Posts Tagged ‘Harry Potter’

‘I’ Newspaper on Rowling and Riley Planning to Launch Blairite Party

February 12, 2019

Today’s I for 12th February 2019 also carried the news that J.K. Rowling, Rachel Riley and Tracey-Ann Oberman were in a meeting with former members of Blair’s staff to launch this new, Centrist party that has periodically been mooted for the past year or so.

The article by Jane Clinton, ‘Rowling and Riley ‘plotting Blairite party’, on page 26 of the paper, runs

Countdown’s Rachel Riley and former EastEnders actress Tracy Ann Oberman have joined forces with advisers from Tony Blair’s government and JK Rowling’s agent to create a centrist breakaway Labour party.

Riley and Oberman, who are both Jewish, have been attacked by Labour supporters for criticizing Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of the anti-Semitism row that has engulfed the party. Riley revealed last month that Channel 4 bosses ordered extra protection following her comments.

They met Blair’s former chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, and his former speechwriter, Philip Collins, last Tuesday at the London offices of Ms Rowling’s agent, Neil Blair. There were 50 supporters present.

Details of the event, confirmed by I, include the creation of a pro-European centrist party which would appeal to the left of the Conservative party and the right of Labour.

Observers believe its creation would be the death knell for the Liberal Democrats.

At the meeting, during discussions as to who should be leader of the new party, Rowling’s name was shouted out to applause.

The Harry Potter author has been critical of Mr Corbyn, but leadership is not believed to be her ambition. Instead, it is thought shemay offer financial backing or fund a think-tank.

The good peeps over at Zelo Street have already critiqued this piece of Blairite aspiration, and pronounced the new party DOA. They note that such a party has been mooted several times, the names of various right-wing Labour MPs have been suggested in connection with it. And each time take-off has been aborted or not even attempted.

They point out that people have been proclaiming the death of the Lib Dems since the 1950s, but each time such predictions have been greatly exaggerated. The article goes on to mention the serious matter of Riley’s and Oberman’s conduct, which makes them totally unsuitable as leaders for any new party. Oberman threatened to sue blogger Shaun Lawson because he mentioned her in one of his tweets and in an article. Why? Because Riley, Oberman and their followers had viciously attacked and smeared a 16-year old schoolgirl and her father with false claims of anti-Semitism. The girl, who suffers from anxiety anyway, was threatened and harassed. Zelo Street concludes

Well-documented and cringe-inducing harassment, to boot. If that is the depth of the political talent pool available to the new Centrist party, it’s going to look more like a puddle.

Right now, it looks as though this new venture is DOA. No surprise there, then.

See: http://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/02/new-centrist-party-looks-doa.html

Mike was also on the receiving end of the wrath of Riley and her army of fanboys for a piece he did reporting Lawson’s article and Riley’s and Oberman’s bullying of the teenager. And yes, they tried smearing him as an anti-Semite. Rowling’s also tried attacking Mike over social media, and got her rear end handed to her as a result. If I remember correctly, Rowling, Riley and Oberman are part of a little circle with Z-list actress Frances Barber, Al Murray and David Baddiel, who believe that they are genuinely tackling racism. They’ve been quoted as joking with each other about whether this is 1936 or not. Of course it isn’t. If this really was anything like 1936 there’d be no question of it. Real anti-Semitic mobs wearing Fascist uniforms, like Oswald Mosley and his Blackshirts would be goose-stepping into Jewish and working class areas trying to provoke fights and intimidate the people there. You would hear speech from bigots and Nazis telling everyone that Jews were an unassimilable threat, and that further Jewish immigration should be curbed. And the same Nazis would also talk openly about Jews being ‘the money power’ behind capitalism and communism and plotting to destroy the White race. And as for Germany, Jews would be progressively banned from getting jobs or entering the universities, their businesses closed, and themselves publicly beaten and humiliated. while trade unionists, socialists, communists, anarchists, recidivist criminals, neurotics, the long-term jobless, sex workers and other dissidents and individuals the Nazi state decided were undesirable and ‘dysgenic’ would be rounded up to be worked to death in the concentration camps. The Alternative Fuer Deutschland are a bunch of Nazi goons, and there is the spectre of read Fascism and Nazism in eastern Europe – in Poland, Hungary, the Baltic States and Ukraine. But here in Britain is very much not like 1936. Not yet.

Tony Greenstein has repeatedly pointed out that while there has been an increase in anti-Semitic incidents, Jews in Britain as a group are very comfortably middle class and most definitely do not suffer the real persecution of other ethnic minorities. For example, they are not being forcibly and unjustly deported, like the Windrush migrants. Other groups, such as Blacks, Asians and Muslims suffer far higher levels of violence and abuse. I haven’t heard any mainstream politician attacking the Jews or demanding that Jewish immigration be stopped. But there have been any number of Conservative and Kipper MPs making racist comments about Muslims and suggesting that they are incompatible with the British way of life.

As Riley’s and Rowling’s friends, Frances Barber also weighed in to accuse Mike and Owen Jones of being anti-Semites, while David Baddiel seems to have swallowed the Integrity Initiative black propaganda about Corbyn. I found a video on YouTube commenting on him declaring that Corbyn was an agent of Putin.

They’re spouting dangerous nonsense. The vast majority of the people accused of anti-Semitism in the Labour party were smeared because they were Corbyn’s supporters, members of the party’s left-wing, or critics of Israel. It was part of the campaign by the Blairites to hang on by attacking ordinary Labour party members. The Jewish establishment and the Zionists in the Labour party got involved because they support the Israeli state’s policy of ethnic cleansing and the construction of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. That was clearly shown in the Al-Jazeera documentary, The Lobby, when Joan Ryan attempted to get an ordinary Labour party member thrown out as an anti-Semite because she had the temerity to ask Ryan a question she couldn’t answer. She wondered what the Jewish Labour Movement was doing to promote the two-state solution, and what would be done about the illegal settlements in Palestine if the solution was successfully put into operation. As for this country’s Jewish establishment, the Board of Deputies declares itself in its constitution to be a Zionist organization, and the other year former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sachs led a party of British Jews to the March of the Flags. This is an annual event where the Israeli equivalent of skinhead boot-boys march through the Muslim quarter vandalizing homes and property and threatening its people. Liberal Jewish organisations urged Sachs not to go, but he ignored them. They were ‘the wrong kind’ of Jews, you see.

As for the rise of Fascism in eastern Europe, this is being assisted and defended by Israel, whose supporters, like Stephen Pollard, the far right editor of the Jewish Chronicle, declare them to be ‘good friends of Israel’ because they buy Israel arms. And so are the remaining Jews of eastern Europe put in danger through lack of support from Israel. All while Israel proclaims itself to be the protector of Jews worldwide.

As for this supposed Centrist party, I can remember it being touted last year, when it was supposed to have millions of pounds in funding ready for, along with legions of corporate donors. At one point Blair’s son, Euan, was discussed as a founding member and possible leader. Then it all collapsed again. It had no members, no policies, and one of the founders walked out after a disagreement with the others.

All this Centrist party represents is continuity Blairism. Which means more privatization, more NHS privatization, more attacks on the welfare state, meaning more homelessness and starvation, and more corporatism. Which means that in exchange for funding, private industry can have their chairmen and senior management appointed to positions in government and the civil service.

Rowling, Riley, Oberman and Barber are a disgrace. The Centrist party Rowling and her friends Riley and Oberman are expected to lead represents nothing but further corporate exploitation and misery. It has collapsed several times before, and will do so again. No matter how much it is puffed by the papers.

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Channel 4 ‘Dispatches’ Documentary from 2009: Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby – Part One

March 11, 2018

Presented by the Conservative journo Peter Oborne, this is a very hard-hitting and extensive investigation into the malign influence and tactics of the Israel lobby. It covers not just the soft corruption of political lobbying – the various donations in money and paid trips to Israel given to Tory and Labour politicos, but also the co-ordinated smear campaign against anyone who dares to speak out in favour of the Israeli state’s victims. It’s a smear campaign that has seen very respected members of the Jewish community, including senior rabbis, and BBC journos like the late Orla Guerin, Jeremy Bowen and even Jonathan Dimbleby accused of anti-Semitism. The result has been that the Beeb was pressured not to put out an appeal for the victims of Israel’s invasion of Gaza, and there was complaints about its coverage of those murdered by Israel’s allies in the Christian Fascists of the Lebanese Phalange in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. And there has been constant pressure by these same bullying thugs on the Groaniad under its former editor, Alan Rusbridger. Who really does look like Harry Potter. Much of this pressure and screaming abuse seems to have come from America. The organisations are carefully structured, so that they keep the total number of donations secret, and their donors hide behind anonymity. When investigated they repeat the same, smooth words about just trying to keep the argument open by presenting Israel’s case, or mutter platitudes about supporting a two-state solution. All the while doing their level best to make sure that their voice is the only the British public hear, and rabidly pursuing business deals on stolen Palestinian land.

I’m afraid I may have misheard some of the names in the programme, and so misspelled them, but they should be roughly accurate.

The documentary begins with the Israeli invasion of Gaza and the Conservative Friends of Israel. Despite the horrendous carnage and destruction wrought, David Cameron in a speech made no mention of this, but instead praised the Israelis and his pledged his lasting support to them if he became Prime Minister. It was this that prompted Oborne to launch his own investigation into the Israel lobby. He makes the point that they have influence on both sides of Parliament, as shown by an exchange between a Conservative MP, who was a member of Conservative Friends of Israel, who asked a question about Israel’s continuing safety. This was answered by a Labour MP, who was a member of the Labour Friends of Israel. Oborne then interviews Michael Ancram, former Tory Shadow Foreign Secretary from 2003-5, about the Israel Lobby’s influence. as well as Sir Richard Dalton, the former British ambassador to Iran from 2003-6. Dalton states clearly that the Israel Lobby does exist, and is important in defining the debate about Israel and the Palestinians. The Conservative Friends of Israel is highly influential, and boasts that it includes 80 per cent of all Tory MPs. Its chair, Richard Huntingdon, received £20,000 last year (2008) in donations, and gave £34,000 to the Conservatives. And the director of the No. 10 club, that exclusive Tory fundraising outfit in which, for a mere £50,000, you can meet David Cameron or have lunch with William Hague, is also included. The Tory Friends of Israel also arrange paid trips to Israel for MPs. So far there have been more of these than equivalent trips to America and Europe combined. Oborne states that in fairness, he has to say that he went on one of these, and there was no pressure to report favourably about Israel. But two MPs, who went on one of these trips, then received afterwards £25,000 in donations. This prompts Oborne to ask Ancram if this explains the soft line taken by the Tories about Israeli influence, and why the Tories don’t like to talk about it.

The documentary then moves on to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, during which 1,000 Lebanese civilians were killed, and $3.6 billion’s worth of damage inflicted. Michael Howard gave William Hague £25,000 in donations. Hague then made the mistake of making a speech criticising the Israeli response to Lebanese attacks as disproportionate. As a result, Lord Kalms, a CFI donor and head of the Dixons electronics chain, was outraged, and threatened to withhold further funding. Which he did, and Hague never received a penny more. The Israel lobby attacks even the mildest criticism of Israel. The director of the CFI, Stuart Pollak, had a meeting with David Cameron after the speech. Then, at his lunch with the CFI, Cameron didn’t mention the Lebanese invasion at all.

The programme then moves on to the organisation’s income, as revealed by the Parliamentary Accounts Register. For comparison, the pro-Arab lobby revealed that they had been given £43,000 in donations. How many had the CFI been given? No-one knows. They didn’t register any. They’re structured as a group of individuals, and are not incorporated, so they don’t have declare any under the rules. In 2008 the CFI gave the Tories £2 million, but this is not the whole story. One Tory MP said that after a chance meeting with Stuart Pollak, he received two donations from businessmen he had never met, and who did not live in his constituency. The CFI gave £30,000 to Cameron’s team. And in 2005 Cameron met Plocha Zabludowicz, who gave the future Tory PM £15,000 and a further £35,000 to Tory Central Office. The total figure for the donations given by the CFI is £10 million, more than the other lobbies.

Then there’s the incident of the UN vote over a motion censuring both Hamas and Israel for the carnage in Gaza. The CFI rang Hague up to condemn the resolution and demand that he criticise it. Which he duly did.

But the Israel Lobby only became really powerful in Britain under Maggie’s favourite Labour pet, Tony Blair. Jon Mandelsohn, a prominent pro-Israel lobbyist, stated that ‘Zionism is pervasive in New Labour’ and ‘It is axiomatic that Blair will come to Labour Friends of Israel meetings’. There are more Labour MPs in Labour Friends of Israel than their opponents across the benches in the Tory Friends of Israel. The documentary describes how Blair met the rock entrepreneur, Lord Levy, at the Israeli embassy, who then raised £15 million for the Labour party before the row over ‘cash for questions’. When Blair became PM in 1997, he gave Levy a life peerage. Levy, however, was unpaid and never a formal servant of the British state, so that the deals he made as Blair’s special envoy to the Middle East between Israel and the Arab nations could be kept secret. The programme interviews Prof. Avi Shlaim of Oxford University’s Middle East department, who states that he considers Levy has damaged Britain’s reputation in the Middle East.

The documentary then moves back to CFI lobbyists at the Tory party conference. Their purpose there is to make sure Cameron’s policies are in line with Israel’s This means that Michael Kaminski, the Polish leader, who heads a small, far right nationalist party, is lionised by the Tories, despite his record of making anti-Semitic remarks and his refusal to apologise for the suffering of Jewish Poles during the Second World War. Stuart Pollak was most keen not to have Cameron’s speech to the CFI at the Tory conference covered. He is shown waving the camera crew away. The CFI totally support Kaminski. They also plead that they’re totally transparent through the distinction between their donations as a group, and those of individual businesspeople.

Continued in Part Two.

Vox Political on Philip Davies Filibuster against Protecting Women from Domestic Violence

January 4, 2017

This is a story that’s now nearly a month old, but I thought there were a few comments that still needed to be made about it. On the 16th of last month, Mike put up a story reporting and attacking the ‘shame of Shipley’, Philip Davies, for attempting to talk out a parliamentary bill pledging Britain to support the Istanbul Convention. This is an international agreement pledging states to combat domestic violence against women. Among those, who have urged Britain to support it is the UN Goodwill Ambassador for Women, Emma Watson, who you may remember played Hermione in the Harry Potter movies. Mike remarks that Davies also seems to have a particular animus towards her.

It wouldn’t surprise me.

Davies is the boorish grotesque, who was elected unopposed as one of the Tory members of the women’s equality committee in the House of Commons, despite the fact that he is a raging anti-feminist, who last year spoke at a Men’s Rights Conference. Mike goes through all of his arguments against supporting the convention, point by point, and refutes them.

Davies at one stage claimed that the Istanbul Convention should not be supported, because statistics showed men were more likely to suffer violence than women. Mike pointed out that there was a difference between street violence, which was normally directed against men, and domestic violence, where the victims were largely women.

A friend of mine used to be a psychiatric nurse. He told me that he was taught that both men and women were equally likely to sent to hospital by their partners. However, men were far more likely than women to kill their partners. This fact alone demands that women need extra protection under the law.

As for Emma Watson and domestic violence against men, Watson is something of a bete noir amongst the denizens of the manosphere because of her feminist activism. However, she is not a misandrist and has stated that the issue of domestic violence against men also needs to be tackled. Kevin Logan has a clip of her making that point very clearly in one of the videos he has posted in his the ‘Descent of the Manosphere’ series. He also posted up a list of stories from the papers in which feminists also promoted legislation to protect men from rape, another issue which anti-feminists like Davies have falsely claimed feminists have ignored.

For Mike’s article and arguments against Davies’ rant, see: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/12/16/the-shame-of-shipley-fails-to-derail-bill-protecting-women-against-violence/

As for Philip Davies, the Tories have repeatedly claimed that they’re standing up for women’s equality with Dave Cameron and Theresa May demanding more women in the boardroom, and May’s elevation as the unelected British prime minister by her fellow Tories. The fact that Davies has also been appointed to the women’s equality committee shows how seriously they really take the issue: Not at all.

Lobster Reviews of Four Books on the Politics and Crimes of Zionism

September 22, 2016

Looking through some of the on-line back issues of the parapolitical magazine, Lobster, I found a brief review of four books attacking Israel, its ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinians, and its extensive lobbying network in America and the EU by Tom Easton in issue 60, for winter 2010. The books reviewed are

If I Am Not For Myself: Journey of an Anti-Zionist Jew , by Michael Marqusee, (London and Brooklyn: Verso)

‘This Time We Went Too Far: Truth and Consequences of the Gaza Invasion, by Norman Finkelstein (New York: O R Books)

War Crimes in Gaza and the Zionist Fifth Column in America, by James Petras, (Atlanta: Clear Day Books)

Europe’s Alliance with Israel: Aiding the Occupation, by David Cronin (London: Pluto).

Easton begins his review by pointing out that many of the people now criticising Israel for its imperialism and gross violations of human rights are Jews, people of immense courage who are bitterly attacked for their opposition to Zionism. he writes

One of the more heartening developments in this chilly political climate is the growth of Jewish groups and individuals speaking out and organising against the policies of Israel. Some are prominent figures like Miriam Margolyes, who
recently used her fame as Professor Sprout in the Harry Potter series to publicise the living conditions of Palestinians in Gaza. Her self-description as ‘a proud Jew and an ashamed Jew’ is one that disarmingly cuts through the bile and bluster of those who routinely reach for the ‘anti-Semite’ smear.

Two of these authors have suffered that fate. Mike Marqusee recounts a moment is his teens when his father abused him as a ‘self-hating Jew’. The occasion was when the young Marqusee first measured the behaviour of Israeli forces
against the humane, Judaism-derived principles of his liberal family in New York.

Norman Finkelstein has long been targeted by the US lobby for Israel, most famously losing his battle for a tenured teaching post after a campaign of vilification led by Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard professor of law. Dershowitz doesn’t just go for people like Finkelstein, the son of Holocaust survivors. As several of these authors point out, he also led the charge against the United Nations report on the Gaza conflict led by the South African jurist Richard Goldstone. (James Petras’s book contains some striking images from
Operation Cast Lead.)

He points out that Israel’s supporters are finding it increasingly difficult to justify the country’s policies, but makes it clear that its efforts to overcome them will be ‘increasingly forceful’. Easton also praises Cronin’s book as one of the best surveys of the Israel lobby in Europe. He states that Israel now enjoys a status in the EU on slightly short of that of a member state. Cronin’s book also describes the various occasions in which the EU failed to intervene in cases where it had interests and responsibilities. He also lists the various lobbying groups and organisations Israel has in the EU, some of which promotes the country’s interests in other, less obvious fashions. He also informs the reader that there are politicians in London and Brussels, who are firmly in the country’s pocket, and names some of them.

Easton gives the last word to Finkelstein, who notes that Israel can no longer automatically count on the support of Jews around the world, because the public is now better informed. The historic myths that the country used to justify its existence have been dispelled by historians, human rights organisations have revealed its abuse of the Palestinians and there is now legal-diplomatic consensus that the settlement of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians should uphold the latter’s human rights.

The reviews, and much else, can be read online at Lobster’s web address at http://www.lobster-magazine.co.uk. This is to magazine’s site as a whole. You can then select the individual number you want to read from the list provided.

I’ve put this up, as one of the significant factors behind the anti-Semitism smears directed at many of the Corbynites is the attempts by the Zionist lobby in the Labour party and Britain as a whole trying to discredit the country’s critics, many of whom are supporters of the Labour leader. This has led them to smear decent women and men, who are committed opponents of anti-Semitism and racism, including many Jews and people of Jewish heritage, such as Jackie Walker. It would be interesting to see the names of some of those politicos Cronin lists as being part of the Israel lobby in London, as I suspect that many of these would be the same people making these accusations.

‘I’ Reviews New Film of Trial of David Irving

September 13, 2016

Also in today’s I newspaper was a review of Denial, a film about the trial of David Irving, the historian and holocaust denier in 1996. Irving was a highly controversial historian, who had written a book on the Third Reich claiming that Hitler didn’t know anything about it, along with a series of other distortions. He had already been at the centre of a storm of outrage after he was invited to give a speech explaining his views to the Oxford Union. I can’t remember all the details, but at the centre of the case was the battle between him and an American academic, Deborah Lipstadt, who attacked him for his distortion of history. It’s true that there is no direct evidence connecting Hitler to the planned, methodical extermination of 6 million Jews orchestrated by the head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler. However, considering the sheer murderous venom with which Hitler describes the Jews in Mein Kampf and his speeches, and the sheer scale of the infamous Final Solution, it would have been impossible for him not to know about it. Historians have pointed out that the Holocaust was an integral part of Nazi policy, shown in the way that even when the Red Army was advancing on Germany through eastern Europe, the Nazis were still determined to carry on their mass murder despite the fact that it used resources which otherwise could have played a vital role in Germany’s defence. The Nazis were also very careful in their official communications to disguise the horror they were carrying out. They rarely talked about it directly. Instead, it was always referred to as ‘executive order such-and-such’, or by the euphemism that it was the relocation of the Jewish population to the east. There was even a vile propaganda film made for the German public, which showed happy Jews working away on their allotments in the new settlement the Fuhrer had provided for them. Except that it was all a sham, and after filming was finished, its subjects were loaded onto the cattle trucks and taken away for their deaths in the camps.

The film was written by the noted left-wing playwright, David Hare, and stars Rachel Weisz as Lipstadt. Weisz is probably better known for having appeared in the ‘Mummy’ movies back in the 1990s with Brendan Fraser, fighting undead ancient Egyptian horrors. Playing Irving is Timothy Spall, who has been in any number of TV shows over the years. He was a Brummie brickie in Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, a villain, who had taken the form of a rat, in one of the Harry Potter movies. And most recently he appeared as a mad lord besotted with his prize-winning pet pig, in a comedy adapted from the books of P.G. Wodehouse.

Irving lost the trial, and Lipstadt and a series of other witnesses showed how he had ignored and distorted the evidence in order minimise the scale of the Holocaust. Irving left the court with any reputation for historical reliability destroyed as a Holocaust denier.

Vox Political’s Personal Tribute To Terry Pratchett

March 13, 2015

Yesterday Terry Pratchett, one of Britain’s greatest and most prolific writers of genre fantasy, shuffled off this mortal coil. Mike over at Vox Political has posted his personal memories of meeting the great man, and the inspiration he gave him for pursuing a career as a writers. It’s simply called Personal thoughts on the legacy of Terry Pratchett and begins

You’re probably wondering how this ties in to politics. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it…

I first met Terry Pratchett at Forever People on Park Street, Bristol, on the afternoon of September 20, 1986 (if I recall correctly). It was the day of the big fire at the Fowler’s Motorcycles outlet on the Bath Bridge, which makes it an easy date to check. My recollection is that the blaze had not really got started as my brother (the blogger Beastrabban) and I on our way into town, so ‘that Discworld guy’ was much more interesting.

We arrived early, which meant nobody else had arrived by the time Terry did. This was 1986, remember – he was only just getting started. This meant we had him all to ourselves for a good few minutes before anybody else appeared to hesitantly proffer a copy of The Light Fantastic for his squiggle – and nothing’s going to make as great an impression on an impressionable adolescent trying to work out how to make it in the world as a few minutes with the undivided attention of someone who has literally just worked it out.

This was before Terry evolved into the personality he became – the bald beardie with the big black hat and the weakness for banana daiquiri. Obviously he was bald (genetics) and he was bearded (aesthetics) but the rest was yet to reveal itself (unless the memory cheats).

We talked about ideas, work ethics, how to keep people interested (basically, it has to interest you first). By the time we – reluctantly – left, the motorbike place was blazing like Ankh-Morpork in the very first Discworld story (The Colour of Magic) and we had to take a detour to avoid it. My brain had already taken a somewhat longer diversion that would lead to amateur journalism, professional newspaper reporting, and eventually this blog.

I also remember first seeing Terry Pratchett with Mike back in 1986 at Forever People in Bristol, though I’d completely forgotten about the fire at Fowler’s. Forever People was one of those small, independent comic shops that existed before Forbidden Planet expanded to just about corner that area of retailing. It has, unfortunately, vanished. It was how I think comics shops should be – stuffed full of the mainstream and the bizarre, with the weird novelties in the windows, role-playing games and TSR miniatures of wizards, warriors and orcs on tables on the ground floor, and rubber monsters and plastic models of artefacts and creatures from SF movies hanging from the ceiling or adorning the walls. It was also slightly disreputable. It was permeated with a musty smell from old comic back issues, and was also regularly raided by the police for stocking magazines and literature on drugs.

Terry was on the second floor, signing copies of his books. I can’t remember now whether Mike brought one he already had, or picked one up while he was there and had the great man sign it. I think it was the latter. What I do remember was catching sight of Terry himself, sat behind the desk, saying to the person in front of him, ‘Well, the Bambleweeny 47 sub-meson brain is important’, while the long queue snaked away. The shop was packed, though that wasn’t particularly hard as nearly every inch of available space stuffed full of books, magazines and merchandising. I was amazed! He was a fan of Hitch-Hiker, just like I was! Mike duly took the book to the counter, got it signed, and we left.

I saw Terry several times again over the years. As Mike says, I went to College in Cheltenham, which has a massive literary festival at which Terry became a regular speaker. The first time I saw him I think he was speaking at the town hall. He appeared wearing his characteristic broad-brimmed, black hat and the black ‘Tel-shirt’ with death strumming a guitar. Just as he got to the lectern and was about to begin speaking, someone came up to him and gave him a banana daiquiri. He thanked them, and explained that it came from a question he and Neil Gaiman had been asked when they were together writing Good Omens. They’d both been asked what they would most like to be given. Gaiman said simply, ‘Money’, while Pratchett said, ‘A banana daiquiri’. He joked that since then, he’d got seven banana daiquiris, and Gaiman hadn’t seen a penny. So there, if someone asks you that question in future, keep to the drinks. You just might get what you want that way.

His topic was the nature of comedy, and how repetition and deliberate references can be used in humour. He said that his style was influenced by P.G. Wodehouse, and gave as an example of how repetition can b4e funny he gave the example of an incident one of the great explorers gave of one of their party telling the same, unfunny story every night until the rest of the party started falling about laughing. It was the story of a man, who left to go to work, but didn’t pack his lunch. When it got to lunch time, he looked for his lunch box. It wasn’t there. He was stupid. That’s more or less the entire story, as it was told. Terry described how the first time it was told, nobody laughed. The next night, there was something like a giggle, the night after that a few more pieces of weak laughter, until at the end of the week people were falling over themselves laughing at what was really a pathetically weak story.

He also discussed the way he deliberately put in references to other bits of popular culture in his books. Like in Guards, Guards!, one of Ankh-Morpork’s finest points a crossbow at one of the villains and says, ‘I know what you’re thinking. Did he fire five bolts or six. Well, frankly I can’t remember. Do you feel lucky, punk?’ He also talked about the inspiration for the dragon in one of his other books. These were taken by a group of young women, who appeared at one convention at which he was speaking. They were all Anne McCaffrey fans, and had stuffed dragons sitting on their shoulders. He said it was obvious that McCaffrey’s dragons were a feminist metaphor, and very good thing too. But it also struck him that the problem with a dragon that sat on your shoulder would be that its fiery breath would singe one side of your face, while it would also defecate down your back.

The next time I was him at the festival was a few years later. He described how Fantasy was still very much looked down on in literary circles. One of the festival’s organisers when talking to him had looked at him as if, in Pratchett’s words, he was about to talk about fixing motorcycles. His talk was on the nature of Fantasy, and he had some fairly forthright comments about Tolkien. Like if when you’re thirteen, you don’t consider The Lord of the Rings to be the greatest book in the world, there’s something wrong with you. And if you still consider The Lord of the Rings to be the greatest book in the world when you’re 33, there’s something really wrong with you. It was in this talk that he described some of the class bias in Tolkien’s work, such as the idealisation of the Shire, while the Orcs were foul and nasty and ‘almost as bad as people from Birmingham!’ One of the speakers on BBC’s The One Show said a few years ago in a piece about Tolkien and the local places that inspired the geography of Middle Earth, that one of the emotional factors behind its writing was Tolkien’s own fear of the urban sprawl from Birmingham overwhelming the semi-rural suburb in which he grew up. It was at this talk, that Terry made the point Mike mentioned – that the ending of the Lord of the Rings is quite daft, because in conquering Sauron they’d destroyed the industrial base for half a continent. But hey, it’s alright, because they’ve got a king back!

He also said that magic itself was actually quite boring. It simply did what it did. What he found really fascinating was the organisational magic by which people came together to produce nails, and other items, which other people then went on to use to create further objects, quite without the planning of the original producers, and which all led to the complexities of modern life and culture. At that time he was also pessimistic about the state of Fantasy literature. This was several years before J.K. Rowling and Philip Pullman came forward to re-invigorate it with Harry Potter and the Amber Spyglass. I think he thought at the time that it was more or less dead. I certainly remember him describing himself as ‘a big, hairy maggot crawling over its corpse’. Of course he was far from that.

I was talking to a friend of mine about Pratchett and his work a little while ago, and he surprised me as he’d also met him. This particular friend is a fan of Role-Playing Games. He’s written several game books himself, and knows personally many of the people behind some of the games companies. He’d met Terry a decade or so previously, when one of his friends was looking for inspiration behind a line of Fantasy figurines he was crafting. He was looking for a character on which he could base a wizard, and so wrote to Terry asking him if he could use Rincewind. Terry agreed. He later met Terry along with the rest of the RPGers in the pub. He liked and admired Pratchett personally, because he was also good to his fans. He was protective of them, and seemed genuinely grateful simply that there were people who read and liked his work.

He was also very used to the kind of weirdness that might have other people running for the hills. At one of the Cheltenham festivals he talked about how he encountered a group of Viking re-enactors while out walking with his small daughter. As they were going through the countryside, they noticed a group of young men in chain mail running up and down and hitting each other with swords. One of them came running up to him, and asked him if he could lend them a cup. They’d been fighting for a little while, and were now thirsty. Terry said, yes, and got out his daughter’s Asterix the Gaul lunchbox, and gave them the cup from her Obelix flask. The Viking warrior thanked them, went off to a nearby standpipe, and he and the other Norsemen duly quaffed deep of the water before returning the cup to Terry and his daughter.

Later that day, Pratchett met them in the pub. They were curious about him. Most people, they said, took one look at them when they were out fighting, and fled in the opposite direction. But he hadn’t been at all bothered. Why? Well, said Terry, it was because he reasoned that anyone mad enough to do what they were doing was obviously far too mad actually to harm anyone. He went on ‘Nobody ever says when they find a serial killer, ‘Oh, we knew he was a bad ‘un, because he had a wardrobe full of uniforms and last week he went to a convention. No! They always say, ‘He was a quiet one. And then they find the load of human skulls in the sink.’

He also wasn’t afraid of bikers either. At one convention he was warned by others in the crowd that there were a group of Hell’s Angels in the queue. Well, he met them, and they weren’t. He said they were just a group of polite young men, who wanted to talk about his book and liked motorcycles. Perhaps this is where the Cheltenham literati got the impression that he was going to talk about fixing bikes.

In his fiction, Pratchett created baroque worlds with wit and good humour, taking the motifs of genre literature and then transforming them again to bring out something fresh, producing a bizarre, comic cavalcade of strange gods, wizards, witches, trolls, warrior women, warriors and mobile, predatory luggage. Oh yes, and people from the Counterweight Continent selling In-Sewer-Ance Polly-Seas, all infused with an equally bizarre logic. For example, in Pyramids he concluded that camels have to be experts in quantum physics because of the mathematical intricacies of the way they walked. The world he created with words, and which his illustrator, Josh Kirby, painted, was one of colour, absurdity, and laughter. Although the strongest, and most obvious influences on his work were Tolkien and Conan, it was also like the very best fiction in that it appealed to people of all ages. It wasn’t only children who read them, but also their parents and grandparents.

Mike says in his piece that it kept him sane while he was at College. I think that’s probably true of a lot of people. The world can be a horrifyingly grim place, and there is a lot of pressure on young people. It was certainly the case when I was at school, and things seem to have got worse since then. It really doesn’t surprise me that one quarter of all university students will suffer from depression or some mental health problem during their time at uni. Pratchett’s fiction offers an escape from all that, away from grim reality into a unreality that may also be grim, but is at least comically so. And like good fiction, it isn’t just mere escapism, but often makes a serious point while making you laugh at the same time.

RIP big man. May you rest with the great bards in the celestial realms as one of the great, modern skalds of Middle Earth.

Warwick Davis’ Big Little Theatre Company

February 7, 2015

"The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" New York City Premiere - Arrivals

Warwick Davis and Wife, Sam.

Thursday night the Beeb screened one of the few programmes that show the Corporation can still make documentaries worth showing. Modern Times followed Warwick Davis as he attempted to set up his Reduced Height Theatre Company. Davis and his wife, Sam, and their children are afflicted with dwarfism. Davis himself has had a long career in film and television, playing the mythological type of dwarf, and other creatures of legend, fantasy and Science Fiction. He’s appeared in the fantasy film, Willow, the Leprechaun series of horror flicks and, of course, Harry Potter. Star Wars aficionados will also remember him as the Ewok, Widget, who joins Luke, Han, Leia, Chewbacca and Lando to overthrow the Empire in Return of the Jedi.

FWRO

Davis in his best-known role.

More recently he has appeared on TV with Ricky Gervaise, as a telekinetic dwarf in Psychoville, and as the Emperor of the Galaxy helping Matt Smith’s Doctor battle the Cybermen.

Davis isn’t content merely to continue playing in this restricted repertoire. He pointed out that many small people like him actually want to play the same roles played by people of normal height. And so he set up the Reduced Height Theatre Company to allow them to do just that. The intention was for the small actors to perform on a set that was scaled for people of their stature. This would create the illusion for the audience that they were actually watching normal-sized actors, so that within five minutes they would have forgotten they were watching dwarves.

See How They Run

The show followed Davis as he and his normal-sized director and producers auditioned the aspiring actors, and supervised the construction of the set. The play they chose to perform was the farce, See How They Run, written in 1942, whose cast includes seven vicars and an escaped German POW. It’s a classic British farce, of the type viewers used to be informed was playing at a theatre somewhere at the end of TV programmes in the 1970s. As the credits rolled, a voice would announce that the actors in the programme were now appearing in show X at the Odeon, Bognor, or somewhere. The cast Davis settled on were extremely talented, and from what was shown it was astonishing that they had never performed professionally before. A few, including one young lady, were drama or performing arts students. The girl was shown in her class performing the type of dance routine that way back in the 1970s was hailed as ‘movement’.

Health Problems

The show also interviewed the cast members themselves. One of the girls, and a bald guy of somewhat hippy-ish attire, spoke of their pain at being dwarves, how they hated being their height, until they finally came to terms with it, and realised those were the bodies they had. The bald bloke was a swimmer, and made the point that in the pool he was as good as anybody. Which I think was proved most definitely by the speed at which some of the disabled swimmers, including Britain’s female dwarf athlete, moved through the pool during the Paralympics.

Along with the lack of height, the disorder can bring other, far more serious problems. The condition may include problems with the spine, the hips and the legs. One of the girls recalled being told that she would eventually end up in a wheelchair by a certain age. This made her determined to live her life as she had it now. The bald fellow also described his problems with the condition.

These problems had, sadly, struck at Davis’ wife, Sam. She had suffered period where she lost sensation in her legs. The bones in her spine had fused to press on her spinal cord. If this was left untreated, she would eventually lose the use of her legs. The problem had become increasingly acute, until she needed to be taken into hospital for an operation, which would correct this and give her back some kind of normal function. If it failed, she would be confined to a wheelchair.

Panto and Financing

Davis had put his own money into setting the project up, and stated that if it failed, his house was on the line. There was added pressure from his having to perform in Panto at the same time as his wife was to have the operation. And in amongst all this, he was also unhappy with the set. The director had purchased a normal-sized set, which was nevertheless sufficiently small for it to be suitable for people of the performers’ size. Nonetheless, it was still too large, and Davis reluctantly decided on taking it to a set construction company. After examining it, they decided that it would have to be rebuilt smaller.

Success

Despite all these problems, the show was a success. Davis took it to 90 different theatres up and down Britain, including Plymouth. The theatre there had a particularly large stage, and it was feared that if they scaled down the set it would leave plenty of unused space on the stage, which would destroy the illusion of normality. The actors were shown laughing at their lines and performances as they rehearsed, with the director pushing them to get the best performance from them in the few weeks before they trod the boards for real. Sam’s operation, although it did not result in her being able to get on her feet as quickly as expected, nevertheless appeared to be a success. Her surgeon assured her that it sounded like she was well on the way to recovery.

I think the Reduced Height Theatre Company is a splendid idea. There have been other, similar specialist theatre companies for others with different types of disability. Nabil Shaban, who played the villainous Sil in the Colin Baker Dr Who stories ‘Vengeance on Varos’ and ‘Mindwarp’, suffered from brittle bone syndrome. He was a member of a disabled theatre troupe, which staged Ben Jonson’s Volpone. One of the greatest dwarf actors was David Rappoport, who starred as the leader of the time travelling dwarf gang in Terry Gilliam’s 1980s fantasy, Time Bandits. Rappoport went on to do other film and TV work. He appeared as an uptight British businessman, who gradually began to unwind through discovering rock ‘n’ roll in America in a TV series on Channel 4 in the 1990s. He brought style and swagger to his roles, but sadly committed suicide just before he was due to appear as the villain in the Star Trek TNG episode ‘The Most Toys’. Watching this, I was left wondering whether he’d still be with us, if something like the Reduced Height Theatre company had existed when he was performing.

In all of this, it inevitably raises the issue of ‘separatism’ versus ‘integration’, and it could be said that the Company acts as a kind of ghetto for people with dwarfism. They may perform the same roles as people of normal height, but they are still separate. I think it’s still great that the theatre is providing people with their disability to perform normal roles, roles which they would otherwise not get. My guess is that it will in time challenge stereotypes, and show producers that actors of this height can be realistically cast in roles other than ‘stage dwarf’.

Support Your Local Disabled Talent, Support the NHS

As so many of the actors with this condition have related health problems, the NHS also has a role in supporting this talent. At one point Davis said that he was amazed when people ask him what it’s like to be in hospital, as they’ve never been. He and his family were in there three times a week. The Tories and UKIP would love to privatise the NHS and replace it with an insurance-based service. One fifth – 20 per cent – of Americans can no longer afford medical care, and Republicans like the Koch brothers would like to end medicare/ Medicaid, the state safety net for those unable to pay. The Tories over here despise the disabled anyway, as do the Kippers. If they get in, the support currently given, if meagrely and extremely grudgingly, to the poor, sick and disabled will vanish. And that will inevitably damage Britain’s ability to nurture talented disabled artists and performers.

If we want Britain to continue produce world class performers, and initiatives that challenge and stretch audiences’ limits and expectations, this cannot go unchallenged. The artists, actors and athletes of the future deserve the support of the welfare state and NHS, along with us normal types.

As for the Reduced Theatre Company, I wish them every success and look forward to their future performances. I hope this time they come somewhere near me, and perform in Bristol or Cheltenham.