Posts Tagged ‘Weston-Super-Mare’

Sketches of Another Three British Comedy Heroes

November 22, 2022

Here are three more pictures of British comedy legends of a certain era for your enjoyment: Ken Dodd, Tony Hancock and Michael Bentine.

Ken Dodd is also remembered for the Diddymen from Knotty Ash, which I think was the suburb of Liverpool where he came from. I can remember him being on television with them when I was very young. They were originally puppets, but I can remember a later programme in which they were played by children in a musical number. Dodd was a real trouper, carrying on performing right to the end of his life. He was also notorious for running well over time. I heard at one performance in Weston-Super-Mare, a seaside town just south of Bristol, he carried on performing so long after he was supposed to have ended that the janitor threw the keys onto the stage. As well as the Diddymen his act also involved his notorious Tickling Stick. It was years before I realised it was an ordinary duster and you could get them in Woolworths.

He ran afoul of the taxman in the late 80s/ 90s, and I’ve heard two versions of that story. One is that he really was dodging taxes and had all the money he owed the Inland Revenue hidden in boxes in his attic. This was supposed to be because he had a very poor childhood and that had made him reluctant to part with money. The other version I heard was that he sent it all to the taxman, as demanded, but didn’t say which department and so it just got lost. His problems with the taxman was at just about the same time the jockey Lester Pigott also got caught not paying it. This resulted in a postcard I found in Forever People in Bristol showing Ken Dodd and Pigott on stage in pantomime. Pigott was riding a pantomime horse, while down from the sky was a giant hand pointng at them, saying ‘Fee Fi Fo Fum, I smell undeclared income!’

Although he’s been off the TV for years now, there are still DVDs of his performances, particularly the Audience he did on ITV. And way back in the 90s I also found a tape of him telling jokes. Since his heyday in the ’70s, comedy has become far more observational, but his jokes were still funny. One I remember went, ‘What a day, what a day, missus, for going to Trafalgar Square and throwing white paint over the pigeons shouting, ‘Hah! See how you like it!’

Tony Hancock – what can you say? He truly is a British comedy legend. He’s been called a genius, though one critic said that his genius really consisted in performing the scripts written by Galton and Simpson. Even so, they were absolute classics of British comedy and a couple of them, The Radio Ham and The Blood Donor, really are comedy classics. On the radio he was supported by a cast of brilliant actors – Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Bill Kerr and Hattie Jacques. This was cut down to Sid James when the series was transferred to TV, and then even further until Hancock became the sole regular character. His series were on record – I used to listen to them when I was at school and are also on DVD. He also made a series, not written by Galton and Simpson, when he was in Australia. That’s also available, I think, though I deliberately avoided watching it. It may just be prejudice, but I didn’t think it could ever be a patch on Galton and Simpson’s scripts.

Paul Merton, who seems to have given up performing comedy for appearing on panel shows, is a massive Hancock fan. A few years ago, he performed as Hancock in a series of remakes of classic Hancock episodes. I deliberately didn’t watch them, because with remakes I find that it doesn’t matter how good the actors are, you’re always comparing them with the original stars, and they just can’t compete. One of the cable/ satellite channels a few years back tried to remake Yes, Minister with a different cast. This flopped. I think it may have been that the audience it was aimed simply far preferred to see repeats of the original series with Paul Eddington and co. As well as TV, he also appeared in a number of films, such as Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, and starred in two: The Rebel and The Punch and Judy Man. The Punch and Judy Man, in which he plays that character in a seaside resort, is supposed to be the better film, but I prefer The Rebel. In this movie he plays an office clerk, who gives it up to become a painter in Paris. He’s a failure but becomes a celebrity artist after passing off a friend’s paintings as his own. It all comes crashing down when he’s invited aboard a millionaire’s yacht and the man’s wife wants to run off with him, just as he’s run out of the other fellow’s paintings to sell. Again, he has an excellent supporting cast, including John Le Mesurier as his exasperated boss and Irene Handl as his landlady, outraged at the nudity of his sculpture ‘Aphrodite at the Waterhole’. It’s also on DVD, and I think it’s brilliant.

Michael Bentine – another great actor and writer. He was, as I’m sure many people reading this well know, a member of the Goons, whom he left quite early on. He also had a number of his own series, including Square World and the one I remember, Michael Bentine’s Potty Time. This featured small ‘Potty’ puppets acting out various historical events, like the Battle of Waterloo. He had a similar puppet series, the Bumblies, which got MI5 interested in him. The Bumblies were puppets, but they were supposed to be operated by remote control. This would have been quite an advance at the time, as radio control was impossible because it interfered with the cameras and other equipment. According to Bentine, he left his house and got on the bus to go to work as usual one morning when he was met by someone from the security services, who asked him to follow him upstairs for a little chat. He wanted to know how the Bumblies worked. Bentine explained that they were puppets and not radio controlled at all. ‘Oh thank God!’ said the Man from the Ministry, ‘we thought you were going to defect!’ That gave Bentine the vision of Bumby Six hurtling towards Russia on a missile.

He was also very much into the paranormal, following his father, an engineer who was keenly interested in psychical research. Like the other Goons, he also fought in the Second World War, though he was a member of a bomber crew in the RAF. He was deeply anti-Fascist, and strongly believed that the Nazis had come to power through real black magic. In the 90s he toured the country with his one-man show, From the Sublime to the Paranormal. I and a few friends went to see him when it came to Bristol. He was a hilarious raconteur, especially when describing how the army chased him round Britain to get him to join up when he was touring in repertory theatre. Wherever they were playing, his name was naturally on the cast list. When he asked the army, why they had ignored the posters for the theatre company when they finally caught up with him, they replied that they thought it was a ruse! During the performance he also demonstrated the power of the Nazis use of light and sound to mesmerise their audience. He described the Nuremberg rallies and the way it would start with the great searchlights blazing up into the sky as a ‘temple of light’. Then the drumbeats would start up, performed by the Hitler Youth, the twisted version of the boy scouts, and the soldiers and Nazis would start chanting ‘Ein Volk! Ein Reich! Ein Fuhrer!’ He repeated this, getting louder each time, and the lighting in the theatre dropped. The atmosphere immediately changed, became far more sinister. Then he snapped out of it, and said, ‘Sorry to scare the sh*t out of you.’ A friend of mine told me later that wasn’t the reason he cut that bit short. He reckoned it was because some people were responding to it in the way the Nazis intended. He asked me if I hadn’t noticed the pair in one of the boxes who were nearly out of their seats giving the salute. He was very critical of the power of television and the way it could be used for propaganda and mass brainwashing and urged people to complain if they saw anything they found offensive.

I think he was also very scientifically interested and literate. He appeared a long time ago on the Beeb’s popular science programme, Tomorrow’s World, presenting his own scheme for turning the Amazon jungle into productive farmland. And then there was the flea circus. This was entirely mechanical but was supposed to be worked by fleas performing high dives and so on. He was interviewed by Wogan when the dulcet-toned Irishman took over from Parkinson back in the 1980s. He told the broadcasting legend that he’d been stopped by customs when he tried to take it into America. The customs officer thought that he was bringing real fleas into the country. And so Bentine had to show him the entire act in order to convince him that it was, indeed, mechanical.

From the Sublime to the Paranormal was broadcast on the radio back in the ’90s. I don’t know whether it’s available on CD or on YouTube. He also wrote his autobiography and two books on spiritualism and the paranormal, The Door Marked Summer and Doors of the Mind. He was truly another great titan of British comedy.

Tories Once Again Demanding Clampdown in Schools for No Reason At All

April 8, 2021

Why do the Tories hate schoolchildren? Why are they so determined to make school as miserable as possible? I ask these questions, ’cause yesterday Mike put up a piece on his blog about the education minister, Gavin Williamson. Williamson has claimed that there’s a lack of discipline in schools because children were allowed greater freedom during the lockdown. Mobile phones are a particularly destructive influence, and shouldn’t be allowed.

Now I agree with Mike about this, who does agree with Williamson. They shouldn’t be allowed in schools because of the danger that children can use them to cheat. Quite apart from the temptation amongst some pupils to play Tetris or whatever at the back of the class instead of concentrating on Miss trying to teach them trigonometry. But this isn’t a new problem. People have been talking about the problems caused by mobile phones in school ever since children started taking them into class in the ’90s. What is remarkable is Williamson going on about the lack of discipline among school students when there’s absolutely no evidence for it. I haven’t heard anyone complain about a decline in schoolchildren’s behaviour in my neck of the woods, and I’m pretty sure you haven’t either.

In fact, not only is there no evidence that the returning pupils are particularly badly behaved, there appears to be plenty of evidence to the contrary. One of our friends down here in south Bristol is a school governor. They told us that the children coming back to school had actually been better behaved. So where does Williamson’s claim that discipline has declined come from?

I think it’s partly due to an habitual Tory distrust of youth. Ever since the ‘youthquake’ of the 1950s and the emergence of modern youth culture, there’s been a particular distrust of young people on the right. This wasn’t entirely unwarranted. I remember the annual fights during the Bank Holidays between Mods and Rockers at Weston Super Mud and elsewhere in the country, and those were frightening. There was a rise in juvenile delinquency, and for years the papers were full of stories about the terrible lack of discipline and poor educational standards in many schools. These were real problems. Private Eye devoted a whole section in one issue to complaints from teachers about the problems they were faced with teaching entirely uninterested, disruptive and sometimes violent students, compounded with lack of support from the headmaster or the education authorities. I dare say in some schools this is still the case, but it doesn’t seem quite the issue it once was. But school discipline is something of a Tory ‘talking point’. School standards are breaking down, and it’s all due to modern, progressive schooling. Kids are being indoctrinated into rebellion by Marxist feminist teachers of ambiguous sexuality.

Except that I don’t think they are. I wondered if this was a response to events at Pimlico academy last week, when the children and some staff decided that the headmaster’s new dress code was somehow racist, as was the flying of the union flag, which some idiot decided to burn. I don’t support the protests there – I think they’re unwarranted and show instead a nasty streak of racism amongst the protesters. But as far as I can make out, it was an isolated incident that was a response to very specific circumstances that has not been repeated elsewhere.

But it also seems to fit with the Tory determination to remove any kind of joy from schooling. When the Tories took over ten years or so ago, they declared that they were going to enforce school discipline and make sure the children worked hard, introducing homework for primary school children. There does seem a determination on the Tories’ part to make school as grim as possible.

And this attitude is shared by some of the academy chains that have been brought in to run schools. Before I came down with the myeloma I did voluntary work listening to children read at one of the local school in south Bristol. This was a normal primary school, whose walls were decorated with the children’s work and paintings along with the usual school notices, and the usual hubbub when the children came in from playground or moved between classroom. It came across as a normal, happy British school, full of normal, happy children.

And then the school was handed over to an academy chain, whose headquarters, incidentally, were registered in Eire as the usual tax dodge. The whole ethos changed. When next I arrived, the walls were bare except for the school notices and children were expected to move from class to class in silence. The children still seemed to be as happy as ever, but a vital part of the school experience had been excised. The place seemed far more dour. I suppose this new austerity was to show that there was now an emphasis on learning and the importance of discipline. It now seemed actually rather joyless and forbidding. I think that putting students’ work up on school walls is enormously encouraging – it rewards pupils for their good work but putting it up for the appreciation of the rest of the school. Or the kids’ parents at parents’ evenings. Ditto with the art. I think it helps to create an attitude among schoolchildren that it is their school, and creates a sense of a common school community. It’s what makes a school a school, rather than a prison.

I think this dour, very authoritarian attitude to education comes partly from Tory authoritarianism. The people at the top set the rules, and the lower orders have to obey, work and suffer. Conditions must be made as hard as possible to encourage people to work and improve themselves. It’s an attitude they’ve introduced into the welfare system by trying to make it as hard as possible to discourage people going onto benefits. This means making benefits all but impossible to obtain and doing their best to hide the fact that people are dying as a result. Now they’re introducing it to education.

I think it also partly comes from the Japanese school system that the Tories are desperate to emulate over here. I got the impression that discipline is extremely strict in Japanese schools, with staff even checking the children’s underwear to make sure they’re the right colour. It’s so strict in fact that in one year in the ’90s, five school kids were beaten to death by their teachers. But this discipline, supposedly, has led to the Japanese and other far eastern countries leading the world in high educational standards. However, a friend of mine told me years ago that this isn’t quite the case. Yes, the east Asian countries do lead the world in their educational standards, but the discipline and extremely hard work are actually typical of a relatively few Chinese and Japanese schools, not the system as a whole. And seeing how hard the schoolchildren in these countries are expected to work, you wonder if something is being lost. Hard work is important, but childhood should also be a time for fun.

Except to the Tories and Gavin Williamson, who seems to be so obsessed with a decline in school discipline that he’s seeing it where it doesn’t actually exist. Perhaps it’s another attempt to put state schools down after the failure of the algorithm he introduced a year ago to predict exam results. This aroused massive outrage because it unfairly assumed that pupils from state schools were perform far less well than those from private schools. Mike and the peeps on Twitter have suggested that Williamson might be trying to revenge himself on schoolkids after one of them tore apart his wretched algorithm on social media.

Whatever the cause, the fact remains that there has been no decline in school discipline. In fact, I’ve heard that in some schools the kids were actually better behaved. This means, as Mike has pointed out on his blog, that children have actually developed self-discipline. And good for them!

As for Williamson, this just shows how out of touch he is with real conditions in schools, and how determined he is to push the Tory view that all schoolchildren and young people are ill-behaved and need the firm hand of authority to keep them in order.

Brexit Bias on the Beeb: Points West Goes to Weston-Super-Mare

September 4, 2019

The Beeb, as has been pointed out by countless left-wing websites and academics, ad nauseam, has a very strong Tory bias. It’s shown in its determination to vilify the Labour party and Jeremy Corbyn at every chance it can get, while packing news shows like Question Time with Tory MPs, supporters and members of right-wing think tanks. And this right-wing bias seems to go right down to local news. Points West is the local news programme for the Bristol area, covering not just Bristol, but also Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire. Yesterday, as part of the coverage of the Brexit debates in parliament and the demonstrations both pro- and anti-, they decided to gauge local attitudes in our part of the West Country. This meant talking to three local MPs, Thangam Debonnaire in Bristol, the Tory MP for Tewkesbury and another Tory from the Forest of Dean. They wanted to talk to the latter because he was one of those who threw their hat into the ring when the party ousted Tweezer and started about deciding her successor. And it was very clear that he was a Brexiteer, who wanted the whole debate to be over and done with and everyone get behind BoJob. He couldn’t, however, say what benefits Brexit would bring his constituents in the Forest, and didn’t answer the question when David Garmston, the interviewer, asked him what he was going to tell them what they would be for his constituents. Instead he just waffled about how he was sure they wanted it over and done with as soon as possible, or were fully informed of the Brexit debate. Or something.

Then it was down to Weston-Super-Mare for a vox pop. The split, their presenter announced, between ‘Remain’ and ‘Leave’ voters was very narrow, 52% versus 48%. They were down in the north Somerset resort town because attitudes in Weston closely followed those nationally. But this wasn’t evident from the people they showed speaking. Points West put out two deck chairs, labelled ‘yes’ and ‘no’, and invited people to sit in them in answer to the questions ‘Do you want an election?’ and ‘Do you support Brexit’. I think they showed four people, of whom only one was Labour and a Remainer. The rest were Tories and very definitely Brexiteers. And what specimens of humanity they were! One was an elderly lady with a Midlands accent, who ranted about Remainers being ‘Remoaners’ and ‘snowflakes’, all the while making gestures suggesting that she thought they all ought to be thrown into the sea. She then went off giggling like an imbecile at what she thought was her own wit. She was followed by an elderly gent, who declared that he wanted a general election that would return the Tories with a massive majority. And then there was a young man from Salisbury, who was also behind Boris Johnson and Brexit.

These loudmouths reminded me of the Bill Hicks joke about evolution having passed by some pockets of humanity. ‘In some parts of our troubled world, people are shouting ‘Revolution! Revolution! In Kansas they’re shouting ‘Evolution! Evolution! We want our opposable thumbs’. Evolution isn’t supposed to go backwards. But you wonder. All the anxiety about food and medicine shortages – I know people, who are stocking up on their medicines already – as well as the devastation to the economy, manufacturing industry, jobs, all that went unmentioned by the Brexiteers on the sea front. Listening to the old chap declaring that he wanted an overwhelming Tory majority, I wanted to ask him, who he thought would continue paying his pension and if he had private medical insurance if this happened. Because the Tories are determined to cut pensions, one way or another, and they are selling off the NHS. And Nigel Farage has said very openly that we may need to change to an insurance-based system. Which is a not-very-coded way of saying that he’s in favour of it. But obviously these people weren’t concerned about any of that. They just believed everything they read in the papers, like the Heil, the Scum and the Torygraph.

And I doubt very much that these talking heads were representative of the good folks down in Weston-Super-Mare. If attitudes in the city really are like those nationally, then the people sitting on those chairs should be equally split. Instead it looks like the report was very carefully staged to favour the Brexiteers. Just like rather more Tory MPs were interviewed on the programme than Labour.

The programme was on tonight about Sajid Javid and how he grew up in his parents’ fashion shop in Stapleton Road in Bristol. Apparently he still proud of his roots there, despite the fact that it is a run-down area with a reputation. It’s topical, but I still wonder if it was anymore objective than last night’s edition about Brexit. I didn’t watch it, only catching a brief glimpse of it, when one of the interviewers was asking other Asian small businessmen in the area if they shared the national fears about the harm Brexit would do to businesses like theirs. It’s possible that the programme really was more unbiased. But somehow, given the nature of last night’s programme, I doubt it.

Dictator Johnson Unites Country Against Him

September 2, 2019

On Wednesday there were demonstrations against BoJob’s proroguing of parliament the same day as he, or rather, the West Country’s answer to the Slender Man, Jacob Rees-Mogg, persuaded the Queen to sign his wretched order. Even more followed on Saturday, with people marching up and down the country holding banners and placards, making it very clear what Johnson is: a dictator.

Jeremy Corbyn spoke to protesters in Glasgow denouncing BoJob’s decision. The Labour leader also issued a tweet thanking everyone who had taken to the streets both their and across the country, and pledging the Labour party to oppose BoJob’s attack on British democracy and stop a no-deal Brexit.

In London, demonstrators marched on Buckingham palace to make their feelings very known about the Queen’s decision to give in to his demand to assume authoritarian rule. The were also demonstrations in Hereford, Staffordshire, Nottingham, Oxford, King’s Lynn, where the local radio station for West Norfolk, KLFM 967 came down to cover the demo; and in Trafalgar Square in London.

Please see Mike’s blog for the images peeps posted on Twitter of these demonstrations: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/08/31/britons-take-to-the-streets-across-the-country-to-stopthecoup/

One of the most sharply observed was the banner at the beginning of Mike’s article, showing BoJob wearing a swastika armband and Nazi officer’s cap, flanked either side by the evil clown from Stephen King’s It, with balloons above them showing his and Rees-Mogg’s heads. This bore the slogan ‘Before 1933 People Thought Hitler Was A Clown Too…’. Yes, they did. One of the characters in Bernardo Bertolucci’s cinematic classic, The Conformist, makes that exact same point. The film’s about a man, who becomes a Fascist assassin after believing he has shot and killed the paedophile, who had attempted to assault him. In one scene, one of the characters reminisces how, when he was in Germany in the 1920s, there was a man, who used to go round the beer halls making speeches and ranting. ‘We all used to laugh at him’, the character recalls, and adds that they used to throw beer glasses at him. He then sombrely concludes ‘That man was Adolf Hitler’. And before he came to power, some Germans used to go to his rallies just for the fun of seeing who he would abuse next. Presumably this was in the same manner that people used to tune in to the genuine comedy character, Alf Garnett, although Garnett was very definitely a satirical attack on racism and the bigotry of working class Conservatism. Another banner made the same comparison with the Nazi machtergreifung: ‘Wake Up, UK! Or Welcome to Germany 1933′. Again, this is another, acute pertinent comparison. Everything Hitler did was constitutional, as was Mussolini’s earlier coup in Italy. Democracy collapsed in those countries because of its weakness, not because of the Fascists’ strength. And they were helped into power by right-wing elites in the political establishment, who believed that including them in a coalition would help them break a parliamentary deadlock and smash the left.

Zelo Street also covered the demonstrations against Johnson’s attempt to become generalissimo. The Sage of Crewe noted that not only were people marching in London, and large provincial cities like Leeds, Sheffield, Nottingham, Bristol, Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Newcastle, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Brighton, but they were also occurring in middle ranking towns like Shrewsbury, Bournemouth, Cirencester, Lichfield, Stroud, Colwyn Bay, Clitheroe, Oxford, Swindon, Middlesborough, Exeter, Southampton, Derby, Weston-super-Mare, Falmouth, Bangor, York, Poole, Leamington Spa. Cheltenham Spa, Chester and others. ‘Places that do not usually do protests’. And the protesters are not, whatever BoJob’s focus groups say, going to vote for him.

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/08/stop-coup-people-speak.html

I doubt that the demonstrations will personally have much effect on Johnson himself. He’s a typical Tory, and so has absolutely nothing but contempt for popular protest. However, the march on Buckingham Palace may have made an impression on the genuine guardians of the British constitution. The monarchy is supposed to be one of Britain’s central institutions, like parliament. Prime ministers come and go, but the monarchy is a central pillar of the British constitution. And its guardians in the British establishment may not take kindly to Johnson dragging the Queen down with him. There may also be some hope in that it was popular demonstrations and dissatisfaction with an unjust policy – the poll tax – that culminated in the removal of Thatcher. I hope it isn’t long before BoJob goes the same way.

 

 

 

Jeffrey Archer Demands Ban on Gambling Advertising in Radio Times

October 30, 2018

Heavens, and what is the world coming to! I’ve just read something by Jeffrey Archer that actually made sense, and with which I agreed. The scribe of Weston-Super-Mud is in the ‘Viewpoint’ column of the Radio Times today, for the week 3-9 November 2018. His piece is titled ‘We have a gambling epidemic’ and has the subheading ‘Cigarette advertising is banned – so why not ads for betting?’

Archer begins by talking about how the Beeb has lost much of its sport coverage to the commercial channels, and so he has his enjoyment of the footie, rugger, golf and cricket ruined by advertising for gambling. He describes how these try to tempt you into having a flutter, even though the odds are stacked against you. You may win occasionally, but in the long term you’ll lose. He then goes to compare this with tobacco advertising, which also took many years to ban because powerful commercial interests were involved, which also heavily sponsored sport. He also claims that the NHS wouldn’t be in crisis if no-one smoked, because the money thus saved would vastly outweigh the tax revenue tobacco brings in. He then writes

Fast forward: we now have a gambling epidemic. More than 400,000 punters have become addicts, 26,000 of them aged 16 or younger. So how long will it take the Government to ban gambling advertising on television? Far too long, I suspect. A good start was made at the Labour party conference in September by deputy leader Tom Watson, who promised immediate legislation to dealwith the problem if a Labour government were elected. Watson pointed out that several experts had shown that unfettered gambling causes impoverishment for the least fortunate in our society, and this often results in abusive behavior towards young children and partners,, and all too often ends in bankruptcy, imprisonment and even suicide.

Rewind: successive governments took years to acknowledge that “Smoking damages your health”, and even longer to admit that “Smoking kills” should be printed on every cigarette packet; and it took even more time before they finally stamped out all forms of smoking advertising. Please don’t let’s take another 20 years before the Government bans gambling advertising, and wastes a generation of young people simply because of the tax revenue.

He then recommends that Tweezer’s new Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, should steal Watson’s clothes and bring in tough legislation dealing with gambling addiction before the next election, because ‘No one ever remembers whose idea it was, only the party person who passed the law.’

His piece ends ‘The slogan ‘When the fun stops stop’ is pathetic, and will reman so until it’s stopped.’ (p. 15).

Archer and Watson are absolutely right about the damage tobacco advertising has done, and which gambling and the advertising for it is continuing to do. And obviously a disagree with his recommendation that the Tories should appropriate Labour’s policy. If they did, it would only be token gesture of actually doing something for ordinary people, like Hammond’s wretched budget. A cosmetic improvement designed to get them re-elected so they can continue wrecking people’s lives in other ways, through destroying what remains of the welfare state and privatizing the health service.

But I’ve absolutely no fear whatsoever that the Tories will ban gambling advertising, for the same reason that they’ve never banned advertising for alcohol. There are heavy restrictions on the way booze is advertised, but not an outright ban. Which the European Union wished to bring in, according to Private Eye a few years ago.

The contemporary Tory party is a creature of its corporate donors. Always has been, to a certain extent. The Tories have always boasted that they represent business, and their MPs, like MPs generally in a political culture dominated by corporate cash, include the heads and managing directors of companies. Indeed, this is one of the reasons the Tories are dying at grassroots level. Ordinary party members in the constituencies are annoyed at the way they’re being ignored in favour of the donors from big business.

Going back 30 years to Major’s government, there was a demand in the early 1990s for an end to alcohol advertising. Major’s government was firmly against it. And one of the reasons was that very many Tory MPs had links to the drinks industry. Which Private Eye exposed, giving a list of those MPs and their links to particular companies.

I’m very confident that the Tory party now has very strong connections to the gambling industry, and so will very definitely not want to risk losing their cash. Just as it wouldn’t surprise me that if Labour did try to ban gambling advertising, the Thatcherite entryists in the party would turn against it. One of Tony Blair’s grotty schemes was the establishment of megacasinos in this country, modelled on America, of course. One of the ideas being kicked around was to turn Blackpool into a British Las Vegas. It’s a very good thing it failed.

Archer’s absolutely right to want gambling advertising to be banned. But the Tories are the last party that’s going to do it. If any party will, it will be Labour under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.

Helen Maddock on the Anti-Atos Protests

February 21, 2014

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Helen Maddock commented on her experience of the anti-Atos protests on my piece ‘Spite and Contempt: How Atos Weston-Super-Mare Views Disabled Protestors’. She said

I attended my local protest and met some interesting people….this is only the beginning and already we have the DWP and Atos backing off. The staff at Southend allegedly left their Atos offices and joined the protesters outside as they too are sick of being bullied by Atos+DWP mandates. The few I met at Exeter were coherent and resolute and although we were but a few we gained much comfort and sustenance from meeting each other……..I too would have loved to have seen far more people turn out but we are sick and dependent so far less likely to be able to make it….perhaps this is why we were targeted in the first place. The chattering classes are finally catching on and they are off and running so who knows…..
Are you aware of DPAC these appear to me to be the most organised and I will continue to promote their work. Best wishes from all at the Raspberry Ritz.

It’s interesting that the demonstrators were joined by Atos staff at the Southend offices. There are clearly some decent people still left there, though unfortunately they’re a minority in a crushingly callous, indifferent and cruel organisation.

There may only have been relatively small numbers of people out at protests, but it’s a start. Hopefully, this’ll keep growing.

Spite and Contempt: How Atos Weston-Super-Mare Views Disabled Protestors

February 20, 2014

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Protestor with a sign found outside Atos’ Weston-Super-Mare offices yesterday.

I couldn’t let this go without a comment. Mike on his post about yesterday’s nationwide protests against Atos, ‘Delights-and Disgraces – of the Atos Day of Protest’ over at Vox Political reports how the scrawled message shown above greeted demonstrators outside Atos’ Weston-Super-Mare offices. He says of it and the nasty mentality behind it

Clearly this office contains some very hard-line supporters of government policy, whose attitude demonstrates the blinkered, small-minded, fantasy-world attitude that allows policies like the Atos assessment regime to exist in a supposedly advanced country like ours.

Ian Duncan Rimmer

Ian Duncan Smith: Has all the leadership ability and petty tyranny of Red Dwarf’s Arnold Judas Rimmer.

It also points to the kind of officious and pettily vindictive mentality now all too prevalent in the DWP under Ian Duncan Smith. I have already blogged before on the similarity, in my opinion, between Ian Duncan Smith in his delusions of political and military grandeur and his bully and contempt for those below him with Arnold Rimmer in the SF comedy Red Dwarf. It’s something of a truism that regimes take on the psychology of their leaders. The Soviet Union was a brutal tyranny, because its founders, Lenin and most particularly Stalin, were autocrats with a strong desire to seize and hold on to power and a fear of those below them. This psychology became a functional part of the system they created, with the officials at every level of the hierarchy bullying those below them, while at the same time plotting to take over their superiors’ positions when they in turn would be denounced and arrested.

Although politics in the USSR became much less lethal after Stalin’s death and the attacks on his ‘cult of personality’ in Khruschev’s Secret Speech of 1953, an attitude of petty officiousness and contempt for the Soviet public still remained among the system’s minor functionaries. Several Western writers on the Soviet Union noted how, wherever you went, there would always be a woman behind a desk, scowling at you and responding, ‘Nyelza!’ (‘It’s forbidden’) when you asked a question. One of the travel writers I read told how he was stuck in a stiflingly hot railway carriage during a journey through Russia in the 1980s. Despite the heat and the increasingly stuffy atmosphere, the carriage’s windows remained tightly closed. When he attempted to open them, the female supervisor rose up to snap them shut again with a snort of ‘Nyelza!’. The writer says at one point that the whole country appeared to be run by these ferocious women behind their desks.

The writer did, however, record a minor victory of the Soviet public over these petty officials. He was stuck in a long queue waiting to use the ‘Up’ escalator at the Moscow metro, if I recall correctly. There was no-one coming down the ‘Down’ escalator, which had a sign saying it was strictly forbidden to try to go up it. Standing in front of the escalators, making sure no-one did any such thing, was one of these ladies behind a desk. A young man then came running through the crowd, and before the female official could stop him, vaulted over the barrier and ran up the ‘Down’ escalator. The writer said he and the rest of the crowd silently rejoiced at this act of defiance. I don’t suggest anyone try this stunt, however, as I have a feeling someone was either killed or seriously injured a little while ago when doing something similar.

Ian Duncan Smith has similarly left his psychological mark on the Department for Work and Pensions. As I’ve blogged about before, this seems to be full of backbiting and treachery by the civil servants employed there, as they frantically compete for each other’s jobs. At the same time, all too many of them have complete contempt for the people below them. The Void especially has blogged about the outrage caused by some of these, who have boasted about the number of people they’ve sanctioned. He and many other Left-wing bloggers have also described the various secret instructions from the DWP to Jobcentre staff setting quotas for the number of claimants to be thrown off benefits. Some Jobcentres have even awarded prizes for those, who have sanctioned the most claimants, and there have been bonuses paid to those, who have done so.

Clearly, despite Atos claims that they are not responsible for government policy, they fully share the contempt for the disabled and the unemployed shown by IDS and his staff in the DWP and Jobcentres. This attitude is blatantly clear in the above sign. In my experience, and those of many of the disabled people and their carers, who have commented on this blog, Atos and their officials are mendacious in the extreme. They have and will lie in the assessments and will falsify claimants’ answers in the assessment forms in order to have them thrown off their benefit. Their conduct and the assessment itself is based on the presumption that most people claiming benefit are actually capable of some work, even when it is clear that they cannot. In their view, they are, like the great mass of the unemployed, just scroungers, and so should be treated as such. Hence this nasty little sign.

I don’t know if this would actually help anyone, but if anyone in Weston-Super-Mare is in dispute with Atos over the results of their assessment, it might be worth pointing to this sign as an example of the prejudice and contempt Atos has towards their claimants.

I am also of the opinion that whatever Atos and the DWP try to say to the contrary, this sign should be given all the publicity it truly deserves to show just how Atos and its staff are motivated by contempt and spite towards the most vulnerable members of society. At a time when even the nastiest companies are concerned to give themselves the best, media-friendly image possible, this might cause them some degree of embarrassment. It probably won’t embarrass their boss, Thierry Breton, or Ian Duncan Smith and the disabilities’ minister, Esther McVey, as their too far gone for any kind of shame or even basic humanity by now. But it might – just might – add another little piece to pull their marketing managers up short, and make others question the wisdom of doing business with a company with such a bad reputation.

Okay, it probably won’t. For all the bad publicity, Serco, Atos and G4S are still in business. But as ASDA keeps reminding us, ‘Every little bit helps’. Or is that Sainsbury’s?

If you’re planning another protest against Atos in Weston-Super-Mare, their address is Regent House, Oxford Place, Weston-Super-Mare, Somerset, BS23 1JH. They also have a website here http://www.atoshealthcare.com/claimants/locations_home/Locations_Details_Weston%20.