I was vaguely aware who Alan Cumming is. For independent film consortiums, Miriam Margolyes seems to be the pensioner of choice to go on adventures and sell the results to BBC, ITV or Channel 4. She’s been sent to America a few times and to Australia. The latest wheeze is Scotland. Yes, Bonnie old Scotland. Who’d have thought of that? Monopoly money for old rope. They flung in Alan Cummings as a guide, and driver of their motorhome. He’s Scottish, I didn’t know that. Stanley Kubrick though he was American, so I’m in good company. I wouldn’t know a good actor from a ham. But my partner who watched bits of the scenery in the Grand Tour said Cumming’s dad was bad to him. That piqued my interest. Now is the time to fling in some quotes about happy families being all the same. We’re off to a flyer. Cumming’s da was a sadistic cunt.
The book starts with discord. He’s in a marriage, I wouldn’t call it unhappy. They’re trying for a child. She’s an old acquaintance from drama school. A few years older. She’s the star turn with the operatic voice. The diva. He’s the man with a childish face that gets parts playing adolescents. I thought Cumming was gay. So being married to a woman (he later marries a man) was the done thing. And if you’re going to do the done thing, you might as well do it early.
Before he went from the West End of Glasgow (the snobby bit) to Drama school he worked for D.C. Thompson and Company near Dundee, and near his home. He wrote the Astrology bits and pieces. You will find a stranger in Uranus. Not quite, but similar. The Fiction department. A Thompson clone was on ever floor. When we grew up, Cummings being much the same age as me, they produced The Beano and Dandy, but also The Sunday Post, with Oor Wullie in it, a true Scottish legend. Cummings points out D.C.Thompson had a London address to give their publishing empire legitimacy. No unions, but Unionism and no Catholics were a given. Cummings ticked all the right boxes. Gay men or women, of course, didn’t exist and were too risqué for even the Fictional department.
I knew he’d done the MC in Cabaret. I hadn’t seen him in that, but watched (I suppose like everybody else) the film version with Liza Minelli. I’d read the Christopher Isherwood books, Mr Norris Changes Train and Goodbye to Berlin on which the musical is based. Cumming suggests that Isherwood and W.H. Auden et al weren’t there to fight fascism or do anything highbrow, but simply wanting to escape England and sample cock. No big surprise.
‘It’s hard to be your authentic self when you don’t know who you really are.’
Cummings was in New York, close enough in his apartment to witness 9/11 and the fall of the Twin Towers. He acknowledges the fear and mistrust of Muslims and those of non-white, pasty, Scottish skin colour that ensued. The finding of a scapegoat and the invasion of Afghanistan, followed by Iraq. And how this all fed into the moron moron’s Trumpism (maybe I’m reading too much into a general observation).
Sean Connery, Billy Connolly, Faye Dunaway, Tina Turner, Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Halley Berry, Gore Vidal…they’re all here (apart from Rod Stewart and Elton John). The book was five years late. Too early for a chapter on Miriam Margolyes and her observations on bowel movements and the howls of laughter that ensures. Ho-hum. Read on.
Ten years ago, Sir Jimmy Savile died. His funeral was an event that featured on the news. The great and the good appeared, in sombre tones, mourning our loss. People lined the streets to pay their respects. Sir Keith Stammer was Director of Public Prosecutions. Operation Yewtree was set up in London in 2012 to investigate his alleged sexual offences after girls from Duncroft, a children’s home in Surrey, featured in the tabloids saying he’d sexually abused them. Detective Gary Pankhurst said he followed up on hundreds of reports. He classified Savile as a high-functioning psychopath.
Spokesmen from Surrey Police admitted they’d interviewed the 80-year-old Savile in 2009. A familiar pattern emerged of Savile getting away with everything short of murder.
The question WHY is easily answered.
He was wealthy.
He was a celebrity. He didn’t work for the BBC. The BBC worked for him. They created a show, Jim’ll Fix It, and it did. It fixed it for the serial paedophile.
He counted Margaret Thatcher and Prince Charles as his personal friends. He was part of the British establishment, given a knighthood in 1990. He had access to Kensington Palace and wandered about at will. Princess Diana thought he was creepy, when he tried to lick her hand. Prince Charles failed to comment on Savile’s posthumous reputation as a serial paedophilic abuser of around 500 mostly preadolescent girls. That’s an estimate by NSPCC. Being a conservative, that is a conservative number.
He had high-ranking policemen friends that acted as minders.
He had criminal friends that acted as minders.
He could play nice, but he could also play scary.
Sylvia Edwards, now 63, appears on the programme. Back then, in the nineteen-seventies, she’s been given the nod by Savile, picked up by runners for Top of the Pops, a show regularly watched by 15 million. There she is onscreen beside celebrity Jimmy Savile as he speaks to his audience at home in their living rooms. The moron’s moron and fellow psychopath, ex-American President, admitted he grabbed women by the pussy, but it was never shown on camera. But here it is on loop, a blonde and very pretty mop-topped girl, jumping up and twisting away as Savile rams his hand up into her pussy.
It was treated as a joke. When she complained to a cameraman, he told her to go away, get lost.
He picked his victims—they were poor and powerless.
A former bass player with Sparks, Ian Hampton, said: ‘I think he regarded Top of the Pops as a happy hunting ground for young ladies. On one occasion I was on Top of the Pops, Savile disappeared with a young girl to a dressing room’.
Claire McAlpine (her image with Savile shown above) for example, an adolescent, who appeared dancing for the cameras on Top of the Pops. She became pregnant, aged fifteen, and killed herself. Her mother had complained to BBC management about her being in Savile’s dressing room.
Hampton asked a producer of the show what was happening with Savile? He wasn’t given answers. Told he was being ridiculous.
Literally, powerless with a woman interviewed anonymously, telling how she was in a wheelchair, a patient at Stoke Mandeville Hospital. Savile took her away in her wheelchair to abuse her. She was paralysed from the waist down, but she remembered his eyes.
He did charity work. Kerching, this led to lucrative contracts with state institutions such as British Rail, paying him handsomely for acting as their spokesman on child safety, for example. Savile joked that he’d squared it up with Him upstairs for a few things he’d done. Quid pro quo. A peripatetic bachelor, he had the right credentials to become a priest. He had the equivalent of a knighthood with the Roman Catholic Church.
A two-and-a-half-year independent inquiry in France about the abuse of children by clergy, over the past seventy years, found that at least 330,000 children were victims of sexual abuse by clergy and lay members of church institutions.
“The Catholic church is, after the circle of family and friends, the environment that has the highest prevalence of sexual violence,” the report said.
There’s little reason to believe that similar figures of abuse didn’t also happen in the United Kingdom. And again, these are probably underestimates.
Jimmy Savile was a serial sexual abuser. As each spokesman or woman for the institutions involved run for cover, does this programme offer us anything new?
I’d heard of V.S. Naipaul and even watched a BBC Imagine programme in which the author and Noble Prize Winner for literature was interviewed by Alan Yentob. I like to think of myself as a reader, but until I’d read A House for Mr Biswas I had read none of Naipaul’s books.
A House for Mr Biswas is described as an ‘epic’ which is just another way of saying it’s quite long. With an Introduction, Epilogue and Afterword, written by Naipaul in 2011. The book runs to 627 pages. I’d guess around 200 000 words, the average wordy novel being around 100 000 words and novellas around 15 000 to 40 000 words.
In the Afterword Naipaul gives us the genesis of his epic.
‘The idea for the book was simple. A dying man considers the few physical objects which he has accumulated during his life, and by which he is now surrounded, perhaps mockingly, perhaps comfortingly. He reflects on the history of each object and so his life in the end is reduced to these physical objects rather than a network of relationships.’
Just as the words caught fire at a certain stage, so the material I was composing appeared at a certain stage to lift me out of myself…
I was often asked later whether what I had written was autobiographical. The answer was not as much as it might appear.
I admit I thought the book autobiographical, but there is something everyman about Mr Biswas. I too am Mr Biswas. He’s petty and venal and cowardly, and life is something that happens to him. He is a higher-caste Hindi, but his father worked as a labourer in the cane fields of pre-war Trinidad, an immigrant from India. Mr Biswas acquires a wife almost by accident. Working as a sign-writer in the Tulsi store, he sees Sharma working behind the counter and tries to smuggle a love note to her. He may be penniless, but he is of the right Brahmi caste and in no position to demand a dowry and finds himself married and living in the Tulsi house. ‘Cat and mouse,’ he later called it, with matriarch Mrs Tulsi as the cat.
But he’s self-aware enough to know how it works as an institution. And everybody in the extended family that lives in the house with them works for Mrs Tulsi and the family business. He labels the two sons of Mrs Tulsi, the two gods, and Seth, married to Mrs Tulsi’s sister, the big boss and enforcer.
Mr Biswas’s Aunt Tara, sister to Mr Biwas’s dad, also prospered by marrying Ajodha. Each Trinidad family tries to outdo the other in their success stories both within and out with each family. Aunt Tara takes in Mr Biswas’s sister as an act of charity when their father dies as a serving girl. Their prosperity is based on their measured charity. They employ an aged gardener to work on their new property and promise to pay him thirty cents a day, but when the gardener takes a break in the hottest part of the day, Aunt Tara deducts six cents from his pay for a cup of tea. Similarly, Mrs Tulsi reduces a stonemason to tears by refusing to pay him and does not understand why workers are no longer willing to work for food and a few cents as in the old days. Mr Biswas does not even get to name his first child, Savi, and he tries to annotate the birth certificate with the name he has chosen to comic effect.
Mr Biswas has what would be called nowadays a mental-health breakdown. But being part of the Tulsi household means, despite family feuds, as one of them, he is taken care of. Wives and children are routinely beaten. Mrs Tulsi’s beatings of her own daughters was legendary and a source of great pride, but none of the children of the extended family starve.
The two gods were not beaten. They were above such things. Mr Biswas has literary pretensions. His short-story, not unnaturally, is labelled Escape by Mr. Biswas. And it begins and ends in the same way. At the age of thirty-three, when he was already the father of four children…
Mr Biswas had a problem with no solution. He wanted a place of his own to live with his family, away from the controlling influence of Mrs Tulsi. But his job as a reporter with the Sentinel, while suitably prestigious, hardly covered the cost of renting from Mrs Tulis. Even a job working for the city bureaucracy with a car and expenses and salary of $50 a fortnight wasn’t enough to move without become more indebted. The reader knows, of course, he dies in debt, because this is how the book begins—with Mrs Tulsi outliving him.
The comic aspect of the novel and relationship to family is best understood with the return of the one of the young gods, Oswad, Mrs Tulsi’s son, back from studying to become a medical doctor in England, with all of Mrs Tulsi’s wealth and manipulations allowing him to become a person of substance, which he accepts, of course, as his rightful due. But Oswad finds in England that he ‘disliked all Indians from India. They were a disgrace to Trinidad Indians…their Hindi was strange…incomprehensibly, they looked down on colonial Indians. Oswad’s friend suggested because he had canvassed for the Labour Party he was one of the architects of the Labour election victory of 1945. He parrots one of the Soviet dogmas from their constitution.
‘He who does not work, does not eat.’
Mrs Tulsi repeats the sentence and her servant, Mrs Blackie said she wished they could send some of her people to Russia.
Oswad said Russia was so modern they planted rice by shooting it from a plane instead of bullets.
Long after the little god had moved on to a new ideology, Mr Biswas was indebted, but they couldn’t stop him hoping for better, symbolised by a new home, if not for himself, for his children. A bit like the rest of us. A bit like V.S. Naipaul (R.I.P).
Dalmuir Diamonds is long gone. A boy’s football club I wasn’t part of, but knew about. Players aged nine, ten or eleven played on the gravel park at Beardmore Street in the early 1970s. The park paved over. Whenever anyone mentions Dalmuir Diamonds there’s that snigger and Bob Finlay’s name is mentioned. Bit of light-hearted bender banter. He was a janitor in the Community Education Centre boys got changed in and he was manager of the team. He was also a kiddy fiddler.
I took a similar light-hearted tone when writing about getting trials for Celtic Boy’s Club and standing there with my kit in a plastic bag and the manager picking the team and not having a clue who I was. I might well have wandered in off the street. My punchline was that I didn’t stay long enough and wasn’t even good enough to get sexually abused. Looking back to the under-15s team that Davy Moyes played in (along with some of my schoolmates, but not me) and we trained on the gravel parks at Barrowfield, there were two abusers there. One was Jim Torbett, the other manager of the under-16 team that included Charlie Nicholas, was Frank Cairney. He spotted me running off the pitch after a Thursday night training session. And he did a strange thing, although he didn’t know me and had never seen me before, he punched me in the stomach as I passed him. I didn’t think anything about it.
I played football for over thirty-five years, but didn’t win any Scotland caps or play professionally as these guys did. I played Welfare leagues for teams that needed bodies that were semi-ambulant and would pay two or three quid for a game. I loved it.
Andy Woodward, who played for Crewe Alexander; Former England internationalist, Manchester City and Liverpool forward Paul Stewart, who also scored in the FA cup final for a Spurs team that included Gazza and Gary Lineker; David White the new wunderkid at Manchester City who played for England; Ian Ackley who didn’t play professionally, Dean Radford, who played for the Southampton youth team; Dion Raitt, who played for the Peterborough youth team, and like all the other boys hoped to become a professional player; David Eatock at Newcastle United youth team; Colin Harris at Chelsea. All of these boys had the joy of playing the sport they loved and excelled at sucked out of them. They became different boys, different people after the abuse. Watching these three programmes, the pattern seemed similar to how Michael Jackson worked away from the bright lights.
Befriend the family and offer the dream. If your kid works hard enough, he’s going places. He’s already got the talent. All that’s needed is that bit of extra encouragement and tuition. Barry Bennell, sentenced to 31 years, for 50 counts of child sexual abuse, with hundreds, perhaps thousands of cases not coming to court hid in plain sight. He was the star maker for up-and-coming boy’s teams and had contacts with Manchester City and later provided a conveyor belt of talent to lowly Crewe Alexander. He indirectly propelled them and their up-and-coming manager Dario Gradi up the English leagues. Bennell was untouchable. He raped and sexually abused Andy Woodward, daily, while he was a schoolboy at Crew Alexander academy aged between eleven and fifteen. He married Woodward’s sister. That’s how convincing he was. Andy Woodward even wrote a letter exonerating and praising Bennell for his work with kids like him when he was arrested and sentence to four years in prison for child abuse offences Florida in 1995 after accepting a lesser plea of sexual molestation.
Thirty years later, 2016, aged 43, Andy Woodward waived his anonymity in an interview with Daniel Taylor, a sports journalist at The Guardian. He also spoke on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show. This had a catalysing effect so that others who suffered sexual abuse came forward with their own stories of abuse.
An NSPCC hotline, set up with the English Football Association money, but dedicated to ex-footballers who had experienced sexual abuse received more than 860 calls in the first week.
‘One of the texts we had was from a 13-year-old boy who was preparing to take his own life. He texted to say that, because of Andy, he was going to talk to someone.’
Paul Stewart also waived his anonymity. He spoke publicly of his ordeal after being abused by Manchester City youth coach Frank Roper. Roper told him he had to have sex or he wouldn’t make it as a footballer. Other kids were doing it too. Normalising behaviour. Holding the dream at arm’s length. Holding the shame inside. Roper threatened to kill his parents and brothers if he told anyone.
‘I had some highs in my career, but I never enjoyed them, because I had this empty soul,’ Stewart says. ‘I was dying inside. I masked it with drink and drugs’.
Frank Roper died before he could be brought to justice.
Former Southampton youth coach Bob Higgins is filmed in an interview suite not answering question put to him by Hampshire Police detectives as they conduct interviews. Even more worrying, Higgins was the subject of a police investigation in the early 1990s, but the subsequent trial resulted in his acquittal. Dean Radford and Ian Ackley waived their anonymity.
Watching this programme it’s difficult to believe a jury would not convict Higgins. And whilst he was put on the sexual-offences register, he was not jailed. Dion Raitt, who was abused by Higgins at Peterborough in the mid-nineties sums up the belief that justice delayed is justice denied: ‘If they’d have got their justice the first time around, then I wouldn’t have even met him’.
Following a trial in which a jury couldn’t reach agreement, and a retrial, Higgins was found guilty of 45 counts of sexual abuse against 24 boys and sentenced to 24 years in jail.
Derek Bell confronted George Ormond, a youth coach connected to Newcastle United, who had abused him. He went to his door with a knife. Luckily for Ormond (and Bell) he wasn’t in. He later went back and recorded a confession from his abuser on a tape recorder hidden in his jacket pocket. Ormond was convicted in Newcastle Court of 36 sexual offences (I’d guess you can multiply that by any figure over ten to 1000) in a period spanning twenty years between 1973 and 1998.
Judge Edward Bindloss described Ormond as ‘wholly preoccupied with sex’ and said he ‘used his position as a respected football coach to target boys and young men in his care’.
George Ormond received a twenty-year prison sentence. A substantial sentence like the other paedophiles featured in the programme. Too little, too late, for many. Those abused lost not their dreams of glory, but their ability to dream. They lost their childhood, and the abuse cast long icy spikes into adulthood. These paedophiles, who still plead their innocence, stole their innocence. It makes me angry, really angry. Magnify that anger and multiply the shame those poor boys felt. That’s the way I create my characters and the way they walk and talk. Let’s hope they rot in prison. They’ve created a prison for their victims.
This is a drama about a mother’s grief. Twenty-four-year- old Jenny (Nicola Wren) brought alive in flashbacks was blown up in an underground train on 7th July 2005, ten years today, passing through Edgware Road tube station whilst reading C.S.Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew. We don’t know this, but since she was always reading, sent her mum Julie (Emily Watson) an email telling her that she’d bought a new book and would tell her what it was like, that’s the way it is dramatically reconstructed. Her body was recovered, but not fully intact. A closed coffin. Julie insists is opened for her because she is a mother and also a Church of England minister. She gets to hold her daughter’s hand for the last time before burial.
There are stages of grieving and stages of dying, but the natural order is upset when a daughter dies before a mother. The focus of this drama is Julie. We know, for example, she is a vicar, shown in the opening scenes leading a service. But the viewer does not know, or is not shown, what her husband works as. His role is ancillary. Julie is shown in the kitchen waiting for lunch or dinner after the service, part of an extended family that includes grandparents and youngest son. She gets a call from her second-youngest daughter telling her to turn the telly on. There’s BBC news reports of a power surge on the underground and then updated to possible bombings. Her life has changed irrevocably. What makes it more interesting is it is in an Old Testament way a testing of faith. Emily Watson won’t be far away when they hand out awards.
You have 19 days left to watch this. I suggest you do. It says a lot about where we are. Aaron Schwarz committed suicide 11th January 2013 in Brooklyn, New York. He was aged 26. Aaron’s girlfriend, Tarren Stinebrinckner-Kauffman, claimed that he wasn’t depressed, rather his suicide was the direct result of a vindictive prosecution and prosecutor out to make a name for himself. Perhaps it was something more than that. Perhaps less.
Aaron was arrested in January 2011. We see his clear image on a camera placed in a cupboard at MIT. He’d been playing cat and mouse downloading articles from JSTOR, avoiding their paywall, and saving them. His purpose for this remains unclear. But he had previous. He had downloaded a cache of medical journal’s research papers and shown a clear line between pharmaceutical firms and the authors of articles in prestigious journals. The implication being what you pay for is what you get. He also showed the commercial link between court records and the company providing this service for a fee was a lucrative scam. Those with money could and would pay. Those without would be relegated to a substandard form of justice which prejudiced the inherent rights to a fair trial. He helped set up a software system were public documents could be copied and accessed. Perhaps his greatest success was mobilizing support to prevent internet censorship explicit in legislation the Stop Online Piracy Act going through the Houses of Congress. This is the equivalent of stopping and re-directing a fully-laden oil craft tanker with quant poles used by barges. One of his two brothers remember FBI agents driving up to their house to check if Aaron was in and driving away again. Aaron was a remarkable man the ‘go-to’ man for news agencies wanting media friendly and savvy commentary on internet affairs.
Aaron was also a precocious child. His family were rich enough and middle-class enough to make extensive home movies. Even as a toddler its clear how articulate Aaron was. His elder brother talks about Aaron wanting to teach him algebra. The child had an inquisitive questing mind that wanted to know how things work. He found his nemesis in computer code. He could write and programme as easily as kids could play ball. We see the half-pint Aaron addressing a roomful of adults. He wasn’t so much their equal as their better. He co-designed tools such as RSS and Markdown. His coding prowess made possible the sharing of many of the images we take for granted such as the one I accessed ten minutes ago in IdeasTap. Creative Commons gives copyright law to ordinary people, not to make money but to share ideas. Aaron dropped out of Stanford and with three others developed the site Reddit. They sold it for millions. Aaron had $1 million. Traditional storylines show young go-getters turning that million into $100 million, or more, and being successful. Aaron was smarter than that. He wanted to do something useful with his life and it cost him his life.