Tag Archives: Guardian

A newspaper mystery & Britain in 1950

The mysterious smudged Guardian

The mysterious smudged copy of he Guardian

I was passing through Kings Cross St Pancras tube station a couple of days ago when I saw. in the Evening Standard bins, some newspapers which were not Evening Standards.

Several were an odd, blurred-print, 40-page edition of, apparently, The Guardian. Except everything was artistically smudged and it was some edition covering the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi in Libya.

Maybe it was some bit of agitprop, but there seemed to be no message.

Maybe it was some offbeat advert for some product, but there was no visible plug anywhere.

The other paper in the Evening Standard bin was a copy of the long-deceased Daily Graphic newspaper dated Friday March 24, 1950. The headline was:

STOP THE CRIME WAVE

and that story ran beside a photograph of Queen Mary doing needlework in the garden of Marlborough House. The caption inexplicably said: Picture released, yesterday, as New York hailed her million-stitch carpet.

The Crime Wave story said, in part:

The viewpoint on crime in 1950

A viewpoint on law and a crime wave in 1950

Lord Goddard, Lord Chief Justice, warned the Government in the House of Lords last night that the wave of violence must be stopped. A way of ending it had got to be found.

“If the crime wave goes on,” he said gravely, “the demand that it be stopped will be overwhelming.

“Strength must be applied. I hope to goodness it will not be applied too late.”

But Lord Goddard, who was speaking in the second day’s debate on a motion calling attention to the crime wave, made it clear that he was not asking for corporal punishment to be brought back.

“It is one thing,” he explained, “to deplore – as I do – abolition of all forms of corporal punishment, and another to demand their reimposition.

“My reluctance to do so is because I think there is nothing worse than continually altering penalties….

“It is true I suggested the abolition of the ‘cat’ and the retaining of other forms – not merely the birch, but the cane, so that boys could have been caned…

“When a prisoner comes out after having the ‘cat’,” he said, “he is treated as a martyr or hero.

“But when he gets the birch he knows he will come out the object of ridicule – and nothing kills so quickly as ridicule.”

A double-page Guardian spread

Double-page Guardian spread in a 40-page enigmatic paper

The 1950 copy of the Daily Graphic was maybe an insight into another world 65 years ago.

But why it was in a modern-day Evening Standard bin and what the purpose was/is of the multiple smudged copies of The Guardian remains an utterly unexplained mystery.

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My dream island: my latest visit

This is not the island that I write about

This is not the island that I write about

There is an idyllic little island which, I think, is off the north west coast of Africa.

You reach it via an entrance in the basement of the Odeon cinema in Leicester Square, London.

It has lots of TV channels and they are thinking of starting a TV channel which will tell you about any programme changes on any of the other channels.

I was thinking about the island this morning as I woke up.

I was trying to figure out if this was a real place or if I was dreaming about it. What confused me was that I had been there before.

Maybe a couple of times, maybe three times.

Guardian reported on San Serriffe in 1977

Guardian reported on San Serriffe in 1977

And this was strange because I never remember my dreams – which made me fairly sure this morning that this must be reality and not a dream.

In fact, I am not sure I have actually been to the island. Unlike most dreams, there were no visual details – which, again, made me fairly certain it was not a dream. It was more like I was experiencing the concept of an island reached via the basement of the Odeon cinema in Leicester Square, rather than the reality.

All I could really see and all I really remember is the view within the stairwell leading down into the basement of the Odeon, Leicester Square, not any sight on the island.

I have been to the island more recently than the Odeon

I have been to the island more recently than the Odeon

I do not think I have been to the Odeon, Leicester Square, for perhaps a year or eighteen months.

Perhaps the Odeon chain have found a way to reach into people’s minds to practise subliminal advertising.

I guess it must have been a dream this morning. But the dream was very real. Though strangely un-detailed. Which made me think it was real, because a dream would be more vivid.

I usually write down in this blog the few dreams I remember.

If I start remembering too many dreams, I think I may have to stop writing them down.

I think it is possible you may agree with me.

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The British upper-middle media class hates anyone who is genuinely popular

Sid Yobbo….Do they mean him?

Derek Jameson died on Wednesday. His death was reported yesterday; I suspect most people had forgotten about him.

It is Friday today; I suspect most people have forgotten about his death. Yet he was very famous. In his time. Being one of the most famous people in Britain is always just a raindrop in time on a small island at the edge of the North Atlantic Ocean.

I think, when I was at college, he may have been one of our guest lecturers. Perhaps more than once. I really can’t remember.

Yet he was editor of three national newspapers – the Daily Express, Daily Star and News of the World. Then he became a famous voice on radio, a famous face on TV, had his own series – several of ’em’… And – one of the best signs of fame for a populist personality – Private Eye created a name when they regularly lampooned him – Sid Yobbo. They called him that because of his strong Cockney accent and what were seen as his ‘down-market’ tastes.

He was the sort of person Guardian readers – and, indeed, Private Eye readers – always sneer at.

It was snobbery masquerading as… Well, it wasn’t even really bothering to masquerade as anything. It was just out-and-out snobbery. The chattering classes of Islington did not like him because he spoke with a ‘cor blimey’ accent, was someone who had the proverbial common touch, was much-loved by ‘the masses’ and did not go to Oxbridge.

I mean, my dear, he left school and went out to work at 14…!!!

On BBC Radio 4, it was once said he was “so ignorant he thought erudite was a type of glue”.

But you don’t get where he got by being ignorant nor by being unintelligent.

He was an orphan who grew up in care homes, became a Fleet Street (ie newspaper industry) messenger boy at the age of 14 and made it to the top of his very prickly tree… by which I mean it’s full of pricks.

He may have been a horrible man… or a nice man… I have no idea. But he was vilified in the minority circles of up-their-own-arse media luvvies because he was seen as ‘common’ and because what he did was read, watched, listened-to and liked by more millions than have ever heard of any Booker Prize winner.

Mad inventor John Ward, who designed and made the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award trophies, met Derek Jameson in the late 1980s.

“I appeared as a guest on one of his Jameson Tonight chat shows on Sky TV,” John told me yesterday.

“At the time, Sky had only been running a short while and Derek’s show had only been on air a matter of weeks. It was pre-recorded and then screened about an hour later.

“The show was recorded before an audience at the old Windmill Theatre, which had been turned into a television production studio and renamed Paramount City. The audience, it seemed to me, were literally ‘hooked off’ the street outside!

“When I was a guest on the show, we had the rehearsal/run through session and drifted off to have tea and biscuits before getting ready for the taping.

“Other guests on the show that night included actress Shirley Anne Field, Don King the American boxing promoter and Maria Elena Holly (Buddy’s widow). While I was waiting to follow them into Make Up, I asked Derek what the ratings for his show were. After careful consideration, he told me:

Well, as we are new ‘ere, in England, it’s not really registered ‘ere yet, cos there are not a lot of folk who’ve got SKY ‘ere so far but… I’m told we are really shit hot in Murmansk!

“He was a true down to earth trouper and I shall miss him because – unlike a lot of them – he was for real. What you saw, is what you got. R I P Derek.”

As an afterthought, John Ward added:

“One good thing about appearing on his show is that at least I can say I appeared at the Windmill…”

O quam cito transit gloria mundi

Now there’s something Derek Jameson would never have said.

But the world, as always, has turned and changed. Now we have Google Translate. But no Derek Jameson.

So it goes.

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Should the BBC be putting on free shows at the Edinburgh Fringe?

(This was published on 8th August as my first column in Three Weeks magazine, under the title Is Auntie Stealing Your Bums on Seats?)

Three Weeks – on the streets of Edinburgh now

At the start of this year’s Fringe, comedian Stewart Lee lashed out in The Guardian at the ‘Big Four’ Fringe venues. It is not uncommon to attack the overheads imposed on performers by the Big Four. I have done it myself in my daily blog.

Last week, I heard doyenne of Fringe comedy critics and fellow Malcolm Hardee Award judge Kate Copstick tell Mat Ricardo in the chat show part of his Voodoo Varieties show: “In comedy, the audience is dwindling up the arse-hole of television. You could have a crock of shit live on stage at one of the major venues and, if they added an ‘As seen on Mock The Week’ or ‘Star of Michael McIntyre’s Roadshow’ strap on the poster, it would sell out at £16 a pop.

“And then”, she continued, “you get somebody who’s dragged up the arse-end of a tour that has been every place in the UK except Edinburgh to do seven nights at the EICC or somewhere. Fuck you! The Fringe isn’t the place to do that. This is the place to do new stuff, interesting stuff. Don’t just schlep up some tired old crap because you know there’s enough dumb people who’ll pay £16 a ticket for it!”

I agree. But I was interested to find a new target for abuse this week. I was chatting to Mervyn Stutter – up here for the 21st year of his Pick Of The Fringe shows. “There seems to be increasing irritation among comics,” I said to him, “about Big Name TV comedians including Edinburgh in their tours and doing a couple of nights at a big-seater venue, which takes those punters out of circulation for other, smaller Fringe shows”.

“Well, yes”, agreed Mervyn, “last year one of them did a whole four week run at an 800-seater. You don’t want to be unfair, but couldn’t they have done that in September or October? They’re taking money away from struggling comics with less clout”.

“We’re used to that though,” he continued. “You shrug your shoulders and say ‘The Fringe is organic; people can do what they like’. But when I looked at the Fringe Programme this year, under B in Comedy, there were yards of BBC programmes. Pages of them. What the hell is the BBC doing up here? Their shows are free. They have stars in. And you don’t have to pay. Why is the BBC doing so many shows here? It spreads the audience energy too wide”.

“There are 2500 shows being put on by small people with a tight budget or no budget – sometimes on overdrafts.”

“You can only spread bums on seats so far”, I agreed.

“Exactly”, agreed Mervyn. “In the past, there have been only one or two BBC shows and there have been queues round the block. Performers think: ‘Oh, that would have been nice for an audience at my show’. But it’s free and it’s famous and it’s the BBC. It’s an attractive deal. I would go. Brilliant… if there were only a couple of shows”.

“But this year there are acres of BBC shows. I’m sorry. It’s irritating. It’s the Fringe. We’re on against the Olympics. And it’s hard enough already. It’s a legitimate complaint. I’ve nothing against the BBC, but why are they here putting on so many shows? In the past, it was Just a Minute with Paul Merton and you could say, ‘Well, Paul Merton’s a good Fringe person and there’s a connection’. But some of these new shows have no connection with the Fringe at all. It’s about branding and placement and the result is essentially spreading an audience too thin”.

“Fewer bums on more seats,” I agreed. “In the Fringe Programme this year,” said Mervyn, “that would be printed as B*ms.”

(You can download the full Week 1 issue of Three Weeks by clicking HERE)

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Edinburgh Fringe news: cookies, gays, Jews & will Guardian newspaper close?

It is not just lines of coke confusing life at Edinburgh Fringe

Being at the Edinburgh Fringe can be a bit like the long-gestating new tram system: no-one knows what’s going on. It is like being in a self-contained bubble. The outside world disappears into mist. All the moreso this year as BBC TV News appears to have given up reporting most news except the Olympics. I have been watching Al Jazeera and, superb as they are, they tend not to report too much UK news trivia.

I completely missed the news that London’s Time Out listings magazine announced last week that it is going to become a free publication.

We live – as the Chinese curse goes – in interesting times.

Someone told me this morning that the Guardian is currently selling so few copies per day of its print edition that Alan Rusbridger, the editor, is no longer committed to the print edition and is inclined to cease publication of the printed paper within a year, relying on the millions who access it online. Even now, there is more Guardian content free to access online than in the pay-to-read print newspaper. So why buy it?

Is this true or is it gossip or is it spin?

It is not happening inside the Fringe bubble in Edinburgh in the next three weeks. So who cares?

Meanwhile, Fringe life continues apace. After I saw Half Past Bitch at the Hive yesterday afternoon, its co-star Daphna Baram told me:

Daphna Baram shares cookies yesterday

“Last night I got on a taxi at 5.00am. The driver immediately asks me if I am a comedian and took an interest in my shows. He was in his 50s and he said he was a Scottish Moroccan. I told him that Mina Znaidi, my partner in Half Past Bitch, is Moroccan. He looked at her photo on the flyer and said She’s a good looking woman. Is she good?

“I embarked in praise of Mina’s comedic mirth but he dismissed it all, saying By ‘Is she good’ I mean does she do as she’s told? I was quite shocked and very drunk but not enough to realise that it would probably not be a good idea to quote back at him Mina’s joke: I was raised to be an obedient girl; I never say no to anal… You don’t want to know his reaction.”

Daphna and Mina’s show has a good selling point for would-be punters. They are given free cookies when they come into the room at The Hive. “Our slogan,” says Daphna, “is Free comedy. Free cookies. Free shelter from the rain. Three for the price of none.”

The downside is that the show is only on until Friday.

Wedding Bells? David Mills and Daphna Baram? No.

I stayed on at the Hive yesterday afternoon to see David Mills’ show David Mills is Smart Casual – Free.

“How do you stay stylish in this weather?” I asked David.

“Stay indoors,” he replied.

“I’m the best-dressed female comic in Edinburgh,” Daphna Baram said as she left. “And David’s the best-dressed male comic.”

“I don’t want to be in this competition,” said David. “This is the Fringe. How can you compete with half-naked teenagers doing an all-male version of The Diary of Anne Frank in a sweaty basement?”

“What was that I saw last year on your chat show with Scott Capurro?” I asked. “I seem to remember semi-naked men.”

David celling his show at The Hive

“It was the all-male version of Sweet Charity,” David reminded me.

“Ah, yes!” I said. “Did you enjoy that?”

“Well, I enjoyed watching (chat show guest) Simon Callow try not to pop a boner.”

“Can I say that in my blog?” I asked. “Has Simon Callow come out?”

“Out, John? He was never in!. What are you? Nuts?”

“Well, I don’t follow the ins and outs of gay life,” I said defensively. “Is your show this year your first solo Fringe show?”

“Yes,” said David, “it’s me on a stool looking great talking for laughs. Is your eternally-un-named friend up in Edinburgh with you?”

“No,” I said. “She doesn’t fancy the crowds and the thought of being with comedians en masse talking about themselves.”

“Well,” said David, “it is like being a therapist because it’s just one clown after another talking about themselves. Me too.”

“I’m sure you enjoy it.”

“Are you kidding? It’s a nightmare. This is a complete nightmare. When I do my show on the continent, it’s mostly non-verbal.”

“Do you?” I said, amazed, “But you’re not a non-verbal comedian. You…”

“I was joking, John,” said David. “It was a joke.”

“I really shouldn’t mix with comedians, should I?” I said. “You’re like Dave Allen; very verbal. Including the chair. I guess you never saw Dave Allen in the US?”

Dave Allen – an influence in the US?

“Yeah,” said David. “They used to show Dave Allen on Public Television when I was growing up in Pennsylvania before we moved to the West Coast and I would sit there literally going Who is this old freak with half a finger, drinking and sitting on a stool? I couldn’t understand most of it because the accent was too thick. But the style of it was so great. It was really compelling.”

“Did he actually inspire you?” I asked. “I want to sit on a stool and do that sort of stuff?

“Well,” said David. “I saw it as a kid and many years passed and I was doing comedy and I did a bit of cabaret, sitting on a stool and then it came back to me and I Googled it and found the name Dave Allen and thought That’s it! That’s the guy! and I started watching and thought That’s it! almost like I had retained it in my mind without remembering his name.”

“I suppose,” I said, “that Dave Allen was really doing a 1930s American cabaret format.”

“Exactly!” said David. “I knew that style already from the US scene, but Dave Allen really crystallised it although American cabaret is very different from British cabaret. British cabaret has that end-of-the-pier and music hall element. American cabaret is literally sat-on-a-stool, singing show tunes, bantering with the audience. I was doing that, getting nowhere and simply cut the piano player.”

David will be singing on my two hour Malcolm Hardee Awards Show on 24th August.

“The song I’m thinking of singing on your show,” David told me, “isn’t really a comedy song.”

“I’ll have to hear it,” I said. “But variation is good. If I put it after or before slapstick it might work.”

David’s show at The Hive was followed by one of Lewis Schaffer’s two daily Fringe shows. I made my excuses and left (look, I know Lewis – and The Scotsman gave him a 4-star review today – he doesn’t need me). On the way out, bumped into my Facebook friend Laura Levites. She told me that she and Lewis both came from Great Neck in New York.

Lewis tells me Great Neck is “an iconic location for rich, flashy, post-poor Jews and a smattering of the failed Jews”.

“It sounds like an interesting blog if I can get you and Laura together,” I said.

“I just want to stand next to her,” said Lewis.

Lewis Schaffer counts one of his plates

Entirely coincidentally, through six degrees of accident, my evening was rounded-off by a meal with Lewis Schaffer (an American living in England), Spring Day (an American living in Japan) and Billy Watson (a Scot living in Turkey). That epitomises the Edinburgh Fringe.

At the end of the meal, we divided the cost and Lewis decided to collect our notes and pay the £50 bill with his small change.

This passes for normal during the Edinburgh Fringe.

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Before “Star Wars” men, I dream of comic Stewart Lee in a tight-fitting suit

Slow traffic yesterday was not as fast as comic Stewart Lee.

I drove up to Edinburgh from London yesterday. It took an hour longer than normal because, between Birmingham and Preston – a distance of 95 miles – the M6 motorway was clogged and we were stopping as often and as unpredictably as the humour in a BBC3 comedy show.

The good news, though, was it took so long that even my non-technical brain realised I could plug my new iPhone into the car’s cigarette lighter socket and, by putting the iPhone in the papier mâché mounting moulded by a friend for my SatNav (after some bastard thieves nicked the original in Greenwich) I could use T-Mobile’s unlimited data plan to listen to the BBC TV News channel while driving up the motorway. To be safe – of course, officer – I only watched the screen when stuck in traffic jams.

I felt as if I had, somehow, dipped a belated toe into what would have seemed a wildly futuristic world to Jules Verne or H.G.Wells.

Which is appropriate, because I am up in Edinburgh to attend a two day event organised by the Guardian newspaper at which both Gary Kurtz, producer of Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, and 20th Century Fox’s former vice president Sandy Lieberson explain “how Star Wars, a film rejected by most of the major studios, was put into production by 20th Century Fox and went on to become one of the most iconic films in the history of cinema”.

By coincidence last night, just before I went to bed, I was phoned by the late comedian Malcolm Hardee’s sister Clare. She had mis-dialled. When I told her I was in Edinburgh, she asked:

“Oh, are you up there scouting something for the Fringe?”

When I told her why I was up in Edinburgh, she said:

“Oh, me and Steve (her husband) went to Tunisia last month and saw the Star Wars sets there out in the desert… We went out into the Sahara Desert… and it rained!… Isn’t that typical?… It was lovely, though.”

I then went to bed.

For unknown reasons, I woke up several times during the night, which means I remember a dream I had. It involved Malcolm Hardee Award winning, sophisticated and intelligent comedian Stewart Lee (whose TV show was yesterday re-commissioned by BBC2 for another two series).

He was performing at the Hackney Empire in London wearing a suit several times too small for him. (Two days ago, a friend of mine complained that my trousers were too short because she could see my socks.) On stage, he looked like sexually-disgraced American comic Pee-wee Herman.

Stewart’s act involved stuffing rapidly into his mouth several ham sandwiches on brown bread then trying to speak, which simply meant he was spitting and spewing out lots of little pieces of half-eaten brown bread and ham while he told for-him unusually rapid-fire jokes.

I have seen this ‘act’ before but cannot remember who did it.

The ham sandwiches were similar to ones I had eaten on the long drive up to Edinburgh.

This goes some way to explaining the content of the dream, but possibly not far enough for comfort.

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Has Tesco got so big that it does not care about PR or charging one price?

There was a report on the Guardian website a couple of days ago about someone who was almost thrown out of a Tesco store for attempting to compare prices on the shelves. He had noticed a bizarre piece of pricing in which it was more expensive (per bottle) to buy Highland Spring water in 4-packs than in lesser quantities: the opposite of what a casual shopper would assume.

This is something I had noticed myself. There was a surreal period where, at my local Tesco, it was significantly cheaper to buy four individual cans of Red Bull than to buy a 4-pack of Red Bull – the opposite of what you would expect. No special offers were involved; this was the normal, everyday price.

In the case of the Guardian reporter, when he was seen on the Tesco security cameras to be standing by shelves writing down something on a piece of paper, the store’s deputy manager approached him and, when told he was “writing down prices”, responded:

“You’re not allowed to do that. It’s illegal… It’s illegal to write things down and you can’t take any photographs, either. If you want to check the prices, take the item to the till and pay for it there. The price will be on the receipt.”

The store manager told him the same thing.

I thought this might be a quirk. But, when I posted a link to the Guardian article on my Google+ account, someone responded:

“I got escorted from Tesco for taking a snap of price tag on my phone. The same thing – item packed in bulk was 100% more expensive than buying four separate items.”

Someone posted on the Guardian website:

I saw a splendid offer there the other day, some revolting looking snack, 20p each or 4 for a £1.00…

And someone else posted:

Recent gems include:
Fruit squash: £1.35 a bottle or 2 for £2.75
NCG soups: £1 or 2 for £3.00
Bread: £1 a loaf or 2 for £2.00.

There are two things here.

What on earth are Tesco doing with their pricing policy? Occasionally you see TV ads claiming Tesco prices are cheaper than their competitors; and they put prices online. But the company has no actual single price throughout the country – or even in the same neighbourhood. Smaller Tesco Metro stores already routinely charge more for items than larger Tesco stores.

I live in Borehamwood in Hertfordshire. The Tesco store there charges lower prices on everyday items than the Tesco Metro in Radlett, three miles away in the next small town.

Tesco has no uniform pricing. Although it buys in bulk at a set price, it does not sell at a set price and is taking different profit margins from customers in different areas and even at different stores within the same area.

Its TV ads, which quote specific prices for specific products, wrongly imply that there is a single standard price for all items at Tesco. There is not. You go into a Tesco store, you take pot luck on what you pay.

And what’s with this surreal leaping on anyone who dares to attempt to write down the prices in their stores?

Tesco has got so big it appears to have lost control of itself.

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