Keep on Carrying On… 60 years of the best in British comedy

It’s 60 years this year since the first Carry On film – Carry on Sergeant. I’ve already done a deep dive into the classic early films, so in the second part of this look back let’s remember the classics from the last 30 years of risque postcard comedy.

‘Blue’ leader David Spam (Tennant) tries to avoid the press in Carry On Show us your Mandate (2012)

Carry On Emmannuelle (1978) – was the nadir of the famous series, when the overcooked attempt to sex up a saucy formula did nothing but make audiences uncomfortable it nearly ended a Great British institution. Thankfully however, flush from the success of funding Life of Brian, Beatle George Harrison (in return for a cameo role) found the money for one more go around.

That was a planned spoof of the popular US soap Dallas: Carry on Dallas. A script was written and casting offers made to Kenneth Williams,Charles Hawtrey and Jim Dale amongst others, but production was abandoned when Dallas’s producers demanded a royalty fee of 20 times the total production budget – too rich even for the world’s most famous lead guitarist.

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Love’s got the world in motion

I fell out of love with football a while back. It was the little things that start off as charming eventually became huge irritants: financial imbalances tipping the scales (when it was Blackburn for a season or two it was exciting, remember?), influxes of players from all round the globe no matter really their pedigree or connection to your town (when your team signed a Scandinavian for the first time, it was thrilling, wasn’t it?), sport on the front pages (once reserved for world cup wins and exits).

Once a season ticket holder at my club, a travelling England fan (two world cups, and one…) I had watched maybe three matches this year: and none live. Some commercial imperative lost us our seats at St Andrews a few years ago and I went increasingly sporadically, only to the bigger games, or when someone offered me a ticket. Embarrassed then, in conversations about how the team were doing as I didn’t have experience of watching them almost every week.

And England, they failed again and again, not gloriously but with lack of energy. From the passion and endeavour of our defeats in 1998 (a glorious time to care and be there), to the clueless jogging of a scrappy win in Barcelona against Andorra, where faced with Steve McClaren’s take on the ‘golden generation’ we chanted for nothing more than bringing Graham Taylor back.

TV rights reasons and moving further from Birmingham isolated me from the actual sport played by the blues, media coverage (apart from the breathless or angry local press and people) almost non-existent.  

Football fell back in my life in much the way cricket worked for me: fascination with the history, the identities, the culture and the position in the world; but precious little interest in what happens on the pitch.

Premier league games, when I saw them, looked not like football should: but something more pristine. Perfect grass, shining at you at the right colour,  the crowd static, the players all so universally healthy: so universally quick that the speed of the game is uniform and appears slow. Every game having the lustre of a meaningless pre-season friendly. It may be an age thing, all new bands look like bands created for a film, new TV shows lack interest, relying on plot twists and an infantile avoidance of ‘spoilers’, but it’s only football I’ve thoroughly withdrawn from.

This world cup, is a case apart. It’s marvellous, exciting and engrossing. There are skills and stories, and shocks. There is openness and fun, fun.

And it’s something about the shared experience, the sheer scale. Watching the stadiums filled with fans from South America, those from all around the globe embracing a particular type of togetherness: the self-parodic headgear, Sphinxes from Egypt, viking helmets from Iceland, Japan with Benny Hill kamikaze headbands and cleaning up the terraces.

The pundits become looser, there’s time to fill, there is a bank of shared knowledge, relationships and thoughts develop. While the skill – and the gulf in skills – is bigger, we are allowed to enjoy the drama.

Watching Iran attempt to better Spain, everyone behind the ball, time wasting and hoofing it was wonderful. It was thrilling to watch them boring us, pushing and tweaking armpit hair at corners. That’s the part of the game. That’s football: in an everyday context this isn’t fun. In a world cup it is.

Maybe it’s because they can’t be as well drilled as club teams, they can’t park the bus as effectively. Maybe tactics can’t work, pure organisation will fail. Goals (except in a game where no-one wants to break sweat, France and Denmark) are guaranteed, one lapse of concentration, one call on a video replay, one moment of skill will be there from pretty much any team in pretty much any match.

You don’t have to turn away because it’s always there, the rhythm of the games, gaps of an hour to relive or keep life ticking over. It’s on the radio when you’re driving, scores and updates fill the conversational gaps usually stuffed with weather and traffic.

You don’t need to know everything to be involved – because no-one knows everything. But you learn so much.

The drop from three games to only two successive matches live per day felt like a death, it’s the worst bit. Suddenly some of the games don’t matter quite so much, nothing will be as bad again until the first day with no matches, the gap between quarters and semi-finals.

For all the corruption and commercialism, for all the worries about football and its place in the world. For a time, football is the world, cynicism on the pitch even feels like an expression of love. A foul can bring a nation together with its foes, a goal can unite the world.

All England have to do is be OK and not spoil it for bit.  

 

Gig of my life: David Devant and His Spirit Wife

Tommy and I didn’t have that much music taste in common, weren’t that close, though we hung out a bit. He liked rock, had long hair, I liked indie and tracksuits and kept my hair short, but we both loved David Devant and His Spirit Wife. They played with props, with music hall, and with verve. They played with style and enthusiasm and anywhere at all. We went up from Birmingham to Coventry see them at a small club called The Planet. We were underprepared and had no real idea where it was, lost in the thick concrete trees beneath the ring road.

Eventually we found it, squashed against the city, up some steps, a thick brick box. It was small and we got right to the front when the band eventually came on. We drank furry lager from plastic glasses with rough edges, we talked the throat-burning talk of the not-well acquainted.

They were wonderful.I shouted for Life on the Crescent – a song played on the tiniest of organs and nothing else – they were about to play it anyway, I could see from the setlist. The Vessel, the singer who supposedly channeled the original David Devant a long dead magician, looked me softly in the eye, said, “Yes.”.

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Brexit and cultural identity: just taking sides is no longer enough

Patriotism is a funny thing, the attachment to flags and borders. But your country is your home (whether by an accident of birth or choice) and historically, culturally you can see why people identify with it. Patriotism need not be any more dangerous than community spirit, picking a team to support.

Patriotism for one’s continent seems a little further stretched, especially an amorphous one such as Europe. What are those shared cultural values? In Europe the shared history seems mainly about being at war with each other in different combinations. But for many, European is the acceptable face of patriotism: there are people who identify more as European than English. This happens in England more than the rest of Britain, because Englishness is confusing, fragmented, problematic and tainted by nationalism.

A little of that euro-love grew in the excitement and openness that Europe provided in the first years of easy and cheap travel around it, a little in the spirit of the original mods: signalling that you were voraciously absorbing new and smoother cultures, Fila and Fellini, rather than Findus fish fingers. But also Europe was used by many to signal that they weren’t party to the awful parts of English patriotism, which had come to be represented by the Union Jack.

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I’ll admit it: I was right about Jeremy Corbyn

I’ll admit it: I was right about Jeremy Corbyn. And he was right, about hope over fear, about kindness over hate and, although it took me a while, I believe he was right on Brexit too.

The membership were right, twice, too, and here’s a football metaphor about how that felt.

Do you remember the 1990 World Cup? Not how good it is painted as now, but how it was seen before that David Platt overhead kick? The headlines were about how bad things were, not how memorable. It existed as one of the great last sorties of English hooliganism abroad, we were shown constant footage of it raining plastic glasses and plastic chairs in picturesque squares all over Italy. There’s a great a book by Pete Davis called All Played Out which is a fantastic, if depressing, read about how Planet Football is divorced from all reality and the lives of the fans. Davis quotes a distressed Englishman — no doubt dressed in too-small shorts — after a disappointing draw against North African opposition: “Fight you bastards,” he says, “like we fight for you.”

And, do you remember, how the Labour Party seemed from about 2010 until the election as leader of one Jeremy Bernard Corbyn? They were terrified to stand up to austerity, to reject the idea that they had broken the economy, to stand up for wages, for benefits, for the people of the UK. Good people as they may have been (and some have proven to be since) they were beaten in thought and deed. They had no fight. No fight for us.

But with this campaign, and this manifesto, and this hope that has been fostered by this Labour leadership, the fight is there. We are all in it together. They fight for us and we fight for them. But, more than that, we fight for the many, not the few. And that many includes people who voted against their class interests on June 8th.

A Labour government will be better for everybody, not just those who vote for it.

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Jeremy Corbyn’s real gamble on the Article 50 bill

Jeremy Corbyn’s real gamble on the Article 50 bill was assuming that the remain voting Labour supporters — which should be the smartest of the lot — would be switched on enough to realise that any concessions on Brexit would not come in the commons where a heavily whipped Tory majority of 18 is bolstered by hard Brexit supporting UKIP, eight DUP MPs, the increasingly bizarre Labour Leave gang, and even the odd Lib Dem.

It was Jeremy’s hope that enough people would understand that the fight for workers’ rights, for free movement, for human rights and fair tax structures, would be a sustained campaign across the county, in and out of the media and parliament for the two years of the negotiations. And that it will continue after that: as it always has. Jeremy has gambled on people being able to see a slightly bigger picture than a vote that could not be won, and could not even be symbolically fought without hurting the wider fight: at the moment it seems he’s to be disappointed on that.

To those disappointed by Labour’s stance, you have to hope that people who oppose Brexit think about why they oppose Brexit: and in coming elections vote on those issues.

The left leaning amongst the angry remainers will need to vote for a party that can safeguard the best of the EU legislation, and they don’t need to vote for a party that is willing to get back into bed with the Tories.

Labour nationally needed to be seen to accept referendum result, which meant a party position. No whip, and the there was the ‘not respecting referendum’ stick for Tories, Kippers and their media pals to beat the party with. There’s scar tissue already all over where the ‘shadow cabinet rebellion stick’ beats Labour, most of that self inflicted for this

Don’t think the leadership will be judging anyone harshly for voting the against the whip, John McDonnell has even suggested that ‘rebels’ could be back in fold within months. This will be forgotten long before the next election. After all, there are bigger, and more winnable, battles to fight.

“There is no final victory, as there is no final defeat. There is just the same battle. To be fought, over and over again. So toughen up, bloody toughen up.” – Tony Benn

Going full canary: conspiracy theories are the way we understand inequalities

If the main voices in our public discourse are to be believed, tin foil sales have gone through the roof. To use their own phrase, many people have ‘gone full Canary’: and are expressing opinions that can be dismissed as them being willing to believe in conspiracies behind not only how society works but how it’s presented to them through the media.

The Canary, a left-leaning, clickbaity web publication, is having a moment in the sun — or at least Newsnight — and is the target of the ire, ‘well meaning despair’ and laughter of much of the journalism profession. It seems unafraid to push stories that other publications won’t touch, either because they aren’t verifiable or because they are otherwise uninteresting to Buzzfeed or the Guardian. They have become a shorthand for conspiracy, or things about which it can be said “the MSM (main-stream media) won’t cover this”.

But think about it calmly, the commentariat would say, there’s nothing going on behind the curtain.  And that may be right: the world is too complex, and people too fallible and factionate to think that there are often huge co-ordinated conspiracies. That does not mean, however, that all is fair and that motives are honest.

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Post-truth, post-fact, post-description: ponzi schemes of lies that are killing our debates

I think I was a few weeks ahead of some in calling the referendum campaign the triumph of post-truth politics that was just as much a fault of David Cameron as the referendum itself was. Jonathan Swift was much further ahead of the post-truth politics game, as in most things: “the greatest liar hath his believers,” he said,”and it often happens that if a lie be believed only for an hour, it hath done its work [ …] Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it.”

It’s no longer the case that the truth will eventually get its boots on and catch up. For a time it just seemed that the truth needed to up its game, get a pair of slip-ons, get a better narrative, frame the debate: the truth now is on a continuing 24-hour cycle of being shouted down and tripped up. There is only one truth, it’s sometimes complicated or nuanced, there are many more lies — as many as you have space for in the media and on the internet.

And you might think that there are a lot of column inches to fill in the newsagents, but that’s just peanuts to the internet.

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Labour can’t win back voters by championing the status quo

Labour does have a problem with reaching people.

The party made a decision under Kinnock, Blair, Brown and even Miliband to move away from being the party of organised labour. A change that also contributed to the decline of organised labour itself. That has left the party at the mercy of the media to reach the working class voters it depends on.

The ‘dispossessed’ that voted Leave aren’t likely to be union members: there are just over seven million now, dropping from 13 million in the late ’70s. The rise of insecure work and the restrictions on union bargaining power have made it more crucial — but paradoxically less attractive — to working class people to join and organise in the workplace.

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The rise of the idiocracy

The leavers are rising in the polls and everyone is starting to get scared that they might actually win. And, of course, it’s Jeremy Corby’s fault.

It’s not unusual for Corbyn to come under attack, he doesn’t sing loud enough, or bow at the proper angle, and he baulks at the idea of mutual mass destruction. And we all know what Cameron thinks about his suit and tie. But what is odd is that this time around he’s effectively being criticised for not coming to the aid of his opponent in his hour of need.

David Cameron is struggling to get his message across. For the first time his privilege is not buying him an easy ride with an unusually un-supplicant press: and he’s looking to those with experience of not having everything their own way.

Cameron did not see this coming, but in many ways he is the architect of his own downfall. The establishment is trying to pin the blame on the Labour leadership but everything about this is a Tory mess. Even leaving aside that the very referendum is Cameron’s own fault – a self-serving promise to prevent haemorrhaging even more votes and party “loonies” to UKIP – the actions of the Tories have created a situation in which rational argument has lost its power and a new idiocracy rides the waves of ill-informed public opinion.

When Ed Miliband said that the media has focused on the “sexy blue-on-blue action” in covering the referendum campaign, he may have made Today programme listeners push away their boiled eggs, but he was right. Labour has been hamstrung in getting the socialist case for remaining in the EU across, not through a lack of passion, but through a lack of coverage.

Labour (and especially Ed) are used to this, but it is the first time that sections of the Conservatives have been on the wrong side of the tactics that they have spent the last 10 years developing.

So successfully have they terrified the BBC into a false version of impartiality they call ‘balance’, that ideas are never challenged, only countered. Lies are given equal weight to the truth.

And the right wing press doesn’t even have to pretend to be impartial. So if a view – or most frustratingly a fact – isn’t palatable to the owners and their editors then it will get the shortest of shrift. This is a problem. Yes, social media and the internet means that we can go beyond newspaper bias to get to more of the truth – but only if we have the time, critical analysis skills and networks to do so. We can hear Jeremy Corbyn’s every word, see every stroke his cat gets, if we subscribe to it on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat: but in the mainstream media his statements are not treated impartially. They are given less credence than those who are prepared to spread lies, to deny facts and give the appearance of idiots when it suits them.

Now the Tory leadership is feeling the Iain Duncan Smith effect: a man who has casually denied links between his workplace capability assessments and the deaths of those they removed benefits from, a man who has defended the fiasco of universal credit, a man who tried to change a law to make his actions over workfare legal after they’d been ruled otherwise by the high court, a man who has made an artform of using false statistics in the face of the evidence and chastisement from the ONS, a man whose greatest lie may have been that he cared. Through all that Smith knew that the right wing press would support him and that a neutered BBC would let his statements pass without comment, given equal credibility as the truth.

And as a result, he has become unanswerable. As Auden said, “A sentence uttered makes a world appear; Where all things happen as it says they do.” He believes that he can say anything; he can. And of course others have seen it work and take advantage too.

From the Hutton report onwards, the BBC has shied away from confrontation in news: and the Tories have enjoyed every moment of it. They spent six or seven years being unchallenged on their lies about the causes of the financial crash, and they grew in confidence to the point where they felt able to say “I don’t accept that view” and dismiss any factual argument put to them.

We are living in an age that is post-democracy. Power is concentrated in an elite, says political scientist Colin Crouch, who make “electoral debate a tightly controlled spectacle… considering a small range of issues.” The majority of the electorate, he says, play “a passive, quiescent, even apathetic part, responding only to signals given to them.” In a single issue vote, with a narrow debate, this makes the infantalisaton of our media actively dangerous to democracy: and we’re seeing this turned up to 11 by a band of chancers that display no more signs of intelligence than Nigel Tuffnell, let alone Nigel Farage.

The lie of the £350M sent to Brussels – proven not to be true, widely debunked, yet still emblazoned across the Leave campaign bus – is the ultimate example of this. It sits in the background on breakfast TV, the moderators on the ITV debates don’t challenge Boris Johnson when he repeats it again and again

David Cameron and his ilk have a specific problem too: the Tories have consistently stoked fear of immigration, because otherwise they’d have to admit that austerity and privatisation is the cause of stress on housing, jobs and services – not migrants. They can’t defend the lies of the leave campaign and are trapped by their own past rhetoric. Consummate politician though Cameron is, he doesn’t quite have the confidence to U-turn on that. There’s no doubt, however, that the idiots would flip and tell that truth if it suited them. They are not just post-democracy, but post-truth.

There are stories that Leave literature has been telling black and asian communities that there will be more and easier immigration after leaving Europe, in direct contrast to the anti-immigration narrative that we hear elsewhere from the same campaign. Likewise the EU is labelled undemocratic by those who don’t turn up to vote despite having been elected to its parliment, and those who would happily turn any state control over to the private sector.

We have a referendum debate conducted in a post-democracy, post-truth, landscape: one where facts aren’t valued and liars aren’t called out. We have already had a Trexit and left a place where rational argument holds any sway.

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