Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Books of the Year 2

From the Sunday Times, 28 November 2010, on the subject of Rejoice! Rejoice! Britain in the 1980s:

'Among a host of recent books on the 1980s, Turner's stands out as comfortably the most entertaining. From long-forgotten one-hit wonders to episodes of Hi-De-Hi!, from the antics of Ian Botham to the disasters of Heysel and Hillsborough, he gives us a panoramic portrait of a country caught beween old and new. The dominant figure is, of course, Margaret Thatcher, and Turner's political analysis is balanced and shrewd.'

If I knew then what I know now

When I wrote Crisis? What Crisis?, my book about the 1970s, I drew a comparison between the BBC TV adaptation of I, Claudius and the leadership struggle within the Labour Party following the resignation of Harold Wilson. The victor of that contest was James Callaghan, who I identified as Claudius, Old King Log, the man who came through the competing factions despite circumstances being against him.

And a couple of people reckoned that, even in a book awash with fanciful comparisons, this was a bit too fanciful.

But I've just been reading Jack Kibble-White & Steve Williams's excellent The Encyclopaedia of Classic Saturday Night Television and in their entry for Look - Mike Yarwood they mention a sketch he did called I, Callaghanus.

I don't remember that sketch. And I'm not sure whether I'm annoyed that my comparison isn't original, or pleased that my judgement is vindicated. But anyway, I wish I'd known, because I would surely have mentioned it.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Books of the Year

It's the time of year when the great and good get to nominate their books of the year in the more serious periodicals. Having never it on to any such list, I'm hugely excited by Dominic Sandbrook in the New Statesman, who names Tim Pears's Landed and Craig Brown's Lost Diaries, and adds:

'I also loved Alwyn Turner's splendid Rejoice! Rejoice! Britain in the 1980s, which not only re-creates the weird world of the Falklands war, the miners' strike, alternative comedy and the Filofax, but finds room for Mike Gatting, Zola Budd and To the Manor Born.'

Since I don't write for such august publications, I don't have the chance of reciprocation, but I would take the opportunity to say that Mr Sandbrook's State of Emergency is the only new book I've actually bought this year, which is as big a tribute as I can pay it. Normally I wait for books to turn up in charity shops, but I was keen to read his account of the Ted Heath years in Britain. And damn fine it is too.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Trash Fiction

I have to confess that I don't take the Sun every day, and consequently I often miss out on big breaking stories. So it was only when going through some old copies of the newspaper that I came across the fact that on 24 November 2006 they were kind enough to nominate my Trash Fiction as website of the week:

'A glorious celebration of those tacky exploitation paperbacks from the Sixties and Seventies, as well as TV and movie novelisations. Saucy, tasteless and truly astonishing they got published. Marvel at the covers - and that anyone bought them!'

That's very sweet of them. I shall endeavour to keep abreast of the paper more often.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Rights Statement

This is what publishers call a rights statement, and what the rest of us call a press release:

"Sam Harrison of Aurum has acquired The Man Who Invented the Daleks: The Strange Worlds of Terry Nation by Alwyn W. Turner.

"Terry Nation was one of the most successful, prolific and celebrated writers for popular television that Britain has ever produced. His science fiction series Survivors and Blake’s 7, from the late-1970s, have been durable cult and critical hits, one being re-made thirty years on and the other constantly rumoured for return, while his villainous creations the Daleks ensured, and at times eclipsed, the success of Doctor Who.

"Scheduled for Spring 2011, The Man Who Invented the Daleks will focus on Nation’s work in the 1960s and 1970s, charting a career that also saw him join the legendary Associated London Scripts, become chief writer for a troubled Tony Hancock and play a key role in hit international adventures series such as The Avengers, The Saint and The Persuaders!.

"Sam Harrison said: ‘In his acclaimed histories Crisis? What Crisis? and Rejoice! Rejoice! Alwyn has proven himself one of the most stylish and authoritative writers on British popular culture working today. In drawing together the various strands of Terry Nation’s life and career, this book will offer a captivating window onto the creative melting pot without which British television today would look very different.’

"Anyone who knew and wishes to share their memories of Terry Nation can contact the author at: alwyn@alwynwturner.com "

Friday, 16 July 2010

Harry Hammond in Leamington Spa

I was in Leamington Spa yesterday, giving a talk on the work of the great Harry Hammond. The touring exhibition of his photos from the early days of rock and roll has reached the town that Harry made his home, and very splendid it looks too. Apart from the photos, there are cases displaying Harry's cameras, brushes and other personal effects - it's wonderful.

The show is at the Royal Pump Rooms in Leamington Spa until early-September, and it's highly recommended. And to whet your appetite, here's one of Harry's photos of Jet Harris at his coolest:

Friday, 25 June 2010

The Age of Austerity

In the spirit of reviving the age of austerity, I was reading a copy of Housewife magazine from July 1948, and found some wise words from the government of the time:

If You Believe in Britain

Let's be blunt about it. Today you can betray your country by spending your money or cashing your savings unwisely.

The nation is at work, fighting a war against want. If we lose it we shall be little better off than if we had lost the war against Hitler. Until we win it our greatness as a nation and the security of our children's future cannot be established.

Every time we save less and spend more we are striking a blow against that future. Spending hampers the production drive by taking goods off the export market - and it encourages inflation.

If you believe in Britain, if you want to secure the peace we fought to win, save more, spend less.

Issued by the National Savings Committee.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Daily Mail

Roger Lewis's very generous review of Rejoice! Rejoice! has now been posted on the Daily Mail website. Looks very good.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010


As I was on my way to bed last night, I turned on Radio Five Live to hear Tony Livesey hosting a phone-in about whether pop music was better in the 1970s than it is now.

I got a little thrill when I realized that this discussion was prompted by the forthcoming V&A exhibition My Generation: The Glory Years of British Rock. Mr Livesey, it appeared, was querying whether the subtitle was accurate: were those really the glory years?

Since it was me who wrote that subtitle, for the book which accompanies the exhibition, I was somewhat surprised to find that it was in any way controversial. The phrase 'glory years of British rock' (apart from echoing the subtitle of our previous book Halfway to Paradise: The Birth of British Rock) seemed to me a fairly straightforward factual description: the decade we cover with Harry Goodwin's photos (1964-74) was self-evidently the era when British pop music had its greatest influence on the world.

It wasn't intended as a value judgement. Though as it happens, and just for the record, the decade was also quite clearly the time when most of the best British rock was produced. It won't ever be that good again.

Friday, 23 April 2010

St George's Day

This year I'm celebrating St George's Day with the help of a splendid review of Rejoice! Rejoice! by Roger Lewis in the Daily Mail. It's an 'entertaining, insightful and wide-ranging survey,' he writes. My thanks to him and to the Mail for the kind words and the splendid presentation.

Also today, my copies of the book turned up, and very fine it looks too. Should be in the shops next week.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Must Read

I've never been in the Must Read column of the Sunday Times before. So I'm dead pleased with today's paper:

Friday, 9 April 2010

Talcy Malcy RIP

What can anyone add to the millions of words that have spoken about Malcolm McLaren (most of them by himself)?

Well, maybe the one thing that doesn't get sufficient emphasis is pop music. As opposed to rock. The reason I fell in love with punk back in 1976 was nothing to do with, say, Iggy & the Stooges, of whom I knew nothing. Instead I came from a position of liking the Bay City Rollers. (Incidentally, I still reckon their fourth album is a bit of a powerpop classic, with fine production by Jimmy Ienner, who'd earlier shaped the sound of the Raspberries.)

To get back to McLaren, he was a bit fond of the Rollers as well. Indeed that was his concept of what a pop group should be, how he envisaged the Sex Pistols would turn out. Admittedly they evolved into something a bit different, thanks to the genius of Johnny Rotten, but still they made damn fine pop records: the same handful of chords you'd hear on Shang-a-Lang, the same attraction to big catchy choruses. Never really got the hang of bridges, though.

One of the joys that came with listening to the Rollers, Mud, Showaddywaddy and the rest of the post-glam pop bands of 1974-75 was that, being an ignorant kid at the time, I found it provided me with an education. They were covering songs by people like Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran, so I went back to the 1950s to listen to the originals. And I haven't stopped since. The sounds of the first wave of rock and roll remain my favourite music.

And again, when punk erupted, we found that McLaren was similarly enchanted by the '50s. His favourite reference point was the great British entrepreneur Larry Parnes, who brought us Billy Fury, Marty Wilde, Vince Eager and more. I know he dressed it all up in art school attitudes, talked about cash-from-chaos, spouted bollocks about situationism (has there ever been a sillier adolescent disorder than situationism?), but ultimately you knew that he was at heart a genuine fan of the music, that the elegant simplicity of rock and roll was as fascinating to him as the Machiavellian machinations of the industry.

At least, I think he was. But who knows? Maybe he was just a lucky bastard. After all, he was the manager of the New York Dolls who managed to split them up. He looked at Adam and the Ants, decided that he could do better than that, and sacked the singer so that he could launch Bow Wow Wow - just before Adam became the biggest pop star in the country. In between those two episodes, he lucked into discovering Johnny Rotten, who turned out to be one of the great artists of his generation, for a short while at least.

But my suspicion was that behind all the bullshit, beyond the wind-ups and gimmicks, he had a simple love of pure pop music. And so, in honour of the late Malcolm McLaren, here's a Harry Hammond photo of one of his favourite pop stars, Billy Fury:

Monday, 5 April 2010

New titles

April is the kindest month. Or rather, this April's pretty good, since I have two new books due to be published.

And so I've added new subsections to my website for each of them: Rejoice! Rejoice! Britain in the 1980s (Aurum Press), which is the sequel to Crisis? What Crisis?, and My Generation: The Glory Years of British Rock (V&A Publishing), which is the sequel to Halfway to Paradise. Both should be in the shops in the next couple of weeks or so, but - for anyone who really can't wait - bits of them are now available for online viewing.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

More Rejoicing

It pretty much goes without saying, of course, that Dominic Sandbrook is a very fine social historian (Never Had It So Good, White Heat &c.), so I'm hugely flattered by his review in the Sunday Times of my forthcoming book, Rejoice! Rejoice!

Here's just a few words:

'Turner’s book on the 1970s was for my money the most enjoyable of the recent crop on that turbulent decade, and he is on equally entertaining form here. The tone is that of a wildly enthusiastic guide ­leading us on a breakneck tour through politics, sport and culture, bursting with weird nuggets of knowledge gleaned everywhere from semi-forgotten John ­Mortimer novels to Wham! singles, football matches and episodes of Doctor Who.'

Friday, 26 March 2010

Rejoice! Rejoice!

My deep thanks to the very insightful Victoria Segal of the ever-wonderful Mojo magazine for reviewing my forthcoming book Rejoice! Rejoice! Britain in the 1980s. It's a 'dazzling overview of a demonised decade' apparently, and worth four stars of anyone's money.

The book is scheduled for publication by Aurum Press in April.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

The Birth of British Rock

The touring exhibition of Harry Hammond photos is up and running at the City Museum in Portsmouth, and very splendid it looks too. Not just the photos...

... but also the staging of the show. I'm particularly taken with the heap of flight cases, with a TV screen showing more photos and an interactive quiz:

And the Museum has added to the material coming from the V&A with four cases of memorabilia from the Portsmouth music scene of the time, curated by Dr Dave Allen, which are fabulous:

The exhibition runs through to 6 June 2010, before moving to Leamington Spa, so if you get a chance, do go and see it. And don't forget to stop in the bookshop, which has a fine collection of titles:

Thursday, 11 February 2010

My Generation - the video

As is my wont, I've made a slideshow of images from my forthcoming book, My Generation: The Glory Years of British Rock, which is scheduled for publication in April 2010. And here it is:

All photographs copyright Harry Goodwin.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Voting Rites

As the government forces through a proposed referendum on the voting system (in the most cynical bit of politicking I can remember), I'm reminded of a scene in Auf Wiedersehen, Pet back in the early-1980s.

The ex-pat British builders decide that it's time to paint their hut, to brighten the place up a bit. Trying to come to a consensus on what colour to use, Barry, who is later to join the SDP, insists on using the single transferable vote system - as advocated today by the Liberal Democrats - and they end up with a colour that was no one's first choice.

'That's a smashing system, Barry,' moans Dennis. 'Everybody gets what nobody wants.'

And Barry has to put him straight: 'That's democracy, Dennis.'

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Rock and Roll in Portsmouth

The V&A's exhibition of Harry Hammond's fabulous photographs of early rock and roll stars continues to make its way around the country, and arrives in Portsmouth next week, where it will stay for a few months. If you're down that way, do please have a look at the City Museum - as I never tire of saying, the photos really are tremendous.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Now Is the Winter of Our Discontent

As the snow continues to fall, and commentators start looking through the records for the last time we had a cold spell like this, I'm reminded of January thirty-one years ago, the so-called winter of discontent in 1979, when the last Labour government began its final descent. This is an extract from my book Crisis? What Crisis?:

It was, to start with, bitterly cold, the coldest January since 1963. Weeks of frost, freezing fog, hailstorms, sleet and snow were followed in early February by a combination of a sudden thaw and heavy rain that produced widespread flooding. And then came yet more blizzards. In Scotland there were reports of beer freezing in pub cellars and of frozen waves in Oban harbour as the temperature plunged to –25ยบ Celsius, while the whole country’s transport system struggled to cope.

Ted Heath had at least been lucky with the weather in 1973–74; Jim Callaghan was not. ‘Let those who possess industrial muscle or monopoly power resolve not to abuse their great strength,’ he had pleaded in his New Year’s message. ‘Individual greed and disregard for the well-being of others can undermine and divide our society.’ His call fell on deaf ears and the New Year started instead with strikes by the drivers of oil tankers and lorries. A series of one-day stoppages by rail workers and even by short-haul British Airways pilots added to the problems.

Within days there was a fuel shortage, with just one petrol station reported open in Liverpool and with prices inflating daily from the existing 75p a gallon up to £2 and even £3 in some places. The AA warned drivers not to undertake long journeys: ‘They probably won’t be able to get back, because the situation is grim in many areas.’ Flying pickets sealed off the ports to lorries coming from abroad and fears of imminent food shortages sparked a wave of panic buying, many taking advantage of the deep-freezes that had become part of every middle-class household over the last few years. Two million workers were threatened with being laid off if the strikes continued, pigs were reported to be resorting to cannibalism as food supplies to farms ran low, supermarkets began rationing essentials such as butter and sugar, and newspapers shrank in size as supplies of newsprint dwindled.

Callaghan missed the onset of all this, being out of the country on a six-day trip to a summit meeting of Western leaders, a meeting which – to add insult to injury – was being held on the agreeably warm Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. His absence was duly noted, generally with an appropriately British reference to the weather. ‘Britain could well be on the brink of a disaster that will make Ted’s three-day week seem like a golden age,’ raged the Sun. ‘Meanwhile Jim yawns lazily on his tropic isle...’

A Prophet in His Own Land

I've had the pleasure over the last year of working on a project with Harry Goodwin, the stills photographer on Top of the Pops for the first decade of that programme's existence.

Harry's 85 years old now, and it seems as though his time is finally come round with some serious recognition of his work. This is footage of a civic reception given in his honour by the mayor of his hometown, Manchester, where he received a Lifetime Achievement Award, witnessed by an impressive guest-list that included - as you can see - Alex Ferguson and the legendary Ken Dodd:

Harry's work on Top of the Pops was extraordinary. He photographed every artist who appeared on the show between 1964 and 1973, which means that - with the exception of Elvis - he has shots of every major rock, pop and soul act during the greatest years of the music. I don't know of any other photographer whose portfolio even approaches the same breadth and scale.

In the spring, some of this work will be on show in an exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, before going on tour in Britain and abroad. And to accompany the exhibition - here's that project I mentioned - there will be a book:

Time to salute the career of Harry Goodwin? Oh yes.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Rowland S. Howard

I'm saddened to hear that Rowland S. Howard, formerly guitarist with the Birthday Party, has died.

Back at the start of the 1980s, the Birthday Party were the best live act in Britain, and I particularly remember their gigs at the Moonlight Club in West Hampstead, when they were working up the material that would appear on the Junkyard album. They were extraordinary events, carrying a genuine sense of danger. You were never quite sure that any given song would ever reach its end without collapsing under its own chaotic structure or without members of the band becoming involved in physical confrontations with the audience. Since we had never seen the Stooges, the Birthday Party were as close as we were likely to find in our generation.

Despite everything that Nick Cave went on to do, he's never come close to recapturing that moment, or the raw, passionate brilliance of that band: Mick Harvey, Tracey Pew, Phill Calvert and Rowland S. Howard.

Howard is the second of the classic line-up to die, following the demise of Pew in 1986.

This video for Shivers dates back before their move from Australia to England, when they were still known as the Boys Next Door. The song was written by Howard and links rather well to the glam era that I've been immersing myself in recently: the band got a lot wilder later on, but here their roots in Bowie, Lou Reed and Roxy Music are much more overt: