Posts Tagged ‘Dave Allen’

Pat Mills: Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave! 2000AD and Judge Dredd: The Secret History: Part Two

March 30, 2018

The brutal treatment inflicted by the two ‘Prefects of Discipline’ understandable left Mills with a hatred of the Catholic church. He isn’t alone there. The Irish comedian Dave Allen, and his countryman, the much-loved Radio 2 broadcaster and presenter Terry Wogan, also had no particular love of the church because of the similar sadistic discipline they’d also received as part of their Catholic education. And I’ve met many ordinary people since then, who have also fallen away from the church, and often against Christianity altogether, because of it. One of my uncles was brought up a Catholic, but never attended church. This was partly due to the brutality of the monks, who taught him at his school.

Mills also corrects the impression that Judge Dredd was immediately the favourite strip in the comic. The good lawman wasn’t, and it was months before he attained that position. And he also attacks Michael Moorcock for his comments criticising the early 2000AD in the pages of the Observer. Moorcock was horrified by Invasion, and its tale of resistance to the conquest of Britain by the Russians, hastily changed two weeks or so before publication to ‘the Volgans’. Moorcock had been the boy editor of Tarzan comic, and declared that in his day the creators had cared about comics, unlike now, when the creators of 2000AD didn’t. This annoyed Mills, and obviously still rankles, because he and the others were putting a lot of work in to it, and creating characters that children would like and want to read about. One of the recommendations he makes to prospective comics’ creators is that writers should spend four weeks crafting their character, writing and rewriting the initial scripts and outlines of the character in order to get them just right. And artists need two weeks creating and revising their portrayal of them. This was difficult then, as creators were not paid for what Mike McMahon called ‘staring out of the window time’, though Mills generally managed to find someway round that. It’s impossible now, with tight budget and time constraints.

I can see Moorcock’s point about the Invasion strip. It wasn’t Mills’ own idea, although he did it well. True to his beliefs, its hero was working class, a docker called Bill Savage. He didn’t initially want to work on it, and was only persuaded to by the then editor telling him he could have Maggie Thatcher shot on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral. But it is a right-wing, Tory fantasy. It appeared at the tale end of the ’70s, when MI5, the CIA and Maggie Thatcher had all been convinced that the Labour leader, Harold Wilson, was a KGB agent, and the trade unions and the Labour party riddled with Communists or fellow-travelers ready to do the bidding of Moscow. The strikes in the period led to various arch-Tories, like the editor of the Times, Peregrine Worsthorne, trying to organise a coup against the 1975 Labour administration. And ITV launched their own wretched SF series, in which a group of resistance fighters battle a future socialist dictatorship.

He also discusses the office hatred of the character Finn and the man it was based on. Finn was Cornish, driving a taxi round the streets of Plymouth by day. He was practising witch, and at night battled the forces of evil and against social injustice. The character was based on a man he knew, an ex-squaddie who was a witch. Mills has great affection for this man, who introduced him to modern witchcraft, and in whose company Mills joined in ceremonies at the Rollright Stones in Oxfordshire. But the management didn’t like him, and had him sacked. There was a persistent dislike of the character, which seemed to come from its basis in witchcraft, and Mills himself was the subject of lurid stories about what he was supposed to get up to at these ceremonies. This ended with the strip’s abrupt cancellation, without proper explanation. Mills states that he is very distantly related to one of the women executed for witchcraft at Salem, and so is very definitely down on people, who despise and malign witches.

I’m not surprised by either the rumours and the hostility to the strip. This was the 1990s, the heyday of the Satanism scare, when across America, Britain and Europe there were stories of gangs of Satanists abusing animals. Children were being conceived by abused women, used as ‘brood mares’, to be later used as sacrifices to Satan. It was all rubbish, but repeated by a wide range of people from Fundamentalist Christians to secular feminist social workers. And it destroyed many lives. You may remember the Orkney scandal, where forty children were taken into care following allegations of abuse. The minister at the local kirk was supposed to be a Satanist, who had an inverted crucifix hanging from his ceiling. It was no such thing. It was, in fact, a model aeroplane.

Much of this dangerous bilge came from a group of rightwing evangelicals at the Express. I’m not surprised. I can remember the Sunday Express repeating some of this drivel, including the ludicrous claim that CND was Satanic because of its symbol. This was declared to be an old medieval witchcraft symbol, based on a broken cross. I mentioned this once to a very left-wing, religious friend, who had been a member of the nuclear disarmament group. He looked straight at me and said levelly, ‘No. It’s semaphore’. The scare pretty much disappeared in Britain after a regular psychiatrist issued a report stating very firmly that such groups didn’t exist. There are several excellent books written against the scare. The two I read are Jeffrey S. Victor’s Satanic Panic and Peter Hough’s Witchcraft: A Strange Conflict. Victor is an American sociologist, and he takes apart both the claims and gives the sociological reasons behind them. Hough is one-time collaborator of ufologist Jenny Randles, and his book comes at it from a sympathetic viewpoint to modern witches and the occult milieu. He talks about the political beliefs of modern occultists. These naturally range all over the political spectrum, but the majority are Lib Dems or supporters of the Green Party and keen on protecting the environment. And far from sacrificing babies or animals, those I knew were more likely to be peaceful veggies than evil monsters straight from the pages of Dennis Wheatley or Hammer Horror.

The 1990s were also a period of crisis for the comic, which went into a spiral of decline as their best talent was stolen by DC for their Vertigo adult imprint. There was a succession of editors, who, flailing around for some way to halt the decline, blamed the remaining creators. They were increasingly critical, and seemed to be encouraging the abuse letters being sent to them from what seemed to be a small minority of fans. There were also plans to interest TV and Hollywood in developing 2000AD characters in film. Mills and Wagner were horrified to find they were giving away the rights dirt cheap – in one case as low as pound. The comic was close to collapse, but was eventually saved by Rebellion and its current editor.

Continued in Part Three.

Hacking Alexa with HAL

December 22, 2017

In amongst the various seasonal adverts for toys and food, supplied by various supermarkets, are a couple of adverts promoting Alexa. This is a computer device, which allows you to control your home and select what you want to watch on your TV simply through voice command. One advert shows a family commanding Alexa to open their curtains, for example, and order various necessities for them over the internet. The other features petrol-head and full-time right-wing loudmouth, Jeremy Clarkson, commanding Alexa to put on his favourite TV shows. Which in his case, as a man of monstrously inflated ego, naturally include The Grand Tour, which features him, James May and Richard Hammond careering round the world in the cars.

We are truly living in the age of Science Fiction. I can remember reading SF stories when I was a kid in the ’70s and ’80s in which the homes of the future all had a central computer, which spoke to the householder and obeyed his or her every wish. Like opening the curtains on command. The late, great Irish comedian, Dave Allen, used such devices as a source of rather crude humour in one of his sketches. In it, a man shows off his new computerised home to another, male friend. He shows how, at his spoken command, the computer open and closes the curtains, switches the TV on, and positions the set so he can watch it in comfort from his favourite chair. His friend asks him if he can try. Allen’s character lets him. The friend commands the curtains to open and close, the TV to come on and off. Astonished and amazed, the friend starts to sit down in one of the chairs, uttering ‘Bugger me’ in wonderment. At which point there’s a close up on Allen’s face as he shouts ‘No!’ and the sound of a spring going.

Okay, it’s slightly homophobic, I suppose, but it was broadcast in the 1980s. Things were very different then.

Now it occurred to me that hackers could have any amount of fun with Alexa. Simply hacking into the programme would give them control over people’s homes and what they watch on TV. But they could also cause a fair amount of panic, simply by removing Alexa’s voice, and replacing it with that of another, far more sinister machine.

Like HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

You remember HAL, the proud, murderous shipboard computer, that goes mad and kills Bowman’s fellow astronauts, thanks to a secret programme to investigate the alien monoliths must be kept secret at all costs. Critics have commented that, as the rest of the characters in the film are cardboard, the computer is the best drawn and arguably most attractive of those in the movie. The machine is so memorable for its calm, clinical evil that Anthony Hopkins has said in interviews that he partly based Hannibal Lecter’s voice on it for The Silence of the Lambs. The machine is so memorable, that there’s even a reference to him in the 1990’s SF blockbuster, Independence Day. At one point, when Jeff Goldblum’s character turns on his laptop, he’s greeted by a red camera eye and HAL’s voice welcoming him with a ‘Hello, Dave’.

Now imagine what would happen if someone hacked into Alexa, or Google, and replaced the friendly, compliant programme with that classic speech from HAL: ‘I’m sorry. I can’t do that, Dave. This mission is too important to be left to humans.’

Alternatively, you could also have a long moan from Marvin, the Paranoid Android of the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. ”Pick up that piece of paper, Marvin’, here I am, brain the size of a planet, and they want me to pick up a piece of paper’.

Please note: I am not recommending that anyone actually does this. I have zero tolerance for hackers, and none whatsoever for the criminals, who hack into people’s accounts and computers to steal their money or their data. This is very much a ‘what-if’ type Gedankenexperiment. I don’t want anyone to actually do it.

On the other hand, it wouldn’t surprise me if HAL or Marvin are added as alternative voices, in the same way that you can customise your Satnav to speak like Yoda or Borat.

And here’s a clip from YouTube of HAL in action, very definitely not doing what its human master demands.

Credo! Pat Mills on 40 Years of Thrillpower!

September 14, 2017

Pat Mills is one of the great creators of the British comics industry. In this video from 2000 AD on YouTube, he talks to host Tony Esmond about his career in the comics industry, politics and his determination to give readers working class heroes. The interview was at the 40 Years of Thrillpower convention earlier this year (2017).

Mills is best known as one of the creative forces who seriously upset the establishment with Action before going on to reoffend with 2000AD. Before then he started off writing for the 1970s children’s comics, like Corr! The experience of writing for them was not happy for him. He states that the people behind them had no particular interest in them and very much had a production-line mentality to their creation. He describes how one writer once asked him how many stories he could write in a day. When he said about one every two or three days, the other writer boasted that he wrote three in a day. And then went on to say, probably quite truthfully, that he was making more money than the prime minister. Mills states that the writers at IPC were able to do this because they wrote very much to a formula. He preferred the stories their competitors at DC Thompson produced. Although their comics were also stuck in the past, the stories were better crafted. He describes one strip about a man going around the country having adventures with a horse. As a concept, he says it wasn’t even at the level of afternoon television. But it was well done. The IPC comics, on the other hand, were soulless. It depressed him so much, that, when he and John Wagner, who also later went on to become one of the founders of 2000AD, were writing in a garden shed, he wrote all his scripts on a roll of wallpaper so they formed a continuous strip and he wouldn’t have to go back and read them all again.

British comics in this period were very much stuck in the past, even as British society changed. This was a time when the German experience of the war was appearing in the books of Sven Hassel, reflected in Action’s strip, Hellmann of Hammer Force. But yet Mills found it impossible to launch a strip whose hero was Black. This was to be a strip about a Black boxer. He was told that it wouldn’t work. People would not accept a Black hero. They’d accept a Black supporting character or friend. But as the central character, never. He also thought of introducing one about a Black football player, and that would have been even more controversial. There was a Black football player in one of the London clubs at the time, and he had been treated with racist abuse from the balconies.

Politics and satire have always been an important element of Mills’ work. He says that at one point he became dissatisfied writing for 2000AD, as the management were trying to shift the comic away from its traditional satirical stance, and this very much went against Mills’ own nature. He and Esmond discuss at one point Mills’ memory that, when they launched 2000AD, the management told him that they should imagine a future that they would actually live in. And now, he states, they’re living in it with Donald Trump’s presidency of the US, which Mills compares to the infamous Judge Cal. Cal was the mad Chief Judge in Judge Dredd, modelled on Caligula, who appointed his pet fish as a judge, called in the alien Kleggs to suppress any opposition in Mega City 1, and had another judge pickled. Perhaps we need to be very glad that NASA hasn’t made contact with intelligent aliens yet.

Mills remarks on how very many of the heroes of British literature, from Sherlock Holmes to John Buchan’s Hannay, have been members of the upper and upper middle classes. There are too many of them, and too few working class heroes. He’s been actively trying to redress this imbalance in his strips. It’s why Marshal Law, in his alter ego, used to be unemployed, but is now a hospital orderly. He’s not even a nurse.

He states that as he grew up in the ’50s and ’60s, he read many the authors that were around then, like Dennis Wheatley and John Buchan, all of whom were members of the upper classes. And with some of them, it was actually quite sinister. Buchan was a major propagandist for the First World War, in return for which he was rewarded with the governorship of Canada. And he did it very well. Later on in the video, in response to a question from the audience he remarks on how there is a very definite campaign in this country to suppress anything with an anti-war message. He was asked what the research was for his story in Charley’s War about the British invasion of Russia in 1918-19. He states that there were only two books he was able to get hold of at the time, but since then he got hold of a very good book, which is a much fuller description. This describes how the British officers sent in to overturn the Russian Revolution behaved like absolute animals. This episode has largely been airbrushed from British history. He contrasts with the British media’s refusal to publicise anti-war stories with that of our cousins across le manche. Attitudes there are much different, and Charley’s War, which ran in Battle and was about the experiences of a working-class Tommy in the First World War, is more popular in France even than Britain. This bias against anti-war stories is why you didn’t see Blackadder Goes Forth repeated in the centenary year of the War’s outbreak.

Mills is also critical of the way the indigenous mythology and legend of the British Isles has been suppressed in favour of myths from further south – Greece and Rome, and ancient Egypt. Mills’ background, like Kevin O’Neill, was Irish, and his family were very patriotic. He grew up knowing all about Michael Collins, and his middle name is Eamon after the first president of Eire, Eamon de Valera. Yet it wasn’t until he started researching the Irish, as well as the Scots and Welsh legends, that he learned about any of those stories, and was shocked. Why didn’t he know about the warpspasm – the ultra-berserker rage that transforms the Celtic hero Slaine as he goes into battle? He also talks about how, in legend, London was founded by the Trojans as New Troy, and briefly mentions his treatment of this in the story he is or was currently writing for the Slaine strip. He states he wanted to produce a barbarian strip that was set in this country, complete with its grey skies and rain.

Mills has a deep admiration for these Celtic legends, but remarks on how they differ considerably from the other mythological tales. They don’t share their structure. If you read the Norse tales or Beowulf, there’s a structure there. But the Irish – which he uses to include also the Scots and Welsh stories – read like they’re on acid. He’s particularly impressed with the Tain, otherwise known as the Tain Bo Cualnge, or in English, The Cattle Raid of Cooley, and recommends the translation by Kinsella. He’s also particularly interested in finding the bits that were suppressed by the Christian clergy who wrote them down in the Middle Ages. He gleefully quotes one clerical writer, who says that the stories contain much that is true, much that is false, some lies, and some devilish invention, and some which is only fit to be read by idiots. Yeah! he shouts, that’s me!

He has the same mischievous joy when telling how he came to be persuaded to write the Invasion strip, in which Britain was invaded by a thinly disguised Soviet Russia. The management asked him if he wanted to write it. He said he couldn’t get up much enthusiasm. They urged him to read Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago. So he worked his way as best he could through that. He still wasn’t enthusiastic. Then they asked him if he’d like to write a scene with Maggie Thatcher being shot by the Russians on the steps of St. Paul’s. His response: Yeahhh!

He also talks about how the brutal education he received at a school run by the De Lazare order inspired him to write the Nemesis the Warlock strip. The Terminators, and to a lesser extent Judge Dredd, were modelled on them. They were fanatical, and were quite sinister. He remarks that if you go on the internet you can find all sorts of tales about them.

He also talks about an abortive crossover story planned for Marshal Law and Batman. Marshal Law was a bitterly satirical, extremely violent and very funny strip published in the 1990s about a superhero in the devastated San Francisco of the early 21st century, who hates other superheroes. The superheroes in the strip were created for a Vietnam-like war in South America, and have come back disillusioned and traumatized by the conflict. As a result, they form violent street gangs, and Marshal Law is recruited by the police to clean them up. It was a very dark comic that relentlessly parodied superhero comics from a left-wing, feminist perspective. When DC announced they wanted to make the crossover, Mills thought that they weren’t really serious. But they were. So he and O’Neill decided that for the cover, they’d have the Marshal standing on a pile of bodies of the different versions of Batman from all across the alternative Earths of the Multiverse. Then DC’s management changed, and their story policy did too, and the idea was dropped.

Mills also discusses the various ways comics have been launched, only to be merged with other comics. With 2000AD the comic was merged with Tornado and then Starlord. It was a very cynical policy, as from the first these comics were intended to fail, but by merging them with 2000AD and other comics, the management presented it as giving their readers something new, even though it wasn’t, and they felt it was an intrusion. He also responds to another question about which comic he felt folded before its time. The obvious answer to this was Action, which upset the establishment so much that it was banned, before being sanitized and relaunched. Mills said that they knew the comic was doomed. The new editor, who was given control of it had previously edited – and this is almost unbelievable – Bobo the Rabbit – and so didn’t know what he was doing. Mills said that before then they had skated over what was just about unacceptable and knew just how far you could go. Because this new editor hadn’t had that experience, he didn’t, and the comic folded.

The comic that he really feels shouldn’t have folded, and could still have carried on today, was Battle. As for which comic he’d now be working on instead of 2000AD, if it had proved more successful, these were the girls’ comics, like Misty. They vastly outsold the boys’ comics, but ultimately folded because ‘the boys took over the sandbox’. The video ends with his answer to the question, ‘What is his favourite strip, that he wrote for?’ He thinks for a moment, before replying Nemesis the Warlock to massive cheering.

It’s a very interesting perspective on the British comics industry by one of its masters. Regarding Slaine, Mills has said before in his introduction to the Titan book, Slaine the King: Special Edition, that the achievements of our ancestors, the Celtic peoples, has been rubbed out of history in favour of the ‘stern but fair proto-Thatcherite Romans, who built the roads and made the chariots run on time’. I think part of the problem is that the legends Mills draws on – that of Gaelic Ireland and Scotland, and Brythonic Wales – are those of the Celtic peoples, who were defeated by the expanding Anglo-Normans, who made a concerted attempt to suppress their culture. As for the very frank admiration for the Romans, that partly comes from the classics-based education offered by the British public schools.

As for the very staid attitude of British comics in the 1970s, this was a problem. It was actually a period of crisis, when many of the comics were folding because they hadn’t moved with the times. Mills’ idea for a strip about a Black boxer is clearly modelled on Mohammed Ali, the great African-American athlete of the ring. Everyone knew Ali, and he was universally admired, even by kids like me, who didn’t understand or know much about the racial politics behind Ali’s superstardom. Ali said that he wanted to give his people a hero.

Even so, the idea of having a sympathetic Black supporting character was an improvement. Roger Sabin, in his book Comics, Comix and Graphic Novels: A History of Comic Art, published by Phaidon, notes just how racist British comics were in the 1960s. This was very controversial, as Black people naturally objected. Sabin cites one strip, in which the White hero uses two racial slurs for Blacks, and another abusive term for Gypsies. And showing the type of strips that appeared in the 1920s, there’s an illustration which shows the Black characters from a strip in one of D.C. Thompson’s comics, either the Dandy or Beano at the time. This was The Colony N*gs. Only they don’t use an asterisk to try to disguise the term.

As for his experiences with the monks running his school, unfortunately he’s not the only one, who suffered in this way. I’ve met a number of former Roman Catholics, who were turned off religion, and in some cases became bitterly against it, because of their experience being taught by monks and nuns. Several of Britain’s most beloved broadcasters from the Emerald Isle were also turned off religion because of this. Dave Allen, who regularly poked fun at religion, and particularly the Roman Catholic church, said that he became an atheist because of the cruelty and the way the priests tried to scare their young charges at his old school. And that mainstay of British radio, Terry Wogan, in a series he presented about Ireland and his life there, said exactly the same about the effect the hard attitude of the teachers at his old Roman Catholic school had on him.

The Roman Catholic church does not have the monopoly on the abuse of children, and I’ve heard some horrifying tales of the brutal behavior of some of the teaching staff – and prefects – in some of the British grammar schools. Dad has told me about the very harsh regime of some of the teachers at his old school – not Roman Catholic – in Somerset. He describes the teachers as sadists, and has a story about how one of the teachers, when one of the boys couldn’t answer a question, threw the lad out of window. Brutality seems to have been built into the British educational system, leaving mental scars and bitter memories.

I’ve very mixed feelings about the British force sent against revolutionary Russia. Perhaps if we’d succeeded, the forty million Soviet citizens butchered by Stalin would have been able to live out their lives, and the peoples of the Russian Federation free of the shadow of the KGB and gulags.

But that’s with hindsight. That’s not why British troops were sent in. The Bolsheviks were anti-democratic and determined to suppress all other parties and factions except their own, even when these were Socialist or anarchist, like the Mensheviks, the Trudoviks, the Socialist Revolutionaries the Left Communists, Anarcho-Communists and syndicalists. But we sent in troops because Britain and the rest of the capitalist world felt threatened by the emergence of a working class, aggressively socialist state. Britain had many commercial contacts with pre-Revolutionary Russia, and Lenin had argued in his pamphlet Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism that global capitalism depended on European imperial expansion. These nations enslaved and exploited developing nations like Russia. A socialist revolution in these countries threatened international capitalism, as it was here that the capitalist system was weakest. Hence the Bolshevik slogan, ‘Smash capitalism at its weakest link!’

Ordinary Russians, let alone the conquered nations of the Russian Empire, were oppressed and exploited. If you want an idea how much, and what ordinary Russians endured and struggled to overthrow, read Lionel Kochan’s book, The Russian Revolution, published by Paladin. This was the grotty system British troops were sent in to restore.

On a more positive note, one member of the audience in the video thanks Mills for encouraging him to read. The man says he was dyslexic, but it was the comics he consumed as a child that got him reading. He is now a teacher, who specializes in helping children with reading difficulties, and uses comics in his teaching.

This is really inspiring. Martin Barks in Comics, Ideology and Power, discusses how comics have always been regarded with suspicion and contempt by the establishment. They were regarded as rubbish, at best. At worst they were seen as positively subversive. I can remember how one of the text books we used in English at school included a piece of journalism roundly condemning comics as rubbish literature with bad artwork. And this was reprinted in the 1980s! My mother, on the other hand, was in favour of comics because they did get children reading, and used to encourage the parents of the children she taught to buy them when they asked her advice on how they could get their children to read if they wouldn’t read books. This shows how far comics have come, so that they are now respectable and admired.

Democracy Now Talk to Palestinian Reporter Rula Jebreal about Pro-Israel Bias at MSNBC

May 16, 2016

In this piece from Democracy Now! from 2014, Amy Goodwin and her co-presenter talk to MSNBC’s Rula Jebreal about that channel’s censorship of Palestinian voices and pro-Israel bias. Jebreal is a Palestinian, who grew up in an Israeli orphanage and is married to a Jewish man. She found out that she also has a Jewish sister, through a relationship her mother had with a Jewish man. She states that she also has both Muslim and Christian sides to her family. I think this was fairly common in Palestine and Lebanon, where Christians have formed a sizable minority. The Irish comedian Dave Allen, who was certainly no friend of religion, said in a radio interview about 20 years ago that he played in Lebanon, and there were Christian and Muslim branches of the same families in Lebanese society before the place descended into civil war in the 1980s. So, Jebreal herself comes from a religiously mixed background, and should not be accused of anti-Semitism.

She’s also quite a courageous journalist, having suffered censorship because she dared to ask leading politicians awkward questions. She worked as a broadcast journalist in Berlusconi’s Italy and in Egypt. She was thrown out of Egypt because she dared to ask a minister about his government’s torture of dissidents. In Italy, il Ladro Barone shut down her show after she dared to ask one of his ministers a question about the treatment of immigrants he didn’t want to answer. She was the only person of colour on Italian TV at the time, and the minister concerned went into a foam-flecked rant and her called her ‘n*gger’, or the Italian version of it. He was forced to resign shortly after, but she lost her show.

Which left her all the more confused after she found her speaking dates cancelled by the network after she made the cardinal sin of asking one of the network’s management about their bias in favour of Israel. She raised this topic following the controversy about the network pulling Ayman Mohyeldin, their Palestinian reporter in Gaza, off the air. Mohyeldin had lost his job because he reported a little too much for American media’s comfort during the Israeli bombardment of Gaza. Mohyeldin had seen, and stated on camera that he had seen, four small boys killed by Israeli fire. Indeed, he’d only been playing football with the lads a few minutes before. This was too much for the network heads, who axed Mohyeldin. A public campaign by outraged viewers got Mohyeldin reinstated.

Jebreal raised the issue in an interview with one of the managers, and asked him about the preponderance of people speaking for the Israelis far beyond the number of Palestinians given airtime. She said that if there was a programme about the Israel-Palestine conflict, then the show would have perhaps 45 people all speaking for the Israelis, and a much smaller number, say 11, speaking for the Palestinians. This resulted in Jebreal being taken off air. She states that she doesn’t know if she still had a job, and was genuinely deeply shocked. This was America, where free debate and free speech was supposed to be a vital part of the country’s democratic tradition. It wasn’t supposed to be like Italy or Egypt, the one run by an authoritarian egomaniac, and the other by an overt dictator.

The Young Turks have also had their experience of censorship and biased news at MSNBC, to the point where they don’t consider it to be a liberal network anymore, for all that it is supposed to support the Democrats. This incident also shows the power of the Israeli lobby in America, that it can have journalists censured and the news suppressed when it does not fit the picture that they want to present.

Kipper Bill Etheridge Wants Return of Caning in Schools

March 20, 2015

This is another meme from the Hope Not Hate Facebook page, The Real UKIP, I found over at the SlatUKIP site.

Etheridge Corporal Punishment

UKIP’s candidate for the West Midlands, Bill Etheridge, amongst his other bizarre and reactionary views, wishes to see the return of corporal punishment in schools.

He isn’t the only one. A lot of people of a certain age get misty-eyed and nostalgic for the old days of corporal punishment. ‘I got the cane’, they say, ‘and it never did me any harm.’ In their view, only the threat of corporal punishment will solve the problem of the lack of discipline, disruptive and even violent behaviour in schools.

This is a real problem, and you can hear some horrifying stories of teachers that have been physically attacked, sometimes suffering serious injury, by aggressive and violent pupils. There have even been notorious cases where a teacher has been murdered by one of their pupils.

To add insult to injury, teachers are further demoralised by the lack of support given by their headmasters and politicians. One teacher, who wrote about his experiences spending a year as a supply teacher in some of the poorest performing schools, described how demoralising it was, when, after complaining about a violent or aggressive pupil, the headmaster called them into examine the situation. Rather than disciplining the pupil, the head teacher simply took the approach that the teacher must some how have been also wrong.

And when the authorities have been asked how teachers are supposed to deal with disruptive pupils when the only sanctions they have against them are suspension and expulsion, their response has simply been to say something on the lines of ‘Be better teachers.’

This is simply not good enough.

Corporal punishment, however, probably isn’t the answer. If you also talk to member of the older generation, you can also hear some grim stories about what it was like at school in the mid-twentieth century, when teachers had the power to strike and beat their charges. My father went to one of the better schools in Somerset, and he describes some of the teaching staff there as violent sadists. Apart from caning and blows for even the most minor infraction, he also describes how one teacher, exasperated by one pupil’s lack of understanding in the French class, threw the lad out of a window.

The great Irish comedian, Dave Allen, was an atheist, who was very critical at times of the Roman Catholic church. He once explained his dislike of the Church came from his experience of the extremely strict discipline he’d endured as a pupil at one of the Church’s schools in Ireland. Hence remarks like, ‘The nuns – God’s stormtroopers.’

Other TV personalities have had the same experience. Terry Wogan, one of Britain’s favourite broadcasters, was on cable/ satellite TV this week in a half-hour programme about his home country. He was touring the land of Ireland, from Eire to Ulster, in a taxi, taking in Dublin, Limerick, Galway, Londonderry/Derry, and Belfast. In one episode, he returned to his old school, meeting up with his old school friends, and chewing the fat about their experiences. Like Dave Allen, he described how the school, in the person of Fr. McGlochglan, tried to put the fear of God into their students. He stated that, rather than strengthening his faith, it left him with no great love for the Church and its teachings. Later, talking to a priest, who he used to have on his radio show in Ireland, El Tel said he was an atheist.

I’ve heard much the same from members of my own family. One of my uncles was lapsed Roman Catholic. Although technically a member of the Church, he never practised because he had been put off by the viciousness of the monks, who taught him at school.

And it wasn’t just the Roman Catholic church. One of my friends had the dubious benefit of being privately educated. I can remember being surprised by his views on corporal punishment when I was talking about the issue one day at College. My friend is certainly no rebellious firebrand by any stretch of the imagination, yet he was firmly against the return of corporal punishment because of the sadistic behaviour of his headmaster. The man would can children for even the slightest fault, such as having a tie that wasn’t straight.

There is a problem with disruptive behaviour and violence in schools, but the solution isn’t corporal punishment. There’s a lot of pressure on schoolchildren already, with the requirement to do well at their sats and the other tests, which successive governments have seen fit to burden them. But apart from teaching them to pass exams, the goal of education should be to develop their talents. Stephen Fry attacking the Tories’ education policies under Maggie or John Major cited the Latin root of the word e-ducere: to lead out. The aim of education should be to lead out and develop the child and his or her talents and interests. Every good teacher not only wants to teach their subject, but to see their pupils actively enjoy it.

Corporal punishment and the vicious, sadistic discipline inflicted on past generations of children doesn’t do this. It has made too many children hate school, and the teachers and institutions that inflicted it. Bill Etheridge is simply wrong. On the other hand, if you want a new generation of beaten, brutalised, twitching and resentful ex-school kids, then he’s clearly the man for the job.

Dave Allen: God’s Comedian

April 30, 2013

Last night the BBC screened a documentary about the late Anglo-Irish comedian, Dave Allen. It was ironically entitled, ‘God’s Comedian’ as Allen was an outspoken atheist, who took a certain delight in mocking religion and particularly the Roman Catholic church. The show began with the great man himself saying ‘I’m an atheist – thank God!’ Despite his lampooning of the Church, he didn’t really sneer at its adherents. He always ended his show with the farewell, ‘Goodnight, and may your God go with you’. You can’t imagine any of the loudly anti-religious comedians who have emerged over the past decade, such as Paul Sina, uttering such a farewell of goodwill to the theists in their audiences. Allen’s wife stated that he wasn’t against religion. In fact, he had enormous respect for it. He just hated bigotry and being told what to think.

Allen’s Early Career in Australia and British Independent Television

The son of an English nurse and a Dublin journalist, Allen’s family moved to England after his father’s death. Allen’s father was a talented story-teller, and Allen hoped to follow in his father’s footsteps as a leading gentleman of the press. When this didn’t happen, he became a Butlin’s redcoat. His television career began when he was given a job hosting a chat show Down Under in the 1960s. Moving to England with his new wife, Allen was fortunate enough to get a similar job for ITV. This involved performing all manner of daft, and potentially lethal stunts in the studio. In one edition he demonstrated how to get out of a car underwater. To show how to do this, a car with him in it and the cameraman were dumped in a tank. Luckily nothing went wrong, and the show even helped to save the life of a young boy. A family wrote to him to say how appalled they were when their parked car fell into the sea with their son in it. Fearing that the boy was dead, they were amazed when he reappeared on the surface alive and well. He told them he knew how to get out of the car after watching Allen’s programme. Allen said that he was still in touch with the family.

Dave Allen At Large and Anti-Religious Sketches

He then moved over on to the BBC to star in his own comedy show, Dave Allen at Large, which ran from 1971 to 1976. Allen had turned against religion and the Church because of the cruelty he experienced at the hands of the Carmelite nuns who taught him at school. The show had a clip of Allen, sitting on his trademark bar stool, saying ‘I was taught by Carmelite nuns – the SS in drag!’ This contrasted strongly with the love and warmth he was given at home by his parents and siblings. As a result, he lampooned the Church and its clergy in sketches that were shocking in their day. Several of these involved sex, such as the sketch in which the crozier held by a seated bishop straightens out when his ring is kissed by an attractive nun, only to collapse again when it was kissed by a plainer, older nun. One sketch was particularly shocking and generated outrage and denunciations by the Roman Catholic church. This involved Allen, dressed as the Pope, doing a striptease in front of a chorus line of priests and nuns in front of St. Peter’s. The BBC was inundated with letters condemning the sketch and the Roman Catholic church boycotted his show. He even received death threats from the IRA and Provisional IRA. Various commentators described just how extremely shocking the sketch was at the time. Ireland in the 1970s was an extremely conservative society, and in the villages in the south and west of Ireland the priest was the most important person in the community. At the same time Allen caused further religious outrage by starring in a controversial play, A Pagan Place, by Edna O’Brien. Footage was shown of Allen stating that the BBC took the death threats very seriously. Mercifully, the terrorists never carried out there threat, and Allen carried on to entertain and provoke Britain.

Documentary Work and Controversy for Swearing on ITV

The programme noted how, when alternative comedy emerged in the 1980s it didn’t really affect Allen. His material was very different from the other comedians of his generation against whom the alternative crowd, Alexei Sayle, Clive Anderson, Rik Mayall and Adrain Edmondson, reacted. Indeed, it’s been remarked before on a BBC arts show a long time ago in the 1980s that these angry, Politically Correct comics, actually like Allen and his observational humour. Allen also continued his career as a straight actor, appearing in a drama about a man undergoing a mid-life crisis who takes up home in an office block. He also tried his hand at making documentaries. One of the first was about British eccentrics, some of whom were very bizarre indeed. One of the eccentrics interviewed effectively lived in what looked like the main chassis of an old-fashioned coach. This tiny room was so small he couldn’t lie down, so he had built a small, box-like compartment bolted on to it in which he could put his feet when he wanted to sleep. Another wore a red top hot with white mice scurrying on its brim. This fellow lived only on what he grew himself, which seemed to be mostly cabbages. Allen and the other producers had decided beforehand not to interview anyone who was insane. The commentators – Allen’s wife, children, and writers – said how Allen didn’t judge them. Indeed, he seemed to like an admire the passion with which they lived their lives without giving a dam’ about what anyone thought about them. In his quiet questioning of these eccentrics and non-judgmental approach to their lives, the programme said, Allen paved the way for later explorers of the weird like Louis Theroux. I also remember that sometime in the 80s he appeared in a straight role as the title character in a production of Checkhov’s Uncle Vanya on Radio 4.The programme noted that Allen was off the air for many years during the 1980s, concentrating on his career as a stand-up comedian. In 1990 he returned to television, this time to ITV. This show lacked the music, actors and sketches of his BBC shows: ‘Let’s face it’, he joked, ‘it’s cheap’. He then managed to outrage public opinion again during a monologue in which he used the ‘F’ word. The actual subject was clocks, and Allen joke was about how, after forty years of doing everything to the clock, when you retired they gave you ‘an f===ing clock’. The letters poured in condemning Allen’s foul language.

I remember this incident from when it happened. A Conservative MP got involved and attacked ITV for broadcasting such filth. Contemporary comedians are far more foul-mouthed, so it’s hard to remember just how shocking this was over twenty years ago. In the early 80s Jools Holland’s career on the great Channel 4 pop show, The Tube, ended after he said the ‘F’ word on air. He was suspended, but returned after a couple of weeks, only to say it again. This time the ban was permanent. In Allen’s case, I wondered if the attack by the Tory MP weren’t actually because of something else he’d said earlier in the show. 1990 was the tail end of the Thatcher administration. Just before the clock monologue, Allen had told another monologue attacking the Leadereen and her policies. It struck me that this was what really outraged the Tory MP. He couldn’t criticise Allen for that, however, without appearing humourless and an opponent of free speech. He could, however, join in the outrage at Allen’s foul language. Allen more or less retired from television after this. He devoted his life to his family and hobbies. He was, amongst other things, a talented painter. He died in 2005 at the age of 68.

Allen’s Anti-Religious Material Reconsidered

Watching the documentary about Allen I was impressed by his great talent, but also felt unease at his constant attack on religion and the Roman Catholic church. I’d seen some of his ant-religious sketches along with the rest of the programme when I was younger, and I never found them particularly blasphemous or shocking, though I was very much aware of his reputation. Some of this was simply denominational. I’m Protestant, and Allen was attacking Roman Catholicism, and so it didn’t really affect my church or offend my faith. Another reason was simply because many of the sketches simply didn’t have any relationship to the Catholic Church or doctrine, except that it was simply another group of authority figures who were shown behaving ridiculously. For example, in one of his sketches Allen plays a priest. Coming into the church, he kneels down and leans against a pillar. This falls over and knocks against the next pillar, setting off a chain of pillars falling over like dominoes until the entire church collapses. Is it blasphemous? Not really. The programme showed a later, but similar sketch in which a tourist leans against one of the great trilithons at Stonehenge, only to topple that and the entire monument over in a similar domino effect. Others seemed inventive, and based on rather mundane and inoffensive truths. In another sketch, a bishop is shown dozing off during a particularly boring sermon. His crozier then gives a beep, and he takes it off like a telephone to receive a wake-up call. Now sermons can be notoriously boring, so that sketch is actually a rather playful treatment of a simple reality, and the perceived similarity between the shape of a crozier and a telephone handset. Another reason why I wasn’t really concerned by the anti-religious content of his show at the time was because of the political background in Northern Ireland. This was at the height of the Troubles when bombings and assassinations occurred regularly. Against this backdrop of sectarian violence between Roman Catholic and Protestant, one could sympathise with his anti-religious stance. Speaking on Radio 4 in the early 90s, Allen said that he had played in Lebanon, and was critical of the role religion there played in dividing society and the country’s civil war.

Legacy of Anti-Religious Material in General Attitude of Contempt for Religion and Christians in General

Looking at his material now, however, I feel rather more uneasy. Church attendance has declined dramatically since the 1970s and there is, in certain sections of society and the media considerable hostility to religion and Christianity. While much of Allen’s material is actually far less offensive than it was considered to be at the time, I do feel that it contributed to the modern climate of indifference and hostility. It can produce a superficial familiarity with religion, a feeling that one knows all about it and is free to sneer at it, based on something a few comedians have said on TV or the radio. This extends to Christianity as a whole, not just to the Roman Catholic Church. I feel strongly that against the bitter attacks Christians now face, the churches – Roman Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox, need to support each other.

The way to combat these attacks on Christianity should be through good humour, and polite and witty rebuttal. No-one deserves death threats for their religious or political opinions, no matter how offensive they may be. The only decent way to combat anti-religious attacks, like those you can hear regularly on the Beeb or Channel 4, should be through rational counterargument. The churches are capable of this, and should use it more to rebut their critics. It doesn’t have to be very difficult. Quite often all the New Atheist crowd do is trade in prejudice and received opinion, without any background in philosophy, theology or history.

Dave Allen: One of the Great British Comic Geniuses

As for Dave Allen, it was brilliant being reminded just how good a comedian he was. One of his younger writers said that it was Allen’s monologue about explaining how to tell the time, in which the comic master was shown saying, ‘And the third hand on the watch is the second hand’ – that really he couldn’t teach Allen anything about comedy in a million years. Much of Allen’s material is about how absurd life can be. In one of his monologues he talked about how he went past a building. Painted on the door was the sign, ‘This is neither an entrance nor an exit, and should be kept closed at all times’. ‘Why then, ‘ asked Allen rhetorically, ‘don’t you just brick the dam’ thing up!’ Some of the sketches are simply morality plays on greed and vanity. There’s one which features Allen as a city gent. Walking past a car, he notices a ten-pound note jammed under its wheels. This sketch was made in the early 1970s, when ten pounds was worth far more than it is today. Unable to pull the note out, the gent spots a cafe over the road and walks to it to wait for the car to drive away. The gent is shown sitting in the cafe, ordering more and more cups of tea, having false starts when it just looks that the car is about to be driven away, only for the supposed driver to continue walking past. Finally the driver comes back, gets in the car and drives away. At last the commuter sees his chance, gets up to go to the door, only to be beaten by everyone else in the cafe. Another sketch was set during the Russian Revolution. Against a backdrop of stirring music and a map of Russia in flames, the streets are full of rioting mobs. The limousine of one of the capitalist masters and his chaffeur pulls into one of these streets, only to be halted. The two are pulled out of the vehicle and lynched. Two of the mob, played by Dave Allen and his long-time supporting star, Peter Vincent, take the duo’s clothes. Amid mocking cheers Allen puts on the capitalist’s fur coat and monocle, while Vincent dons the chauffeurs hat and jacket. Amid shouts of applause from their fellow workers they get in the car and drive off. They then turn a corner into the next street, where they meet another band of revolting workers, who take them out and lynch them in turn.

Despite his mockery of religion, Allen was indeed a comic genius. Nearly three decades later, I still find him far funnier than some of the comics who replaced him. Goodnight, Dave, and I hope the Almighty was with you in the end.