Posts Tagged ‘John Wells’

Lobster on Private Eye’s Smearing of Harold Wilson

August 13, 2016

Private Eye’s continued attacks and smears against Jeremy Corbyn on behalf of the New Labour establishment aren’t the first time they’ve run smears against a Labour leader. Of course, the Eye’s business is mocking just about every public figure, including and especially politicians. But sometimes this becomes something much more sinister: deliberate disinformation on behalf of the Secret State.

In the 1970s the British and American secret services were convinced that Harold Wilson was a KGB agent, including the head of the CIA, James Jesus Angleton. Various individuals connected with MI5 discussed overthrowing him in a coup, and imprisoning radical journalists, along with other subversives, in an internment camp in the Outer Hebrides. I’ve blogged about this before. It’s in ‘Red’ Ken’s 1987 book, Livingstone’s Labour. Francis Wheen, a Guardian journalist and frequent guest on BBC Radio Four’s topical comedy quiz, The News Quiz, also discusses the paranoia about Wilson and the plots to unseat him, including the formation of private armies and articles by the Times demanding that he be replaced by a coalition government. One of those, who also believed Wilson was a Soviet agent was a junior Conservative politician, Margaret Hilda Thatcher. Many of these conspiracy theories were based on forged documents circulating in the media, which look very much like they were concocted by MI5 as a deliberate attempt to spread dissatisfaction. And one of the magazines that ran this disinformation was Private Eye.

Lobster, in issue 17 for November 1988 ran an article by Steven Dorril, then the magazine’s co-editor with Robin Ramsay. Entitled ‘Five at Eye’, this reported and commented on a piece published the year previously by the Guardian that the Eye may have been used to spread this deliberate black propaganda. Much of the material was published in the Eye by Auberon Waugh, who predictably denied any secret service involvement. In fact, Waugh had extensive connections to MI5 and also the extreme Right. He tried to join the Foreign Office, being recommended by MI5’s head, Roger Hollis. Hollis’ brother, Christopher, was his godfather. Christopher Hollis had been a member of Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, was a contributor to various far right periodicals like Action and the World Review. During the War Waugh’s family had connections to those working in Middle East intelligence including Tom Driberg, the Labour politician, who also contributed to the Eye and MI5. Another colleague was Roger Fulford, who had also worked with Hollis. Auberon Waugh’s first job was at the Torygraph, and Dorril comments that it looked very much like an internal MI5 posting. In the 1970s the Washington Post claimed that the London papers were ‘flooded’ with intelligence assets, specifically referring to the Torygraph. One of Waugh’s closest collaborators at the Eye was Patrick Marnham, a contributor to the magazine’s ‘Grovel’ column.

When Wilson was re-elected in 1974, Marnham started receiving information packs from MI5 through a colleague on the Times. This material discussed Wilson’s position at the Board of Trade issuing import licences to a group of import-export dealers, known as the ‘East-West Traders’, who did business with the Soviet Union. Martin Tomkinson, another Eye journalist, stated he had a contact with the intelligence agencies, who believed that Wilson was too concerned with promoting Anglo-Soviet trade. The traders, who included Sir Rudy Sternberg, Lord Plurenden and Lady Beattie Plummer, were suspected by MI5 of being Soviet agents. In fact, Wilson discovered that Sternberg was a spy, but for MI6. Dorril’s article also contains a selection of pieces from the Spectator and the Eye, and the MI5 documents leaked to Marnham, with appropriate comments. The article also contains snippets from Dr Kitty Little’s pamphlet, Treason at Westminster, which was similarly paranoid about the East-West Traders, and by Peter Dally, who wrote for Asian Outlook. Both Dally and Birdwood were British representatives to the World Anti-Communist League, a far-Right organisation that included extreme Conservatives and outright Fascists and Nazis.

Reading between the lines, my guess is that there still is a link to MI5 at the Eye, despite the fact that it has, on occasion, been quite prepared to challenge the official line, such as over the Lockerbie bombing. All of the Eye’s founders – Richard Ingrams, Peter Cook, Willie Rushton, Auberon Waugh were British public school establishment. One other frequent contributor was John Wells, who was the French teacher and headmaster at Eton. Its present editor, Ian Hislop, comes from the same background. The real radical at the Eye was Paul Foot, of the ‘Footnotes’ column, which has continued after his death as ‘In the Back’. Foot was accepted, however, because he also came from the same middle class, public school background, and shared their tastes.

If the intelligence services are involved, it’s probably because Corbyn and the Labour left threaten the dominance of the Israel lobby within the Labour party. Blair was very close to the Zionists through Lord Levy, and the accusations of anti-Semitism directed against Jeremy Corbyn and members of the Labour left stem from the fact that they have criticised Israel for its persecution and the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. The Zionists have become particularly shrill and defensive because the BDS campaign is having an effect in forcing Israeli businesses out of the occupied territories on the West Bank. Despite the inquiry and its finding that Blair was what his opponents had told the world all along – a warmonger – this is all about protecting Israel and maintaining the neocon policies in the Middle East.

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Losing Patience with the Anti-Corbyn Bias in Private Eye

August 7, 2016

I’ve finally lost patience with the persistent bias against Jeremy Corbyn in Private Eye. I read the magazine regularly, and much of it I agree with and admire. It has over the years published some superb pieces attacking privatisation, the dismantling of the welfare state, the privatisation of the NHS, and the persecution of the severely disabled by Atos and its successor Maximus. It has also shown itself quite willing to challenge British foreign policy. For example, it has published numerous pieces rebutting official claims that the Libyans were responsible for the Lockerbie bombing, and instead pointed the finger at Syria, who were not accused as George Bush senior needed their help during the first Gulf War. It has also done admirable work defending the bereaved relatives in the Deepcut inquiry, challenging the official story that all of the victims committed suicide and attacking the Army’s and police’s apparent cover-up of what looks very much like murder on an army base that was out of control, with rampant bullying and the sexual abuse of female squaddies.

And yet, despite all this, the magazine has joined the rest of the press pack in attacking Corbyn as ‘unelectable’, mocking, smearing and denigrating his leadership at every turn. For the past few weeks, it has been running a strip, ‘Focus on Fact’, which appears to have been written by the Blairites, and mostly revisits spats with Jeremy Corbyn and the extreme Left back in the 1980s. They’ve also published other pieces firmly showing their pro-Blairite bias. For instance, in this fortnight’s issue, there’s a piece defending Angela Eagle’s claim that Corbynistas threw a brick through her window, and attacking the good folks on the internet that have attempted to refute it as ‘conspiracy theorists’. They’ve also decided to criticise Corbyn because – gasp – he’s dared to appear on RT and Press TV. I intend to blog more deeply about both these issues. However, for now I’ll just say that the story about the brick thrown at Eagle’s office is false. It didn’t come through her window, and the area is marked by vandalism. There’s no evidence linking it to the Corbynites, and the entire accusation just comes from Eagle. As for RT and PressTV, this is more or less a return to the ‘red baiting’ of the Thatcherites in the 1980s, when they attacked Ken Livingstone and his group as Communists. This included members of the left-wing Tribune group, who had written articles for Soviet and Marxist magazines, but were themselves not Communists. RT stands for Russia Today, and is the Russian state broadcaster, while PressTV is run by the Iranian state. Both of these are extremely authoritarian countries which are notorious for their persecution of independent journalists. But I’ve used material from RT, because it gives a genuinely left-wing perspective on politics and events in America and the West, such as American imperialism and the exclusion of radical voices from official American politics. Very few others broadcasters are going to discuss these issues, with the noble exceptions of internet programmes like The Young Turks and Democracy Now. They put on the stuff that you won’t read about in our papers, or see on BBC TV, and increasingly not on Channel 4.

So what has prompted the Eye to attack Corbyn? I can’t be sure, but it strikes me that it’s probably due to the very upper middle class background of the magazine itself, and the fact that, despite its excellent record in many areas, none of its founders were in any sense radicals. Peter Cook, Willie Rushton, Richard Ingrams and John Wells were all stout fellows, but they were very ‘establishment’. They were public schoolboys, a point I can remember being made by the panel at an event on the late Peter Cook one year at the Cheltenham Literary Festival. John Wells, who in my opinion was one of the funniest of British comedians and comic actors, was the former French teacher and headmaster of Eton. You don’t get much more establishment than that. I once heard Humphrey Carpenter describe Auberon Waugh as a ‘Tory anarchist’, presumably meaning he that he was instinctively a man of the Right, but was also acutely aware of their stupidities and failings as well. I think this characterisation probably applies much more to Peter Cook. Cook seemed to me to be resolutely cynical in his politics. When he was at university, he joined all three mainstream political parties so he could laugh at them equally. By contrast, Waugh, who also wrote columns for Private Eye, always struck me as just a sarcastic right-winger sneering at the Left. Ingrams was notorious for having a bitter hatred of gays. After leaving the editorship of Private Eye, he founded the Oldie, a magazine for the elderly. I asked my mother once if she’d read it. She had, but didn’t like it, declaring it to be ‘snobby’. The only genuine left-winger on the team was Paul Foot, and he fitted in because he came from the same privileged background, and had the same very upper-middle class tastes in food and drink as the rest of them.

Ian Hislop, the current editor, is no different. He’s very public school, and his father was some kind of army officer or colonial administrator in Nigeria. And he also shares other parts of the accepted political wisdom. A few years ago on Have I Got News For You he declared that, regardless of the attacks the Tories were getting for their austerity policies, Labour would also be required to cut spending on the welfare state. This is very much the standard view, which is also followed slavishly by Beeb broadcasters. The Kushners attacked it, and the media consensus surrounding it, in their book Who Needs the Cuts?, which contains numerous examples of BBC broadcasters and journos uncritically repeating what is basically Neoliberal propaganda. Hislop wasn’t mentioned, but he was clearly another who had uncritically accepted this view.

And Corbyn isn’t the only Left-wing politician to be have been unfairly attacked by the Eye. Tony Benn was regularly pilloried as a ‘swivel-eyed loon’, despite the fact that the people, who knew him said that he wasn’t a fanatic, but a thoughtful man who carefully considered what the people around him were saying and consulted their opinions before reaching a decision. But the received, Fleet Street wisdom in the 1970s and ’80s was that Benn was a fanatic and a madman.

As was ‘Red’ Ken Livingstone. Livingstone was also attacked as a ‘Communist’, despite the fact that he wasn’t. He used them, and occasionally used the same type of language, but wasn’t, in fact, a Marxist. But hasn’t stopped the Eye from calling him Ken Leninspart. And most of what Livingstone talked about in his interviews with the press when he was head of the GLC was boringly mundane. However, this was routinely ignored, and the only parts of the conversation – which in actual fact were only very small parts of what he said – which were printed and repeated were those which presented him as an extremist – profoundly anti-racist, pro-feminist and pro-gay. Which was too much for a Britain that was much more traditional and conservative in its attitudes towards race and gender than today. This was a time when the Black and White Minstrels were mainstream TV with a mass audience, despite being based on 19ith century parodies of Black, slave entertainment.

Benn and Livingstone were both attacked by the media because they were left-wing Socialists. Benn advocated extending nationalisation to a further 25 companies, as recommended in a report by his own party. One journo for the Sunday Times said that this was probably the reason why the press hated him, because editors and proprietors feared that eventually he would nationalise them. And ‘Red’ Ken was similarly reviled because he was in favour of industrial democracy and worker’s control, which shocked and outraged the media. The press did not, however, try to refute their ideas, and so took the tactics of sheer ad hominem abuse. My guess they were afraid to, because either they couldn’t, or they were afraid that simply discussing them would make them popular with the proles.

And I think this is true of the press today and its attacks on Corbyn. They’re motivated by the same fear of genuine Socialism after the neoliberalism and privatisation of the Blairites. And this terror is shared by Hislop and Private Eye, which despite its subversive tradition of satire and exposing abuse of power, isn’t really a radical magazine. Hislop and no doubt many of his contributors come from the upper middle classes, which own industry and continue to expect to take a leading role in British government and society. Jeremy Corbyn threatens them, just as Tony Benn and Ken Livingstone did before him. And so Private Eye joins in the abuse sneering and smearing him.

Cameron Has Killed at 2,200 People’ : Frankie Boyle at the 2014 Television Festival

January 24, 2015

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This follows on from the question Mike raised in the previous post Class divide in the arts – are they just for the toffs? at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/01/24/class-divide-in-the-arts-is-it-just-for-the-toffs/. The controversial Scots comedian, Frankie Boyle, was interviewed last year at the Guardian’s International Television Festival last year by Pointless’s Richard Osman. The interview was a review of the state of television. And Boyle made it very clear that he though British television was being held back by the desire of TV commissioning editors to remain safe. Boyle made it very clear that class attitudes were very definitely a part of this. The interview can be found on Youtube with the title GEITF 2014 – Frankie Boyle: State of the TV Nation.
Boyle on the Two Most Offensive Jokes

Boyle is one of Britain’s very edgiest comedians. Osman tackled him about two of his most controversial jokes. These were about Katie Price being raped by her mentally disabled son, and a disparaging comment about the appearance of the Paralympic swimming heroine, Rebecca Adlington. Osman states that he’s a fan of Boyle, but makes it clear that he feels those jokes should never have been broadcast, and an apology should have been issued. Boyle defended the Katie Price joke by stating that he thought very hard about it. He told it because he felt it was a valid comment about Price. She had two points on which she sold herself: her looks, and her disabled son. She had other, non-handicapped children, who you never heard anything about. Boyle felt that the joke was a suitable comment on Price’s self-publicity.

False Banter on Comedy Panel Shows

Boyle made the comment that television panel shows, like Mock the Week, now relied on banter. It looked like normal conversation, but was all false. It was all scripted. And it was there, because the TV companies did not want to tackle other, more difficult issues. He specifically mentioned the two land wars in which Britain was involved at the time. Five years ago, Boyle said, you could mention them. Now they were verboten. He tried on Mock the Week to make a joke commenting on them, but was told that he couldn’t. As an example of the depths the show how reached now, he said that the last time he watched it had to make jokes about the Ryder Cup. He told the Katie Price joke because for the past ten weeks they’d been making jokes about the Olympics, and then they were being asked to return to them. Boyle’s controversial joke followed soon after.

No Challenge to Cameron’s Murder of the Disabled by Atos

As a further example, Boyle gave the murderous campaign of Cameron against the disabled. He said outright that Cameron had killed at least 2,200 people ‘bottom line’ through Atos and the fit for work test. But he was never challenged. Osman raised the topic of the Channel 4 conspiracy drama, Utopia, as an example of television tackling difficult topics. Boyle stated in his usual forthright terms that the show was rubbish. It was based very much on the type of comics produced by Alan Moore and his ilk. However, Channel 4 had taken all the good material out of it. If they were really determined to produce quality television, they’d hire Alan Moore and co. Instead Channel 4 produced endless programmes genuinely exploiting deformity and sneering at the working class, explicitly mentioning Benefits Street.

TV Bosses’ Misogyny

He criticised the channel bosses for their peculiar ideas of what was ‘fringe’ and ‘mainstream’. He’d tried to get Andrew Newsom on a programme, only to be told that she was too fringe. He felt this was rubbish, as he’d just seen her play at the Royal Albert Hall. He was also sharply critical at television’s very misogynist attitudes. When asked about the issue of quotas, and putting more women and members of ethnic minorities on screen, Boyle said he agreed with them. Regarding the proportion of women on panel shows, he felt it should be 50/50 with men. This, however, was definitely unwelcome to channel bosses. He told how he heard the regular host of a panel show use an extremely crude term for women comedians. It’s extremely coarse, so be warned. The bosses had very definite ideas about how many women should be allowed on a panel show. He tried to get a female comedian on Never Mind the Buzzcocks four times. One of these times he tried to get them to bring on Sarah Millican. He was told that this was not possible, as they already had a female comedian on for that week.

Sack the Bosses, Not Cancel BBC 3

He was very critical of the efforts of the television bosses themselves and their personal failure to increase diversity. He noted that Alan Yentob and the others bewailed the fact that there weren’t enough women and Black people on TV, while doing absolutely nothing about it, despite the fact that it was their jobs. On the subject of the scrapping of BBC 3, the Corporation’s youth channel, Boyle said that the Beeb had admitted they had made a mistake. They had been trying to get young people to watch TV instead of other media. The age demographic for the other channels was very high – in the 50s. Yet they had scrapped the channel in order to concentrate on the internet, which was precisely the thing that was taking da yoof away from TV. When Osman asked Boyle where Boyle would cut to save money, he replied that it would be with the bosses. They formed a useless layer of people, whose job was to stop programme being commissioned, often for the most bizarre reasons.

Class Bias in Satire and the Westminster Bubble

Boyle considered that such satire that was permitted, was only allowed because it came from an upper middle class voice. He gave as examples Peter Cook and Patrick Morris, the creator of Brass Eye. Anything that did not come from that social echelon, which could be easily identified as ‘ironic’, or ‘playing with concepts’, was therefore dangerous and unsettling.

He felt part of the problem was that satire in this country was very newspaper-based. He gave Have I Got News for You and Private Eye as examples. They were stuck in the Westminster bubble and the Westminster cycle as a result. Comedians like Boyle presented a problem, as editors and producers wanted them to produce party political satire, which Boyle didn’t.

Jeremy Clarkson’s a Cultural Tumour

They got on to the different way Boyle and Jeremy Clarkson had been treated by television. Clarkson, like Boyle, made controversial jokes and comments. Boyle, however, declared that Clarkson, whom he described as ‘a cultural tumour’, was acceptable because there was no context for what he said. For example, Boyle had been criticised for a comment he made about Israel during the Gaza conflict. He was attacked as anti-Semitic, an accusation which he denied. Yet when Clarkson was attacked for using the ‘N’ word in nursery rhyme, the head of BBC 1 appeared to defend him and state that he wasn’t racist. Boyle felt this might have been due to rights issues. Most producers, Boyle said, would be happy with 3/4s of the ratings, if the content was less controversial. Clarkson, however, still had his job, which suggested to him that they were afraid to sack him because of the problem of who owned the rights.

The Beeb and Scots Independence

Boyle was also one of those, who support Scots independence. He remarked on the media bias against the independence campaign, and the weird behaviour of David Cameron and the leaders of the ‘No’ team, when they ventured north of the Border. He stated that the Beeb were against independence, because the licence money from Scotland acted a subsidy for the corporation as a whole. Altogether, the BBC gains £300 million from the licence fee in Scotland. Of this, only about £40 million is spent on Scottish programmes. Another £60 million is spent ‘finessing’ programmes produced elsewhere, but which travel up to Scotland. Thus the Beeb effectively got a subsidy of £200 million from Scots viewers.

As for David Cameron, Boyle stated that when he and the ‘No’ coterie travelled up to fair Caledonia, they were so out of place that they looked like time travellers trying to find oil to power their time machine. He was particularly amused by Cameron’s comments about the ‘silent Scottish majority’. He’d never known Scots to be silent about anything.

The Sun

Osman raised the topic of Boyle’s writing for the Sun. Boyle was a left-wing comedian, but there he was, writing for Murdoch. Boyle replied that there were no ‘good’ papers, as far as he was concerned. The Observer, for example, had also cheered on the war in Iraq. He started writing for the Sun because they censored him less than the BBC. He also developed a particular technique of making sure they didn’t take too much out of his work. However, during one newspaper and magazine media event, Boyle had found his material disappearing. He asked why it was suddenly being edited out. He was told that it was because Murdoch himself was up for the event, and liked to edit everything in person. Boyle didn’t believe it was true, but went into the cafeteria early one morning to see Murdoch sat at a table, going through everything with black marker. So perhaps, he concluded, it really was true.

Upbringing of the Ruling Class

As for the ruling class, they were so appalling because of the way they were raised. It was exactly like the Spartans. At seven or eight they were taken away from their parents and placed in an all-male environment. They were then bored with Latin and other useless subjects, in order to inculcate the right attitudes into them ‘like a brainwashing cult’. And then finally and suddenly, sodomy. With this background, no wonder they were like they were.

Drama, Brothel Keeping and the Hedge Fund Managers

And as an example of the way television was reluctant to tackle anything too challenging, he gave the example of a friend of his, who was a professional television writer. The man had been hired to write a story about people trafficking for one of the cop dramas. In the script he subsequently produced, the villain was a hedge fund manager, who went into people smuggling because the returns were so good. This was very definitely not what the Beeb wanted. They told him that instead of a hedge fund manager, the villain was going to be a Russian gangster called ‘Sergey’.

So he subsequently revised the script. The villain was turned into the gangster, Sergey. But in his treatment, Sergey had gone into the people smuggling business, after borrowing money from hedge fund managers, because the return was so spectacular. This was, against, unacceptable. The villain was a Russian gangster called Sergey. He had a black leather jacket and a gun, and he was into people smuggling because he was evil. End of. The story was taken away from the writer for someone else to work on.

A few months later, the cops in New England raided a brothel. It was one of string of them, all run by a hedge fund manager. Because the returns were spectacular. It was a reality that the Beeb had literally not wanted to imagine.

Here’s the interview. Warning: Boyle’s language is at times very coarse, and the jokes about Price and Addlington are offensive.

It’s a fascinating perspective from the state of television today from someone, whose frequently tasteless jokes have almost made him an outsider. Nevertheless, Boyle makes it clear that he thinks very hard about what he says. As for the comments about satire being acceptable if it comes from an establishment voice, he has a point. Even so, Private Eye and Brass Eye at various points in their careers were barely acceptable. When it started out, Private Eye was only stocked by a very few newsagents. I remember ten years ago I took a copy of the Eye into work, and was asked by an older colleague, ‘You don’t actually read that, do you?’ Some of the Eye’s jokes have been considered in such bad taste, such as their cover satirising the mass adulation at the funeral of Princess Di, that newsagents have refused to stock it. As for Brass Eye, that was indeed so extreme in its satire that Grade had to fight hard to save it from cancellation.

As the founders of Private Eye, Richard Ingrams and co themselves made clear, they, Ingrams, Peter Cook and Willie Rushton were all far from outsiders. They were privately educated members of the middle class. Auberon Waugh was the son of the novelist Evelyn, and John Wells had been the headmaster of Eton. You couldn’t get much more establishment than that.

Private Eye also inspired David Frost’s That Was The Week That Was, the ’60s ancestor of popular satirical television. While it’s now regarded as a classic, it was intensely controversial at the time. Even in the 1980s Robin Day, the heavyweight interviewer of politicians on the Beeb, disliked it so much that he described it as ‘deplorable’ in his autobiography, Grand Inquisitor. Satire has become acceptable on TV, only because so many of its producers were respectably middle class, and even they had to work very, very hard.