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26 Hours 9 Minutes and 22 seconds with the Kenneth Clark(e) s *

27 Feb

I blame the Los Angeles Review of Books. Earlier this year I noticed a link to a review of a biography on Kenneth Clark. Lord Clark of Civilisation as he was hilariously known. Alan Clarks dad as he was also hilariously known, though mainly posthumously. Clark, was an interesting character and the review was good.It reminded me I had volume 2 of Clark’s Autobiography in a box somewhere. I located it and read it firly rapidly. Published in 1977 and dedicated “ To Alan “ it covered the years from before the second world war to publication.

Clark is a lucid writer and you enter a world as bizarre and out of touch as anything his son ( The racist Mr Toad ) conjures up in his diaries. He bought a castle for gawds sake ! How many of us will be able to put that in our autobiographies ?

Clark takes us through his time as a wartime Civil Servant. He doesn’t seem to have enjoyed it or been very attentive at it. He wrote If the Invader Comes  a pamphlet sent to every household. Its a document worth further exploration, but he dismisses it as useless. He put on films and Concerts during the war to keep up morale. It seems he had little problem with his own morale.Away from his wife he claims to have been “ the least Strindbergian of men”….and he got into a trouble away from his wife that he “need not specify nor describe”. Im sure this is his way of saying he met nice ladies and they were nice back to him. Its not quite in the Princess Diana/ Prince Charles league of admitting adultery by semaphore …its more like by cryptic crossword.

Anecdotes abound, normally about the great and the good. He hears that the war has ended after lunching with Ernest Bevin and then taking his wife Jane to a German Surgeon to remove a broken needle left in her backside. He continues post war in a variety of public service roles and each of these brings fascinating tales.

Clark though doesn’t see himself as a powerful person. He tells of his mission to ask De Valera ( Irelands Premier ) to change his mind over the issue of port access not to reveal power but to reveal the lack of power. Indeed as Chair of the Arts Council he says he had less power than a lollipop lady ( who oddly he says enjoy using it ?).

Like his son, Clark sees the world darkly. He claims to have seen “Death” enter Maynard Keynes opera box the night before he died. A natural optimist he is not. I must confess to never having watched Civilisation, but I did allow myself one clip after reading this book. Clark gives a rather gloomy view of the world today. He is a stick in the mud and quotes Yates second coming, before looking reflectively around his Castle. He owned a Castle !

At the same time as reading this I also received a free trial download of an audiobook. I currently don’t have much cash to buy new books so decided to try this out. I am not a fan of audiobooks in general but decided to spend my daily commute with that other Kenneth Clarke. Partly because I seem to recall a story that he sued Trivial Pursuit for claiming he was Kenneth Clarks son, or perhaps Alan did or some such combination. A rubbish anecdote I digress but a perfect connection for the Clark/s.

Clarke was a “big beast” political figure. His autobiography read in a rather sing song and friendly tone provides an entertaining if not revelatory account of life in British Politics since the late 1960’s.His early life was content and happy he enjoyed everything it seemed from trainspotting (not the film) to sport and joined the elite very easily. He ran up an enormous overdraft as a student that he didn’t pay off until he was in his 40’s ( a sentiment I can concur with ) and then had a bizarre life as a QC in Birmingham by day, MP for Nottingham at the weekend and on a train to westminster for the evening session each day and back to Birmingham for bed. Oddly he thinks this was good for democracy.

His reminisces about the 70s political scene are rather stereotypical, but then maybe they were compared to the current times.

Audiobooks create an odd relationship, at times I miss large chunks of what is being said either through concentrating on the road or over concentrating on what had been said. I almost career into a ditch when Clarke recalls standing dripping wet with no clothes on arguing with Mrs Thatcher. He was on the phone I think and not in the same house but it was mental torture and not easy to just skip back. Clarke enjoyed the Thatcher years and rose to prominence, he then became chief smartarse during the Major years. Im not sure he really respected Major and always seems to be the smartest guy in the room whether its at Euro meetings or on Black Wednesday. As Chancellor he enjoyed tinkering and claims that all students during his Chancellorship smoked Drum roll ups. I know this to be a lie. I was a student during his Chancellorship and my tobacco of choice wasn’t Drum, however I can’t recall its name it was in a more yellowy packet. Drum of course was not available in the UK and was all bootleg. Clarke wanted his duty.

Later Clarke stood for leadership of the party 3 times and lost in rather different circumstances each time. When rejected he nursed his directorships, most controversially at British American Tobacco, though its hard to see why a man who loved smoking so much wouldn’t have done this job.

Each chapter is named after a Jazz classic and Clarke introduces them like a poor mans Alan Partridge.  If only he had slipped a few John Zorn titles in. Fuck the Facts about his time as Chancellor or bonehead . Maybe he did and I had drifted off mentally on the commute home.

Throughout the book the real star is his now deceased wife Gillian. Gillian sacrificed an academic career because Ken wanted a political one. She travelled second class while Ken flew business and she put up with his working hours, overdraft and raised the children.

Clarks return to Government under David Cameron paints him as a crazy uncle tolerating the noisy kids. He likes Osborne, seems contemptible of Cameron and eventually moves on. Clarke is now the hero of Bremainers, I personally will miss his midlands sing song voice on the commute tomorrow, though I still have to remember the name of my 1990s Tobacco taste.

***comprises

https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/when-people-wanted-civilisation-reassessing-kenneth-clark/ …5 minutes

 

this at 5 minutes 22 seconds

 

Ken Clarks “Audiobiography” is an eyewatering 23 hours and 29 minutes

And reading Kenneth Clark The Other Half  took 2 and a half hours.

 

Thresher gate

29 Oct

Somewhere in the lower points of what was a fairly unsuccessful Ministerial Career, Norman Lamont got hit by a wave of odd and at times puzzling “ scandals”. The most perplexing was, well they all were. Thresher gate though was perhaps the time the media finally got the point of adding-gate to an issue that was so insignificant in its ability to rival watergate that the similarity only only occurred through the power of spelling.

Norman Lamont was exposed as living outside his credit card limit and ignoring his warning letters, embarrassing for a Chancellor. However it then turned out two employees of the Paddington Threshers (off licence ) claimed he had bought a bottle of champagne and a packet of raffles. Paddington it seems was considered a bit seedy ( like the bear ) and the link being made was that as neither he nor his wife smoked raffles then he must have been socialising with someone else. The press even thought they had found a woman Lamont was having an affair with.  His fellow MPs thought it hilarious. Visiting his shortly afterwards Gyles Brandreth apologised for not bringing a bottle, but Threshers was closed and his visa card is over the limit. Lamont we are told laughed.

Eventually the receipt turned up, for 2 bottles of wine from the connaught street branch ( more respectable apparently ) . Gateau Margaux indeed. The two employees admitted to lying , one was sacked and the other discovered to be an overstayer from Nigeria was deported! And this advert was taken off air ?

Neil Hamilton Light entertainer as Politician

14 May

The return of Neil Hamilton to the political world , a phrase many never thought would be seen, has left us looking to remember why Neil was never a good idea. Michael White captured much of this in a blog article on the Guardian website this week. Titled ” Why Neil Hamilton’s return should trouble us” White captures perfectly what was wrong with Neil in his incarnation as a Tory MP. He was the man whose tale led to the frontage of the guardian ” a liar and a cheat “He had always been anti-EU/Immigartion/Unions and Pro-free market/privatisation. All standard Tory fare , but with some twists. The brown envelopes full of cash, the speeches to Fascists organisations in Europe..the ongoing court cases.
Hamilton, according to White will play the anti-elite card well without ever giving away his eliteness!Hamilton will play to the gallery and prey on their fears. His first action was a coup against the presumed UKIP leader in the Welsh Assembly – who knows where this will end, but I would be surprised if the same 7 UKIP assembly members are sitting in the same seats in 5 years time.

But Neil Hamilton, Im not sure his old politics are the point. The fascinating issue is what he has been up to since 1997. He’s a celebrity and an entertainer. Pantomime, check. Comedy Song, check. Embarrassing TV fly on the wall film, check. The now obligatory accusation of sexual assault, check.
As a character Neil no longer exists. Its Christine and Neil Hamilton, a “formidable” pair. A double headed entertainment spectacle. It is very rare that you don’t see them together. Neil has been interviewed many times as a UKIP politician and his “battle-axe ” head is swirling around the back. It was this head that attacked Martin Bell, and probably still does. It may awake at night and talk of the battle of Knutsford Heath, it may.
Neil though does do something as a mono head. On the internet there is a grainy video from some TV show. I don’t know the show or the purpose of it. It features the wonderful comedian Jonny Vegas ( who understands he is a character on screen ) and a lady from the public throwing fish into a chamber where Neil Hamilton is contained dancing to ” get down on it” and catching the fish. I do not wish to know why. It tells me everything I need to know about Neil Hamilton. He is a court gesture and always was, a light entertainer, a tax barrister,a friend of Barbara Cartland ( the last two are true and not euphemisms). What are his values as he leads the Welsh UKIPs ? Does anyone really care? He dances for fish, like a Dr Seuss character, he contorts our mind and takes our collective money. Maybe that is our expectation of former disgraced Politicians ? John Profumo went to clean toilets and raised money for charity. Im not saying this is the model, but he also kept a low profile. Neil decided to cash in on his lying and cheating by dancing for fish and dancing to the Welsh Assembly. Hang in Wales I don’t think it will last.

The Collapse of the Major Government – an occasional series part 1

22 Jan

If I had unlimited research resources I would document the chaos and confusion that killed off John Majors Government. It was awful yet entertaining. There were days when they seemed so out of control at war with each other and it dragged on and on. If ever there was an argument for shorter parliamentary terms …this was it. I had the luxury of spending 3 years at University during this time , so could often spend the time watching a disaster unfold. Newspaper claims , counter claims on Radio and TV all day.  Was it wilful , did anyone ever stop and wonder what they were doing. The pinnacle of British Politics were just name calling and pulling faces.

Just to be clear I couldn’t stand them one bit, but they had the quality of those old you’ve been framed videos. Yes you know the Cat is going to hit the window, yes you know it will hurt and has no positive benefits, but you also hold in a snigger.

So without the resources I will post an occasional series here….

I was reading something in Gyles Brandreths Diaries the other day. Brandreth to me is the ultimate chronicler of the incompetence, pointlessness and chaos of the Major years. He mentioned  a spat on the 19th of Feb 1997. Not one I recall( I was then working !). It started with Rifkind the Foreign Secretary saying he was hostile towards the Single Currency. It then led to Clarke the Chancellor saying it must have been a slip of the tongue. Then No 10 made a series of ambivalent statements until finally , after a” Rifkind vs. Clarke its war ” headline in the Standard they all make up and apologies and move on. Until the next day when Geoffrey Howe disowns the Government and Tony Blair embarrasses it at Question Time.

The interesting thing is this day happened many times. The Single Currency was a policy area Major failed to own like oh so many others. Somehow though he approached it like someone testing their ability to take an illicit drug. He dances around it , watches it..becomes mesmerised…and yet he thinks he’s strong. Day in Day out the government changed its language …wait and see…negotiate and decide…sleep and toss a coin…pretend we give a shit…all very important though meaningless approaches. Cabinet met and agreed a formulae time after time only for someone to break it instantly. And Major he just sat back and let it roll. He even hinted at changes himself…a silent sceptic. Nudging to his supporters…I hate it but I cant say it. Labour on the other hand quite dispassionately just said we will treat it on its merits at the time and seemed to sail to the election line. Major you see was weak, possibly vulnerable( if only we knew then !) and I personally believe didn’t have any fixed firm ideological views. A puppet leader…only a leaderless puppet leader at best.