Posts Tagged ‘P.G. Wodehouse’

‘I’ Newspaper: Aristocracy Have Doubled Their Wealth in Past Decade

July 22, 2019

The cover story on Saturday’s I for 20th July 2019 was a report that Britain’s landed gentry had doubled their wealth in a decade. Beneath the headline declaring that very fact were the lines

  • Dramatic surge in fortunes of British nobility since the 2008 financial crash, I learns
  • 600 aristcratic families now as wealthy as they were at the height of the British Empire.

The story on page 12 of the paper by Cahal Milmo was based on the research of two academics, Dr Matthew Bond and Dr Julien Morton, lecturers, sociology lecturers at the London South Bank University, who had examined probates, or settled wills, of 1,706 members of the aristocracy going back to 1858. However, the article made the point that these wills only represented part of the aristocracy’s immense wealth, and their real fortunes is likely to be much higher because their lands, property, art collections and business investments are very frequently held in separate trusts which cannot be examined.

The article stated that

A hereditary title is now worth an average of more than £16m – nearly twice the value it stood at proior to the 2008 financial crisis, I can reveal. their fortunes contrast starkly with the decade experienced by the vast majority of Britons, whose inflation-adjusted wages remain stuck at 2005 levels.l Since the Thatcher era, the value of a hereditary title has also increased four-fold.

The academics’ research also

shows that the minimum value of one of these (aristocratic) titles now stands on average at £16.1m. The same figure, adjusted to reflect current purchasing power, stood at £4.2m between 1978 and 1987.

The four-fold increase suggests the aristocracy has prospered spectacularly under the era of financial deregulation and economic liberalisation ushered in by Margaret Thatcher when she came to power in 1979.

The I also stated

The figures represent a sharp recovery in the fortunes of the nobility, which went into a decline during the Second World War and the post-war consensus, which brought in more progressive taxation and the welfare state. From a pre-war high of £23m, average fortunes fell to £4.9m by the 1980s.

The data suggests that Britain’s wealthiest aristocrats have more than weathered the economic problems caused by the 2008 financial crisis, apparently using existing assets to take advantage of low interest rates to buy up stocks and shares and other investments which have rocketed in value. In the decade to 2007, the average wealth of the nobility stood at £8.9m – suggesting it has nearly doubled in the decade since. (pp. 12-13).

The article also looked at the educational background of the ten richest toffs. And what a surprise! They nearly all went to Eton and Harrow, before going on to Oxbridge.

Of the ten largest probates between 2008 and 2018, seven of the deceased attended Eton or Harrow, with the remaining three also attending major public schools. Six of the 10 went to either Oxford or Cambridge universities. (p. 13).

The newspaper also asked the Labour MP, Chris Bryant for his views about this. Bryant was the author of A Critical History of the British Aristocracy, published two years ago in 2017. He responded

“For more than a century the landed aristocracy have been moaning about their terrible impoverishment. Ostentatiously sitting in dilapidated drawing rooms with buckets and pails catching drips from the beautiful but bowed stucco ceiling, they have extended the begging bowl.

“Yet the last century has seen many do remarkably well. The end result is that eh great old landed, crested and hallmarked families of the UK are still in possession of most of the land and a large part of the wealth of the nation.” (p. 13).

The I was at pains to state that the study itself takes no view on the social role of the aristocracy, whose fans argue that it plays a valuable role supporting rural communities through fishing and farming. It quoted Morton as saying

“It may well be that having a rich and vital aristocracy is good for the country. We are interested in understanding this group as objectively as possible.”

Well, that might be the case, but they’ve also been severely bad for the rest of us. The I doesn’t mention it, but one of the ways the aristocracy has almost certainly increased their wealth is through the massive tax cuts the Tories have given high earners. They’ve been enriched through the Thatcherite doctrine that taxes and government spending have to be cut, the welfare state destroyed and everything, including the NHS privatised, in order to benefit the upper classes. Their wealth will then magically trickle down to the rest of us, as they open new businesses, pay higher wages and so forth. Except they don’t. They simply take the money and put it in their bank accounts, where it stays. And far from opening new businesses, business proprietors simply carry on as before, laying off staff in order to enrich themselves and their shareholders. The Young Turks and a number of other left-wing American internet news shows, like the Jimmy Dore Show, have put up videos about various companies that have made thousands unemployed after they were given tax cuts by Trump.

As for the British aristocracy, way back in 1988 Private Eye published a very critical review, ‘Nob Value’, of Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd’s The Field Book of Country Houses and their Owners: Family Seats of the British Isles, as well as the-then emerging ‘heritage’ sector. Massingberd, who wrote a ‘heritage’ column in the Torygraph, was a massive fan of the aristocracy to which he belonged, and, of course, Maggie Thatcher. In this book he loudly praised her policies, and looked forward to a ‘social restoration’ that would see the blue-bloods return to power. The Eye wrote

The ‘heritage’ mania has softened us up for a return to inherited wealth. Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd may be a richly Wodehousian figure, but his book, lauding the privately owned, is symptomatic. It is the correlative to Peregrine Worsthorne’s recent articles about the desirability of large inheritances and the return of a rentier class: the desirability in short of ‘a social restoration’. Come the day, of course, Massivesnob knows where he will be – in his seat again. But the fans of his snufflings seem curiously unaware of where that leaves them: which is sat upon. 

In Francis Wheen, ed., Lord Gnome’s Literary Companion (London: Verso 1994), 320-2 (322).

Quite. It’s as true now as it was then, after Downton Abbey on the Beeb and now with the Tory party dominated by two toffs, Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg, coming after another Eton educated aristo, David Cameron, all of whom very much represent the interests of their class against the poor.

The only chance for the rest of us to shake them off, and go back to having a society where ordinary people have a decent standard of living, can enjoy good wages, proper welfare support and a truly national, and nationalised health service, is by voting for Corbyn.

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‘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.

Joshua Bonehill: Hollywood Nazi Troll?

April 30, 2015

I found this interesting little statement by the comedy fuehrer, Joshua Bonehill, on the entry for him on the Rationalwiki site through the link to it on the SlatUKIP page. I’ve posted a number of pieces on Bonehill commenting on his ludicrous attempts to set himself up as some kind of Far Right generalissimo. He is notorious for hacking into other people’s blogs and twitter accounts in order to malign or threaten them. One of his favourite tactics is to claim falsely that they are paedophiles, a particularly vile and dangerous smear. He was also found guilty of making false claims against pub, whose staff were threatened following another of his lies. He claimed that they wouldn’t serve British servicemen in order not to upset Muslims.

Bonehill as Britain’s prospective Fascist dictator, Bonehill posts racist and anti-Semitic material on his blog. He was appealing for people to join his neo-Nazi organisation as members of an elite bodyguard for him, now styling himself the Founder. He was one of the leading names behind a Far Right march against the ‘jewification’ of Stamford Hill, a predominantly Jewish community in London.

The National British Resistance

A few weeks ago he also got in his local paper for launching his latest Fascist party, National British Resistance, in one of the parks in Yeovil. Despite claiming later on his blog that his party’s founding was attended in secret by fifty Fascists, some of whom had flown in from Northern Ireland, the only member of his massive Fascist legion to appear was, er, him.

He pretty much resembles Spode and his Blackshorts , P.G. Wodehouse’s spoof of Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists in Jeeves and Wooster, though ‘Founder’ Bonehill’s antics include stunts that Spode would definitely consider well below acceptable behaviour. Like being thrown out of Tesco for trying to defecate in their frozen food section, or prosecution for trying to break into a police station to steal uniforms and equipment.

Bonehill and Trolling

According to a statement by Bonehill himself, preserved on the Rationalwiki, all this Fascist posturing may be just that: a pose. Bonehill has said that this is an attempt to create a false persona in order to troll the Far Right and anti-Fascists alike, based on David Bowie’s adoption of the Ziggy Stardust persona in the 1970s. The full statements says

“It was after listening to David Bowie’s iconic album, “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust” on repeat for the best part of a day, I realised that I too could potentially create a “Persona” and play a character but instead of basing my character in the musical world, I’d place him in the political world – Leader Bonehill, the Founder was born.

Firstly I created my fictional and satire news website – this was the Daily Bale – and set about generating headlines which quickly went viral throughout 2013. I was responsible for creating myths such as the campaign to ban black pudding and various other oddities that were quickly picked up upon right-wing groups such as the EDL and Britain First to which went viral.

Very quickly I found myself at the head of a large news network and found that I had the power to make many hundreds of thousands of people believe utterly insane and crazy things under the guise of Daily Bale News. To this day, people still share Daily Bale articles and I believe it will withstand the test of time.

[…]

After the Daily Bale I took upon elevating my persona the Leader and Founder to another level which became the “National British Resistance”. The NBR was a Far-Right Nationalist movement led by the fierce and no-nonsense dictator, Leader Bonehill.

Through the NBR I made many outlandish claims for instance one of them was that I could “heal” the Left-Wing through a rebirth process and I also claimed to be a “Right-Wing messiah”. I stood in astonishment as people were eating this bait and taking me VERY seriously to the point where I became the obsession of many social media users.

It wasn’t until the press and media caught onto my activity and started reporting on me as a real person that the ego started to be transferred into the real world. I was invited to speak at meetings and felt almost forced to display this persona in public and this I couldn’t keep on doing because it fundamentally went against everything I believe in as a person.

Yes – I make no bones about it, for the past 16 months I have been trolling relentlessly at the expense of both the Left and the Right – it has been through this trolling that I am now appearing back in court over Daily Bale articles but this was a price I was prepared to pay and knew that my actions would of course have very real world consequences.

Leader Bonehill came alive and consumed me at times, the ego almost controlled me and took upon a very powerful and possessive role in my normal everyday life. I found myself almost believing that I was a “Right-Wing messiah” and had been sent from another planet to free the people and bring about a new great nationalist age – though this of course in reality was absolute bollocks and would never happen.

[…]

Everything I have said and done, right from posing for photographs or the videos I have made are the result of this “Persona”. These do not represent my real views and can instead be seen as a comical ‘act'”.

According to the RationalWiki site, Bonehill has since taken this down, but it’s been archived elsewhere. The piece can be read at http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Joshua_Bonehill-Paine.

From this, it would seem that Founder Bonehill is a ‘Hollywood Nazi’, the term the Far Right give to those play acting at being Fascists, but who aren’t the real Nazi thing. And there have been any number of them.

The grotesque theatricality of Fascism, with its bonkers leaders spouting their vitriolic nonsense to crowds at from government palaces and the Nuremberg stadium, the whole weird, twisted spectacle of marches, rallies and parades, and the sinister fascination with its regalia – the uniforms, flags, badges, propaganda posters – has attracted a number of characters over the years, who have adopted it not from any sympathy with Fascism, but from a simple desire to shock and upset. To epater les bourgeois.

Hippies and Punk Fascist Styles

In the 1960s there was a Hippy Nazi party in Florida, which probably had no purpose other than to wind up the straights. One section of the Punks in the 1970s deliberately courted controversy by dressing up in Nazi uniform as part of their general assault on staid, conventional society. Sid Vicious apparently wandered around a Jewish area of Paris in Nazi uniform, but surprisingly wasn’t beaten up.

David Bowie

Bonehill claims he was inspired by Bowie and Ziggy Stardust. In fact, the Thin White Duke did was at the centre of controversy in the 1970s because of his apparent Nazi inclinations. He was arrested by West Berlin’s finest for getting drunk and making the Fascist salute outside the remains of Hitler’s bunker on the anniversary of the Fuehrer’s birthday. Or death – I can’t remember which.

Bowie also directly prompted the formation of Rock Against Racism, after he announced on British television that in the elections that year there was only ‘one choice’ to run the country, and so was offering himself as the Fascist candidate.

Bowie obviously isn’t, and never was, a true Fascist of any kind. For all the homosexuality amongst certain sections of the Nazi party, the Nazis themselves hated gay men and sent them to the concentration camps. They also had very strict and traditional ideas on gender roles. A woman’s place was ‘Kinder, Kuche, Kirche’ – children, kitchen, church. As for masculinity, this was belligerent and aggressive. One Italian Fascist slogan proclaimed ‘Fighting is to man, what motherhood is to woman’. Bowie’s bisexual, androgynous persona in Ziggy Stardust would have been bitterly hated and denounced by the Nazis, just as it was by more traditional, staid members of the older generation.

And there are two other reasons why the Nazis also wouldn’t have adopted Bowie. Pop music has its roots in the mixture of White American country music, and Black barrelhouse jazz. The Nazis, as racists, hated Jazz because of its origins in Black culture, and what they saw as its permissiveness and sexual decadence. Quite apart from the fact that Bowie wasn’t racist, as shown by his later marriage to Iman, a woman whose name is the Arabic for ‘Faith’.

The impression I had was that Bowie in the 1970s was less a Fascist, than a very confused mam, driven nearly to the edge of sanity by the adulation of his fans.

Laibach and the NSK

Then there’s NSK and the Industrial rock band, Laibach. They were from the former Yugoslavia, and were part of a wider art collective, Neue Slowenische Kunst, or ‘New Slovenian Art’ in English. Way back in the 1980s they produced a very Wagnerian cover version of ‘Live is Life’, by the Austrian pop band, Opus. The video was shot very much in the style of the kind of Nazi propaganda films celebrating the countryside, hiking and healthy peasant values. The whole album, Opus Dei, could be seen as an exercise in the kind of music that would have been produced, had the Nazis decided to cover the Beatles, Rod Stewart and Queen.

According to one, very scurrilous and entirely unreliable website, the group deliberately set out to portray themselves as genuine neo-Nazis, dressing in Nazi uniforms. They did so, not because they really were members of the hordes of European stormtroopers, but simply to frighten and annoy the Yugoslav government. The band themselves were anti-Nazi, some of the images they used in their art was designed by anti-Nazi artists. Matters finally came to head when the band spectacularly announced that they were ending the whole charade at a concert. They apparently declared ‘We are as much Fascists as Hitler was an artist’. The Aryan warriors of the Far Right immediately went into meltdown. I’ve heard tales of British Nazis angrily destroying their records when they heard about how they’d been deceived.

When the civil war erupted in the former Yugoslavia, and real Fascism raised its ugly head in the chaos of violence, terror and brutal ethnic cleansing, NSK fled to western Europe. They’ve still continued to make music. One of their most recent projects was on the score for the Finnish SF film, The Iron Sky. This was about a war between an America led by a female president, not too far removed from Sarah Palin, and a Nazi colony on the Moon founded after the fall of the Third Reich.

Laibach’s imagery and artistic style draws partly on Wagnerian opera and the imagery and non-racial motifs of the Third Reich, but this is very much artistic pastiche. Their album Opus Dei can be seen as a comment on the Fascist cult of the leader, and the Second World War as trans-European international conflict, but there’s no racist or anti-Semitic content in the music or covered songs themselves.

The Imperial league of British Fascists

At a much lower level, there also have been a number of small groups here in Britain that have attempted to pose as Nazis in order to cause panic and outrage. Way back in the 1990s or early part of this century, the sceptical Ufolks at Magonia reported the furore surrounding the appearance of another bunch of neo-Nazis in the greater London area. This group styled themselves the Imperial League of British Fascists, and were photographed in the local press in Nazi regalia. Further investigation, however, revealed that there was no such Imperial League, and the assembled stormtroopers were merely the supposed informant, who revealed the story to the press, and his mates having a tasteless laugh.

The Fake Nazis of German TV News

Something similar happened in Germany at about the same time. The Fortean Times reported a case, where a group neo-Nazis supposedly filmed in secret goose-stepping about and generally lowering the standards of the Bundesrepublik, were also found to be the film-maker’s own mates in fancy dress. The film-maker had started a scam in which he produced bogus footage of fringe groups performing weird rituals, and then sent them in to the local news programmes on German television as supposedly real events. For which he was paid. He started with the KKK, then moved to the Odinists and Germanic Neo-Pagans before finally being caught with the Nazis. A particularly eagle-eyed viewer noticed that some of the stormtroopers were the same people as the Klansmen and pagans in his other films.

It’s a funny incident, but underneath the comedy is the sobering, horrific reality of the Third Reich and its murder of tens of millions purely because of their race and political beliefs. Contemporary Germany is still coming to terms with the Hitlerdiktatur and its horrors, which means that stunts like this go beyond a joke.

Bonehill – Not Artist, Just Bully

So, if Bonehill is only posing as Nazi as part of some twisted idea of trolling the public and the Far Right, then he’s not the first by any means. Others have done it long before, and no doubt there’ll be similar idiots doing the same in the future as long as the Nazis and their shock value retain some kind of perceived comedic potential.

Possibly the best thing that can be said of many of these individuals, like the German Nazis in the spoof footage, and the Imperial League of British Fascists, is that they stopped when they were finally caught out. Laibach, by far the best of them, knew when to pack it all in and just carry on as rock musicians. Although their music was partly a pastiche of Nazi forms, they had a following, which recognised this as an artistic statement, rather than a genuine political stance , which allowed them to go on long after they had given up the joke.

Bonehill, by contrast, seems to be just a genuinely malign and unpleasant character, who seems to get some kind of perverse pleasure through being personally insulting and persecuting his victims. He is responsible, after all, for posting grotesquely libellous smears against others, including manufacturing a fake image of a Labour election poster for a particularly controversial Black female politico, claiming that she hates Whites.

There’s no artistic value in these antics. Bonehill doesn’t have the musical talents of Bowie, Sid Vicious, Siouxie Sioux or Laibach, and, unlike some of the provocations of the extreme Left, he can’t and doesn’t justify these as Situationist happenings, as Malcolm McLaren did with the excesses of the Punks. It just seems to be personal abuse and victimisation, simply from a bizarre, malicious delight in tormenting others. It’s bullying, pure and simple, no better than the weird personal abuse meted out online by other, normal trolls, who at least don’t try to justify their actions through appeals to David Bowie’s stage antics four decades ago.

This is, of course, assuming that Bonehill is a ‘Hollywood Nazi’. He may well be, but if he is, it appears that there’s also something inside him that enjoys the feelings of malign power he gets by posing as a wannabe dictator.
Whatever the reality is, he’s unpleasant, and it’s long past time the trolling and vilification stopped.

Great Dictator Bonehill Launches New Fascist Party with Mighty Members of Just Himself

April 12, 2015

The EDL News site, which is actually dedicated to criticising and attacking the EDL and the Far Right, today reports the launch of yet another addition to Britain’s Fascist legions. On Saturday, ‘Founder’ Bonehill formally announced the inauguration of ‘Liberty’ to bring about the downfall of modern democratic, multicultural, multiracial Britain in one of the parks in Yeovil.

Derek Fender, the article’s author, states

Comedy pound shop fascist, Joshua Bonehill launched his new political group in a park yesterday in front of two cops, two journalists and three antifascists.

Disappointed that no one actually turned up, he claimed in the local newspaper that he had secretly launched the group a hour earlier in a cafe and 50 people turned up with ten from Yeovil and one from Northern Ireland.

He goes on to state that it was probably the least successful launch of a Fascist party ever. This hasn’t stopped Bonehill, who has said that he’s going to hold another meeting, this time with someone other than himself in attendance.

Despite their propaganda, British Fascism is generally marked by extremely low membership. Anti-Fascist researchers estimated that the actual core membership of the NF/BNP was actually only 200. The party had a very high membership turnover, with most leaving after only two years. While there are very many people in Britain opposed to immigration, most aren’t interested in full-blown Fascism.

With the implosion of the BNP, the membership of the various Fascist groups has got lower, especially as many of the Nazis seem to have gone off and joined UKIP as the ostensibly democratic equivalent.

Even so, the membership of the some the extreme Right parties was trivially small well before then. Way back in the 1990s Private Eye reported the launch of another Far Right, anti-immigration party in Cheltenham. Its founders considered it a resounding success, held as it was in one of the members’ front room.

So there was little chance of them holding mass torchlight rallies and marching on the Town Hall. Or even organising a grand booze-up in a beer hall. There would, however, have been just enough of them to open a few tins of beer or sherry while watching videos of Hitler’s speeches.

The minuscule size of Bonehill’s party is small, even by Fascist standards. But it isn’t unknown. Way back in the 1930s Mosley was approached by a retired colonel in Lancashire, who offered to merge his mighty party and its legions with Mosley’s BUF, provided the Colonel was recognised as effectively joint leader. Mosley looked into it, and found that the grand membership of the Colonel’s sqaudristi consisted of just one: the colonel himself. And so the deal was off.

This should have served as an object lesson in how not to run a Fascist movement, but it’s been lost on the sawdust Caesars running British Fascism, who become more and more like P.G. Wodehouse’s Spode every day. In addition to Bonehill trying to convince the world that his new movement consists of anyone other than himself, there’s Raikes and the New British Union. Raikes is desperately trying to revive the spirit of Mosley’s National Union of Fascists, complete with uniforms and draped flags. According to Hope Not Hate, he was also active writing letters to the leaders of the other Fascist grouplets trying to get them to merge their parties with his and place themselves under his inspired leadership.

The response, as they say, has been disappointing.

As for the name Bonehill has chosen for his new party, this seems to have been copied from Paul Weston’s Liberty GB. This was formed as the political wing of the EDL, and like them has been suffering from catastrophically dwindling membership. The name’s also similar to the Libertas, anti-EU Irish party, perhaps Bonehill’s hoping that there’s still a few of their supporters around, who’ll get confused and vote for him instead.

The article on Bonehill and his farcical attempt to restart his career as Fuehrer is at: http://edlnews.co.uk/2015/04/12/joshua-bonehill-launches-new-political-group-in-a-park-in-front-of-two-cops-two-journalists-and-three-antifascists/ Go and there and be entertained by the latest antics of one of Britain’s most determined enemies of liberal democracy. That is, as far as the court orders will allow him.

The park, on the other hand, looked really nice. It’s just a pity that it had Bonehill in it doing more Fascist posturing.

Private Eye on Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd and the Resurgence of the Aristocracy

April 11, 2015

One of the reviews in the collection of pieces from Private Eye’s literary column, Lord Gnome’s Literary Companion, is of Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd’s The Field Book of Country Houses and their Owners: Family Seats of the British Isles from 1988. Massingberd’s a true, blue-blooded aristo, who wrote a ‘Heritage’ column in the Torygraph. In the book, he made it very clear that he stood for a return of the aristocracy, their power and prestige, after years of Socialism as a ‘social restoration’ under Maggie Thatcher. It’s a view that Private Eye took issue with, and put the boot in accordingly.

Despite being nearly thirty years old now, the review’s still relevant. Cameron is a toff leading a cabinet of toffs – George Osborne, the scion of the baronet of Ballymoney, Nick Clegg, and IDS, who is himself a great landowner, even if he isn’t a member of the titled aristocracy. It is a government that has consistently defended and promoted the interests and power of the rich against those of the poor, and made very sure that the rest of us are kept under their heel.

Their welfare reforms, and the massive curtailment of workers’ rights under the Tories have meant that people with a job now live in fear of being laid off, while those fortunately enough to get jobseekers allowance are effectively treated as helots – state slaves – by the self-described ‘creators of wealth’, who then compete for gaining their free labour on workfare.

It’s a restoration of the old feudal order of serfdom, but under the guise of preparing the unemployed for the labour market, and making them sturdy, self-reliant individuals. As the business leaders imagine themselves to be, all the while they’re demanding more tax breaks and subsidies from the government.

And UKIP are no alternative. They’re further to the Right than the Tories and Lib Dems. The vice-chairman of the Kippers in Wales was a member of the Traditional Britain group. These stand for the restoration of the feudal order, the destruction of the welfare state, the privatisation of the NHS, no immigration and positive no Muslims.

The Eye’s review, then, is a pretty prescient description of the attitudes and motives behind this government, nearly three decades later.

Nob Value

Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd has one great qualification for his line of work. When the toffs he writes about – Cruwys of Cruwys Morchard, Dymoke of Scrivelsby, Fetherstonehaugh-Frampton of Moreton, Houison Craufurd of Craufurdland, Foljambe of Osberton, Steuart Forthringham of Murthly – hear that he is on his way, they must feel pleasantly reassured. For Montgomery-Massivesnob is the only hack in the business with a name as ludicrous as theirs.

It has been the making of him. Massivesnob is no detached architecture critic or social historian. He is himself of the class he portrays: his articles are themselves exhibits in the show, if not the main turn. It is useless to wonder whether or not he realizes that this is why the Telegraph employs him. So much reflection is not in the nature of a nob.

Massivesnob writes a column in the Torygraph called ‘Heritage’. This is the persuasive sales word of our time, signifying anything old and agreeable which might form the basis of a day trip. We have even been encouraged to think that there is such a thing as, contradiction in terms, a ‘national heritage’. Somehow we have accepted that being herded around big houses, behind ropes, by self-important matrons means that we are ourselves the true legatees of the aristocracy.

Massivesnob, quite rightly, has no time for this confidence trick. When he says ‘heritage’ he means it: the inheritance of a name and of a house together, by a private family. He has conducted a long campaign to disabuse us of our belief in a ‘national heritage’ and to reassert the rights of the squirearchy. (His insistence on this has, doubtless, been a reaction to his own family house having been made over to the National Trust before his birth.) And he is admirably purist. These reprinted articles from the pre-lifestyle Field are not about great houses – or interesting people. True squires, they have no other distinction than their success at transmission.

That Massivesnob is now in demand to write similar pieces as a ‘Heritage’ column in a national newspaper says something about the times. For years he snuffled away at family trees as the editor of Burke’s Peerage, scribbling too for the country magazines. he joined the Torygraph as obituaries editor. But now his pieces have become more than antiquarian. Hymns to private property are apropos. The landed are richer than they have ever been in their lives – and even council-house buyers are beginning to feel happier about family seats.

Not that any of this is made explicit. Massivesnob’s appearances in print are winningly slapstick. His own ancestors invariably feature – usually his feminist great-grandmother, who tragically turned the family pub, the Massingberd Arms, into a temperance house. And his ‘robust digestion’ also stars, as he caps each visit by putting himself outside ‘a couple of jumbo cold bangers and a glass of iced lemon tea’, or a large helping of treacle tart. The words ‘ravishing’, ‘luscious’, ‘exquisite’ and ‘engagingly feudal’ exhaust his adjectival resource. Two obsessions recur: Lincolnshire, ‘the still undiscovered Lincolnshire’, and cricket, as played between the big house and the village.

The appearance of this buffoon must be entrancing to the proprietors of what he enthusiastically calls ‘the dimmer sort of seat’. Here is someone who sincerely thinks nothing in the world so fine as ‘the proud distinction of being, say, Fulford of Fulford, Fursdon of Fursdon, Kelly of Kelly or Spurway of Spurway’, who, quite fantastically, is as gratified as they are themselves by their own existence.

Any further qualities are beside the point, though squirearchical accomplishments are loyally applauded. Burrell of Knepp Castle’s appointments ‘have included the chairmanship of the North West Sussex Water Board’; Staunton of Staunton is ‘an enthusiastic beagler’; Sir Anthony Milbank of Barningham is ‘an enthusiastic Gun and enjoys fishing’; while Robert Scrysoure Steuart Forthringham of Pourie and Murthly is a wizard with a bow and arrow.

Clearly the social system that supports such accomplishments must be maintained. As Cookson of Meldon, owner of a measly 5,000 acres, somewhat laboriously explains: ‘If the people of this country wish houses such as Meldon to continue to exist as part of the heritage – especially when the occupants are of the family for whom the house was originally built – then more consideration must be paid to them financially to help keep the system in being.’

Absolutely. And it will be, partly because the National Trust, ostensibly a democratic movement, has transformed public perception of what big estates represent. The houses were the pretty part of the whole social organisation; they are the only part now on view; the system itself is thus glamorized by them. For himself, Massivesnob is quite unembarrassed to state that the fortunes of the Hobhouses of Hadspen were founded on slavery.

Conveniently for the National Trust, those who traipse round the houses, or buy picture-books like this, do so in order to fantasize about themselves as owners, not as scullions. Massivesnob, more lucidly, responded to the ‘euphoria’ of the budget earlier this year with an article looking forward to the return of servants, jovially reminiscing about the days when drunken gamekeepers could be shot.

The ‘heritage’ mania has softened us up for a return to inherited wealth. Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd may be a richly Wodehousian figure, but his book, lauding the privately owned, is symptomatic. It is the correlative to Peregrine Worsthorne’s recent articles about the desirability in short of ‘a social restoration’. Come the day, of course, Massivesnob knows where he will be – in his seat again. But the fans of his snufflings seem curiously unaware of where that leaves them: which is sat upon.

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.