Thursday, 28 April 2016

Anti-Semitism and Labour's Sick Rose...

O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:

Has found out they bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

For those who won't be attending next month's discussion at the Bradford Literature Festival concerning the mysticism of William Blake's poetry, what is the dark secret love of the invisible worm that seems to be destroying the red rose of Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party?

Can it really be deeply-embedded Jew hatred, planted in the 1930s by British Union of Fascist acolytes of former Labour Cabinet Minister Sir Oswald Mosley? Can it? Really? Not hatred of Israel as a state, as an idea, because Israel wasn't formally voted into existence by the United Nations Organisation until 1947/48. But simple Jew hatred. In the PC parlance of modern times: anti-semitism.

On and off all day I have followed at first with bemusement and then with increasing incredulity the row that has engulfed the party heirarchy, at first over the social media remarks of Bradford West MP Naz Shah and then this morning Ken Livingstone's self-immolation when, in response to a question, he contrived to suggest that Adolf Hitler's original final solution - transport Europe's Jews to Palestine or Madagascar - was analagous with the aspiration of Zionism for a Jewish homeland. From there it's escalated to public accusations of racism and being an apologist for the Nazis.

But by saying on social media in 2014 that Israelies should be transported to the United States, has the hapless Naz Shah inadvertently exposed the canker at the heart of Labour's red rose? 

At first I thought the hullabaloo, which David Cameron helped stir up during Prime Minister's Questions earlier this week, was more of a story about social media. Facebook and Twitter are not private means of communication, of course, but billboards to the world. MPs, entertainers, writers and celebrities hubristically believe that the public will be poorer for not knowing: where they are going, where they happen to be at any given moment, what they are doing and what they think about the latest headline news.

In a wittier age than this one the likes of the late Alan Coren would have had great fun inventing excerpts from the Facebook account of, say, William Shakespeare. 'Just written Hamlet. Jonson says it's confusing. Bugger. Not sure what to think myself. Suppose I'll have to wait for somebody to write Ulysses or Finnegan's Wake to give academics something else to write about.' Or this from Stalin's Twitter account: 'One mujic dead, tragic. A million of them pulling up daisies, a statistic. That's Socialist Realism for you.'

But what's happened today goes way beyond the mis-appliance of IT science by those who think too well of themselves, after all a bit of Facebooking or Twittering can be good fun, informative sometimes. But a statement to the effect that the Jews are massing or gathering is neither good fun nor informative: it sounds like a warning, a warning about an impending threat. Who were these Jews and against whom were they massing?

Nor for the life of me can I understand Ken Livingstone's likening Hitler's aim for Jews in 1932/33 with the strategic aim of Zionism. The only homeland that Jews got out of National Socialism was that archaepeligo of death camps from Southern Germany to the remoter forests of Eastern Poland. I thought this was widely accepted as fact until revisionist historians in the late 1980s put it about that the Holocaust was in fact a Holohoax: the locked rooms into which the pellets of Zyklon B were dropped were in fact de-lousing chambers: Jews had perished from typhus and other contagious diseases, hence the need to incinerate the bodies. This pernicious nonsense went on for several years into the 1990s and may have determined Steven Spielberg to make the film of Schindler's List from Thomas Kennelley's book Schindler's Ark.

I used to ask myself questions about Holocaust deniers. Today I have had to ask myself what is it about the Parliamanetary constituency of Bradford West that induces its representatives to make public pronouncements that strike others as anti-semitic? Before Naz Shah, George Galloway told a public meeting that, in respect of what Israel was doing in Gaza, Bradford was an Israeli-free zone. I didn't think he was announcing a progrom against Jewish people; but his sentiment was denounced in Bradford and in the 2015 General Election he was swept from office by Naz Shah.

Some may say the huge presence of Pakistani-Muslim voters in the constituency is inducement enough to express anti-Israeli sentiments. But that presupposes that all Pakistani-Muslim voters would agree. Some would. In my time I've seen anti-Jewish posters on walls in Manningham Lane in Bradford West put up by Islamicists. But the continued existence of a synagogue in the heart of Manningham is evidence of a willingness among a majority of Muslims to live and let live. Now, I fear, once again, what good name Bradford managed to regain after the 1995 and 2001 Muslim riots may go the way of William Blake's sick rose.

Labour's National Excutive Committee has in the past suspended at least two Bradford West Constituency Labour Parties for activities contrary to the party's book of rules. The undue influence of Muslim clan politics - Biraderi - featured in an independent report by Lewis Baston, called The Bradford Earthquake, following George Galloway's astounding Bradford West by-election victory in 2012, when a safe Labour majority of more than 10,000 was obliterated. Galloway's supporters had outflanked their main opponent by a clever use of social media to talk directly to voters.

Here are three of the key findings from Baston's report which was commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust:-

. The recent political history of Bradford West has been marred by patronage, neglect, bad organisation and even electoral fraud. Both Labour and the Conservatives are implicated in this state of affairs. Local politics have been about a mutual accommodation between elites of each community rather than real diversity, and voters have found this alienating.

.  There is a danger of a political vacuum developing in the city and elsewhere which may be filled by fringe politics, despair or violence...Voters in Bradford West do not feel they have deserted their usual party but that Labour has failed them...

. National messages and campaigning language failed to connect with Bradford West electors' bad experiences of mainstream politics. 

Be careful what you wish for, be extra careful what you blurt out on social media. Personally, I think that public figures - chief constables, sports chiefs, MPs, - should be encouraged to resort to this form of mea culpa. At a time of declining church attendances and a dropping off in the demand for the confessional, social media serves a dual purpose. Confession is good for the soul and is an invaluable source of material to muck-rakers and headline writers. Besides, it saves some journalists the trouble of phone-hacking.

Aspersions of racism are made too easily. The difference between racial prejudice and racism is that the former stems from ignorance and fear whereas the latter, racism, comes from hatred, the desire to persecute and even kill. I wonder if those who readily hurl the accusation of racism at somebody they don't like or with whom they disagree are merely deflecting attention from their own intolerant militant tendency.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Show Us Yer Joy

While campaigners for Britain leaving the European Union squabble about facts and tactics the more astute among them might pick up on a point made today by journlaist and former Conservative MP Matthew Parris.

He told an ITV news journalist that both the campaigns for remaining in the EU and leaving it tended to accentuate the negative: staying in was better than taking the risk of leaving, staying in would do more harm than leaving. Parris wondered why the remain campaign was so lacking in uplift: if being a part of EU was worth the time, trouble and expense, surely it was worth shouting about.

A good point, I thought, especially as the June 23 referendum is likely to be decided by the more than 20 per cent of people questioned by pollsters who say they haven't made up their minds which direction the country should take.

Are the undecideds likely to be excited by the Prime Minister declaring in his most plausible head boy fashion that Britain will be safer, stronger and better off in a "reformed EU" than outside it, like poor old Norway for example. It's a pretty uninspiring message especially when repeated, more or less, by uninspiring Opposition MPs such as Labour's Yvette Cooper.

The bland leading the bland.

If, as David Cameron claims, Britain is safer inside the EU marquee rather than outside it, he should explain why since 1973 mainland Britain has been subject to at least 65 terrorist attacks, killing more than 380 people, maiming and wounding thousands and costing billions. These include the M62 coach bomb attacck in 1974 which killed 11, the Birmingham pub bombings the same year which accounted for another 19, the 1988 Panam bombing over Lockerbie which killed 270 and the London bombings in 2005 which killed 52 and injured more than 700. Add on the bombings and shootings over three decades in Northern Ireland from 1968 and the casualties and costs mushroom.

While the EU in its various incarnations since 1973 cannot be blamed for the Provisional IRA or Al Qaeda, what has it done to justify David Cameron's assertion that membership has made us safer? Globally, of course, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning junta in Brussels has proved to be extremely dangerous. It encouraged the atomisation of former Yugoslavia following the end of Communism in Europe and the rage for independence that followed and had a hand in causing the bloodshed in western Ukraine by trespassing in Russia's sphere of influence. Latterly, the EU stands accused of making the refugee problem worse by offering blandishments to Turkey to act as a border guard for south-eastern Europe. On top of all this, of course, the EU's iron law of freedom of movement has led to a million or more economic migrants from Poland, Albania, Rumania, Spain and elsewhere coming to the UK.

You may say, so what? If you did I would reply that neither I nor anybody I know actually voted in any general election favour of any of this. It happened because decisions were made and taken elsewhere and simply adopted first by the Labour Government of 2004/5 and subsequently by the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition from 2010 to 2015.

Let's face it, the EU does not have an encouraging democratic track record. It has a history of ignoring national referendums when the result is not as expected. The people of the Netherlands, France and the Republic of Ireland were told to think again when they, respectively, voted against proposed EU treaties. Leave campaigners appear to have forgotten this in the heat of the debate about whether Britons  - "who never, never shall be slaves", according to the national anthem - should remain or go. Come on chaps, look back in anger at the crap that's been going on since 1973: the wine lakes, the butter mountains (in support of French farmers), the fish thrown back in the sea (in support of a fisheries policy contrary to our interests), the dotty carbon capture policies costing us billions and making millions for India's Tata Steel. Next time you hear business leaders and experts advocating continued EU membership for the sake of the economy, look back at the farce of Britain's short-lived membership of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism and what happened in September 1992. John Major's Government was forced to spend billions to maintain sterling's value on international markets in defence of this discredited system.

It's not as though the European empire has generated any interesting art, literature or music in the last 43 years - unlike the Roman Empire or Napoleon III's French Empire. The only bit of music associated with it that I can think of is the Ode to Joy finale of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. A rousing and glorious blast of triumph appropriated by a bunch of furtive federalists. Ludvig would not have been amused. So come on, all you remainers, let's see the expression of your joy. Show the doubters and the truculent Europhobes something other than the usual spurious arguments. At least the leavers have a plan, Richard North's 420-page FLEXCIT, contrary to all the chundering in the media. For those who haven't world enough and time there is a 48-page summation available for a fiver called The Market Solution. Added to thse two documents, there is a new edition of The Great Deception, the history of the European 'project' that Dr North wrote with Christopher Booker, a copy of which I recently bought. In short, the leavers, in the words of Sir Humphrey, have well and truly "nailed their trousers to the mast". Which means they can't climb down.

In 1975, on the occasion of the first referendum about Britain's membership of the European Economic Community - the "Common Market" as it was deliberately and misleadingly called -  doubters were assured that joining Europe would make the country more prosperous, stronger, safer even. Forty years and 65 terrorist attacks later the wine lakes and butter mountains have been replaced by an Everest of debt and a schedule of Government borrowing that runs into billions every month. The money given back to Britain by the EU comes from us in the first place.

How different it all is from when I were a lad in Walthamstow, London E17, and Harold Wilson could be heard on the wireless worrying about Britain's "balance of payments", a matter of a few millions either in the black or the red. We thought the news was bad then. Little did we know.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Keep Your Tax Returns to Yourself

Somebody famous once observed that nothing was as unedifying as watching the English go through a periodical spasm of moral outrage - or words to that effect.

The sanctimony level was bad enough when all those male tennis players started back-tracking after Djocovic stated the obvious: that women tennis players should not receive the same pay as their male counterparts for playing less tennis at tournaments. Equal pay for equal play. Apart from that, women's tennis is invariably duller, slower and full of shrieking.

But now the media over here is full of top politicians, from the Prime Minister David Cameron downwards, baring their souls over their tax returns. Oh puleeaaase! as the late Joan Rivers used to expostulate. The only interesting revelation to come out of this business for me is that Mr Cameron's gross annual pay is only £140,000. Less than half the weekly take-home pay of Wayne Rooney who always seems to be injured these days, meaning that, unlike women tennis players, he's getting paid for absolutely nothing.

The more important point to come out of the publication of the Panama Papers is the verification that the very rich are very adroit in moving their bunce about the world to reduce their tax liability. The poor might shake their boney fists at the idea, at least Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn tried to fire up the House of Commons by painting such a picture, but is anyone really surprised? The only reason the rich have lots of filthy lucre is because they are slow to part with it. If I was Mr Corbyn I wouldn't eulogise the less well-off too much. Being poor might make you careful but it doesn't necessarily make you honest. There are a variety of ways of being a mumper.

Back in the good old hedonistic Sixties, George Harrison of The Beatles was so irked by the 19 shillings-plus in the pound that the Fab Four were taxed that he penned a song for the group's Revolver LP called Taxman. Paying income tax, after all, only came in formally during Britain's wars against Napoleon. Either Pitt the Younger or his old man decided that Bonaparte could only be defeated if the British Government could bribe Russia, Prussia, Austria and Spain to join the alliance against the Corsican upstart. 

Am I bothered that David Cameron's dad left his son £300,000? Not a bit. I wish somebody would leave me £30 let alone ten thousand times that amount. I've had dealings with quite a few millionaires in my times as a journalist. Apart from a couple of freebie meals and the odd book I can't say I gained anything financially, not even when one of them intimated that a particular company was about to go public. Bear of little brain that I am, I did not raid my piggy bank and invest my shillings in that company's stocks and shares. I vaguely thought that might be slightly unethical, I suppose.

I find all this monetary mea culpa, tarted up under the current buzz word 'transparency', uncomfortably close to sanctimony. Perhaps it reminds me of the time in late 1960s when for a moment of madness lecturers at provincial colleges of further education had to undergo informal inquisitorial trials by their students about their qualifications and experience. In effect justifying their right to teach. The most passionate of these wretched undergraduate Savanarolas were usually the laziest gits on the course. I felt ashamed to witness it.

The private financial records of public servants, which is what politicians are, are already a matter of public record. MPs are obliged to declare their interests and these can be checked by journalists in the House of Commons library, I believe. I haven't done it myself, but a few years ago The Daily Telegraph filled an entire edition with the details of MPs fiddled accounts. I have a copy of the paper in my archives.

When the first journalalist voluntarily reveals the details of his or her wages, expenses and other perks, I might change my mind on this subject. Until then, if the the Prime Minister chooses to don the hair shirt of transparency, in the hope of gaining a few more 'remain' votes in the June referendum on Britain's membership of the dodgy European Union, that's up to him.

Confession may be good for the soul, but as a public spectacle it's nauseating. Besides, any rich man can afford to employ clever lawyers and accountants to make sure that he slides through the eye of a needle. I said once before that I'd take a bit of corrupt democracy over a sin-free tyranny any day of the week. Those quick to cast stones usually do live in glass houses. 

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Bombing the Soft Europeans

The departure terminal at Brussels airport was made to look like parts of Syria after the two Islamic State bomb attacks yesterday. And I suppose that was part of the purpose, to show soft Europeans what it's like to be on the receiving end of an unexpected bomb.

What the bearded holy terrorists may not know or if they do, understand, is that us soft Europeans have been on the receiving end of bombs of all sorts. We have a tradition of being bombed that goes back to the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, the ill-fated Paris Commune that followed and two World Wars. 

Seventy years ago in July, 1946,  militant Zionist terrorists blew up part of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, killing more than 90 British military personnel and others. In fact, post 1945 the British have been bombed and shot at all over the world, especially in Northern Ireland. Central London, Guildford, Birmingham and Manchester have all been visited by bombers. Provisional IRA, IS or Al Qaeda, the result is always the same: splintered lives and blood up the walls.

Much of what I wrote in this blog on November 14, 2015, after the Paris shootings, stands for what I think now. My only wish is that television news would show a little more judicious discrimination in what they broadcast. How does showing people running away from a bomb site help anyone but those organising these attacks? And why do the earnest and well-meaning insist on buying into the regularly offered explanation of poverty, deprivation and disenfranchisement, for the radicalisation of young Muslims?

I've heard that excuse trotted out for more than 30 years. The result, certainly in Bradford, has been renewed efforts to adapt mainstream society and culture to the needs and demands of minority groups, accompanied by the usual press release superlatives, 'vibrant', even 'vibrancy', 'diverse' and 'community', as though the various sectors of the people who live here identify with one religious or cultural tendency. In fact, just for the record, life here is a lot more sectarian, tribal, clannish, than that simplification allows.

Crying the poor mouth, as the Irish say, is the usual way of staking a claim to resources. Ordinary people, by whom I mean working class white trash who don't work in education, local government, the media or the Church of England, don't fall for that. The others do. Some of them.

The earnest and well-meaning assume that the deprived and disenfranchised carry out the shootings and bombings. They don't. It's the educated, sometimes university-educated righteous brothers, who seek to impose martyrdom on total strangers. It's not money and opportunities these people lack but humility. 

Let's face it, yesterday was not a good day for the European Union. Prime Minister David Cameron has several times declared that due to Britain's membership of the EU, British people are "safer" and, by inference, the peoples of the 27 other members states are safer too. Safer until the next surprise attack sends body bags and reporters to another European city.

Saturday, 12 March 2016


Truth, the film starring Cate Blanchette and Robert Redford, is one of those 'journalist as hero' movies that America likes to make from time to time - Spotlight, Good Night and Good Luck, All the President's Men. And yet at the heart of story, based on a 2004 CBS news investigation into President George W Bush's record in the military, is a calamitous series of journalistic cock-ups.

As an old hack myself, or a former old hack I should say, the moment when all starts going wrong is signalled by an outburst of hubristic triumphalism when a high-ranking military man gives verbal confirmation of a couple of damning memos, read to him over the phone by Blanchette, who plays Mary Mapes, award-winning producer of the nightly news programme 60 Minutes, the presenter of which is Dan Rather, played by a pleasingly crinkly Robert Redford - all teeth, suspenders and cut-glass tumblers of scotch.

"Yes!" she whoops and punches the air. When journalists get excited you should be wary. Digging out stories about powerful people is a painstaking business; it requires plentiful buckets of cold water to pour over heated-up assumptions. Even though the 'crack team' assembled by Mapes are old hands at investigative journalism they make fundamental errors. It turns out that the memos about Bush's service in the National Guard as a fighter pilot are only copies. The general who confirmed the contents over the phone later retracts. There wasn't time to send them to him to look at.

Mapes, Rather and their colleagues working on the story find themselves sinking deeper and deeper into a morass, defending these tenuous bits of evidence rather than concentrating on the record of George W Bush's whereabouts in 1968. In the film, nobody says, 'Look, what is the ultimate aim of this story? Are we out to get the President because he appears to have dodged military service in Vietnam and yet has sent thousands of US servicemen into Afghanistan and Iraq?'

Worried that broadcasting rivals will beat them to the exclusive, CBS rush the story on to the air amid great self-congratulatory excitement. Nobody warns that if you take a shot at the devil be prepared to receive unremitting salvos in return. And that's what happens, much to the surprise, shock and horror of all concerned in the programme. One of the consequences is that George W Bush is portrayed by sympathisers as a victim of trendy New York liberal media lefties, and wins a second term in the White House.

Here are a couple of illuminating quotes from Bob Woodward. He and Carl Bernstein were The Washington Post's reporters who covered the Watergate story and subsequently uncovered the role in dirty tricks played by President Richard Nixon.

Using these unnamed sources, if done properly, carefully and fairly, provides more accountability in government.
I believe there's too little patience and context to many of the investigations I read or see on television.

In All the President's Men, Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee tells Woodward and Bernstein a cautionary story from his own time as a reporter. He set out to do a number on FBI director Edgar J Hoover which he hoped would get him removed from office. Instead of that happening, Hoover's job was made secure. The message came back, 'Tell Ben Bradlee, Fuck You'.

I don't think the purpose of Truth is to tell a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of shoddy journalism. While I wouldn't rank it with Spotlight, Trumbo or The Big Short - the story is too inward-looking, too much concerned with process -  I did for the most part enjoy the leading performances and the drama of unfolding events. It was good to see Cate B outside the role of the manipulative Carol. But I didn't like the finale with its rousing soundtrack and back-slapping applause in the CBS studio. 

But I don't think the general public in Britain will find the film appealing in its subject matter, judging by the size of the audience in the Picture House presentation that we saw. The Vietnam War - the war that wasn't officially a war - doesn't carry the same weight as it does in the United States. Few of our political leaders would dream of serving in the military. The last one who did, I believe, was Jim Callaghan, Labour Prime Minister from 1976 to 1979.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

George, Don't Do That,,,

On Monday, February 11, 1963, The Beatles made their way back to freezing, snowed-up London to make a record at Abbey Road Studios. That was also the day that, elsewhere in North London, news of Sylvia Plath's suicide went out.

It was another poet, Philip Larkin, who declared that sex was invented in 1963, the year of the Lady Chatterley ban and The Beatles first LP. That record, of course, was Please, Please Me. But for the presence of EMI producer George Martin the course of cultural history would have been different. Larkin wouldn't have written Annus Mirabilis for a start.

That freezing New Year I was a black plimsoll wearing schoolboy of 14. I'd never heard of Plath, Larkin or George Martin. I was barely aware of The Beatles. My cultural renaissance depended largely on BBC radio which used to play good quality comedy records. One of them was of a revue sketch by Joyce Grenfall pretending to be a teacher dealing with a class of boisterous widdlers. That's where the 'George, don't do that' line comes from.

I don't know if George Martin's bosses at EMI ever said the same to him. If they did he ignored them and dreamed up his own version of the BBC Radiphonic Workshop at Abbey Road, looping tapes, running them backwards, using what John Cage called 'prepared pianos'. Without him, it is inconceivable that Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, The White Album and Abbey Road would have been recorded. What a loss to the world that would have been.

So thank you Sir George for all you did to bring joy to the heart of a lonely schoolboy in the exciting but bewildering Sixties.You made a significant difference for the better to the human race. Rest in Peace. 

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

From Trumpo to Trumbo

When I was a boy my big sister Jean once or twice took me on birthday treats to London's West End to see the latest Hollywood blockbuster. In those days, I'm talking about the late 1950s, early 1960s, the word blockbuster usually mean epic, something that was entertaining but also historical and thought-provoking.

Ben Hur was one of those films. The Ten Commandments might have been another. Spartacus certainly was. I don't remember where in the West End my sister took me to see Kirk Douglas's epic, but I do recall that the film was accompanied by a colour-printed programme that included information about the battle tactics of a Roman legion.

The programme may also have included a biographical sketch of the film's screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo. At the age I was the job of a screenwriter meant nothing to me. In the London suburb where I grew up names like Dalton Trumbo didn't come up that often, if at all. As far as Hollywood blockbusters were concerned, I probably believed that the actors improvised and made up their lines as the story went along under the direction of a man in knee-high boots giving orders through a megaphone. Subsequently, I came to admire screenwriters. Like good journalists they could turn their hand to any kind of story and make a fist of it. The best of their work withstood the test of time.

Until today, when Lesley and I went to see Trumbo at Bradford's National Media Museum, I had no idea that the man who wrote Spartacus at the request of Kirk Douglas had previously written two Oscar-winning movies. I knew that he had been blacklisted as a Communist which meant that officially he was not supposed to write or be paid for movie scripts. How he and other blacklisted screenwriters got round that blockade forms the core of Trumbo, the title role acted by Bryan Cranston.

We both enjoyed the film. As we came out of the cinema into the chill of a sunny winter's day I wondered if my response to the film had been too easily sympathetic. If it was, blame Mr Cranston's acting. He has the ability to look and sound amiably nutty, threatening and vulnerable simultaneously. If anyone writes a secreenplay about the life of the late poet John Berryman, along the lines of love and fame and death, the role should be given to no one else but Bryan Cranston. I mean it.

Though the baddies in Trumbo - including Hedda Hopper, John Wayne and the creepy politicians on the House Un-American Actives Senate committee -  are portrayed for what they were in their various ways, I don't think they are intended as caricatures for easy laughs and cheap point-scoring. That would only have lessened the gravity of the predicament of Trumbo and his friends, which was very serious, far more than I can ever feel in my bones because this country never experienced anything comparable to Senator Joe McCarthy in the 1950s.

I love American films about crime and politics. Americans make better films about both subjects than we do. In 2005, Good Night, and Good Luck directed by George Clooney, came round our way and I went to see it at the National Media Museum. That film was an homage to the celebrated US journalist Ed Murrow, whose television broadcasts challenging the premises of Senator McCarthy's Communist witch-hunt, added to his aura as a wartime radio correspondent. If Humphrey Bogart had been the symbol of sceptical defiance in wartime 1940s, Ed Murrow represented the same kind of integrity in the Cold War 1950s.

I thought I'd love Good Night, and Good Luck. I bought the DVD, played it at home and was disappointed. This sometimes happens when a film made for the silver screen is seen on the small screen. It's not always the case, however. The DVD I have of Ben Hur, for example, has renewed and enhanced the intensity of the feelings it has always invoked. I love big subject films, but somehow the big subject of Good Night, and Good Luck looked too theatrical, too stagey, and I found myself getting fed up with Ed Murrow's righteousness (in the film), amid the incessant smoking. If they all smoked like that in the 1950s it's a wonder that anyone lived long enough to denounce McCarthyism.

The same cannot be said about the title character of Trumbo. Though there's plenty of smoking throughout the film, Trumbo's righteousness is less strident, less tyrannically assertive. There is a good deal of seasoned drollery and nicely-calculated spite from most of the characters that prompted me to and others in the cinema to chuckle or occasionally curse - that gabby Hopper woman, what a cow! Played really well by Helen Mirren. From Queen Elizabeth II of Britain to queen bitch of Hollywood.

I like these retrospectives about real-life characters, from Rod Steiger as Al Capone to Tom Hanks as Walt Disney. Bryan Cranston is every bit as good as I hoped he would be as Dalton Trumbo. In the film at least his humanitarian politics are something to admire unlike, sadly, the real-life politics of Donald Trump - if that is indeed what they are.

As for Kirk Douglas - there is a fine cameo of him in Trumbo - he was always a bit of a movie hero of mine. In the film a furious Hedda Hopper calls him a bastard. "I was always a bastard. You just didn't notice," he replies. Maybe it took a bastard to get Spartacus made. Thank you Mr Douglas.