Sunday, March 26, 2017

Peace Is Today Declared

A strange, laboured and frankly bewildered atmosphere lingers by the day here in post-Brexit Britain and the radically-rebranded "World City" of London  - the true triggers behind the transatlantic populist wave being avoided at all costs by mainstream media though every dog in the street knows what they are. Likewise for every fox, badger and water vole outside our towns and cities.

This criminal failing of broadcast, print and digital media to give a head to crucial public discourse over the pending historic crossroads is of huge import - this leaving the British people with neither a vanguard nor a rearguard in the months ahead.

In Northern Ireland last week the funeral of former Irish Republican Army commander Martin McGuinness threw up ethical and moral questions of yet more Byzantine nature - the comparatively enhanced political intelligence of the population there at least being given more scope to be aired by local media outlets.

As discussed some posts ago the reconciliation of the peoples of Ireland - nationally, communally and individually - is still a light in our dark times in Western Europe. The complex nature of the Troubles - be that grounded within strained Anglo-Irish relations or broad intra-Celtic conflict - have left a fragile peace and many open-ended questions behind regarding guilt, memory, loss and remembrance. This encapsulated none moreso than with regard to the choreography of last week's events in County Londonderry which presented an unforgettable tableau of the long historic outplay of the British in Ireland against the sobering reality of Christian forgiveness.

The attendance of the former Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster at St Columba's Church - alike that of Sinn Fein figures at the East Belfast funeral of the Progressive Unionist Party's David Ervine some years ago - and the delivery of two warm and reflective speeches from leading Protestant clergymen truly underscored the socio-political paradigm shifts that have taken root since the mid-Nineties.

Martin McGuinness' place in British and Irish history is of an extraordinarily unique nature - with no truly exact mirror thrown up within Ulster unionism or loyalism - and it has been right that this week the voice of terrorist victims have been given due prominence. Falling within that latter category myself I remain cogniscent - as does virtually the entire Protestant community in Ulster - of the specific and utterly degrading milestones of McGuinness' paramilitary career. Yet in turn I accept that  his transition to political playmaker was genuinely inclusive beyond the Stalinist rhetoric of Irish republicanism,  that his physical loss is presently detrimental to the health of Irish political life and that discussion of his moral mark upon Irish history lies essentially within the realms of extremely complex theological debate.

In March 1922 during the first Troubles in Northern Ireland the Northern Premier James Craig and Irish Provisional Government leader Michael Collins agreed a pact in London that aimed to contain the cycles of violence then sweeping across the north of the island and ease political and economic restrictions affecting the Catholic community. The document's dramatic first four words were Peace Is Today Declared. That would not turn out to be the physical result on the mean streets of Belfast and over a bloody divided Ulster in the early Twenties. Likewise certain diplomatic attendances and particular handshakes the world saw in Derry City last week will not necessarily encapsulate a final transition to peace - no matter how emotionally moving and genuinely iconic. But it was yet a good day for Ireland, a sterling example of politically mature reserve by all parties and a memorable example of how fractured societies can perhaps come to terms with genuinely very bad history.

In a final television interview Martin McGuinness made reference as to how the epitaph of Irish songwriter William Percy French could have applied directly to his own life - French being the author of the famous Mountains of Mourne standard which compares genuine community and family priorities to a value-free chase for fleeting financial reward in London. That comment does indeed cast a very thought-provoking afterglow on McGuinness' individual political journey with the Reverend Ian Paisley and also on high-risk pathways towards genuine reconciliation in Ireland. The end goal being a long-deserved and permanent peace for its fundamentally decent, warm, intelligent and good natured peoples.

Remember me is all I ask,
And yet-  if the remembrance prove a task,

Friday, March 3, 2017

A Night in September - Linfield and Manchester City

I caught the recently released documentary about George Best last Saturday at the cinema in London. In general a fairly pedestrian haul through the usual milestones and recollections though the section on his time in the North American Soccer League was put together in an engaging way and there was some news footage I had never seen before. However the actual sporting archive clips were all well-worn choices yet oddly left out the two most famous of all his Seventies goals which were scored in the rain and the sunshine respectively against Chelsea and Sheffield United.

There was also little Northern Ireland international footage despite rare film being available on youtube for quite some time of the November 1970 game against Spain and the February 1971 match against Cyprus - also his final international performance against Holland in October 1977. In fact on the day I uploaded this post I came across further material from the 1971 and 1977 away matches against the USSR and West Germany. The ongoing absence in the public domain of material from the famous Rotterdam game against the Dutch in 1976 - his last truly great performance for his country - remains utterly inexplicable.

In general the documentary was something of an opportunity lost on this occasion. There was no social contextualisation about Northern Ireland and the Troubles in the new documentary - a particular failing in light of the success of Irish rugby union in bridging vintage national division around a broadly generic cultural calling without any noticeable rancour or controversy. The use of subtitles on various pieces of footage was odd in the extreme too in light of Best's highly attractive, warm, rich and distinctly crystal-clear Ulster brogue.

The last word on George Best still remains the Duncan Hamilton biography Immortal - overall the story of his fall from grace becomes more desperately sad and terribly futile with the passing of each year.

As discussed in an earlier blog post, George Best played only 37 times for Northern Ireland between 1964 and 1977. Eighteen of these matches were at Windsor Park in Belfast. The onset of civil war in Ulster in the Seventies meant that several Northern Ireland home matches were played at English grounds  - hence the February 1972 home tie against Spain being played at Boothferry Park in Hull. There is one picture I have often seen of Best taking a corner with both British policemen and fans gathered in very close proximity behind him - by process of elimination this is either that Spanish fixture or the April 1970 Home International against Wales at the Vetch Field in Swansea.
Best's matches at Windsor were played out against Uruguay, England and Switzerland in 1964; Holland, Albania and Scotland in 1965; England in 1966; Scotland in 1967; Turkey in 1968; England, Wales and the USSR in 1969; Scotland in 1970; Cyprus, England and Wales in 1971 and then Iceland and Holland in 1977.

The 1967 match against Scotland is generally accepted as his finest international performance while the World Cup qualifier two years later against the USSR is the source of the oft-repeated slow-motion action clips under the Windsor Park unreserved stand's public health advice to smoke Gallaher's - Northern Ireland's First Name in Tobacco.

Best was sent off in the 1970 match against Scotland for throwing mud at the referee while the 1971 England Home International included the globally famous Gordon Banks incident - youtube contains other footage of this match with him openly taunting English players to take the ball off him to the crowd's raucous delight. The Welsh match in the same year I assume is where another famous clip originates - Best cockily pretending to kick his football with extreme force, prejudice and intent into a shirking defender's bollocks. The BBC managed to destroy all footage of Best's 1971 hat trick in Belfast against Cyprus. Incidentally, the iconic footage of Best passing the ball to a colleague while holding his boot in one hand is possibly from a Home International tie against Scotland at Hampden Park - 1969 or 1971.

Northern Ireland's national stadium is of course the home ground of Linfield football club in south Belfast - I attended several matches here with my maternal grandfather in the mid-Seventies when I was a kid. In terms of the players I particularly remember - Peter "Bald Eagle" Rafferty, the Malone brothers, Eric Magee, Billy Millen, Davy Nixon, Ivan McAllister etc - this may well have been the 1975-76 season. The first match I saw there was a 6-1 victory over Cliftonville - Ireland's oldest football club.

In an earlier post I mentioned Gareth Mulvenna's recent study of the teenage loyalist Tartan Gangs of the early Seventies and how a particularly voracious element in West Belfast who were Linfield supporters were regularly engaged in significant acts of civil disorder with the police constabulary, army squaddies and the Catholic community at particular city interfaces. A recent Belfast Telegraph article by Malachi O'Doherty made interesting reference in turn to an earlier pre-Troubles riot in the Falls Road as linked to Linfield supporters returning from a match against Distillery in 1964 that I was not aware of.

Last month I also flicked through the centenary history of Linfield written in 1985 by the late Malcolm Brodie. The work doesn't shirk from the political back story associated with the club over the years - alike mirrored sectarian football divisions across from the Lagan on Clydeside - and the outplay of the same in crowd disorder. This as notably associated with historic Belfast Celtic and Derry City ties and with a particular battle royale engaged at an away match against Dundalk in the Irish Republic in August 1979. Belfast Celtic, Derry City and Distillery (in its Belfast incarnation) are all - albeit in different respects - long gone from modern day Irish League football in the North. The exit of Belfast Celtic was directly related to trouble at a December 1948 Windsor Park match and a serious crowd attack on one of their (Protestant) players.

More argy bargy would follow against Glentoran in 1983 and Donegal Celtic in 1990 at The Oval and Windsor respectively - bad blood with Cliftonville has a heritage stretching back to 1913 when the players were welcomed onto the Solitude pitch by the firing of revolvers by some visiting Linfield fans. For many years in the modern period ALL Cliftonville home matches against Linfield were played at Windsor Park for security reasons.

Linfield Football Club's contribution to European football history is threefold. Firstly, in the 1921-22 and 1961-62 seasons, they won the entire raft of seven domestic trophies in Northern Ireland. Then there was a highly successful period in the late Fifties and early Sixties when Newcastle United legend Jackie Milburn joined Linfield as player-manager. Finally there was a match in September 1970 when the same Billy Millen I saw at Windsor Park in the mid-Seventies played the central role in a truly extraordinary Wednesday evening of European cup football in a politically charged and very troubled Belfast City.

(That second seven-trophy winning run by the way - under the captaincy of the ultimate Linfield icon Tommy "The Duke of Windsor" Dickson - was completed at the Solitude ground in North Belfast. I can only imagine the scale and reverberation of the crowd cheers to be heard that night at full time in my own paternal grandparents' road in the Oldpark district a few streets away. This was the very same urban location I mentioned in my Tartan Gang post - at the opposite end of the street from the Solitude-direction on internment day in August 1971 the Catholic and Protestant proletariat were of course firing away with total abandon across the main road at each other.)

Linfield had regularly appeared in European cup competition since the 1959-60 season - a first round appearance in the European Champions Cup against Sweden's Kamraterna (victory in Belfast and defeat in Gothenburg) followed by ties against East Germany's Vorwaerts in 1960-61 (defeat in East Berlin and the opposition denied visas for a return leg) and Esjberg of Denmark in 1961-62 (defeat in Belfast and a draw in Esjberg). In the 1963-64 season they entered the European Cup Winner's Cup and were again knocked out at the first round by Turkey's Fenerbache - defeat in Istanbul and a win in Belfast. Linfield however reached the 1966/67 European Champions Cup Quarter Final. An away draw and a home victory over Luxembourg's Aras and an away victory and a home draw against Norway's Valeregen before being knocked out by Bulgaria's CSKA Sofia - a defeat in the Balkans following a 2-2 draw in Belfast.

Linfield ended the Sixties with three more first round appearances - in the European Fair's Cup in 1967/68 against Leipzig of East Germany (defeat in Leipzig and victory in Belfast), Setubal of Portugal in 1968/69 in the same competition (both defeats) and Red Star Belgrade in the European Champions Cup in 1969/70. The Yugoslavian team - which had its own infamous hooligan following that proceeded to a particularly dark future as paramilitaries in the Nineties civil war in Bosnia - won in Belgrade and Belfast.

For the 1970/71 season part-time Linfield - then managed by Billy Bingham who would later be the Northern Ireland manager at the 1982 and 1986 World Cup Finals - were drawn in the first round against holders Manchester City. A guaranteed healthy pay day for the Belfast club lieing ahead though another early tournament exit being surely foregone. City were of course one of the major top flight English soccer teams of the period with a line-up that included Colin Bell, Tony Book, Mike Doyle, George Best's close friend Mike Summerbee, Neil Young and Francis Lee amongst others. They had won the League in 1968 and the FA Cup in 1969 - indeed my collection of six cool Wembley Soccer Stars figurines in my childhood bedroom consisted of their forward Lee, Bestie, Charlie George of Arsenal, West Ham's Bobby Moore, Martin Chivers of Spurs and Super Leeds' Billy Bremner.
A supremely fit Linfield produced a superb performance in Manchester on Wednesday 16th September under the drive and encouragement of Bingham. Goalkeeper Derek Humphries and sweeper Issac Andrews excelled and only a very late goal from Colin Bell deflated an otherwise incredible team effort. Bingham himself held to the firm belief that Linfield could yet pull off a victory back in Belfast.

The latter half of 1970 had seen a rapid and dismal deterioration in the security situation in Belfast with a significant hike in bombing incidents - including one on the doorstep of the author's family home in July of that year. The countdown to barely contained civil war the following year was starting to gain pace. The 100th explosion of the year in Northern Ireland exploded the day before Linfield played at Maine Road.

In the run up to the return fixture serious disorder had taken place between Linfield fans and the residents of the Catholic Unity Flats at the junction of the Lower Shankill Road with the city centre's North Street on Saturday 26th September. 300 people were injured and many cars and buses were burnt. The day after the fighting continued in the Shankill district between loyalists and the security forces - an Army post was besieged and CS gas was deployed. It would continue into the Monday albeit on a reduced level.

On Wednesday 30th September 1970 Billy Millen moved from midfielder to striker for the game and hit two goals in front of a 25,000 crowd in Linfield's most unforgettable match. He had scored after only four minutes to raise the roof at Windsor Park though Lee equalised shortly afterwards - Millen put Linfield ahead again at the 56th minute but City went through on the away goals rule. City manager Joe Mercer emplacing the epilogue on the tie's drama that "if this is one of the so-called easier draws give me a difficult one every time".

There is little information on the internet about these matches but from what I can gather the Linfield line-up was the same for both matches - Derek Humphries, Alan Fraser, Jackie Patterson, Issac Andrews, Ivan McAllister, Eric Bowyer, Billy Millen, Eric Magee, Bryan Hamilton, the Scot Billy Sinclair and Dessie Cathcart. Hamilton of course later became a well known player for Ipswich Town and Everton and won many international caps before managing Northern Ireland. McAllister was a serving policeman and goalkeeper Humphries - who also joined the force shortly after this historic match- was killed in a car crash the following year on the way from the police college to another European tie in Belfast against Standard Liege. Reports from the matches speak highly of the contributions of McAllister and Fraser alongside Andrews, Humphries and Millen.

A posting on a Glasgow Rangers fan forum made note of an aggressive crowd atmosphere at Maine Road in the first leg. For the return match the kick-off was scheduled early at 6.30 because of the political situation in the city regarding the loyalist disorder on both the Shankill Road and in East Belfast. A few bottles were thrown at City goalkeeper Joe Corrigan at the start of the game but otherwise there was no serious disturbance.  Corrigan was conscious of Linfield's status as the "Rangers of Belfast" and recalled the incident in his biography and how manager Bingham had appealed to the crowd to halt the abuse of Corrigan to stop the match being abandoned. He also remembered the size of the crowd and the genuinely electric atmosphere, the military escort back to the airport after the match and how Linfield as an amateur team got nothing like the credit they deserved for the victory.

I also found the match discussed on one thread of a Belfast forum with particular commentary on how a certain senior member of the Manchester City staff executed a tactical volte-face at the prospect of a first round eviction from the lowly competition:

Man. City were very close to being knocked out of that game. Malcolm Allison their coach had been on TV saying a rule should be put in place to stop the passback to the goalkeeeper deliberately wasting time. That night against The Blues I watched him from the touchline yelling at his players to pass the bacll back to the keeper. I'm sure he must have been doing it for the last fifteen minutes or more. Billy Millen was tremendous that night. He scored two and ran the Man City defence ragged. Issac Andrews was a close second for man of the match he was certainly first division material that night. Why he wasn't picked up by an English club I'll never know.

From the perspective of 2017 the Linfield victory that night stands as a truly amazing achievement for amateur football in Europe and for Irish sport alike - this without diminishing earlier Irish League achievements by both Glentoran and Distillery in the Sixties in holding mighty Benfica to score draws in Belfast. I also remain cogniscent that clearly it doesn't equate to the purely non-confessional nature of later Northern Irish sporting success relating to snooker, boxing, athletics, golf and international football.

The timing and location of the match of course is enshrouded with a genuine strangeness and fatefulness  in ways that are not dissimilar to the aforementioned footage of George Best in his power pop glory playing against the USSR. This was some mere weeks after the 1969 civil disorder in Belfast and Derry which lead to the introduction of British troops on Ulster's mean streets. The same can be said for the 1-0 Northern Ireland victory over England at Wembley on 23rd May 1972 - the middle of the worst year of the entire Troubles. On that Tuesday alone a British soldier was shot dead by a sniper, a Catholic civilian died after being injured in an earlier loyalist car bomb attack and four no-warning explosions took place in Belfast injuring seven people and damaging property.

Even though I knew of the significance of this Linfield-Manchester City game for many years I always assumed it had taken place in the late Sixties and not at the start of the Troubles itself. As far as I can remember my maternal grandfather was there to see the victory over City - I will work on the assumption from this point on in my life that he 100 per cent was since he mentioned it to me many times. The night - at the eleventh hour of war and peace in Ulster - that Linfield became the Pride of Ireland and the greatest football team in the world.

In light of some seriously hysterical Frankfurt School wailing emanating from one particular terrestrial broadcaster's 7pm national news bulletins in the past few months - and that in counterpoise to the deconstruction of fake news agendas by certain transatlantic political playmakers in the same period  - I would not hold my breath for any mainstream media reappraisal of the scale of Linfield's incomprehensible achievement at any point soon in documentary or theatrical form. Or indeed the true dynamics underpinning certain political earthquakes of late.

Fortuna Audecas Juvat 1970.

Monday, February 20, 2017

John Hurt - Our Man For All Seasons

I had been thinking about John Hurt some days before his death on 25th January 2017 - recalling to mind The Pied Piper movie from 1972 which I watched on television several times as a child. This strange feature was directed by Jacques Demy, filmed on location in Bavaria and had Hurt playing Franz the Baron's son who wants the dowry of the mayor's daughter to fund his army. It also starred the Scottish folk singer Donovan, Jack Wild, Donald Pleasence and Diana Dors. As for the Pied Piper himself, the legend can be read as a metaphorical representation of youth emigration from Lower Saxony to the East, multiple deaths of young people from disease or a even Children's Crusade - likewise it could be a dark mirror on historic sex crime or cult activity.

Hurt's acting profile of course became truly global at the end of the Seventies and early Eighties with his appearances in the hit films Midnight Express, Alien and The Elephant Man but his earlier career incorporated some interesting roles as well. This alongside the three very well-recalled television appearances as Emporer Caligula in I Claudius, the murderer Raskolnikov in Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment and as gentleman homosexual Quentin Crisp in The Naked Civil Servant.

Hurt's first film was 1962's The Wild and the Willing - a romantic drama of student life which also saw the first movie appearance of Ian McShane. The following year Hurt featured in an educational short film for The Spastics Society called The Contact as a physically handicapped teenager with cerebral palsy. 1964 saw Hurt appear in the London drama This Is My Street with the original Avenger Ian Hendry. He then portrayed Richard Rich in Fred Zinnemann's 1966 story of Sir Thomas More - A Man For All Seasons - while in 1967 he was cast in the British drama The Sailor From Gibraltar.

The last year of the Sixties saw Hurt appear in three films which have all faded out of memory - the comic lead in Sinful Davey about a Scottish highwaymanBefore Winter Comes starring David Niven and set in an Austrian displaced persons camp after World War Two and the American drama In Search of Gregory with Julie Christie.

10 Rillington Place - released in 1971 - had Hurt take on the role of Timothy John Evans who was wrongfully executed for the murder of his wife and daughter by John Christie in Notting Hill. The same year he appeared in Mr Forbush and the Penguins which was filmed in Antarctica and traces the personal catharsis of a skirt-chasing biologist when face to face with survival dynamics in the animal world. After The Pied Piper Hurt's next appearance in cinema was the political comedy Little Malcolm in 1974 - the first feature film produced by George Harrison for Apple Corps. In 1975 he portrayed Tom Rawlings in the still quirky horror movie The Ghoul with Peter Cushing which was set in Cornwall and then an RAF officer in the Italian language film La Linea del fiume.

Prior to the major breakthrough of Midnight Express in 1978 Hurt appeared in four movies the previous year - the British-Canadian thriller The Disappearance with Donald Sutherland, "The Island" segment of horror anthology Three Dangerous Ladies, Paperback alongside Paul Morrissey and the independently produced colonial drama East of Elephant Rock. Between Midnight Express' junkie Max and doomed executive officer Kane in Alien Hurt starred in The Shout with Alan Bates which was another horror movie set in the English West Country. He also provided voices for the animated features of Watership Down and The Lord of the Rings - narrating the characters of Hazel and Aragorn.

As noted, Hurt's contemporaneous television work in the Sixties and the Seventies ranged from Z-Cars to The Sweeney, a  1974 production of Sygne's The Playboy of the Western World and appearances in long-running drama series Armchair Theatre, ITV Playhouse and Play for Today. In 1976 he starred in The Peddler in the latter series as an anti-depressant salesman.

The scope of Hurt's talent was truly extraordinary - from the time of his major breakthrough in the late Seventies and right up to his portrayal of James Parkin in the 2010 remake of the MR James ghost story Whistle and I'll Come To You My Lad. His work incorporated White Mischief, Scandal and The Field on the big screen and television appearances from The Alan Clark Diaries to the eponymous narrator of The Storyteller children's series to the dramatic adaptation of the Birmingham Six case where he portrayed campaigner Chris Mullin.

I well recall seeing The Elephant Man at the ABC Cinema in Belfast when it was released - the scene he shares with Hannah Gordon when Joseph Merrick reflects about his mother is an incredibly moving  piece of cinema which captures such profound human sadness and empathy. Thirty years later and every day of the working week here in the disfunctional and corrupted capital of our country I pass the London plaque upon George Orwell's former domestic residence- Hurt of course having portrayed Winston Smith in the 1984 version of 1984.

John Hurt was born in 1940 in Derbyshire and during his 77 years lived in Oxfordshire, Norfolk, London's Bloomsbury, County Wicklow in the Irish Republic and Kenya. He was truly one of the greatest ever actors to come from the British Isles without question and a man of considerable passion and depth. Hurt's death after a six decade-long career in acting is a melancholy early marker within what is already a deeply troubled year - here in a world where one can take one's pick of mischief-making pied pipers of all political complexion and agenda.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

George Best and Chelsea

Been watching quite a few dvds in the past few weeks to tide myself over a freezing 21st Century British January - here in the post-Brexit political ghostscape of dumbstruck silence. One of these has been the Leeds United edition of ITV's The Big Match series of the late Sixties, Seventies and Eighties - endlessly entertaining fare.

Leeds of course were re-embedded in public consciousness off the back of the David Peace book on Brian Clough's short tenure as manager in 1974 and the subsequent movie The Damned United. The performances that that iconic squad of international players left behind to British social history of the Seventies are still breathtaking to witness. Between promotion from the old Second Division in the 1963-64 season and being cheated out of a European Cup final win over Bayern Munich in 1975 the team won the League Championship in 1968-69 and 1973-74, the FA Cup in 1972 against Arsenal and the League Cup in 1968 against the same opposition. To this day the Leeds fans hail their team as European Champions at games with reference to the 1975 controversy and their martyrdom at the hands of bogeyman referee Monsieur Michel Kitabdjian.

Extraordinarily enough they were were runners-up in the League in 1964-65 to Manchester United, 1965-66 to Liverpool, 1969-70 to Everton, 1970-71 to Arsenal and 1971-72 to Derby County. Also FA Cup runners-up in 1965, 1970 and 1973 to Liverpool, Chelsea and Sunderland. In Europe they won the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup (precursor of the UEFA Cup) in 1968 against Hungary's Ferencvaros and then Juventus  in 1971 - they were also were runners-up in the competition in 1967 against Yugoslavia's Dinamo Zagreb and likewise runners-up in the 1973 European Cup Winner's Cup to AC Milan. Players of such calibre and metal as Eire's  Johnny Giles, England's Terry Cooper and Paul Madeley and Scotland's Billy Bremner, Eddie Gray and Peter Lorimer insure that the legend of Don Revie and Super Leeds will run and run.

One of the best matches on the collection was a 1973 away game at Stamford Bridge in London against the equally renowned Chelsea squad of the time - John Hollins, Charlie Cooke, Peter Osgood, Ron Harris, Peter Bonnetti, Alan Hudson et al. Leeds won 2-1. That most famous of all Chelsea squads is also interesting in terms of a particularly thought-provoking piece of counterfactual football history. This alike the possibility of Best, Law and Charlton having been joined in the Manchester United front line by a retained Johnny Giles and Celtic's  Jimmy Johnstone and as with regard to the possibility that a troubled Belfast Boy could have ended up here in what could and should have been the literal middle-point of his career.

Following the early Sixties decision of East Belfast's Glentoran to let the apparently questionable talents of a teenage George Best go by the board- as did scouts from Wolverhampton Wanderers who Best actually supported as a boy and Manchester City - his ten year stint at United was followed by a light flight of golden top end appearances with the Johannesburg Jewish Guild, Dunstable Town, Stockport County, Cork Celtic, Los Angeles Aztecs, Fulham, Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Hibernian of Edinburgh, San Jose Earthquakes, Sea Bee (of Hong Kong), Hong Kong Rangers, Bournemouth, Brisbane Lions and Osborne Park Galeb in Australia, Warwickshire's Nuneaton Borough and finally Tobermore United who are based to the north of Magherafelt in County Londonderry in Northern Ireland. Yes,that wee town on the road from Desertmartin to Maghera.

However,  despite the general car crash nature of Best's career following the 1968 European Cup final and the decline of the aging United squad, several teams were yet interested in him according to an historical haul through the rich Best bibliography on the shelves - of which the most impressive by a long way remains Duncan Hamilton's 2013 Immortal. These included Real Madrid and Juventus at the beginning of the Seventies, Chelsea and Manchester City and also Brian Clough's Derby County in the fall-out from the 1973 sacking of Best and manager Frank O'Farrell, a particularly keen New York Cosmos at the very launch of the North American Soccer League in clear preference to even Pele as the lodestar of the revolution, Real Madrid again in the period when Tommy Docherty came to manage United, Birmingham's Aston Villa in the same time frame and several Italian and Spanish clubs following his performance for Northern Ireland in the 1976 World Cup qualifier against Holland in Rotterdam.

The possibility of a move to Chelsea in particular is truly fascinating in light of the panache of their team performances, general individual flair and timely location in Western cultural history on the King's Road which was exemplified by the visit of the regal Raquel Welch to Stamford Bridge for a 1972 home game against Leicester City. Welch yelled enthusiastically to striker Peter Osgood from the touchlines during the match - he later recalling "She probably figured as I was standing there on the pitch doing nothing it was okay to interrupt. If I had been George Best I would have slipped her my number but then again if I was George Best she would have slipped me hers". Welch was photographed previously by Terry O'Neill wearing a Chelsea strip on the set of her western movie Hannie Caulder - the team was also watched by Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood in this period. Chelsea won the League Cup in 1965, the FA Cup in 1970 and the UEFA Cup in 1971.

Hamilton's biography notes the especial frisson that playing against Chelsea in London gave to Best:

It is said that man responds to those landscapes in which he instinctively feels he belongs. Best had never played at Stamford Bridge before; but he knew he belonged there. The architecture was unimpressive. There was rickedly-looking double-decker seating on stilts beside the modest main stand, its footballers weather-vane twisting atop a white-fronted pediment. There were wide, open spaces behind each uncovered goal and 20-floor high-rises could be seen in the middle and far distance. But something indefinable in regard to the ambience of the ground and the atmosphere inside it never  failed to in inspire Best. He was roused whenever he went to Chelsea, which became one of his spiritual homes. 

In the eleven seasons that George Best played for Manchester United he took part in 17 matches against that classic Chelsea squad of the Sixties and Seventies - four victories, six draws and seven defeats for United in a batch of 16 First Division ties and one League Cup match.

1963-64: 23rd March 1964 - 1-1 draw at Old Trafford.

1964-65: 30th September 1964 - Manchester United's 2-0 away victory at Stamford Bridge which would be the game to bring Best firmly to public attention across Britain. Best himself always saw it as the day the trajectory of his career left an earthly gravity - 21 players and the stadium having applauded him off the pitch at the end. He scored in this game as did Dennis Law. In the return League fixture on 13th March 1965 in Manchester Best scored again in a 4-0 victory - another
oft- transmitted piece of footballing genius with Best outwitting Eddie McCreadie on the top left wing before looping the ball over Bonnetti from a ludicrous angle. United went on to win the Championship in this season.

1965-66: 12th March 1966  - Three days after Manchester United's famous 5-1 victory against Benfica in the European Cup Quarter-Final Chelsea defeated them 2-0 in West London - the home fans applauding the significance of the Lisbon victory enthusiastically before kick-off.

1966-67: 15th October 1966 - 1-1 draw at Old Trafford the week before Best played in Northern Ireland's 2-0 defeat by England in Belfast in the European Championship Qualifier. The Jules Rimet Trophy being paraded before the Windsor Park crowd - including my father and grandfather - beforehand. Manchester United won the League Championship in this season again.

1967-68: 25th November 1967 - 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge with Best carrying an injury. The
2nd March 1968 return at Old Trafford saw an on-form Best miss a penalty in a 3-1 defeat for the home team. Chelsea's Ron Harris succeeded in both matches in fundamentally limiting George Best's scope. A borderline apocryphal story of the time relates how a fashion photographer was assigned to take action shots of Best against Chelsea to juxtapose with trendy clothing shots already obtained - the photographer subsequently observing how a ubiquitous blue-shirted, square-jawed and mean-faced hard man seemed to be in every solitary captured image.

1968-69: 24th August 1968 - 4-0 defeat for the European Champions at Old Trafford with Harris reassuming his defensive watch. The 15th March 1969 return at Stamford Bridge saw Best out-perform Harris though relegation-threatened United again lost 3-2.
1969-70: 6th December 1969 - Manchester United defeated 2-0 at Old Trafford with Harris again neutralising Best on the wings. Chelsea also won the 21st March 1970 return at Stamford Bridge - Ian Hutchinson scoring twice in Manchester and the same again in London. The season would end with Chelsea's first FA Cup final victory over Revie's Leeds.

1970-71: 19th August 1970 - A scoreless draw at Old Trafford in the League. Best also played in a League Cup 4th Round game against Chelsea on 28th October 1970 - this was the game where Best outwitted a hammering Harris challenge in the Manchester downpour to score one of his most famous ever goals in a 2-1 victory. The Stamford Bridge return tie in 1971 in the League saw Best suspended for missing training and spending the weekend in an Islington flat with actress Sinead Cusack - United won 2-1 without him.

1971-72: 18th August 1971 - Best was sent off for arguing with the referee following Chelsea's opening goal - the press photograph of his exit from the pitch beside a placating Bobby Charlton and Tony Dunne has been reproduced many times. United however won the game in London 3-2.  The 22nd January 1972 return at Old Trafford saw Chelsea's Osgood score the only goal of the match.

1972-73: 30th August 1972 - Another scoreless draw in Manchester. Best did not play in the Manchester United team between 25th November 1972 and 20th October April 1973.

1973-74: 3rd November 1973 - 2-2 draw in Manchester during what would be Best's final 12-game bow for United under Tommy Doherty.

As an appendum to the above, on 27th December 1976 at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea defeated Fulham 2-0 in the Second Division tie. Fulham's team included Best and Bobby Moore. The two players were also in the Fulham squad on 8th April 1977 at Craven Cottage where the home team won 3-1 - Best scored one of the goals.

As discussed in an earlier post on George Best and Northern Ireland, his footballing career ran in parallel to the worst years of the civil war in Ulster. The 18th August 1971 and 22nd January 1972 ties mentioned above came only nine days after the introduction of internment and one week before Bloody Sunday respectively - these being the two events which pushed months of sustained radical civil disorder into a full-blown guerrilla insurgency with an accompanying sectarian carnage that shamed  the name of Ireland across the world for many years.

Both Duncan Hamilton's defining work on the footballer - and indeed many other studies of his extraordinary lifepath - reference how Best's deep-seated love for United may well have been the core reason for the radical downfall of his career in the mid-Seventies. This of course standing alongside the sobering fate of being lodged deep within a mediocre Northern Ireland international squad that was linearly placed between highly successful and passion-driven World Cup final appearances in the Fifties and Eighties.

An elongation of George Best's British football career at this point may well indeed have seen him alive today - let alone within the context of the commercial multi-billion pound invigoration  of the sport he alone single-handedly revolutionised alike Belfast's Alex Higgins with the game of snooker.

Granted George Best at Chelsea may not be as tangible a sporting counterfactual as the prospect of the star in his glorious prime at the Mexico World Cup of 1970 - where Northern Ireland would have been arraigned against first round opponents of  Belgium, the host country and mighty El Salvador had they topped the qualifying group above the USSR. Nonetheless the thought of a blue-clad mid-Seventies Best at Chelsea remains fascinating - looming there between the overweight and heavily bearded player working through his demons for a brace of lose-lose matches under Tommy Docherty in 1973 and 1974 and the night that the Gods of Dutch Total Football fought for his shirt at the end of the 1977 Northern Ireland match in Rotterdam ...  a 2-2 draw and the 33rd of only 37 international appearances.

Privately, George Best was of course a long term resident of the King's Road for many years. However the thought of Belfast BT6's finest son playing with a top flight Chelsea team in the mid-Seventies for a half-decade or so remains such an incredible piece of historical reflection. It certainly would have made the utterly degrading - and perhaps unparalleled collapse - of London as a great city even more harrowing to consider today.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The History Men

Donald Trump's inaugural address on Friday - having centred on the realpolitik of genuine equality of opportunity for the working people - would appear to have seriously irked a raft of parties. From angst-ridden cultural marxists to po-faced political apparatchiks to the credibility-free mainstream media.

In tandem to these events in Washington the past few days have seen some extraordinary political rhetoric being thrown into the mix in Northern Ireland by way of Ian Paisley Junior MP's comments on television and print in reference to his relationship with Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein. In contrast to the Cash-for-Ash revelations that have taken down the regional assembly in a smoke of vitriolic discord surpassing the bewildering continuum of conflict legacy debates, Paisley's comments have engendered widespread public support and re-illuminated the fact that the reconciliation of the peoples of Ireland are yet a light in the darkness of our times in Europe.

As noted in this blog previously, the rapprochement of the highly politically intelligent Ulster people in the past two decades have clearly emplaced the general public well beyond the political parties in terms of positive social dynamics. Similarly, and whereas Irish history is by default complex and multi-layered, there is so much evidence within public discourse suggesting that ubiquitous and perennial political divisions are running in tandem with radically changed perceptions of our past - this in recent years mainly focused on the brave role of northern and southern Irish military divisions in the Great War which directly preceded the Irish revolution and the partition of the island.

The specific history of Northern Ireland itself is full of many individual player-actors who do not fit into an easily stratified categorisation - from nationalist leader Joe Devlin to the unionist evangelist Harry Midgely and from the Progressive Unionist Party of the Thirties to the Northern Ireland Labour Party. Likewise whereas the Ulster Protestant of today could still relate to a classic piece of unionist polemic such as Patrick Riddell's 1970 Fire Over Ulster down to the last paragraph they are still cognisant  of the republican dynamics of the first quarter of the 20th century that started the outplay of the British in Ireland or indeed miscarriages of justice affecting the northern nationalist community in the modern conflict that sit as uneasily on the moral compass as the murders of working class British soldiers.

Some of the speeches and commentary from the latterday (and quite literally Born Again) Reverend Paisley on a shared future, Christian forgiveness and communal reconciliation stand in sobering counterpoise to the political chatter of our recent times - founded in the main on smugness, patronisation, arrogance and PC doggerel from the professional and highly priveleged political classes. The same arrogance indeed that can be seen in broadcast media news bulletins with lisping, cocksure and "wiseguy" presenters sneering openly at the political earthquakes of 2017 with barely concealed derision while the proverbial dogs in the street know now that so many pages have turned in the past calender year that we have skipped several historical chapters and arrived at an epilogue that looks very big and scary to politically adolescent eyes. Likewise for mindsets too immature - if not utterly gormless - to comprehend how grotesque individual human hubris can engender a societal catharsis of this scope.

Pass it on...

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Such a Little Time - Ulster's James Young

The Ulster comic actor and theatrical solo performer James Young has been referenced many times on this blog in the past - this will be the third and final main post about him. He remains such an interesting character in Irish social history, gay culture and in the day-to-day back story of an Ulster at war in the Sixties and Seventies.

Young is remembered in the main for his connection with the Group Theatre in Belfast's Bedford Street, his bestselling vinyl records that were produced by the Emerald label and for the BBC Northern Ireland Saturday Night television shows in 1973 and 1974. On both record and stage he combined fast witted urban humour - particularly hysterical in the rambling main show introductions - with reflective monologues on life, hardship and death in working class communities.

The two most famous - and indeed saddest - of his monologues in the latter context are arguably I Loved a Papist and Slum Clearance. The first centers around a fateful love affair set fast against the tide of history as lived and the second about how eviction from a condemned house appeared to the elderly resident concerned as threatening to terminate a spiritual connectivity to his own family past.

Young's catalogue of work is so rich and varied in content. There is The Feud - arguably his finest dramatic performance - about how a sectarian grudge between two tough Belfast youths ended in both tragedy and revelation many miles away from Ireland's bitter shores. We Emigrated is another wonderful piece which recalls the experience of emigrants from Ulster in North America. It is somewhat hammy in delivery but at the same time terribly moving when he notes how within transplanted communities in the New World the Catholic-Protestant Christian divide stood as naught and how only distance can sometimes make one retrospectively embrace the positivities of Irish life - the rain, bigotry and everything. Indeed The Feud also references the garnering awareness of a Belfast father of his son's loneliness in New York  - more and more he talked of Ireland and the people that he knew, the letters sounded lonely  - which Young delivers to perfection.

The four monologues I have always found particularly interesting with Young are those that closed the live shows - they can be found on the Ulster Group Theatre performances captured on the albums Young  at Heart, Young and Foolish, James Young's 4th and The Young Ulsterman. To put these into context - the first political murders of the Troubles took place in 1966, civil disorder escalated from late 1968 through into 1969, full scale terrorist activity coalesced from late 1970 onwards and mid-1971 saw Northern Ireland teeter on the brink of civil war. The Young albums referenced were released in 1966, 1967, 1969 and 1973.

Why I Am Here from Young at Heart has the actor answering a question from a pedestrian on a Belfast street as to why he had not attempted to broaden his artistic horizons upon the London or New York stage. Young talks about the physical beauty of the countryside, the community and warmth of the Belfast people underneath the perennial political passions and the homesickness that so many emigrants have felt over the years. The piece ends with Young's wish to end his days in Belfast and his faith in how his talent can perhaps help Northern Ireland people weigh up the questionable rationale underpinning their religious animosities.

Salute to Belfast from Young and Foolish returns to this call of home when Young overhears a passenger on an airbus smugly allude to how easy Belfast is to get away from. In his reply he talks about the meetings he has had over the years with exiles from Belfast resident abroad, the memories they shared with him of places and characters from the past and how the light seemed to fade from their eyes when the conversation drew to a close.

This is Us from James Young's 4th discusses the onset of civil disorder and how the British media selectively ignored the everyday warmth and common sense of the Ulster people and their industrial achievements in their blanket focus on extremism, violence and the foregone collapse of what they presented as a grotesquely constructed and politically fallible Northern state.

We're Here For Such a Little Time from The Young Ulsterman has been discussed in an earlier post with Young juxtaposing the physical beauty of Ulster with the civic destruction and communal loathing now engrained in society to such a degree that it has turned his earlier faith in a core community base of shared labour experience and folk memory into a literal sick joke.

Young's work is well worth tracking down to this day. In the midst of terrible butchery - that is now being conveniently qualified as an essentially just war for civil rights by the credit-free mainstream media and pliant on-message academics - Young shone a light onto the existent bonds in Ulster society and the bridges that were yet to be burnt. He provided an extraordinary narrative of a society enduring years of directionlessness, confusion, brutality, disorder and rank strangeness and helps us to recall the people of those times - that communal backbone, capacity for endurance and an emotional energy that will never be seen again on these islands.

Also - for all the smug arrogance of the British elites in living memory - the Ulster Troubles actually do as an historical fact throw up endless examples of political intelligence that are going to be needed sorely over the course of the next calendar year. This to both resolve governmental and party political  mistakes of biblical consequence and to heal societal breaches that now appear beyond the influence of man or God alike.

Happy Christmas to all the regular readers of Saturday Buddha.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

A Different Kind of Christmas...

Several weeks ago came confirmation that the past decade has seen both a decline in national  living standards and a stagnation of social mobility in Britain not experienced since the 1820s. Analysis within this blog over the years of course has clearly pointed to these horrifying financial pressures on middle income Britain that have turned life into a daily struggle for millions of hard workers with neither fairness nor respite and indeed little prior warning of the scale of this grotesque fall.

The interpolation of this domestic misery within globalist economic logic and human demographic shifts clearly underpinned the summer vote on Brexit - even to the mindset of a newborn lamb. With that populist wave now being copperfastened by the American Presidential result we find ourselves in an extraordinarily strange political atmosphere off the back of blanket mainstream media silence regarding the true catalysts involved and the reality checks now due upon various demented political agendas. Other important player-actors and troupes within this great drama are likewise saying naught and looking innocently skyward.

The alternative Irish commentator and broadcaster Thomas Sheridan recently discussed Brexit and the Trump victory and presented them as a deliverance from hell itself  - albeit into a form of purgatory as a clearly open-ended period of achingly slow yet common sense-driven political transition/salvation. I myself also see the political status quo at the turn of this year in similar purgatorial ways - albeit gauged on how the aforesaid civic silence regarding the true factors which drove this year to its historic end has now stonewalled all rational public debate outside adolescent social media hysteria.

We are living through days of morbidity, stasis and confusion because the biggest political questions affecting a raft of British generations lies buried behind a mound of media obfuscation that has even trumped the dark psychological masterclass of the Ulster peace process or the selective dumbness over the deconstruction of London as a capital city.

And meanwhile one terrestrial television station's weekday evening newcasts continues to scream forth hysterical cultural marxist diatribes at every juncture when clearly the British public in the main would clearly rather hear about lost cats in Devon being reunited with their elderly owners. The same channel broadcasting crass retrospectives of Seventies' television viewing to accompanying asexual nerdish comedians' faux distain of the racist, sexist and utterly vile Britons of the period. People like my grandparents who lived through the Blitz, two world wars, two civil wars and exploitative low-wages in the mills and factories of West Belfast.

Some days ago in turn I listened to a news and current affairs programme on another British broadcaster's Northern Irish radio output. They got into the festive spirit with their own version of Kids Say The Funniest Things by asking infants what they thought various diminutive names for local political parties meant. This included one party symbiotically connected to an Irish guerilla organisation responsible for the deaths of over 1500 people. I am wont to reflect upon the words from the Book of Revelation here - And in their mouth was found no guile for they are without fault before the throne of God. I am also wont to think of a young handicapped neighbour of my grandparents who was murdered 40 years ago this month by the same brave men - many of whose veterans are due to enjoy their turkey sandwiches in a few hours time. Such are the depths of pure degradation this country has sunk to.

A year of populist revolt thus terminates in an atmosphere of seething contempt for professional party politics - this alongside a quizzical communal confusion as to how this must now play out without any new and legitimate political grouping to mentor and guide the most explosive lightning bolt in post-war European history druid-like towards a positive earthly location.

As the celebration of Christ's birth and the winter solstice approaches the tide of history enters a brief, bewildered and idiot abeyance with 2017 promising a sobering and deeply serious denouement of all the above.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Day of the Tartan

Just a brief year-end flag-up to one of the most interesting books I have read on Irish history for quite some time that was published earlier in 2016.

Gareth Mulvenna's work on the loyalist Tartan gangs of the early Seventies is a genuinely revelatory study of both the development of the Northern Ireland conflict and the significant role that working class loyalist youth played in Belfast's urban disorder in the very early days. The book clearly emplaces the Tartan phenomena against wider British teenage culture of the period  -  by way of glam rock, Richard Allen's scary Skinhead pulp novels and football hooliganism etc - and the road to subsequent paramilitary involvement.

Since the qualified peace in Ulster took hold in the Nineties there has been nowhere near enough left-field material of this quality coming on board. This aside from research firewalled behind expensive academic press prints that by all rights and all commerical logic should be widely accessible. I am thinking of the extraordinary Black Magic and Bogeymen: Fear, Rumour and Popular Belief in Northern Ireland 1972-1974 by Richard Jenkins to that end in particular.  I read this slack-jawed at the British Library in acknowledgement of the fact that this fantastic book was going to have to be a very expensive Christmas present to myself.

One other recent study of paramilitary loyalism in this context is retailing for a mere 82 pounds sterling on every digital bookselling outlet. Even though Mulvenna's work references a full-scale firefight in my own granny's street in North Belfast in 1971 I would not have paid that much money to read about it.

Tartan Gangs and Paramilitaries is complemented by Geoffrey Beattie's autobiographical We Are The People and Protestant Boy memoirs about my own childhood locale (1992 and 2004) and the fascinating posts on the Belfast Stories blog - both offer highly recommended insights into barely contained Irish civil war, class fractures in Protestant Ulster, the long violent outplay of the British in Ireland and now decimated Northern British industrial communities.

Friday, July 1, 2016

A New Day Yesterday

And so last week a four-decade-long political and socio-economic timebomb - merrily helped along past critical mass instability by years of deregulated financial devilment and venal personal greed by large segments of the British population - erupted off the back of two detonators provided by European Union membership. Britain will never be the same again in terms of the balance of our political classes - the European Project in turn lies in total disarray due to grotesque mismanagement and sneering arrogance.

This blog, as a small and very humble contribution to British and Irish social history,  has of course touched base often with much of the toxic contents of the aforesaid device and as brought to you by our nation's unique class divisions - the Ponzi property scam, banking criminality, the cultural denigration of the Old Labour working class communities, population transfers with concomitant senses of rank entitlement in tow, imbecilic celebrity worship, stagnant private sector wages, selective historical amnesia buried within the Northern Ireland peace process, the deconstruction of London as a national capital city, cultural marxist overload in advertising and the mainstream media, asset stripping, hard working professionals lodged in squalid rental accomodation for a king's ransom, lack of career opportunities and pathways for social progression, permanent austerity and the North-South divide. We lived in a very happy contented land last Wednesday.

Back in the mid-Seventies off the back of the Ulster Workers Council strike - another political earthquake which followed upon a democratic political mandate remember  - the Marxist writer Tom Nairn's The Break Up of Britain had of course touched base with national political fractures as galvinised by an Ulster at war and the question of devolution for the Celtic peripheral of the UK in Scotland and Wales. The political shock of last week underscoring how the endgame all along - for those with insight to see the lie of the political land in the past 20 years - was going to be focused on the English core of our nation.

Surely any society living through this strained degree of disconnectivity with the past - from consideration of my own great-grandfather's experiences on the Somme front with the Royal Irish Rifles exactly 100 years ago this morning through to the memories of a Seventies childhood of community, warmth, home, decency, place and belonging - is not fit for purpose. No amount of social media screeching, awkward friendship fallouts or generational fractures can take away from this. If anything it merely underscores the hopelessness of ever scientifically fusing north, south, east and west when nobody cares to know where the centre is situated or the mechanics of what makes it mechanically and emotionally tick.

From what I can garner from the order of battle my great-grandfather was in the second wave of soldiers attacking the Schwaben Redoubt on 1st July 1916 - he must have seen sights of hell's own creation that morning in Flanders as the Ulstermen progressed further than any other body of infantry on the Allied front and paid the price of 5,500 casualties including 2,000 dead. The two pictures accompanying this blogpost are of northern Irish soldiers from the Royal Irish Rifles and the Royal Irish Fusiliers. So remember the Protestant and Catholic fallen of a then British Ireland today as well as the brave men who returned to a deeply unsympathetic future on these islands - never forget the sacrifices of the 36th Ulster Division and the 16th Irish Division.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Messrs Hancock and Rimmer

Revisited two truly great British movies over the recent Bank Holiday that in different ways reflect very stark modern-day realities in the United Kingdom - Tony Hancock's 1961 The Rebel and Peter Cook's 1970 The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer. Hancock's movie was the sixth most successful British film of that year at the box office while Cook's political satire was a commercial and critical failure - having had its release held back so as to not coincide with the General Election of that year when Labour's Harold Wilson lost to Edward Heath's Conservative and Unionist Party.

Whereas the latter half of The Rebel tends to fundamentally stall in the main - and I personally have never seen the appeal of Hancock's second and final film The Punch and Judy Man of the following year - the earlier segments of the movie remain utterly joyous. Hancock portrays a thoroughly disgruntled and soul-destroyed banking clerk who dreams of the bohemian life and one day leaves surburban London commuter hell and goes for it in cool France. The scene where he is down to his last sous in a Boho Parisian cafe and becomes so inspired to be even within hearing distance of impassioned artistic debate all around him is priceless. The hook of the movie being that his utterly crap, infantile and shitty art suddenly becomes seen as valid cutting edge product off the back of his own hamstrung idiotic misinterpretations for the awestruck Beatnik cognoscenti.

The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer sunk Peter Cook's career in one fell swoop as a solo headline performer though alike Cook and Dudley Moore's 1967 Bedazzled time has been very kind to this work. The movie is essentially the story of a marketing and PR genius' rise to prominence within political Conservatism - without ever breaking sweat or questioning the moral codes of society in truly psychopathic fashion.

The cast of both films are interesting in turn - The Rebel has John Le Mesurier as Hancock's dreary City boss and one of the angry artistes in the cafe in the beginning is a young Oliver Reed. The Cook movie has a great peformance from Le Mesurier's Dad's Army superior Arthur Lowe as an advertising manager whose cushy life is about to be obliterated by the amoral Rimmer down to the point of having to sell his own furniture and car under his wife's nose in the wake of his cool rival's career light flight. Other well known cast members include Graham Chapman, Ronnie Corbett, Diana Coupland, Michael Bates, Ronald Fraser and Denholm Elliott - all of whom are now deceased.

In reality Tony Hancock and Peter Cook were complex personalities on so many fronts and lived fundamentally foreshortened lives - Hancock committed suicide in Sydney in 1968 at the age of only 44 while Cook died of alcohol-related liver damage in 1995 when 57 years of age. Both The Rebel and The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer do seem so clearly relevant to irreversible societal changes of the modern day and especially with regard to modern London - vile greed, grotesque media spin, avarice that has altered the national DNA forever, the distancing of the general public from the political classes, staggering social immobility and the retardation of creative endeavour among them.

Indeed recently while on a walk through the bland remnants of Soho to see the new blue plaque to Mary Millington in Great Windmill Street I noticed a chain of art shops in the West End whose frontage was emblazoned with the legend TURN LONDON INTO A CITY OF ARTISTS. The irony being almost overwhelming in a city whose experience of one of the biggest population transfers in global history in the past decade now overlaps with what would certainly appear to be an imminent
collapse in property values off the back of grim Ponzi mischief that will end in very big and very bitter tears. In turn having a creative talent today that is even the equivalent of being in Birkenhead in 1959 with a flashy Rickenbaker and a good voice may alas count for sweet fuck all in the scale of things.

Check out both of these films at some point with regard to a devastated London, a lost England and a mangled value system.