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….

———————–o0o—————————–

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—————

PAUL CALLAN AT LARGE

         One thing struck me about the Labour Party Conference that has just ended in Liverpool. The leftward lurch was well symbolised by the fact that, at the end, everyone on the platform appeared the know the words of The Red Flag.

         It is tradition that the old Socialist anthem is roared out by all attending.  It is an emotional, often damp-eyed moment when dedication to The Cause is expressed in song.  “The Workers Flat is Deepest Red….” it starts and Socialism’s Comrades thunder out their heartfelt loyalty.

        I covered, for the London Evening Standard and, later, the Daily Mirror, both Labour and Tory conferences for many years.  My job was to produce diaries and columns of what went on behind the scenes.  And one such story was always who could remember the words of The Red Flag and who couldn’t during the final sing-song.

        The posh jobs in the old days merely mumbled along to the tune (which is really German and called Tannenbaum).  Roy — “Woy” — Jenkins and Tony Crosland, for instance, merely moved their lips as did David Owen.  All Oxbridge types, you see.  Not the horny-handed sons of toil who were throating away, word-perfect.

           But this time, it was like watching the BBC Chorus who gleefully singing in perfect unison (not the union), all roaring out every syllable, every phrase, in this paean of praise to Socialism.  Leading it all, of course, was Comrade Corbyn, singing like a man possessed, his red tie almost bursting into flames so fierce was the passion.

            It was almost moving. Almost.

             I have so many memories of both political conferences.  They are always so different in style, particularly when it came to human behaviour.  The Labourites,  for instance, are great drinkers. Delegates of every socialist hue would crowd around the conference hotels’ bars (the Imperial in Blackpool and the Grand in Brighton) until the early hours.

             Endless pints, often with whisky chasers, flowed like the tide outside.  Come the late hours, the Welsh delegates usually started singing, the Scots became aggressive, the Northern Irish bunch were soon mournful and weepy, and, by midnight, the English brothers were mute with drink.

               Oh yes, and there were frequent fights — but theywere among the journalists. Paul Johnson, then editor of the New Statesman political weekly biffed me for calling him a “Mouton Cadet Marxist, a Burgundy Bolshevik”. Got quite angry.

               But the Tories, more civilised drinkers, were actively interested in that other delightful human activity — sex.  There were cocktail parties every night, often filled with attractive lady delegates,many of whom made themselves available for late-night political “discussions”…..in, er, bedrooms.

               Some of these “discussions” blossomed into full-scale romances, even a few marriages, and (inevitably) some divorces. But it was mostly viewed as fun and even Denis Thatcher considered it a joke. At one Tory conference I discovered him having an early “snorterino” (as he put it) at the bar  of the Grand in Brighton.

                  Having enjoyed a late night, I did not look my usual spruce best (drink not the other) and Denis eyed me critically. “Been at it all night,have you? Found one of those good looking Young Conservative gals? Lucky bugger,” he said, and bought me a very large G@T.  My denials did no good.

                  Suddenly, there was a hint of something in the air. An atmosphere. A sense of critical foreboding.  She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed had arrived. It was the PM herself, the Blessed Margaret, surrounded by her entourage.

                   She spotted her husband, drink in hand. “Denis, come on,” she boomed, “No time for that now. Leave your drink.”

                  She flashed me a killer look and poor old Denis looked mournfully gazed at his own G@T, from which he had taken barely a sip.  “Must go,old boy,”he said. “She Calleth…” And off he went, glancing back at Mr Gordon’s  wonderful product sitting barely touched and lonely on the bar.

         —————————————

                   The dreaded forces of Political Correctness have struck again.  One of the country’s top legal firms, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, has banned the use of “Dear Sirs” from all its documents.  Instead, it will become “Dear Sir or Madam”.  Presumably, “Madam” felt it non-PC to be excluded.

                    The thinking behind this nonsense is bizarre.  There are worse examples — so ridiculous that they are unintentionally hilarious. There’s the local council who have decreed that Manhole Covers now be called “Maintainence Holes.”

                 In the US, some stores refer to Easter Eggs as “Spring Spheres”. One blog referred to a pet dog as a “Companion Animal”.  “Brainstorming sessions” in some US firms have become “Thought Showers” so as not to offend.

                Denis The Menace hooligan cartoon has been deprived of his catapult and peashooter. The BBC snorted: “He can’t be seen to use weapons and give other kids grief.”

               Barry Town Council has even banned Punch and Judy — “inappropriate hitting and abusive relationships”.  Yes, Punch and Judy —  a puppet sow that goes back centuries and is a harmless little show that has delighted millions of children.

            Even toys are being subjected to such strictures. The golliwog — yes, that black-face doll — has fallen foul of these self-appointed vigilantes. Advertising watch dogs have censured an Enid Blyton gift shop for featuring a golliwog in a local newspaper advertisement.

             The ludicrous Advertising Standards Authority have banned using a golliwog following complaints that the toy is racist and represented “negative racial stereotypes”.  The ad concerns a tea towel on sale at the Ginger Pop shop, in Corfe Castle, Dorset, which features the golly holding a pint of ginger beer.

              The toy featured in many of Enid Blyton’s Noddy books and can hardly ben described as offensive. My own daughter Jessica, now a mother herself, had a much-loved golly. Sadly, the golliwog has now disappeared from many toy shops due to PC pressures.  But I’m glad to say it can still be purchased. (Just log on to Wikipedia and write in “Golliwogs For Sale” — and take it from there.)

           What next for the perverse world of PC? Maybe they’ll demand that lovely desert Spotted Dick be changed because it sounds obscene.  Oh — wait. I see that some councils have. They require it to be called “Spotted Richard”.

            “Spotted Richard”?  You couldn’t make it up.

——————————–o0o———————————-

PAUL CALLAN AT LARGE

     It is with great relief that the steamy weather is beginning to abate — coolish at last. Well, at least that is what the good folk with the official barometers tell us. Maybe they really do hang a sprig of seaweed out of the window and watch it grow damp.

     The dear old Met Office has long been one of those national jokes — like the bungling NHS, the railways, Heathrow and Gatwick, the trade unions, the BBC and, increasingly, the Labour Party (did you see that picture of Jeremy Corbyn being forced to sit  on the floor of an overcrowded train the other day?).

      But the Met Office easily leads the way as Chief National Giggle Causer. And so much so that the Beeb has decided to drop it as a weather forecaster and replace it with a Dutch outfit.  Not very patriotic that.The Met office haas been providing weather forecast since the old BBC starting broadcasting in 1922, doubtless read by a posh gent in a dinner jacket. Now that the Dutch are going to provide it, does it mean we’ll get to learn about downpours in Amsterdam before we hear about Blighty?

      But the sad fact remains that how often have you peeked out of your window at home to see it cascading down, while on Radio Four a voice is telling you that a sunny day is expected?  The weather is, of course, one of the few things that unites we Brits.  Find yourself standing next to someone you do not know and inevitably one of you will say something like “Been nice lately, hasn’t?”. And then you are chums for life.

      Personally, I find hot weather very wearing. The odd thing is that I’ve also spent time in really hot climates — India, parts of Africa, the South Pacific and even the more remote parts of Australia to mention a few — but I’ve never felt so uncomfortable as I have during the last couple of weeks at home. Perhaps it is psychological.

      Despite having a highly efficient fan close to our bed, I find it hard to sleep. And I have to walk around our coolish apartment wearing only light track suit bottoms. (It is, as Madame Callan, observes “not a pretty sight”).  This comment may also be born from the fact that another product of this hot weather is that I….er ….how shall I put it?…..well….you know….as with lots other….er….chaps….well….well….er…I…er…become “aroused”.

    Sorry about that.  Anyway, after 43 years of marriage Madame C knows the signs and gives me a kindly, if definitely, negative look. I think most men know that look.  And by bedtime such thoughts have vanished. Off the boil, you might say.

       So, at last, it seems to be getting cooler.  And if it gets hot, remember the delightful ditty penned by Noel Coward that tell us that “Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid-day sun!”

        Better to stay in the coolest part of the house — and fancy the wife.

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          As if we didn’t know, it is 50 years since we trounced the Germans at footie in the World Cup. Considering the war had only ended eleven years earlier, I remember thinking at the time that it did’nt seem very polite to keep ramming the fact home to our only recently-defeated Euro chums.

         As a nation, the Germans take any defeat,be in on the field of battle or the field of soccer, rather badly. It is part of their national make-up and when they do visit Britain, the poor old things must be rather horrified at the number of war films shown on television.

         We once had a German au pair whom I found sobbing in her bedroom. Had the children been particularly naughty (my two could detect weakness in au pairs at a brief glance)?  No.She had been watching a film on television in which all the Germans were portrayed as beastly swines (“Ve haf vets of making you talk, Major Williams. Sergeant Shroeder has a special ways of extracting finger nails…”)

     “We are not like that,” said our weeping Brunhilde. “We love peace and kindness.  You people are horrible.” And within a few days, she had legged it home to The Fatherland.

         ————————————–

         And still thinking about the World Cup in ’66, I recall having been sent, by the London Evening Standard, to interview Madame Nijinksy, widow of the great Russian ballet dancer who could, apparently,criss-cross his legs more speedily that anyone else on earth (painful as it may sound).

         She was a lovely old lady, one of great charm, who must have been a beauty in her youth.  She also had a great love of the male form — particularly in the shape of Bobbie Moore, the England captain.

         “He moves like a dancer and he has such grace,” she said. “His thighs are magical. So magical….”

         Some years later, after I had moved to the Daily Mirror, Moore was guest of honour at a dinner given by the editor. At drinks beforehand, I started chatting to the football hero and since soccer is not really my game, I thought I’d tell him about Madame Nijinky’s comments.

         “So what was this Nince bloke?” he asked, “What did he do?”  I told him he was a great ballet dancer, possibly the greatest the world had ever seen.

         Bobby Moore thought deeply for a moment. “So  he was a ballet dancer? Aren’t they all poofs?  Are you saying I’m a poof?”

      “No, no,” I stuttered.  “I’m not saying that at all. Madame Nijinsky was just saying she thought how lovely your legs were  and…” It was to no avail.  The great England captain glared at me and strode off, very red in the face with anger.  And all evening, as dinner wore on, he kept sending furious looks in my direction.

       I had just called the great hero of Wembley as behaving on the field (in his sadly untutored mind) like a mincing ballet dancer.

      So I slunk home.