Wednesday, 31 October 2007

World "not dull" shock

Been lapping up Arnold Bennett's short book Literary Taste:
The makers of literature are those who have seen and felt the miraculous interestingness of the universe. And the greatest makers of literature are those whose vision has been the widest, and whose feeling has been the most intense… Their lives are one long ecstasy of denying that the world is a dull place.

Most fanciable union leaders of yesteryear

Wasn't aware of this little contest until it was over, alas, but you can still run an eye over the candidates and ogle the victor. Phwoarr!

Shifting beneath the duvet

Some people may like to know there are renewed signs of life on Toasty's Futon.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Baby, it's old outside

A freshly built Tudor town in Wigan is a prime example of Outsider Art.

Eminent, but new to me

Last week I tried to watch Help! for the first time. Gave up after less than an hour, deterred by its flabby silliness, a sad squandering of Leo McKern.

The one thing I did like was the Asprey's jeweller who examines Ringo Starr's ring: a distinguished-looking, authoritative man with the air of having pulled his weight in the war. Peter Copley, his name was.

So I looked him up, and blow me down if he isn't still alive and still acting at the age of 92, and due to be seen next year as Spold in Vadim Jean's film of Terry Pratchett's The Colour of Magic.

What's more, a few years ago he recorded his wartime memories, and a full transcript is here, plus a video clip in which he describes a doodlebug landing on Soho.

Turns out he wasn't in the forces for long; discharged from the Navy on medical grounds without seeing action, he went back to the theatre. Toured South America with Donald Wolfit, roped in a hundred Russian soldiers to sing to sluggish audiences in Worthing, fetched up at the Old Vic as fight arranger for Laurence Olivier and Ralph Richardson, and went with them and Sybil Thorndike to perform in starving, shattered Hamburg immediately after the German surrender, with the Afrika Korps squatting silently on the pavement amid the ruins, while visiting thesps were plied with lobster and salmon. Good Richardson story to finish with.

This decent summary of his career, apropros of an honorary degree in 2001, labels him "an extremely eminent actor". Shows how much I know, eh?

Thursday, 25 October 2007

A giant leap for Dankind

Remember 1985? Gorbachev took charge of the Soviet Union, Orson Welles died, the Titanic was located, I got the sack from my worst ever job and Daniel Day Lewis made his name with two sharply contrasting performances in My Beautiful Laundrette and A Room with a View.

This compilation (five minutes from each) brings it all back:

The only one who didn't get a Nobel

Marie Curie's daughter has just died, aged 102.

Big fat hairy dissident

David Bellamy offers a vigorously sceptical take on global warming.

Manual or automatic?

Innovative transit solutions for Father Jack Hackett:


There are treasures to be found in a blog devoted to remarkable images from rare books and prints.


Poignant and chilling, this seven-minute film culled from Leni Reifenstahl's Triumph of the Will identifies Hitler with the ancient god to whom children were sacrificed:

Don't say that

"Healthy heresy - described in more enlightened times as critical thinking, sceptical enquiry, or even free speech - is again being hunted down," argues Claire Fox.

(This blog will of course continue to be cringingly inoffensive to all.)


Very much saddened to learn this week of the death of Julia Cleves.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Esse est percipi

Samuel Beckett, who wrote a play entitled Play, also scripted a short film called Film. Made in 1965, it stars Buster Keaton - in his last major role before his death - as a man feverishly trying not to be seen, above all by the camera, or rather by an entity whose point of view corresponds to that of the camera. The film is completely silent (there's a "Shhh!" at one point, they say, but I can't hear it) and is presented here in three instalments of six minutes each.

Chiz chiz chiz

Animated version of Nigel Molesworth's guide to 1950s prep school teachers, with soundtrack by the Goons:

Former Viscount speaks out

Ten typically bracing minutes of Tony Benn on the European Union and the upcoming treaty:

Latest olds

The infamous Madame Arcati thinks she may have found the oldest magazine editor in the world.

Her lips are moving

At the 1965 Edinburgh Festival, Stevie Smith recites her most popular poem "Not Waving But Drowning", though she's not entirely sure of the words:

Ghosts of the web

What do you do when a page you want to read isn't there any more, and Google's cache is no help?

That's when you need the Internet Archive.

Highlight and copy the URL you've got, paste it into the Wayback Machine, and in my experience there's a one-in-three chance that the page you desire will miraculously pop up on screen - sometimes in dozens of successive versions. Admittedly the images may be missing and the links may be kaput, but come on chaps, imperfect world, sic transit, vale of tears, &c., &c.

This has been a public service announcement.

John Gielgud at the upright piano in 1933

Even Methuselah was young once:

Sad things I didn't know about Clara Bow

Violence, mental illness and an 'orrible voice.

Housetrained modernism

A one-minute extract from Façade by William Walton and Edith Sitwell, skilfully delivered by Jeremy Irons:

Wednesday, 17 October 2007


A montage of snippets from old horror flicks adds extra fun to "Monster Mash" by Bobby "Boris" Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers:

Camille Paglia on Foucault

Well, that should settle his hash.

Meer frivolity

It used to happen quite often (does it still, in these more regulated days?) that one of the lower-browed fraternity, surfing the web and arriving by chance at a forum whose contributors struck him as affected or incomprehensible, would cock a snook at them by inserting the words YOUR ALL GAY.

This dismal particle of cyber-grit eventually yielded a pearl, in the form of this 45-second animation. (You may need to scroll down very slightly, so that all four sides of the frame of carnations are visible.)

Fire-eating at ninety

He was the world's oldest stuntman; probably the oddest Old Shirburnian; and quite possibly - in the teeth of fierce competition - the weirdest inhabitant of Brighton. The Great Omani has died aged 92, and we are all diminished.

The Telegraph catches the flavour; the local rag adds more detail; and an eye-witness account of his farewell performance is here.

Always a comfort

Laurel and Hardy dancing in Way Out West:

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Title fight

Whatever the press and TV may tell you, there is no such person as Lord Robert Winston. Or, come to that, Lord Denis Healey or Baroness Helena Kennedy or…

In this short rant on the subject, Damian Thompson rides a cherished hobbyhorse of mine (not that I'm anally-retentive or anything).

The legs of a legend

This photo of Sir Harold Acton and three like-minded friends was taken by Dame Muriel Spark after a lunch in 1988. Must have been a good one…

My Brother David

David Scarboro was one of the original cast of EastEnders. Fame came to him at an appalling cost. Vulnerable and troubled, he was hounded to his death by the tabloids.

Afterwards his brother Simon made this documentary, which is presented here in four parts, running for 10 minutes, 9 minutes, 7 minutes and 5 minutes respectively.

Slogan of the week

An innocent, honourable life

The death in April of Terry Major-Ball was greeted in some parts of the media with affectionate amusement, befitting a well-liked national joke. Edward Pearce bucked the trend with this touching obituary, taking the man seriously.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

What Kind of Reader Are You?

Yep, it's a quiz. Gratified to say I came out as an Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm:

"You're probably in the final stages of a PhD [dream on!] or otherwise finding a way to make your living out of reading [triple quintuple dream on with sugar and walnuts, baby!]. You are one of the literati. Other people's grammatical mistakes make you insane."

She cursed Cole Porter, too

At his rapid-fire, intricately rhymed best: Noel Coward sings 'Nina' on live TV in 1955.


Anthony Smith goes for a spin in a Zeppelin, loves it and dreams of regular passenger services.

"Lunging, flailing, mispunching"

The world's most entertaining Marxist literary critic, Terry Eagleton, makes short work of Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion.

Mortal Kombat

Must admit to a weakness for Syncsta, particularly the early videos where they're just two teenage lads in Derby joyously fooling about:

The Past: latest news

Wales gains a pre-Reformation church, while Scotland gets round to marking an 1881 fishing disaster.


Genarians is about notable living people aged ninety or over, with each person's photo hotlinked to a Wikipedia entry. Its line-up of those in their second century boasts Isherwood's collaborator Edward Upward (born 1903); the last surviving original member of the Ink Spots, Huey Long (born 1904); and the amazing centenarian aviator John M Miller (born 1905).

Lovable Mop-tops

If you haven't seen The Rutles, the spoof rockumentary about a Sixties band with a striking similarity to the Beatles, then be glad, for life still has a pleasure in store for you:


There's to be a massive increase in the supply of cognitive behavioural therapy by the NHS.

Good news? Not according to Darian Leader.

Strewth! (hic)

Fancy three days of continuous free vodka? Here's all you have to do.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Small man, big boots

If I remember rightly, the only words Nijinsky was reported to have spoken during his first visit to London were "Little Tich, c'est un artist très grand, n'est-ce pas?"

This one-minute film may be the sole record we have of the vertically-challenged music-haller in action. Jacques Tati declared it the "foundation for everything that has been realised in comedy on screen." Do you agree?

Worst review in history?

Macaulay's essay on Doctor Johnson falls into three parts, and the Doctor himself takes centre stage only in the third. The second is Macaulay's incredulous knife-job on the character of Boswell (now known to be unjust, though that adds to the fun) while the first is his painstaking, brick-by-brick demolition of Croker's edition of Boswell's Life of Johnson. Poor old Croker - whose book did have its merits, apparently - must have spent the rest of his own life hiding under a bucket.

I must go down to La Mer again

One of the world's most beautiful songs, composed and performed by Charles Trenet:

Prawn Salad Waiting Room

Eric Idle has one of those days…

The Lumière brothers' first films

Six minutes of glimpses of 1895, among them the shot of an approaching train that caused the original audience to run away in alarm:

Spare us a squeaky-clean metropolis

For some of us, dilapidation and decay are part of the glory of a city. There's something powerfully affecting about Victorian ruins; forgotten tunnels; sagging jetties; and all those half-hidden squalid nooks where the past rots away in a haze of graffiti and litter and chance-seeded foliage and the scars of arson and vandalism, a stone's throw from busy urban life.

And could it be better captured than it is by Derelict London?

Thursday, 11 October 2007

A lioness in a cardboard box

The things one has to do to pay the rent. Lauren Bacall, movie goddess, holds her nose and makes a coffee ad:

Pesky Piskies

The entire Scottish Episcopal Church has one-third the number of communicants of the diocese of Southwark in England, but it knows how to punch more than its weight - as the career of Richard Holloway goes to show.

Yet for the past nine years it's been eaten away from within by a mischievous crew called Taking the Episcopalian. Be sure to explore the Vestments section; where do these wretched catalogues dig up their models?

Memento Mori

When the honest burghers of Nederland, Colorado, found the cryogenically preserved corpse of 89-year-old Bredo 'Grandpa' Morstoel stored in a shed, did they flinch? Did they pen whingeing letters to the environmental health department?

Not a bit of it - they invented a new annual festival, the Frozen Dead Guy Days. Party on, dudes!

Wednesday, 10 October 2007


A famous exchange between two screen legends, battleaxe Marie Dressler and proto-Marilyn Jean Harlow, in the closing seconds of Dinner at Eight (1933):

Hot Stompers

Crammed with recordings (and profiles, and photos, and three or four films) from the early years of jazz, the Red Hot Jazz Archive has been a favourite of mine for ages. An encyclopaedia, and also a delight.

Goose loose aboot this hoose

Suppose you were a goose, and you had your own website. Might you not be a trifle short of material? All you could write about would be eating grass, and flying to Canada, and how much you enjoy defecating on golf courses.

Well, here is the news: there is such a goose; and cumulatively he's hilarious.

Tell Her About It

…urges Billy Joel. The first pop video I ever saw, and it holds up well, twenty-four years on: a beautifully sustained pastiche of early-Sixties America. Oh, those ponderous, leathery mediocrities on television…

Spilling the beans

Interviewed about her memoirs, Clarissa Dickson-Wright serves up generous dollops of scandal.

That's me on the left, behind Stanley Baldwin

Quite a few gems at Newsfilm Online, though they can take a while to download - the Crystal Palace fire, the Hindenburg disaster, a blackshirt rally, a supposedly 131-year-old woman in 1938 and so on.

Best of all is a (ten-minute?) piece on How Cinema Newsreels Are Made - evidently compiled by Mr Grayson with the help of Mr Cholmondeley-Warner.

Also liked this report on the 1987 general election, with a number of today's well known faces displaying their puppy fat. Keep your eyes peeled for a very young Oliver Letwin (the reporter doesn’t identify him) being defeated by Diane Abbott at Hackney.


How to speak and write postmodern, should you take it into your head to do so.

Monday, 8 October 2007

Margaret Rutherford Showcase

A five-minute clipfest of the Greatest Ever British Woman, drawn from the four films in which she played a more robust Miss Marple than we're used to these days. Don't miss her doing the Twist, or her swordfight against William Mervyn, the Bishop from All Gas and Gaiters. Ron Goodwin's splendid theme tune keeps things bowling along.

Giuliani versus the ferret man

An authentic recording of Rudy Giuliani, with cartoons added. Less than three minutes (preceded by a 30-second commercial).

Elsewhere Niall Ferguson airs his doubts about Rudy as a presidential contender.

Cats that look like Hitler

An outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual truth, I say.

(Ignore the announcements and teeshirt ads - just scroll down each page.)

From Leeds with vehemence

Not sure I'd even heard of the poet Barry Tebb until today, but I've been burrowing around on his website with growing enthusiasm.

Born in 1942 and admired for his early work, he was, it seems, creatively blocked for twenty-five years until the dam burst in the mid-Nineties, since when he's been in full spate. And the metaphor's apt, as his poems are torrential - frank, intimate, passionate, cantankerous, enraged.

You might not call them exquisitely honed and polished, but there's none of the usual mucking about - no tricksiness, no cop-out irony, no hint that the poet is journeying rapidly up his own fundament.

This guy's saying what he means, and though the story that emerges may be painful and controversial, boring it ain't. See what you think.

Vocal contortions

Brace yourselves for the one and (fortunately) only Mrs Miller:

The Art of Arthur Watts

This simple, elegant site, edited by his son, commemorates a fine illustrator and artist - one of Punch magazine's most accomplished contributors between the wars - who died in a plane crash in 1935.


While away thirty seconds or so with the Daily Mail Headline Generator.

The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

It all began with an open letter

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Sound and vision, 1895

This is the first known film with live-recorded sound.

The film itself is only seventeen seconds long, but it's repeated three times, and there's a two-minute written introduction (in tiny text).

Listen out for the voice in the background immediately before the action starts:

Dave's Web of Lies

One can't believe a word one reads, can one?

Apotheosis of a crank

Those who say we're all unique, and you can't have degrees of uniqueness, so it's nonsense to describe anyone as more unique than other people, plainly never met Viv Stanshall.

In 1991 he gave a bravura TV performance entitled Crank, or Vivian Stanshall: The Early Years, which was shown again with a lengthy John Peel intro after his tragic death in a fire in 1995.

Glad to say it's all on YouTube, cut into three parts of eight minutes, eight minutes and six minutes respectively, and it's well worth taking in.

But embedding is disabled, drat it. That means I can't paste the video into my blog as I usually do. All I can do is urge you to click here. The first part of the video should start automatically. When it ends, Viv hasn't quite got into his stride; but if you're prepared to bear with him for a couple of minutes longer, click on the link to "Diamond Geezer: Part 2 of 3" in the applet to the right of the picture. When that ends, do the same thing again, mutatis mutandis, and Bob's your mother's sleazy, transient, substance-abusing boyfriend, is he not?

Hope you enjoy it as much as I do, vicar. To learn more, visit Ginger Geezer and the Vivian Stanshall Appreciation Society and Archive.

The spouse in your pocket

Mary Wilson, widow of Harold, gave her first-ever interview in June, at the age of ninety. Rather sweet.

Everybody Loves My Baby

…as performed by the Temperance Seven (all nine of them):

And no, that isn't Lytton Strachey, it's the late Alan Cooper.

A very great man

Joshua Norton (1819-1880) was a San Francisco businessman who lost all his money and all his marbles and set up shop as Emperor of the United States.

Wikipedia quite rightly pushes the boat out for him.

Blood pressure test

Steven Pinker's list of dangerous ideas.

Room for ten thousand ghostly airmen

Cardington Number One shed in Bedford is the oldest existing airship hangar in Europe. It dates from World War I and was added to the Buildings at Risk Register this year.

Take-no-prisoners psychotherapy

John Cleese gives Tim Brooke-Taylor some tough love in a pre-Python sketch:

No sillier than Creationism

Welcome to The Unicorn Museum.

Face to face with Waugh

One of our least talked-about grand old men is John Freeman, now 92. Not only a wartime officer, Attlee minister, New Statesman editor, High Commissioner in India, Ambassador to Washington, Chairman of London Weekend Television, ITN President, Visiting Professor in California and (best of all, surely?) bowls commentator, in the Fifties and Sixties he was a ground-breaking TV interviewer with his in-depth programme Face to Face.

Here are some sound-only extracts from his 1960 encounter with Evelyn Waugh. Not included is what Waugh had to say about his autobiographical novel The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold, but you can find that here. Was this Waugh's only brush with television?

The Brazilian Flying Ship of 1709

Or, come to that, the Child Suckled by a Goat, the Pig-faced Lady, Showers of Animals, the Book Fish and the Old Hermit of Newton Burgoland. Just some of the riches contained in Chambers's 1869 Book of Days.

Count Arthur Strong

Everyone else seems to have discovered this man before I did, but this wonderfully stupid clip (eight minutes) turned me into a fan:

P.S. (10.2.08) Willie Lupin concurs.

Recycled engineering

The oldest tunnel on the London Underground was built for quite other purposes between 1825 and 1843 by Sir Marc Brunel with the aid of some jumped-up spotty-faced whippersnapper called Isambard - and it's holding together better than I am.

Keith Waterhouse backs Boris

One national life-enhancer endorses another.

Lost for words

Those fond of the unfashionable byways of literature have a treat in store at The Lost Club Journal. Not been updated for years, sadly, but filled with good stuff by people who not only know but care who Count Stenbock, John Gawsworth and Christopher Millard were.

Son's boyfriend

Harry Enfield at his excruciating best:

"Even among eccentrics he stood out"

Until now the English scholar Stephen Medcalf has been only a name to me - but on the evidence of this obituary he was a glorious man.

Victorian voices

One of the most haunting sites I know has the unpromising name of It's about the earliest sound recordings, and there are plenty to hear, including the very earliest of all: 1878, would you believe?

100 Years Ago Yesterday…

… Britain’s first military airship made its first and only voyage.