Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Very Annoying Historians

Over the last few years a new breed of intellectual has emerged to begin stalking all those comforting historical certainties you learnt at school and used to rely on. You know the type. 'Stalin was a cat loving family man', 'Louis XIV was Secret Marxist'. It starts a media flurry and people like me blog about it. The latest contribution to the pointless revisionist school of history comes from Dr Andrew Cumming, and this week he's chosen to junk the reputation of the RAF in the Battle of Britain.

He's spent his time analysing National Archive documents detailing the "kill/loss ratio" for the critical period of 24 August to 6 September 1940, and found the figures "unimpressive". He further claims the RAF's performance against the enemy during late 1940 was "ineffectual", and that Britain owes "far more to the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy than we are prepared to acknowledge".

I do not know Dr Cumming. Doubtless his research was assiduous. But climbing into a Spitfire, Hurricane - or something even less up to date in 1940 - required astronomic amounts of courage. The men who did it had just a handful of flying hours before facing combat at speeds of over four hundred miles an hour. They were sitting on top of a fuel tank, and knew that pilots in their position frequently burned to death. They were always outnumbered, sometimes absurdly so, but attacked anyway. They lost friends on a weekly or daily basis yet turned up for flying duties regardless.

Is Dr Cumming saying they should have stayed at home? Bollocks.


I gave up my Manchester City season ticket at the end of last season because I wasn't gettting up north enough at weekends to possibly justify it. But I've had cause to wonder this weekend if football is really for me. On Saturday I went to see Citeh lose six nil to the aristocrats at Stamford Bridge. It is the sort of thing that rocks your faith. The ticket cost £48.

The tube was in its usual parlous state with various line closures and delays, and people were massively crammed in the carriages and onto the platforms both before and after the game. I sense an accident down there is not too far off. And this is the city that claims to be able to host the Olympics. Well we shall see.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Maddie, the Last Word?

Everyone has a view on the Madeleine McCann tragedy, but for my money Paul Routledge, who writes for the Mirror, sums up my feelings exactly.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

He's Coming Back, In A Way

No not me, Sir Trevor

Back in the 1990's I used to work at ITN, making pieces for the News at Ten. It was a great show to work for; when I joined NAT had some thirty years of breaking stories behind it. I'd grown up watching it, so to actually produce news for it felt amazing.

Then ITV decided to move it in the schedule with the result that it was christened 'The News at When'. People from the BBC came to the office to commiserate on the night we did the last one. The staff were in tears. I was heartbroken, and depressed about the way things were going, so I left the company.

ITV also cut the news budget. Currently it's reported to be around £30m a year, which sounds a lot till you start working out how much it costs to say, cover a Tsunami. Or a train disaster. Or indeed anything that involves sending a lot of people somewhere for several nights with equipment and expertise to produce television news.

The News channel which ITN did for ITV was launched to great fanfare, then closed.

BSkyB, which has its own news Channel, bid for Channel 5's News service and won against a rival bid by ITN. And every time the ITV contract came up Sky would propose doing it for some ludicrously small sum, making ITN pitch its budgetary requirements even lower in order to beat off the competition.

It looked like the end was nigh. If you starve a boxer he can't punch, no matter what his class.

Now Michael Grade, facing a massive scandal over phone in voting, says he wants to bring back News at Ten. He may get Sir Trevor to front it for him, but ITN needs some more cash, as other people are pointing out. A lot of really experienced reporters who brought massive class to the outfit, who actually made the opposition feel under threat, have gone. There's some strong talent there - guys like Geraint Vincent spring to mind - but it's on the young side, and a lot of people have stopped watching. It still has its fantastic editor, David Mannion. Given the chance he could rebuild News at Ten into something unmissable.

So come on Michael, ignore the advertisers for once and get your wallet out. Britain needs ITN.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Hotels in Different Places

Here's what you can expect from a hotel, lets say in the town of Graz in Austria, for £70.
A pool in the basement.
A well equipped gym.
A very big bed.
A very big room.
Helpful staff, if a bit ditsy.

Here's what you can expect from a hotel for £80 per night in Guildford.
No pool.
Or gym.
Odd bed with a hard mattress.
A bathroom Keira Knightley would struggle to get into.
Breakfasts left outside the room until the afternoon.
Over a sports bar.
Staff that bring the Eastern European touch to British values of hospitality.

And the tourist authorities have the temerity to blame the weak dollar and the rain for the UK's underperformance in the tourist market. I think the rest of the world has caught on to the truth, which is our hotels are overpriced rubbish.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Still on Control.....

One of the (many) poignant scenes in Control depicts Ian Curtis in hospital after his first botched suicide attempt.
He is surrounded by his wife and friends after a drugs overdose. A doctor arrives and discharges him. There's no talk of follow up, monitoring or treatment for depression. Attempting suicide is regarded as simply an aberrant episode.

Today there's much more awareness, but suicide remains a big killer of young men - far more than young women. That's not because the girls don't try - more of them try it than their male counterparts. It's simply that the men are better at it.

In Control

Growing up in South Manchester in the late seventies I missed Joy Division by two or three years. Later at University I worshipped at the altar of Factory cool that was New Order, and thrilled to the dark lyrics and stark angular music of the band's previous manifestation. But while I saw New Order live, and interviewed them for a student paper, I never met the band's early tragic driving force, Ian Curtis. In depression, at a time when there was little understanding of it as a treatable illness, he had taken his own life at the age of 23.

But Anton Corbijn has filled the gap. His new (and first) film shows the self torture of Ian Curtis, and the depression that gave us the brilliant albums, Unknown Pleasures and Closer.

Corbijn knew Curtis, and many of the survivors of those days had a hand in this intimate and searing film. The sweat and passion of the music is stunningly realised - these are the best rock music sequences you'll see in any movie. New Order did some of the incidental music, and I was moved to see that the producer credits include Tony Wilson, who allowed the filmmaker to depict him as totally missing the agony Curtis was experiencing. Wilson died this summer. I hope he saw the film.

Other things are here which I remember very well from those times - phones with dials, the crappy cars, the clothes. The dry wit of the band, and the big personality that was Rob Gretton are also captured.

But at the centre of the film are two towering performances by Sam Mills as the agonised Curtis and Sam Morton as his wife Deborah. Best film of the year, for my money.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Photo Opportunities

There are many unanswerable questions in life.
Why did the chicken cross the road?
But now we have to add a new one to the list.
Why did the Lord Mayor of Belfast attempt to vault his employee, who was dressed as a tomato?