Book review: Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

Chris Hallam's World View

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The Seventies were a very long time ago. It was a time of Cold War, industrial unrest, power cuts, states of emergency and economic decline. The Right were alarmed at the possibility of a coup from the Marxist Left, perhaps led by Anthony Wedgewood Benn. The Left were, in turn (perhaps with more reason) worried about the prospect of a military takeover by the Right, perhaps with Lord Louis Mountbatten being appointed as its symbolic head.

None of this news. The Seventies have been well covered in recent years, in non-fiction (such as Dominic Sandbrook’s excellent State of Emergency) and in fiction (Jonathan Coe’s The Rotter’s Club is just one example).

The era, specifically the Heath years (1970-74), do, however, provide an excellent backdrop for Ian McEwan’s latest spy novel Sweet Tooth.

Perhaps “spy novel” is a misleading term (although it definitely is one) as this has a more…

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Movie review: The Jungle Book

Chris Hallam's World View

jungle-book-2016-trailers-bare-necessitiesLet’s just make things clear: despite the name, this isn’t a book, it is a film. Nor is it the famous Disney cartoon, the one you probably saw first as a child and doubtless have fond memories of. It also isn’t the forthcoming one with Cate Blanchett and Benedict Cumberbatch in either. That’s Jungle Book: Origins due out in 2018. Finally, it isn’t the now largely forgotten 1994 live action version. But I doubt you ever thought it was anyway: It is largely forgotten.
This one is a live action film starring Peter Venkman from Ghostbusters, Nelson Mandela, the Black Widow from The Avengers and Mahatma Gandhi. Mowgli is clearly intended to remind you of the cartoon one with his orange pants and big dark hair but is actually played by a real boy, the excellent Neel Sethi. As in Babe though, the animals are real but have been granted…

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Why I cannot vote for Corbyn as leader again

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As a party member, I voted for Jeremy Corbyn a year ago. He was the best of the candidates available at the time. But a year on, one thing is clear:  it’s not working out. The party has been in perpetual crisis ever since. It has been behind in the polls for his entire first year as leader, the first time this has happened in my lifetime I think and I am in my late thirties. Even under Michael Foot, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband, Labour were ahead sometimes. Now they never are.

It cannot go on like this. There has to be a change. Owen Smith isn’t great but if he does well, someone else will move into the contest to lead the party. I am not expecting this to happen. I am expecting Jeremy Corbyn to win.

But what reasons do people give for supporting him?

He is moral and decent: I believe this. I don’t trust Virgin Trains in the matter this week for a moment. But Clement Attlee was moral and decent and led us to victory where we achieved great things. Michael Foot was moral and decent and led us to electoral disaster, leaving Margaret Thatcher a huge majority with which to do as she wished. Being moral and decent is not enough in itself.

He has already won a huge mandate from his party: True, but that was a year ago. A lot has changed since then. This is a new contest. Saying “he won the leadership before” is not an argument for backing him again.

The media are hostile to him: The press certainly are. But they always are to Labour. That isn’t really the problem.

Many MPs never supported him from the outset: This is true and certainly isn’t too their credit. I will certainly support Corbyn if he wins. I hope MPs do the same. Pro-Corbyn members should stop going on about purging their enemies within the party too. Enough is enough.

Labour MPs should represent the majority of their members’ views: No. This has never been the case. MPs should vote for whoever they wish.

Winning isn’t everything: No, but it’s essential if we are to accomplish anything. The Tories have their smallest majority since 1945. Victory is achievable but some of us act as if we don’t want to win, as if to win is the same as becoming a Tory.

Had we followed this approach in 1945, we would now have no NHS or welfare  state. If we had done the same in 1964, homosexuality and abortion would never have been legalised, the death penalty abolished or comprehensive education introduced. And had we not won in 1997, there would now be no minimum wage, Good Friday Agreement or devolution.

We owe it to our people to win power. And we cannot do so, under Jeremy Corbyn.

 

 

DVD review: Episodes Series 4

Chris Hallam's World View

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Episodes is a comedy series about people making comedy series.

Following their hellish experience adapting their own successful British sitcom into “Pucks” (a US remake, wrecked by producer interference) British husband and wife comedy writing team Bev and Sean (Greig and Mangan) find themselves back in Hollywood.  With Sean, at any rate, lured back by the prospect of cash, the duo escape the extramarital shenanigans that characterised the first three series of Episodes but otherwise find themselves enduring the same Hollywood nightmare. Again. And again. And again.

Pucks star Matt LeBlanc (playing an unflattering version of himself) finds himself facing multiple dilemmas after losing half of his multimillion fortune. Should he sell his private plane, remarry his ex to cut down on his alimony payments or agree to do a terrible new quiz show “Beat The Box” with his hated ex-boss Merc Lapidus (Pankow, great)? Or would recording a sex…

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British Public Take BFJ To Their Hearts

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People all over the land have been thrilling to the antics of the huge lumbering giant BFJ otherwise known as Boris Fucking Johnson.

“I love how he uses funny long words which nobody really understands, like rambunctious and flibbertigibbet,” says Colin, 66, from Kent. “I also like how he travels to lots of different countries all around the world really fast.”

Miranda, 44, from Chelsea, also enjoys Boris Fucking Johnson’s adventures. “He’s always saying the wrong thing!” she laughs. “He blows dreams into people’s ears. Mainly dreams about the UK benefiting economically from leaving the European Union.”

Boris Fucking Johnson has definitely not been seen enticing young women out of their windows as some had claimed.

Less popular recent characters from the same stable include George Osborne’s Marvellous Economic Medicine and The Fantastic Dr. Liam Fox.

Twenty years of Our Friends In The North

Chris Hallam's World View

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It has now been a full two decades since the start of one of the most acclaimed British dramas of all time, Our Friends In The North. Peter Flannery’s hugely ambitious nine part series depicted British life between the years 1964 and 1995, through the eyes of four Newcastle friends as they progress from youth to middle age.

Opening on the eve of the October 1964 General Election, which saw a rejuvenated Labour Party reclaim power after thirteen years of Tory misrule, the series ends in 1995, with New Labour seemingly poised to do much the same thing. In the meantime, the series touches on a whole range of issues including corruption within the police and government, the decline of the Left, the Miner’s Strike, homelessness, the failure of high rise housing and rising crime. The show includes a huge supporting cast too. Even today, it is hard to watch TV…

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DVD review: Friday Night Dinner Series 2

Chris Hallam's World View

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Friday Night Dinner: Season 2

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If you’ve never seen Friday Night Dinner before, lucky you: you are in for a treat.

Robert Popper’s sitcom has a laughably simple premise. A middle aged married Jewish couple Martin and Jackie Goodman (Paul Ritter and sitcom veteran Tamsin Greig) are joined every Friday evening for dinner by their two twentysomething sons Adam and Jonny (Simon Bird and Tom Rosenthal).

That’s really all there is to it. And it’s hilarious.

Much of the humour comes from the silliness of the two sons who in the first episode find themselves engaged in a virtual house civil war over Adam’s childhood toy bunny “Buggy”. The duo later engage in a further feud when it emerges Jonny is having an affair with an older woman at his work.

Yet juvenile though they are, the Goodman sons are at least still on Planet Earth. The funniest characters…

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DVD review: Sing Street

Chris Hallam's World View

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Dublin, 1985 and teenager Conor is having a tough time. His home life is hell as he and his older brother and sister are forced to support each other as their parents are totally distracted by an ugly break-up. What’s more, Conor is forced to attend a tough new school where he faces a daily battle to avoid being beaten up by the other pupils as well as by the priests who are supposed to be running it. As if all that wasn’t enough, the Irish Republic is in the doldrums with many young people pinning all their hopes on escape to the UK, itself experiencing record breaking levels of unemployment under Margaret Thatcher at this time.

Thankfully, Conor has two great comforts: firstly, his love of music, encouraged by his brother (US actor Reynor), who though only slightly older seems to have otherwise already given up on life and…

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News: Tom Daley to go weekly

Tom Daley to go weekly

After over twenty years, it has been announced that the Olympic bronze-winning diver Tom Daley is to go weekly. “Tom is very popular and has been a big success,” a spokesman said, “but some segments have been increasingly skimpy of late, particularly around the trunks section. Fans should still enjoy a less frequent and more substantial Tom in the years to come.” The announcement follows similar recent format changes for the actresses Honeysuckle Months, Keira Fort-Knightley and the gradual transformation of Gary Numan into Gary Oldman.

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Olympic results “unfair” claim protesters

Large numbers of protesters have gathered to complain about Britain’s medal tally at the Rio Olympics, with some arguing that the event should be completely re-staged. “It’s an outrage,” said one. “Many of the judges looked like they didn’t know what they were doing. I bet some of them were too working class or old to make informed decisions on such complex issues. I don’t think some of them had even been to London, let alone lived there.” “Perhaps the Olympics could be re-staged in another city in about four years time?” suggested another. “They could do that every four years, in fact, until we get the result we want.”

Tom Daley “wins entire Rio Olympics” single handed

Reports have been coming in that British diver Tom Daley has won every event at the Rio 2016 Olympics on his own. Some commentators have disputed this, one claiming, “Tom’s a damn good fellow but I’m sure in the synchronised diving event at least one other person was involved.” “There actually may have been someone else diving too,” admits one correspondent. “But our deadlines are very tight and I didn’t get the fellow’s name if there was anyone else there. It was also very hard to see: whoever it was was very awkwardly placed. Tom was right in front of them during the entire dive.”

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DVD review: The Story of 2000AD

Chris Hallam's World View

Future-ShockImagine it’s March 1977, you have 8p and you want a comic. Let’s assume you want a boy’s comic: it was a sexist world back then. There are lots to choose from. Perhaps you want a funny one The Beano, The Dandy, The Beezer, The Topper, Whoopee!, Buster or Whizzer and Chips? Or something harder edged? Tiger, Battle or a new science fiction comic with a free “space spinner” on the front?

2000AD emerged from the ashes of Action comic, which was withdrawn due to its violent content in the mid 1970s. Did anyone present at 2000AD’s creation, imagine it would still be going in the then far flung futuristic year of 2000AD? A year by which time most of the children who had bought Prog 1 would be in their thirties, many with children of their own? It seems unlikely. It is now 39 years on from that first…

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DVD review: Ultimate Bill Hicks

Chris Hallam's World View

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1994 was a real bugger of a year for premature celebrity deaths. Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain shot himself, Labour leader John Smith (still too young at 55) died suddenly after a heart attack, motor racing driver Ayrton Senna died in a crash and US comedian Bill Hicks died age 32,

I was 17 at the time but have no memory of this whatsoever. Like many Britons, I would have had no idea who he was. Like many people, I’ve discovered him since his death. Twenty two years on, he is still brilliantly uncompromising, sharp edged and funny.

This set includes One Night Stand (1989), Sane Man (1989).Revelations (1993) and the 1994 documentary It’s Just A Ride. All are worth watching though some inevitably feature the same material and are presented in a dated way. Hicks contained a new topical resonance in 2003 and watching his diatribes against Bush (as in…

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Book review: Whoniverse – An Unofficial Planet By Planet Guide To The Universe of Doctor Who by Lance Parkin

Chris Hallam's World View

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Book review: Whoniverse – An Unofficial Planet By Planet Guide To The Universe of Doctor Who From Gallifrey To Skaro by Lance Parkin.

Published by: Aurum Press

Out: October 22nd 2015

The Doctor is in. And he is is likely to remain in for some time. Even ignoring the inconvenient interruption of the years from 1989 to 2005 (when aside from a failed TV movie, Doctor Who was not on TV), the series nevertheless has an impressive legacy, stretching back to 1963. And the universe within the show, helpfully covered by Lance Parkin here, obviously covers countless millennia and numerous imaginary worlds and timelines.

It perhaps goes without saying that this is a book for true fans of the series, starting as it does with almost academic sounding chapters entitled “the structure of the universe” before launching into accounts of the likes of Kaldor, Peladon and The Shadow Proclamation. This is…

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Blackadder II: The perfect TV comedy?

Chris Hallam's World View

This piece is reproduced from Chortle. It first appeared in January 2011. 

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p036d0c1Twenty five years ago this month, British television comedy came as close to achieving perfection as it has ever done before or since. Blackadder II (otherwise known as ‘the Elizabethan one’) first appeared on our screens.

Of course, Blackadder itself started in 1983, so we’ve already marked its quarter-century. What need is there to mark the anniversary of its second series?

In my view, Blackadder II is worth celebrating simply because it is a breed apart from either its predecessor or sequels. The first series, set during the Wars of the Roses, was, for the most part, as overblown as it was overbudget. While it undeniably had its moments, the end result, written by Richard Curtis and Rowan Atkinson, was close to being a TV flop. Blackadder II therefore came very close to not being made…

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Film review: Dad’s Army (2016)

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Who did they think they were kidding?

A new film version of the classic BBC TV comedy series about the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard was never likely to win over fans of the much-loved sitcom.

But in fairness, while certainly not great, this isn’t all bad. The casting is mostly successful. Toby Jones achieves the near impossible feat of filling Arthur Lowe’s shoes as the perfectly pompous Captain Mainwaring. ‘Line of Duty’ star Daniel Mays is also excellent as the spiv Private Walker and Michael Gambon (despite a needlessly crude scene in which he pisses on another character) does an admirable job of evoking the spirit of the placid Private Godfrey (originally played by Arnold Ridley). There is also an admirable attempt to expand the female cast – perhaps a slight failing of the original show – including Alan Partridge’s Felicity Montagu as the formidable and previously unseen Elizabeth Mainwaring.

But there also is quite a lot that is bad. Although mostly competent, some of the cast such as Tom Courtenay as Lance Corporal Jones (a genuinely old actor playing the character Clive Dunn played in middle-age) and Bill Nighy’s louche Sergeant Wilson generally reminding you of the old cast just enough to annoy you rather than truly replacing them. Blake Harrison’s portrayal of young Pike, meanwhile, is completely misjudged, ‘The Inbetweeners’ star playing him more as a debonair lech than as the juvenile “stupid boy” Ian Lavender perfected, despite both actors playing the role at a similar age.

Like the flawed 1971 film of the series, the movie also errs in making the platoon face a very specific foe in this case in the form of spy Catherine Zeta Jones. In the TV series, the real but unseen threat posed by the Nazis overseas was usually deemed sufficient although in fairness this is perhaps an inevitable consequence of expanding ‘Dad’s Army’ into a full-length film.

Unanswered questions abound though. Why does the film start in 1944 when in reality that was the year the Home Guard ceased activity? Why is one group of characters shown in full fox-hunting regalia, when hunting never occurred during the Second World War? Why does the plot hinge on a civilian telephone call to occupied Paris, an impossibility at the time? Why does the usually uneducated Jones suddenly start making a fairly deep philosophical point on one occasion? Why is Wilson suddenly revealed as an ex-university don?

This isn’t a disaster and is certainly respectful to the memory of  ‘Dad’s Army’. But forty years on from the end of the series, one wonders if even despite its surprisingly strong box office (mostly, like the recent Brexit result, attributable to older audiences) if this will be our final visit to Walmington-on-Sea.

Director: Oliver Parker. Cast: Toby Jones, Catherine Zeta Jones, Bill Nighy, Bill Paterson, Michael Gambon, Daniel Mays, Felicity Montagu, Alison Steadman, Sarah Lancashire

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Book review: Order, Order! by Ben Wright

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Alcohol has long been the fuel which has powered the engine of our nation’s political life. Sometimes the results seemed to be beneficial. Margaret Thatcher generally found it difficult to relax and enjoyed a whisky or two most evenings during her long stint in Number 10. Winston Churchill also seems to have been improved incredibly by the astonishing amounts of alcohol he drank during his premiership. One has to wonder if we would have won the war, as BBC Political Correspondent Ben Wright does here, had he not drank.

Sometimes the results were less positive. During the 1970s, both Harold Wilson and Richard Nixon both saw their powers dim partly as a result of excessive alcohol consumption.Much earlier, William Pitt the Younger went through the same thing.

Occasionally, the results have been funny. Wilson’s famously erratic Foreign Secretary George Brown experienced numerous embarrassments as the result of his frequently “tired and emotional” state while Tory MP Alan Clark was famously exposed by Labour’s Clare Short as being drunk in the House on one occasion, or at least did so as far as Commons protocol allowed.

Often,  of course, as in the case of former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy, the results have been tragic.

Ben Wright’s book offers a witty and well informed insight into one of Britain’s longest standing political traditions.

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Book review: Order, Order! The Rise and Fall of Political Drinking by Ben Wright.

Published by: Duckworth Overlook

Book review: American Maelstrom

1968:  Senator Robert Kennedy speaking at an election rally.  (Photo by Harry Benson/Express/Getty Images)

1968: Senator Robert Kennedy speaking at an election rally. (Photo by Harry Benson/Express/Getty Images)

1968 was a US presidential election year like no other, more violent, traumatic and divisive than any before or since.
The previous election in 1964 had seen President Lyndon B. Johnson defeat his rather alarming opponent Senator Barry Goldwater by a record margin. But this already seemed like a distant memory by the start of 1968, as the United States was reeling from a dramatic breakdown in law and order and mounting division over the increasingly bloody quagmire in Vietnam. LBJ seemed exhausted, his ambitious and admirable Great Society programme sidelined forever by the escalating war,
Despite this, the president (who was eligible for one more term, having served the fourteen remaining months of the assassinated John F. Kennedy’s remaining term, plus one of his own) was still generally expected to win.
But shock followed shock in 1968. First, the US suffered a major setback in Vietnam as the Viet Cong launched the Tet Offensive. Then, the little known senator Eugene McCarthy scored an impressive 41% in the New Hampshire primary: not a win but a major shock to the White House. This prompted Johnson’s hated rival Bobby Kennedy to enter the race. Like McCarthy, he ran on an anti-war ticket.
At this point, Johnson astonished the world by announcing his withdraw from the race declaring: “I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President,” in a televised address in March. Concerns that he might suffer another heart attack were a factor, something he confided to his Vice President Hubert Humphrey who effectively ran in his stead. He did indeed die following a heart attack on January 22nd 1973. Had he won and served another full term, his presidency would have ended just two days before.

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Michael A. Cohen’s book is especially effective in its portrayal of the hugely diverse range of characters who ran for president in 1968. President Johnson: a man so crude he would sometimes take his own “Johnson” out during meetings. Bobby Kennedy is also demystified. Tragic as his assassination was, Cohen dispels the myth that his victory would have been inevitable had he lived. In fact, he may well not have even won the Democratic Party nomination. McCarthy: an often irritating candidate who lost all heart in the 1968 contest following RFK’s death. George Wallace, the racist demagogue running as an independent. And Humphrey, the eventual Democratic nominee after a disastrous Chicago convention marred by the brutal police suppression of anti-war protests outside. Despite a terrible campaign, “Humph” came surprisingly close to winning.

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But he was narrowly beaten by Richard Nixon, ultimately a disastrous choice for presidency. Nixon had already seen off challenges from political newcomer Ronald Reagan and George Romney, (the father of Mitt Romney who was beaten by Obama in 2012). Romney Senior’s campaign was scarcely less inept than his son’s. Witnesses have described it as “like watching a duck try to make love to a football.”
There is no happy ending here. Nixon won after sabotaging Johnson’s attempts to secure peace in Vietnam before the election, despite publicly expressing support for them. Everything shifted to the Right. Nothing was ever the same again.

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Book review: American Maelstrom: The 1968 Election and the Politics of Division by Michael A Cohen. Published by: Oxford University Press.