Dawn of the Planet of the Geeks

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Once upon a time, nobody wanted to be a geek.

Geeks were stamp collectors, train spotters or computer nerds. Who would ever want to be one of them? James Bond. Rocky. Han Solo. They were heroes. Nobody wanted to be Roland from Grange Hill. Everybody wanted to be Tucker Jenkins. Dennis the Menace trounced Softy Walter every time.

Then, in the Eighties and Nineties, things started to change. Geeks like Bill Gates and Richard Branson became role models. Filmmakers Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Quentin Tarantino, Richard Linklater and Kevin Smith were notably more geeky than their drug-addled hedonistic Seventies counterparts. The films started to reflect this  with even superficially cool characters like Back To The Future’s Marty McFly and Indiana Jones (who is, of course, an archaeologist) having a geeky side.

By the end of the 20th century, films like Clerks and TV shows like Spaced and Freaks and Geeks were close to celebrating geek culture. Mainstream characters in shows like Friends and Seinfeld also started aping geek behaviour.

Now, far from being shunned, thanks to shows like The IT Crowd (now finished) and The Big Bang Theory, geeks are not only shunned but celebrated. There is now tons of pro-geek merchandise available. There is a popular website called Den of Geek. Actors like Tobey Maguire, Zooey Deschanel, Doctor Who’s Matt Smith, Benedict Cumberbatch and Jesse Eisenberg (who memorably played Facebook founder and geek Mark Zuckerberg in the film The Social Network) are hailed as geeks. Truly, as The Bible almost says: “the geek have inherited the Earth”.

The problem is that there are still plenty of real genuinely socially maladjusted geeks around without pretend geeks homing in on their territory. The other day, an attractive female participant on Channel 4’s First Dates proudly claimed to be a geek. Yes, she wore glasses. Yes, she was a computer programmer. But was she a geek? No way.

This has to stop.  Leave the realm of geeks to the real genuine geeks: the addictive Warcraft players, the Dungeons and Dragons enthusiasts (yes, there are still many around) and the obsessive bloggers. Ahem.

Bear in mind these simple rules:

Wearing glasses is not enough in itself to make you a geek. Nor is it even necessary. Zooey Deschanel is kooky, yes, but much too attractive and sociable to have ever been a geek. Wearing glasses just means you have defective eyesight and don’t like contact lenses. And they often look cool now anyway (see below).

Watching Game of Thrones is not enough in itself. Or The Hobbit. Or Star Wars. Or Iron Man. Or computer games. All of these things are mainstream now. However, have you read more than one Game of Thrones book? Now, you’re on your way.

You cannot like sport and be a geek.

Finally, and most importantly: if you really want to be a geek, face facts:  you will never truly be one. You might as well try to be genuinely cool.

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Book review: A Million Ways To Die In The West

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A Million Ways To Die In The West

Seth MacFarlane.

Published by Canongate.

Here’s a poser: Which is harder? Writing a funny book? Or writing a funny film or TV show?

I would have thought writing a funny book would be the easier of the two, but in my experience, this doesn’t seem to be the case. For while I’ve seen countless sitcoms and movies which have made me laugh, the number of books that have amused me to that extent remain very few.

If anyone can write a funny book it should be Seth MacFarlane. As the creator of the animated series Family Guy, he has arguably produced one of the funniest shows of the century so far. His film screenplay Ted (in which Mark Wahlberg is accompanied by a foul mouthed, sleazy teddy bear which came to life during his childhood), was a hit too. Even his lesser successes (the animated show American Dad which he co-created and his supposedly poorly received Oscar ceremony hosting gig in 2013) have been good.

This is MacFarlane’s first novel and is based on the screenplay for the forthcoming film in which he also stars which he co-wrote with Alec Sulkin. Set in the Wild West of the 1880s, it centres on Albert Stark, a sheep farmer who (rather like Wahlberg’s character in Ted) has girlfriend trouble. In this case, the problem is that the supposed love of his life Louise has deserted him in favour of the local moustache merchant. Albert soon finds himself becoming sucked into a typically western experience, namely a life of duels, shoot outs and out of body experiences with a tribe of Native Americans.

Is it funny? Well, it’s certainly mildly amusing. I suspect the dialogue isn’t totally authentic to the 1880s setting (”when I sit down and go to the bathroom, it feels like there’s a madman trying to punch his way out of my asshole”) but there’s some touching scenes between Albert’s sweet natured friend Edward and his fiancée Millie, a terrifically promiscuous prostitute who nevertheless feels it would be sinful to consummate her relationship with Edward before their big day. There’s also a song about moustaches.

It’s fine. And I expect the film will be the best comedy western since Blazing Saddles. Perhaps better. But maybe you should wait to see at the cinema? Because, for some reason, I expect it will end up being much funnier on the screen than it is on the page.

Maggie vs Tony Benn

Politics - Anthony Wedgwood Benn
Two giants of the post-war political stage have died within the last year. Margaret Thatcher and Tony Benn were both born in the year 1925 and both died within twelve months of each other.

Benn’s influence was enormous and wide ranging and he is rightly hailed as one of the great British statesmen of the last century.

But the reaction to Lady Thatcher’s death was both greater and more enduring. For there is no denying it: in the Game of Thrones battle of post-war British politics, she was the victor.

A betting man (or woman) observing the two rising stars at almost any point before the late Seventies would doubtless have favoured the young Anthony Wedgewood Benn to succeed over the young Margaret Roberts. Benn was both the son and the grandson of former MPs. Roberts was of humbler stock and had to overcome both the snobbery and sexism of the times. Thatcher’s biographer John Campbell speculates that the two must have met at Oxford University where both were active in student politics. Neither ever mentioned having done so.

After serving in the RAF, Benn entered parliament at 25. He had already been an MP for almost a decade when the now married Thatcher managed to secure the Finchley seat in October 1959.

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Then things shifted, while the young Thatcher impressed many as a junior minister under Macmillan, the death of Benn’s father threatened to end his political career forever. It took three years for Benn to renounce his peerage, a struggle he did not always seem likely to win.

Once back as an MP in 1963, the rest of the decade saw Benn in power achieving most of his political successes as the rising modern technology-obsessed minister in the Wilson Government. Thatcher, in opposition from 1964 to 1970 struggled, her marriage to Denis even wobbling in the mid-Sixties.

The surprise return of the Tories in 1970, however, saw her as the Education Secretary demonised as the “milk snatcher” and alongside Barbara Castle and Shirley Williams becoming one of the most high profile women in politics.

It was at this point, Benn shifted to the Left, dropping the “Anthony Wedgewood” from his name and increasingly angering many of his colleagues on the Left and Right as unlike say, Michael Foot, he increasingly began to favour principles and “ishues” (as he  himself would have put it) over party unity and consensus. He became the source of intense media interest. The Sun dubbed him “the most dangerous man in Britain”. Benn claimed he once witnesses a man emptying one of his dustbins and taking it to a nearby limo. It would be amazing if he had not been under security service surveillance.

Thatcher’s victory in becoming Tory leader in 1975, owed itself partly to bravery, partly to luck. Ex-minister Keith Joseph had destroyed his own chances with a desperately inflammatory speech about the working classes and birth control. Thatcher stood in his stead. Few expected her to stand. Few expected her to win (least of all Ted Heath). Few expected her to become PM even after she had become Opposition leader.

Benn faced a much more crowded field in his first Labour leadership contest in 1976. He came fourth but was pleased to do as well as he did.

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Thatcher struggled against Callaghan in Opposition. But the Winter of Discontent changed everything and in 1979 she won the election and became the first woman Prime Minister. Benn remained likely to face her as Opposition leader. But he as contrary enough to sit out the 1980 contest (ultimately between Denis Healey and Michael Foot) on the grounds that the leadership contest rules were soon to change anyway. Benn felt any leader would be a lame duck.

The years 1981 and 1982 would settle the battle once and for all. Benn mounted his hugely divisive bid against Healey and the Deputy leadership in 1981. Many in his own never forgave him. He came very close to winning yet Healey survived. Thereafter Benn’s influence which had peaked steadily started to wane.

Thatcher was already deeply unpopular until the Falklands War in 1982 boosted her with a momentum which would propel her through two more landslide election victories and to the end of the decade.

The 1983 election underlined Thatcher’s triumph. She won the biggest post-war Tory election victory of the post-war era achieving a majority of 144. Benn, after twenty years, lost his seat. In fact, his defeat was largely a result of boundary changes. Benn had loyally refused to switch seats. But the result was largely blamed on an overly Bennite manifesto anyway. In retrospect, his defeat was total.

He would return as MP for Chesterfield in 1984. But Labour was now moving inexorably towards a “New Labour” direction. Benn had missed the 1983 leadership contest won by Neil Kinnock. Thatcher would beat Kinnock soundly in the 1987 General Election. Kinnock would soundly beat Benn in his last unnecessary challenge in 1988.

London Tony Benn

Benn became an increasingly avuncular and much loved figure in old age. His diaries will prove an invaluable historical resource. He remained active well into his eighties. One senses he was a much happier and well rounded figure than Lady Thatcher and had a happier family life. Thatcher, in contrast, had no interests outside politics, no real sense of humour and was unlucky enough to be struck down by dementia. It is thought that she never had a good day after leaving Downing Street in November 1990 until her death last year.

But the Britain we live in today, of a diminished welfare state, high unemployment, strong markets, privatised utilities, a pro-US foreign policy, a modernised Labour Party and a Murdoch-dominated press is recognisably hers and not Benn’s.

Benn achieved much, more than many Prime Ministers have. But this was a battle he could not win.

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Tony Benn: 1925-2014

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Tony Benn, who had died, aged eighty eight was primarily famous for the following things:

He was a Labour MP for longer than almost anyone else.

He represented Bristol South East from 1950 until 1960, then again from 1963 until 1983. He enjoyed a final 17 year stint as MP for Chesterfield from 1984 until 2001. Even after he retired to devote “more time to politics” he maintained a high profile. As a young child, he had been introduced to giants of the early 20th century such as Mahatma Gandhi, David Lloyd George and (less proudly) Sir Oswald Mosley.

Diarist.

He is also known for his diaries which he wrote on and off from his wartime teenage years in the 1940s. He wrote them consistently from his return to parliament in the early 1960s until a bout of ill health persuaded him to stop writing them in 2009. Benn reckoned writing or taping the diaries added about an hour’s extra work to every day but they are now an invaluable historical document of Benn’s own career and the Labour Party’s history, particularly during the Wilson, Callaghan and Foot years. They have been gradually been published since the Eighties, the last volume A Blaze of Autumn Sunshine appearing only a few months ago. It is reviewed here https://chrishallamworldview.wordpress.com/2013/12/17/book-review-tony-benn-a-blaze-of-autumn-sunshine-the-last-diaries/

The best leader Labour never had?
Benn never came especially close to leadership himself. He scored fairly poorly in the 1976 Labour leadership contest (still the only one to occur while the party was in power), most of the left wing vote going to Michael Foot who came second to James Callaghan. By 1980, when Labour was back in Opposition, he might well have won the leadership contest in Opposition which was won by Foot. But Benn refused to stand, arguing that with the party’s electoral system about to be updated, any leader would ultimately be a lame duck. In 1981, he launched an unexpected and hugely divisive bid for the party deputy leadership but lost very narrowly to Denis Healey. The contest marked the peak of Benn’s influence in the party and the nadir of the party’s fortunes. Many never forgave Benn for the 1981 challenge.

Benn lost his own seat in the 1983 General Election and was thus unable to compete in the subsequent leadership contest won by Neil Kinnock (who Benn disliked as leader, though they had been friends during the early left wing phase of Kinnock’s career). Benn’s final 1988 challenge to Kinnock was taken seriously by few. Benn’s influence was clearly on the wane and he performed even worse than expected.

The cult of Benn.

In fact, though he clearly wanted the leadership at different times, Benn does not seem to have been primarily driven by dreams of power. In a strange way though, like Enoch Powell on the Right, Benn set the mood of the times (the Seventies) more decisively than actual leaders like Harold Wilson and Ted Heath did. There was intense interest and paranoia about Benn in the Seventies. The Sun labelled him “The most dangerous man in Britain” and Benn and his family were frequently harassed by the press and security services.

The battle of the peerage.

In 1942, Tony’s father, William Wedgewood Benn, also a Labour politician, was awarded a hereditary peerage. It was assumed Tony’s older brother Michael would succeed on his father’s death and as he was intent on a career in the church, this wasn’t seen as a problem. In fact, Michael was subsequently killed in the war. The death was a devastating personal blow to his brother and the family, one that Tony never entirely got over. But it also provided a serious obstacle to his political career as in those days it was impossible to renounce a peerage. Getting out of the Lords and back into the Commons as an MP would be essential if Benn was to enjoy a serious political career.

Indeed, the fact that Benn was known to have an elderly father whose death might at any moment end Benn’s career as an MP, proved something of an obstacle to Benn securing a parliamentary seat in the first place. Despite this, he won a seat while still in his twenties during the last days of the Attlee Government. Throughout the Fifties, he was recognised as a rising star in the party.

Following the death of his father in 1960, a mighty battle ensued. After several by election wins and inertia from many in his own party as well as the Tory Government, Benn triumphantly returned to the Commons in 1963. An odd side effect was that Benn’s actions enabled Lord Home to renounce his peerage and become Tory Prime Minister later that same year.

More…

He was born in 1925, the same year as Margaret Thatcher. Both attended Oxford simultaneously and probably met as both were active in student politics. However, there is no record of them meeting at this time.

Benn served in the RAF during the Second World War. He was married to his American wife Caroline for fifty years. His son Hilary Benn was a minister in the last government. Although clearly far to the Right of his father, Tony (a vocal critic of New Labour) was always careful not to criticise his son in his diaries or anywhere else,

  1. Benn enjoyed his most successful period in government as Postmaster General under Wilson introducing the giro system, opening the Post Office Tower and perhaps less happily unsuccessfully launching a scheme to remove the Queen’s head from stamps (Benn met the Queen and got the impression she backed the scheme. It seems she did not). Benn also outlawed pirate radio, something he later regretted.

Benn was generally known as Anthony Wedgewood Benn until the mid Seventies. Critics still called him this until the end of his life in the hope of embarrassing him by drawing attention to his aristocratic background. He is also sometimes referred to as the former Viscount Stansgate, although he never actually used the title himself.

Benn was known for his pipe and compulsive tea drinking.

With the notable exception of Lord Denis Healey (who is 96) and three of the four founders of the SDP, Benn outlived most of his colleagues and opponents.

Friends included Chris Mullin (former MP and author of A Very British Coup), actress Saffron Burrows and newsreader Natasha Kaplinsky.

Benn had many opponents on both the Left and Right. Despite this, he was always recognised for his decency and courteous manner. Perhaps no politician since Churchill has overseen such an enduring and wide ranging career in public life.

Book Review: Tony Benn A Biography by Jad Adams

As a tribute to the veteran Labour politician Tony Benn, here, again is this review of his biography from last December…

Chris Hallam's World View

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Few people who have ever lived can claim to have enjoyed as long and diverse a political career as Tony Benn.

Today, Benn is a socialist lion in winter, bearded, in poor health and approaching his ninetieth year. He ceased writing his celebrated diary four years ago. He has been a widower for some thirteen years now and has been out of parliament for almost that entire period. With the notable exception of Denis Healey, almost all of the other leading political figures of the Sixties and Seventies (Wilson, Callaghan, Heath, Jenkins, Whitelaw, Thatcher) are now gone.

There is more to Benn than longevity although his endurance is certainly worth dwelling on for a moment. Benn was born in 1925 and as a child was introduced to the likes of Mahatma Gandhi, Ramsey MacDonald, David Lloyd George and even Sir Oswald Mosley by his father, a Secretary of State for…

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Blu-ray review: The Americans: Season 1 (15)

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DVD/Blu-ray. Twentieth Century Fox Entertainment

Starring: Matthew Rhys, Keri Russell, Noah Emmerich, Richard Thomas, Margo Martindale.

It’s 1981, Ronald Reagan has just been elected president and the Cold War is colder than ever. In Washington DC, seemingly ordinary suburban couple Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) bring up their two children and get on with their busy lives.

Yet in reality, “Philip” and his “wife” “Elizabeth” are much “busier” than anyone, even their own children, realise. For they are not American at all but are in fact Soviet undercover KGB agents planted during the Khrushchev era and dedicated to the destruction of (as Superman memorably put it) “truth, justice and the American way”.

As if life wasn’t complicated enough, look whose moving in next door! Why it’s the Beeman family headed by patriotic American Stan (Noah Emmerich) who is (of all things) an FBI agent! Stan’s s own marriage is recovering after a long spell undercover himself with the Klan in the Deep South. But while the Jennings know what he does (he is quite open about it), he has no idea that the Jennings are in fact the enemies in his midst although he does sense something is a little “off” about Philip.  With the two suburban families apparently growing friendlier, the stage is set for an enormous game of cat and mouse to begin.

As The Sopranos demonstrated, there’s plenty of fun to be had by mixing apparent suburban bliss with a morally ambiguous double life. Although they were formally paired together in the 1960s, the Jennings’ marriage isn’t a total sham. They love their genuinely all-American kids and do at least get jealous of each other when one or each of them takes part in the inevitable liaisons with other people which are an inevitable part of their work. Although the air of mystery is slightly undermined by the silly wigs and disguises they are forced to wear (think Val Kilmer in The Saint), we are left under no illusions: even Philip who has nagging doubts about the cause and has contemplated defecting to the West for good, is still prepared to do horrendous things in the name of the USSR.

Emmerich (once again playing a neighbour/spy as he did in The Truman Show) is actually the best thing about this in this and in some ways, the ups and downs of his life are more compelling than those of the Jennings who all too often vent their frustrations by simply  whingeing at each other. This and a general lack of a sense of humour are probably the main flaws of the series.

But with Season 2 of ex-CIA agent Joe Weisberg’s series already screening on ITV 1, this certainly shows promise. And it’s hard to be too critical of a series which gives Richard Thomas his best role (as Stan’s boss at the FBI) since his heyday as John -Boy Walton.

Extras: Deleted Scenes, Audio Commentary on Episode “The Colonel”, Executive Order 2578: Expanding The Americans Featurette, Perfecting The Art of Espionage Featurette, Ingenuity Over Technology Featurette, Gag Reel.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

BBC Three: RIP?

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The news that the TV channel BBC Three will exist solely as an online entity as of autumn 2015, struck a damaging hammer blow to the nation’s psyche last week. “Will life be worth living if Snog, Marry Avoid?  is told to “POD off” forever?” many wondered. Others contemplated a world without Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents. Would the living come to envy the dead?

Yet snootiness aside, many questions are raised by the imminent demise of the only specifically youth-orientated TV channel in the UK. For one thing: what will be BBC Four be called now? Will it now become the new BBC Three? The potential for confusion is endless.  Another question persists: How will British viewers get to watchFamily Guy now? And, more pertinently, how precisely does BBC Three save money by going online? Surely it is the production of TV programmes, not the fact that they are broadcast on TV, which incurs by far the greatest sum of the costs? How does switching all of the content online save serious money?

More seriously, this is a shame, simply because while it is all too easy to deride much of its content, BBC Three has built up a good record for launching new comedy in the last decade. Both Little Britain and Gavin & Stacey first appeared on BBC Three and became among the biggest British TV comedy hits of the last ten years. Both ultimately transferred to BBC One, where it must be said, their lustre rather faded over each of their three series. But their early freshest TV episodes appeared on BBC Three, (Little Britain, it should be said, technically first appearing on Radio 4).

Nor is it by any means clear that BBC Three’s best days, comedy or otherwise, is necessarily in the past. Him & HerCuckooBad EducationPramfaceUncle and Russell Howard’s Good News have all been typical of BBC Three’s recent comedy output.

In 2010, similar plans to close the BBC radio channel 6 Music were abandoned after a popular outcry. I hope something similar will occur with BBC Three. Leaving aside the issue of whether going online really suggests the “living death” that it initially appears to suggest, with Sky1 already yapping at the BBC’s heels in the comedy output stakes, can the Beeb really afford to do away with BBC Three? For if BBC Three is not there to “feed our funny,” viewers will surely someone else who will.

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The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up by Chris Hallam

This was long listed for the CreativeWritingMatters Flash Fiction competition in 2012. All entries had to be exactly 250 words long, excluding the title. http://www.creativewritingmatters.co.uk/

Many children have enjoyed the story of Peter Pan. Toby enjoyed it so much that in 1905 we vowed never to grow up at all.

“That boy is so stubborn,” his father laughed. “We should be grateful he didn’t decide to learn to fly!”

But he was less amused when five years later, Toby remained to all appearances twelve years old while his two younger brothers grew taller than him.

“Hello young Rupert! My! What a fine young gentleman you are becoming,” his grandfather, the Lord Clovis declared on a rare visit.

“That’s Toby, Papa,” his father admitted. “His growth has not been all it ought to be. Rupert is talking to Miss Evesham by the conservatory”.

The war came. Two of his brothers joined up immediately. The recruiting sergeant was baffled. “I can take boys of perhaps fourteen sir. But this boy looks no more than twelve.”

“He is nineteen!” his father, now Lord Clovis himself shouted. But Toby spent the war playing soldiers in the drawing room alone while Tom and Rupert fell at Ypres and the Somme.

Toby was soon shut away like the King’s own lost prince. He theoretically succeeded his father to the peerage in 1937, while his brother George, ten years younger, the father of two girls assumed the role in practice.

Crippled by shrapnel and debt, George opened the house to the public after the war. More than one guest reported seeing a small child during the tour, aged no more than twelve.

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Book review: Seasons In The Sun – The Battle for Britain 1974-1979

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Seasons in the Sun: The Battle for Britain, 1974-1979.

Dominic Sandbrook.

Penguin, 2011.

£10.99.

There is probably a great play to be written about the filming of the first Star Wars film.

Admittedly, there would probably be legal issues, perhaps insurmountable ones. But imagine! The tensions between the rising young American stars ex-carpenter Harrison Ford and highly intelligent but vulnerable Carrie Fisher. And the older distinguished English co-star Sir Alec Guinness, a man with an Oscar and years of experience but little understanding of the script.

This might sound like an odd place to begin a review of a book about Britain in the late Seventies. But this is exactly where the book itself begins. The film was after all, mostly filmed in Britain with much of the cast drawn from the likes of those previously best known for appearances on Poldark or later to appear in Brookside. A key point is that Guinness had managed to secure a generous two percent of the entire profits for a film that was to become one of the most commercially successful of all time. Another is that under the tax regime of the time, Inland Revenue trucks were soon pulling up to claim 83 pence out of every pound Guinness had made.

It was, of course, not a happy spell in British modern history. Sandbrook suggests the 1974-76 Wilson Government was the worst in British history.”Wilson was one of the cleverest and kindest men ever to occupy Number 10 but also one of the weakest,” he writes. In fairness, he inherited a mess (the Three Day Week and an economic crisis from Heath) and left it little better. This is odd because the government which included Denis Healey, Roy Jenkins and Anthony Crosland amongst its members was far from extreme (for the most part) and certainly not lacking in talent. Probably the main problem was Wilson himself who had not expected to return to power in 1974 and thanks to alcoholism and probable early Alzheimer’s, was a shadow of his sharp witted, wily mid-1960s self. Jim Callaghan, at any rate, though close to being a watered down Thatcherite himself, did better. At least until the Winter of Discontent.

It was a strange time in many ways. There was intense paranoia on all sides as if the neuroses of Wilson and US President Richard Nixon had infected the general population. The right wing host of TV’s Opportunity Knocks, Hughie Green appealed live on air: “For God’s sake Britain, wake up!” in 1975.Many worried about a coup from the Left  perhaps led by Tony Benn while others began preparing for a coup from the Right, perhaps led by Lord Mountbatten. Right wing journalist Peregrine Worsthorne hoped the United States would come to the aid of a socialist Britain just as they had “helped” Allende’s Chile by replacing him with the murderous General Pinochet in 1973. This scenario later inspired Chris Mullin’s thriller A Very British Coup in which a democratically elected Labour Prime Minister ids overthrown by a combination of the CIA, British security services and the Establishment.

This is the fourth of Dominic Sandbrook’s superb series of four books which thus far have chronicled Britain’s progress (or decliner) from the era of Suez to the coming of Thatcher (the others are Never Had It So Good, White Heat and State of Emergency). As before, Sandbrook does a superb job of describing not just the political and economic scene but the minutiae of seemingly almost every aspect of British life  the details of the Sex Pistols’ notorious TV appearance with Bill Grundy (“Who knows what Grundy thought he was s doing?” Sandbrook rightly asks after Grundy goaded his guests into swearing on live TV and thus ensuring his own downfall.

Mike Yarwood. Malcolm Bradbury. Butterflies. The Good Life. Quadrophenia. John Stonehouse. Lord Lucan. The Bee Gees. All are here. It is a fascinating read. Along with Alwyn W. Turner and David Kynaston, Dominic Sandbrook remains at the forefront among chroniclers of our nation’s recent history.

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A Girl Called Jack book review

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A Girl Called Jack

100 Delicious Budget Recopies

By Jack Monroe

Penguin/Michael Joseph Paperback

£12.99

Let’s face it: Jack Monroe isn’t the first and won’t be the last. Numerous cookbook authors have stressed their low budget credentials before and will do so again. While aspirational cookery has always remained popular even during the darkest days of the recent recession, it would be a foolish foodie indeed who entirely ignored entirely the constraints forced upon many ordinary people by the slump resulting from the jiggery pokery of our once esteemed global banking, plus the subsequent devastating economic slump.

The difference is that, without wishing to get all Karl Marx-y about it, author Jack Monroe has solid recent and raw experience of life on what used to be called “the breadline”.  She was and is a single mother from Southend and spent a full year on the dole as recently as 2011. Her words thus carry somewhat more credibility on this score than the Nigellas and Jamies of this world, well meaning though they me be.

Not that this would matter a hell of a lot if Jack Monroe’s recipes which include Chocolate Tea Bread, Jam Thumbprint  Cookies and Pasta alla Genovese were not a) genuinely makeable with cheap and readily available ingredients. But thankfully they are (the Pasta alla Genovese especially scrumptious).

Furthermore, as a lesbian and a onetime benefit claimant, Jack Monroe has at least two attributes which make her a Public Enemy in the eyes of the Daily Mail.

What more prompting do you need? Go out and buy this excellent and endlessly resourceful book. The accompanying TV series is surely only a matter of time.

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