Saturday, 13 January 2018



This picture is reproduced unsatisfactorily in black and white in Penelope Fitzgerald's brilliant 'Charlotte Mew and Her Friends'. Bramley was one of the artists of 'the Newlyn school'. Mew visited Newlyn, in Cornwall, in the 1890s. and set a story there called 'The China Bowl' (see them on the table? - as Fitzgerald observes "they seem to suggest a story of their own").


I heard Gary Oldman, who plays Churchill in Darkest Hour, talking about the twinkle in the great man's eye, his energy.  Here's an excerpt from my biography of my father, Kicking the Bar (available through all good booksellers, cough, cough), which describes the way in which Churchill could, as it were, become 'Churchill'. despite black dog, age or sickness.

In the November before [Orson Welles'] Sketchbook, Dad had been the producer in Downing Street for a special programme celebrating Winston Churchill’s 80th birthday.  Donald Baverstock, another inspiring Welshman in Talks, who was producing a news programme called Highlight and who would go on to become Editor of Tonight and eventually Controller of BBC1, suggested that the programme take the form of a party. Grace Wyndham Goldie, the overall producer, agreed. The great and the good from around the world would make toasts to the great man.  The hope was that Churchill would respond.  No-one knew whether he would or not. Dad, Lord Ismay and Wyndham Goldie planned for three endings to the programme. Years later my father told his own version of the Churchill story to Frank Gillard.

Now Churchill had to be there of course watching in Downing Street [but] there wasn’t a television set there in those days… Grace asked me to go down there. Anyway, I went down there, and presently his family turned up…  but no sign of the great man. And then, just before the programme was due to begin, he came in with his wife. I’d been told that he looked old, but I had simply not been prepared for the sight of this pterodactyl coming very, very slowly into the room.  I mean, he looked about eight thousand years old… and his skin was like yellow leather.  He shuffled to his chair, sat in the wrong one I need hardly say;  anyway, there it was; and paid no attention to his children, all of whom said ‘Hello’, and paid no attention to them at all. Still less to me - he didn’t see me. 
     The News was on, and there was a camera, looking at him.  He looked at the News and in a very, very broken, switched-off, childish voice, he said, ‘Is this the programme?’
     And in a reverential bellow - because it was clear to me that you had to speak very loudly to get at the old thing at all – in a reverential bellow I said, ’No. This is the News.  The Programme,’  I said,  ‘will follow in a minute, and Lord Ismay will be there in Shepherd’s Bush talking to you.’  He said ‘Ismay is in Paris.’ And I said, ‘No, Ismay has come over especially for the programme, and he will be talking to you in a minute or two.’  Then I said,  ‘You’ll be here watching the programme, and when at the end they… wish you God speed and best wishes… if you want to respond in any way, all you have to do is look into this camera over here, and you can speak directly to them, and I will give you a signal for doing that if you like.’  To which he paid no attention, none.  So I was very apprehensive.  I went round the back of the chair to Clemmie [Lady Churchill] and said, ‘Do you think he’ll say anything?’  And she said, ‘It’s very difficult to say.  He’s very tired.’
     …I rang Grace up in the studio and said I had no idea what was going to happen. He looked like an old tortoise – and it wasn’t at all clear to me that he would speak. 

Cut to Grace Wyndham Goldie at Lime Grove:

It was impossible to believe that he knew in the least what was happening. But when Lady Violet Bonham-Carter, at the end of her message, said “Courage, that is your greatest gift to those who know you”, I watched, unbelieving, on my gallery monitor the ancient head move slowly from side to side in a gesture of negation and tears rolling slowly down the leathery cheeks.  Only we in the gallery saw this incredibly moving spectacle.  And we were filled also with professional relief.  He was registering something after all.[i]

Back to Dad:

Anyway, the programme took place, and he betrayed no emotion of any kind, of pleasure or displeasure – except that whenever Clemmie was mentioned he looked slightly in her direction, but whether to say ‘How nice’, or alternatively ‘Why should that be said?’, it was impossible to draw any conclusion.
     The programme came to an end, and I heard Ismay give his final speech, so I was alert and I was just preparing to signal Churchill towards the camera, Ismay having said ‘So best wishes for the future, dear Winston,’ or words to that effect, when I looked towards the great man.  He was sitting up in his chair and his eyes were fixed on me, and it was exactly as if I’d come round a little bend in a Pembrokeshire hedgerow in 1934 in one of those little Austins, and run into a gigantic red lorry.  It was like running into searchlights head on.  In some curious way he appeared to have switched on.  I nervously signaled him towards the camera, and he then moved his entire chair so that he was facing it, and instantly spoke in this enormous diapason, ‘I have been delighted’ and so on, ‘This remarkable ….’ And a great sonorous sentence came out, Gibbonesque, very, very good, very much to the point, extremely rounded, very masculine, very virile, very Churchillian.  So he came to the end of his peroration and looked away from the camera to me, glared at me and said ‘Good night!’
     Then I heard the trumpets blowing, so I knew we were off old Churchill.  I rushed up to him, and so did his family, and everybody said, ‘You were wonderful,’ ‘You were marvelous,’ all that sort of thing, but he paid no attention, he’d switched off again.  He said to his wife,  ‘I hadn’t had time to prepare,’ and she said, ‘You were very good, Winston.’  He said, ‘But I hadn’t had time.’  He shuffled to the door, and then he did look round for a moment at his family – not at me, he never paid any attention to me from beginning to end – and he switched on for a minute. ‘I’m going to have a bath,’ he said, and pushed off. It was a memorable programme, beautifully done by Grace.


[i] Grace Wyndham Goldie, Facing the Nation (London: Bodley Head, 1977) p.171

Sunday, 7 January 2018


Very enjoyable. These paintings could be by no-one else. That's a mark in his favour. And despite all his subjects (there is only one picture that has no figures in it) having exactly the same features - elongated nose, small mouth, arched eyebrows - they are all remarkably distinctively different, markedly themselves. Then again, what he seems to really enjoy is shape, gracious shape, so that many of these images are beautiful, something we don't necessarily expect or even approve of in modern art. He errs perhaps now and then into the decorative, but not too often. His portraits are both true to life and artificial, almost to the point of abstraction. i wonder if he would have gone that way had he lived. i think maybe he might. Anyway, here's the only pic in there that's not of a human figure:

Monday, 11 December 2017


9 December, The Cellar, Oxford

First gig as Sad Boys Club

Reviewed by Richard Brabin for Little Indie

Now, first bands on tend to come with a little leeway given to them as they are often honing their trade, still in their infancy or, in Sad Boys Club’s case, actually playing their first ever show. It is therefore anticipated that there will be bum notes, confused looks and a slightly bedraggled live sound - despite their impressing Little Indie enough to have been a TrackOf The Day during the week. This nonchalant attitude to the North London outfit's performance lasted about 27 seconds into their opening track when it became quickly apparent that something rather special was happening on stage and it was probably best we all stopped checking Twitter and gave it our full attention.

Glossy and misty guitar textures immediately glide into focus as frontman Jacob Wheldon’s succinct but dreamlike lyrics creates a Slowdive meets The Cure melee of sumptuous tones and ethereal high end. With a wholesome and tactile wall of noise coming from five performers, SBC treats its audience to a quite breathtaking half an hour of immersive compositions, each one armed with not only a gentle and sensitive consistency but also big, chunky choruses built to hold their delicate work firmly in place.

Their debut single 'Know' is a highlight, simmering and shimmering throughout its four minute existence into a climax of distorted reverb and vibrato with a trademark and infectious hook which remains in the consciousness long after the lads have dismounted from stage. If it’s anything to go by, this is only the beginning for a group of musicians showing all the hallmarks of an exceptional and highly authentic band.

Thursday, 30 November 2017


To the NPG for privileged early look sans crowds at the Cezanne Portraits exhibition.  Curiously cheerless bunch of characters, not a smile to be seen, all very flat and still.  At the same time, it is impossible to be made despondent by despond so wonderfully rendered.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Letter to The Times by Simon Schama, Howard Jacobson and Simon Sebag-Montefiore.

Letter to The Times by Simon Schama, Howard Jacobson and Simon Sebag-Montefiore.  6/11/17

Sir, In this centenary year of the Balfour Declaration we are troubled by the tone and direction of debate about Israel and Zionism within the Labour Party.
We are alarmed that during the past few years, constructive criticism of Israeli governments has morphed into something closer to antisemitism under the cloak of so-called anti-Zionism. We do not object to fair criticism of Israel governments, but this has grown to be indistinguishable from a demonisation of Zionism itself — the right of the Jewish people to a homeland, and the very existence of a Jewish state. Although anti-Zionists claim innocence of any antisemitic intent, anti-Zionism frequently borrows the libels of classical Jew-hating. Accusations of international Jewish conspiracy and control of the media have resurfaced to support false equations of Zionism with colonialism and imperialism, and the promotion of vicious, fictitious parallels with genocide and Nazism. How, in such instances, is anti-Zionism distinguishable from antisemitism?
Such themes and language have become widespread in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. So far the Labour leadership’s reaction has been derisory. It is not enough to denounce all racisms in general when this specific strain rages unchecked.
Zionism — the longing of a dispersed people to return home — has been a constant, cherished part of Jewish life since AD70. In its modern form Zionism was a response to the centuries of persecution, expulsions and mass murder in Christian and Muslim worlds that continued from the Middle Ages to the mid-20th century. Its revival was an assertion of the right to exist in the face of cruelty unique in history.
We do not forget nor deny that the Palestinian people have an equally legitimate, ancient history and culture in Palestine nor that they have suffered wrongs that must be healed. We hope that a Palestinian state will exist peacefully alongside Israel. We do not attempt to minimalise their suffering nor the part played by the creation of the state of Israel. Yet justice for one nation does not make justice for the other inherently wicked. Zionism is the right of the Jewish people to self-determination. We believe that anti-Zionism, with its antisemitic characteristics, has no place in a civil society.
Howard Jacobson

Simon Sebag Montefiore

Simon Schama

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

AFTERWARDS by Thomas Hardy


When the Present has latched its postern behind my tremulous stay,
And the May month flaps its glad green leaves like wings,
Delicate-filmed as new-spun silk, will the neighbours say,
"He was a man who used to notice such things"? 

If it be in the dusk when, like an eyelid's soundless blink,
The dewfall-hawk comes crossing the shades to alight
Upon the wind-warped upland thorn, a gazer may think,
"To him this must have been a familiar sight." 

If I pass during some nocturnal blackness, mothy and warm,
When the hedgehog travels furtively over the lawn,
One may say, "He strove that such innocent creatures should come to no harm,
But he could do little for them; and now he is gone." 

If, when hearing that I have been stilled at last, they stand at the door,
Watching the full-starred heavens that winter sees,
Will this thought rise on those who will meet my face no more,
"He was one who had an eye for such mysteries"? 

And will any say when my bell of quittance is heard in the gloom,
And a crossing breeze cuts a pause in its outrollings,
Till they rise again, as they were a new bell's boom,
"He hears it not now, but used to notice such things"?

Thomas Hardy