Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Jimmy Savile And The Halloween Roadshow

And so our national broadcaster's flagship news and current and affairs documentary has now transmitted a forensic and shame-faced enquiry into the editorial failings of the corporation's weeknight news analysis programme and their decision to drop an expose of teenage rampager Sir Jimmy Jangles and his industrial fiddling.

The various glowing tributes shown upon Savile's death in counterpoise to the grim truth were most certainly examples of  base and shameless media manipulation and let alone with regard to a subject whose worst-case scenario outplay as it devolves may not be the kind of matter to discuss with your maiden aunt.

Scary no-fucking-nonsense northern hard man Sir Jimmy certainly gauged the soft white southern middle class, suburban, nerdish, semi-feudal, class-ridden, po-faced, nepotistic, faux-jolly, sneering, colonial, oddball, drink-sodden, pompous, margarine-bland, backslapping and smug working culture at the BBC to a tee and acted accordingly with help of some selectively blind eyeballs that are now luxuriating in the cosy warmth of public-funded pensions.

The only redeeming factor in this whole sordid mess being the fact that the greatest television show of all on the BBC in the Seventies was an American import anyway with regard to Phil Silvers' Sgt Bilko and his japes and scams at Fort Baxter and Camp Fremont for CBS.

Either way, and surpassing even the dynamics of our spiv economy and Ponzi-housing market, this is surely a new low in the uniquely awful social dissolution of our country into a moral desert.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Jimmy Savile And The Fall Of The House Of Fab

Phil Mac Giolla Bhain's Downfall which I mentioned in the previous post was an analysis of the death of Glasgow Rangers football club set against the clear background of the failure of the mainstream Scottish media to focus on the club's Olympian financial problems. Bhain notes with regard to his own blog's crusade to provide accurate financial data on the matter for public consumption and indeed the radical new dispensation of our times:

The digital revolution, like all such paradigm shifts, is no respecter of tradition or reputation. Revolutions are by their nature convulsive events, releasing such a torrent of pent-up energy that they destroy that which had previously seemed timeless and immovable.

And hence into the most disastrous fortnight in the history of our national broadcaster and the household name of Sir Jimmy Jangles that may well be engraved on its tombstone.

The revelations now firestorming their way across the digital networks of the world throw a grim light on both unsavoury sexual mores of the Sixties and Seventies and the astounding notion that the most incomprehensible urban legends and folk myths of our country's social history were based on literal fact and accepted wisdom after all - this as aided by institutional failings of both criminal dimension and Herculean proportion.

And so another treasured memory of British childhood - the annual joyous thumb through the Seventies Christmas Radio Times for the golden hours of family entertainment ahead in our frost-kissed and beloved island home - heads towards the same old overflowing maggoty dustbin of historical sorrow, loss and shame.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Ghostlands

One of the most chilling commentaries I ever read concerning the Ulster Troubles was with regard to an early Catholic victim of Loyalist violence who was shot outside a Belfast pub that he had went into after hours with work colleagues. His mother recalled how her son had realised right away that the atmosphere was bad there and told his friends he wanted to leave. He was murdered shortly thereafter. Sobering words indeed with regard to the mindless and random nature of so much violence in Northern Ireland during three decades when a literal blanket of evil and waste fell across the country.

Albeit in non-fatal respects it is quite clear that much of mainland Britain has also become enshrouded with darkness since the latter half of the last decade with rank greed, jealousy and avarice. I have recently re-read Dan Atkins and Larry Collins' THE GODS THAT FAILED economic overview of the period when a commonality of wealth was meant to organically flow from the point when financial services became the vanguard of all economic life.

The afterglow of oligarchic excess and credit-strapped and galloping austerity for the middle classes not having been thrown up in advance as a potential side-effect of such fiscal wizardry of course. And this as copperfastened by the twin cultural dynamics of gaping disassociation from our national past and the dearth of any hope for the majority of the working population as regards an aspirational or even sustainable future.

When the good ship Glasgow Rangers was dashed against the rocks of financial witchcraft earlier this year - as analysed in Phil Mac Giolla Bhain's jawdropping Downfall -  it stirred lost shadows of once-associated and now extinguished Scottish small business thrift and Clydeside industrial might alike.

Great Britain in turn now resembles the kind of dream-like tropical island that a cruise ship would bypass on the way from Southampton Docks to southern climes in days of yore  - golden beachs and aquamarine surf fronting pestilential swamps, leprous villages and something unspeakable seeking sacrifice in the foggy and sulphurous interior.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Ulster Day 1912 - King's Rebels And The Road To The Somme


Last weekend in Belfast the Ulster Day or Ulster Covenant Day parade commemorations blessedly passed off in peace. The 100th anniversary of an occasion when the most British people in Great Britain and the British Empire threatened to take on the might of the British Army and the British State to stay British.

The possibility of political stability ever evolving off the back of a successful Home Rule bill implementation has been discussed in a recent post and of course the fateful and flawed course of self-determination that the Northern State played out for half a century prior to 1972 needs no further qualification by way of its violent denouement. The historical importance of 1912 within British social history however remains unequivocal.

The end of the House of Lords veto with the passing of the Parliament Act of 1911 had lead to the introduction of a constitutionally unassailable third Home Rule Bill in 1912. In Ulster the economic gulf with the rest of Ireland had increased substantially since the start of the century with the Lagan Valley now forming an integral part of a great commercial triangle along with Clydeside and Merseyside. Unionist leaders stressed how the constitution had been sold out to an electoral numbers game, that the various Land Acts had solved so many long-term Irish grievances and that the bill’s limitations on the Home Rule parliament’s financial independence could not be squared with any final satisfaction of nationalist demands.

The propaganda of the Union Defence League and British League for the Defence of Ulster on the mainland accompanied a British Covenant organised by Lord Milner that garnered two million signatures while Colonel T.E. Hickman MP was busy recruiting English army officers to cross the Irish Sea and fight for Ulster. Support would also be received from the Scots-Irish diaspora in North America, Australasia and South Africa.

Dubliner Sir Edward Carson, convinced of the sincerity of the Ulster position by a parade of 50,000 loyalists at Craig’s East Belfast home of Craigavon on 23rd September 1911, would threaten to set up a provisional government for the Protestant province of Ulster. Fervent encouragement was then given in turn by the Canadian-born Conservative Party leader Bonar Law in speeches at Balmoral in Belfast in April 1912 and at Blenheim Palace the following month.

On “Ulster Day” of 28th September 1912, and as a climax to a series of province-wide meetings, a Solemn League and Covenant was to be signed by over 471,414 unionists - several in their own blood.  In January 1913 an Ulster Volunteer Force eventually 90-100,000 strong was formed by the Ulster Unionist Council Military Committee to formalise earlier licensed drilling in paramilitary Unionist Clubs which had mushroomed in the wake of the bill’s passing. With the Ulster rebels having moved irrevocably towards a coup d’etat by March of that year, rumours began to steadily mount of imminent UVF raids for arms against British armouries in the north. Churchill ordered the Royal Navy to Northern Irish and Scottish waters, drafted plans for a raid on Craigavon and considered the arrests of Carson and Law.

ATQ Stewart's classic 1967 The Ulster Crisis history recalls a Daily Express report from Belfast from April of that year that captures the critical mass moment afoot:

Tonight there is a watching Covenanter in every church tower in Ulster, ready to sound the tocsin that will bring the citizen army into being. When two rocket bombs are fired over the Old Town Hall it will be too late to talk of compromise, for at the signal Ulster will go to arms.

The speculative moves to crush or provoke the UVF were counteracted by officers of the Third Cavalry Brigade at the Curragh camp in Kildare who refused to countenance action against the Ulster rebels. Subsequently Frederick Crawford organised Operation Lion - the running of 24,600 rifles and two million rounds of ammunition from Hamburg into the ports of Larne, Belfast, Bangor and Donaghadee. The UVF could now dispose of its wooden training weapons as Carson and Craig brought the gun back into Irish politics by way of the German Mauser, the Austrian Maennlicher and the Italian Vetterli-Vitali. This to the profound and undisguised admiration of Irish nationalist leader Padraig Pearse.

However with the onset of war Home Rule was placed on the statute book and suspended - the UVF were constituted as the 36th Ulster Division along with the 2000-strong Young Citizen Volunteers of Ireland . The UVF rebellion would be transformed into a day of terrible destiny on 1st July 1916 north and south of the River Ancre near Thiepval Wood at the Battle of the Somme.

5,500 men of the Division were to be killed or injured on the first day of the attack - the old Battle of the Boyne anniversary. The Ulster Division were the only Allied soldiers on the Thiepval sector on the first day of battle to capture the first line of German defences and with some even reaching the second. The following year at the Battle of Messines, 30,000 Irishmen fought together as part of the 16th Irish and 36th Ulster Divisions. Irish nationalist leader John Redmond’s brother Willie, who was also a Westminster MP, would be killed here and his body recovered from the battlefield by the men of the old UVF.

Ulster Covenant Day was indeed a fundamental pointer on the tragic road to partition and civil war in the North and South of Ireland- alongside profound emotional division and distancing amongst its peoples -  though the dynamics of national  and political identity are of course much more complex than any linear narrative can relate.

Indeed one particular Belfast speech to the UVF underscores the often inclusive cultural and political fusion of Carson the Ulsterman, the Irishman and the Briton  - leader of the King’s Rebels and a risen people alike:

Remember you have no quarrel with individuals. We welcome, aye and we love every individual Irishman, even though opposed to us. Our quarrel is with the Government. If they wish to test the legality of anything we are doing, or have done, do not let them take humble men. I am responsible for everything. They know where to find me, for I never ask any man to do what I am not myself ready to do.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Bill Shankly - The People Are The Times


Growing up in Belfast in the Seventies there were overwhelmingly two main teams that captured the support of young people and adults alike in the city - Manchester United and Liverpool.

I have recently been watching some wonderful footage relating to Liverpool manager Bill Shankly who was in charge there between 1959 and 1974 - the extraordinary scenes of celebration at Anfield at the end of the 1972-73 Championship winning season, former Liverpool striker and player-manager of Swansea Town John Toshack wearing the red jersey during the silent tribute to Shankly upon his death in 1981 and the reception that his widow received while attending celebrations at Anfield on the last day of the terraced  Kop in May 1994.

The passion, pride and populist appeal of Shankly has been discussed in depth in many books and documentaries - the best of which being the aforementioned Hugh McIlvanney BBC Arena special The Football Men about the Ayrshire-born Liverpool manager and his contemporaries Matt Busby and Jock Stein of Manchester United and Celtic who both hailed from similarly tough working class mining backgrounds in Lanarkshire in Scotland.

Perhaps the greatest and oft-recalled of so many commentaries from Shankly was that delivered to thousands of cheering fans at Liverpool's St George's Hall in 1971 and following the 2-1 defeat by Arsenal in that year's FA Cup final:

Ladies and gentlemen, yesterday at Wembley we may have lost the Cup, but you the people have won everything...you have conquered. You have won over the policemen in London. You won over the London public and it's questionable if Chairman Mao of China could have arranged such a show of strength as you have shown yesterday and today. Defeat? What is that? A detail brothers and sisters, a footnote in the struggle for supremacy. We. You and Me. Liverpool. Yes, Liverpool. Together we can conquer the world. Since I came here to Liverpool..to Anfield....I've drummed it into our players - time and again - that they are privileged to play for you. And if they didn't believe me - they believe me now.

Prior to 1971 under Shankly Liverpool FC had won two First Division and one Second Division League Championship titles, one FA Cup and three FA Charity Shields. Subsequent to that St George's Place speech Liverpool would win a further League Championship, an FA Cup, an FA Charity Shield and a UEFA Cup in European competition under his management. His successor at Anfield Bob Paisley would win an extraordinary twenty honours for the Merseyside team in nine years off the back of Shankly's legacy - six League Championships, three League Cups, six FA Charity Shields, three European Cups, one UEFA Cup and one UEFA Super Cup.

Some other words of wit and wisdom from the former miner from Glenbuck that are still remembered with fondness and pride around the world to this day include his welcome to fellow Scot Ian St John on arrival at the club - 'Son, you'll do well here as long as you remember two things. Don't over-eat and don't lose your accent." When one of football's most resolute Sixties and Seventies hard men Tommy Smith turned up for training with a bandaged knee he was admonished with the barbed  "Take that poof bandage off, and what do you mean YOUR knee, it's LIVERPOOL'S knee!"  He did however underscore at another juncture to the very same Anfield Iron that "You son, could start a riot in a graveyard."

Shankly's mastery of the rich art of bowelling - the jet black, sarcastic and surreal leg pulling and stirring whose geographical epicentre is located between the three great shipbuilding port cities of Liverpool, Belfast and Glasgow - knew no bounds and especially with regard to the blue half of Merseyside. After Alan Ball had signed to Everton he congratulated him with the words "Don't worry Alan. At least you'll be able to play close to a great team". He also would observe "In my time at Anfield we always said we had the best two teams on Merseyside - Liverpool and Liverpool reserves".

As for the union of hearts and minds across the brotherhood of Europe, Shankly would once tell a translator, while being surrounded by overenthusiastic Italian journalists, "Just tell them I completely disagree with everything they say!'"

Tom Darby's Talking Shankly includes the recollection of Liverpool's Brian Hall who supplemented his income while playing in the reserves - and studying at Liverpool University - with bus conducting shifts. On arriving at Anfield in uniform, as prior to a stint on the buses, Shankly noticed the young player's lack of height and commented "Bloody hell! It looks like we've signed Jimmy Clitheroe". Then, upon hearing who Hall was, he added, "Hello son, great, aye. You're the boy from university. Tell me, laddie, do you need a university degree these days to be a bus conductor?"

Towards his adopted home of Liverpool and its people Shankly most certainly held little back on an emotional level - "I'm just one of the people who stands on the kop. They think the same as I do, and I think the same as they do. It's a kind of marriage of people who like each other." Hence with regard to the famous 'This is Anfield' plaque, which both teams run under to enter the stadium ground, Shankly underscored "'This is to remind our lads who they're playing for, and to remind the opposition who they're playing against." His own autobiography in turn noting  "Above all, I would like to be remembered as a man who was selfless, who strove and worried so that others could share the glory, and who built up a family of people who could hold their heads up high and say 'We're Liverpool'."

Comparing a great socialist thinker and true leader of men of this ilk to the monstrous and buffoon-like leaders of the British party of labour in the past thirty years is truly tear-inducing. Similar feelings may be elicited in turn from watching the black and white clips from the Panorama current affairs series in 1964 showing The Kop in its magnificent and electrifying glory with 20,000 souls singing The Beatles' She Loves You in generational unison. A working people and a sense of place literally vaporised by deindustrialisation, asset stripping and political and cultural contempt from the metropolis in the Eighties.

A feeling indeed that so many people share now in modern London where the staggering demographic and physical changes gathering pace on a weekly basis  induce profound senses of dislocation and alienation through any rational observation. The local independent bookshop beside where I work in North West London has recently put a selection of books about beekeeping in the inner cities in its shop window to add to the grotesque Kafkaesque gloom.

A million miles indeed from those lost shadows of Merseyside, West Central Scotland and Ulster on the ethnic frontier of Britain and Ireland - a shared political and industrial history and a common ground of personality, warmth and so much laughter.

As with regard to that very fraught social distance from the metropolis, a scene in the final series of BBC Scotland's Burnistoun showed three teenage boys playing their computer games in a bedroom only to be interrupted by their mate Marky Boy whose life was ruined by taking an Ecstacy-like Thatcher Pill which turned him into a cross-dressing English Conservative leader - "Sorry man sorry….I’ve bin gettin ma heed aff bout shipyards all day. I tell ye ..see by the time I’m done we the Scottish…they’ll no forget me."

Likewise, a youtube clip of the most recent Paul McCartney tour from one Liverpool gig included a scene when the singer was recalling the old days of Merseybeat and an incident involving Cilla Black. As the crowd hissed - and an obviously taken aback McCartney weighed up the surprising scorn for a fellow Home Counties resident, Merseyside exile and national icon - one member of the audience scoffed "Welcome back to Liverpool Macca!"

Alike the Shankly years in this pool of life, the people still are the times.