Posts Tagged ‘Biography’

Cartoon Against Charles Moore of the Times and Maggie Thatcher

June 19, 2017

This is another of the cartoons I drew a little while ago to express my hatred and contempt of the Tories and their cheerleaders in the press and media. This one’s of Charles Moore, a former editor of the Times, and his molten idol, Margaret Thatcher. Moore is one of those, who published a biography of the Leaderene after she passed away a few years ago.

Thatcher has been more or less been deified by the Tories to the point where she is the centre of a secular political cult. She is considered absolutely infallible, and her words are revered as if they were almost sacred writ, which no-one must ever contradict. If they do, it results in howls of rage from the Tory press, which immediately falls over itself pouring invective on the offender, as if it was the worst type of blasphemy. And no-one must ever discuss the immense harm she has done to this country, its institutions and its citizens.

Moore isn’t the very worst of those tending the Thatcherite cult. He does at least poke gentle fun at her – sometimes – in his biography of her, as in the paragraph where he describes how she really didn’t understand jokes. But nevertheless, as one of her supporters he is responsible for continuing her legacy of poverty, marginalisation and the demonization of the unemployed, the poor and disabled, the privatisation of the NHS and other public services, and the welfare cuts which are killing tens of thousands of ordinary people each year.

The skull behind Thatcher is a pre-human hominid. I thought it was a suitable metaphor for the deaths she’s caused because it is something ancient, archaic and subhuman – pretty much like her policies, the Tory politicians who pass them into law, and the press that applauds them and the vicious harm they do while extolling their benefits to private industry.

I realise the two pictures are more or less straightforward drawings. I thought of drawing something far nastier, but was afraid that if I put it up, I’d be banned from the web and would get a libel writ. So what you see here is the acceptable alternative.

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Financial Times Review of Biography of Douglas Adams

October 27, 2015

Adams Hitchhiker Photo

Adams on the set of the BBC’s TV series of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Going through a pile of old newspaper clippings, I came across a review by David Honigmann of M.J. Simpson’s Hitchhiker: A Biography of Douglas Adams, published by Hodder & Stoughton, from the Saturday edition of the Financial Times for 22nd/23rd March 2003. Here it is.

The psychologist Meredith Belbin distinguished between a range of roles that individuals could play on a team. There are the co-ordinators who keep things moving, the resource investigators who grub around for materials and cut deals, the shaper/finishers who make sure projects get completed and the plants who throw out ideas. Douglas, it is fair to say, was a plant. In a casual conversation, he could throw out enough ideas for a lifetime’s writing. It was just the actual writing that came hard to him. He was ambitious enough to live in poverty on odd jobs while waiting for his big break, with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but not ambitious enough to keep working at the same rate once fame arrived.

M.J. Simpson’s biography of Adams is surprisingly tart, coming from a fan whose obsession with his subject seems to fall just this side of stalkerhood. The charges against Adams are four-fold: he procrastinated, he was starstruck, he exaggerated, his knowledge of science fiction was shallow. That Adams procrastinated is not in doubt. He learned the habit at the feet of a master, working with Graham Chapman during Chapman’s alcoholic post-Python years. After the original Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, all his books were delivered late – in many cases they were only begun after the deadline had passed. But he was, in general, so reliable as a cash-cow that editors and publishers were prepared to wait for milking-time. Nonetheless, at the time of his death, Adams had not completed a book for eight years, and his last project, Starship Titanic, had received only a lukewarm reception.

Starstruck, Adams certainly seems to have been. He went to Cambridge to ingratiate himself with the Footlights crowd: he wanted to be John Cleese and worked his way into at least an outer ring of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. His parties were studded with musicians from Procol Harum, Pink Floyd and Wings, and Islington media glitterati.

“The audience were more famous than the band,” recalls one of the latter ruefully. For his 42nd birthday, he was given a certificate entitling him to appear on stage with Pink Floyd. His school chaplain suspects that his atheism was caused by his hero-worship of Richard Dawkins. At best, this tendency in Adams meant that he exposed himself to a wide range of ideas, many of which he developed in his own work; at its worst, this star-spotting was mostly harmless. That Adams played up his anecdotes seems likely. Simpson patiently debunks some of the myths: the first book did not go straight to number one in the Sunday Times bestseller list; Adams did not have to fight his way through crowds to get to his first book signing; the original idea for Hitchhiker did not (probably) come to him as he lay drunk in a field outside Innsbruck. The myths became part of Adams’ brand. He told the stories well, as can be heard on Douglas Adams’s Guide to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, an audiocassette from BBC Worldwide. In essence, they fulfilled his desire to be a performer, not just a writer.

They may have served a function as self-defence in the face of a world with almost limitless tempting distractions. And they seem to have fulfilled his need for external validation: as someone who cherished throughout his life the time when a hard-to-please English teacher gave him 10 out of 10 for a story, he succumbed to the temptation to make his career a little more successful, a little more lucky.

The final suggestion is that Adams’s knowledge of science fiction was shallow. This is probably correct: one of the characteristics of science fiction fandom is that someone, somewhere, always knows more than you do. But as a science fiction writer, Adams had the mastertouch of being able to put names on concepts that no one previously knew they needed. The number of Hitchhiker concepts now embedded in the internet (such as the Babel Fish as a universal translator) is a tribute to this. There is one strikingly sad moment in Douglas Adams’s Guide, when Adams notes, “when you pass 40 – and I’m well past 40 – you suddenly become aware that all the things on your agenda … you’re not going to do them all.”

Had he lived longer, it is doubtful whether he would have produced much more, unless driven to it by economic necessity. Simpson considers this a waste of his talent. More charitably, one might conclude that most of his ambitions had been fulfilled and a few decades of intellectual puttering about and indulging his hobbies was a fair reward.

Despite Simpson’s general diligence, there is one striking lacuna. For the last decade or so of his life, Adams had been working on a novel to be called The Salmon of Doubt. What was to be in it changed periodically but the title remained – surprising, given Adams’s general indifference to titles. Simpson dismisses it as “a meaningless phrase”, but it is nothing of the sort. The Salmon of Doubt is a riff on the Irish legend of the Salmon of Certainty, which grants whoever eats it all the knowledge in the world. The seer Fionn labours for seven years to catch it, but when he does he leaves someone else to cook it while he gathers firewood. The other man – who turns out to be Fionn, son Uail, son of Baiscne – consumes three drops of oil from the fish, and he gets the knowledge, not Fionn the seer.

In other words, what turned out to be Adams’s last project was named for the story of someone who procrastinates for seven years over a project to gain the secrets of life, the universe and everything, only to have the prize snatched away from him at the last minute. He would have appreciated the irony.

And here’s the opening titles from the BBC TV version:

Bad Taste Alert: Spoof Medium Tries to Contact Spirit of Maggie Thatcher

April 14, 2014

thatcherburn

Last Friday’s I newspaper contained news of a couple of theatre shows sending up the former prime minister. According to the article by Alice Jones, ‘Hold On To Your Handbags. Mrs T Is Back’, one was a Handbagged, about the relationship between Thatcher and the Queen, while in the other the spoof medium, Melmoth Darkleigh, attempted to commune with the Leaderene’s spirit. The I said of this act

On Tuesday night, one comedian marked the anniversary of the former prime minister’s death by holding a séance for Thatcher at Leicester Square Theatre. This was Nathaniel Tapley, in character as the medium and “ghost heckler” Melmoth Darkleigh. Before the show opened he was deemed a “sick bile merchant”.

“The point was to make people angry, as well as to make them laugh. The coverage of Mrs Thatcher’s death last year was almost entirely hagiographic”, he wrote in the British Comedy Guide. “It sought to rewrite her history, only daring, in some instances to call her ‘divisive'”. And what of the criticism that he is exploiting the death of an old lady for crass commercial gain? “I like to think it’s what she would have wanted”.

The I went on to say that it wasn’t as harshly critical as it appeared.

The show was more silly than satirical – mixed bag of mind-reading tricks using Thatcher biographies, poems about Michael Gove (“Michael Gove, Michael Gove/ Your clothes form the rent hair of teachers are wove…”) and a rabidly anti-PC Tory MP character called Ian Bowler.

It concluded by considering that Maggie is still the butt of jokes because she had absolutely no sense of humour.

It is strange that a year after her death and almost a quarter of a century after she left power, Thatcher is still the butt of so many jokes. She famously had no time for humour herself. According to her biographer Charles Moore, “These things called jokes, which have punch lines and a set-up … she had absolutely no understanding of them whatsoever.” And therein perhaps is the key to her comic longevity. Straight-faced always makes for a better stooge. And there were none straighter than the Iron Lady’s.

This merely reduces Maggie and her legacy to Margot Leadbetter, the Good’s humourless, snobbish, and very middle-class neighbour, played by Penelope Keith in the BBC comedy series, The Good Life. This is no doubt part of her comedy potential, but the real reason people are sending her up 25 years after the end of her reign is the fact that she still casts a very long shadow over British politics. The problems of contemporary Britain from MPs fiddling their expenses, to the economic destruction of British manufacturing industry and the attacks on the welfare state all derive from and are a continuation of her policies. Even the Labour leader, Tony Blair, invited her to visit him at 10 Downing street when he took power, while Gordon Brown suggested that she should be given a state funeral, partly to appease the righteous anger of the Tory faithful, for whom she is a greater figure than Winston Churchill. One Tory wanted to have one of the Bank Holidays renamed in her honour. On the other side of the political divide, she is still so hated that when she died, celebrations broke out. Hence the desire to mock, satirise and attack the woman, who dominated parliament for 13 years, and whose policies still blight people’s lives.