Churchill’s black dog


Winston Churchill has entered British folklore as the statesman who saved Great Britain in its darkest hour when the country stood alone against Nazi Germany.
But Churchill was not the invincible warlord that he liked to portray to the British public with his “V for Victory” salute, morale-boosting oratory, homburg hat and trademark cigar.
He suffered from depression, dubbed his “black dog”, which he self-medicated by consuming prodigious amounts of alcohol.
Brian Cox brings out this private vulnerability in Churchill, a movie depicting the Prime Minister during the final days before the Allied invasion of Normandy.
Churchill tries to persuade General Dwight Eisenhower, the American Supreme Commander of Allied Forces, to call off D-Day because he fears the amphibious assault will end in disaster as it did at Gallipoli during the First World War. As First Lord of the Admiralty, Churchill felt responsible for Gallipoli and the ghost of its failure still haunted him 30 years later.
Cox puts in a bravura performance as Churchill; Miranda Richardson also impresses as his formidable wife, Clementine. However the film is flawed mainly due to a screenplay that condenses Churchill’s concerns about D-Day into the final hours before its launch.

The last philosopher king


Stalin And The Scientists by Simon Ings describes how the Bolsheviks promoted science in their quest to create a socialist utopia.
Scientists and engineers were the heroes of the Soviet Union and enjoyed privileges not available to the common people. They were well paid and allocated good housing; they enjoyed holidays at the Black Sea resorts and their children went to special schools.
The author said the Bolsheviks believed science could be applied to solve the human predicament; however, they adopted a simplistic approach to science by stripping away its philosophy. They did not understand how difficult science was. This led to failures on a monstrous and heroic scale in which famine ravaged the land.
The Soviet Union’s elite were fans of science. However, as fans they secretly resented what they purported to love because they were not doing it.
Ings spoke about his book at the University of York, this afternoon (June 11) during the city’s Festival of Ideas. He told his audience in the Ron Cooke Hub that Stalin was the last of the philosopher kings. “He was painfully aware that he had to know everything in order for his rule to be legitimate. He felt he had to earn that.”
Purges spawned by paranoia added to the potent political brew, with Ings adding: “Stalin was sufficiently smart that he sent himself mad.”

A dignified protest

Reg Meuross

Gifted singer-songwriter Reg Meuross gave an intimate concert at the Black Swan Folk Club this evening.
He sang about the Votes For Women martyr Emily Wilding Davison, the highwayman Dick Turpin, Dylan Thomas, Hank (Mr Lovesick Blues) Williams, the band leader’s violin that survived the Titanic disaster, Cicero, London, a hard-pressed NHS nurse and the young anti-Nazi martyr Sophie Scholl.
I left the York pub with the lyrics of his topical song England Green And England Grey still resounding in my head; which, I felt, was appropriate as millions of votes cast in today’s General Election were being counted:

England green and England grey
Look out on a summer’s day
To all things bright and fair and gay
To my home, my love, my England.

I believe in dignity, rich or poor we’re all born free.
Austerity and slavery, I thought they were behind us.
I don’t believe the BBC, monarchy or anarchy
Or an empire built on piracy, by our history you’ll find us

For years our women had no say no right to work or equal pay.
God help the crippled and the gay, the fragile flowers of England.
Shut the factories, shut the mines, punish those fell on hard times
While they honour them who do the crimes, the greedy men of England

How can a man respect a man who steals his house and sells his land
And takes the wages from his hand to pay his own expenses.
The NHS our England’s jewel is bartered by Westminster’s fool
To justify his public school and military defences

Sing the songs of old John Bull, Cecil Sharp and John and Paul
Come English folk, come one and all to the sweet songs of our England
Take my hand and walk with me down the back roads to the sea
In spite of all, we’ll both agree there is none so sweet as England.

Why I cast two votes today

Emily Wilding Davison

I have voted in every General Election since 1979 when Labour’s “Sunny Jim” Callaghan was turfed out of Number 10 by Margaret Thatcher.
However, today is the first time I have cast two separate votes at different polling stations. My first “X” was marked in my name; the second “X” was done on behalf of my youngest daughter who currently resides in Vancouver on Canada’s Pacific coast, half a world away. She decided to make use of a proxy vote while her sister, who is studying in Weimar, Germany, opted for a postal vote.
As I walked from one polling station to the next, along Hamilton Drive, York, this morning I felt proud that both my daughters have participated in today’s General Election even though they live outside the United Kingdom.
The suffragette Emily Wilding Davison would have been proud of them as well; today marks the anniversary of her death more than 100 years ago. Emily became a Votes For Women martyr after she ran into the path of the King’s horse as it was racing in the Epsom Derby. She died from her injuries several days later on June 8th 1913.
The right to vote that we enjoy today was certainly hard won.

Speedy Morph


Pioneer stop-go animator Peter Lord demonstrated dexterity bordering on the subliminal when fashioning a Morph out of a ball of Plasticine while giving a Festival of Ideas lecture in York.
This festival version of his popular comic character, known to millions of TV viewers, attracted bids from the audience, thereby raising £600 for charity.
Lord, who studied at the University of York, is co-founder and creative director of Aardman, the award-winning animation studio in Bristol known for Wallace & Gromit, Shaun The Sheep, Creature Comforts and Chicken Run as well as Morph.
Aardman started as a two-man venture in 1972 and now employs hundreds of people, a veritable Aladdin’s Cave of creative talent. Lord told the packed audience at Bootham School this evening (June 7) that the studio’s success was his proudest achievement.

Emotional rollercoaster


The film Frantz explores that fraught emotional landscape… the immediate aftermath of the Great War.
Anna, a young German woman, is mourning the loss of her fiancé, Frantz, killed on the Western Front fighting the French. She lovingly tends his grave in the picturesque churchyard of her home town even though his corpse remains on the battlefield in an unmarked grave – the fate of so many soldiers.
The town’s residents, still trying to come to terms with Germany’s catastrophic defeat, are piqued when a mysterious visitor starts visiting Frantz’s grave.
Anna eventually gets to know Adrien, a battle-scarred veteran of the French army, who reveals that he knew her fiancé. Their fledgling friendship sets in motion a chain of events that took this filmgoer on an emotional rollercoaster at York City Screen this evening.
Director François Ozon has created a sumptuous period drama and Paula Beer excels as its main protagonist, Anna, ably supported by Pierre Niney as Adrien.

A sultry tale


In his novel The London Satyr, Robert Edric cleverly couples spirits with strippers to create a vivid Victorian melodrama peppered with subtle psychological observations.
It’s an imaginative plot device as spiritualism and pornography both rely on carefully choreographed staging to exploit basic human desires.
Set in London in the oppressive summer of 1891, the novel’s central character is Webster, a debt-ridden photographer working for Sir Henry Irving and Bram Stoker at the Lyceum theatre. To earn extra cash, Webster supplies costumes to Marlow, a devious pornographer dubbed the “London Satyr”.
When an aristocrat is accused of murdering a child prostitute, the capital is convulsed by the sex scandal and Webster’s reputation is suddenly in danger as his links to a sleazy underworld risk being exposed..
To increase his anxiety, his wife deludes herself into believing she can contact the restless spirit of their dead daughter and starts holding séances in the family home, thereby exploiting the gullibility of her clients as well as, sadly, fooling herself. Her burgeoning career as a sought-after medium brings into sharp focus the grief Webster himself feels for their lost child.