Posts Tagged ‘Channel 4’

Leaked Report Reveals Prevent Funding Used for Islamist Groups, and More Focussed on Tackling White Fascism

January 2, 2023

This obviously isn’t something you want to hear, but it needs to be recognised and the problem tackled properly. A few days ago the Shawcross Report into the operation of the Prevent programme was leaked to the press. The Prevent programme was the scheme launched by Blair as part of the ‘War on Terror’. It was set up to identify and deradicalize people, like schoolchildren, who were being drawn into Islamist terrorism. The report has been repeatedly delayed from fears that some of the individuals discussed in it would sue. It found that instead of the money being used to deradicalize people, it was instead being used by Islamist groups to fund their activities and propaganda. This included one group, who called on Muslim soldiers in the British army to disobey orders. Which is mutiny. Furthermore, the programme was more focussed on identifying and punishing White nationalists in contrast to the other anti-terrorism organisations. Of course, the report was immediately denounced as ‘harmful to community cohesion’ and racist and islamophobic.

Unfortunately, I am not remotely surprised. Private Eye a long time ago quoted a passage from Ed Hussein’s book, The Islamist, in which he described watching a long line of Muslim clergy and community leaders entering No. 10 to reassure Blair that they were all moderates and were doing their bit to tackle extremism in their communities. And he knew that every one of them was lying, and that they were all Islamist radicals. A friend of mine used to help teach Islam at university. One year his university arranged to host an interfaith conference between Christians and Muslims. He told me that the Muslim delegates were all jihadis. As for the misplaced focus on White fascism, I think this is a result of repeated criticisms from the Muslim community. Before the BNP finally collapsed, whenever the subject of tackling Muslim radical organisations was raised someone from one of the main Muslim organisations would indignantly retort that this was racist and islamophobic, and that they should ban the BNP instead. The Prevent programme has come under repeated attack from Muslims for supposedly being racist and Islamophobic. And whenever Muslim bigotry is exposed, as in the 2007 Channel 4 programme, Undercover Mosque, there are inevitably the same defensive claims about harming community cohesion. This is despite the fact that community cohesion was harmed the moment someone took the decision to invite the preachers of hate in. Simon Webb, who has very far right opinions himself, stated in one of his videos that the focus on tackling White extremists rather than Muslim was an attempt to mislead the public into believing that there were more of them and they were a bigger problem than the Islamists. Even allowing for Webb’s own views, I think he has a point. White fascists have used violence and terrorism. In the 1960s they bombed a couple of synagogues in London. Many of us still remember the mass violence between far right football hooligans and Black and Asian youths in the 70s and 80s, and the racist murder of Black kids has inspired pop songs attacking the hate and violence like ‘Down in the Subway’. In the 90s there was a bombing campaign by a member of the National Socialist party against Blacks, gays and Asians, in which nail bombs were planted in three pubs. People are very aware of the threat from White racial terrorists. Targeting these groups is also easier because it will have greater support from the left from the kind of people, who would suspect that a programme targeting Black or Asian terrorists is persecuting them unfairly. The police and local authorities, who refused to tackle the Pakistani grooming gangs in Rotherham and elsewhere did so because they didn’t want to start riots. I think the same attitude is behind the skewed focus in the Prevent programme. I think there is a reluctance amongst the political class to tackle ethnic minority criminality and extremism because of memories of the race riots of the 60s, 1981/2, and Oldham more recently, and a determination to prove Enoch Powell wrong in his lurid predictions of racial violence in the ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech.

Islamism is a real danger, but the proportion of people who hold Islamist views are trivially small. Only about five per cent of the Muslim population, according to the polls, want to be governed by shariah law. There are far greater numbers who support British democracy and values, albeit often moderated. This is why the Lotus Eaters, in order to show that the Muslim community rejects British traditional values, concentrated on single issues like Muslim disapproval of homosexuality and singing the national anthem. There is genuine opposition to Islamism and the preachers of hate from other parts of the Muslim community here in Britain. Back in the ’80s and ’90s Muslims organised their own demonstrations against the protests and hateful preaching of the extremists demanding the death of Salman Rushdie. Ed Hussein in his recent book states that his fathers’ generation came to Britain because they believed in our country and its values. I’ve heard other Muslims say that their parents came here to enjoy the freedom and opportunities they were denied in their own country. Mahyar Tousi, a true-blue Tory Brexiteer, said something similar in a recent video of his on the channel migrants. He stated that second and third generation British Blacks and Asians were against further immigration, not because they were traitors to their own kind, but because their parents and grandparents had come to this country to share and support its values and were concerned that later migrants did not share these. Tousi’s a libertarian Tory, who’d sell off the health service if he could, but he does have a point. Some of the Muslims in Hussein’s recent book stated that much of the violence and criminality their communities now suffered from came from recent migrants, like asylum seekers from war-torn parts of the world, who could not adapt to peace nor fully accept that they were not under threat from the state. One of the issues connected with immigration identified by one genuinely moderate imam, writing in the Financial Times in the ’90s, was that the shortage of home-grown Muslim clergy meant that bigoted preachers from Pakistan were being allowed in to rectify this shortage.

We really need to tackle the problem of Muslim radicalisation properly and squarely, without listening to reassuring blandishments and assurances of peace and cooperation from those who don’t believe remotely in it. And we can do so by strengthening and listening to genuinely moderate, liberal Muslims voices and supporting their protests and initiatives against such hate.

BBC Criticised for Anti-White Bias: The Case of Romesh Ranganathan and Sierra Leone

December 30, 2022

A day or so ago a group of right-wing historians calling themselves History Reclaimed released a report accusing the Beeb of anti-White bias. They gave a list of 20 instances in which the BBC distorted history for apparently political and racial reasons. One example was of a programme that claimed that Robert Peel had a callous disregard for the victims of the Irish potato famine. The truth, they claimed, was that Peel risked his career pushing through legislation abolishing the Corn Laws, so that Irish, and poor British people, could buy cheap foreign grain. The name History Reclaimed to my ears suggests some kind of link with Laurence Fox’s Reclaim party. The group includes the historians Andrew Roberts and Jeremy Black. While I strongly disagree with their Tory views, these are respectable, academic, mainstream historians. Roberts talked rubbish in a video posted on YouTube by PragerU, an American right-wing thinktank, which tries to present itself as some kind of university. He claimed that the British was A Good Thing because it gave the world free trade and property rights. Well, property rights exist in Islam, and I’ve no reason to doubt that they also existed in China and India, so that’s a very dubious claim. As for free trade, well, the privatisation the IMF has forced on some of the African countries that came to it for aid has generally left them worse off, sometimes catastrophically so, as when one of the southern African countries deregulated its sugar industry. But whatever I think of Roberts’ political views, he is in other ways an excellent historian. The same with Jeremy Black, whose Slavery: A New Global History I thoroughly recommend. Black has also published a history of the British Empire that does acknowledge the atrocities and human rights abuses that occurred. We are not, therefore, dealing with people who want to erase history themselves.

Regarding Robert Peel, I’ve no doubt they’re right. Peel was a great reforming Prime Minister. He founded the metropolitan police, hence their nickname of ‘bobbies’ and ‘peelers’. He also reduced the number of capital crimes from well over hundred to three. These included murder and treason. It’s because of him that you can no longer be hanged for impersonating a Chelsea pensioner. There were British officials, who felt that the Irish had brought it on themselves and should be left to starve. The head of the civil service, Trevelyan, is notorious for these views. But I don’t believe that Peel was one of them.

But it’s not Peel, who I shall discuss here, but Sierra Leone. Another example they gave was of Romesh Ranganthan’s presentation of the history of slavery in Sierra Leone in one edition of his The Misadventures of Romesh Ranganathan. In the programme, Ranganathan went to a slave fort on Bunce Island and talked to local people about the country’s history. By their account, this was very one-sided. The slavers were presented as all being White British. In fact, as History Reclaimed states, the African peoples in the area were also slavers. In 1736 or so one of the local chiefs attacked Bunce Island because it was taking trade away from him. And although the programme mentioned raiders, it did not state that the slaves were supplied by Black Africans, and so gave the impression that the trade’s victims were enslaved by White British.

It also neglected to mention that Sierra Leone was founded as a state for free Blacks, and that there is an arch commemorating the emancipation of Black slaves in Freetown which the UN has stated is comparable to the Statue of Liberty in espousing and celebration freedom, democracy and human rights. I have no doubt that this is also correct.

Slavery existed in Africa for millennia before the emergence of the transatlantic slave trade. While Europeans had and occasionally did raid for slaves, they were prevented from penetrating inland through a mixture of the disease-ridden climate and power African kingdoms. Europeans were confined to their own quarters of indigenous towns, like the ghettos into which Jews were forced in the Middle Ages. The slave trade was extremely lucrative, and the slaves were indeed sold to them by Africans, some of the most notorious being Dahomey, Ashanti, Badagry and Whyday. After the ban on the slave trade in 1807, one African nation attacked a British trading post in the 1820s to force us to take it up again. I found this in a copy of the very well respected British history magazine, History Today.

In the late 18th century – I’ve forgotten precisely when – the colony was taken over by one of the abolitionist groups. It was intended to be a new state for free Blacks. Three shiploads of emigrants, who also included some Whites, set sail. The idealists, who planned the colony also changed the laws regulating land tenure. I’ve forgotten the system of land tenure they altered, but from what I remember they believed it had been introduced by the Normans and was part of the framework of feudalism. I think it was also intended to be governed democratically. The new colony immediately fell into difficulties, and the colonists were reinforced with the arrival of Caribbean Maroons and Black Loyalists from America. The latter had been granted their freedom in exchange for fighting for us during the American Revolution. After independence, they were moved to Halifax in Nova Scotia, Canada. Unfortunately, they were prevented from settling down through a mixture of the harsh northern climate and racism. The colony still experienced considerable trouble, and was saved by being taken over by the British government. After Britain outlawed the slave trade, it became the base for the British West India Squadron, which was tasked with patrolling the seas off Africa intercepting slavers. It was also the site of one of the courts of mixed commission, in which suspected slavers were tried by judges from Britain and the accused slavers’ nation. The British navy were assisted in their attacks on slavers by indigenous African tribes, such as the Egba, and their help was appreciated. The admiralty stated that soldiers and sailors from these people should receive the same compensation for wounds suffered battling slavers as British troops, not least because it would reaffirm British good faith and encourage more Africans to join the struggle.

Slaving by the surrounding tribes and even by some of the liberated Africans in the colony itself remained a problem. As a result, British officers from the colony made anti-slavery treaties with the chiefs of the neighbouring Sherbro country, and reported on and took action against the Black colonists stealing young boys to sell to the slave states further south. Freetown became a major centre of education and western civilisation in Africa. Many of the anthropologists, who first described African languages and societies, were Sierra Leonean Blacks. The father of the 19th century Black British composer, Samuel Coleridge Taylor, was a Black citizen of Sierra Leone.

None of this is at all obscure or controversial. African slavers and their complicity in the trade are mentioned in Hugh Thomas’ brilliant book, The Slave Trade, as well as various general histories of Africa. There is even a book specifically on the history of Sierra Leone and the West India Squadron, Sweet Water and Bitter: The Ships That Stopped The Slave Trade by Sian Rees (London: Chatto & Windus 2009). One of the Scottish universities over two decades ago published a book collecting the Black colonists’ letters. I’m afraid I can’t remember the title, but we had a copy at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum. Now a programme could well be made about the Black colonists and their struggles from their own words. One of the problems with history is that the lower strata of society generally remain silent, unless described or remarked upon by the upper classes. This is particularly true when it comes to slaves or former slaves. But somehow mentioning that it was settled by former slaves was considered unimportant or even embarrassing or controversial by the show’s producers.

Simon Webb of History Debunked has noted the various instances where the account of the slave trade has been selectively retold and omits any mention of Black African complicity. As far right as Webb is, I believe he has a point. But this attitude is not only anti-White, it also does Blacks an injustice by assuming that they are emotionally unable to handle this aspect of the slave trade. One Black historian with whom I worked at the Museum stated quite clearly that in the Caribbean they were told by their mammies that it was the Africans who sold their ancestors into slavery. And no, he didn’t hate Africans either. Channel 4 even presented a show about African involvement in the slave trade twenty or so years ago. This is the channel that the Tories hated for being too left-wing and having Michael Grade, ‘Britain’s pornographer in chief’ as they called him, as its controller. I am not blaming Ranganathan himself for the bias. The right hate him because he is very outspoken in his anti-Brexit views. But I doubt he knew much about Sierra Leon and its history. The fault lies with the producer and director, if not further up BBC management who may have laid down rules regarding the presentation of slavery and the British empire generally.

Black complicity in the slave trade doesn’t excuse White European involvement, but it does need to be taught so that people get a balanced view of the historical reality. And I wonder why the Beeb didn’t.

Questions for the Mosleyites of Correct, Not Political

December 9, 2022

They’ve done it again. The man behind the extreme right-wing vlog and group, Correct, Not Political, held another livestream this week. And once again they gave an indication of their true political colours by prefacing it with black and white newsreel footage of Mosley marching with his BUF storm troopers, all to weeping string music, of course. The group go around staging counter-protests against Drag Queen Story Hour, gay pride, environmentalists, pro-immigrant groups, and people they class as ‘socialists and commies’. They were out today at the ‘Solidarity with Postal Workers’ demonstrations, which they declared to be ‘commies’. Now to be fair to them, they aren’t violent and just try to catch their victims out with awkward questions. They are less fascist in that way than antifa and the militant trans rights protesters, who do threaten violence, scream abuse and hurl smoke bombs around as well as making death threats. But I wonder how well they understand or agree with Mosley’s ideology. For example, at one point their main man said he was a ‘free speech absolutist’. In that case, why support a monster like Mosley? He didn’t, and he tells you over and again he didn’t. It’s in his autobiography, My Life, where at one point he says that free speech is worthless if you’re starving on a park bench. If, God help us! – Mosley had actually got into power and become dictator, the only free speech he would have permitted is the freedom to agree wholeheartedly with whatever nonsense he was spouting that day. If you watch the Channel 4 series about him, there’s one scene at a political meeting where Mosley is expounding his fascist views. And the other politicians condemn it as an attack on traditional British liberties. He denies this, and says it is just marshalling all the forces of the state. But his opponents knew far better.

I also have doubts about their education and intellect. In one of their videos, they urge people to boycott Selfridges, Bella Freud and other stores, whose goods are well out of the price range of ordinary people. Their reason for doing so is because they’re selling branded goods supporting Allen Ginsburg. Ginsburg was a beat poet, and a friend of William S. Burroughs of Naked Lunch infamy and Jack Kerouac, the author of On The Road, a classic of mid-20th century American literature. Except their guy couldn’t pronounce ‘Kerouac’. He got as far as ‘Ker-, Kerw-‘, before giving up. In fact their attack on Ginsburg is actually quite reasonable. They didn’t like him anyway, ’cause he was a Commie, who kept getting thrown out of Communist countries for supporting gay rights. But he was also a paedophile, and the play a recording of him talking about his attitude to people enquiring about NAMBLA, the main American paedophile organisation. Ginsburg didn’t want members to reply, in case it was an attempt to entrap them. If that’s true, then Ginsburg isn’t someone to be celebrated. But I also wondered if lurking behind this boycott there wasn’t a bit of anti-Semitism as well. I don’t know, perhaps there isn’t, but it’s too much like the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses.

But back to Mosley. Fascism is a weird mixture of the radical left and capitalist, pro-private enterprise right. Mussolini believed, if the opportunist believed anything, that Italy should be governed as a corporate state. Industry was to be organised into corporations, in this case the successors to the medieval guilds, in which trade unions, management and proprietors represented their industries in a ‘council of fasces and corporations’ which replaced parliament. Mosley initially believed the same, before he rejected it as ‘too bureaucratic’. Under him, the House of Lords would be abolished and replaced with a similar industrial chamber. It’s an interesting idea, but if it was like Mussolini’s Italy, it wouldn’t have done anything except cheered and clapped Mosley and automatically pass every piece of legislation he proposed. But it’s a good question to ask Correct, Not Political. Would they want to replace the House of Lords with a similar industrial chamber following the theories of the corporate state. My guess is that they’d be horrified by the idea, because trade unions = commies. When one of the rival fascist groups wanted to ally themselves with Mosley, he asked them what their views on the corporate state were. They immediately denounced it as Communism. At which Mosley left them. My guess is Correct, Not Political have the same views.

Ditto Mosley’s views on Europe. After the War he turned up, promoting ‘national syndicalism’, his term for his version of the corporate state and calling for the formation of a united Europe, again along fascist lines, against the Communist threat. I think he later claimed to be a pioneer of the idea of the EU, which I’ve no doubt would have horrified the real founders. So, are Correct, Not Political also for the idea of a united Europe against the threat of plutocratic capitalism and Communism? As I’m sure they’re all Brexiteers of the racist stripe, that’s probably another one which would cause them difficulties.

I may well be misjudging them. Perhaps they do have a strong grasp of Mosley’s ideas, and could provide well-informed answers to those awkward questions. But perhaps not.

Graham Hancock – A Crank, Possibly, But Definitely No Racist

December 9, 2022

My discipline, archaeology, has been massively going after Graham Hancock this week. Hancock’s ah, um,, ‘maverick thinker’, I suppose you’d say, who’s been presenting a series on Netflix arguing that thousands of years ago there was a highly advanced civilisation that perished in a cataclysm, but passed on its secrets to other ancient civilisations around the world. This has understandably annoyed archaeologists and a number have put up videos, some of them lengthy and quite detailed, disproving him. Hancock’s been promoting this idea for some time now. Going back two decades and more, he had a series on Channel 4 with the title ‘Water World’ or something like it, also arguing that there was a global advanced civilisation, whose monuments have been covered up by a flood, as recorded in the Bible and other ancient religions. Now I’m sure that Hancock is wrong, and the criticisms of his dodgy history and archaeology are right. But I take exception to one of the other accusations levelled at him, which is that he is racist.

This accusation is partly based on his false ascription of the achievements of indigenous cultures around the world to this putative prehistoric civilisation. It denies those people the credit for their achievements. But the accusation is also that it’s similar to the ideas of some bonkers White supremacist groups, who are using Hancock’s ideas to promote themselves. One archaeologist posted a video saying that Hancock should have disavowed the use of his ideas by these fascists. It also criticised him for being friends with Joe Rogan and Jordan Peterson. There are fair criticisms to be made of both of these men. Peterson’s an arch-conservative and anti-feminist, but hardly a Nazi. Rogan was pushing anti-vax nonsense and is an advocate for some mind-expanding drugs. A few years ago people were accusing him of being a ‘gateway to the Alt-Right’. Possibly, but he also talks to people from the left, who are otherwise denied a platform by the lamestream media. Journalists like Abbie Martin, who talked about Israeli propaganda against the Palestinians and how she found, when she visited the beleaguered Arab nation, that the reality was nothing like the picture painted by the Israeli state. He’s also talked to biologists and journalists exposing the lies of the trans ideology. This is not Alt-Right, no matter what groups like Mermaids, Stonewall, Antifa and the rest say. The people criticising the gender ideology tend to be radical feminists, many from the socialist left. Part of their opposition against it is that it reduces masculinity and femininity to traditional, stereotypical sex roles. One of the feminist vloggers interviewed one of the leading activists against the trans ideology, who was furious that people like her were being presented as right-wing. Another feminist activist criticised Matt Walsh for misrepresenting feminists as uniformly in favour of trans ideology, and then criticising them for it. Rogan gives a voice to people outside the mainstream. Sometimes it’s rubbish, and sometimes it’s immensely valuable. He has also interviewed a number of Black celebs, so again, not a Nazi.

The White supremacist ideas being referred to seem to me to be the Traditionalist ideology of Giulio Evola. Evola was an Italian Fascist and occultist, who was a major ideological influence on the scumbuckets behind the Bologna railway bombing in the 1970s. A fascist group bombed the station, killing and maiming over a hundred people. Evola believed that there was a strongly hierarchical, ‘Aryan’ civilisation in Hyperborea in the arctic, which was responsible for all the subsequent cultural achievements of the civilisations around the world. This is twaddle. But Hancock’s ideas are also similar to those of others, which don’t come from people in the fascist fringe. A couple of years ago I picked up an old book, Colony Earth, which had been published in the 1970s. This claimed that Earth may have been an extraterrestrial colony, whose advanced civilisation was destroyed in a nuclear war. The pyramids may have been fall-out shelters, as were the megalithic tumuli in Britain. It’s an interesting read, but certainly wrong. I think Charles Berlitz, who started the Bermuda Triangle myth, also believed in this, supporting it in one of his books with artefacts from Aztec tombs that look like aircraft. Berlitz is someone else, who I’m fairly certain has absolutely no connection to fascism whatsoever.

And I don’t believe Hancock is either.

When he was travelling the world on his Channel 4 series he was accompanied by his wife, who is Sri Lankan. Now, White supremacists do not, as a rule, marry dark-skinned people from outside Europe. If they do, they’re angrily denounced as ‘race traitors’. In one edition of this earlier series, Hancock reported on the mysterious ruins of ancient city found off the coast of the Bay of Bengal. He was shown talking respectfully to an Indian gent, who told him how such findings tie in with Hindu ideas of the antiquity of civilisation and ancient Indian legends of flooded cities. Again, this isn’t quite behaviour you’d expect from a genuine White supremacist. He also travelled to South and Central America, where he proposed the old theory that the Mayans, Aztecs and other ancient Amerindian civilisations must have learned how to build their pyramids from someone else. I think this was once again ancient Egypt. But who brought that knowledge to the New World? Black Africans. He pointed to an Olmec bas relief of a warrior’s head, and declared its features to be ‘proudly African’. If this is racism, then its Afrocentrism rather than White supremacy. As for the ancient race behind these monuments, Hancock doesn’t say what colour they are. In this, he breaks with some of his predecessors, who say they must have been White because the legends of numerous Amerindian peoples state that vital parts of their culture were brought to them by White gods. Hancock is therefore less racialised in what he says than his predecessors.

I disagree profoundly with Hancock’s ideas, but he has a right to say them like everyone else. And if it piques people interest in these ancient cultures so that they want to find out what they were really like, that’s all to the good. But I do think it’s profoundly wrong to accuse him of racism. That just further cheapens the word and weakens it as a weapon against the real thing.

Sketch of Astronomer Heather Couper

December 3, 2022

This is quite an obscure one, but I’ve drawn her because she was an important pioneer and science populariser in her way.

The Wikipedia page on her begins with this potted introduction to her life

Heather Anita CouperCBE FInstP FRAS[1] (2 June 1949 – 19 February 2020) was a British astronomer, broadcaster and science populariser.

After studying astrophysics at the University of Leicester and researching clusters of galaxies at Oxford University, Couper was appointed senior planetarium lecturer at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. She subsequently hosted two series on Channel 4 television – The Planets and The Stars – as well as making many TV guest appearances. On radio, Couper presented the award-winning programme Britain’s Space Race as well as the 30-part series Cosmic Quest for BBC Radio 4. Couper served as President of the British Astronomical Association from 1984 to 1986, and was Astronomy Professor in perpetuity at Gresham College, London. She served on the Millennium Commission, for which she was appointed a CBE in 2007. Asteroid 3922 Heather is named in her honour.[2]

The online encyclopedia states that she was encouraged in her career after writing a letter to Patrick Moore about it when she was 16. He replied, ‘Being a girl is no problem’. She studied astronomy and physics at Leicester University in 1973, where she met her long-term collaborator, fellow astronomy student Nigel Henbest. The two formed a working partnership, Hencoup enterprises, devoted to popularising astronomy. She then carried out postgraduate research as a student of Linacre College, Oxford, in the university’s Astrophysics department. She became the senior lecturer at the Caird Planetarium at Greenwich. In 1984 she was elected president of the British Astronomical Association. She was the first female president and second youngest. I can remember her appearing on Wogan and playing down the fact that she was the first woman to become president, far preferring to be noted as the youngest. She also served as the President of the Junior Astronomical Society, now the Society for Popular Astronomy. In 1988 the London Planetarium invited her to write and present its major new show, Starburst. In 1993 she was appointed professor of astronomy at Gresham college. She was the first woman to hold the position in 400 years and remained professor until her death.

She wrote and co-wrote with Henbest over 40 books, as well as writing articles for a range of magazines such as BBC Sky at Night, BBC Focus and Astronomy. She also presented a lecture on the solar eclipse in Guernsey in 1999, and led expedition to view other eclipses in Sumatra, Hawaii, Aruba, Egypt, China and Tahiti. She also made numerous public appearances and talks about the cruise liners Arcadia, Queen Mary 2, and Queen Victoria. She was aboard Concorde when it made its first flight from London to Auckland. She also appeared and spoke at various science festivals, including Brighton, Cheltenham, and Oxford. She also spoke at corporate events for British Gas, Axa Sun Life and IBM.

She also presented a number of programmes and series on astronomy on the radio. These included Starwatch and The Modern Magi on Radio 4. She also presented an Archive Hour programme on the same channel on Britain’s Space Race, for which she received an Arthur C. Clarke award. She also appeared on Radio 2, and Radio 5Live, as well as making other appearances on Radio 4. She also presented a series of thirty 15-minute episodes on the history of astronomy. Her shows for the BBC World Service included A Brief History of Infinity, The Essential Guide to the 21st Century, and Seeing Stars, which was co-hosted by Henbest.

She made frequent appearances as the guest expert on various TV programmes, mostly on Channel 4. She made her first TV appearance on The Sky at Night, In 1981 she presented the children’s TV programme, Heaven’s Above, on ITV with Terence Murtagh. I think I remember watching this when I was about 14 or so. She then presented the series The Planets for Channel 4, which was followed by The Stars. She also presented the ITV show Neptune Encounter, the Horizon episode ‘A Close Encounter of the Second Kind’, and Stephen Hawking: A Profile on BBC 4.

Couper, Henbest and the director of her series, The Stars, founded a production company, Pioneer Productions. The Neptune Encounter, which covered Voyager 2’s flyby of the planet, was its first programme. She was also the producer for the Channel 4 shows Black Holes, Electric Skies and Beyond the Millennium. She later left the company to concentrate on more general radio and TV appearances.

In 1993 she was appointed a member of the Millennium Commission. Of the nine commissioners appointed, only she and Michael Heseltine continued until it was wound up.

Outside her work on astronomy, she was also a guest presenter on Woman’s Hour, as well as the John Dunn programme and Start the Week on the radio. She was also interested in local history and literature, and so appeared on Radio 4’s With Great Pleasure and Down Your Way. She also appeared on Radio 3’s In Tune selecting her ‘pick of the proms.’ She was also the narrator on a number of other factual programmes, including Channel 4’s Ekranoplan: The Caspian Sea Monster, and Raging Planet on the Discovery Channel.

So, a huge science populariser, but probably one whose achievements are obscured by other, more prominent, celebrities.

As well as the children’s astronomy programme, I also once saw her speaking on about Mars and the question of life on the Red Planet at the Cheltenham Festival of Science. She had a rather mischievous sense of humour. There’s a real possibility that life in some form has existed on Mars and may exist now, but if it does, it’s almost certainly at the level of microbes. At the time, however, various individuals who had spent too long looking at photos of the planet claimed to have seen much larger lifeforms on the planet. There was a programme on Channel 4 in which a Hungarian astronomer appeared to describe how he believed there were massive mushrooms growing there. People also thought the saw giant ‘sand whales’ crawling about its surface, like the sandworms in Dune. These were, in fact, geological features left by some of the dune’s slumping, which created a trail that looked like the segmented body of a worm. One of the peeps taken in by this was the late Arthur C. Clarke. Clarke rang her up from Sri Lanka, asking her if she’d seen them and telling her that he really didn’t know what to make of it. She commented that for a moment she thought he’d gone mad, then covered her mouth like a naughty child caught saying something she shouldn’t.

For all that she played down her importance as a female pioneer in astronomy, I think she did prepare the say for more women to enter it and become television presenters. There’s now a drive for more women in the hard sciences, and we’ve science had a Black woman presenter, Aderin-Pocock, on the Sky At Night, and female astrophysicists and mathematicians appearing on the radio and TV.

Sketch of Dougal from the Magic Roundabout

December 2, 2022

Children’s television has often been bizarre and surreal. All manner of strange things were done on Vision On, for example, but the Magic Roundabout took this surrealism to new heights. Created by Serge Danot, this originally French show included Florence, an ordinary girl, Dougal, a bossy, pretentious dog, Brian, a chirpy snail, a flying cow called Ermintrude and Dylan, a guitar-wielding rabbit who was constantly falling asleep. The episodes ended when Zebedee, a red-faced, moustachio’d magician with a spring instead of legs, bounced in to tell everyone ‘Time for bed’ before leaping off again. Supporting characters included the bearded Mr Rusty and a talking cannon with a British accent. I gather that the original French show was supposed to be satirical and actually rather boring. The English version, narrated by Eric Thompson, was completely different. Thompson dispensed with the French story and characters and made up his own dialogue when he projected it onto his front door at home. The result was so hypnotically strange that adults started trying to get home early so they could watch it. As with another favourite children’s TV series, Captain Pugwash, rumours soon developed that it was not as innocent as it seemed. In the case of Pugwash, the rumours were that the character’s names were all sexual references. They aren’t. The Magic Roundabout and its characters, on the other hand, were suspected of being the products of drugs. Oh yes, and Florence was supposed to be sleeping with Zebedee. This hidden subtext behind a supposedly innocent children’s programme was the reason the series was cancelled. None of this is remotely true. The reason it stopped was because Danot and his team simply stopped making it.

But it was and still remains a massive hit, spawning books, toys and DVDs. I’ve drawn Dougal because in many ways he was its star. He would set out on an adventure each episode, with the other characters joining in to offer advice. In one episode, he decided that he was going to be a great film maker, sporting sunglasses and carrying around an Edwardian movie camera. ‘Eat your heart out, Ken Russell!’ he says at one point, as he intends to become a great revival to the contemporary avant-garde director. In another episode, he went looking for four-leafed clovers, but to his chagrin Florence and Brian found any number. Brian, always cheerful and keen to help, was often the butt of Dougal’s sneers and put-downs. In some ways he reminds me now of Tony Hancock, with his pretensions and put-downs towards his friends.

The Magic Roundabout is a genuine children’s TV classic, and another show that produced echoes in other programmes after its cancellation. In one episode of the Channel 4 comedy series, Spaced, the female lead, played by Jessica Hynds, goes for a job. The interview, however, is so boring and complicated that she drifts off into a reverie, accompanied by the Magic Roundabout’s theme.

And here’s the music and the title’s sequence, which I found on Raymond942’s channel on YouTube.

Sketch of Ventriloquist Ray Alan and his Character, Lord Charles

November 30, 2022

I’ve been doing a bit more sketching of past comedy acts and comic actors, and one of these was of the late ventriloquist Ray Alan and his dummy, Lord Charles. Charles was a true-blue member of the aristocracy, making sharp wisecracks and retorts. He’d pointedly comment on himself or somebody else after they’d done something he thought stupid that they were ‘a silly ass’. Looking back in retrospect, he also seems to me now to have been slightly squiffy. That’s the character, of course, not Alan himself. The two are one of my favourite ventriloquist acts. I never got on with Keith Harris and his cast of characters, Orville, the green duck in a nappy that couldn’t fly, Cuddles the monkey and so on. It was all much too sentimental for me. But there was none of that with Alan and Lord Charles.

According to Wikipedia, Alan began his showbusiness career very young. He entered a talent contest at his local Gaumont cinema in Lewisham when he was five. When he was thirteen, he got a job as a call boy at the town’s Hippodrome theatre and started performing magic tricks during acts. He then added ventriloquism and playing the ukulele. He later toured the world as a cabaret act, performing with Laurel and Hardy in 1954. Lord Charles made his debut in a charity performance at Wormwood Scrubs prison and the doll’s appearance was based on Stan Laurel. Like many of the other acts I’ve drawn, Alan made his first TV appearance in the 1960s on The Good Old Days and returned to the programme several times subsequently. It was also in the 1960s he appeared on the children’s TV programme Tich and Quackers, about a small boy, Tich, and Quackers, his pet duck. Alan also a created another character, Ali Cat, for the 1977 ITV series Magic Circle. He also presented the BBC Ice Show for two years. He also appeared as a guest on the comedy series, Tell Me Another, which ran from 1976 to 1978, with Sooty on The Sooty Show in the 1983 episode, ‘Soo’s Party Problem’. The next year he appeared on Mike Reid’s Mates and Music. In 1985 he appeared as the special guest in Bob Hope’s birthday performance at London’s Lyric Theatre. The next year he presented a Channel 4 series on ventriloquism appropriately called A Gottle of Geer., which he also wrote. He also appeared on Bobby Davro’s TV Weekly in 1987. He also wrote for other comedians, including Tony Hancock, Dave Allen, Morecambe and Wise and Bootsie and Snudge, and the 1985 programme, And There’s More, which starred Jimmy Cricket. This was often under the pseudonym Ray Whyberd. He was still working well into seventies, including at conferences and corporate events, and in 1998/99 he was one of the acts entertaining the guests on the luxury liner the QE2. Ill health forced him to take a break from recording, but he never ruled out returning to it. His last appearance on stage with in 2008 at a charity concert in Bridlington organised by his friend, the MP Greg Knight.

He also made numerous appearances on panel and game shows. He was the host of Where in the World and the children’s quiz, It’s Your Word. He also appeared on Celebrity Squares, Give Us A Clue, Family Fortunes, 3-2-1, and Bullseye. He was also a guest on the Bob Monkhouse Show, the Des O’Connor Show and Blue Peter. On the radio he was a guest on Radio 2’s The Impressionists from 1974-5 and was its host from 1980 to 1988. In the 1970s he made four appearances on the long-running Radio 4 panel game, Just A Minute, and presented the edition of the News Huddlines, also on Radio 4 on 29th October 1975.

Apart from his stage, screen and radio appearances Alan was also a literary man. From their titles, I think they were thrillers – Death and Deception (2007) A Game of Murder (2008), and Retribution, published in 2011 after his death. They were all published by Robert Hale. The year previously, 2010, his novel Fear of Vengeance had been published by F.A. Thorpe. He wasn’t the only comedian with literary aspirations. Way back in the 1980s I came across an SF novel about genetic engineering in one of the local bookshops in Bristol by Les Dawson. I didn’t buy it, partly because I wondered if it really was that Les Dawson. But it was, and I now regret it, as it would have been interesting to read his views on the subject.

Sketch of SF star David Rappoport

November 29, 2022

David Rappoport is probably a little obscure as an entry in a list of great comic actors. I think he was a graduate of Bristol university’s drama school. He was certainly well known among the local theatre community in Bristol, having his own berth on the Old Profanity Showboat on the local docks. He was one of the O-men in a BBC children’s show but achieved stardom as the leader of a gang of time-travelling dwarves in the Terry Gilliam SF film Time Bandits. So, I’ve drawn him as that character, Randall. After this, I remember him turning up in Channel 4 series in the late 80’s-early 90s as an uptight British businessman, complete with suit and bowler hat, who gradually learns to unwind as he tours America. He was to play the villainous galactic businessman, Fajo, who attempts to steal Data to add to his collection of purloined artifacts in the Star Trek: Next Generation episode The Most Toys. Sadly, he committed suicide before the episode was made, so his role had to be taken by another actor. That’s a pity. Quite apart from the tragedy of Rappoport’s death, I think he would have been brilliant. There are pictures of the makeup he would have appeared in as well as, I think, clips of him in the part on YouTube.

I’m including him here as I think in some ways, he prepared the way for Warwick Davis, another small person, to become the star he has. Davis also appeared in SF, in this instance as the Ewok Wickit in the last of the original Star Wars trilogy, The Return of the Jedi. He was also in the Fantasy flick, Willow, with Val Kilmer. Davis then went on to appear in numerous TV shows, including as the torturer Tybon in the episode, ‘Scream, Satan, Scream’, of Dr. Terrible’s House of Horrible, and as the telekinetic dwarf in the comedy horror series, Psychoville. He also guest-starred in a Matt Smith Dr. Who episode as the Emperor of the Galaxy. But Davis has also gone on to become a star in his own right, compering the ITV gameshow Tenable. Davis also toured Britain with his theatre company for similarly height-restricted actors, The Reduced Height Theatre Company. This was a well-deserved success, but unfortunately it didn’t appear in Bristol. Perhaps next time, eh?

Whether Rappoport would have enjoyed similar success had he lived we can never know. But he did have real presence and swagger in Time Bandits. My guess is that his emergence as a star possibly made it easier for Davis do so as well when he made it big rather later.

Incidentally, his costume in Time Bandits may have influenced the costume designers of a one of Duran Duran’s concert videos in the ’90s, as there are a couple of characters who appear in similar dress in .

Sketch of June Whitfield

November 29, 2022

No list or depiction of the great female comic actors of the late 20th and early 21st century would be complete without June Whitfield. She had a long, brilliant career starring in many of the favourite comedy series on British radio and television. She was Eth, the girlfriend of the utterly gormless Ron Glum in both the radio and TV versions of The Glums. And for a long time in the 1970s she played one half of the titular couple in the Beeb sitcom Terry and June, with Terry Scott playing her husband. This was a rather safe, conventional sitcom that went on just a little too long and was eventually overtaken by the new, fresher ideas and comics of the 1980s. 2000 AD had a dig at it in a ‘Future Shock’, which seemed to owe something also to the SF movie Harrison Bergeron. This was set in a dystopia in which everyone had to be exactly the same, so that all the married couples were called Terry and June. After it finished, I think its name was deliberately spoofed by the gay sitcom starring Julian Clary on Channel 4, Terry and Julian. Then in the ’90s she returned to the small screen as the confused grandmother in Absolutely Fabulous, with Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley as the endlessly partying fashionistas Edina and Patsy and Julie Sawalha as Saunders’ screen daughter. She also continued to appear on the radio in series such as Radio 2’s satirical The News Huddlines with Roy Hudd. Even before Ab Fab Whitfield had appeared in some slightly risque material. In 1971 or so she and Frankie Howerd released a spoof of Serge Gainsbourg’s Je T’aime. This had Whitfield panting and whispering enticements while Howerd tried to put her off with cries of ‘Oh, give over! I’m trying to get some sleep. Oh, no, now you’ve taken over all the bedclothes’ and so on. It’s tame stuff and is available on YouTube if you want to hear it. But it was too much for the Beeb at the time, who banned it along with the original. Ah, how times have changed!

Sketches of Comedy Writers and Broadcasters Frank Muir and Dennis Norden

November 26, 2022

Frank Muir

Dennis Norden

Muir and Norden were a duo of comedy writers who together were responsible for some of the radio comedy hits of yesteryear. I think they may have started out with Take It From Here before producing possibly their best-known series, The Glums. This was their response to the one of the first British soap operas, Life With The Lyons. The Lyons were a very clean, respectable family. This was well before the gangsters, crims, adulterers and murderers now populating British and international soaps. Their answer to this was to create a comically horrible family. This consisted of the blokey Mr. Glum, played by Professor Jimmy Edwards, his gormless son, Ern played by Ian Lavender, and Ern’s girlfriend, Eth, played by June Whitfield.. Mrs Glum never appeared as a distinct character, except for growling heard coming from upstairs. The episodes usually began with Mr Glum in the pub. As the landlord rings the bell for last orders, Mr. Glum orders one last pint before recounting that week’s tale of comic woe to his cronies. The series was adapted for TV in the 1970s, the scripts were collected and published as a book, and the series is also available on DVD.

Apart from writing, the two also appeared on a number of TV and radio panel shows. Dennis Norden appeared on My Music, with three other singers and experts: John Amis, the opera singer Wallace, and Arthur Marshal. After his death, Marshal’s biography appeared in the book Three Gay Lives, along with two others. This revealed that during the War, Marshal had been part of a team sent to hunt down one of the leading Nazis – I think it may have been Himmler. Marshal himself commented wryly that he was a strange choice for such a project. He had a gentle, camp manner, but appearances can be deceptive. Sometimes the men with gentlest or most camp demeanour can be some of the toughest. But possibly not in Marshal’s case. Norden was a specialist in the peculiar hits of yesterday. I particularly remember a hilarious rendition he gave of the 30s pop song, ‘I Love Me (I’m Wild About Myself). This has stayed with me so much, that when I found the sheet music for it in a secondhand shop in Cheltenham, I immediately bought it.

Muir and Norden also appeared together on another BBC 2 show, Call My Bluff. In this show, two teams competed to present the definitions of obsolete words. Three were given for each word, but only one was correct. The object was to deceive their opponents into choosing the wrong definition, while guessing the right meanings themselves. Both My Music and Call My Bluff were originally broadcast in the evening. After the original series of Call My Bluff ended, it was later revived as an afternoon show.

They also appeared on another panel show, this time on the radio, My Word. The teams were given a famous saying or literary quote and asked to make up a story inspired by it, ending with a pun on the original saying. In one edition, they were given the phrase, ‘The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. This was turned into a story about how tall men have small wives, who stop them getting to sleep at night with their snoring. This culminated in the pun, ‘The massive men need wives of quiet respiration.’ In yet another edition, they were given the line from Pepys’ diaries, ‘And so to bed’. This inspired a very convoluted story which produced the final, punning line, ‘And saw Tibet.’ These stories and their inspiration were also collected and published.

I also remember that Dennis Norden also had his own afternoon show in the 1970s, in which he took the audience back to the cinema of yesteryear. But the films he chose were obscure, rather than the big cinema successes, and he definitely had a taste for entertaining B movies. These were often films so bad, they were entertaining. One of these was a fifties movie which featured a great White hunter staggering out of the jungle before collapsing. As he did so, a voice intoned, ‘He came out of the jungle drained of man’s essence’. I think the story was about how he’d been captured by a tribe of women, who then banged him till he escaped utterly exhausted. This seems to have been part of a series of films of the time in which male explorers stumbled on all-female societies. This was a particular favourite in Science Fiction. There was one about earthmen landing on such a female society on Venus, and another one where the matriarchal society was on one of the moons of Jupiter or Saturn. Hammer also contributed to this particular theme with the 1948 Devil Girl From Mars. In this flick, a Martian woman lands on Earthy on a mission to kidnap men for use as breeding stock on her homeworld. As the taste for such terrible movies increased and they became a genre in themselves, Badfilm, aided by the Medved brother’s Golden Turkey Awards and Michael Medved’s 1980s Channel 4 series, The Worst of Hollywood, this film was reissued on DVD in the ’90s. I wonder if these films were part of crisis in masculinity caused when men returned from the War to find that women had taken over their roles in industry and society when they had been away fighting. One of the other films he commented on was Glen/Glenda or I Changed My Sex. This was a tale of one man’s struggle with his transvestism. It’s quite a daring subject, considering the very conservative morality of the time. It could have been done well if intelligently handled. A few years ago, the Beeb broadcast an autobiographical play by ceramicist and transvestite Grayson Perry, Mr. Misunderstood, about how his own shame and struggle over his crossdressing. However, Glen/Glenda was one of the demented products of Ed Woods, whose films have become bywords for spectacularly bad films. His Science Fiction outing, Plan 9 From Outer Space, about UFOs invading Earth and causing zombies to rise from their graves, was voted the worst film of all time. I think its place may now have been usurped by the recent Badfilm, The Room. Glen/Glenda isn’t that bad, but it does boast leaden dialogue, a dream sequence in which furniture moves about for no reason, and Woods’ friend Bela Lugosi, appearing as God, saying, ‘Dance to this, dance to that, but beware of the little green dragon sleeping on your doorstep.’

Later Norden starred as the presenter of the long-running show presenting hilarious bloopers and outtakes, It’ll Be Alright on the Night. This started in the 1970s but has continued to appear sporadically ever since. Since Norden’s death it’s been presented by Griff Rhy Jones and David Walliams. Muir had a rather impish sense of humour. In a Christmas article in the Radio Times one year, he described a trick he liked to play at that time of year on his relatives north of the border. He’d include with the Christmas card a completely made-up quote from Rabbie Burns, and chuckle at them trying to work out which one of the works of Scotland’s national poet it appeared in. His voice also appeared in a comic TV advert for fruit and nut chocolate. This had him singing ‘Everyone’s a Fruit and Nutcase’ to the tune of one of Tchaikovsky’s classics.

Muir and Norden in many ways were highly influential figures in the development of British comedy and their programmes were very witty. The gentle humour of their panel games now seems to me to be a world away from today’s much more savage and cutting humour of satirical shows like Mock The Week, The Last Leg and Have I Got News For You, at least when that first came out.

‘I Love Me (I’m Wild About Myself’ was a vaudeville song recorded in 1923 by Irving Kaufman of the Avon Four. I found this original recording of it on Daniel Melvin’s channel on YouTube. I hope you enjoy its comic absurdity.

I also found these two versions of the Fruit and Nut advert on YouTube. This one’s from IanLucey1972’s channel.

And this from Findaclip.