Which key events of the Roaring 20s are likely to happen again in the next decade? 1. A General Strike: possible but unlikely. 2. Stock Market Crash: very likely, but hopefully on a smaller scale. 3. Silly dancing trends, fashion and slang adopted: certain. 4. Republicans win 3 presidential elections as US retreats into isolationism: sadly seems very plausible. 5. Italy descends into fascism: I hope not! 6. Brits triumph at Olympics after running in slow motion to Vangelis music on a beach: er… 7. The Queen and Sir David Attenborough are born. Unlikely. In fact, probably quite the opposite? Happy New Decade readers!
With the General Election just ten days away, around 300 people chose to brave the cold December Monday evening air to see four of the six candidates competing to be Exeter’s next MP answer a selection of selected questions submitted by the general public inside Exeter Cathedral.
Two of the candidates were absent: Former pantomime star Daniel Page who is running as an independent and the Brexit Party candidate, Leslie Willis did not attend.
The Liberal Democrats (who performed very poorly in the 2015 and 2017 elections in Exeter) also did not attend as they are not fielding a candidate in this election. The party agreed to step aside to the give the pro-Remain Green Party candidate Joe Levy, a clear run. The Labour candidate, Mr. Bradshaw is also very pro-EU. However, Labour’s overall position is seen as less unambiguously pro-Remain than the Greens. (This paragraph has been amended as of 8th December 2019).
None of the candidates are women: the first time this has been the case in Exeter since 1987.
After some initial sound problems, proceedings began. Although each candidate answered each question individually, I’ll deal with each candidate, one at a time:
Ben Bradshaw (Labour)
This is the seventh election in Exeter for Labour’s Bradshaw and as he won his biggest ever victory in 2017 with 62% of the vote, it must be assumed he is the favourite to win again his time. He performed strongly on questions ranging from climate change, homelessness, transport, Brexit and the party leadership. He lamented the fact that Labour’s successful record on reducing homelessness had been completely undone by the Tories since 2010 and complained that environmental targets would be threatened by us leaving the EU.
He resisted attacking the Labour leadership or predicting a heavy Tory win nationwide as he did in 2017 and provided a convincing defence of Labour’s proposed nationalisation programme. He criticised the First Past the Post system which he campaigned to reform in the 2011 referendum. He argued that the best way to stop Brexit was by electing as many Labour MPs as possible and followed Green candidate Joe Levy’s lead in deriding the notion that a Tory win would mean a quick and easy end to Brexit as a nonsense. He also asked voters to judge him on his record as MP for Exeter since 1997.
John Gray (Conservative)
The Conservative candidate began with an interesting question. How many of the audience had actually read the Conservative manifesto? Very few hands were raised. This would doubtless have produced a similar response if he had asked about the other party manifestos too. But it was a welcome piece of audience participation in an evening which generally did not involve much audience response, aside from clapping and occasional grumbling. Perhaps it would have been a different story if the pantomime man had turned up?
Elsewhere, Mr Gray gave decent, worthy answers, some of which were undermined by the government’s record. He was predictably negative about nationalisation, although not very specific on why and gave good answers on the environment. He argued, as the UKIP candidate did, that the 2016 Brexit vote represented the will of the people. His claim that an overall majority for Boris Johnson’s Tories would lead to a quick and easy end to Brexit was derided by Joe Levy and Ben Bradshaw. His portrait of a Labour government torn apart by coalitions and confusion was similar to the ‘coalition of chaos’ arguments deployed by Tories in 2015. Some in the audience might have reflected that the decade since 2010 has been spent almost entirely under Tory rule and yet has been almost entirely spent in coalition or/and hung parliaments. The last three years particularly have seen more political chaos than anyone can remember.
Later, he was laughed at by many in the audience after he asserted that “a vote for Labour is a vote for Jeremy Corbyn, while a vote for me, is a vote for a Conservative government.” Bradshaw and others were quick to note his failure to mention Boris Johnson at this point. Later, he attempted to endorse Boris Johnson again. It did not seem entirely convincing. However, in general, Mr. Gray performed well.
Joe Levy (Green Party)
As in the 2017 campaign, Joe Levy, though still in his twenties stood out as one of the most impressive figures in the debate, making a convincing case for such concepts as the introduction of a universal basic income and, of course, the urgency of the need to combat climate change.
He drew particular applause for his passionate advocacy of EU membership, arguing his grandparents had supported it for the simple primary reason that they remembered the Second World War.
He also made a mockery of the general Conservative claim that a Tory win will automatically lead to a simple straightforward Brexit. Mr Bradshaw, picked up on this, agreeing that it was one of the biggest and most persistent lies of the Tory campaign.
Duncan Odgers (UKIP)
Arriving slightly late, Mr Odgers annoyed many in the audience, by asserting early on that contrary to popular belief immigration is a major problem in Exeter, in fact, largely explaining why house prices are high. Elsewhere, he performed well on other issues, even acknowledging climate change exists. He argued against nationalisation and argued Exeter (which voted 55 to 45 to remain in the EU) should respect the will of the nation as a whole on Brexit even if the city mostly did not support it itself. He spoke of Brexit as if it was something destined never to happen now and called Jeremy Corbyn’s position of neutrality on the issue, “a disgrace”. Occasionally, he rambled slightly. He blamed overpopulation for many of our environmental problems, but did not say what could be done about it.
A persistent charge, which many would agree with, was that many people today have lost faith in the current crop of politicians. A wider issue which wasn’t addressed was whether the upper ranks of UKIP who have included the likes of Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall in the past are really any more trustworthy.
Chris Hallam has written A-Z of Exeter: People, Places, History and co-wrote the book, Secret Exeter with Tim Isaac. Both are published by Amberley and are available now
On October 21st 1966, after a period of heavy rain, 30,000 cubic yards of coal sludge collapsed on 19 houses and a primary school in Aberfan with predictably devastating results. Episode 3 of The Crown focuses on he disaster and its aftermath. The Queen herself reacts slowly to the tragedy, forcing her to confront her own apparent tendency to react with the traditional stoicism and reserve to such events, rather than the public show of emotion which might be expected or even needed by the watching public in the media age. The monarch would, of course, fall foul of similar issues following the death of Diana, 31 years’ later.
The Crown is back. We rejoin proceedings at the dawn of a new era.
For after two glorious seasons with the marvelous Claire Foy playing the Princess and young Queen in her twenties and thirties, we now give way to the new age of Olivia Colman. The transition is neatly symbolised by a tactful discussion of a new Royal portrait for a new range of postage stamps. It is 1964 and the monarch is in her late thirties, what might normally be seen as her “middle years.”
“A great many changes. But there we are,” Colman’s Queen remarks. “Age is rarely kind to anyone. Nothing one can do about it. One just has to get on with it.”
Other changes are afoot too. Then, as now, a general election is in progress, resulting in the election of the first Labour Prime Minister of the Queen’s reign, Harold Wilson. Jason Watkins captures Wilson’s manner perfectly, although not yet his wit. In time, we now know Wilson would become the favourite of the Queen’s Prime Ministers. At this stage, however, both figures are wary of each other: the working class Wilson seems socially insecure and chippy while the Queen has heard an unfounded rumour from Prince Philip (Tobias Menzies – a good likeness) that Wilson is a KGB agent.
Elsewhere, another age comes to an end as the elderly Churchill breathes his last. In a rare piece of casting continuity, John Lithgow briefly resumes his role.
Suspicion also surrounds Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures, Anthony Blunt. Although not exactly a dead ringer for the art historian and Soviet spy, Samuel West is well cast as Blunt. West is a fine actor anyway but his lineage here is impeccable. His mother, Prunella Scales played the Queen in the Alan Bennett drama, A Question of Attribution, which was about Blunt and which parts of this episode strongly resemble. Blunt then was played by James Fox, whose brother Edward, incidentally played Churchill in The Audience, the Peter Morgan play which inspired this series. West also played the Queen’s father George VI in the (not very good) film, Hyde Park on the Hudson. His wife, the future Queen Mother was played by one Olivia Colman. West’s father, Timothy, of course, famously played George VI’s grandfather, Edward VII (and also played Churchill, several times), while Colman won an Oscar for playing the Queen’s ancestor, Queen Anne in The Favourite, earlier this year.
Fellow Oscar winner, Helena Bonham Carter is, of course, now cast as the Queen’s glamorous but troubled sister, Princess Margaret here, replacing the excellent Vanessa Kirby. The makers clearly feel obliged to feature Margaret frequently in this episode, presumably because of Bonham Carter’s star status, but aside from much drinking, rudeness, singing and fretting about her wayward photographer husband Armstrong-Jones (Ben Daniels), who is pictured motorbiking about a lot, she does little of interest.
The next episode promises to be much more Margaret-orientated…
Book review: Why We Get The Wrong Politicians, by Isabel Hardman. Published by: Atlantic Books.
As British voters prepare to go to the polls for the fourth time this decade, it is well worth bearing in mind: the way we select our politicians is awful.
You don’t actually have to be rich to become an MP, but as Isabel Hardman’s book highlights, the process of standing for parliament is so expensive, time consuming and arduous, it’s a wonder anyone ever does it in the first place. Most candidates in the current general election campaign will never become MPs. And even if they do, the labyrinthine world of Westminster offers so little support to new members, that many of them will find themselves falling victim to alcoholism or marital breakdown. Of course, many also often find themselves subject to personal abuse, on Twitter, on nastier versions of blogs like this or in what is sometimes referred to as “the real world”.
Hardman (the Deputy Editor of The Spectator) admits to some well-intentioned sleight of hand here. Despite the book’s title, she is not actually attacking politicians as a class. She does not pander to the popular stereotype that all or even most MPs are lazy, out of touch or corrupt. Although she does not shy away from recounting examples of abuse, she reminds us that the vast majority of MPs are hardworking, dedicated people. Attending regular surgeries and hearing constituents’ problems arguably puts them more in touch with ordinary people’s problems than the average person.
Hardman’s argument is that the current system is deeply flawed, often resulting in unsatisfactory laws.
It is an excellent book and a difficult argument to refute.
Book review: Where Power Stops: The Making and Unmaking of Presidents and Prime Ministers, by David Runciman. Published by: Profile Books.
The premise is simple enough. David Runciman takes a look at some of the most interesting recent British and American leaders and sees what we can learn from their experiences of leadership. His choice of subjects is in itself fascinating.
Lyndon B. Johnson: a huge, cajoling, powerful figure, the choice of LBJ nevertheless seems slightly odd, simply because his tenure (1963-69) was so much earlier than everyone else included here. Runciman also inevitably relies on Robert Caro’s masterful biography of the 36th US president. Still unfinished, Caro’s magnum opus has barely touched on Johnson’s years in the White House yet. Let’s hope he gets to finish it.
Runciman has a talent for shedding new light on potentially over-familiar topics. All manner of leader is included here. Amongst others, the list includes: exceptional men who fell slightly short of the high hopes they raised on the campaign trail (Barack Obama), good leaders who trashed their own reputations on leaving office (Tony Blair), the highly intelligent and flawed (Bill Clinton and Gordon Brown), the decent but narrow (Theresa May) and the ultimate narcissist, the abominable showman (Donald Trump). The last of these should never have got close to power in the first place. Unhappily, he is the only one included here who is still there.
The fascinating story of the implosion of John Edwards’ 2008 presidential campaign will doubtless make a great film one day. As he never made it to the presidency, however, it doesn’t really belong here. But, overall, Runciman does an excellent job. The book is manna for political geeks like myself.
For 2,000 years, the Devon city of Exeter has played a small
but vital role in our nation’s history. There have been highs and lows. For
centuries, it was one of the top cities in the land, elevated into a golden age
of prosperity. But the city has also suffered countless incursions from a wide
range of invaders both foreign and English. It came close to defeating William
the Conqueror, remained defiant in the face of German bombing, fought on both
sides in the English Civil War and has battled fires, plagues, sieges and
pretenders to the throne.
This is Exeter’s story, told
for the first time in alphabetical order.
Chapter headings include:
The Civil War
The Exeter Blitz
The Great Theatre Fire
Witches on trial
Chris Hallam was born in Peterborough
and settled in Exeter in 2005 where he now lives with his wife. He has written
for a large number of local and national magazines including DVD Monthly, Yours
Retro, Infinity, Geeky Monkey and Best of British. He also wrote The Smurfs
annual 2014 and co-wrote the book, Secret Exeter in 2018.
Reproduced, with thanks, from Bingebox magazine (2016):
It seems like a familiar sight. A lone sultry and very famous singer delivers a seductive performance of “happy birthday” to the birthday boy, actually her secret lover, who also happens to be her leader. But as she reaches the third line, something jars. The words change and things take a chilling turn. “Happy birthday…Mein Fuhrer,” are the star’s next words. For while this is Marilyn Monroe, she is not singing to President Kennedy, the charismatic young American president but to … someone else entirely.
So, begins the trailer for the second season of Amazon Prime’s, The Man In The High Castle. And as if we didn’t know already, this is a world in which history has taken a very different turn from our own. And not for the better.
THE REICH STUFF
of The Man In The High Castle stems from the endlessly fascinating question;
what would the world be like, had Nazi Germany and imperial Japan triumphed at
the end of the Second World War instead of the Allies, (that is the United
States, Soviet Union, British Empire and others)?
It was a
question which once haunted the feverish, troubled but hugely imaginative mind
of author Philip K Dick. The man whose writing ultimately inspired many of the
greatest science fiction films of all time including Blade Runner, Total
Recall, Minority Report and The Adjustment Bureau, Dick been just too young to
fight for the US in World War II himself but nevertheless realised what a close
thing the outcome of the war had been. Over fifty years’ ago, inspired by
another novel which convincingly imagined a victory for the slavery supporting
Confederacy in the 1860s American Civil War, he set to work producing a book
depicting a similar alternative ending to World War II.
Prone to hallucinations and sudden bouts of paranoia, Dick had a relatively short turbulent life, dying in 1982, aged just 63 without seeing most of his work reach the screen. But he enjoyed probably more success The Man in High Castle than with any other book during his lifetime.
WELCOME TO AMERICA: 1962
season of The Man In The High Castle in 2015 brought the book’s chilling vision
vividly to the screen. The United States of America we know from this period
(portrayed in the early series of Mad Men, amongst other things) was confident,
victorious and powerful poised on the verge of huge successes such as in the space
race, but also riven by racial division and on the brink of disaster both in
the Cuban Missile Crisis and in the growing war in Vietnam. But the America portrayed
here is very different: it is no longer in fact, even the “United States” at
all. We soon learn that the west coast of the former USA is now under the
control of the victorious Japanese while the eastern bit is under Nazi German rule.
The Rocky Mountains meanwhile are a neutral buffer zone between the two sides,
this being where the mysterious “man in the high castle” is said to reside.
Tantalising hints as to what has befallen the
Allies are scattered liberally throughout both the series and the book. One
character suggests the great war leader President Franklin D. Roosevelt was
assassinated long before the war started in this reality, perhaps explaining
why the US did not win. Another suggests that the war dragged on until 1947 instead
of 1945 here, only ending when Nazi Germany dropped an atomic bomb on Washington
land then and few of the characters we meet are not facing a conflict of the
loyalty of some sort or another. With the first season still on Amazon Prime
some might want to steer clear now. But for everyone else, here’s a quick
Francisco resident Juliana Crane (Alexa Davalos) for example, an expert in
aikido appears happy living under Japanese rule at the start of Season 1. That’s
until her half-sister Trudy who turns out to have been a member of the
anti-government Resistance, is unexpectedly killed. Juliana finds herself drawn
herself into the work of the Resistance as she attempts to complete Trudy’s
last job: delivering a tape entitled The Grasshopper Lies Heavy to the mythical
man in the High Castle. Intriguingly, the tape depicts an alternative version
of history in which the US and the Allies defeated Germany and Japan!
Essentially, the world in the tape is very like our own.
aided and abetted by her boyfriend Frank Frink (Rupert Evans) a man enjoying
some creative success but who has a dark secret which pushes him closer and closer
to full blown rebellion: he is Jewish. Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank) meanwhile
faces conflict of a different sort. Although supposedly a member of the
Resistance he is in fact a secret agent in the employ of SS Obergruppenfuhrer
John Smith (Rufus Sewell). Although very clearly a baddie, Smith is far from
the typical stereotypical black and white Nazi villain. As his name suggests,
he is an American-born participant in the new regime. A family man living a
comfortable suburban life, it is suggested he has been drawn to Nazism by the
apparent failure of the old American system in the Great Depression of the
Thirties. Trade minister Nobusuke Tagomi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) is yet another
character who finds himself torn between conflicting loyalties. The new series
also sees Chief Inspector Kido (Joel de la Fuente) begins to take more interest
in the Man in the High Castle.
Juliana, increasingly unsure what to do about the treacherous Joe, Joe doubting
his own continued commitment to the Third Reich, Smith increasingly doubtful
about the Nazi philosophy after the illness of one of his children, more revelations
from The Grasshopoper Lies Heavy tapes and mounting tensions between Germany
and Japan, the ten hour long episodes of Season Two of The Man In The High
Castle promise to be just as compelling and as full of intrigue as the first.
At the root
of the series’ success however is its authentic portrayal of a chilling but
plausible alternative version of American history that though perhaps a touch more
plausible in the wake of Donald Trump’s recent election victory, has mercifully
WHO’S IN IT?
starring role of Juliana Crain, French-born Alexa has appeared in a good range
of TV (Angel, Mob City) and films (notably The Chronicles of Riddick and Clash
of the Titans).
With a key role
in Ewan MacGregor’s recently released directorial debut American Pastoral,
British actor Evans who plays Frank Frink has been in plays, TV and film
aplenty, notably offbeat superhero flick Hellboy.
Instantly recognisable as the older man love interest Lord Melbourne in the recent ITV Victoria, Sewell, also British, has been playing sexy villains for years in A Knight’s Tale, The Legend of Zorro and other films and TV.
Reproduced, with thanks, from Bingebox magazine (2016):
Send her victorious? As
the dust settles, ITV’s Victoria is widely seen as the winner of this autumn’s
big ratings battle with BBC’s Poldark. But whatever the outcome, both are
likely to be big sellers on DVD this Christmas.
In retrospect, with its
attractive cast and sumptuous period setting, it might seem hard to see how
Victoria could have failed. But fail, she very easily could have. A few months
ago, Jenna Coleman’s post-Doctor Who credentials were unproven. But as the
teenaged Queen assuming leadership of the greatest empire the world has ever
seen, Coleman has triumphed, her decision to forsake the TARDIS, totally
Her on screen romances with
her first Prime Minister Lord Melbourne (played by aging sex symbol, Rufus
Sewell) and more famously German aristocrat, Prince Albert (Tom Hughes) were
also well received. Although given that Coleman is already far more attractive
than the real Queen Victoria ever was and that her infatuation with Melbourne
along with much of the plotting which makes up much of the storyline is largely
fictional, the series soon faced charges of historical inaccuracy.
But unlike the last
attempt to tackle this subject matter – 2009’s film The Young Victoria – this
is a success. Perhaps it is fitting that that earlier film was written by
Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes. For it is in Victoria, that ITV has
truly found a period drama to compare to Downton’s level of success. Long live
The wilds of late 18th
century Cornwall have proven fertile ground for drama before. First, there was
Winston Graham’s dozen or so hugely successful Poldark novels. Then there was
the hit 1970s TV series. Finally, there was last year’s BBC ratings smash
Poldark starring Aidan Turner. It was only a matter of time before Poldark
returned. With the second outing proving another success, both recent series
are available on DVD and Blu-ray now.
This is perhaps
inevitably a sexier affair than the 1970s series: recognising this, Turner is
required to take his shirt off in the first episode of the second series. But
let’s not get carried away: were Poldark not compelling, well-acted, authentic
and reasonably faithful to its source material, it would never have worked. The
second series begins where the last one finished: with Ross accused of murder.
Thanks to this and the
likes of War and Peace and The Night Manager, the BBC has had a good year for
TV drama in 2016. But while one wouldn’t want to rain on Poldark’s undoubted
success, it is worth noting that Poldark though screened on BBC One was, like
Victoria, made by ITV Studios. With ITV also behind a number of the notable
period drama hits of recent years such as Downton Abbey and Mr Selfridge, is it
conceivable the Beeb’s status as the home of British period drama could be
under threat? Only time will tell.
WHO’S IN IT?
A familiar face to many
already thanks to roles including the poet Rossetti in TV’s Desperate
Romantics, as the conflicted vampire in Being Human and Kili in the Hobbit
films, the Irish actor’s dark brooding sex appeal as Ross Poldark has
undoubtedly smoothed the show’s path to success.
As Ross Poldark’s beautiful second wife Demelza, Eleanor Tomlinson has seen her star rise considerably. A film actress since her early teens, her CV includes major supporting roles in big screen flop, Jack The Giant Killer and BBC War of the Roses historical drama, The White Queen.
As the ruthless, arrogant and determined power-hungry banker George Warleggan, Jack Farthing has essentially taken the role of Poldark’s villain. A theatre actor, the Oxford-educated Farthing is best known for posh roles such as Freddie Threepwood in P.G. Wodehouse adaptation Blandings and for Oxford University-based film drama, The Riot Club.
Book review: Cult Filmmakers: 50 Movie Mavericks You Need To Know. By Ian Haydn Smith. Illustrated by Kristelle Rodeia. Published by: White Lion. Out now.
What makes a cult filmmaker? The key qualities seem to be distinctiveness and a degree of obscurity. Hitchcock and Spielberg were and are great filmmakers, but both are much too famous now to be included in a volume like this. Hitchcock might have appeared once. Spielberg too, perhaps in the brief interim after the release of Dual but before Jaws. But not now.
Indeed, it could argued that just by highlighting the fifty directors included in this volume in a book specifically titled, ‘Cult Filmmakers’, author Ian Haydn Smith is simultaneously undermining their cult status as much as he is re-enforcing it.
That is not to attack the book, which is a good one. The author’s choices are intriguing and it is almost as interesting to see who has been left out as it is to see who has been included. Sam Raimi doesn’t feature. Nor does Wes Anderson or the Coens. Presumably, the men behind The Evil Dead, Blood Simple and Rushmore would have been considered cult filmmakers once. However, they are now ineligible as they’ve all moved onto more mainstream successes as the men behind Spiderman, Intolerable Cruelty and Isle of Dogs.
But if this is the reason, it’s odd that the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Tim Burton and Kathryn Bigelow are. Other selections are less contentious: David Lynch, David Cronenberg and ‘Pope of Trash’ John Waters, have all achieved fame, while retaining their cult status. Some such as John Carpenter seem to have lost their initial cultiness, only to later recapture it.
The book is stylishly illustrated by Kristelle Rodeia. Occasionally, the pictures look nothing like their subjects e.g. Terry Gilliam. It doesn’t matter.
Personally, I am most grateful for the chapters shedding light on Amat Escalante, Benjamin Christensen and Barbara Loden, amongst others. Until this book, they were undeniably in my eyes, cult filmmakers: I had never heard of any of them. But now I do. And this can only be a good thing.