Bringing it all back home: Ann Sidney half a century after winning Miss World

Miss World 1964, Ann Sidney, photographed at the Haven Hotel, Sandbanks, Poole ... 21.11.2014 ... photograph by Hattie Miles
Miss World 1964: Ann Sidney photographed in November 2014 at Sandbanks in Poole by Hattie Miles exactly 50 years after she won the title that changed her life.

Ann Sidney swings her 4×4 into the car park at the Haven Hotel in Poole and leaps out shouting: “I’m so sorry I’m late!” Crikey! We’ve been here all of three minutes and she’s missed our agreed 2pm rendezvous by maybe 45 seconds. Not only does Ann look astonishing for a woman who turned 70 several months ago but half-a-century after she walked off with the Miss World crown she is as vital and energised as ever.

Enthusing about being back in Poole – the town in which she grew up – she apologises for wearing a hoodie, t-shirt and sports trousers . “Travelling clothes!” she explains. Never mind, she looks absolutely great but she also wants to be photographed in the flash dress she’s carrying on a hanger. Old habits die hard.

Continue reading “Bringing it all back home: Ann Sidney half a century after winning Miss World”

Ha ha! So David Hockney reckons that 2015’s gays are just too “boring and conservative”

Celebrations as London's 2015 Pride march makes its way along Oxford Street
Celebrations as London’s 2015 Pride march makes its way along Oxford Street

It’s a little ironic. Just weeks after David Hockney lamented the vanishing bohemian spirit of his youth and complained that gay men have become boring and conservative here I am trying to get across Oxford Street to catch the final day of his exhibition. What’s stopping me is a rainbow-coloured  tide of marching, dancing, chanting, strutting, pouting humanity. Gay, lesbian, bi and transsexual. Men and women. They are out and proud and doing their bit to give London 2015 its biggest Pride march yet.

Continue reading “Ha ha! So David Hockney reckons that 2015’s gays are just too “boring and conservative””

How mile-a-minute Harry lost £60 million on gambling, fast women and bad business deals

Devotees of the ongoing ITV drama series Mr Selfridge will know that things are fast spiralling out of control for the American retail entrepreneur. As the final episode of season three hits our screens tonight, they might be interested to know the real Harry Gordon Selfridge was even more reckless than the TV version portrayed by Jeremy Piven.

Continue reading “How mile-a-minute Harry lost £60 million on gambling, fast women and bad business deals”

Birdsong – love, loss and slaughter on the Western Front

Birdsong: Lighthouse, Poole

This play is an absolute triumph! Rachel Wagstaff’s stage adaptation of Sebastian Faulks’ best selling novel Birdsong brings the murderous madness of the First World War battlefields on the Western Front into sharp focus.

Faulks’ poignant story of love, loss and inhuman suffering has been reworked as a magnificent piece of multi-layered theatre in this touring production by the Original Theatre Company.

Continue reading “Birdsong – love, loss and slaughter on the Western Front”

Life in the old bag yet! That’s the one hanging from Hattie’s shoulder I hasten to add.

The old Billingham 225 (and Hattie) in action in Vietnam a dozen years ago.

An old diary tells me that 30 years ago today, on 1st of February 1985, Hattie and I acquired a Billingham 225 camera bag. Until its straps started falling apart five years ago it would accompany us on a bizarre variety of writing and photography assignments for the next quarter-of-a-century.

It’s first outing was to a factory making bullet-proof cars in Bristol. It then travelled with us all over the world to Australia, the USA, Canada, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Israel, Greece, Turkey, the Czech Republic and most of western Europe.

Continue reading “Life in the old bag yet! That’s the one hanging from Hattie’s shoulder I hasten to add.”

Hey Bungalow Bill you’ve not had your fill…

Beatles and wags with Maharishi
Left to right: Jane Asher, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Cynthia Lennon, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Pattie Boyd, George Harrison, Ringo Starr and Jenny Boyd.

When I was asked to introduce Beatles insider Jenny Boyd at Wimborne Literature Festival last week I jumped at the opportunity. After all this is a woman who effectively lived with my record collection during the 1960s and 1970s.  Whatever I was listening to or reading about in my teens and twenties there was a pretty good chance that Jenny Boyd was actually experiencing it first hand.

Continue reading “Hey Bungalow Bill you’ve not had your fill…”

Hopper’s vision of an American in flux – torn between Hollywood and the acid tests

Me outside the RA Hopper show. Photograph by Hattie Miles
Me outside the RA Hopper show. Photograph by Hattie Miles

After a four month run at the Royal Academy an utterly intriguing exhibition of photographs by the late American actor, film director and artist Dennis Hopper closed at the weekend. It was called The Lost Album and featured more than 400 original prints of photographs taken by Hopper between 1961 and 1967. These images had last been seen at his first major exhibition at the Fort Worth Art Centre in Texas in 1970. They were rediscovered, packed away in a series of old boxes, after his death from cancer in 2010.

Continue reading “Hopper’s vision of an American in flux – torn between Hollywood and the acid tests”

The class of 64 and the Folkestone Triennial

IMG_0185 - Version 2

A  few days ago my wife Hattie and I found ourselves staying in a seaside hotel as guests of a girls school reunion. The ‘girls’ in question were former pupils of the near legendary St Margaret’s School in my home town of Folkestone. The class of ’64 celebrating the fact that it is 50 years since they were first turned loose on the world.

Continue reading “The class of 64 and the Folkestone Triennial”

Zoot Money, tales of a mayor in tights and a death hoax – just another Sunday afternoon

Zoot Money and Bournemouth Mayor Chris Mayne exchange memories of their 1950s schooldays. Photographs by Hattie Miles.

So there we were, a couple of hundred musicians, artists, writers, photographers and old blues and R&B fans crowded onto a Bournemouth town centre pavement outside an unremarkable row of shops, bars and restaurants. Those in the know were staring nostalgically at a nondescript door sandwiched between an Italian coffee shop and a Polish Delicatessen. For beyond that door, at number 9 Holdenhurst Road, lies a flight of stairs leading down to a dingy cellar where, 53 years ago on 3rd  May, 1961, the town’s first full-time jazz, rock and blues club was born.

Continue reading “Zoot Money, tales of a mayor in tights and a death hoax – just another Sunday afternoon”

The agony and literary ecstasy of ‘Great War’ poets Sassoon and Owen

Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen
James Howard (left) as Siegfried Sassoon and Ben Ashton as Wilfred Owen in Not About Heroes

Not About Heroes: Blackeyed Theatre – Lighthouse, Poole

It is 100 years after the start of the war that was supposed to end all wars. What better time to reflect on Stephen MacDonald’s 1982 play about the appalling slaughter on the Western Front and its profound effect on two of the finest literary minds of the era?

The shameful events of 1914-18 changed the world but not for the better. Generations of old soldiers, traumatised by what they had been through, rarely spoke of its horrors.

In this centenary year the First World War is finally a subject for widespread commemoration and analysis. However as we honour the courage and sacrifice of the those who gave their lives, opinion remains divided over the actions of the generals and politicians who orchestrated the carnage.

Not About Heroes is uncompromising in its stance and delivers a hammer-blow to those who would be apologists for British commander Douglas Haig’s war of attrition.

MacDonald’s play examines the wider effects of the conflict, not least its contribution in changing poetry forever. It focuses on the meeting at the Craiglockhart Military Hospital for nervous disorders of two of the finest of the ‘Great War’ poets – Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon.

Both have been invalided out of the living hell that is the ongoing Battle of the Somme. Owen, a young idealist at the start of what promises to be a brilliant writing career, is determined to tell the truth about the horrors of the battlefields. He is being treated for shell-shock.

Sassoon, just half-a-dozen years older, is established as both a poet and a war hero. His arrival at Craiglockhart near Edinburgh has been ordered by his commanding officers in response to a public and embarrassing (to the authorities) condemnation of the war. Best to pretend he’s suffering from nervous exhaustion!

This excellent production from Blackeyed Theatre, directed by Eliot Giuralarocca, evokes beautifully the curious mixture of despair, fear, weariness and thrill of what can still be achieved.

Viewed through a series of flashbacks, it is set on a bleak stage populated by ghosts and books, we witness a rare meeting of minds.

The nervous young Owen (Ben Ashton) and the arrogant Sassoon (James Howard) forge a friendship that gradually finds them becoming utterly inter-dependant. The homoerotic attraction between them is tangible but destined to remain unexplored.

As Owen’s confidence as a writer grows he finds literary success thanks to the ever supportive and well-connected Sassoon. MacDonald deftly weaves their powerfully emotive poetry and letters into the story. Atmospheric lighting and sound enhance the sense of dread as they both return to the front line

War-weary Sassoon is back in hospital within weeks after taking a sniper’s bullet to the head. Owen, with so much still to give, dies in a hail of machine gun fire… exactly a week before the end of the war. His death leaves Sassoon bereft amid the ringing of bells and ‘victory’ celebrations. The play, which slips back and forth in time, finds the older man wracked with guilt and tormented by nightmares….like hundreds of thousands of others. Nothing will ever be the same.

Jeremy Miles

How Joan Rivers almost achieved her ambition to die on stage

Outrageous, outspoken and razor-sharp, American comedian Joan Rivers, who died at the age of 81 yesterday, thrilled and offended in equal measure.

Continue reading “How Joan Rivers almost achieved her ambition to die on stage”

If you paid as much attention to your homework….

Simon and wife Lolly Gallup with his Emmy in Los Angeles last night.
Simon and wife Lolly Gallup with his Emmy in Los Angeles last night.

Continue reading “If you paid as much attention to your homework….”

Kenneth Clark patron and champion of the artist


Kenneth Clark - Looking for civilisation
Kenneth Clark – Looking for civilisation

I really enjoyed Tate Britain’s recent examination of the enormous influence exerted on the 20th century’s understanding of art history by one man – curator, collector and museum director Kenneth Clark.

The exhibition explored Clark through the works of art that he loved. Called simply Kenneth Clark: Looking For Civilisation – a reference to his groundbreaking 1960s TV series – it showed him to be a man at one with works ranging from medieval manuscripts, old masters and Greco-Roman sculptures to contemporary artists.

Continue reading “Kenneth Clark patron and champion of the artist”

Suzanne Vega – the girl they once called the Joni Mitchell of the Filofax generation



Suzanne Vega
Suzanne Vega


Suzanne Vega: Lighthouse, Poole

I first saw Suzanne Vega 25 years ago when she was flying high on the reputation of breakthrough hits like Luka, Tom’s Diner and Marlena on the Wall.  The media, expecting just another New York coffee house folkie, were stunned by her capacity for producing intelligent, emotionally charged lyrics.

Continue reading “Suzanne Vega – the girl they once called the Joni Mitchell of the Filofax generation”

Avoiding the dark side or why I hate churnalism

Jonathan Miller: Photograph by Hattie Miles
Jonathan Miller: Photograph by Hattie Miles

As yet another ludicrous press release – a gushing piece of mindless spin – drops into my in-box I find myself yet again lamenting the way in which journalists are routinely taken for fools who can be manipulated for political or commercial ends. Of course as the media in general and the regional print press in particular is gradually reduced to a shadow of its former self by cost-cutting proprietors more interested in driving up profits than championing fair and balanced reporting, it is increasingly open-season for public relations departments. Continue reading “Avoiding the dark side or why I hate churnalism”

BBC killjoys try to clamp down on smutty jokes

Tim Brooke-Taylor.     Photograph by Hattie Miles
Tim Brooke-Taylor. Photograph by Hattie Miles

It was good to hear Tim Brooke-Taylor ridiculing the “pathetic” BBC  killjoys who reportedly told I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue chairman Jack Dee to tone-down the BBC Radio 4 show’s famously innuendo-laden jokes.

In a recent interview with that well-know purveyor of scandal and gossip, Cotswold Life magazine, Tim revealed that the BBC had suffered a sense of humour failure after a listener complained about the smutty jokes made at the expense of the show’s fictional score-keeper  and record researcher Samantha. As a result Jack Dee had threatened to quit. Cue a flurry of national newspaper stories.

Cotswold Life, name-checked in every article, must be delighted. You can’t buy that sort of publicity. Tim Brooke-Taylor meanwhile will be shaking his head in bemusement. Me too. With my publicists hat on I set that particular interview up.  It seemed about as mundane as possible. Tim would give the magazine a half hour or so interview in advance of his appearance in his An Audience With Tim Brooke-Taylor stage show at the Stratford Upon Avon Literary Festival. Continue reading “BBC killjoys try to clamp down on smutty jokes”

Genial giant Neil Fingleton would love to play a Bond villain


Neil Fingleton and Jenny Platt  preparing for panto in Dec 2009. Picture: Hattie Miles
Neil Fingleton and Jenny Platt ready for panto  in December  2009. Photograph: Hattie Miles

It must be difficult being physically different. People who don’t conform to generally accepted expectations of how one should look tend to have a rough ride through this uncompromising world of ours.

There are exceptions of course and one of them is a genial Geordie called Neil Fingleton. Officially recognised as  Britain’s tallest man, this cheery 33-year-old is seven foot seven and a half inches tall and weighs 25 stone and takes size 15 shoes. Continue reading “Genial giant Neil Fingleton would love to play a Bond villain”

Mollie Moran cooking lunch for two dozen and writing a best seller at the age of 96

Mollie Moran photographed at her Dorset home by Hattie Miles
Mollie Moran photographed at her Dorset home in 2013 by Hattie Miles

It was Mollie Moran’s funeral today. She died just two-and-a-half years short of her 100th birthday. A good innings by anyone’s reckoning but somehow for this former kitchen maid who found literary fame in her nineties it just didn’t seem right. At least she died peacefully in her own bed just a few months after a cancer diagnosis.

I first met Mollie a year ago when I interviewed her about her best-selling upstairs downstairs memoir Aprons and Silver Spoons. Razor sharp and impossibly energetic, she seemed strong and well.  She walked her dog daily, entertained visitors at her Dorset cliff top home, hosted weekly scrabble sessions and each month would invite 25 players from across the southern region to take part in a mini-tournament. Single handedly she would cook for them all, producing a selection that included cottage pie, chicken curry and a variety of puddings. I asked how she managed it. She shrugged and told me: “Oh it’s nothing. After all I don’t do the washing up. I get someone to help with that.” She seemed indestructible. Continue reading “Mollie Moran cooking lunch for two dozen and writing a best seller at the age of 96”

Morse code – Colin Dexter bans new actors playing Inspector Morse

Colin Dexter Photograph by Hattie Miles
Colin Dexter Photograph by Hattie Miles

News that crime writer Colin Dexter has changed his will to ensure that his famous Oxford detective Inspector Morse will always be remembered exactly as he is now, has been greeted as though it were a revelation.

Which is a little odd as Dexter, 83, has been telling people for years that he has put a clause in his will banning new actors from playing the role epitomised on TV by his good friend the late John Thaw. For Dexter, Thaw was absolutely perfect as the opera-loving, real-ale quaffing, crossword-solving, classic car driving, curmudgeon of a sleuth. He fears, not without good reason, that the role (and his much-loved stories) could be dumbed down, spivved-up or otherwise messed about by future actors. Continue reading “Morse code – Colin Dexter bans new actors playing Inspector Morse”

Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap – sixty years and still going strong

Things get tense in The Moustrap
Things get tense in The Moustrap

Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap: Lighthouse, Poole

It’s the longest running whodunnit in the history of British Theatre. Now after more than 60-years in the West End, The Mousetrap is making its first ever national UK tour.

Despite being unfashionable for years – during the 50s and 60s it was eclipsed in turn by angry young men, kitchen sink drama and the rise of cutting edge theatre on TV – The Mousetrap just kept on keeping on. There have been more than 25,000 performances so far. Continue reading “Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap – sixty years and still going strong”

Morrissey pays tribute to Alexandra Bastedo (1946 – 2014)

Morrissey isn’t noted for saying nice things about people but he made an exception for one time sixties sex symbol Alexandra Bastedo who died earlier this month. In a statement following Bastedo’s funeral near her home in West Sussex at the weekend, the singer paid fulsome tribute to an actress who never chased Hollywood and remained “genuine and dignified.”

Alexandra Bastedo in The Champions
Alexandra Bastedo in The Champions with William Gaunt (left) and Stuart Damon

He was, he said, “Sad beyond words” at her death from cancer at the age of 67. It had come, Morrissey explained “…as I still struggle with the passing of Lou Reed. In this age where only plasticity is welcome, we are losing too many social thinkers.” Continue reading “Morrissey pays tribute to Alexandra Bastedo (1946 – 2014)”

Learning a reporter’s trade amid multiple shipping disasters

The Folkestone Herald editorial office in early 1970s on a day when no ships sank
The Folkestone Herald editorial office in early 1970s on a day when no ships sank

Exactly 43-years ago today I walked into my first newspaper office to start a long and eventful career in journalism. The bi-weekly Folkestone Herald and Gazette was a great place to learn the reporters trade. The paper had the advantage of being based in one of the most characterful towns on the south east coast. It had been on the front-line during the war. Hell-Fire Corner they called it when the bombs rained down. I grew up there during the 1950s and had an unquestioning understanding of the place. It was strange but I knew nothing else. Continue reading “Learning a reporter’s trade amid multiple shipping disasters”

Farewell to Phil Everly – one half of the perfect vocal duo

Phil (left) and Don Everly
Phil (left) and Don Everly

I was so sorry to hear of the death of Phil Everly earlier this week. He was just 74-years-old but suffered lung disease related to a lifetime of heavy smoking. Together with his brother Don he pioneered a sound that changed the course of musical history – stunning close-harmonies and songs that deftly drew from both country and R&B.  They were the perfect vocal duo. Without the Everlys could there ever have been Beatles, Beach Boys or Simon and Garfunkel? Not as we know them, I suspect. Continue reading “Farewell to Phil Everly – one half of the perfect vocal duo”

“If a baby born to be King was like me, they’d kill him and get another one”

It was good to hear pioneering campaigner for equal recognition of disabled actors Mat Fraser on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row the other evening. As someone who was born with arms stunted in the womb by the effects of the infamous morning-sickness drug Thalidomide, Mat knows what he’s talking about. Continue reading ““If a baby born to be King was like me, they’d kill him and get another one””

Nelson Mandela 1918 – 2013

Like so many others I felt humbled by the courage, humanity and strength of character that allowed Nelson Mandela to fight tyranny with forgiveness and reason. His death at the age of 95 after years of ill-health comes as no great surprise but, selfishly, I find it a little bit frightening that he is no longer around to provide a guiding light.

Nelson Mandela 1918-2013
Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

Hopefully the world will learn by his example, although I doubt it. As someone once said: What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?  Nothing at all. I’m an atheist but fully admit there is a lot of sense in the core values of many religions. Turning the other cheek and forgiving those who trespass (sin) against us for instance. Incredibly difficult to put into practice but astonishingly effective if you do. Nelson Mandela had the strength to achieve it.

He also understood implicitly that anger is self-destructive. I’m not much into lighting candles and holding vigils, Mandela has gone. We should celebrate his life by practising forgiveness and compassion in our everyday lives. The other not so secret ingredient is humour. My work has brought me into quite close contact with Mandela’s old friend Desmond Tutu and he too uses humour in his ongoing battle against adversity and injustice.

Another extraordinarily charismatic and strong victim of  apartheid who found the strength to overcome terrible events in his life was Joseph Shabalala. Some years ago I interviewed the visionary leader of the African vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Not long before his wife  of 30 years, Nellie, had been murdered, gunned down as she walked to church near their home in Durban, South Africa. Joseph admitted that even for a man of peace who had long advocated offering the hand of friendship to enemies, it was a testing time. A lesser spirit would have been consumed with hatred, crippled by thoughts of revenge. But Joseph responded by doing what he has always done… he sang. He told me: “It was very, very hard. There were times when I thought I would die. I was lost. People were talking but I didn’t hear them. But I sang and that gave me power and eventually I managed to lift my spirit.” He continues to strive for world peace: “I want to show people the way to peace,” he says. “Sing to those who think you’re their enemy and they won’t attack you. Getting people to listen, that is the answer.”

These are men who have faced down an evil regime that sought to oppress them with brutality and deny their  people human rights simply because of the colour of their skin.  I’ve been around a long time and know only too well the sorry history behind racism, prejudice and tyranny. I have never been able to understand it though. People are people whatever their colour, culture or religion. Whether black or white, most are good, some are bad. Simple as that!

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