Laurence Fox rides in on a superior sneer on Question Time…

Back in December, the actor Laurence Fox was featured in the Q&A feature in the Guardian’s Weekend magazine. He was asked how he would like to be remembered. “Not that much of a twat,” he offered.

After the 41-year-old’s appearance on the BBC programme Question Time last week, it’s fair to say that not being a twat is still a work in progress.

Before putting another toe onto this matter, here is a confession: like any sane person, I don’t watch Question Time. I mean to say, why would you? But if you loiter long enough on Twitter, you can’t escape whatever stupid thing was just said.

Before the election, there was the angry audience member who laid into Labour’s plans to tax the top 5% of earners. He got by on £80,000 a year and said he was “nowhere near even the top 50%” of earners. His comments went viral, even though earning £80,000 did indeed put him in the top 5% of earners.

Question Time seems excessively engineered to create such controversy by cashing in on the social media follow-up. That certainly happened last week.

As the panel discussed media treatment of the Duchess of Sussex, Rachel Boyle, a mixed-race lecturer who is a researcher on race and ethnicity, spoke from the audience, saying: “Let’s be really clear about what this is, let’s call it by its name – it’s racism. She’s a black woman and she has been torn to pieces.”

“It’s not racism,” Fox said from the panel, tattoos scrawled across his lounging arms, a sneer sketched across his face. “We’re in the most tolerant, lovely country in Europe. It’s so easy to just throw your charge of racism and it’s starting to get boring now.”

The exchange went viral, with people on both sides jumping in to have their say. Your reaction probably reflects your already set views. I’d say Fox came over as privileged and rude: was he hired because the producers knew he’d oblige with something superior?

Some thought he was being patriotic (whatever that is) and speaking the truth. I’d say that Rachel Boyle rose to her moment and snatched the argument away from Fox, who looked petulant and spoilt.

On Twitter, Fox received backing and hostility. Those who disliked what he’d said had a go at him for being a mediocre member of a posh acting dynasty. Although I won’t support his views on racism, I will endorse his turn as DS Hathaway in Lewis, the Morse spin-off, where he put in an affecting performance.

There are problems with what Fox said, and an accompanying difficulty with commenting on it if you are white. One Twitter comment that stayed with me was the woman who wrote that most of the people deciding whether Meghan Markle had suffered racism were old white men. As a member of that tribe, I can see her point.

Perhaps in their different ways Fox and Boyle are both right: surely it is possible for two contrary things to be true, that racism should exist in a country that is basically tolerant.

In any discussion about racism, black people deserve to be heard more than white people. Fox didn’t think so on Question Time, calling Boyle a racist for describing him as “white privileged male”. Not racist so much as a statement of the bleeding obvious, I’d say.

As it happens, Laurence Fox and Rachel Boyle share space in today’s newspapers. Fox is on the front of the Sunday Times in a blurb reading: “Why I won’t date ‘woke’ women” which suggests that the being a twat thing continues.

A photograph of Boyle is prominent on the front of the Observer, where she discusses her encounter with Fox, and the hostility she has received from the alt right on Twitter and in emails. She adds that such hostility is far outweighed by the positive responses.

You grabbed your moment and shone, Rachel. But I still won’t watch Question Time.

j j j

Those Brexit bongs are just another media distraction

BONG! Should Big Ben ring out on January 31 to mark Brexit? Oh, it can bong as much as Nigel Farage likes, but I won’t be listening.

This blog isn’t really about Brexit, a relief all round, not least to me. It’s more concerned with media distraction, as we shall see.

Brexiter Tory MP Mark Francois, who hops around like a human kettle with a stuck switch, failed in his Parliamentary bid to have the big bongs sound out at the end of the month.

Sadly, the story hasn’t gone silent yet, with talk of crowdfunding. Which reminds me I must have ten pence going spare somewhere.

At this point it is worth shaking the bottle of HP Sauce. I don’t know if Francois and Farage have noticed, but since last May the bottle containing this delicious brown sludge has featured scaffolding on its label.

This modification reflects renovation work on Elizabeth Tower, home to Big Ben. The bell has largely not chimed since the work began, and the House of Commons Commission says it would cost £500,000 to revive the bell for a Brexit ding-dong.

If Francois stopped being oddly grumpy about winning the argument, he might look up at see the real scaffolding erected at his place of work. Farage can be excused, I suppose, as he’s never been voted into that place.

Anyway, Bong! The editor of the Daily Express chimes with Francois. Today’s front page bears the ridiculous headline: “BIG BEN MUST BONG FOR BREXIT.”

Above that sits a rabid collection of words about Brexit, none of which need detain us. Instead, admire the spoof version doing the rounds on Twitter in which that headline has been replaced with: “HAVE YOU GONE OUT OF YOUR FUCKING MINDS?”

Assorted empty vessels on the right might be bonging on about this unimportant matter. Surely no normal person could care less.

As a supposedly normal person, my only suggestion is that Big Ben could ring when we know Brexit has worked out and not been a total car crash. January 31, 2030 is probably free and the tower should be fixed by then.

I promised something about media distraction, so I’d better oblige. Instead of Brexit bongs, perhaps the Daily Express could have followed the lead of the Manchester Evening News and reported on the abuse scandal in that city.

Children being raped and abused by up to 100 members of a Manchester grooming gang 16 years ago is more important than pointless bongs. Especially as police and social workers are said to have known what was going on as nearly 60 young girls were exploited in this manner.

Or, you know, Australia is still on fire, and that’s more important too. Post-Brexit trade deals might not be at the top of Australia’s to-do list right now, although the climate-change denying prime minister, Scott Morrison, might sell you a bag of coal.

Two years ago, Morrison, then the treasurer of Australia, brought a lump of coal to the House of Representatives. “This is coal,” he said, possibly unnecessarily. “Don’t be afraid, don’t be scared.”

As this summer’s bush fires have raged and ravaged, Morrison has seemingly said: “This is fire. Don’t be afraid, don’t be scared.” But everyone is understandably terrified and the public mood seems to be turning against him.

Having visited Australia twice, and loved the place, what strikes me as odd is that such a hot country hasn’t raced ahead with alternative sources of energy rather than obsessing about coal. Look into the sky, Mr Morrison – all that sunshine frying your brains might be good for something solar-shaped.

Any number of serious matters are more worthy of attention than those stupid bongs. Most matters are also more worthy of attention than the undying flap and fuss about Harry and Meghan becoming semi-detached from the royal family.

Sometimes the royals are the biggest media distraction of the lot. Endless pages and endless hours about not very much, with each new scandal serving its primary purpose of reinforcing the royals in our national life, locked forever in a symbiotic love/hate relationship with the media

That’s me all bonged out for now.

j j j

Humphrey Smith using his mobile in a pub…that’s quite the story

It’s not often you’ll hear me say this, but there was a good story on Mail Online the other day.

It didn’t concern a celebrity semi-clad in a bikini. Or Piers Morgan spitting out his dummy about some humdrum aspect of modern life and then saying, look at me, I just spat out my dummy, aren’t I the clever irritant.

No, it was a story about a man using a mobile phone in a pub.

Oh, come on, get your story radar fixed, Julian.

Look, that wasn’t just anyone using a mobile phone in a pub. It was Humphrey Smith, the eccentric owner of Sam Smith’s brewery in Tadcaster. That Humphrey Smith. The one who bans mobiles in his pubs. The one who shuts down pubs because he hears someone using the F-word. The one who’s binned credit and debit cards. That Humphrey Smith.

James Tozer’s report features a photograph of the seldom-seen brewer staring at his phone. He is sitting in a Wetherspoons pub in Heywood, near Manchester (boo to Brexit-backing Wetherspoons; boo to hypocritical Humph).

Perhaps he has installed an app to track the use of the F-word. If someone swears in one of his pubs, a bleep alerts him to the profanity. And before the landlord can say mine’s a half, his pub has been shut down, he’s lost his job and his home and giant boulders are blocking the car park.

That bit about the app is playfulness on my part, but the boulders are real enough. One of my commutes goes past two silent Sam Smith’s pubs where boulders are as lively as it gets.

In High Petergate in York, in the shadow of York Minster, you will find the York Arms, a nice old pub in a lovely building. But you won’t get further than the door at present. Humphrey Smith has shut that one too. As well as the Buckles Inn on the A64, and doubtless a few others too, especially if the clientele is prone to profanity.

The pub where someone swore is the Fox and Goose, in Droitwich. Other pubs where cussing occurs may be available; or shut.

All this explains why Humphrey Smith using a mobile phone in a Wetherspoons is a decent story. Humphrey Smith swearing because the wifi is rubbish would be an even better story.

Samuel Smith’s has pubs all over, including many in London. A survey in the Evening Standard last May listed the 15 best Sam Smith’s pubs in the city. In at number one was Ye Old Cheshire Cheese in Fleet Street.

We young reporters from Deptford liked to visit, perhaps to smell the ink or something. It was dark and Dickensian and wood-panelled, with sawdust on the floor. Maybe Humphrey has a thing about carpets, too.

The pub’s sign bears the legend “rebuilt in 1667” as the building was erected again after the Great Fire of London, as started by a mobile phone (perhaps Humphrey is right after all).

“It’s a slice of London history and a fantastic place to spend time ­– if you’ve never visited this London drinking institution, you’re really missing out,” says the Standard. Forgetting to add, for “but for f***’s sake don’t swear or whip out your mobile”.

As for working in Fleet Street, the nearest I got was three years’ worth of Saturday shifts on the Observer. In those far-off days the newspaper was in St Andrew’s Hill, near St Paul’s Cathedral. The offices almost sat above a pub whose name escaped me, until Google obliged with The Cockpit (pretty sure that was the one). Went in there a few times, too.

FOOTNOTE: Incidentally, the famously incommunicado Humphrey Smith is high on my list of people to interview. If you’re reading this, Mr Smith, I apologise for all the swearing jokes and would love to hear your side.


j j j

Harry and Meghan and being snide about Rebecca Long-Bailey

Harry and Meghan are buggering off and the Daily Telegraph is being snide about Labour leadership hopeful Rebecca Long-Bailey. There’s a link here somewhere.

The ins and outs of the royal family don’t ripple my pond. That attitude is not shared by former Daily Mirror editor (and national irritant) Piers Morgan. The decision of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to step back from public life set the Good Morning Britain presenter off on one of his Twitter tirades.

Morgan said the departing pair were “the two most spoiled brats in history”, adding that the death of his mother Diana did not give Harry “licence to treat the Queen so appallingly”.

Even glancing over my unrippled pond, I can see that Harry and Meghan don’t behave like other royals.

For a start they don’t go on television and blather on about not sweating while trying to excuse their friendship with a convicted sex offender (deceased). But they did appear on ITV once to grumble about their lot in life, or so I heard.

What links the departing Sussex pair and the Telegraph’s unnecessary rudeness about Rebecca Long-Bailey is the attitude of the media towards certain topics.

With the royals, the traditional newspapers wear two faces. The first doffs a cap while spouting lickspittle hymns to a great British institution, blathering on about history. The other wears an inky frown and puts the boot in with ‘offending’ royals.

In two short years, Harry and Meghan have received both style of treatment, moving from sparkly modern royals to spoilt brats. Praised and fawned over not long ago, now they are getting the rough treatment.

Both styles of reporting have their roots in the royals being good newspaper box office. And errant royals are the ‘best’ box office of all.

While the Daily Mail often produces loyal gush, its columnist Sarah Vine is ready with her hatchet, writing two days ago: “The woke, somewhat humourless and very entitled Harry we see before us now is almost unrecognisable as the rumbustious fellow we knew and loved.”

Oh, come off it! You liked him when he was mixed up and misbehaving, fancy-dressing up as a Nazi while suffering the long fall-out from the death of his mother when he was 12. But you don’t like him now he’s trying to untangle his life at the age of 35.

Should you wish to go looking, there is plenty more of this stuff from Sarah Vine (perhaps being married to Michael Gove puts you in a mood).

Even a shrug on legs such as myself can see that Meghan has put up with much media hostility laced with undercurrents of racism – while admitting in the same breath that she and Harry do carry on in a high-handed hurry.

Maybe if no one reported anything about the royals, they’d all just, you know, fade away. Sometimes it seems that the Queen is the only true royal glue and she can’t hang around for ever.

If newspaper attitudes to the royals are fixed in this country, the approach to Labour politicians is much the same. All the newspapers bar the Mirror and the Guardian are anti-Labour to various degrees of hostility.

I don’t wish to rehash that one right now, but it is worth pausing over the Telegraph describing Rebecca Long-Bailey as “looking like the love child of the Roswell alien and Mrs Merton”.

Not sure she’s the right choice for Labour leader thanks to the heir-to-Corbyn baggage, but that really is an appalling description.

Snooty, dismissive, rude and public school snarky.

On the day of the election, the editor of the Yorkshire Post, James Mitchinson, received much support for a front-page leader in his newspaper. In this he wrote: “The people of this country must never again be asked to navigate a maelstrom of misinformation in order to decide who will govern them.”

Rarely off Twitter, Mitchinson was on it again to comment on that Telegraph slur to RLB. Fair to say he wasn’t impressed. That maelstrom is still whirling.

j j j

Overtaken by an idiot… and Trump

Two or three minutes out of home, and the journey nearly ends.

As it says somewhere, the Book of Common Prayer perhaps, in the midst of life we are in… bloody hell, would you take a look at this idiot.

Missing from the above is the word ‘death’, unless you are reading the Book of Clint Eastwood, when the quote is “In the midst of life we are in debt…” (The Outlaw Josey Wales).

The afternoon’s outlaw is driving some category of Honda, the Honda Death Star at a guess, and is propelling himself towards me on the wrong side of the road.

A short way from home, this road leads to a commuter village on the far side of the ring-road. Mostly the road is straight, but there are a couple of bends, and as I emerge from the first of these, the Honda is busy overtaking three or four cars and a tractor.

There is not much to do, apart from pray to that unfollowed God, and touch the brakes while hoping not to touch the sky. The hurtling car hurtles closer. At the last second, and there was one of those otherwise I wouldn’t be sitting here tapping out these words, the driver pulls over, but not before I have blown that last trumpet known as my horn.

The Honda Death Star slips in front of the tractor, and the driver acknowledges my dismay with a cool little no-worries wave, what’s a near death crash between friends, and off he goes.

Before that I’d been wondering what to write the next time I sat down on this ledge. I’d just remembered the pocket atlas, the one I took with me for subbing shifts on The Observer all those years ago. The world in a small book, ideal for those who mistake Iraq for Iran, a distinction as important now as it was then.

I also went armed with a pocket dictionary and the Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors. Only the writers’ book remains, a useful work of reference, but so old it predates the internet and all the chaos it unleashed.

When I did those shifts, I knew even less than I do know, so that small atlas was useful for sticking masking tape over geopolitical gaps. Such gaps remain and lie behind a reluctance to be confident about the world now.

But I am happy to suggest that any world in which Donald Trump seems happy to assassinate the military leader of another country is not a safer place than it was before he ordered that hit.

Did Trump have Qasem Soleimani killed purely to deflect attention from his own troubles, and to boost his chances of re-election? It seems likely, but it’s hard to be sure about the wider world when you are still trying to untangle events in your own country.

Many of the newspapers here blindly support Boris Johnson. The Mail on Sunday said at the weekend that the prime minister was “jetting back” from his holiday – is that the same as routinely flying home from your pampered Caribbean break when the holiday ends, only with a flattering slick of urgency? Oh, who knows?

And the Boris-parading Sun proclaimed Trump’s ‘bravery’. Yeah, very brave to order a hit by a robot assassin while sitting in your country club, one rogue drone talking to another.

Those are all the opinions I have going spare, apart from a few choice observations about idiots who overtake dangerously.

All drivers are idiots sometime or other, but I am too cautious about overtaking to be that idiot.

j j j

Little Women vs Star Wars (and why men too should see Little Women)…

One film took place in a galaxy far away; the second concerned a family far away in time, perhaps, but spinning still in fresh tumult.

A family trip on Christmas Eve took care of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, while a quartet who won’t see 60 again joined up for Little Women yesterday.

The comparison of entirely different films is a fruitless exercise, but if pushed I’d happily say Little Women is the better film.

With JJ Abrams in the spinning director’s chair, the Star Wars film wraps up the latest trilogy of the spacey opera, making nine films so far. It was everything the average obsessive requires – and seemed to please the ardent Star Wars fan in our midst (31 going on eight).

To the eyes of this fan by family proxy, the film was slightly underwhelming, Star Wars by numbers perhaps. The plot made as much sense to me they ever do, but I’ve learned to just sit there and swallow.

Good battle scenes were undercut by moments when odd things just seemed to happen (Kylo Ren’s dead, oh no he isn’t, he’s back again, and so on).

As usual, the story concerns fractured families, or that’s my guess, and characters hover between good and evil. Daisy Ridley is great as Rey, wielding her girl-power lightsabre, and mostly carries the film, along with Adam Driver as Ren. Sadly, John Boyega is given almost nothing to do this time around.

You might have thought that the last thing we needed was another version of Little Women, Louise May Alcott’s timeless book about the March girls. Such a scandalous thought is blown right away by Greta Gerwig’s tumultuous version.

The actor turned director clearly loves the book and honours the story by using much of the original dialogue. Yet she also gives this tale of four girls growing up in the aftermath of the Civil War her own vigorous spin.

I’ve not read the book(s), but our quartet included two women who have, and they both loved the film.

Clever editing sees the story of the girls as children cut into their lives as young adults, and the interplay between the two levels keeps the film moving fleetly and heightens the emotions.

Also, towards the end, Gerwig cleverly goes a bit meta, weaving in elements of Louisa May Alcott’s own history. This mostly concerns Jo March/Louisa May Alcott (Saoirse Ronan) outwitting a publisher to retain the copyright to her book, and then seeing the novel published. A beautiful scene shows the making of a book, the stitching of the pages, the cutting of the leather cover, the gold title being embossed, the unnecessary flakes blown away.

Another fine scene occurs slightly earlier. Having abandoned her beloved writing – “I don’t do that anymore” – Jo takes up her pen and spends endless hours writing in the attic, laying out all the pages on the floor.

This is a highly affectionate film, but not a sentimental one. The difficulties the March girls face, personal and more political, are urgently of their own moment and our own.

All the cast is strong, even Emma Watson, but Ronan takes the honours, being fantastic and lovely and heart-breaking as Jo.

Florence Pugh is magnificent too as Amy, usually seen as the brat of the bunch, yet here filled out as something more: another young woman trying to work out her place in the world, and not that different in her way to Jo.

It’s a beautiful looking film too, and this littlish old guy quietly lifted his glasses to shed a tear or two. Women won’t need much encouragement so see this film, but men should go along too.

Incidentally, we went to the Hyde Park Picture House to see Little Women, and what a fabulous cinema that is. Built in 1914, it sits on a street corner, its prow-like frontage a relic from the golden age of film.

Everything is plush in the old and slightly shabby sense and gas lamps still putter on the walls.

This proud old cinema is closing soon for a full renovation lasting a year or so , plus the addition of new facilities, including a second screen.

It all sounds exciting… we’ll be back.

j j j

Maybe don’t give honours to the famous or to politicians…

If someone ever asks what you think about the honours system, they may have a hidden motive.

That’s what happened to me two years or so ago. A friend asked with deceptive casualness what I thought about honours.

Perhaps I glimpsed what lay behind his question, as my reply was bubble-wrapped in waffle. Later my friend told me he’d just been offered an MBE and was wondering whether to accept.

He did and now carries those letters after his name. A deserved honour for a good man and you’ll get no argument from me about that.

But honours still stink sometimes. And we’ll get to that bad smell in a paragraph or two.

As it happens, my view then as now is that the system offers proper recognition for those who deserve the honour – and shabby elevation for those who don’t.

According to a report in the Daily Mirror a couple of days ago, between 1951 and 1999, 277 people declined an honour, as confirmed by the Cabinet Office in 2012.

Early refuseniks included film director Alfred Hitchcock and children’s author Roald Dahl. More recent decliners include French and Saunders, David Bowie, Paul Weller, Danny Boyle, Ken Loach, Alan Bennett, Jon Snow and Benjamin Zephaniah.

The TV cook Nigella Lawson also turned down an OBE, reportedly saying: “I’m not saying lives and I’m not doing anything other than something I absolutely love.”

A rejection as finely sieved as her flour.

Most of this year’s honours went to ordinary people for the contributions they have made to society – people such as my friend.

That seems perfectly fine.

The problem comes when the recipients are already famous, such as the singer Sir Elton John or the cricketer Ben Stokes, both honoured the other day. No doubting their respective greatness in field or on piano stool, but they don’t really need an honour, do they?

Honours to sports stars such as Stokes are often made in a burst of over-excitement about some victory or other. Fair enough, but to use the Nigella Formula, they’re not saving lives, just doing what they love.

Sometimes your view may depend on how you regard the person being honoured. Favourable in my case for the cookery writer Nigel Slater OBE, a long-time kitchen friend; horribly unfavourable in the case of the Tory MP Iain Duncan Smith, proud Brexiter, benefits slasher and all too public picker of his nose (anyone could be guilty of one of those, but not all three).

Granting a knighthood to the architect of universal credit is just outrageous. Only last April the Institute for Fiscal Studies said that universal credit disproportionately reduced incomes among poorer adults. A cruel system introduced by a man of casual cruelty (oh go on then, slap an ‘allegedly’ in there if you must).

That is the main reason Duncan Smith should never have been given this honour. Other disqualifications should have included his charmless interventions in public life, his rank air of superiority, his preening uselessness, that wanky sports car – and all those times he makes me swear at the radio.

I will hand over to the financial broadcaster Paul Lewis, who tweeted:

“Iain Duncan Smith gets a knighthood as long as he applies online at a public library, declares his and his wife’s income and capital, gives up two of his four children, and then waits six weeks for it. If he fails to meet targets his award is downgraded to a CBE for 12 months.”

Ruder observations were made on Twitter, but I like that one. Duncan Smith is a man without honour who didn’t deserve one.

A good improvement to the honours system would be for all serving politicians to be denied honours. The partisan backslapping involved in political honours really does this country no favours.


j j j

Defending A Christmas Carol in the fuming face of Peter Hitchens

Politics out. Here instead are a few thoughts about what has passed before these occasionally boozed softened eyes over Christmas.

The unexpected treat has been catching up with Paddington 2, just the perfect family film: genuinely hilarious and made with beautiful visual wit. Ben Whishaw (“voice only”, as it says in the Radio Times) does a lovely bit of ventriloquism as Paddington, the lovable, chaos-cuddled bear.

In this outing Paddington ends up in the clink, where he is befriended by “Knuckles” McGinty (Brendan Gleeson, wrapped in a duvet beard). Hugh Grant has a ball as the villainous thespian Phoenix Buchanan, the man responsible for sending Paddington down.

The new A Christmas Carol adaptation from Steve Knight, the writer of Peaky Blinders, stirred up a blizzard of indignation, most of it from Peter Hitchens boiling his kettle dry in the Mail on Sunday. Here is the beginning of his column…

“The BBC plans to rewrite Charles Dickens tonight, complete with the f-word and a scene showing a character urinating on a grave. It has no right to do so.”

Here, with apologies, is more: “…most of us have been clobbered into submission by the Corporation’s revolutionaries by now. Either we take what we are given, or we know better than to watch in the first place.”

Boy, Hitchens was cross, but then you don’t get a column in the Mail on Sunday unless you are perpetually pissed off about something or other, preferably the BBC.

As you might expect he trundled out that battered old line about how good Alastair Sim was in the film Scrooge. Peter, that came out in 1951, we can’t stay frozen to that interpretation for ever.

“Don’t watch this poison,” he spluttered towards the end of his column, possibly before going for a lie-down.

What nonsense. This was a thrilling adaptation, a little slow to settle it is true, but the third instalment was a brilliant arranging of all the broken pieces.

It beats me why people become so cross about everything. There is little point in putting on A Christmas Carol unless you do something different. Otherwise you might as well show that old Alastair Sim movie and give Peter Hitchens a security blanket.

Guy Pearce offered a different Ebenezer Scrooge, younger than is usual, good looking and charismatic, yet a cold nihilist too, a venture capitalist who weighs capital in souls.

A Christmas Carol is such a robust and good story it can take any number of interpretations. By the end of this one, Scrooge had been transformed into a good man, even if the Cratchits were wary of the change in his personality.

Visually this was astonishing at times, especially in that last episode, with Tim Cratchit falling through the ice in the ceiling above where Scrooge sat in his lonely house. And don’t tell Peter Hitchens, but 10-year-old Lenny Rush was the best Tim there’s been.

This Christmas Carol also attracted criticism for casting a black actor, Vinette Robinson, as Mary Cratchit. The usual suspect whinge-buckets lined up to groan about political correctness, almost certainly having gone mad.

Here are two ripostes to that charge.

One is that such mixed-race marriages did exist in Dickens’ time, a point well made on Twitter by Kate Lister, of Leeds Trinity University and the Whores of Yore website. Kate helpfully ran a series of historical photographs of such couples.

The second is that with artistic licence, anyone can play anyone; it’s all artifice anyway, and so long as an actor can pull you into the story, what does it matter?

Vinette Robinson was wonderful in a key role, a woman abused and belittled by Scrooge, but who then exacts a surprising revenge. Her scorn alone was worth the price of entry.

The return of Gavin & Stacey was watched by nearly 12 million people and most of them should have left feeling happy. Not everyone gets this sentimental comic drama, but once acceptance arrives, it is hard to resist, and this return after 10 years was as sweet and sour as ever.

Gavin and Stacey, always bit players in their own story, are going off the boil romantically after three kids, but then find their spark again.

Smithy returns to Barry for Christmas, trailing a posh and frightful fiance, but not before old romantic habits trip him up. Nessa emerges briefly from that brutal shell she constructs in order to hide her true feelings. But it all ended with those true feelings being spoken.

I admit that the thought of having to watch James Corden again put me off, but it all went down sweetly in the end.


 

j j j

As the politicians throw bricks, we should try to stick up for the BBC…

Brexit battered and bewildered, Boris blitzed and buggered. Such alliterative abuse of the first consonant shouldn’t be allowed, but perhaps my editor won’t be paying attention.

This isn’t really about politics, as it’s all been too much. This is about politicians rounding on the BBC in the kicking fields of Westminster.

As it licks its deep wounds, Labour scowls across at the BBC, complaining that the corporation’s reporting played a role in its electoral defeat. And over in the smug seats, the new Tory government raises its own chorus of threatening belittlement.

They’re both unhappy so we must be doing something right – that’s the traditional BBC response to such double-headed assaults.

The BBC’s coverage of the election was far from perfect, but only because it just never can be. Closer study than a glance from one man on a ledge will decide this one. As a snap judgment, I’d say the BBC is sometimes pro-government in outlook, and as the Conservatives are so often in power, that gives an impression of being pro-Tory.

Despite that, Johnson the victor is threatening to cramp the BBC by turning it into a Netflix-style subscription service, something apparently long favoured by Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s semi-hidden adviser, a man who lurks in the shadowy gutter of national life.

The government is also refusing to appear on the BBC Today programme, in response to what it regards as anti-Tory bias.

This is childish or chilling or maybe both.

Two incidents are thought to lie behind this threatening behaviour.

One is Andrew Neil fronting up Johnson about his refusal to be interviewed; the other is said to be the BBC’s extensive reporting of that interview with the local reporter who asked Johnson about the boy being treated on a hospital floor (an ITV reporter mind, but they don’t seem to get it in the neck like the BBC).

To risk harming what, for all its problems, remains one of the most trusted institutions in Britain, and around the world, is just rankly irresponsible.

This is doubly so as the Tories get most things their own way in these matters. Nearly all the newspapers were slavishly on side for the election, kissing Johnson’s fat Etonian arse, while kicking Jeremy Corbyn’s skinnier behind all down the street and back.

With bias in mind, the veteran BBC newsreader Hugh Edwards wrote something interesting on LinkedIn earlier this week (I know, interesting and LinkedIn – remarkable!).

Looking back on his 35th year at the BBC, Edwards said that the BBC now faced “toxic cynicism and accusations of bias (from all sides)”. He added that the “real purpose of many of the attacks is to undermine trust in institutions which have been sources of stability over many decades. The apparent purpose, in short, is to cause chaos and confusion”.

Edwards said much else besides that is interesting, so do seek out his words.

Here is one section ready plucked and put on a plate for you…

“It’s not ‘biased’ just because you happen not to like it. And here we have the real poison of the social media age: there is a refusal to entertain an alternative point of view; there is a desire to embrace only those sources which confirm your own ‘worldview’ or ‘groupthink’; in short, it’s ‘biased’ if it challenges your own bias. It’s unhealthy and profoundly damaging.”

How true, Hugh.

The best comment I’ve seen from the other side is this from Chris Bryant, Labour MP for the Rhondda – “politicians who complain about their portrayal in the media always seem like fishermen complaining about the sea. Our whole task is to navigate choppy seas”.

In the spirit of supporting the BBC as it faces down Boris Johnson, I tentatively nudged open the door to the Today programme. That door shut two minutes later when Dr Liam Fox, the arch Brexiter, filled the airways with the usual nonsense.

Back to BBC Radio Three, for beautiful music, gentle chat and a minute’s worth of news about once an hour (just enough).

To borrow from an unlikely source, I’ll be back. But for now, Brexit, Boris, Trump, Corbyn – and the rest – are testing the patience of this lifelong news junkie.


j j j

A few despairing thoughts about Corbyn from one Labour voter…

I boiled my head in social media for two days until it was a sweet, sticky mess. Then I shook off the hateful detritus and wondered what to think.

Boris Johnson won an unexpectedly large majority because he had a simple message: Get Brexit Done. Never mind it was a lie (we all know it won’t be done for years). Never mind that he did as much as anyone to stop Brexit getting done under Theresa May.

Johnson persuaded traditional northern Labour areas that he offered bright new hope. They looked at him and said, “Life is shit, we’ll give you our vote” – even though life was shit because of his party.

He persuaded Jeremy Corbyn and Jo Swinson to go for an election date of his choosing, when they should have strung him along.

Tony Blair warned Corbyn that agreeing to an election before Brexit was sorted was an elephant trap. But Blair is the devil incarnate in Corbyn circles, even when he’s right.

Johnson gamed the election with cynical brilliance, using fake social media posts, lies and deceptions, bluster and bullshit. He gamed it by refusing to do interviews. He gamed it by doing what his handlers told him to do.

Oh, I don’t know how he did it. Sometimes there is something in the air. Or the political molecules have a new charge. Sometimes people want a change, even if it’s more of the same but with a different clown at the wheel.

I boiled my head in social media for two days until it was a sweet, sticky mess. Endless comments from disenchanted Labour voters like me; endless self-serving comments from Corbyn supporters who still don’t get it.

Elections are won and lost for many reasons, but the shorthand here is simple: Labour lost because of Jeremy Corbyn. I know that’s hard for his most ardent followers to accept. But it’s true.

You can blame Brexit. You can blame the crooked establishment media. You can say as Corbyn’s sons did in a touching letter to their father that they’d “never known a politician to be smeared and vilified so much”. Oh, I don’t know – you could always check in with your dad’s friend Diane Abbott, more vilified than just about anyone.

You can say that your manifesto trended well. You can scrabble statistics and say Labour did better than it seems. Or you can just accept you lost. That you lost disastrously. And that you lost because of Jeremy Corbyn’s weakness as a leader.

Corbyn’s ridiculous Brexit fudge was impossible to swallow. Johnson’s liar’s toffee was as sweet as a new-born lie.

As for the charges of antisemitism, they may have been designed to harm him. But Corbyn’s lack of action failed to remove that stain.

Even in retreat, Corbyn can’t just say, yes, it was down to me. Even as he apologises today for Labour’s heavy defeat, he says he remains proud of his party’s campaign (you know, the one that was such a disaster). More denial, more dithered exclamations of, “Yeah, but…”

It is true that many sections of the media behaved appallingly towards Labour. But they always have and always will. A Labour leader needs to know how to play them at their own game. Not sigh and look exasperated.

Politicians can be lucky in their opponents and Johnson was lucky in his. Corbyn was lucky in Theresa May last time around. But he didn’t win then; and he didn’t win this time either. Everything is meaningless unless you win elections.

I boiled my head in social media for two days until it was a sweet, sticky mess. And here is something. After his 1992 loss, Neil Kinnock said: “I accepted blame because I was to blame. I don’t think you can lead a party to two successive electoral defeats and consider yourself to be free of blame.”

There’s a lesson for Jeremy Corbyn in there.

As for his party, they should elect a woman next time, but not Jess Phillips (as much of an egotist as Johnson). And probably not Rebecca Long-Bailey (too much of a female Corbyn). Angela Rayner would get my vote if I had one: not too extreme, a good life story to tell, an opposing pole to Johnsonian privilege.

One final piece of advice to Labour fanatics (as opposed to humdrum Labour voters such as myself): don’t expend so much energy on hating factions on your own side – it’s the other lot you need to worry about.

j j j