence and then she asked the vital, telling question. “How many did she win by?”

          The awful truth had to be told. It was like holding back a telegram from the War Department informing a wife that her husband had fallen in battle. So I said in funereal tones: “She lost. Trump won.”

           “What? He won?” I had not seen her sit so bolt upright since she thought there was a mouse in the bed room. “Oh no,” she said, disbelief in her voice. “This is one of your silly jokes. Come off it,” she said, settling back onto the pillow.

             It took me some gentle persuasion for her to accept that the unthinkable had happened, that a man with no experience as a politician, that a misogynist who openly jokes about “grabbing pussy”, that a man who wants to build a Berlin-style wall to keep Mexicans out of the US, and a man who plans to expel every Moslem in the country….that he has become the President.

            It was all too horrific to contemplate. All I could do was to crawl into bed beside my dear, shocked Yankee wife and pray for sleep.But I had another whisky first.

                 ———————————

 

       I have been watching online The Wilderness Years, the television series made in 1981 about the period in the 1920s and 1930s when Winston Churchill’s career as a powerful politician seemed over. He had never recovered from what so many considered the murderous decision to try and turn the course of World War One by attacking the Germany-supporting Turks from Gallipoli.

        It was a disastrous failure and so many British, Australian and New Zealand soldiers were slaughtered. My own grandfather, a young officer in the Essex Regiment, somehow survived, but would never talk about what happened. Whenever, as a youngster, I asked him about it, he just turned his head away. The memories, for him, were just too painful.

        Churchill was  forced to shoulder the terrible blame and it would not be until 1939 and World War Two were his great abilities as a leader recognised. But in those empty years, as the television series shows, he experienced depression (“My black dog”, he called it), considerable money problems and a frequent feeling of uselessness.

         But the series also showed his creative strength, his great volumes of journalism (for any newspaper who wold pay) and his embarking on the gigantic biography of his illustrious 18th century ancestor, the Duke of Marlborough, victor of the Battle of Blenheim.

         Churchill was played in the series by the actor Robert Hardy, best-known in recent years as the testy vet Seigfried Farnon in All Creatures Great and Small. I was sent by the Daily Mirror, with photographer Alastair MacDonald,to Hampshire to interview Hardy about playing the Greatest Englishman of All.

        He proved charming (not all actors are!) and even showed us his collection of long bows about which he is a great expert. But his skill as a performer really came when Alastair asked him for one last picture.

        “I want to take a close-up of your face as Winston, the defiant bulldog,” he said and produced from his pocket a small, old-looking camera. It was a pre-war Leica, known for their wonderful lenses and Alastair’s most precious possession.

         “Come on now, Mr Hardy. Let’s see your Winston face,” said Alastair.

          I watched as Robert Hardy out on a pair of half-moon spectacles of the type worn by Churchill. “Ready?”he asked Alastair who nodded.

            Suddenly, with barely a facial movement, Hardy suddenly transformed himself into the great war leader. It was an amazing likeness and Alastair raised the old Leica to his eyes and took just one picture. It would later  appear on a full page in the Daily Mirror alongside my interview.

      I have always treasured the memory of that picture and the actor Robert Hardy who became Winston Churchill in an instant. There was also the additional irony that Alastair’s treasured Leica was….German. Winston himself wold doubtless have given a growling laugh at that.

               —————o0o—————