Tag Archives: legal

Dave Brooks, RIP – astonishing original

Dave Brooks with his sons and daughter (Charlie on right)

I was asleep today – about 11 in the morning-  when Martin Soan phoned to tell me Dave ‘Bagpipes’ Brooks – an early member of The Greatest Show on Legs – had died, aged 72. Dave’s son Charlie Brooks had announced on Facebook that his father died at the end of last week.

Charlie wrote: “He passed away end of last week. They broke the mould when they made him. Here’s to all of you who played music with him, loved him, got exasperated with him(!) and had fun with him over the years. With the coronavirus situation, we don’t know what will happen with the funeral at the moment.” 

(Charlie lives in Oregon; Dave lived in the UK.)

“At some point, there will be a moment to remember Dave and it will involve music and a few drinks.

Dave playing at Charlie’s wedding (bride & groom on left)

“Charismatic and occasionally cantankerous, but always quick with a joke and someone who definitely lived by his own rules, for better or worse. He was also a brilliant musician, starting as a jazz sax player in the 1960s, then becoming a piper.

“Going to miss you, Dave… everyone is unique, but they truly broke the mould when they made you. They say you can’t choose your family, but if I could, I’d choose you again. So sad I didn’t get to say goodbye. Love you.”

Martin Soan remembers: “Dave joined The Greatest Show on Legs very early on…

“I don’t know what year or indeed how we came to meet him in the first place, but he was a valued member and was a very funny man indeed.

“Going on tour with ‘The Legs’ wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea: it was a hand-to-mouth existence and a lot of anarchy to put up with, but he fitted in without any trouble and sometimes led the way in outrageousness. 

(L-R) Malcolm Hardee, Martin Soan, Jools Holland, ‘Digger Dave’, Dave Brooks (Photograph supplied by Martin Soan)

“I performed with him a few times in later years and we both slotted in where we left off. It was simply natural to perform and hang out with him.

“His temperament was sunny and always even but also he was very educational (important when spending long hours in a van), He introduced Malcolm Hardee and me to garlic, which Malcolm hated… He knew what was happening politically and, of course, musically expanded our minds… Above all, I will always remember his wicked sense of humour and infectious laugh.

“He excelled on stage and personally made sketches of ours complete and perfect and, after he went his own way, we had to drop the routines he had made his own. The Human Scottish Sword Dance and Dirty Ol Men were his sketches .”

In 1981, Dave performed The Human Scottish Sword Dance with The Legs on ITV’s ratings-topper Game For a Laugh

I myself met him, I think, only twice, maybe three times: clearly my loss. As well as having an original sense of humour, he had wide talents. 

He was wonderful on the Highland bagpipes (and saxophone) playing Irish Traditional and Scottish Traditional music and jazz with many other artists including Joan Armatrading, Graham Bond, Elkie Brooks, Phil Collins, George Harrison, Dick Hecksall-Smith, Manfred Mann, Count Dracula and The Barber of Seville. Probably also Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all.

He played weddings with Sikh dhal drummers

He had an 18-month run in London’s West End as a piper in the stage production of Brigadoon (where he had his bagpipes sent to sleep for 100 years) as well as appearing in the BBC TV production of People Like Us and in the movie Loch Ness.

He also performed and played bagpipes on the alternative comedy scene with Arnold Brown, The Greatest Show on Legs, John Hegley, Marcel Steiner (Smallest Theatre in the World) as well as Keith Allen (whose record company, Dave said, still owed him £60!).

In the US, he was a founder member of infamous band The Don Wannabes.

Back in the UK, he played various Scots and Irish piping at weddings, funerals and divorces and had his own Irish ceilidh band Sham-Rock, sometimes appearing playing the bagpipes with them as the Green Man, dressed in a suit of leaves. He claimed he was thinking of branching out. He is on whistle in this video…

For Asian weddings, he appeared playing bagpipes with Drummers Delight – two Sikh dhal drummers.

On 29th July 1996, the Corporation of London prosecuted him at Hampstead Magistrates’ Court under an 1890 by-law for “playing a musical instrument (his bagpipes) on Hampstead Heath on three separate counts. This was despite the fact that Dave had been playing his pipes on the Heath for an hour every morning for 15 years without any complaint from anyone.

As part of Dave’s defence, solicitor George Fairburn cited the legal precedent of Jimmy Reid, Highland Bagpiper, who, on October 2nd, 1746 – after the Battle of Culloden – was charged with playing an instrument of war and insurrection. Jimmy stated that his Highland pipes were a musical instrument not an instrument of war (which sounds reasonable). But the Lord Chief Justice of England overruled the original jury’s not-guilty verdict and dismissed their later plea for mercy by declaring that the bagpipes were indeed an instrument of insurrection. On the strength of this, Jimmy Reid was hanged, drawn and quartered.

After the Battle of Culloden, they were “an instrument of war””

Dave Brooks said that if his Highland bagpipes were an instrument of war – as stated by the court in 1746 – then now, in 1996, his Highland bagpipes remained an instrument of war and insurrection and could not possibly be a musical instrument as charged. 

The 1996 judge – Stipendiary Magistrate Michael Johnstone – said that the case of James Reid and his Highland bagpipes was a gross miscarriage of justice – a point not picked up by the press at the time – and then bizarrely threatened to have Dave Brooks and his Highland Bagpipes charged with bearing arms on Hampstead Heath. He said that, if this interpretation was accurate, Mr Brooks could be charged with carrying a dangerous weapon on the Heath and the penalty could be a prison sentence rather than a fine. He asked the bailiff of the court if he was ready to take Mr Brooks, Highland bagpiper, to the cells below the court never more for his bagpipes to be heard,.

Dave was found guilty on three counts of playing a musical instrument and fined £15 on each count plus £50 costs. 

In his summing-up, the magistrate said: “In time of war the bagpipes are an instrument of war and in peace they are a musical instrument”. He dismissed a petition of 2,500 signatures collected around Hampstead by people who liked the Highland pipes. 

Dave with his Scottish military weapon

The Corporation of London as a token gesture gave consent for Mr Brooks to play his bagpipes for one hour, three mornings a week on the bandstand at Parliament Hill Fields. He was also given permission by the management of Alexandra Palace to play his bagpipes in Alexandra Park anytime, which he then did regularly in return for playing his bagpipes at various charity functions for them.

Stipendiary Magistrate Michael Johnstone, in delivering his judgment, conceded that many might not consider the bagpipes to be a musical instrument, although he said he was not saying it was one.

When Dave’s case first came to prominence and he became a cause célèbre in piping circles, the College of Piping in Glasgow offered some words of comfort: “Well, if they hing you, dinnae you worry. We’ll compose a fine lament to your memory!’’

Tracks on subsequent albums released by Dave included the evocative Birds Eat Turds, a flute and pipe combination of Irish and Mauritanian songs like A Chailleach do mharrias me/Arts Plume and the classic Did They Come From Outer Space? No. They Came From Hendon Central.

RIP an original.


Here is Dave Bagpipes Brooks playing Auld Lang Syne…

…and playing solo bagpipes with an Indian theme…

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Filed under Humor, Humour, Music

The English legal system? It is “Britain’s Got Talent” for liars and spin-masters

(A version of this piece was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

The figure of Justice - blindfolded to avoid seeing any truths

English Justice – blindfolded and blind

Tomorrow, I start jury service for an unknown length of time.

Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows my opinion of the English judicial system in which the defendant is assumed to be guilty unless he or she can afford to buy a good enough lawyer to get themselves found innocent – with a lot of luck.

The police investigate. The courts then prosecute the person whom the police have found to be guilty and whom the Director of Public Prosecutions’ office has agreed is guilty. The defendant is assumed in advance to be guilty.

The judge and jury do not investigate the facts. That has already been done by the police. The jury are there to decide whether the prosecutor or defence lawyer presents a better case. The truth is neither here nor there. The jury is voting in a competitive talent show between two highly-trained and highly-paid liars… erm, lawyers… who are trying to advance their own careers.

The State pays the prosecutor to get a guilty verdict and to hide any evidence which may imply or prove the defendant is innocent. The defending lawyer is paid to get his client found innocent and to hide any evidence which may imply or prove he is guilty.

The result is that a jury does not decide on the actual facts; they are voting on the presentation skill of the spin. It is Britain’s Got Talent for rhetoricians. The most professional and admired lawyers are the ones who win cases they do not believe in.

And you take pot luck on the jury members.

Back in July 2011, I blogged about a friend of mine who had recently done jury service.

After all the evidence was given and after the jury had been deliberating for a while, one of the jury members asked:

“Which one is the accused?”

When she was told which person was actually on trial, she asked:

“Wasn’t the other bloke accused?”

“No,” she was told by my friend, “he was the chief prosecution witness.”

“Oh,” the other jury member replied, “I thought they were both on trial.”

Last week, I talked to someone else who had been on a jury.

He told me the person on trial was clearly guilty but one member of the jury voted Not Guilty. My friend and everyone else on the jury had voted Guilty. But my friend’s eyes met this other juror’s eyes and, as he explained to me last week, there was an unspoken understanding between them.

My friend changed his verdict to Not Guilty.

He and the other person set out to change the other jurors’ decisions. It was a game for them. And they succeeded. Eventually, the jury came to a unanimous Not Guilty verdict.

I am not, of course, allowed to blog about what happens if and when I am part of a jury.

So, instead, before this jury thing starts tomorrow, I asked someone else I know – an  ex-criminal – about jury-nobbling.

He gave me two examples.

In one case, a member of a jury was trying a case involving a very high-profile chap who, unsurprisingly, did not want to go to prison.

When one of the jury members got home after a day listening to evidence, shortly before the trial ended, there was a knock on his door in the middle of the evening. When he opened the door, a man was standing there.

The man said: “I’ve been told you’re on the jury and I’ve been asked to give you this envelope,” and left.

Inside the envelope was a photograph, taken that morning, of the jury member’s young daughter in the playground of her school.

There was no physical threat of any kind, but that jury member was perhaps more inclined to find the defendant innocent.

My acquaintance also told me of another occasion he knew about in which a trial was nobbled, this time by the police.

“The police thought he was going to get off,” I was told about another career criminal. “A copper talked loudly about some of the guy’s previous convictions so that a couple of jury members overheard him and the trial had to be abandoned. The guy was found guilty at the re-trial.”

As I mentioned in a blog in February 2011, my own inclination on a jury would be to vote Not Guilty in any case which relies solely on a policeman’s evidence.

A partner in a major London law firm told me he would never put a Metropolitan Police officer in the witness stand without corroborating evidence because you could never be certain a Met officer was telling the truth.

Likewise, the owner of a prominent detective agency who employs ex-SAS troopers etc, told me he never employs ex-policemen because you can never trust them.

The story of the framing by West Yorkshire Police of Stefan Kiszko, his trial and his wrongful imprisonment for 16 years should be taught to every schoolkid in the UK.

It is an illustration of the inherent corruption of the police and of the English court system.

Frankly, you might as well settle court cases by bringing back Trial By Combat.

It would provide equal injustice and be more entertaining.

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Filed under Crime, Legal system, UK

Twats and Tweets at London lawyers’ comedy show trial in a pub last night

Judge Norman Lovett, looking the part
(photograph by Bob Slayer)

Two days ago, I lost my voice. Yesterday it was back though slightly weak and I coughed a lot. This morning I have no voice again.

At 5.00am this morning I woke, coughing, with my throat razor-blade raw from a dream in which I had been transcribing the ornate language of a medieval court case.

This was because, last night, I went to the Lamb Tavern, first built in 1309 in London’s Leadenhall Market over the Basilica at the centre of Roman Londinium.

I was there to see a sold-out try-out of This Is Your Trial, a comedy show in which three comedians are the judge, prosecutor and defence counsel in the ‘trial’ of an accused person who (as in real English court cases) is presumed guilty unless proven innocent.

The paying audience were mostly lawyers. The accused (on a rather vague charge of identity fraud and making over 100,000 Tweets) was legal blogger Charon QC, aka Mike Semple Piggot. Last night’s judge was the suitably bewigged Norman Lovett, with American Luke Capasso as prosecutor and sober Bob Slayer as the defence counsel.

When I started writing this blog today, I searched around for an adjective to describe members of the English legal profession and the best one I could come up with was ‘smug’. I suppose that is what comes of building your careers and high earnings on the back of so many innocent people being imprisoned by a system which does not even present a credible pretence of seeking to deliver justice. On the other hand, when I meet people involved in the game they are almost always intelligent, sophisticated, good company and have a sense of humour. So I guess the two words ‘amiable’ and ‘amoral’ cover the English legal profession.

And, last night, a legal eagle sitting in the same row as me did offer me a free sausage and a chip, so the profession may not be totally uncaring.

The evening started with Judge Norman Lovett saying he was looking forward to appearing at a gig on Saturday night – the Madness Weekend at Butlins, Minehead – though lamenting the fact he would “miss X Factor, the jungle programme and Match of the Day – three programmes on the trot… but the money’s good and so are Madness”.

An excellent piece of advertising – something which could perhaps be added to real court cases to lower legal fees.

Last night was also like a dream product placement plug for Apple, as the room was awash with iPhones, a few iPads and, behind me, even a Macbook laptop. Throughout, people were Tweeting while still managing to pay attention and laugh.

Bob Slayer, Norman Lovett and Luke Capasso last night

This Is Your Trial is a wonderful format. It would transfer seamlessly to TV as a sort of comedy Crown Court – and it could make a fortune on the corporate circuit.

Putting the case for the Prosecution, Luke Capasso’s opening line was “Charon QC… Charon? Isn’t that the ferry man of Hades?… Do you worship the Devil, sir? Do you suckle at the teat of Beelzebub?”

It turned out that Charon QC turned down a place at Cambridge because he had fallen in love with a girl and went instead to Leicester University. He had also, in his youth, mysteriously been approached by a member of MI6 “whilst wearing a skimpy pair of speedos” with an invitation to “work for her Majesty”.

“I wasn’t wearing the speedos,” argued Charon QC in his own defence.

“Her Majesty was wearing them?” asked an incredulous Luke Capasso.

“Her Majesty wasn’t,” explained Charon QC, “but the Commercial Attaché was. It was a surreal experience and, needless to say, I had little difficulty in turning the offer down.”

The prosecution argued, unfairly I think, that “bloggers are a subversive breed”.

Quoting the Daily Telegraph, it was suggested they have an annoying habit of pointing out when journalists make mistakes, that they are “disturbing creatures” who publish “any old thing they find on the internet” and “they engage in their activities for accuracy, for truth, for their own enjoyment and for the enlightenment of others rather than for money”.

Bob Slayer rather unexpectedly, given that he was arguing for the Defence, said: “Those who can, do… Those who can’t, teach… And those who can’t teach, blog…”

In a clever end twist to the evening, Charon QC was found guilty by a card magician.

In the bar afterwards, Bob Slayer was saying how disconcerting it was to have members of the audience Tweeting throughout the event on their iPhones.

“It’s a new dynamic you have to deal with somehow,” said one Paul Bernal.

“This audience,” he continued, “is made up of people connected with the law in various ways who Tweet – #tweetinglegals. I’m a law lecturer; I teach law. I have 2,950-something followers and I was Tweeting to them. They knew what was going on here tonight. We had the hashtag #TrialofCharonQC – I Tweeted maybe 20 times during the event…. These are the people who have re-Tweeted me,” he said, showing us his phone. “He’s in San Diego. These guys are in London. He’s in Canada.”

Another man at the bar, dressed in what appeared to be an orange Guantanamo Bay outfit, said: “I teach lawyers how to do social media like Tweeting.”

Paul Bernal said to Bob: “I Tweeted your joke about Those who can’t teach, blog and it has been re-Tweeted by three people around the world… @legalaware has got 6,366 followers. The other two are not quite so big but, even so…”

“Could you add @BobSlayer on it quickly?” Bob Slayer asked.

“It’s gone, I’m afraid,” said Paul Bernal.

“You should sue them for plagiarism,” I suggested to Bob, but my weak voice went unheard.

“I’ve got 650 followers and I’ve barely Tweeted,” Bob told Paul Bernal.

“But they’re all brewers,” I suggested.

“They are, yes,” agreed Bob.

“The thing that Tweeters want to do more than anything else,” said the Guantanamo Bay social media teacher, “is not get obsessed by numbers.”

“I’ve got this new phone,” Bob said, showing off his unimpressively non-Apple smartphone, “to specifically get into the Tweeting game.”

“The first thing,” the Guantanamo Bay man told him, “is to have fun.”

“Oh,” said Bob,”I have a lot of fun but, when I wake up in the morning, I can’t remember it.”

“You’ve broken the first rule of Tweeting,” he was told. “Never Tweet after you drink.”

“But I am constantly drinking,” explained Bob.

“In that case, you have to invent your own different rules for Tweeting. Do you know when you’re drunk?”

“Always.”

At that point, I left and went home.

This morning when I awoke, coughing, I found an e-mail from Bob:

“I learnt a lot about Tweeting from these lawyers tonight.”

I continued coughing. My voice is now returning a bit.

And now David Gilroy has Tweeted me to say he is Guantanamo Bay Man.

We live in interesting times.

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Filed under Blogs, Comedy, Legal system, Twitter

Now comedians will let me justifiably laugh at the amoral English legal system

The English legal system – blindfolded to avoid seeing truth, justice or facts.

Any long-term reader of this blog will know my limitless contempt for the English legal system where the police investigate, the state pays to prosecute the person whom the police have found on investigation to be guilty, the defendant is presumed by the state to be guilty unless he/she can pay for a good enough legal eagle and the jury decide not on the defendant’s innocence or guilt but on the relative presentation skills of the prosecution and defence lawyers spinning selected facts to them.

The system is laughable.

So I was particularly interested to get invited to This Is Your Trial on Wednesday this week.

The idea is that a trial is set up with three comedians as the judge, prosecutor and defence counsel. The audience is the jury.

The accused is presumed guilty unless proven innocent. Just like the real thing.

On Wednesday, the accused will be legal blogger Charon QC, aka Mike Semple Piggot. The judge will be comedian Norman Lovett, the prosecutor Luke Capasso and fighting for the defence will be Bob Slayer.

On that basis, I think Charon QC should simply plead guilty.

I am a bit vague about what the charges actually are, but Bob Slayer tells me: “We are being brave enough to road test it in front of a paying audience of real lawyers.”

The gig has sold out.

A bit like English lawyers, then.

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Filed under Comedy, Legal system

Lies, damned lies, lawyers & politicians. Vague thoughts from my buggy sickbed.

(A version of this was also published by India’s We Speak News)

Parliamentary Man speaks with forked tongue

After I wrote my blog yesterday, I turned over and went back to sleep. I woke up at lunchtime, around 12.30.

I was in bed for most of the rest of the day with what I think was a bug, so I missed most of David Cameron’s reshuffle of his Cabinet. But it made no difference.

Having a Cabinet reshuffle is like randomly offering round a collection of magnifying glasses in the Land of the Blind. If you stumble on a one-eyed man, it is a matter of pure luck.

That is not a Party political point. It is the same with all British governments of all persuasions. Here-today-gone-tomorrow politicians in governments elected every four years or less do not run the country. The on-going staff civil servants do. Which is much better.

If someone is appointed Minister of Transport then, within hours, they may be expressing ‘considered thoughts and fact-based opinions’ on motorways, airports, rural bus services and the dangerous placing of a zebra crossing by some local council in Devon. But that’s all bollocks. They are given their thoughts by the experienced, ongoing civil servants in their department.

Politicians give vague political directions but, in detail, leave it to their civil servants. Which is fine with me. I studied British Constitution at school and love the ramshackle, mostly effective system that has randomly shuffled itself into existence.

That is why I am so against an elected House of Lords.

We already have an elected House of Commons full of people who have had to bullshit their way in there, voted-for by people who have no real idea who they are voting for. We don’t need another Parliamentary chamber filled with politicians exactly the same as the ones in the Commons.

The beauty of the House of Lords is that it is a shambolic combination of the experienced, the good, the worthy and past-their-sell-by-date politicians: a chamber which should, ideally, be conservative with a small ‘c’ because it is there to consider the House of Commons’ laws and delay or dilute their excesses, worse stupidities and incompetences.

Like the monarch, it has no ultimate power. It cannot ultimately stop a law being passed, only delay it.

It is, just like the monarchy, an accidentally cobbled-together edifice which is a thing of beauty.

The Queen has all theoretical power, no actual power but is vital as a failsafe for the election of a totally barking government.

In theory, she can dismiss a government. In practice, if she did this to a government with popular support, it would be the end of the monarchy. But, if she did this to a barking government with no popular support, she could call on what are theoretically her Armed Forces to enforce her will and it would not be a military coup, it would be an entirely legal constitutional action.

It would have been interesting to see what might have happened if the rumoured military coup planned in Britain in 1975 (without the Queen’s knowledge) had gone ahead.

I have few gripes about the British Constitution, but only about politicians themselves: a necessary if even more amoral type of double glazing salesmen.

I went to a grammar school – the Ilford County High School.

It was a good school but perhaps it had ideas a little above its station. It had a cadet force. (This was a long time ago.) You got to parade around in military uniforms and fire guns, much like in the movie If… though without the same outcome.

And it had a debating society called The Acorns.

I was in neither, which may be partially explained by my dislike of regimentation and my lack of any discernible vocal fluency. I can write OK; but I can’t talk fluently.

I do not remember who was in the school’s cadet force. Very neat boys, I imagine. But I do remember that quite a few of the seemingly intelligent people in the Acorns debating society wanted to study Law at university; they wanted to become solicitors or lawyers.

I remember not being in any way impressed when they told me that the absolute zenith of being a good debater was when you were able to successfully argue on behalf of a proposition you did not believe in – or successfully oppose and get the vote to go against a proposition you actually believed in.

This was seen by them as the height of an admirable skill.

I saw it as making successful dishonesty a goal.

And I have never changed my mind.

I imagine several of my schoolmates who aspired to become lawyers did actually study at university for several years in lying techniques and went on to become lawyers.

The highest triumph of being a good lawyer is if you can get a guilty man or woman found innocent and – of course – equally, if you are a Prosecutor, that you can skilfully get an innocent man or woman found guilty of a crime they did not commit.

The object of the English adversarial legal system is not to reveal the truth but to win the argument and to hide or discredit any opposing evidence. It is a talent contest for liars. The jury decides which of the two advocates has been the better liar. English courts are not set up to provide justice; they are set up to judge the efficiency of the lawyers and to boost or diminish their career prospects.

No wonder that such a high proportion of politicians are ex-lawyers in Britain and in countries where their legal system is based on the English system – Tony Blair, Bill Clinton et al – are trained lawyers/liars.

The English legal system is based on lying and hiding the truth. Politics is the art of pragmatism at the expense of morality.

British governments have always taken the entirely reasonable stance that they recognise and negotiate with the de facto governments of other countries whether or not they approve of their policies; we have diplomatic relations with states not with regimes.

To be a politician, you have to lie efficiently and put any moral scruples you may have once had into the shredder.

Not a new viewpoint.

But a true one.

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Filed under Legal system, Philosophy, Politics, Royal Family

John Terry, racism & the Afro-American

News from home while insects bite

I am in Milan for a week.

Yesterday, I was laughed-at for wearing long trousers in the 84F degree heat. Last night, we ate watermelon at an outside restaurant and the mosquitos ate my accusers’ legs.

There is a God and he lives in northern Italy.

Meanwhile other life goes on.

The UK newspapers this morning are full of footballer John Terry being found innocent of racism for calling Anton Ferdinand a “fucking black cunt”. I really do not know what I think about this case. My mind is split.

In my heart, I feel he should have been found guilty but, on the other hand, I know that if he had called a Cardiff-born footballer a “fucking Welsh cunt” he would not have been prosecuted. This implies that it is no longer illegal to use the words “fucking cunt” (something I was found guilty of in a Crown Court in Norwich in the mid-1990s, when the appeal judge said the use of the word “cunt” was “clearly obscene” in the phrase “Your client is a fucking cunt”), but it is now possibly a criminal offence to use the word “black”.

This unsettles me.

Especially as an English friend here in Italy has told me that he heard his 14-year-old son (who speaks English at his international school) call a British rapper an “Afro-American”. When my friend mentioned that he thought the rapper was actually born in Brixton, his son told him he could not call the rapper “black” because that was a racist word. So he called all black people, wherever they came from, “Afro-American” because they all “originally came from Africa”.

Where the American bit comes in I am flummoxed to explain.

In other news from home, I am now getting my annual e-mails from American comedian Lewis Schaffer being indecisive about the design of the flyers for his Edinburgh Fringe show.

I see all his designs carry the line

SPONSORED BY PETER GODDARD. HE’S A NICE GUY

with a photo of the aforementioned Peter.

I blogged about it when this interesting piece of sponsorship was first suggested to Lewis and I am not quite sure if it warrants another Cunning Stunt nomination for the Malcolm Hardee Awards. Or not.

As I type this, I am eating toast and drinking tea near Milan.

In Syria, people are being killed.

So it goes.

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Filed under Comedy, Football, Italy, Racism

Cutting the faggots with the lawyers – but not cutting crime in Greenwich

Yesterday afternoon, ironically, I went to the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

The reason why it was ironic will become evident later.

I was given a private tour of the building and, indeed, taken to the very Gents toilet where future Mensa member Alfred Hinds famously escaped for a second time (he escaped three times) by locking his two guards in the toilet round the corner from the Bear Garden. He was not a prisoner to mess with, as he also successfully managed to sue a Chief Superintendant in the Metropolitan Police’s Flying Squad for libel.

It is a very nice building, the Royal Courts of Justice, with allegedly 3.5 miles of corridors and 1,000 rooms, one of which is painted. I had my tour in the middle of the afternoon yesterday – Friday – and there appeared to be only one case being tried. It was suggested to me that this might have been because all the judges had knocked-off early to get to their country homes for the weekend.

Surely not.

But I was particularly impressed when I heard about the Royal Courts of Justice’s ancient ceremony of “cutting the faggots”. This is part of what is claimed to be the the second oldest ceremony in England (after the Coronation ceremony).

Details on this ceremony seem to be a bit sketchy but, as far as I can understand it, “cutting the faggots” is part of the feudal legal ceremony of “Rendering of The Quit Rents to The Crown”.

At this point we enter the area in which it is a joy to be British.

Apparently, “the paying of Quit Rents by the Corporation of the City of London to the King (or Queen) is an annual ceremony dating back to 1235. It takes place at the Royal Courts of Justice, where the City Solicitor hands to the Queen’s Remembrancer two faggots, six horseshoes and 61 horseshoe nails.”

The six horseshoes and 61 horseshoe nails are around 550 years old and are in payment – as rent – for an ancient forge in Tweezer’s Alley, near the Strand.

According to Wikipedia (and you could not really make this up):

During the ceremony, a black-and-white-chequered cloth is spread out — it is from this that the word “Exchequer” derives. The Solicitor & Comptroller of the City of London presents the horseshoes and nails and counts them out to the Remembrancer who then pronounces “Good number.” Two knives are tested by the Queen’s Remembrancer by taking a hazel stick, one cubit in length, and bending it over a blunt knife and leaving a mark. Then the stick is split in two with a sharp knife. After the two knives are tested the Remembrancer pronounces “Good service.”

I am a bit confused about the centrality of faggots in this ceremony.

According to another source, the City Solicitor cuts faggots with a hatchet, and – it would seem on a regular basis – “some of the spectators are amused, while others seem to find it distasteful.”

Someone told me yesterday that, apparently, the rough cost of an average hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice is £5,000 per hour.

Anyway, to explain the irony, last night, I had been in Greenwich the night before and parked my car behind the Up The Creek comedy club in a road 30 seconds walk from the centre of prim Greenwich which the famously uncaring local council has allowed to get run-down because, it appears, the councillors tend to live in flash roads and this road has only a block of council flats down one side.

Yesterday’s irony is that I was looking round the Royal Courts of Justice in the afternoon and then, in the evening, my car got broken into in Greenwich (again).

It was broken into in that exact same road behind Up The Creek in December 2010. I blogged about it.

On that occasion, nothing was stolen. On this occasion, the car was parked under a streetlight with a StopLok on the steering wheel and was double-locked, which means that, if you smash the window, you cannot open the doors from the inside – the doors are double-locked.

What they did was to smash the window (the Autoglass repair man explained to me exactly how it was done, but I am not repeating it). Then someone climbed into the car through the window, looked in the glove compartment and in the central armrest and lowered the back seat to get access to the boot from inside the car. And then climbed out the window again. The car was overlooked by two buildings.

I had, alas and unusually, left a SatNav and CDs in the lower part of the two-level arm rest (it is not obvious there is a lower level). They nicked the SatNav but left my CDs. This is only the latest in a long line of people insulting my taste in music.

It was -2C when I found the car window smashed at 10.35pm. By the time I got home after a 90-minute drive with no passenger window, it was -6C.

Things could be worse, though.

When I got home and switched on my TV, the BBC was reporting 200 deaths from cold across Europe and 100 of those deaths were in the Ukraine where temperatures were -40C.

This morning, ‘the world’s most travelled person’, Fred Finn, who lives in the Ukraine, told me in an e-mail: “I should be home by 8.00pm tonight but, given weather conditions today, anything is possible. The weather hasn’t been like this for 90 years they say.”

Back in Britain, the police in Greenwich told me mine was one of three cars broken into in that street behind Up The Creek last night. To me, that feels more important than the temperature in the Ukraine.

But around 100 people are dead in the Ukraine from the cold; around 200 in Europe; and over 200 were killed yesterday in the Syrian city of Homs by the Syrian armed forces.

Egocentricity is not really an admirable character trait.

I must remember.

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Filed under Crime, Eccentrics, Legal system, Travel, Ukraine

The Judge found both police witnesses to be more bent than a cork screw

After reading my blog yesterday, mad inventor John Ward told me this story about the occasion when he, too, did jury service…

‘The accused’ was quite a sad case really and even the Judge found the CID to be more bent than a cork screw.

Two policemen gave evidence and, halfway through the second officer’s ‘statement’ being given in the witness box, the judge stopped the trial – he looked across at the policeman with a look to kill – and told the two CID persons to wait within the grounds of the Court and not to leave while somebody was sent to get their desk diaries from their base twenty odd miles away.

We had a break for a cuppa.

Once these diaries were fetched and read out by the officers themselves – after the judge had read them through first – it told a different story to the one they had agreed upon for us mere mortals to hear in court.

The lawyer for the accused did comment during his cross-examination of the CID blokes that it was “difficult to work out who should be in the dock” and the judge said that this should be deleted from the record.

The case was about building materials going walkabout. It went on for four wonderful days of high comedy with claim and counter-claim and counter-counter-claim, one of the best being:

“I could not have had that generator away, as I was nicking a load of sewer pipes and fittings at the time, me lord.”

The ‘accused’ was let off the main, fabricated, charges and we found him guilty on the ‘real’ minor charges that he did admit to. The chap had put his hand up to taking some of the items quoted – he had built an entire house with half the materials he had ‘found’ – but, reading between the lines, the CID folk had had an interest in quite a bit of stuff that had been nicked and which – surprise surprise – had never been recovered during the investigations.

The chap involved was ‘previously known’ to the boys in blue and it was obviously a ‘grudge’ thing – this was supposed to be payback time – a point a dear old lady on the jury picked up on before I did!

The wonderful bit for us mortals was to hear that the policemen were streets ahead of Doctor Who because, according to a combination of their stories and diaries, the two ‘boys in blue’ were able to be in THREE places at the same time!

Rupert Murdoch would have been proud of them – assuming they were not already working for him…

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The English legal system: Justice reduced to the level of The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent

I have to do jury service next month. That should be interesting.

The basis of the English legal system is that the accused is guilty unless he can (afford to) prove himself innocent. The police investigate a case and find the person they believe (or claim) is guilty. The state’s prosecution system then decides if there is enough evidence to convict and, if there is – ie if the defendant is presumed to be guilty – then the accused person is prosecuted on the basis that they are guilty. The state pays for a prosecution lawyer whose job is to get a guilty verdict; if he/she spots anything that may imply innocence, it is his/her paid job to prevent it being presented to the court.

Under the English legal system, the prosecutor is paid to mislead the court on the evidence, to hide evidence which may prove the innocence of the defendant and to prevent the Defence from presenting any evidence which will reveal anything which may show the innocence of the defendant. That is his paid job. The defence lawyer is paid by the defendant himself/herself to get an innocent verdict and to hide anything which might show or imply guilt.

The jury’s job is not to investigate the facts nor to decide if the accused is guilty or innocent. Their job is to decide which of the two well-paid lawyers present a better case. The object is to vote on whether the defender or prosecutor is better on style, content and presentation, much like competitive Ice Skating but without the numbered cards you hold up. It is justice reduced to The X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent.

I remember a case in which a jury member spent his spare time going to the crime scene and talking to witnesses outside the court. The judge threw him off the jury and told him it was not his duty as a jury member to investigate the case but to decide a verdict only on the evidence presented. I think the jury member was threatened with Contempt of Court.

The lawyers who present the case? They have spent about seven years in an academic institution being trained in the art of legal lying, falsification of evidence and misleading the court. Which is why politicians like Tony Blair and Bill Clinton are often ex-lawyers. They were highly-trained as liars.

The result of all this? Lots of guilty people escape conviction and lots of innocent people get imprisoned, sometimes for decades.

There is also the fact of widespread police corruption across the UK.

On 27th September 1998, the Sunday Telegraph revealed in an article written by Geoffrey Seed and Alasdair Palmer that it had obtained “the minutes of a meeting organised by the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS), and attended by 10 of Britain’s most senior officers and policy makers”. The minutes stated that “corrupt officers exist throughout the UK police service” and the NCIS’s Director of Intelligence said that corruption may have reached “Level 2: the situation which occurs in some Third World countries”.

I was once told by Margaret Thatcher’s lawyer that he would never put a Metropolitan Police officer in the dock as a witness unless what he said could be corroborated by another witness: the possibility that the policeman was lying was too great to risk.

The object of the English adversarial system is to win the debate at all costs including justice. Added to this, there is the fact all police evidence must be suspect.

The English courts do not provide justice. They play a game with people’s lives in which innocent defendants are found guilty of crimes they did not commit. This is no accident. It is an inevitable result of the current English legal system which is adversarial not investigative.

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Racism and sexism in television and in comedy

On Thursday, I went to Bethnal Green to see the multi-racial comedy sketch group the United Colours of Comedy at the Oxford House venue. Three were very talented.

On Friday, I met a man who almost appeared on Mastermind on BBC1.

The man told me his specialist subject had been ‘Cricket before 1914’. He had gone through all the preliminary applications and tests and got to the final full-scale dry-run tryout. He triumphed, got the highest points and won it. The tryout, that is. A few days later, he received a phone call which told him he would not be on the actual televised Mastermind show because he mumbled. This sounds like a bad TV producer to me: you can direct people so they don’t mumble.

But the point is that a few months later this failed Mastermind contestant was talking to a lawyer friend he knows in Birmingham. The lawyer had handled the case of another potential Mastermind contestant who had been similarly rejected. She, too, had won her dry-run tryout. She had been very nervous and had been rejected – she was told – because, in her nervousness, she had waved her hands about a lot and been overly ‘twitchy’, which was very visually distracting. However, this failed contestant was black and she believed she had been rejected because of racial discrimination by the BBC. She unsuccessfully searched around  for a lawyer to handle her case. All refused until, eventually, she found this one in Birmingham. The claims and lawyers’ letters dragged on for months and, as my chum later heard it, in order to avoid a public court case, the BBC paid the woman a “substantial” out-of-court settlement.

I don’t believe it was racial discrimination. The real truth, in my experience, is that usually TV companies and producers fall over themselves to try to get non-white faces on screen.

I remember a production meeting for the Birmingham-based ITV children’s series Tiswas in which the then producer Glyn Edwards said he was uncomfortable because every Saturday morning – and this is in a city in the West Midlands, an area with a wide ethnic mix – the studio audience was a sea of totally white faces. I was delegated to get non-white children to apply to be in the audience, which I did by approaching regional and national ethnic newspapers and groups; but it was a fairly slow process.

Later, I worked on the long-forgotten BBC TV series Joker in the Pack in which the absolutely wonderful Marti Caine, at the time in remission from the cancer which later killed her, was dragged round the country to listen to groups of ‘ordinary’ people telling jokes in their workplace and in social groups. At the start of pre-production, I asked the producer if he wanted to specifically approach ethnic groups to get a mix of white/black/Asian faces on screen. He said, “Oh, it’ll happen naturally.”

“No it won’t,” I told him and it didn’t. Halfway through recording the series he suddenly asked for non-white faces on-screen and it was not something that could be arranged quickly, because non-white faces then as now tend not to apply to appear on TV shows; you have to find them and/or publicise in the ethnic media – both of which take time. The potential punters don’t see many non-white faces as TV contestants nor in on-screen audiences, so they don’t automatically apply.

The same thing seems to happen in comedy clubs, certainly in London. The audiences are mostly 100% white faces. Why? Presumably because anyone who goes to comedy clubs sees almost 100% white audiences and that non-racial-mix is self-regenerating.

Small comedy clubs can do little about this although they should perhaps try. On TV shows however, in my experience, producers do actively want non-white faces which reflect the UK population (although they are often too lazy or too tardy to do anything about it). And this can also be a problem where women are concerned. There are, for example, not enough female comedians on TV. But thereby hangs the potemtial problem of being too desperate.

And that brings us to Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow on BBC1, which records in different cities around the UK and has very few women and very few non-white comics appearing on it. Which is where good intentions have turned into bad practice.

One black female comic bombed so badly during the recording for an edition of Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow in one city that the producers had to drop her from the televised show but allowed her to perform again in a subsequent recording in a second city so that she could be transmitted in the series. Whether this was because she was black or a woman or both I don’t know. I suspect it was because she was a black woman. But I have also been told two other English female comics who initially bombed during recordings for Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow were also re-recorded in a second city a second time (one was even booked to record a third time in a third city) to try to capture any acceptably successful comedy performance. This is not something I have heard being done for white male comics.

It says several things to me, one of which is that you can take PC too far – if they can’t be funny the first time, drop ‘em – and the other is that the producers of Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow have, in the past, been choosing the wrong female comics to appear. There are good female comics working out there.

For another view on what it’s like to be a female comic, read Janey Godley’s blog “A weird thing happened at the gig” about performing at a comedy club in Glasgow last Friday. The Daily Telegraph has quite rightly called Janey “the most outspoken female stand-up in Britain… The most ribald and refreshing comedy talent to have risen from the slums of Glasgow since Billy Connolly”. Inevitably, she has never been asked to appear on Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow.

Life.

Tell me about it.

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