Friday, 23 December 2011

Quote for the Week 10

'Yes, the resulting deal may be totally undemocratic, but if the single-currency members couldn't take a joke they ought not to have signed up.'
- Dan Atkinson on the current crisis for the Euro.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Quote for the Week 9

'You cannot build the New Jerusalem on a mountain of debt.'
- Gordon Brown to the Labour Party conference, 1997

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Yesterday's Papers - Shooting People Is Wrong

As both Jeremy Clarkson and the BBC apologise for his suggestion that state sector workers who go on strike should be taken outside and shot, it's hard not to have a sense of deja vu. This is from a report on the Brand Republic website dated 29 November 2009:

...Ofcom has also announced that a complaint levelled at comedian Jeremy Hardy, following his suggestion that BNP voters should be 'shot in the back of the head' has now also been resolved.

Hardy made the remark on his BBC Radio 4 show Jeremy Hardy Speaks to the Nation on September 9. Ofcom said it did not think the remarks were intended to endorse violent behaviour.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011


Watching Prime Minister's Questions this afternoon, I was struck again by the way that Ed Balls shouts 'Flashman' at David Cameron whenever the prime minister makes a personal attack on Ed Miliband.

There's nothing wrong, of course, with the privately educated Balls (Nottingham Boys School) suggesting that Cameron (Eton) might give the impression of being a public school bully, picking on poor little Miliband (Haverstock Comprehensive).

But it does make me wonder where this righteous class anger was back in the days when Tony Blair (Fettes) was having a go at a succession of state-educated Tory leaders: John Major (Rutlish Grammar), William Hague (Wath-upon-Dearne Comprehensive), Iain Duncan Smith (St Peter's Secondary) and Michael Howard (Llanelli Grammar).

Friday, 25 November 2011

Quote for the Week 8

'Instead of monopolising the seat of judgement, journalism should be apologising in the dock.' - Oscar Wilde

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Critical thinking

I'm very taken with a blogger named Mondale, who has nice things to say about my book, Crisis? What Crisis?

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Proff Reading (slight return)

This is from the memoirs of Kenneth Baker, chairman of the Conservative Party in the last days of Margaret Thatcher:

'My first real memories stem from that time, and the outbreak of war. The radio was crucially important, and I remember hearing tunes like Run, Rabbit, Run, Who Do You Think You're Kidding, Mr Hitler? and Hang Out the Washing on the Siegried Line.' - Kenneth Baker, The Turbulent Years (Faber & Faber, 1993) pp.4-5

Well, probably not. Who Do You Think You Are Kidding, Mr Hitler? was written in 1968 by Jimmy Perry as the theme song to Dad's Army.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

My Generation @ The Public

... and talking of Harry Goodwin, it's nice that the BBC website is publicising the My Generation exhibition of his photos, which arrived yesterday at The Public in West Bromwich. Do go, and make sure you pick up a copy of the excellent book that (I hope) is on sale.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

What a very strange man he was

In memory of the late Jimmy Savile, here's a picture of him taken by Harry Goodwin and taken from My Generation: The Glory Years of British Rock (V&A, 2010):

Further to my last post...

The Dimbleby-hosted Any Questions on BBC radio lives these days somewhat in the shadow of the Dimbleby-hosted Question Time on BBC television. It's an impression that's hardly dispelled by the way they seem to share the same booking policy.

So last night's programme featured a panel comprising a Tory MP, an ex-Tory MP turned journalist and a Lib Dem MP. Oh, and there was a Labour MP as well.

Again there's that feeling that political debate in the country is concentrated almost exclusively within the coalition and their fellow-travellers. The Labour Party continues to look marginal at best.

And perhaps there's a pattern emerging with Labour's choice of panellists. On Question Time it was the 39-year-old Gloria de Piero, already a member of Ed Miliband's shadow team barely a year after her election. On Any Questions it was the 32-year-old Rachel Reeves, already a member of Ed Miliband's shadow team barely a year after her election.

Neither has any political weight or status at this stage, but maybe that's the point. These are the potential stars of the next parliament being given a chance to get a bit of exposure and experience. The unmistakable impression, however, is that Labour's given up on the idea of opposition for the immediate future and is building for the world after the next election.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

The Man Who Wasn't There

As I was going up the stairs
I saw a man who wasn’t there;
He wasn’t there again today...

While the usual suspects on the Eurosceptic right (Simon Heffer, Norman Tebbit et al) continued to demonstrate that they haven't quite got the hang of this coalition business, and as the government took its collective sledgehammer to some backbench nuts, there was a missing voice in the coverage of this week's debate about a possible EU referendum.

It happened again on the BBC's Question Time this evening. The panel comprised a Tory cabinet minister, a Tory peer, a Lib Dem and the leader of the UKIP. Oh, and there was a Labour MP as well. But she had nothing to say.

Where exactly is the Labour Party these days? I know that it had problems after the election, when Gordon Brown disappeared in a puff of sulk and the media decided that the coalition was a much more interesting story, but that was last year. It really should be making a bit more of the running by now.

Admittedly Labour is ahead in the opinion polls. But not by much. And the gap was wider during the summer (six to eight percentage points) than it has been over the last month or so (three to five points). Or to put it another way, the party was doing better when all the politicians were on holiday and there was an absence of debate.

Which does seem to be the problem. It feels as though Labour has a lead in the polls simply because they exist and aren't in the government. And as long as no one listens to a word they say, they'll stumble along as a protest option. But while the government is obviously unpopular - how could it not be? - that's not going to be enough.

Around this stage of the first government of Margaret Thatcher, when she was also pursuing unpopular economic policies, the Labour Party was touching 50 per cent in the polls, not the 40 to 42 per cent that it's stuck on now. Even in the early days of Michael Foot's leadership, the party had a massive lead in the polls.

The truth is that polls at this point aren't of any significance. What's important is trying to seize some kind of control of the agenda. And Ed Miliband's Labour Party is doing nothing of the kind.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

The late Muammar Gaddafi

It's not been very edifying. Even TalkSport radio's Drive Time show, not hitherto noted as a hotbed of liberalism, was thundering against the lack of taste displayed by television news programmes which showed footage of the last moments of Colonel Gaddafi's life.

The worst, though, passed them by: the closing credits to BBC1's This Week showed the footage accompanied by the Adam and the Ants classic Dog Eat Dog. They did manage to find the apposite lyric ('What's a warrior without his pride?'), and there was the excuse that Adam was in the studio on other business, but it was unpleasant to say the least. It really shouldn't be the BBC's role to glory quite so openly in someone's death.

Elsewhere the Corporation's Kevin Connolly wondered whether Gaddafi is the last of the buffoon dictators. And he, quite rightly, points out that amongst Gaddafi's absurdities was his fondness for dressing as 'a white-suited comic-operetta Latin American admiral, dripping with braid':
Heaven forfend that such self-indulgence might be seen in the mature democracy that is today's Britain:

Saturday, 15 October 2011


I spent a couple of days this week in Leeds at the Morley Literature Festival, where I was appearing with Pauline Black and Ian Clayton to discuss political pop music in the 1980s, and then doing a talk about Terry Nation.

And very agreeable it all was. Friendly atmosphere, great setting (one of those fabulous mid-Victorian town halls), and organised with an unintrusive efficiency. This latter came courtesy of the festival director, Jenny Harris, to whom I'm grateful for the invitation.

It was the first time I'd dared venture into such an event since a disastrous appearance at the Oxford Literary Festival back in 2005 or so. I think I've got that one out of my system now.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Quote for the Week 7

'Ooh, la, la, la, la, hey banana!
Don't you slip on the skin.
Ooh, la, la, la, la, hey banana!
Womble up the litter and put it in the bin.'

- The Wombles, 'Banana Rock' (1975)

Some wise Mike Batt lyrics chosen in honour of what's starting to look like an increasingly accident-prone government. And here's one of the Wombles of Westminster yesterday:

Friday, 7 October 2011

And so we say farewell to conference season

The second half of September and into the start of October used to be one of my favoutite times of the year. This was party conference season and I could, and did, happily watch every minute on television. Even the Conservative conference had political debates that would occasionally sprawl off in odd and unpredictable directions and embarrass the leadership.

But this was thirty years ago. Hard to care so much these days, when all the conferences are little more than a succession of identikit politicians trying to slip a speech - honed and buffed beyond individuality - in between the video presentations.

So what did we learn from this year's conference? Well, nothing. Obviously.

But what will we take away from them, what will linger in the memory? Precious little. Maybe the fact that a section of the Labour conference booed the name of the party's former leader Tony Blair, leaving Ed Miliband looking bewildered and unable to think of a response. Maybe the fact that David Cameron's speech didn't even manage to attract enough people to fill the hall.

But if we're honest, the only thing that's going to be truly difficult to forget is Sarah Teather's stand-up comedy routine at the Lib dem conference, of which this is but a brief glimpse. A mercifully brief glimpse.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Visiting Chichester

I've been this week to the University of Chichester, where I was giving a couple of talks, one on the early days of Doctor Who and the other on the 1970s. And I had a hugely entertaining time. I like the atmosphere of the university a great deal, and indeed of Chichester itself (apart from anything else, there are some great Peter Blake works in the gallery there).

Above all, I like the faculty. And I'm particularly grateful to Dr Hugo Frey, the head of the history department, who extended the invitation to me and whose unstinting hospitality is much appreciated.

Saturday, 1 October 2011


I don't often go to the theatre, but today I went to the Print Room in Westbourne Grove to see a production of two short pieces by Harold Pinter: Victoria Station and One for the Road. And a very fine production it is too, moving seamlessly from the comedy of the former into the political menace and suppressed sexual violence of the latter.

The reason for this rare venture into theatre was that a few weeks ago the director, Jeff James, was kind enough to invite me along to an early rehearsal to talk with the cast about the 1980s (when the two pieces were written and originally performed). I don't think I had anything to add, but I enjoyed the experience, and I was hugely impressed by the production.

It transfers to the Young Vic for a run from 6 to 15 October.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Mr Street-Porter

Back in 2003, when I was researching a book about Biba, I wrote to Janet Street-Porter, thinking that she might have something intelligent to say about a shop she used to frequent. She didn't, of course, but she did at least write back, even if she did talk patronising rubbish. And even if she did address me as Ms Turner.

I had little time or respect for her before, but I'm afraid that I had even less after that.

Anyway, Mr Street-Porter was on Question Time last night, denouncing a mooted proposal to raise the speed limit on motorways to 80 mph as a 'crowd-pleasing, cheap policy'. Is that really a problem? Crowd-pleasing policies don't seem to me necessarily a bad thing in a democracy. Particularly if they're cheap.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

In memory of: David Croft

The news of the death of David Croft reminds me of a story I took from his autobiography, You Have Been Watching, for use in my book, The Man Who Invented the Daleks:

In the mid-1970s, David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd, then riding high with their sitcom Are You Being Served?, approached the head of comedy at the BBC with an idea that, said Croft, 'was so hot that I didn't want to tell him what it was', for fear of word getting out and the idea being plagiarised. 'To his eternal credit, he didn't protest or ask for a script. He told me to go ahead and do it.'

The resulting pilot, Come Back Mrs Noah, starring Mollie Sugden as a Yorkshire houswife sent into space in the year 2050, resulted in a short series. It was a resounding flop, commercially and artistically, but its very existence demonstrated the freedoms accorded to those with a proven track record.

That was the old days, of course, when broadcasting executives were allowed to trust their instincts.

A horse is a horse, of course, of course

All the talk leading up to Ed Miliband's speech to the Labour conference was about how much the party ought to apologize for the mistakes of the last government.

Miliband did apologize. For Labour's policy in the 1980s. The party shouldn't have opposed the reforms of Margaret Thatcher in terms of council house sales, cuts in income tax and trade union legislation. This came after his opening words, which had invoked the memory of the 1985 Bournemouth conference, when the then leader, Neil Kinnock, had attacked the left-wing council in Liverpool.

It was all a bit odd, this harking back a quarter of a century to a time when Miliband himself was still looking at his A-level options. Apart from anything else, wasn't this what the whole of New Labour had been about? The very existence of Tony Blair was an apology for the 1980s Labour Party.

Presumably we're supposed to take from this that, although he accepts some elements of the Thatcherite legacy, he's rejecting the political morality of the era: the veneration of big business and the City.

It's not very convincing, though it may yet become so. Because there's so little to underpin it.

The policies that have emerged so far this week have been busily ceding ground to the Conservatives. Miliband says that Labour would have a maximum of £6,000 a year student tuition fees: so he accepts the idea of doubling fees from the level at which a Labour government left them, but not a tripling. And if the current government doesn't reduce the deficit, then the next Labour government will. Meanwhile Ed Balls calls for a 'temporary' cut in VAT, thereby accepting in principle the level of 20 per cent introduced by the Coalition.

The Labour Party is looking dangerously as though its policy pitch is that they're just like the Tories, only not quite as much. Ho hum.

And still Miliband doesn't look strong enough to deliver a line like 'I'm my own man' without sounding like a studious teenager, anxious to be taken seriously.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Quote for the Week 6

'Looking somewhat like a baby Harold Wilson, but speaking with the authority and cadence of a baby Churchill, he electrified the conference with a stern summons to revive pure Conservatism.'
Fred Emery of The Times on the 16-year-old William Hague appearing at the 1977 Conservative Party conference. Remembered in honour of the 16-year-old Rory Weal who today similarly excited delegates to the Labour Party conference.

Terry Nation - the story continues

It having been a few months since The Man Who Invented the Daleks was published, it was a very pleasant surprise to find it had attracted another review, this time by David Crozier in the Ham & High, the best local paper I know. The high place it holds in my estimation hasn't been harmed by Mr Crozier's kind words:

'Written with both wit and wonder ... this is a wonderful book, not just the details of one man's life and career, but a splendid rollercoaster ride throughsome of the best TV series since, well since the invention of television.'

Whilst on the subject of Terry Nation, I've also added a couple more extracts from the book to my website. And I'm much looking forward to a visit to the Morley Literature Festival in a fortnight's time, when I shall be talking about Nation.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Yesterday's Papers - Cassandra on capital punishment

Watching Question Time on BBC1 last night, as the execution of Troy Davies was being discussed and Conservative MP Priti Patel called for a return to capital punishment, I was reminded of one of the best columns written by William Connor, better known as Cassandra.
The piece was published in the Daily Mirror on 13 July 1955, the day that Ruth Ellis was executed for killing her lover, and opens:

It's a fine day for haymaking. A fine day for fishing. A fine day for lolling in the sunshine. And if you feel that way - and I mourn to say that millions of you do - it's a fine day for a hanging.

IF YOU READ THIS BEFORE NINE O'CLOCK THIS MORNING, the last dreadful and obscene preparations for hanging Ruth Ellis will be moving up to their fierce and sickening climax. The public hangman and his assistant will have been slipped into the prison at about four o'clock yesterday afternoon.

There, from what is grotesquely called 'some vantage point' and unobserved by Ruth Ellis, they will have spied upon her when she was at exercise 'to form an impression of the physique of the prisoner'.

A bag of sand will have been filled to the same weight as the condemned woman and it will have been left hanging overnight to stretch the rope.

IF YOU READ THIS AT NINE O'CLOCK, then - short of a miracle - you and I and every man and woman in the land with head to think and heart to feel will, in full responsibility, blot this woman out.

The hands that place the white hood over her head will not be our hands. But the guilt - and guilt there is in all this abominable business - will belong to us as much as to the wretched executioner paid and trained to do the job in accordance with the savage public will.

IF YOU READ THIS AFTER NINE O'CLOCK, the murderess, Ruth Ellis, will have gone.

The one thing that brings stature and dignity to mankind and raises us above the beast of the field will have been denied to her - pity and the hope of ultimate redemption.

The medical officer will go to the pit under the trap door to see that life is extinct. Then in the barbarous wickedness of this ceremony, rejected by nearly all civilized peoples, the body will be left to hang for one hour.

IF YOU READ THESE WORDS OF MINE AT MIDDAY the grave will have been dug while there are no prisoners around and the Chaplain will have read the burial service after he and all of us have come so freshly from disobeying the Sixth Commandment which says 'Thou shalt not kill'.

The secrecy of it all shows that if compassion is not in us, then at least we still retain the dregs of shame. The medieval notice of execution will have been posted on the prison gates and the usual squalid handful of louts and rubbernecks who attend these legalized killings will have had their own private obscene delights.

Taken from Paul Hamlyn (ed.), Cassandra: At His Finest and Funniest (Paul Hamlyn, London, 1967) - my apologies for the infringement of copyright.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Let Us Now Praise... Lewis Silkin

The 1945 Labour government headed by Clement Atlee was packed full of giant political figures. So much so that some of its members tend to get unfairly neglected, chief among them the great Lewis Silkin.

Back in his time on the London County Council, Silkin had been instrumental in introducing the green belt policy. Now in government, he introduced three massive pieces of legislation that transformed the country just as surely as did the more celebrated health and education reforms of the time: the New Towns Act in 1946, the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947, and the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act in 1949.

These were genuinely socialist reforms, for which campaigners had been fighting for years. In the case of the Planning Act, the struggle to gain democratic control of development went back to the dawn of the Industrial Revolution: a century on from the Public Health Act of 1848, Silkin's Act finally made all new development subject to statutory oversight by local authorities. It also allowed compulsory purchase, facilitating new construction for the common good, and introduced the concept of listing buildings of architectural or historical merit, so that they might be preserved for the nation.

No more were the concerns of individuals to be placed above those of communities. Clough Williams Ellis, the creator of Portmeirion, whose wife was a member of the Communist Party and who own sympathies lay in that direction, called the Act 'an encouraging sign of returning sanity' after the horrors of the Second World War.

But that was then, and this is now. And in modern Britain, where political polarities so often seem to be reversed, we find the right-wing Daily Telegraph campaigning against the coalition's plans to relax planning laws, and the left, most notably Vanessa Redgrave, fighting for the right of travellers to remain at Dale Farm in Essex, in the face of decisions made by the local planning authorities.

Even more confusingly, the local authority concerned is Basildon - one of the towns established in the late-1940s under Silkin's New Towns Act.

As ever when political morality becomes confused, one should look back at that great post-War government and ask: What would Lewis Silkin do?

Friday, 9 September 2011

Quote for the Week 5

As debate continues over whether the top rate of income tax should be reduced from the current level of 50 per cent, I'm reminded of 1988 when the then chancellor Nigel Lawson cut the top rate from 60 to 40 per cent. Part of the justification put forward by commentators at that time was that the reduced rate would in fact raise more revenue, since it would remove the temptation to find ways of avoiding payment.

'I like that argument, but it isn't true,' said Lawson. 'More tax would have come from the top one to five per cent in any case because the salaries of the top earners have been put up so enormously. But still, let's go on using the argument.'

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

(Not) Book Burning

For ten days the nation has watched horrified as a lawless mob has run riot in all corners of the media, ransacking history, looting sociological and political theories, and jumping every bandwagon that passes. What motivates this lost generation of would-be opinion-formers? Is it a desire to find meaning in their deprived lives? Or simply opportunistic sloganeering?

There's nothing like a few nights of civil disorder to bring out politicians and commentators in their true colours. Explanations for the street violence of last week have ranged from Ken Livingstone's shameless electioneering through to David Starkey's denunciation of Jamaican patois. David Cameron talks of a 'slow motion moral collapse' (surely not long before he blames it on the liberal 1960s), while Ed Miliband suggests that - in the absence of any ideas of his own - we should listen to the people.

My own favourite interpretation came courtesy of a 16-year-old girl from Moss Side in Manchester, who was interviewed on Radio Five Live on Sunday morning. She had no doubt that it was all down to the government cuts: there is apparently nothing for young people to do these days, now that the councils are closing down youth centres and libraries.

Libraries? Oh yes. And perhaps that explains one of the curious features of the looting: the way that every major shopping chain got hit with the notable exception of Waterstone's. Some had argued that this omission reflected the fact that the mobs included a large number of the functionally illiterate. Others - of a more positive frame of mind - believed that the rioters were of the Kindle-generation and had no time for conventional bookstores.

But now it turns out to be simply a reverence for the printed word. Nurtured by public libraries, even the most violent of our youth have no wish to inflict damage on the repositories of civilisation.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Quote for the Week 4

'The policy is this: cut resources by ten per cent, increase detection rates by ten per cent.'
A senior officer explains the policing policy of a Conservative government in Andrew Payne's Pie in the Sky, 1996.

Thursday, 11 August 2011


This afternoon I watched most of the House of Commons debate on the civil disorder earlier in the week. I'm not sure we got very far - lots of indignation and few concrete proposals. Which is just as well really: the Commons isn't the place for instant wisdom, and as a country we're probably better off with MPs offering platitudes than policies at this stage.

But there's something a bit odd about watching a procession of Labour MPs demanding that the government reverse its proposed cuts to police funding. This, of course, echoes the policy pursued by Margaret Thatcher in her early years; while all other expenditure was squeezed, police pay was increased, an approach that paid dividends when her government wanted tough action taken against dissent.

There's nothing inherently wrong with the Labour Party stealing Tory clothes, if it seems appropriate, but there's a pattern emerging with this and other Labour arguments over the last twelve months: a straightforward objection to any cuts to any area of public spending. And that's reminiscent of another aspect of the 1980s. The Labour Party back then exhausted itself with defending the status quo in the face of Thatcherite reforms, opposing each and every government policy until such time as it proved to be popular. In the process the party managed to look both hidebound and opportunistic at the same time.

Worryingly, it looks as though Ed Miliband is pursuing the same course. And I suspect it'll have the same limited effect. Anyone who's come into contact with, say, their local council over the last decade knows that public services haven't exactly been perfect. Similarly the performance of the police this week - before the cuts - hasn't been spectacularly effective.

There is surely scope for advocating some change, without having to accept the Tories' options. At the moment, David Cameron's accusation, directed this afternoon against a backbench Labour MP, of being 'intellectually idle' seems all too accurate.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Quote for the Week 3

'The thing I am proudest of is that I managed to handle the riots in 1981 without being forced to take more repressive measures.'
William Whitelaw, reflecting on his time as home secretary in The Whitelaw Memoirs, 1989

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Riotous Times

I remember one Sunday night back in October 1985 listening to LBC radio as residents of the Broadwater Farm estate in Tottenham phoned in, providing a running commentary on the riot that was exploding all around them. In a time before rolling news, let alone the Internet, this was a gripping novelty - instant reportage from the front-line, unmediated by journalists and official spokespeople.

Last night rioting again broke out in Tottenham, and I found myself tuning into not LBC but Radio Five Live. And there was Stephen Nolan, wallowing in concern whilst worrying about a caller saying 'Shit!' as a bus burst into flames. But it wasn't quite the same. Because the radio was very much the poor relation when there was also live coverage on Sky News and BBC News to be consumed. And, boy, did the television have fun - hour after hour of footage of the street with nothing much happening, while experts and commentators gave us the benefit of their opinions.

The best bit was the emollient police commander who took time off from operational matters to reassure us that everything would be okay. He baulked at the word 'riot', preferring to talk about the 'distressing scenes', and insisted that the disorder wouldn't be allowed to continue any longer than was strictly 'necessary'. Whatever the reality of policing on the streets, the PR operation has got much slicker since the 1980s.

So too have the politicians. The MP for Tottenham is David Lammy, who now thunders against the rioting last night: 'This is a disgrace. This must stop. This is an attack on Tottenham, on ordinary people.'

And one can't help remembering the late Bernie Grant, leader of Haringey Council at the time of the Broadwater Farm riots. He it was who pointed out the obvious truths: 'The youths around here believe that the police were to blame for what happened on Sunday night and what they got was a bloody good hiding.' And, he added, sometimes violence was an effective shortcut to attracting the attention of national politicians: 'Had it not been for the disturbances, they would never have heard of the estate and never have visited Tottenham.'

Those comments were enough to turn him into a media hate figure, perhaps best summed up a few years later by Richard Littlejohn, who was by then a presenter on LBC whilst Grant himself had become an MP: 'I don't hate Bernie Grant because he's black. I hate him because he's a cunt.'

That was in 1993, as opinion began to take over from news. The media's changed as well, then.

Transcript of an Interview

The excellent Kerensa Bryant, aka Geek Girl, who interviewed me last week for The Geekend on Radio Reverb has put a transcript of our conversation online. My thanks to her for that and for talking with me in the first place.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Our Harold

I'm always slightly disconcerted on the rare occasions when someone asks me to sign a copy of one of my books. Partly because I have such a rubbish signature, but mostly because I'm not the subject of the books - I'm just writing about other people who did things, and really you need to get those people to sign instead of me.

On the other hand, I do like having signed copies of other people's books. I'm particularly proud of a signed copy of Jonathan Aitken's first book and a copy of a Bruce Lee biography signed by his widow.

But they're as nothing compared to the volume which my friend Brian Freeborn has just given me: a first edition of The Labour Government 1964-1970 signed by Harold Wilson himself:

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Quote for the Week 2

'Police stations serve many admirable and necessary purposes, but they aren't places to keep secrets.'
Tony Blair, A Journey, 2010

Friday, 29 July 2011

Terry Nation - Doctor Who Magazine

The new edition of Doctor Who Magazine is out today with a long awaited review of my book, The Man Who Invented the Daleks. And, I'm overjoyed to say, Andrew Pixley is very generous indeed:

'It is an utter delight that the work of such an important British television writer as Terry Nation is documented so lovingly and so thoroughly and in such an accessible manner.'

I'm especially pleased because Mr Pixley is one of the most authorative chroniclers of British TV in general and Doctor Who in particular. He's also a diligent researcher, on whose work I drew in writing the book. His approval means a great deal to me.

I must also note that I recorded an interview earlier this week for The Geekender, a fine show on the equally fine Radio Reverb, which is to be broadcast tomorrow (Saturday) at 11am.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Amazonian emails

Apart from keeping me informed about my publishers, I'm sure Amazon has many other fine attributes. Amongst those qualities, however, is not its ability to recommend things that one might want to buy. I got an email today:

'Dear Alwyn Turner
Are you looking for something in our Biographies store? If so, you might be interested in these items.'

The first book it listed was The Man Who Invented the Daleks: The Strange Worlds of Terry Nation. Which I already have.

Mind you, there was a time a couple of months back when it was cheaper for me to buy my own book from Amazon than it was to get copies from my publishers. That can't be right.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Welcome to Big Biba

I see from Amazon that the new edition of Welcome to Big Biba, the book that I produced with Steve Thomas, is scheduled for publication on 24 August. That's one of the good things about Amazon: it tells you things that your publisher doesn't.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Quote for the Week

'Nobody will ever clean up the Met. Nothing will ever change.'
Former Metropolitan Police officer Berger in Peter Flannery's Our Friends in the North, broadcast in 1996 and set in 1966.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Don't Forget the Diver

I've just added a couple more extracts from The Man Who Invented the Daleks to my website.

This takes me up to Chapter 3 and still there's no sign of the Daleks themselves. The first of the new extracts talks about the wartime radio hits Band Waggon and ITMA, while the second does at least feature Terry Nation, but only in the context of his working relationship with Tony Hancock.

I'm aware that most readers of the book are going to be those interested in Doctor Who, Blake's 7 and telefantasy generally, but part of the appeal of Terry Nation's career was that it covered so much ground. And those early days of radio comedy, and its gradual eclipse by television, are an endlessly fascinating area. For me, at least. But I'd hope that they're of interest to others as well.

Because this is the world that people like Nation and Brian Clemens and Dennis Spooner came from - like almost everyone else in the country, they listened to the likes of ITMA when they were children. And although they may not be heard much anymore, those shows shaped a generation.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Crying Wolf

A fortnight into the Great Phone-Hacking Scandal of 2011, and I can't help feeling that Ed Miliband is still missing his moment.

Obviously he's managed to raise his profile and improve his reputation. He's done enough to ensure that there won't be any whispering about leadership challenges during the autumn conference season. But there's still no distance between him and the bad bits of the New Labour legacy. Indeed the clumsy contributions of his mentor, Gordon Brown, last week only served to remind us all of the continuities with the past.

We've had a whole fortnight of righteous indignation, and I'm not convinced that Miliband has read the public mood properly.

As far as I can tell, there was genuine revulsion in the first couple of days, when the stories of hacking into the phones of murder victims and dead soldiers first emerged. But the closure of the News of the World changed things. Now it feels like the public are simply enjoying a great soap opera - the tone is mostly one of gleeful fascination with the decline of Rupert Murdoch and his associates. I'm not sure that there's the political anger in the country that Miliband seems to assume. It may yet come, but there will need to be further revelations to relight that fire.

And there will be more revelations. There's a long way to go. Things will calm down after Murdoch's appearance before the select committee this afternoon and the Commons debate tomorrow, but this is a story that's going to run and run. My suspicion is that Miliband would have done better to have kept some of his powder dry for the battles to come - he's in danger of looking like the boy who cried 'wolf'.

This was a good time for a little humility, to prepare the ground for relaunching the Labour Party as an alternative government. Just to concentrate on attacking David Cameron isn't sufficient. Let's hope that the parliamentary closed season will give time for a more considered approach.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Of Babies and Bathwater

When the leaderships of all the major political parties decide to agree on something, it generally means that they're up to no good. The British system isn't very good at consensus and - with the exception of bombing other countries - unanimity is normally reserved for responding to a media moral panic. The result is all too often an attack on civil liberties and/or badly formulated policy.

It's not very inspiring, therefore, to learn that the Coalition government is planning to line up with the opposition tomorrow in a debate about News Corporation and BSkyB. David Cameron may have been left in a no-win situation, with little alternative but to share a voting lobby with Ed Miliband, but even so it doesn't augur well.

Nor does the fact that both men are said to have expressed their sympathies with Gordon Brown, who has complained about being the target of intrusive investigations by the Sunday Times and the Sun. Presumably their concern is intended to be seen as outrage at the unwarranted coverage of the medical condition of Brown's child, but that wasn't his only beef. He also objected to the use of private investigators - 'known criminals' - using underhand means to look into his financial affairs.

Whether or not Brown's allegations are accurate, you can see why Cameron and Miliband might similarly object to such practices. But the electorate should be suspicious of a political class that rushes to such single-minded condemnation.

The press are perfectly entitled to investigate the finances of those who hold such high office. Our complaint shouldn't be that journalists seek such information, but that they don't do so nearly often enough.

We all assume that the Daily Telegraph strayed into some slightly dubious territory when revealing the expenses claims of MPs, and most of us seemed perfectly comfortable with that. There were, though, those who weren't comfortable. And now they're trying to find some common ground on which they can join forces and demand changes in media behaviour. The cases of murder victims, dead soldiers and politicians' children shouldn't be allowed to serve as cover for gagging the press.

It's not beyond the wit of politicians to find a way of curbing immoral excesses and intrusions into private lives without preventing investigative journalism. But it may well be beyond their will.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Ed Miliband's Clause IV moment

Along with everyone else who follows the Westminster soap opera, I've been deeply unconvinced over the last nine months by Labour's new leading man. Ed Miliband was - to be generous - only the third best candidate in the leadership election last year, and he's been going downhill ever since he won.

For far too much of the time he's looked solemn beyond his years, akin to the 12-year-old Jesus discussing theology with the elders in the Temple: 'all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers'. Except that what would have been considered precocious wisdom in a schoolboy looks like immaturity in a man in his forties.

But the News of the World story this week has caused him to up his game considerably. He was impressive at prime minister's questions and he's kept the pressure on David Cameron for the last couple of days.

And yet I can't help feeling that he's not making full use of the opportunity. Cameron's press conference this morning showed again what a competent operator he is. Miliband can damage him with the Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks connexions, but at this stage of the parliament, such wounds aren't going to be fatal. And possibly they're not going to be very long lasting.

Miliband should really go beyond simple attack mode and seize the moment to make a decisive break with the excesses of New Labour's past. During Tony Blair's period in office the press, politicians and financial institutions displayed a contempt for morality, and even legality, as they reached new levels of arrogant, irresponsible behaviour that have brought all into disrepute and sent some to jail. The gap between rulers and ruled became uncomfortably and dangerously wide, and , while the Labour government may not have caused all the problems, it certainly did nothing to solve them, and its negligence (at best) made them worse.

Of course Miliband was involved in that government. But only in a junior capacity. He's young enough that he can present himself as a fresh start, but to do so he has to wash his hands publicly of the past. Just as Blair jettisoned Labour history with the rewrite of Clause IV, so Miliband can now shed the embarrassing and unpopular parts of New Labour history. One of the things that most irritated the electorate about Blair was his refusal to apologise - there would be something rather refreshing if Miliband were now to say sorry for the things that went wrong.

Above all, he'd look much more secure on the moral high ground if he could present himself as a repentant sinner.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Times Literary Review

I'm very grateful to Frances Wilson for a kind review of my Terry Nation book in the Times Literary Supplement. I've never been in the TLS before and it's rather exciting. The relevant bit - which I shall be quoting for some years to come - is this: 'Turner is an excellent cultural critic.' I like that.

I note as well that Paul Mount's review in Starburst magazine is now available online.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

The Avengers at 50

I spent last weekend at the very lovely University of Chichester for a convention to celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Avengers. I was there under the excuse of my book about Terry Nation, who wrote half a dozen episodes of the show and was story editor for the last season, and I'd like to thank Dr Adam Locks and Michael Holley and their team for inviting me and for organizing such a fabulous event.

It was a wonderful weekend, full of very nice people and an impressive line-up of guests, including (from left to right) four of the great television writers: Richard Bates, Brian Clemens, Terrance Dicks and Richard Harris.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Terry Nation in the Western Mail

There's a fine, lengthy feature in today's Western Mail about Terry Nation, written by David Owens. My thanks to him - I really enjoyed our talk, and it resulted in a very nice piece.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Terry Nation - Top Ten Comedians (part 2)

Following last week's post, here are the top five comedians for whom Nation wrote:

1. Tony Hancock
Britain's greatest ever comedian was in need of something close to a miracle by 1963. One by one, he'd jettisoned his sidekicks - Kenneth Williams, Bill Kerr, Sid James - and now he'd left behind the BBC and his writers, Ray Galton and Alan Simpson. Nation wrote four episodes of his ITV series, Hancock, and went on tour with him. Some of the material is much better than is generally credited, but it wasn't enough to save the downward spiral of Hancock's career. 'A gentleman never loses his temper. It's a question of good breeding, and you cannot whack good breeding.'

2. Frankie Howerd
'Everybody wrote for Frankie Howerd,' commented Alan Simpson, and one of Nation's earliest jobs - together with his original writing partner, Dick Barry - was contributing material for The Frankie Howerd Show on radio in 1955. With John Junkin he also wrote the 1958 series Fine Goings On. But the best material came with the 1973 movie The House in Nightmare Park, co-written with Clive Exton - 'the film received the first unanimously good press I'd had for a picture in a long, long time,' noted Howerd.

3. Eric Sykes
Sykes was one of the finest comedy scriptwriters in his own right, but sometimes took on more work than he could handle. So it was that Nation and John Junkin were drafted in to script his 1961 radio sitcom It's a Fair Cop. Little has survived of the show, but it was an impressive cast: Hattie Jacques, Deryck Guyler and Dick Emery.

4. Spike Milligan
Milligan gave Nation his first break, welcoming him into the chaotic but star-studded writing agency, Associated London Scripts. Nation, Junkin and Dave Freeman contributed sketches for the groundbreaking 1956 television show, The Idiot Weekly, Price 2d - the first attempt to transfer the humour of the Goons from radio to the screen. Nation was later to acknowledge the debt he owed Milligan by letting him use the Daleks in a sketch for Q6 in 1975 - much against the normal practice of not letting the Daleks be seen in a comedy show.

5. Elsie and Doris Waters
The same team of Nation, Junkin and Freeman also wrote two seasons of the radio show, Floggit's, in 1956-57, starring Elsie and Doris Waters in the regular characters as Gert and Daisy. They're not as well remembered as they should be, but the Waters sisters were among the most innovative acts of the mid-20th century, with a fast-talking but gentle style of observational comedy. In Floggit's they were supported by one of the great casts: Hugh Paddick, Kenneth Connor, Ronnie Barker, Joan Sims, Ron Moody and Anthony Newley (though the latter two were dropped from the second season, allegedly because they were outshining the stars).

Daleks in the media

My thanks to Paul Mount for a nice review of my Terry Nation book in Starburst.

And I ought to mention a piece I wrote for The Guardian last week about Daleks.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Terry Nation - Top Ten Comedians (part 1)

Before turning to science fiction and action adventure shows, Terry Nation cut his teeth writing comedy. And in those early years he wrote for some of the best comics of the 20th century. So in tribute to that work, here's the first half of a countdown of the top ten comedians who spoke his words:

6. Sid James
The 1961 movie What a Whopper was conceived as a vehicle for the country's hottest pop star, Adam Faith, who had made the classic Beat Girl the previous year. What a Whopper wasn't a classic, but it was Nation's first solo onscreen credit as writer, and it did feature a fabulous cast, including Wilfred Brambell, Clive Dunn, Charles Hawtrey, Spike Milligan and Freddie Frinton. And, of course, Sid James, playing a hotel-owner who supplemented his income by poaching salmon.

7. Bob Hope
As a child in Cardiff in the war years, Nation had fallen in love with the likes of Bob Hope and Jack Benny, whose work was broadcast in Britain on AFN radio. Decades later, living now in Hollywood, he collaborated with Andrew J. Fenady on a television movie, A Masterpiece of Murder (1986), starring Don Ameche and Bob Hope. It wasn't up to much, but the idea of writing gags for one of his lifelong heroes provided its own satisfaction for Nation.

8. Ted Ray
Another person heavily influenced by American comedians, Ted Ray drew inspiration from Jack Benny in particular. Along with the likes of Bob Monkhouse, he represented a new style of wise-cracking sophistication in post-war British comedy, most notably in his radio show Ray's a Laugh. Nation and his partner John Junkin wrote for him both on radio - Variety Playhouse in 1957 - and on television, with two series of The Ted Ray Show. A sample line: 'It was a beautiful British summer's night - you could hear the owls coughing with bronchitis.'

9. Jimmy Logan
Most often seen these days in screenings of a couple of the later Carry On films, Logan was in his heyday the biggest live draw in Glasgow. His transfer to television on The Jimmy Logan Show - for which Nation and Junkin wrote nine shows - was, according to Logan, a complete disaster. 'It took me at least two years to re-establish my credibility outside Scotland,' he claimed.

10. Terry Scott
The man who would come to epitomize the suburban domestic sitcom with Happy Ever After and Terry and June appeared in several of Nation's early pieces, including All My Eye and Kitty Bluett (a 1955 radio series written with Dick Barry), What a Whopper and the 1959 movie And the Same to You, for which Nation and Junkin contributed some additional material, and which also starred Sid James and William Hartnell. Unusually, since Nation got on well with most of his collaborators, there was no love lost between him and Scott. 'I hated him,' Nation later reflected. 'It was mutual, we've always hated each other.'

Terry Nation - the Top Ten Scripts

A personal choice of Terry Nation's ten best scripts, listed in chronological order:

The Saint: 'The Inescapable Word' (1965)
'It destroys all life, but leaves no trace of radiation. The classic death ray.'

The Baron: 'Countdown' (1967)
'Latin? I speak it with a fluency which can only come from a very superior English education.'

The Avengers: 'Legacy of Death' (1968)
'When it was known that your friend Steed had inherited the knife, men gathered like birds of carrion from the four corners of the Earth. Avid, covetous, rapacious, all desperate to own that cursed blade.'

Department S: 'A Cellar Full of Silence' (1969)
'Do you remember that devastating explosion that Mark Caine was involved in, in Epilogue to Hong Kong, after pursuing that beautiful blonde, Hussy Abundant, halfway round the world, and it was the explosion that blew her wig off and he realized it was a man?'

The Persuaders!: 'A Death in the Family' (1972)
'Are all the Sinclairs buried here?'
'No. Only the dead ones.'

The Incredible Robert Baldick: 'Never Come Night' (1972)
'He cannot resist the inexplicable. Almost any happening qualifies for his interest as long as it is out of the ordinary.'

The House in Nightmare Park (1973)
'Do I play the piano? Does Paganini play the trumpet?'

Doctor Who: 'Genesis of the Daleks' (1975)
'They talk of democracy, freedom, fairness. Those are the creeds of cowards, the ones who will listen to a thousand viewpoints and try to satisfy them all. Achievement comes through absolute power. And power through strength.'

Survivors: 'The Fourth Horseman' (1975)
'There was a state of emergency declared, but it was too late. There was nobody left to implement it. They even tried to set up a seat of government in the country. There was no hope of that, of course. The administrators died along with the rest of them.'

Blake's 7: 'Countdown' (1979)
'It happens to be the truth. If there had ever been a time when I could have given my own life to save her, I would have done it. The only grain of consolation that I have is that Anna knew that.'

Terry Nation reviews

There have been a couple of reviews of The Man Who Invented the Daleks in the press, which is very nice. Here's Roger Lewis in the Daily Mail and Andrew Martin in the Financial Times.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

SFX review

I can't find a copy of it online, but the current issue of SFX magazine has a nice review by Russell Lewin of The Man Who Invented the Daleks. Four stars, he gives it, and says that 'It's a book SFX readers should love'. I hope he's right.

PS The review can be found here.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

First reviews - continued

As I understand it, my book on Terry Nation is not yet available (though advance orders are bieng taken by Amazon), but there are another couple of reviews I'd like to record. The one I mentioned earlier by Paul Magrs has been joined by comments from Lance Parkin and Paul Connell. Thanks to all.

Mail on Sunday

My forthcoming book on Terry Nation, The Man Who Invented the Daleks, is featured in today's Mail on Sunday. Which is very nice of them. And indeed of Tom Daniels, who wrote the piece - my thanks to him.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

British Politics Review

The British Politics Society - who are based in Norway - publish a quarterly newsletter titled British Politics Review. And the new issue, just posted online, has some good material in it. As well as an article by me about exporting British rock and roll to America.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

First review

Another year, another book. Not quite yet, of course, but in a couple of months my book about Terry Nation should be available. And in the meantime, my thanks to Paul Magrs for posting the first review.