Friday 31 May 2019

A Night Out Long Ago

Going on with the "I was there" theme from memories about how you were somewhere that at the time seemed ordinary or would not have any special meaning or interest that decades later is thought to be something special. When I pitched up in London late in 1956 it was with little money to spare so that when looking for things to go to anything free or cheap might be taken.

As a member of the rugby club with a number of Welsh students who had the same issues this meant sometimes going along with the flow. One evening in the bar one of them turned up with free tickets for the BBC Theatre and it was a  TV play broadcast live on the single channel of the time.

It was "Under Milk Wood" and on the 9th May 1957. The author was Dylan Thomas, a poet and man of his time in Wales a man of words in a new way and moreover one of the post war new age. It was lower class, bold in the sex themes and far removed from the plays and poetry of before. His lifestyle matched this. For some time he was famous, first for his works and then for being famous.

Without putting too much stress on how this broadcast began to change things and stimulated new approaches to poetry and drama in its time that evening was a major TV and media occasion. The play's narrator was Donald Houston and it had an all star cast. It was accepted as a new play in new language for this new age.

For me personally, it was of interest but there were many other things to think about then of immediate concern. But several years later that being there mattered in another encounter I had with one of the leading figures of his time in film and theatre is another story.

A few days later, however, I was at reception given at Westminster Cathedral by Cardinal William Godfrey for Catholic students at the major London colleges. There were not many of us. He and I had something in common, being from Liverpool, but were not related.

However, I did not mention "Under Milk Wood" to him.

Wednesday 29 May 2019

The Return Of Harry Pollitt

When historians look at the complicated and intricate period of the post World War 2 years often what they make of it is the preconceptions of the early 21st Century. These are not so much from the mass of archives now to be seen or the vast amount of information and opinion on the net.

Things are put in "boxes" or taken for granted. It was not quite like that. A few months after my passing chat with Field Marshal Montgomery in a military headquarters, I was having another chat with Harry Pollitt in the Shaw Library at LSE.

It would seem unlikely to historians that could happen. Harry is one of those almost lost to our history but then was the Stalinist leader of the British Communist Party and then the issue was how much or little influence did he have on the ultra Left groups of the Labour Party.

Harry was particularly involved with the London Dockers and their strikes, notably the 1949 one when the Attlee government was struggling to feed the population, already enduring strict rationing of food. Attlee sent in the troops to unload vital cargoes which the Dockers' unions were prepared to allow to rot in the holds. It was one of worst attempts at blackmail in our history if not the worst.

It could be argued that Harry was among those who cost Attlee his premiership which led to 13 years of Conservative government. At the time there was only one channel TV, the BBC, who did not go near him, much of the press avoided him except to characterise him as a menace to us all. But he retired in 1956 and died in 1960 before our new age began and he was forgotten in the next couple of decades. What was he really like?

I met Harry during the time of Nikita Khrushchev's leadership of the Soviet Union so as well as his interest in British political affairs he was in touch with the divisions in the Soviet Union as Nikita was attempting reform and reorganisation. It was a time for the various groups in Britain on the Left to dispute and spilled over into the Labour Party.

It was at LSE and the rugby club had invited him to give a talk. This may be difficult to understand but as the club had a large number of players from Welsh mining districts it meant that if nothing else he would be well protected from any violence. The talk went ahead without trouble and afterwards a few of us met him.

It was a decade later that Robert Conquest went to press with his revelations of the Stalin Terror in the Russia's and the state of affairs at all levels in the Soviet Union. But what I knew, because I was handling top secret files during my Army time, was that the Soviet Army was far from being what it what supposed to be and were told at the height of the Cold War.

Moreover, East Germany was not the socialist paradise that was being suggested by The Left at the time, if anything it was worse than Britain during the Second World War with the shortages and confusion in supplies and organisation. Harry was in his own kind of political dream world and nothing was going to drag him out of it.

He left his legacy however in what was left of the British Communist Party and its affiliates and in the parts of the Labour Party that looked to the East rather than the West being created by the USA. There were a number of groups and organisations, a few of whom survive in the ideas of the present in parts of the Labour Party and beyond.

Are we going back to the future?

Tuesday 28 May 2019

Going To Rome

The question was did the Ashton ballet "The Dream" come before the Stratford Memorial  Theatre Peter Hall production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" or after? The answer was after and the dating as I remembered.

It was much later when we first saw the ballet, but we were at a performance of the Peter Hall production of the play at the Stratford on Avon Royal Memorial theatre production in his 1962 revival of the 1959 one.

This was a time when we often in Stratford and able to go to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre which before 1961 was the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre to see if there were returns or seats available for the plays running.

We saw many and one was "Coriolanus", "thou boy of tears" in a vivid, hard hitting production of a play that dealt with the politics of ancient Rome. It was not for the faint hearted.

It is thought that it was written between 1606 and 1608, a turbulent time in the history of the Atlantic Isles when King James 1st was asserting his authority despite the divisions of ancestry, politics and religion.

A play based on a period in the history of Rome during such a time would have had a great deal of meaning for the London audiences of the period.

Looking about us in 2019 perhaps it is time for the play to return to the theatres of London and Stratford?

Sunday 26 May 2019

Coming And Going

As my 15th Prime Minister leaves office to spend more time with her financial advisers, the choice that has to be made is not a good one. They are a group of "professional" politicians who live in a different world from the rest of us and are as remote as the ancient sky worshippers who used to live up mountains.

My personal experience of them and their predecessors is nil apart from one a long time ago. It was 1967 and we were living in Scarborough when the Labour Party had a conference fronted by Harold Wilson, a man for all seasons. One evening when we were in town at the local history society afterwards we made for the bar of a local hotel. It was not quite full, but there was one table with seats and a couple having a quiet drink, it was as though others were avoiding them.

It was Harold and Mary Wilson. My thirst overcame my reservations and I introduced us warning him that I was a supporter of Liverpool whereas he was an Everton man, by virtue of his local constituency. So we had a pleasant chat about football and things to do with Liverpool past avoiding anything to do with its present which was increasingly difficult.

Then we were about to leave when I wondered if a taxi was possible, given the alcohol limits well passed for driving. He gave one of his security men a nod, who took the keys, drove us home with police cars front and back and sirens going.

It was quite an evening. The following day the our locals were all in a worry about what major crime or something had been committed to bring police to the suburb making a lot of noise at midnight. I said not a word. Their political loyalties were with others than Labour.

It was likely that they would have objected less to having a bank robber in the neighbourhood than anyone to do with Harold.

Tuesday 21 May 2019

The 75th Anniversary Of D Day

In a few days time it will be the 75th anniversary of the D Day Landings in Normandy that were the beginning of the end for the Second World War in Europe. There is likely to be a lot of attention to this in the various media etc., perhaps too much.

As this blog has been here before I do not wish to add to it. As a child at the time there are now too many personal memories in the mind. Especially, as a few years later I was in the Army serving with men who had been there on the day.

Earlier posts were on Saturday 6th June 2009 "Boadicea And D Day" and in 2014 on Thursday 5th June "Remembrance" and on Saturday 7th June "Durham Light Infantry".

There are few of us left from then to remember but we will.

Friday 17 May 2019

How To Rot The Lungs

When the question arises that the world supply of something has “peaked” almost always there are major disagreements between those involved. This is because something has to be in demand for a supply to peak.

The Guardian today had the lead article on Air Pollution and what it meant to most of us. It means a lot to me, we have a major local problem when the movement is air is stilled by weather conditions. It is there because the stink and haze of it tells us. As someone with major health reactions caused long ago it is a nightmare.

When synthetic chemicals were developed in the age of coal and then transformed by the age of oil they were one of the answers to the increase of populations and the depletion of natural sources for crucial parts of the economy of Earth. The popular demand has been for more and more and governments have followed this.

Among the certainties are that finding and extracting oil is becoming more expensive and those costs will rise inexorably as more people demand more goods and services. If extraction of oil shales on a large scale is needed then the costs are likely to be higher still.

This might curtail demand and put something of a cap on what can be afforded. There are experts who point to the potential of natural gas from shales and other sources which may help to bridge the gap and enable humanity to continue using these energy sources for some time to come.

Again, this is all at a price and the location of those shales and sources will change the pattern of world power as they become more important. Geopolitics in the 20th Century was heavily dependent on geophysics and with our current economic systems is likely to remain so.

An aspect of all this is that the calculations of oil reserves are one thing and highly unreliable at present but how much of that assumed oil is either recoverable or usable economically is another matter. There are strong differences of opinion over this.

Then there is demand. If supply estimates and prediction are difficult then trying to work out the pattern and nature of the several features of demand is much harder. One feature in the debate on air pollution is not just on the roads and in the flight paths it is in the homes the chemical load has increased vastly in the last two or three decades.

All the air "refresheners" which do not refresh but simply deliver a fragrance stink to persuade people that it is "nice". All the synthetics and smells and powerful substances in the whole array of consumer goods for the home and person. Walk into an entrance lobby and you are hit by air with more pollutants that can be imagined.

The public were not told, it just happened as part of the production and marketing of household and personal goods for sale at a good profit and backed by media and advertising as part of their incomes. Our machinery of government is doing little or nothing and is unlikely to until the rising figures of illness and implications etc. force their hand.

My question is that what happens if we have both peak supply and peak demand?  That is that in the future there is not going to be more supplies of the necessary energy resources from oil or gas and in any case the world demand, because of price and maybe persistent economic and political problems has peaked as well.

There is no question of going back to the land because the land is being destroyed and will never recover.

Saturday 11 May 2019

Taking Chances

We are told that the world is changing. Yes, it is, and it has always been changing. It is just that in the 21st Century we can see and be told what is going on, where and sometimes why. What we are told because of modern communications etc. often it is possible to check the information and compare sources.

Along with this information there is a mass of material from the past which enable us to find and think about what has happened. We no longer depend on experts, pundits and academics to instruct us and persuade us to their views. The detail of the past might include information on ourselves.

Question. What was I doing on Wednesday 30 April 1958? Is the answer online? It is, I was with Ingrid Bergman, the Swedish actress famed for the number of her lovers. Well, we were at the same place the same evening along with a theatre full of others who were hoping for a good night out.

It was the Theatre Royal on Drury Lane and the London opening night of "My Fair Lady". Tickets were hard to come by, the touts were asking up to £5 each, in those days near a week's wage for some people. The musical, based on the George Bernard Shaw play "Pygmalion", had been a hit in the USA.

There were many British, largely of the upper orders, who thought that turning this play into a musical was too much but the word from New York was that it was something not just different but way ahead of most of what was on offer in the West End at the time. I had my doubts but was open to see what it was all about.

At first the performance seemed good but nothing special. But then Julie Andrews came on as Eliza Doolittle and went into "All I want is a room somewhere...." and I was a gone man along with the rest of the audience and the roar of applause at the end was striking, it was one of those great nights.

Many of us knew exactly what was meant by the room somewhere. We still had memories of the winter of 1947, long and bitter and the coal ran out halfway through it, leaving most of us to freeze. The winters of the 1950's were not as bad, but bad enough if you were in cheap digs in one of the poorer parts of London.

So why was I there? Well, I had been sitting quietly reading the newspapers in the Shaw Library at LSE and the attendant asked if any of us were interested in free standing tickets for the Theatre Royal, a couple of streets away. GBS had asked for some of us to be there, he had been Director of LSE for many years.

My answer was yes, a decision I have never regretted. The next one was being at the FA Cup Final, on the Saturday 3 May when Bolton Wanderers beat Manchester United 2-0. I was tipped off by my local railway ticket inspector that Wembley had some late returns. It is on Pathe and Youtube and I am behind the goal when Lofthouse scored the first.

As a double whammy that we call it these days it wasn't a bad one.

Tuesday 7 May 2019

Far From The Madding TV

Watching programmes from the "Discovering" series on Sky Arts TV, the content on the subjects has run to about 45 minutes in the hour scheduled. So on Julie Christie, the actress, it gave only snatches of her long and varied career. But the clip from the film "Far From The Madding Crowd", a very 1960's production raised questions.

The first was how near or far from the book by Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)  was it. Another question is when Hardy wrote it in 1874 how far from the reality of rural England in the counties was it? Today we have access to many sources on the web, so whereas at one time serious research was needed, now we can try our luck on the web.

To keep it simple to begin with I found Hardy as a ten year old scholar on the 1851 Census Return so on the grounds that his childhood memories later would be vivid ones what could be learned in relation to the book? He was at a small hamlet, Higher Bockampton in the Parish of Stinsford close to Chichester. It was rural, part of a small parish, but close to Chichester, County Town of Dorset.

The incumbent of the Parish, from 1837 to 1891 was the Rev. Shirley, from a nearby minor landed family who were a branch of the main Warwickshire family of Shirley of Ettington, about five miles from Stratford upon Avon on the Banbury road. As in Shakespeare who must have been there a time or two. Even into the 1960's there were Hathaway's just along the road.

In Hardy's works are there sometime shadows of Shakespeare within the stories and characterisations? The Rev. Shirley was one of the new men of his time, high church and restoring the past, despite the preferences for Low Church or dissenting in the local area. With Shirley came the choir and back to the 16th Century.

Quote from:

There was scarcely an aspect of the young Thomas Hardys life which this change did not affect. Hardy was the first pupil to enter the new Stinsford and Bockhampton National School which Shirley had set up in collaboration with the occupant of the nearby Kingston Maurward house, Julia Augusta Martin. He also instituted a Sunday school, at which in due course Hardy became an instructor, along with the vicar's sons Sewallis and Robert.


In the book "Far From The Madding Crowd" the return of Sergeant Troy to his home village is a major part of the plot, he was a dragoon, cavalry. When Hardy was seven years old, the 31st Regiment of Foot arrived at Stinsford from India, a major event, and stayed from some time. So the Army was an integral part of village life. Then in the mid 1850's the Crimean War saw Dorset become a central part of both military and naval activity.

One interesting item on the Census return was the surname of the Hardy neighbours, Keats. I have tried to race both the earlier families of this Keats and the poet Keats, who died in 1819, one of a London family. I have not found a connection, but in the 1850's people might well have assumed that there was. But having a Keats next door might have created an interest by Hardy.

In communications and history the railways did not reach the Chichester area until the 1860's and after, so Hardy will have been in an area still dependent on the old roads and the implications for local life and contacts. In economic and farming terms it had become a backwater well away from the London markets or any major area of growing industrial or commercial population.

For many of his readers Hardy will have been writing about a world that had been lost and could never be recovered. For in the 1870's and later Gladstone of the Liberals who wished to end the landed classes of the Shires, Disraeli of the Tories anxious for the UK to be the centre of a mighty empire, both saw the decline and loss of rural England to be a necessary condition.

As the new steamships came from distant places filled with foods and other goods and as men moved to the towns or into the Army and the women to service and factories, what was left became a memory. Or the source for a good story teller who could recall what was left of it.

But we shall never really know or understand it however good the presentation in fiction or in our researches.