Posts Tagged ‘Private Eye (magazine)’

Three More Heroes of Comedy Sketched – Alan Coren, John Wells and Roy Hudd

November 24, 2022

Here’s another three sketches of some of the people I consider to be great comedy talents – the satirist Alan Coren, and the actors John Wells and Roy Hudd.

I’m not quite satisfied with the picture of Alan Coren, as he really wasn’t jowly or fat in the lower face. But I do think he is one of this country’s greatest comic writers of the 20th century. He was for many years the editor of Punch, and just about the only reason in its last years to read the magazine. Coren’s method was to take a ridiculous story from one of the papers, and then write a ridiculous piece about it. Thus, a story about a ‘sexy actress’ missing her pet tortoise turned into a tale of the said reptile making an excruciatingly slow bid for freedom before finally getting caught. The beginning of package holidays to Spain with booze included turned into a tale of a totally blotto bloke trying to write back home. 1984 is rewritten as if it was about 70s Britain, where nothing works. The press runs headlines like ‘Come Off It, Big Brother’, the Youth Spy is annoying brat who shouts to its mother that Winston Smith has a lady friend, and Room 101 isn’t really terrifying because due to supply problems they can’t get a rat. They offer Smith a hamster instead, but he isn’t afraid of them and annoys them by telling them so. They inflict the hamster on him anyway, and he has to pretend to be frightened. Coren has been accused of racism because of a series of pieces, The Collected Speeches of Idi Amin, and More of the Collected Speeches of Idi Amin, in which he depicted the thug using the stereotypical Black pidgin English. I dare say it is racist, but as it’s directed at a brutal torturer and mass murderer, I honestly don’t care. Amin deserved far worse, and I don’t see Coren as personally racist.

At the same time as he was editing it, Coren also appeared as one of the contestants on Radio 4’s News Quiz, facing Richard Ingrams and Ian Hislop on the opposing side representing Private Eye. I read Private Eye now, but back then I far preferred Punch, which seemed more genteel and funny without being vicious. Punch died the journalistic death after Coren left it to edit the Radio Times, but he still continued to appear on the News Quiz until his sad death in the early ’90s. He eventually stopped editing the Radio Times and took up writing a column in the Times giving his humorous view of life in Cricklewood. These pieces are funny, but the really good stuff was earlier in Punch.

His pieces were collected in a number of books, some of which had deliberately bizarre names. In an interview on Pebble Mill he revealed how one of them got its particularly striking name. He rang up W.H. Smith to ask them what their bestselling books were about. They told him, ‘Cats’. He then asked them what their second bestselling books were about. ‘Golf’, they replied. He then asked them what the third most popular books they sold were about. They told him it was the Second World War. So, he called it Golfing for Cats and stuck a swastika on the cover. For his next book, he contacted them again and asked them what the most popular product they sold was. They told him it was tissues for men, so that’s what he called it.

Coren’s humour was distinctive – it was dry, but also slightly silly. Answering a question on the News Quiz about one of the members of Thatcher’s cabinet, he replied, ‘Oh – this is the ministry of Gummer’. A question about Prince Philip on an edition of the show in Edinburgh prompted him to reply, ‘This is the patron of this fair city, Zorba the Scot’. When the Tory election broadcast for the 1987 general election showed Spitfires and other World War II planes zooming about, Coren remarked that it was the Royal Conservative Airforce and pointed out that when the servicemen came back from the War, they all voted Labour. He’s been succeeded as broadcaster by his daughter, Victoria Coren-Mitchell, who is genuinely erudite and intelligent, and his son, Giles, who is a right-wing snob, and who made a sneering comment about people in council houses. Although Coren edited the patrician and eminently establishment Punch, he himself was a former grammar school lad, and there was a bit of class friction in the News Quiz between himself and the genuinely upper-class team from the downmarket Private Eye. I stopped listening to the News Quiz a long time ago because I got sick of the anti-religious sneers when Sandi Tokvig was chairing it and didn’t agree with many of the views of the panellists, who seemed to be stuck in the London bubble with a contempt for the rest of the country. Previous series are available on DVD, however, and they are well worth listening to, not least because of Coren. A great comic wit, sadly missed.

John Wells. He was one of the Private Eye team and was as patrician and establishment as the people that magazine skewered. He was the headmaster and French teacher at Eton. He was also one of the writers of the Dear Bill diaries in the Eye, which were supposed to be the letters of Dennis Thatcher to Bill Deedes, one of the writers in the Times. The book’s hilariously funny, especially when it describes Keith Joseph getting egged everywhere, but no-one can work out why it’s only him that does. Other highlights include him visiting the old folk’s home in which Ted Heath and Harold Macmillan are respectively housed, with Heath hating and ranting about Thatcher while Macmillan still hates and rants about Heath. As with Bentine and the Bumblies, this work of fiction excited the interest of the security people, who asked Wells where he got his information from. Wells replied that he just made it up, and he wasn’t getting any information from anyone. ‘Thank heaven for that,’ the rozzers replied, ‘We thought there’d been a leak.’ Wells had got the tone of Dennis Thatcher’s speech and mindset exactly right, in my opinion. He also appeared as Thatcher’s husband in the farce Anyone for Dennis?, which I can remember being put on TV. There’s a piece of very Cold War humour there, when the Russian ambassador fears that a nuclear war is imminent and talks about the brave Soviet soldiers with their eyes fixed on the last dawn, before collapsing with relief when he finds out that he’s mistaken.

Wells also appeared as a guest on a number of TV shows, including Lovejoy, and the radio shows The News Quiz and Tales of the Mausoleum Club. He had a camp manner, which he knew how to use for great comic effect. For example, when the teams were answering a question about the controversial portrait of the royal family that showed them all nude, he remarked that it was glad one royal was absent because ‘that would have been really gristly’. A question about the romantic novelist Barbara Cartland prompted him to describe her as a woman, who wrote covered in small, white dogs. Tales from the Mausoleum Club was a series of parodies of Victorian classic literature. One of these was a spoof of Treasure Island, ‘Trevor Island’, in which a gang of pirates go after the treasure buried on the island of Tombola. Wells played the pirate’s camp captain, who at one point remarked, ‘Oh damn, I’ve snapped my second-best bra!’

Roy Hudd. He was on TV quite a bit in the early 70s only to subsequently vanish. I can remember him from when I was at junior school presenting an afternoon programme for the elderly. While he vanished from TV, he carried on broadcasting on the radio, where he was the star of the satirical News Huddlines on Radio 2 with June Whitfield. He also appeared from time to time on other programmes, including as an astral seaside entertainer playing the Wurlitzer on the Reeves and Mortimer revamp of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased). I’m including him here as he was also an expert on the Music Hall. Back in the 1980s he appeared on a Radio 4 programme about the original Peaky Blinders, who were so notorious that they even wrote Music Hall songs about them. The one he performed was about how they could drink a brewery dry. Away from such elevated matters, he also apparently appeared as the Litterbug in the 1970s public information film against littering.

Vox Political on the Tories’ Proposed Privatisation of the Fire Service

September 15, 2018

Yesterday Mike put up a piece showing precisely what the fire service would like if Brandon Lewis gets his way and privatizes it. His piece follows an article in Mirror Online. The Mirror obtained a letter in which Lewis calls for new laws, which would allow fire and rescue organisations in England to contract these services out to other providers. This could result in all 46 fire and ambulance services being sold to private industry. Lewis says in his letter that he realizes this would be controversial, but defends it as it would give the fire and rescue authorities more choice over whom to contract their services.

As Mike shows, it’s a rubbish idea, and one that will ultimately cost lives. He gives a very short scenario portraying how the privatized service would operate. A householder would phone up their local fire brigade to ask for help. They’d then get a reply telling them who the current provider is, which firm is currently sponsoring them, before finally asking them how they’re going to pay for it. By this time, the fire’s out of control and their house is burning down. The private fire service then informs the customer that they’ll bill their descendants.

https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/09/14/want-to-know-what-brandon-lewiss-privatised-fire-service-will-look-like-itll-look-like-this/

This plan is, of course, pure idiocy, and Mike’s absolutely right about how it would operate. This is another idea the Tories have stolen from Rothbard’s wretched Libertarians. Rothbard was an anarcho-capitalist, who believed that all state functions should be taken over by private industry, including the courts. They were solidly behind Ronald Reagan, and it was the Libertarians in the Conservative party who formed the party’s base for Thatcher.

Obviously, while Thatcher wanted to privatise everything that wasn’t nailed down, as a believer in a ‘strong state’ she definitely wouldn’t want to do anything so radical as sell off the courts or the armed forces, although the Tories had a pretty good go at selling off the forces’ support infrastructure, like various barracks, as revealed at the time by Private Eye. And way back c. 1991/1992 Virginia Bottomley wrote a glowing piece the Depress or Heil looking forward to the privatization of the police and their replacement with private security forces.

And the privatized future Mike portrays in his article is all too plausible. It’s what happened in the past. Viewers of the antique shows on the Beeb, like Bargain Hunt, will recall that every so often the presenters came across a house plaque dating from the 18th century. These plaques were to show that the householder was registered with an insurance company against fire. If fire broke out, the local fire brigade would come round to put the fire out. But they did this only for those, who were insured with them. If you weren’t insured, then they let your house burn down.

The Tories have been trying to cut down on the fire service for a very long time as part of their general campaign of cuts, including to the firemen and women’s pay, conditions and pensions. And the fire brigade union has fought against them. This looks like another attempt to break the brigade’s resistance by selling it off to a private contractor, just like the Tories have done to the personnel and their unions in other sectors of the state.

I don’t doubt that they’ll present this as a new way the brigade can raise necessary funds outside of taxpayer’s money, just like the part-privatization of the NHS was intended to allow GPs and other service providers to raise money from private industry. It’ll also be presented as still giving the people of a particular area uniform coverage while in fact removing the state’s obligation to do so, just as Andrew lansley’s vile Health and Social Care Law of 2012 removes the state’s obligation to provide health care. And just as the Tories want to introduce and increase charging within the NHS, so they’ll introduce charges into the fire and rescue services.

The result will be tax cuts for the very rich, as usual, while the people in the fire services will be placed on drastically reduced pay and conditions, and those unable to afford private fire protection will be left to fend for themselves. Just the Tories have done right across the entire economy.

Private Eye on More Private Equity Firms in Government: Michael Gove Makes John Nash Minister

July 24, 2013

In my last post featuring an article from Private Eye, I discussed the Eye’s report that the then Tory health minister, Norman Lamb, appeared to be dimly aware that private equity firms actually weren’t very good at running hospitals and care homes. That didn’t seem set to stop them trying to increase such firms owning and running these services, and indeed it didn’t. Just a month later, in their issue for 25th January -7 February of this year, the Eye reported that Education secretary Michael Gove had appointed John Nash as minister. Nash is head of yet another private equity company. The Eye reported

Man in the Eye

John Nash

Education Secretary Michael Gove’s appointment of businessman John Nash as a minister suggests he wants private companies to be far more involved in running mainstream state schools.

Nash makes cash through his private equity firm, Sovereign Capital, which invests in higher education and training companies that receive millions for their poor performance on government contracts. Private firms are currently barred from investing in most state schools, but Nash’s new job might include opening up this market.

Given Sovereign’s record, this isn’t great news: it owns the private Greenwich School of Management, whose income from public funds has jumped to £22.6m – almost a quarter of the total going to private universities-since the coalition increased the number of private university courses funded by government-backed student loans (Eye 1330). Alas, when inspectors visited GSM in July student learning opportunities did “not meet UK expectations” and the college required “improvement to meet UK expectations”.

Meanwhile Sovereign’s website boasts of its backing for training firm ESG, which it bought in 2004. ESG training for the jobless was inspected five times by Ofsted between 2007 and 2009 and never received a single “good”. Inspection reports found “achievement and standards are inadequate”, a “low rate for job outcomes”, “slow progress in implementing quality assurance arrangements”, “insufficient resources in some centres” and “some poor learning resources”.

Despite this ESG won a £69m Work Programme contract from the Work and Pensions Department-and stumbled here too, failing to meet a 5.5 per cent minimum target for getting people into jobs. Sovereign says it sold ESG last July after it won the Work Programme contract, but documents at Companies House show Sovereign still owns about 20 per cent.

Press coverage of Nash’s appointment mentioned his investment in the Conservatives (he and his wife have given £300,000 to the party-and he now has a seat in the House of Lords and a government job!) but his Sovereign role wasn’t discussed because the Department for Education failed to mention it when announcing the appointment. The government did say Nash would step away “from all relevant business interests” while serving as minister. Sovereign Capital declined to comment.’

So the government is appointing yet another businessman from a private equity firm to oversee its privatisation of yet more state institutions. The private equity firm involved has an abysmal record in running those institutions it does possess. Its chairman is nevertheless rewarded for his persistent failure with a seat in the House of Lords, and position in government. It’s basically business as usual then, with the only difference being that this time it’s education that will suffer, rather than hospitals.

Private Eye: Has Norman Lamb Finally Recognised Private Equity Firms Should Not Run Healthcare

July 24, 2013

This is story from the 11th December-21st December 2012 issue of Private Eye, reporting that Norman Lamb appears to have cottoned on to the fact that private equity firms running hospitals and other healthcare facilities is recipe for disaster. It states

‘Private Equity

Not-so Super Model

Health minister Norman Lamb has finally recognised what the Eye has been saying for ages: that the tax-driven ownership structure behind companies providing some of the most sensitive public services, such as care for the vulnerable, puts them at huge risk.

Companies such as Castlebeck, behind the abusive Winterbourne View home (Eye 1290), the Rochdale children’s home that was supposed to be looking after girls sexually abused by gangs, all operated on the same financial model: highly-geared with expensive loans from funds (often offshore) that remove any profits the taxman might get his hands on but also leave the “businesses” themselves highly vulnerable to economic downturn.

The model increasingly extends now to other outsourced services – such as forensic science, for example, where offshore fund-owned LGC Forensics recently contributed to the wrongful five-month detention of a man on rape charges after cost-driven lapses at one of its labs. As Eye 1325 noted, the report by the Forensic Science Regulator on LGC was highly critical.

Then of course there are the scores of hospital PFI contracts now held at least partly by private equity funds (Eyes passim ad nauseam).

In a consultation on care home regulation, Lam has at last promised to “challenge business models that could compromise quality”. But lessons of the last decade have yet to be learned, it seems, as his consultation document promises there will be a “light touch”. Such was the approach to financial services regulation that led to Northern Rock and 2008 crash. Good one, Norm.’

In other words, Lamb and the Tories are aware that private equity firms running healthcare doesn’t work, or at least, not as well as they’d hoped. They don’t want to admit, and don’t want to do anything about it, except issue vague statements about quality when the scandals become too great to ignore.

So it’s pretty much business as usual then.

Private Eye on American Health Company’s Closure of British GPs’ Surgeries

July 20, 2013

Last year the American healthcare company, UnitedHealth, was in the news after it sold off three doctors’ surgeries in Camden to another healthcare company, The Practice, leaving 4,700 patients without a doctor. The Eye covered the story in their 15th June to 28th June edition. Here it is

Closing Down Sale

NHS officials have admitted they were powerless to prevent American health giant UnitedHealth from suddenly flogging off its privately run GP surgeries in north London to another firm – leading to 4,700 patients losing their doctors.

An inquiry set up by Camden council heard how bosses at the North Central London NHS sector trust contacted lawyers over last year’s sale to The Practice Plc but were told the deal was legal – thanks to a flaw in the contract. As a result, the new operators had not been vetted by their NHS paymasters, patients were not informed at any stage and there was no tendering process. One practice closed altogether, with patients being allocated new doctors miles away or being left to find their own.

The alternative provider of medical services (APMSO contracts by which United secured three Camden practices were brought in as part of New Labour’s health reforms designed to ramp up competition in the NHS. Under “goodwill” regulations, practices were not supposed to be able to be sold on in this way, but as the Camden inquiry has shown these regulations are not worth the paper they were written on.

Eye readers may recall that UnitedHealth won the contract five years ago byu undercutting the local GPs’ bid by 25 per cent – and undercutting the services.

The inquiry heard that since UnitedHealth took over there has been an unexplained and curious decline in recorded illnesses such as depression, cancer and respiratory disease. As Camden doctors’ representative Dr Paddy Glackin told the inquiry: “Either patients have become much healthier or these conditions are not being identified.” He suggested the high turnover of locum doctors and loss of long-standing GPs after UnitedHealth arrived could explain the mysterious disappearance of the illnesses in one of Camden’s most deprived wards.

Neither UnitedHealth nor the Practice agreed to give evidence to the inquiry, which poses a question: as Andrew Lansley’s health reforms dramatically increase the role of private companies’ in running the NHS, how will they be held to account.’

This is the future of the NHS under Lansley’s reforms. Private healthcare firms are primarily interested in making a profit, not in effectively treating disease. They should not be involved in the NHS.