Archive for the ‘Languages’ Category

Peter Hitchens on Tony Blair’s Stupidity

January 16, 2023

Yeah, I know this ad hominem, but it is funny. Novara Media’s Aaron Bastani interviewed Tory iconoclast Peter Hitchens the other day. The two don’t really have much in common, but Bastani justified the interview saying that if you want to be certain in your political views, you should test them by talking to people who hold the opposite. Hitchen’s is very much a man of the right, and some of his views are odd, if not barking. He believes, for example, that we shouldn’t have gone to war with Germany as it was not in our interests. Perhaps it wasn’t, but we had signed the defence pacts with France and Poland, And if we hadn’t gone to war, I think we would have still lost the empire sooner or later. Plus we would have been excluded from a continent under Nazi domination. And this is not to mention the carnage that would have been perpetrated by the Nazis, with the Jews and Gypsies becoming extinct in Europe, followed by the Czechs and the Slav populations enslaved as peasant farmers supplying produce to their German overlords.

On the other hand, Hitchens has said that he never supported Thatcher’s sale of the council houses or the privatisation of the prison system, because justice, as a principle, should be in the hands of the state. He also states in one of his books that he was shocked into an awareness of how fragile civilisation was after visiting one of the failed African countries as a journalist in the 1980s. The country had descended into vicious gang violence, but walking through its capital Hitchens saw everywhere grand architecture and all the signs of modern corporate development. I think this gives an insight into the basis of his own Tory views. I remember reading in the Spectator years ago that the right-wing philosopher Roger Scruton abandoned the left when he witnessed the rioting in Paris during the 1968 student and workers’ protests. He was alarmed by their ‘anti-civilisational rage’.

Back to the interview, Hitchens described Blair’s spin doctor, Alistair Campbell, as being frightening intelligent. He mentioned people, who really thought for the first few months of Blair’s regime that it was Campbell running the country. He joked that it was probably because of Campbell’s mighty intellect that he was kept away from voters, as he would probably frighten them all away.

But Blair, on the other hand, wasn’t terribly bright and Hitchens doubted that he could have run the country without Campbell. To illustrate his point, he told the story of how he briefly met Blair just before the 1997 election. Blair was in Oxford, travelling in his motorcade. Hitchens was following him by bike, but as the traffic was bad, he got to Blair’s destination before him. After Blair had arrived, he was immediately surrounded by a crowd taking pictures. Hitchens wanted to talk to Blair, and so, after the crowd had finished and dispersed, he walked up to the future Prime Minister. He decided to open the conversation by asking who the crowd were. Blair replied, ‘They’re Brazilians. I’m very popular down there.’

‘Oh, you should learn Portuguese then,’ replied Hitch.

‘What?’

It turned out that Blair thought they spoke Brazilian in Brazil. Hitchens concluded that what Blair really wanted to be was a pop star, and you didn’t need to ascribe any deep ideological motives to him.

There was, nevertheless, an ideological basis to his policies. He was a product of BAP, the British-American Project for the Successor Generation, which was set up by Reagan to influence the rising generation of British politicians from both the Conservatives and Labour. Blair had started out as a supporter of nuclear disarmament, but after going on a BAP-sponsored trip to America and hearing the views of various right-wing think tanks, he came back as an opponent. He was fervently Thatcherite, believing in the superiority of private industry and strongly influenced by the American political system. Private Eye ran several pieces about the American private healthcare and prison companies lining up to donate to New Labour in the hope of getting some of that nationalised action. He took over advisers and staff from private healthcare companies as well as other businesses, and pushed the privatisation of the NHS further than the Tories would have dared. As stupid as he may have been, he set the course for right-wing Labour, and Starmer shows every indication of returning to it.

GB News’ Mark Steyn Coming Very Close to Pushing Fascist Conspiracy Theories about Covid Vaccine

January 5, 2023

GB News, the self-proclaimed alternative to the ‘wet, woke BBC’, is in this fortnight’s Private Eye. The broadcaster apparently has overtaken Sky News in ratings, and has taken to pushing stupid, and potentially dangerous conspiracy theories. These include myths that the vaccine doesn’t work, or is responsible for deaths, and that there’s no need for the lockdown. Pretty much staples of the wider right-wing anti-vaxxer fringe. But one of these conspiracy theories comes very close to fascism. Mark Steyn has apparently told his viewers that the coronavirus vaccine is the cause of the falling birthrate in the west of the ‘Aryans’, who built civilisation. Firstly, as the 19th century linguist, who used the term ‘Aryan’ for what are now termed the Indo-European languages, George Muller, it’s a linguist not racial term. A dark-skinned Indian, who speaks Hini or one of the other languages descended from Sanskrit, or an Urdu-speaking Pakistani can both be fairly described as Aryans, because their languages are derived from that introduced by the Aryans, who invaded Indian c. 3000 BC. But both would be targeted by the Nazis over here because of their race. Muller stated quite clearly that conflating Aryan with race was dangerous, and it’s a pity more people didn’t listen to him otherwise the carnage of the Third Reich might have been avoided.

He’s right that the birthrates in the developed west are falling along with the sperm count of western men. This is alarming, as there have been predictions by respectable magazines and newspapers that if it continues, by 2050 half of western men will be considered clinically infertile. No-one really knows the cause of this, but it’s been suggested since the 1990s that a type of plastic, phthallates, may be responsible. Other causes are probably the industrial pollution responsible for the reproductive deformities in amphibians, which Alex Jones notoriously declared were ‘turning the frickin’ frogs gay’. These chemicals are believed to mimic female hormones, hence their damage to those animals. I’ve also seen claims that it’s all due to female hormones from the reproductive pill getting into the biosphere, but I haven’t seen any scientist make this claim. In my opinion, it comes from that part of the right which is anti-feminist and so pro-life as to condemn contraception as well as abortion. I also got the impression that all western men were affected, including Blacks and Asians, and not just Whites.

Steyn’s claims resemble the conspiracy theories that were going around the Black communities in America and possibly apartheid South Africa back in the 90s. These claimed that the government was putting chemicals in Coca-Cola to sterilise young Black men. That was totally wrong, though it was understandable given the persecution of Blacks in both those countries. Steyn’s is a first-world, White version of this. It comes very close to all the stupid and murderous conspiracy theories about the machinations of the Jews to enslave and destroy the White race, although as far as I know Steyn isn’t an anti-Semite.

He is, however, an Islamophobe. About a decade ago he was a partner with late Reaganite bloviator Rush Limbaugh and his radio station out in New Hampshire. Much of the content Steyn put out on his blogs and columns on the internet were attacks on Islam, including some of the weirder rulings made by Iran’s late Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Khomeini. He was one of those pushing the ‘Eurabia’ fear. This holds that Muslim birthrates are outstripping those of indigenous European Whites to such an extent that they will become the dominant race and religion and impose sharia law. A friend of mine told me he did some calculations, and that’s simply not going to happen. I don’t doubt that the Muslim population will expand immensely in the next decades, and this will present serious problems if the radicals and Islamists extend their influence over these communities, but it won’t lead to their population overtaking everyone else’s.

Steyn also tried to warn or scare people with the example of Feyenoord in the Netherlands. This is a majority Muslim town where some decades ago the Muslim dominated city council publicly invited the non-Muslim population to convert. I don’t know, but I think their attitude would be unremarkable, perhaps even ordinary in very pious, hardline Muslim countries like Pakistan, where non-Muslims can come under very intense pressure to convert. But obviously in the context of the non-Muslim, secular west, where religion is considered a matter for the individual’s private conscience, it’s totally unacceptable. The problem is, I don’t know how common such political moves by Muslim-controlled local authorities are. As far as I know, it only happened in Feyenoord, although I’m sure that non-Muslims living in solidly Muslim areas are under pressure to conform to their standards of behaviour.

Away from Steyn, the article describes how GB News, like Fox over in the US, threw in their lot with Donald Trump, talking him as US president until it became the ‘MAGA channel’. Their predictions of Trump’s eminent suitability for the Oval Office was definitely born out by the Orange Buffoons massive greed, incompetence and disastrous policies towards blue collar workers – more attacks on their rights, further decimation of their welfare provisions to enrich Trump’s friends and donors, and more outsourcing. As well as attempts to muzzle federal climate and environmental scientists for the benefit of the oil industry. And I could go on.

As for GB News’ attitudes over here, it’s solidly behind Farage and Brexit and resolutely against the welfare state and the NHS. If you’re a member of the working class, GB News is not your friend. But the stupid conspiracy theories about the coronavirus vaccine threaten to do real harm. We’ve already seen instances where people have refused the vaccine, then caught the virus and died. And Steyn’s story about birthrates and ‘Aryans’ threatens to encourage real Nazis and Fascists, who’ll target not just Muslims but Jews.

Video on Archaeology’s Challenge to Enlightenment Accounts of Origins of States and Inequality

December 8, 2022

This is a fascinating video I found on Novara Media’s channel the other day. In it, host Aaron Bastani talks to archaeologist David Wengrow about the origins of the state and the development of social inequality. Wengrow argues that the evidence from archaeology challenges assumptions that prehistoric and preliterate peoples were incapable of rationally deciding for themselves what kind of societies they wished to live in. He gives examples from prehistoric Europe and North and South America to show that ancient and indigenous peoples not only did decide on the kind of societies they wanted, but were perfectly capable of reversing trends in their societies towards authoritarianism. One of the examples of this, which I found truly jaw-dropping, was one of the city states the conquistador Hernan Cortes made alliance with against the Aztecs. Unlike the Aztec empire, that state city was a democratic republic. He also talks about the influence on Enlightenment critiques of western society of a Huron Indian chief in Canada, who was an intelligent conversationalist able to hold his own in conversations about the nature of society to such an extent that French, British and Dutch colonial authorities invited him to dinner to talk this matter over.

Wengrow starts off by stating that modern political theory about the origins of society, as taught in politics courses, is completely divorced from archaeological accounts. The theory is based on the speculations of foundational Enlightenment thinkers like Hobbes and Rousseau, who admitted that they were speculating. But these accounts are now taught as fact. Archaeological research, however, is overturning previous ideas about the origins of urban society. For example, it was believed that agriculture and urbanisation were linked and appeared together as part of the Neolithic Revolution. But this is not the case. Excavations of the ancient city of Catalhuyuk in Turkey show that while it was an urban centre, although Wengrow hesitates to call it a city, show that its people were still hunter-gatherers, living by foraging rather than agriculture. And the same is true of the settlement at Amesbury at the time Stonehenge was being built. The people then had given up agriculture, although they retained animal husbandry. It appears they had tried growing crops and then rejected it in favour of foraging.

He then goes on to talk about the Huron Amerindian chief. He inspired a colonist from New France, who had been expelled from the colony, to write a book based on the chief and his dinner conversation when the colonist was penniless in Amsterdam. This became a massive Enlightenment bestseller, and inspired other books by Voltaire and others in which Chinese, Tahitians and other outsiders criticise European society. Wengrow states that the Indian societies surprise western Europeans because they were much less hierarchical than they were, and contact with these societies and the indigenous critics of western civilisation did influence European political philosophy. We easily accept that Europe took over many material products from these nations, but are much less ready to accept the idea that they influenced our ideas, even though the Enlightenment philosophers said that they had.

He also talks about Cahokia, a great pyramid and city state in the Mississippi valley in America. This appears to be another example of a society, in which people rebelled or simply walked away from authority and hierarchy. It was also another indigenous monument that was ascribed to everyone else but the native peoples when it was first discovered, and is now disrespected by having a road driven through it. When it was constructed, the local society seems to have been hierarchical. At the top of the mound is a structure from which all of the city could be viewed. But sometime after its heyday it was abandoned. The traditional reasons are that the climate changed, but Wengrow finds that unconvincing. What seems to have happened instead is that people simply got tired of living in such a society and walked away.

Tenochtitlan, one of the great cities in ancient Mexico, is another example of a strongly hierarchical society that underwent profound social change and became more democratic. Wengrow states that it’s a massive state, and they owe a debt to the French scholar who produced detailed maps of it. When it first emerged, it was hierarchical but then the nature of society changed. People started living in high-quality, single-floor homes. These were so good they were originally thought to be palaces, but now it appears they were villas occupied by ordinary citizens. At some point, the people of Tenochtitlan decided that they wanted a more equal society, to the extent that some scholars believe that there was a revolution.

Then there is the case of the democratic city state Cortes encountered. This really was democratic, as there are accounts of the debates in its assembly. This astonished the conquistadors, as there was very little like it in Europe at the time, except some of the Florentine republics. This all challenges the notion that once society develops to a certain extent and becomes complex, inequality also emerges and is very difficult to challenge or remove. These cases show that indigenous peoples could and did. He also argues that the same may have been true of slavery. The only successful slave revolt that we know of is Toussant L’Ouverture in Haiti. But Wengrow suggests there could have been thousands of other successful slave revolts in prehistory of which we are unaware. Slavery came about, he argues, from the expense of laying out offerings for the dead. In order to leave food and drink for the dead, the bereaved had to have access to the foods themselves and so they became indebted and dependent on the people who owned those resources.

He also talks about the problems in describing some of these urban centres as cities. There are huge sites in the Ukraine, but archaeologists are hesitant about calling them cities with some preferring other terms such as ‘mega-sites’ because they aren’t centralised.

Bastani asks him at one point about the problem of pseudo-archaeology. I think this came up because Graham Hancock is currently fronting a series on Netflix claiming that way back in prehistory there was an advanced society, but that it was destroyed in a global cataclysm. Wengrow states that quite often pseudo-archaeology is based on old and discarded idea, such as Atlantis. The people involved tend not to be anyone who’s ever been on an archaeological dig, and view archaeologists as spending their lives trying to hide some momentous secret from everyone. But it can act as an entry for some people to archaeology, and he doesn’t really like the sneering attitude of some archaeologists towards it.

Wengrow himself is an interesting character. He didn’t want to be an archaeologist originally, but came to it from acting. He also worked in the BBC Arabic service. He decided at one point he wanted to get a degree, applied to the best university he could, Oxford, and sent reams of applications to its various colleges. They turned him down. Then he was told that he should apply for a place on a course that was just being set up. One of the colleges was just setting up an archaeology course, so he did. When it came to the interview, he told the interviewer that he had always wanted to be an archaeologist. At which point she held up all the previous letters he’d written. But they admitted him, and he has now had a career teaching and excavating in places like Egypt.

He states that sometimes the pseudoarchaeology about a period or culture misses the point about what’s really interesting about it. He talks about the idea that the Sphinx was constructed before the pyramids, and admits that it’s actually a reasonable question. But if you go back to the predynastic period a thousand years before the pyramids were built, you come to the burial sites of one of Egypt’s first kings. This is fascinating, although you wouldn’t know it from the dry way it has been discussed in conferences and museums like the Petrie Museum. Excellent though these are, they talk about highly specialised subjects like pot typography which is excruciatingly dull if you want to know the wider picture. The early king’s tomb is composed of room after room of the bodies of the people and occasionally the animals that were slaughtered to accompany the king into the afterlife.

The interview is based on a book Wengrow wrote with a colleague, The Dawn of Everything. Sadly, after spending a decade writing it, the co-author died just a few weeks after its completion. The book has been widely praised, and has even inspired artistic pieces. He talks about a French woman, who composed a piece of music based on it. He regrets he was unable to attend its performance thanks to jet lag coming back from somewhere, but later met the lady when she came to Britain.

I know a little about some of what he’s talking about to have no doubt that he’s absolutely right. One of the seminars in the archaeology department at Bristol, which I attended, was about how cities like Catalhuyuk were established before the appearance of agriculture. One of the huge Neolithic sites in the Ukraine is discussed in the La Rousse Encyclopedia of Archaeology. The great mound of Cahokia is also discussed in a book I bought years ago on North American Indian archaeology. I wasn’t aware that the people of Stonehenge had given up growing crops, nor of the democratic city states in South America and Mexico. This is fascinating stuff.

He’s right about archaeology contradicting the ideas of Enlightenment philosophers about the origins of society, though I’m not sure how much of a problem this is. The philosophers he discusses – Hobbes and Rousseau – were Social Contract theorists. Social Contract theory is the idea that the state and society were set up when men came together to select an authority under whom they would live, so that their lives and property would be protected. Thus the first kings. These princes are the representatives of the people, and so from the 17th century onwards the idea developed that sovereignty lay with the people, who could revoke the power they had delegated to the prince. This was the view of John Locke. However, subsequent philosophers showed that this was just conjecture, and that it could have happened like that as the people at the time were using concepts that only subsequently developed after the foundation of states and kingdoms. I thought Social Contract theory was dead, and he closest it had to a modern advocate was John Rawls in his Theory of Justice. Rawls argued that if people were just disembodied entities wishing to chose the kind of society in which they would care to live, they would choose one that had the maximum freedom and justice for everyone, as that would also include them. Away from centrist politics, the anarchists have been keenly interested in anthropology and those indigenous societies where there is no central authority.

I’m not sure how well some of this would go down with Sargon of Akkad and the Lotus Eaters. They’ve developed an interest in archaeology, recently posting a video discussing Homo Erectus, along with the Norman Conquest and ancient Rome. But Sargon is a huge fan of John Locke and describes himself as a classical liberal. I don’t know whether archaeology’s findings about the origin of early states would contradict his ideas or not.

Sketch of Businessman and Comic Actor and Host Kenneth Horne

December 5, 2022

Here’s another sketch of one of my favourite comedy figures from the past, Kenneth Horne. Horne’s Wikipedia entry is rather long, but the potted biography with which it begins runs

Charles Kenneth Horne, generally known as Kenneth Horne, (27 February 1907 – 14 February 1969) was an English comedian and businessman. He is perhaps best remembered for his work on three BBC Radio series: Much-Binding-in-the-Marsh (1944–54), Beyond Our Ken (1958–64) and Round the Horne (1965–68).

The son of a clergyman who was also a politician, Horne had a burgeoning business career with Triplex Safety Glass, which was interrupted by service with the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. While serving in a barrage balloon unit, he was asked to broadcast as a quizmaster on the BBC radio show Ack-Ack, Beer-Beer. The experience brought him into contact with the more established entertainer Richard Murdoch, and the two wrote and starred in the comedy series Much-Binding-in-the-Marsh. After demobilisation Horne returned to his business career and kept his broadcasting as a sideline. His career in industry flourished, and he later became the chairman and managing director of toy manufacturers Chad Valley.

In 1958 Horne suffered a stroke and gave up his business dealings to focus on his entertainment work. He was the anchor figure in Beyond Our Ken, which also featured Kenneth Williams, Hugh Paddick, Betty Marsden and Bill Pertwee. When the programme came to an end in 1964, the same cast recorded four series of the comedy Round the Horne.

Before the planned fifth series of Round the Horne began recording, Horne died of a heart attack while hosting the annual Guild of Television Producers’ and Directors’ Awards; Round the Horne could not continue without him and was withdrawn. The series has been regularly re-broadcast since his death. A 2002 BBC radio survey to find listeners’ favourite British comedian placed Horne third, behind Tony Hancock and Spike Milligan.’

See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenneth_Horne

I came across Beyond Our Ken and Round the Horne when the Beeb repeated them on the Sunday midday slot, Smash of the Day, in the early 1980s, and it’s been one of my favourite radio shows since. It had a bizarre cast of characters, such as the folk singer Ramblin’ Sid Rumpo and his ganderbag, J. Peasemold Gruntfuttock, a breathy bloke who was supposedly always writing into the programme. Gruntfuttock had strange delusions, at one point declaring himself ‘Dictator Gruntfuttock of Peasemoldia’, which was his house. Other characters included a deranged, demi-literate American film director, Daryl F. Claphanger, who had missed out on making blockbusters by producing films like Nanook of the South. The show also spoofed contemporary radio, television and films. There was the ‘Kenneth Horne Theatre of Mystery and Suspense’ while the Fu Manchu films were sent up in the tales of the crazy plots of Dr Chu-En Ginsberg, M.A., (failed). But most memorable of all was the ‘Trends’ feature with Julian and Sandy, who ran ‘Bona – ‘ whatever the subject was that day. The two were extremely camp and spoke in Polari, a language used by the gay community. Each edition, Horne would go to their new shop or business venture to inquire about their business. They’d greet him in raptures with cries of ‘Oh, Mr Horne! How bona it is to barda your dolly old eke again! Bona! Bona!’ Which, translated means, ‘How good it is to see your old face again.’ Polari wasn’t just used by gay men. It was also the language of actors and carnival showmen, according to Partridge’s Dictionary of Historical Slang. It’s used as such by an alien showman, who attempts to speak to Jon Pertwee’s Doctor in it, in the Dr Who serial ‘Carnival of Monsters’. You could, therefore, see them as just two resting actors being very ‘theatrical’. In fact, it was very clear they were gay, and at times the programme almost told you, if you understand Polari. Ramblin’ Sid in the preface to one of his songs said that its hero was ‘an omee palone’. Omee means man, palone, woman. Omee palone, ‘man woman’, meant gay man. This must have been quite edgy humour for the time, as when the shows were broadcast homosexuality was still illegal. On one TV show looking back at the comedy shows of the past, one of the talking heads said that the older generation were always suspicious of it, and especially of what was being said in Polari. And no doubt with good reason. Previously the BBC had forbidden jokes about the religion, the monarchy, disability, the colour question and effeminacy in men. Times were changing in the 1960s and so all these prohibitions were eventually discarded.

Julian and Sandy, played by Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick, were immensely popular. If you go on YouTube, you’ll find a number of videos of them, and they made two records, Round the Horne: The Complete Julian and Sandy, and The Bona World of Julian and Sandy. Long after the series had been originally broadcast, the two characters, played by Williams and Paddick, appeared on Terry Wogan in the 1980s. I did wonder if the two were now hated by the gay community as malign stereotypes, in the same way that John Inman’s Mr Humphries in Are You Being Served? was bitterly resented by American gays when that show was broadcast in San Francisco in the 1970s. But it seems it isn’t. A year or so ago London Transport or the London Underground celebrated gay pride by putting up posters of the Polari greeting around the city.

Horne himself was a genial host, who was himself the butt of the programme’s jokes. One such ran, ‘And now the question of the week is: what was I doing naked in Trafalgar fountain at such and such a time last weekend? Answers to my lawyers please.’ Williams had aspirations to perform in better or my highbrow material than the parts he got, but always respected Horne even if he was withering in his views of the programme itself.

The series also came from a time when it was still possible to write solely for the radio, or to start off on radio and move to television. Such writers have lamented that due to the rise of television and other media, this is no longer possible. Round the Horne and Beyond Our Ken are, as far as I know, all on CD, and there are a number of episodes on YouTube. In 2003 there was a play about the show, Round the Horne, Revisited, which is also on YouTube.

Yiddish Workers’ Song

November 25, 2022

This is a real piece of forgotten Jewish working-class culture. I’ve put up a number of Socialist Jewish songs and anthems in Yiddish and Hebrew, including the Communist Internationale and the anthem of the Russian/Polish Bund. The Bund were the mass Jewish socialist party in Poland, fighting for the rights of Polish Jews who strongly rejected Zionism and wished to live in peace and equality in their native country with their gentile Polish compatriots. This song, Dem Arbeters Lid, ‘The Workers’ Song’, from Jane Peppler’s channel on YouTube, is characteristically Jewish but also strongly internationalist It says at one point that ‘race and nationality mean nothing to you’. It comes from the Jewish Labor Movement, which I would imagine is the American Jewish socialist movement, as shown by the thumbnail of a picket line of lady tailors on strike. It’s composer, Louis Gilrod, used as the tune the American song ‘The Mother of the Girl I Love’. It’s in Waltz time and reminds me very strongly of Edwardian British parlour songs.

It opens by describing the exhausted, penniless, ‘self-enslaved’ Jewish workers toiling as tailors. Their children are naked and their wives sick and weak. But they will bring about a new social order in which they will be free and there will be no rich and poor. These are sentiments that would no doubt leave the British Jewish Labour Movement, now a part of the Labour party, screaming in fury along with some of the other Blairites. Because somehow, some of them have got it into their tiny minds that socialism is anti-Semitic because it’s against capitalism. Presumably the Blairite moron who said this Radio 4 didn’t realise that by equating capitalism with Jewry she had just expressed the same views as Hitler and other grotty fascists, such as our own wretched Oswald Mosley. The picture of the squalor and poverty of the workers in the garment industry is absolutely accurate. Many, perhaps most of the Jewish immigrants to America were Yiddish-speaking Romanian fleeing persecution in that country. They were dirt poor, living in poorly furnished, overcrowded tenements, sometimes even just occupying stairwells. Many of the women were poorly paid workers in the garment industry. One of the most horrific disasters that hit the New York Jewish community in this period was a fire that broke out in one of the upper stories of one of the clothing factories. This resulted in tens, perhaps over a hundred dead. some of the women were killed because there were no adequate exits, and so leapt to their deaths. As for the myth of Jews sticking together against gentiles, the factories’ owners were also Jews who lived in the affluent districts uptown with their gentile neighbours.

More Sketches of Geniuses of British Comedy: Bob Monkhouse, Rod Hull, Emu, and their Victim Michael Parkinson

November 25, 2022

Bob Monkhouse is, in my opinion, one of the very great figures of late 20th century and early 21st century British comedy. He was not just a comedian, but also game show compering some of the nation’s favourite shows. I can remember him from the early or mid ’70s compering The Golden Shot, for those that can remember that far back. The contestants had to give instructions to blindfolded marksman, Bernie the Bolt to get him to aim a crossbow at a target. If he got it, they won the prize money. I can still hear the words, ‘Up a bit, left a bit…’ and so on. I don’t know if Monkhouse took over from someone else, but there are clips of it on YouTube with a Black presenter with a broad Yorkshire accent. Later on, in the 1980s he presented Family Fortunes. He was asked in one interview what the worse moment from the show was. He replied that it was when one contestant kept replying to each question, ‘Christmas turkey?’ This led to exchanges like ‘What item would you take to the beach on holiday?’ ‘A Christmas turkey’. ‘Interesting answer. We’ll see. Our survey said. -‘ and then the buzzer to indicate that the people surveyed definitely had not replied that they would take a Christmas turkey to the beach’. Monkhouse asked the poor fellow afterwards what happened. He said that he didn’t know, his mind just went blank. In the ’90s or early years of this century he started to come back after a period when he was off camera. I think this followed an appearance on Have I Got News For You, where he displayed his wit. Actually, I think he had scriptwriters with him handing him gags, or perhaps I’m confusing him with another comedian and entertainer whose career was revived by the show.

Monkhouse began his career away from the camera, writing jokes for other comedians and children’s comics. In an interview with the popular science magazine, Focus, he recalled how he nearly created Star Trek. He had been a science fiction fan, and so had an idea about a spaceship, called ‘Enterprise’, whose captain was a Scotsman called Kirk. Ah, that would have been interesting. He also gave praise to the other comedians he believed deserved it for their skill. One on series about various TV comedians, he described Jimmy Carr as ‘the comedians’ comedian’. But that phrase could also easily describe him. He was acutely interested in other comedians and the craft of comedy itself. In the 1980s he had his own show at about 7.30 in the evening, in which he interviewed comedians he admired from Britain and America. One of them, if I recall rightly, was our own Les Dawson. His house was also full of old film and clips of past comedians. He died of prostate cancer a few years. After his death one of the TV channels broadcast his farewell show, with commenters from other comedians. They said they didn’t realise how terribly ill Monkhouse was at the time, and that he was saying ‘goodbye’ to them. Another great comedian lost to us.

Rod Hull and Emu – another brilliant comedy act taken from us by the Grim Reaper. Hull said he was inspired to create Emu while watching a nature programme in New Zealand. This may have shown the country’s national bird, the Kiwi, another flightless bird rooting around on the forest floor. Or it may have shown Australia’s great flightless bird, the emu. Either way, the bird inspired Hull to create this avian monster of children’s television. It was the most terrifying puppet not to come out of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, though some cruel individuals may detect a certain resemblance to the villainous Skeksis in the film The Dark Crystal. Whatever its inspiration, Emus temperament was more like the 12-foot carnivorous Terror Birds that lived after the demise of the dinosaurs. Hull and Emu had a variety of children’s programmes. I remember him from E.B.C. 1 – ‘Emu’s Broadcasting Company’ with Billy Dainty on BBC 1, and then he moved over to ITV and Emu’s World. On E.B.C., Hull and Emu attempt to perform pieces from the Bard, complete with Emu wearing an Elizabeth cap. I also remember a recurring segment where Dainty, another great performer in his own right, dressed in Edward strongman long johns, tried to give advice on getting fit. This was introduced by the 20th Jazz song, ‘Keep fit, take exercise, get fit, and you’ll be wise, whatever you do, keep fit’. The music that introduced the Shakespeare segment, I later found out, was the 16th century German Mohrentanz, played on shawms and crumhorns. Emus also did weather forecasts, which were introduced by the jingle, ‘Weather, weather, all together, what’s it going to do? We don’t know, and so let’s ask, weatherman Emu.’ In addition to his own programmes, he also appeared as a guest on others, most notorious on Parkinson.

Emu’s style of comedy was pure, anarchic slapstick, whether he was on his own programmes or a guest on a chat show. These performances usually started off calmly, with Hull talking quietly and the puppet behaving itself on his arm. If they were being interviewed, Emu would act docile, snuggling up to the interviewer to be stroked. ‘There, he likes that’, Hull would say approvingly. Then it would start to go wrong, the beak would curl up in a snarl and before long Hull, his guest star or the interviewer would be savagely attacked by the thing’s beak, all with Hull screaming, ‘No, Emu! No!’ This would often end up with the three struggling on the floor while the set collapsed around them in a heap of overturned furniture. Emu was a force of pure chaos, bringing down televisual order. And hilariously funny. But it wasn’t all laughs. I can remember my grandmother telling me I was not to get like him with the sock puppets I made, as Hull had admitted he couldn’t control it. I don’t know if that was true, or another reworking of the old fear about ventriloquists and their dummies. I think Emu was also like Sherlock Holmes as the artist’s creation its creator would like to kill off and move away from but couldn’t because of the characters’ immense popularity. Hull himself was sadly taken from us in a domestic accident. He fell off his roof trying to fix his TV aerial.

I couldn’t sketch Rod Hull and the monstrous bird without also including his most famous victim, the chat show host Michael Parkinson. Parkinson’s show, simply called Parkinson, was one of the mainstays of British television. Parkinson interviewed a number of great and famous stars, like Oliver Reed and Mohammed Ali. And then he had the misfortune to interview, and get assaulted, by Emu. This incident has gone down as a piece of broadcasting history. It became so notorious that it was included in a skit in Private Eye commemorating Parkinson being given an honorary degree or doctorate from one of the universities. Whenever a celebrity, actor, sportsman or whoever, is awarded one of these honorary qualifications, the Eye prints a piece celebrating it in Latin, with the title ‘The …. Laudation In Full’. The Latin is easily understood, recognisable from the Latin vocabular in English. The Parkinson laudatio mentioned his interview with pugilist Mohammed Ali, before adding ‘assaultam cum Emu, avis horribilis. Ave, Emu, salutamus Emu, laudamus Emu’. Or words to that effect. Parkinson had his revenge a few years later when he appeared on Room 101. Parkinson naturally wanted Emu to be consigned to the room containing everything rubbish and terrible in the world. He was obliged when Emu was brought on in a miniature guillotine. Parkinson naturally threw the switch or pulled out the block, and one of children’s television’s most comically terrifying puppets was beheaded, with Parkinson shaking his head as if he couldn’t quite work out whether this was appropriate or not.

Three More Heroes of Comedy Sketched – Alan Coren, John Wells and Roy Hudd

November 24, 2022

Here’s another three sketches of some of the people I consider to be great comedy talents – the satirist Alan Coren, and the actors John Wells and Roy Hudd.

I’m not quite satisfied with the picture of Alan Coren, as he really wasn’t jowly or fat in the lower face. But I do think he is one of this country’s greatest comic writers of the 20th century. He was for many years the editor of Punch, and just about the only reason in its last years to read the magazine. Coren’s method was to take a ridiculous story from one of the papers, and then write a ridiculous piece about it. Thus, a story about a ‘sexy actress’ missing her pet tortoise turned into a tale of the said reptile making an excruciatingly slow bid for freedom before finally getting caught. The beginning of package holidays to Spain with booze included turned into a tale of a totally blotto bloke trying to write back home. 1984 is rewritten as if it was about 70s Britain, where nothing works. The press runs headlines like ‘Come Off It, Big Brother’, the Youth Spy is annoying brat who shouts to its mother that Winston Smith has a lady friend, and Room 101 isn’t really terrifying because due to supply problems they can’t get a rat. They offer Smith a hamster instead, but he isn’t afraid of them and annoys them by telling them so. They inflict the hamster on him anyway, and he has to pretend to be frightened. Coren has been accused of racism because of a series of pieces, The Collected Speeches of Idi Amin, and More of the Collected Speeches of Idi Amin, in which he depicted the thug using the stereotypical Black pidgin English. I dare say it is racist, but as it’s directed at a brutal torturer and mass murderer, I honestly don’t care. Amin deserved far worse, and I don’t see Coren as personally racist.

At the same time as he was editing it, Coren also appeared as one of the contestants on Radio 4’s News Quiz, facing Richard Ingrams and Ian Hislop on the opposing side representing Private Eye. I read Private Eye now, but back then I far preferred Punch, which seemed more genteel and funny without being vicious. Punch died the journalistic death after Coren left it to edit the Radio Times, but he still continued to appear on the News Quiz until his sad death in the early ’90s. He eventually stopped editing the Radio Times and took up writing a column in the Times giving his humorous view of life in Cricklewood. These pieces are funny, but the really good stuff was earlier in Punch.

His pieces were collected in a number of books, some of which had deliberately bizarre names. In an interview on Pebble Mill he revealed how one of them got its particularly striking name. He rang up W.H. Smith to ask them what their bestselling books were about. They told him, ‘Cats’. He then asked them what their second bestselling books were about. ‘Golf’, they replied. He then asked them what the third most popular books they sold were about. They told him it was the Second World War. So, he called it Golfing for Cats and stuck a swastika on the cover. For his next book, he contacted them again and asked them what the most popular product they sold was. They told him it was tissues for men, so that’s what he called it.

Coren’s humour was distinctive – it was dry, but also slightly silly. Answering a question on the News Quiz about one of the members of Thatcher’s cabinet, he replied, ‘Oh – this is the ministry of Gummer’. A question about Prince Philip on an edition of the show in Edinburgh prompted him to reply, ‘This is the patron of this fair city, Zorba the Scot’. When the Tory election broadcast for the 1987 general election showed Spitfires and other World War II planes zooming about, Coren remarked that it was the Royal Conservative Airforce and pointed out that when the servicemen came back from the War, they all voted Labour. He’s been succeeded as broadcaster by his daughter, Victoria Coren-Mitchell, who is genuinely erudite and intelligent, and his son, Giles, who is a right-wing snob, and who made a sneering comment about people in council houses. Although Coren edited the patrician and eminently establishment Punch, he himself was a former grammar school lad, and there was a bit of class friction in the News Quiz between himself and the genuinely upper-class team from the downmarket Private Eye. I stopped listening to the News Quiz a long time ago because I got sick of the anti-religious sneers when Sandi Tokvig was chairing it and didn’t agree with many of the views of the panellists, who seemed to be stuck in the London bubble with a contempt for the rest of the country. Previous series are available on DVD, however, and they are well worth listening to, not least because of Coren. A great comic wit, sadly missed.

John Wells. He was one of the Private Eye team and was as patrician and establishment as the people that magazine skewered. He was the headmaster and French teacher at Eton. He was also one of the writers of the Dear Bill diaries in the Eye, which were supposed to be the letters of Dennis Thatcher to Bill Deedes, one of the writers in the Times. The book’s hilariously funny, especially when it describes Keith Joseph getting egged everywhere, but no-one can work out why it’s only him that does. Other highlights include him visiting the old folk’s home in which Ted Heath and Harold Macmillan are respectively housed, with Heath hating and ranting about Thatcher while Macmillan still hates and rants about Heath. As with Bentine and the Bumblies, this work of fiction excited the interest of the security people, who asked Wells where he got his information from. Wells replied that he just made it up, and he wasn’t getting any information from anyone. ‘Thank heaven for that,’ the rozzers replied, ‘We thought there’d been a leak.’ Wells had got the tone of Dennis Thatcher’s speech and mindset exactly right, in my opinion. He also appeared as Thatcher’s husband in the farce Anyone for Dennis?, which I can remember being put on TV. There’s a piece of very Cold War humour there, when the Russian ambassador fears that a nuclear war is imminent and talks about the brave Soviet soldiers with their eyes fixed on the last dawn, before collapsing with relief when he finds out that he’s mistaken.

Wells also appeared as a guest on a number of TV shows, including Lovejoy, and the radio shows The News Quiz and Tales of the Mausoleum Club. He had a camp manner, which he knew how to use for great comic effect. For example, when the teams were answering a question about the controversial portrait of the royal family that showed them all nude, he remarked that it was glad one royal was absent because ‘that would have been really gristly’. A question about the romantic novelist Barbara Cartland prompted him to describe her as a woman, who wrote covered in small, white dogs. Tales from the Mausoleum Club was a series of parodies of Victorian classic literature. One of these was a spoof of Treasure Island, ‘Trevor Island’, in which a gang of pirates go after the treasure buried on the island of Tombola. Wells played the pirate’s camp captain, who at one point remarked, ‘Oh damn, I’ve snapped my second-best bra!’

Roy Hudd. He was on TV quite a bit in the early 70s only to subsequently vanish. I can remember him from when I was at junior school presenting an afternoon programme for the elderly. While he vanished from TV, he carried on broadcasting on the radio, where he was the star of the satirical News Huddlines on Radio 2 with June Whitfield. He also appeared from time to time on other programmes, including as an astral seaside entertainer playing the Wurlitzer on the Reeves and Mortimer revamp of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased). I’m including him here as he was also an expert on the Music Hall. Back in the 1980s he appeared on a Radio 4 programme about the original Peaky Blinders, who were so notorious that they even wrote Music Hall songs about them. The one he performed was about how they could drink a brewery dry. Away from such elevated matters, he also apparently appeared as the Litterbug in the 1970s public information film against littering.

EDIJester Explains the Difference Between Drag and Drag Queen Story Hour

October 22, 2022

This is another excursion into the issue of the trans ideology and specifically that of Drag Queen Story Hour. There have been many protests against it both here and in America. This has largely been done by right-wingers deeply concerned that the drag queens reading the stories are paedophiles seeking to groom children. Unfortunately, in some cases that seems to be very plausible, as when young children have been taken to drag performances in bars and encouraged to dance with the performers or in drag themselves, with the gay clientele throwing money at them. There is, however, an ideological angle to Drag Queen Story Hour that is significant, but rarely discussed. According to mathematician and staunch critic of postmodernism, James Lindsey, at least some of the drag queens involved in this are supporters of Queer Theory, a postmodern doctrine that seeks to exploit and promote people’s unhappiness with their gender identity or sexuality to create a mentally unstable cadre ready for Marxist revolution. It has absolutely nothing to do with, and indeed is deeply hostile to, the idea of creating a more tolerant society towards gay people, and gay youngsters comfortable with their sexuality/sexual identity and respected, functional members of society. This would be supporting a bourgeois order that the people who promote Queer Theory are pledged to destroy.

EDIJester is another gay critic of the trans ideology. He runs a warrior teachers programme training people from all walks of life in how recognise and combat the trans ideology. I’m not in agreement with all his pronouncements, as he has told people to vote Conservative in a recent video. This is presumably due to Keir Starmer and Labour defending the trans movement, refusing to give the LGB Alliance, a group of gay men and women to seek to promote gay rights without the inclusion of trans people, a place at the Labour party conference and the party’s stated intention of banning all conversion therapies. It is feared that this will mean that only treatments for trans people that affirm their condition will be legal, even if this is inappropriate and harmful. I profoundly disagree with Labour’s policy on the trans issue but feel that at the moment Labour is the best option for defending working people and the NHS from privatisation, welfare cuts, poverty and starvation. More Conservative government will be utterly disastrous for these issues.

I’m putting this video, ‘Let’s Talk about Drag and Queer Performativity – Drag Part One’ up here because it tackles Drag Queen Story Hour from a fresh perspective. This differentiates sharply between traditional drag and Drag Queen Story Hour. He begins by drawing a sharp distinction between British and American drag, as in RuPaul’s Drag Race. British drag was mainstream and not completely gay – straight men often did it, like the Bernard Breslaw in one of the Carry On films and the late, great Les Dawson. There was also the camp humour from gay men, who were forced into show business because of society’s intolerance. This created Kenneth Williams and the Polari language in Round the Horne, Larry Grayson and John Inman, for example. He states that there were no ideological motives behind traditional drag – all they wanted to do was to separate you from as much of your money as possible by the time you staggered out drunk. They also raise money for charity. He knows a number of drag performers himself, having carried one of them back to the performer’s own house at the end of an evening of alcoholic and chemical refreshment. He mentions approvingly a traditional drag act oop north somewhere, Funny Girls. He states that American drag has a heterosexual bias, in that in Mrs Doubtfire the hero cross-dresses so he can see his wife and children.

Drag Queen Story Hour is different. And it isn’t about paedophiles preying on young children either. It’s about promoting Queer Theory, often mixed with Critical Race Theory by reading children’s books written from these standpoints. Like retellings of the Three Little Pigs where the pigs are black, brown and pink for gay, and the wolf is white. It’s this highly ideological, genuinely subversive literature he warns people about, not drag or drag queens themselves.

It’s an excellent perspective which draws a needed distinction between drag as a traditional form of entertainment, which boasted great and much-loved performers as Danny La Rue, the Two Ronnies, Lily Savage, and Les Dawson, and its contemporary abuse as a form of ideological propaganda.

Video on Black Iranians, their Origins and Subculture

October 3, 2022

I found this video, ‘Iran’s Forgotten People: Afro Iranians’ on Beyond Your Borders’ channel on YouTube. Although short, it provides an informative outline of the history and culture of Iran’s Black minority. Iran is a patchwork of different peoples, and Farsi speakers only make up 60 per cent of the population. Afro-Iranians are one of these minorities. These are mostly concentrated in three of the country’s southern provinces, where they constituted 10-12 per cent of the population. They were mostly slaves taken from the Zanj, the east coast of Africa and shipped across to Iran as part of the Indian Ocean slave trade that went to Arabia, Iran, India and beyond to southeast Asia. The video notes that not all of them were slaves – some immigrated as free people in search of work. They’re mostly employed as fishermen and agricultural workers, which explains why they’re mostly concentrated on the south coast. Many of them were also servants and soldiers. Male slaves were often castrated for use as eunuchs, but many weren’t and had children. The women were often bought as concubines. Today Iran’s historic slaves are referred to as servants as it is felt they were not treated with the harshness accompanying slavery. Many Black Iranians have surnames reflecting their former homelands. Those, who came originally from Zanzibar, for example, have the surname ‘Zanzibari’. Not all Iranians slaves were Black. Some were White, such as the Circassians. However, the supply of Whites slaves dried up following conflict during Iran and Russia, so that country under the Qajar shahs turned to Africa for its slaves. There are three castes, which do not intermarry. The highest are supposed to be the descendants of free Black Africans, while the lowest are supposedly the descendants of slaves. Afro-Iranians vary in their assimilation to mainstream Iranian culture. Some are very acculturated, speaking fluent Farsi and the local language, while others are less. They have also been very influential in popular Zendari music of the Iranian south. Many intermarry with White Iranians and consider themselves Iranians. They would regard calling them ‘Afro-Iranians’ as a challenge to their Iranian identity. The speaker suggests that while it is important than they shouldn’t be forgotten, they shouldn’t be separated either from the rest of Iran.

Wednesday’s Online Meeting about Statutory Sick Pay

September 23, 2022

Wednesday evening, I went to a Zoom meeting organised by the Centre for Progressive Change about campaigning for much needed reforms to Statutory Sick Pay. The Centre for Progressive Change is a new organisation, and this is their first campaign, so they want to make a mark. As far as I could make out, the campaign is being led by the cleaners and their union, although other unions are also involved. At the moment there are a large number of workers, who aren’t getting statutory sick pay. I’ve forgotten the precise figures, but it’s something like a third or above. If they do qualify for it, they have to wait three days to receive it from the day they sign off sick, and the amount paid, £99 a week, isn’t sufficient to cover people’s needs. They are therefore campaigning for the amount to be raised, and for it to be paid from the first day of ill health.

They also mentioned cases where workers were denied time off work and SSP by their employers, even though they were perfectly entitled to it. This included one young man who came down with cancer a year or so ago. An operation was scheduled, but he was told he would have to isolate for a week or so before the operation to make sure he didn’t catch Covid and would need two weeks off work to recover. When he told this to his HR manager, who had previously been kind and supportive, he was told that the manager couldn’t run a place like this and so couldn’t take the time off work for isolation. Nor was he going to receive sick pay when he took time off work to recuperate. The boss told him instead that he’d have to take unpaid holiday.

This clearly isn’t acceptable.

The meeting itself was bilingual in English and Spanish. There was a button for simultaneous translation, so if you didn’t speak whatever language was being spoken at that moment, you could press a button and get the translation. It felt rather like being at the UN when the various ambassadors and officials there get the translations of speeches through their headphones. I was puzzled why it was in English and Spanish when we’re no longer in the EU, but it may just be that so many of the cleaning staff and other low wage workers involved in this campaign are Spanish.

They’ve got a petition to persuade the government to pay increased SSP and are also trying to get people to organise to see their local MPs about it. I’ve signed it because of the cost of living crisis and Truss’ renewed assault on working class wellbeing.

For more information, go to their website athttps://www.centreforprogressivechange.org/