I was sad to learn that the inimitable Wilko Johnson has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. The former Dr Feelgood and Blockheads guitarist discovered he had inoperable cancer of the pancreas just before Christmas.
Having been told that even without treatment he may have several months of reasonable health, the 65-year-old musician has announced that he has chosen not to receive chemotherapy and says he will keep performing as long as he can.
Wilko is currently in Japan. A statement from his management says: “on his return we plan to complete a new CD, make a short tour of France, then give a series of farewell gigs in the UK. There is also a live DVD in the pipeline, filmed on the last UK tour.
“Wilko wishes to offer his sincere thanks for all the support he has had over his long career, from those who have worked with him to, above all, those devoted fans and admirers who have attended his live gigs, bought his recordings and generally made his life such an extraordinarily full and eventful experience.”
Known for his manic stage persona and machine-gun style of guitar playing, a curious combination of rhythm and lead, Wilko rose to fame in the mid 1970s with the legendary Southend-based R&B band Dr Feelgood. He left the Feelgoods in 1977 and later joined Ian Dury and The Blockheads. He has also enjoyed a successful ongoing solo career.
Many people will recognise Wilko more readily as the mute executioner Ilyn Payne in hit TV series Game Of Thrones. He landed the acting role after appearing in the award-winning Feelgoods documentary Oil City Confidential.
I was horrified to hear that that nectar of the Gods known as marmalade has fallen out of fashion. Latest figures show that sales are down by more than six per cent and that people would rather eat honey, jam or even peanut butter for breakfast.
Are they sure? Could it not be that marmalade sales have simply been hit by armies of people rushing to make their own? After all Seville oranges (the quintessential marmalade fruit) are in the shops right now and are easy-peasy to turn into unbelievably delicious marmalade. You just need to add water, sugar a few lemons and a modicum of skill and you’ll have jars of the stuff. Of course marmalade can be made from any citrus fruit but orange is the one for me.
The first batch of the year is already in our kitchen cupboard. The second is bubbling away right now – a cauldron of molten orange delight slowly thickening on the hob.
As you have probably realised I absolutely love the stuff so I’m a little alarmed that the not knowingly trendy trade magazine The Grocer reports that marmalade has an image of being “old-fashioned and tired.”
What do they know? Since when has The Grocer set the agenda for what’s hot an happening? No, I reckon marmalade is beyond fashion. It’s been around in Britain since the late 15th century. It’s a classic!
The name by the way comes originally from the word marmelado – which is Portugese for a quince preserve.
Unpublished colour photographs of The Beatles are pretty rare these days. Whatever you find the chances are that someone, somewhere has got their first.
So there is understandable excitement over the discovery of 65 slides taken of the band during their first tour of the US in August 1964.
Taken by award-winning physicist and inventor Dr Bob Beck, the pictures include images of The Beatles both on and off stage. They are to be auctioned in March on the 50th anniversary of the release of the band’s debut Please Please Me album. They are expected to fetch between £10,000 and £15,000.
The collection includes portraits taken during a press conference at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas and even pictures snapped at a private Beverly Hills party given for the band by at the mansion of Capitol Records boss Alan Livingstone
Bob Beck died in 2002 leaving a massive archive of photographs at his Hollywood home. Clearly close to The Beatles in the early days, could he be the famed Doctor Robert from the band’s 1966 album Revolver?
Possibly! For although conventional Beatles folklore suggests that the Doctor Robert of the song was a pill-pushing medic constantly on call to rich and famous clients, all the lyric actually says is that he’s on call day or night “He helps you to understand. He does everything he can…”
Dr Bob Beck worked on a number of medical programmes including inventing the so called brain-tuner which was said to help recovering drug addicts, reduce stress, improve both short and long term memory, increase energy, improve concentration, enhance sleep quality and reduce pain, anxiety and depression.
I would say he was a great pioneer but he also decided that garlic is toxic to the brain and desynchronizes vital neurotransmitters. Sorry, I can’t be having that! I love garlic. I’d rather have my neurotransmitters desynchronised any day than banish it from my diet.
Director, actor and playwright Steven Berkoff knows a thing or two about the East End. He was born there 75 long years ago, a mere barrow boy’s shout from the chic Thames-side studio that is now his artistic base.
Yes the East End has changed and so too has Berkoff who fought his way from unpromising beginnings as the son of a Russian Jewish tailor to produce a radical body of theatrical work that has brought him both widespread acclaim and a certain degree of notoriety.
These days he’s recognised as a creative giant of the theatre, equally at home producing hard-hitting avant garde drama, adapting Shakespeare, Kafka and Sophocles or writing his own critically acclaimed original plays. He also has a parallel career as a Hollywood movie actor of course having appeared in a curious mixture of movies that include A Clockwork Orange, Octopussy, Rambo, Beverly Hills Cop and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
It’s all a long, long way from the now lost world that Berkoff grew up in. Happily when he was just 11-years-old and kicking around the streets of Stepney someone gave him a camera. It sparked a lifelong interest in photography and a few years later when he acquired an enlarger and learnt how to print his own pictures, he was ready to go.
Armed with a second-hand Rolleiflex, Berkoff started photographing the people and places of the old East End – the markets, the street sellers, the potpourri of cultures brought to the area by immigrants.
By the 60s and 70s it became all too apparent that the bagel-sellers, chicken-slaughterers and other colourful characters that were the life and soul of East End London were slowly but surely disappearing. Berkoff’s photographs captured the last gasp of an era. “I felt I had to record it before it vanished forever,” he says.
Happily the pictures – now so historically important – have survived and have just been publishing in the book East End Photographs. There is also an exhibition of his prints which is currently showing at Lucy Bell Fine Art in East Sussex.
You can see ‘Steven Berkoff – East End Photographs’ at Lucy Bell Fine Art, St Leonards-on-Sea, until 21 Feb 2013. For book sales: www.lucy-bell.com
Who says that the cult of celebrity is a thing of the past? As Hobbit fever sweeps the cinema-going world someone with far more money than sense has bid £50,000 for JRR Tolkien’s old fireplace.
It is among items salvaged by the boss of the demolition company that pulled down the Lord of the Rings author’s old bungalow in Poole four years ago.
The joke is that Tolkien only lived in the house for three years from his retirement in 1968 until the death of his wife Edith in 1971.
What’s more he didn’t even like the place. A career academic, he would have much rather have stayed in his beloved Oxford.
However the success of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings meant he was constantly bothered by fans beating a path to his door.
The couple finally moved to the south coast to escape unwanted callers. They chose the seaside location partly because of Edith’s failing health butalso because for many years they had spent summer holidays at The Mirimar Hotel in nearby Bournemouth.
By all accounts Tolkien didn’t like it much there either, complaining that it was difficult to find someone to have a stimulating conversation with.
No one has much time for celebrity-chasing paparazzi these days (except a few dinosaur magazine editors who seem incapable of realising that the world has moved on) but how sad to hear that a photographer has died while apparently snatching pictures of pop star Justin Bieber’s latest Ferrari.
The hapless snapper was hit by a passing car after apparently walking into the road to photograph the white Ferrari 458 Italia after it had been stopped by the police in Los Angeles.
What a stupid way to go particularly as the 18-year-old pop idol wasn’t even in his $200,000 super-car at the time.
According to CNN, Bieber issued a statement saying that his thoughts and prayers were with the family of the victim.
He added: “Hopefully this tragedy will finally inspire meaningful legislation and whatever other necessary steps to protect the lives and safety of celebrities, police officers, innocent public bystanders, and the photographers themselves.”
In other words a pointless death which might well lead to even more controls being exerted over a largely responsible media.
Playing Jesus Christ for Franco Zeffirelli 35 years ago has clearly paid dividends for actor Robert Powell. He’s been placed in the central position in photographer Alistair Morrison’s Actors Last Supper which is on display at the National Portrait Gallery.
Powell has been a stalwart of stage and screen for the past 40 years and has forged a reputation for the sheer breadth of his talents. Equally adept at high-brow and populist material, he has made critically acclaimed appearances for not just Zeffirelli but also directors like Ken Russell who cast him in the title role in Mahler.
However Powell is just as happy playing knockabout sit-com with his mate Jasper Carrott or appearing in popular TV dramas like Holby City. He recently joined the cast of the latest West End production of the hit musical Singin’ in the Rain too. No wonder Morrison chose him as one of the 13 leading British actors and directors he used to recreate, photographically, Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic 15th Century painting The Last Supper.
Morrison, who over the past 30 years has photographed everyone from Bette Davis to Laurence Olivier, used a cast that in addition to Powell included Steven Berkoff, Anthony Andrews, Simon Callow, Tom Conti, Peter Eyre, Sir Richard Eyre, Colin Firth, Sir Michael Gambon, Tim Piggott-Smith, Sir Antony Sher, John Alderton and Julie Walters
The portrait, which is over three metres long, was originally among images created to raise funds for a childrens charity through Variety’s Hidden Gems project. It has now been acquired for The National Portrait Gallery’s permanent collection.
It was good to hear Benjamin Zephaniah doing his bit as guest editor of this morning’s Today programme on BBC Radio 4.
As a particularly articulate and accessible poet, he has been embraced by the British middle-class. For many that would have been sell-out point but Zephaniah hasn’t forgotten what it was like to grow up as a black person in an England torn apart by racial tensions.
I first met him nearly 30-years-ago. The riots of Handsworth, Brixton and Toxteth were still raw memories. The police were about to move on to beating the living daylights out of the miners. It was a deeply uncomfortable time if your race or political stance didn’t fit the bill as it were.
Benjamin Zephaniah saw through the crap, refused to be cowed and intimidated and exuded a sense of confidence, thoughtfulness, engagement and enthusiasm. He believed then that positive thoughts and actions can be more powerful than negativity and violence. He still believes it today.
Arguing with John Humphrys that there can be a place for good news in the media was always going to be a pointless exercise but Zephaniah danced around the subject with an impressive lack of ego. He knew he was sounding naive but sailed on regardless.
The point is that BZ is right. No one wants to be spoon-fed endless tales about fluffy kittens and lovely people. Well actually they probably do but they’d soon get fed up with it. However, finding the positive to counterbalance the negative in the news agenda might just give people a broader view of life, the world and help bolster their hopes and aspirations.
Now here’s an intriguing theory. Esteemed editor Ruth Winstone, who I vaguely know through her work on nine volumes of Tony Benn’s diaries, suggests that the end of an era is nigh, that the age of the political diary may be over. Winstone should know. She has also edited three volumes by the former Labour MP Chris Mullins. Her argument is that the instant communication of blogs and social networking has effectively replaced what used to be a reflective private activity.
I’m pleased to see that Peter Wilby, writing in The Guardian, disagrees, pointing out that political diaries tend to give a sense of history behind the kind of scheming, plot or knee-jerk reactions that these days are so often the motivation/subject of politicians tweets. He has a point, but why single out political diaries? He implies that the same is not true of (mere?) memoirs. Surely it depends on the quality of both the writing and thinking as much as the actual subject matter. For example no one expects Cheryl Tweedy’s autobiography to contain an analysis of the changing soci0-demographic structure of the North East in the wake of the decline of the mining and shipbuilding industries but I’m guessing that the fact that she is a product of that era means that, amid the tittle-tattle and fluff, there’s something of that in there. Weightier memoirs (diaries/biographies) can contain a great deal of background and context.
As for blogs and tweets? They are by their very nature of the moment, a platform for comment, reaction, whimsical thoughts and maybe a little brow-beating. All could have their place in a diary but once filtered through a process of reflection, and with hindsight, can be very different indeed. My feeling is that traditional diaries, memoirs and biographies live on while social media provides another means of communication. All are valid and all will survive in some easily recognisable form.
Ironically Tony Benn is about to publish what he says is the final volume of his diaries. A Blaze of Autumn Sunshine even contains the subtitle The Last Diaries. Well he is 87-years-old but I wonder. The old political warhorse battles on. I suspect that that blaze of Autumn sunshine mentioned in the title might turn out to be an ongoing Indian summer.
Benn recently said that he gets immensely annoyed that people think he’s mellowed with age. He hates being regarded as a harmless old gentleman saying: “I may be old and I may be a gentleman but I’m certainly not harmless.”
Benn first made big headlines back in the early 1960s when as Lord Stansgate he renounced his peerage so that he could sit in the House of Commons. He went on to become the Labour Party’s longest serving MP and was a minister in both the Wilson and Callaghan cabinets. He resigned from Parliament more than a decade ago famously announcing that he was leaving Westminster to spend more time on politics. Nearly 12 years on he hits the road again on January 11th when he takes the first of a series of An Evening with Tony Benn shows to the Braintree Theatre in Essex. He still seems to have plenty to say and no doubt plenty to write about.
We went to an incredibly smart dinner the other night (at someone else’s expense I’m delighted to say). It was a black-tie do. Country mansion, Michelin stars, five course banquet that kind of thing. I dug out my seldom worn dinner-jacket for the occasion. It looked incredibly suave. To complete the illusion I needed to add my most stylish black shoes. Sadly they had worn out long ago but, as luck would have it, were still to be found in residence at the bottom of my wardrobe. Polished to within an inch of their lives they looked the business even though the soles were completely worn through. Our table of six included a well known Tv presenter, one of the wealthiest women in the land , two concert pianists and us. We had a great time. I enjoyed talking to the multi-billionaire sitting on my left happy in the knowledge that she need never know that I was literally on my uppers.
It looks as though 2013 is going to be THE year of Doctor Who. As the much loved BBC sci-fi adventure prepares for its 50th anniversary in November there are likely to be plenty of opportunities to celebrate our national love of the programme.
This will include a special issue of 11 new first class stamps each depicting an actor who has played the Doctor since the Tardis first arrived on our screens in flickering black and white in 1963.
Back then the doctor was played by William Hartnell. Over the next 50 years in real time and countless millennia in his Time Lordly travels, he has regenerated in the form of Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davidson, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McCann (in a one-off TV film), Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant and Matt Smith.
The stamps are due for release in March and will be accompanied by an issue of second class stamps featuring some of the Doctor’s infamous intergalactic adversaries – The Daleks, the Cybermen, the Weeping Angels and the Ood. A special addition will be a collectors edition of five stamps portraying each of the four foes and the famous time-travelling police box, The Tardis.
Sadly there will be no zooming back in time to pick up these stamps at 1963 prices. They cost just 3d (in old money) back then.Today a first class stamp costs 60p.
Talking of time travelling… By a quirk of fate the very first episode of Doctor Who was broadcast on Saturday 23rd November 1963 and with impressive symmetry the 50th anniversary falls on a Saturday too. It’s so nice to get your co-ordinates right once in a while!
I’m not a Doctor Who obsessive myself but I know people who are. Inevitably my work as a journalist has also brought me into contact with several writers and actors who have impeccable Galafrean connections. I remember talking to actor Julian Bleach when he was cast as the mad and mutilated Davros – the evil half-man, half-Dalek and would-be destroyer of all that is good in universe. Just another role, he said, ideal to add to his growing CV alongside Frankenstein’s monster, and an evil circus master in Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood. Hadn’t he detected a theme developing?
Anyhow to cut a long story short I phoned Bleach one day and got his dad, Jim, on the phone. I asked for his thoughts on watching his son battling to exert a vicious tyrannical hold over the universe? Jim simply sighed and replied: “Oh we’re used to it.” He also told me that Julian’s first public performance was at nursery school when he gave an impressive rendition of When Father Painted the Parlour as part of the end of term entertainment. Somehow after that Davros just didn’t cut-it anymore in the behind the sofa stakes.
Meanwhile comedian and actor Toby Hadoke actually created a touring show based on his devotion to the programme. It was called Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf. Part memoir, part tribute and part stand-up, the production offered observations that were both gently satirical and strangely touching as Hadoke charted the Doctor’s on-screen triumphs and disasters in parallel with his own journey from child to man.
Talking about the show, he reminded me that Doctor Who – famous and popular once more – spent the years betwixt Sylvester McCoy and Christopher Ecclestone in the TV wilderness. Throughout that deeply unfashionable period Hadoke kept the faith. He told me that in the 1990s burglars broke into his flat and stole a broken guitar, a Bananarama single and half a jar of instant coffee but left his Doctor Who videos (now sought-after collectors items) untouched.
Just watched The Girl, the BBC film which tramples all over film director Alfred Hitchcock’s towering reputation. It found the master of suspense, played by Toby Jones, portrayed as a leering, impotent control freak bullying and sexually harassing his terrified leading lady Tippi Hedren (Sienna Miller) during the filming of The Birds and Marnie in the early 1960s.
Was Hitch really the sexual predator shown in this production? Difficult and obsessive I can believe. Mean-minded and petulant over his refusal to release Hedren from her contract, perhaps. Hedren herself has spoken of his manipulative behaviour. But the level of abuse implied in this HBO co-production beggars belief.
The drama, written by Gwyneth Hughes, was supposedly based on claims made by The Birds assistant director Jim Brown who died last year but Brown’s widow has already told British journalists that her late husband admired and respected Hitchcock and regarded him as a genius. She doesn’t believe he would ever have sullied the director’s name with such lurid allegations. So was The Girl an eye-opening drama full of true revelations or just another piece of cheap sensationalism?
Things can only get better! Christmas has been hijacked this year by a number of unexpected events, not least my 84-year-old father being diagnosed with cancer and having to spend nearly a week in hospital. First they built him up with steroids and then gave him a hefty dose of chemotherapy. He was kept him under observation for several days as they juggled the doses of the drugs that he’ll probably be taking for the rest of his life and then monitored the results.
Dad was finally allowed home at 6.00pm yesterday (Christmas Eve). This was the best gift possible for my 86-year-old mother, but will she/they cope? Incredibly independent, mentally sharp and decades younger in attitude than their octogenarian status would suggest, they have finally realised that they’re actually rather old and that physical frailty has, quite suddenly, become a serious problem in their lives. Until a little over a week ago they regarded the vagaries of advancing years as a mere inconvenience, at worst a nuisance.
Now they’ve been fast-tracked into the twilight zone, picked up by myriad systems – the NHS, Macmillan, district nurses and so on. All this has come as an almighty shock. A massive change of fortune triggered by dad’s discovery of a curious lump in his neck while shaving and the subsequent medical investigations that swung into action almost as soon as he had consulted his local GP. In the short-term poor dad faces at least five more sessions of chemo and a very uncertain future. We keep our fingers crossed!
On a much more trivial front we also suffered a bit of a domestic appliance disaster this morning when the new cooker that we took delivery of just three weeks ago decided to have a nervous breakdown. Having worked like a dream since installation, the main oven chose today of all days to start only operating on slow-cook. Our splendid turkey has now been taken to a friend’s house and is currently gently roasting in an oven half-a-mile from our dinner table. Yikes! At least we were able to laugh. It might be a complete pain but when we think of the terrible things that happen to others – the sick, the homeless, the poverty-stricken and those in distress – we know we are very lucky indeed.
Footnote: the turkey eventually returned from its travels wonderfully cooked.