How old are you?

A brief respite from flailing about the library stacks searching for a PhD topic came in the form of an impromptu trip to Ronnie’s on Monday night to see Buddy Greco, who may be 85, 105 or 45.  He has a strange timelessness that tells you he could be from anywhere at anytime, and that he may be older than half the 1890s books I tiresomely took home from the library, or as young as a Martin Amis paperback.  The thing is, with those who take great delight in what they do, you can’t really tell how old they are.

If you want to know how Buddy Greco appears, take Billy Crystal’s face and peculiar hairline that starts flourishing in a horizontal line half way along the top of his skull.  Add 20 years, and one tuxedo.  Finish with a coat of Florida sunshine and a creased, although not wrinkled face.  Add a piano and sort of sellotape him to it. Add a lady standing behind him (his fifth wife) in a heavily structured fitting sleeveless top studded with sequins and a face that looks like it was created in one of the better plastic surgery faculties of the West Coast, and folded vocal cords that competently replicate mid-career Peggy Lee.    Stir in a whack of musical prowess, a solid-as-gold popular song set list, and flamboyant and well-practised charming cheekiness and bake for 50 years.  Then serve on a Monday night in the dog days of summer, accompanied by a rare steak and two Camparis and prosecco (post Campari half bottle of red wine optional).

Now – the truth : Buddy Greco is 85.  I have to keep saying that, in order to convince myself it is true.  Buddy Greco is 85.  He is a phenomenal swinging piano player and singer who has been doing his job for 61 years.  He has the richness of voice and dexterity of performance of someone half his age and frankly, whatever he’s on – I want some of it.  He performed a two hour set with his four piece band and then gave in to the raucous standing ovation and came back to do another 20 minutes.  He was wonderful – concise with jokes, funny, smooth, swinging and just about everything you could possibly want for £34.50.  He has the seasoned grandeur of a performer who had to hone his craft in the unforigiving 1950s, when audiences were granted more luxurious choice and exhibited far more discerning tastes.  Astonishingly, this half-Spanish, half Italian American now resides in Southend-on-Sea and regularly referred to himself as an Essex boy.   Only this 85 year old could get away with calling himself a “boy” in any given capacity.

Sometimes, when you go to see the oldies perform, half the schaudenfraude thrill is wondering whether you are going to get to see them die.  You know what I mean – a breaking voice, a reach for that top note whilst raising the arm of a diamante-d sleeve and timber! some old girl who once had a song written for her by Duke Ellington topples off her stool at Ronnie Scott’s and it’s Good Night Las Vegas.  Or it’s the horrible feeling you get watching Liza Minnelli sing on film, when you think somewhere, something has gone ghastly, and foul and wrong, and she”s going to either internally combust or have a stroke.  Rare is the man who can listen to Minnelli warble “All The Single Ladies” on a full stomach and not feel queasy.

Ronnie’s toilets were a bastion of over-heated nuttiness.  I thought I was in a sauna.  There was a cluster of middle-aged ladies who all had the heated hand dryer machines on at the same time.   Outside on the London streets, it was the last blissfully mild evening before the rain started this week.  At Bar Italia they put the outside heaters on, in order to warm you whilst you sat at their newly designed tables.  Bar Italia has deservedly begun to sell itself more stridently in the last year, coating their tables with designs of recent-based London awards, interspersed with glossy prints of black and white photographs of some Italian chaps in the 1950s, like some kind of Godfather Pop Art.   It was the perfect place for a pre-dinner bicicletta (Campari and Prosecco) whilst watching the world go by.  Inside the club, the food was uncharacteristically good and the club packed to the rafters as usual, even on a Monday in the middle of the August holiday season – and even in a recession as mind-boggling as this one.  Mind you, it is a huge advantage to the club that by the time your food arrives it is too dark to see what you’re eating.  Could have been a 160million year old diplodocus shank masquerading as a rib eye steak for all I know.

August is the word I would use to describe Buddy Greco : venerable, majestic, in the eighth month (oh, all right DECADE) of his life, a little summery, a focus for admiration.  I loved what he did and the way in which he did it.  His vocal presentation was beautiful.  Unfortunately, he was only doing it for two nights, but what a reminder of what the club can do, and how it nearly made up for the unbelievably awful Gil Manly I saw there 6 weeks ago.  For a moment, time was suspended and spirits were raised and you can’t wish for more on a Monday night.  Although, intrinsic to this sense of timelessness was an illustration of how doing what you love keeps old father time very much on your side – no matter how old the songs are.  A real delight.

Please return to The London Bluebird if you have enjoyed this.  This blog is updated every Thursday.

“In 112 miles, turn left.”

By the time you read this, readers, I shall be far far away.  Well, not that far.  I’m just being dramatic.  But a bit far.  Like 100 miles – see? There – there! There I am! – crying in a layby on the edge of a road I thought was the A30 but was actually the A303.  There I am again, needing a wee on the B391 and feeling too scared to go into the nearby hostelry.  I am plunging into the southwest.  We townies hugely look forward to leaving London sometimes, especially when the city’s residents are bent on smashing everything to smithereens.  I love motoring, and am determined to make my trips to the southwest as pleasant as possible.  I do them bi-annually and it almost always ends in – if not tears – then me staring quizzically at a elderly pig in a field, which my SatNav has directed me to, thinking : and this is my destination?  It never quite works out.  The map begins as my friend and ends as my nemesis.  Illusions of stopping in a 16th century tea room for scones and cream on the way, or pulling in for a frothy pewter full of beer halfway down a swerving, sunny West Country B-road slip away, and suddenly  the reality is this : we’re lost on a main road in Wiltshire in the fog and rain, we’ve argued about the route, fallen out, I’ve told my husband that if he knows everything about maps then he can walk back to London, and we are very out of sorts indeed.  On arrival, we look like dogs who have been left out in the rain; unkempt, askew, wet, unloved, hungry.

Other members of my family do this routine journey without breaking a sweat, and look aghast at me when I say I got horribly lost, as if I was a simpleton.  Which I probably am.  It is true of the road and it is true of life – off the A roads, without my proper boundaries, wheeling through tumultuous country lanes and seeing nothing but green fields, I unravel.   Perspective is lost, and you cannot live on your senses navigating in a car through complicated rural hamlets.  You just cannot.  It’s that terribly hollow feeling of absolutely, undoubtedly knowing you are utterly powerless and haven’t the tiniest idea of where you are.  My thoughts, usually overwhelmingly sunny, turn melancholy.  That thought process is in this order:

1. What what would happen if someone tried to kill me?  No one would hear me scream, nor hear the scrape of Gap denim against wet mud when my body is pulled into its shallow grave.  I doubt the elderly pig would be much use. How easy it would be to bury me here, where I would be dug up in 400 years when someone jabs into my make up bag whilst digging for gold, and exhibits me homo sapiens, West Hampsteadius  in some appalling museum.  I could die here, couldn’t I?  I COULD DIE HERE.

2.  Why is there no decent radio in the countryside?  Must I listen to “kill-me-now” tragic music on Radio 3?   I have spent the last 50 miles having conversations with myself and singing the entire score of “Annie” the Musical.  Must I continue to do this?

3.  Sixpenny Handley.  Gussage St Michael.  Ebbesborne Wake. Why do English villages sound like 18th century novels?

4.  I could die here.

My destination (which I shall not tell you, lest you all turn up and mock my navigation skills) is in a valley where mobile phones are rendered powerless, where SatNavs go spastic and where GPS doesn’t work.  It’s like a 1970s horror film.  The elements rule, night falls, there are no lights and you dread breaking down.  The deep orange lights of the nearby satellite town are like seeing an oasis in a desert.   But if you end up there you’re going in totally the wrong direction.  The Romans built roads ludicrously straight.  The English didn’t really do this.  The roads wiggle and bend, and steer and trudge and ripple,  for no apparent reason.  This is because the English are naturally perverted.  Strangely, it is simple to leave this place, veer onto an A road and leap onto the M3 back to London.  It is difficult to get into, but easy to get out.

On my worst attempt, it was four hours.  On my last attempt, in the depths of winter, my car got a little agitated on single track, rural icy lanes.  “Someone’s following us!” said Mr Bluebird, in the way that people not used to the countryside do, steadfast in the belief that the fear of being killed in the middle of nowhere is about to become hideous reality, as an estate car jiggled along on the road behind us flashing its lights.

“AAAAAARGH!!!” I shrieked, calmly.   The skies seemed to close in and our wiggly lane seemed to get smaller.

I still pottered on, shoving my exhausted, ancient four wheel drive into second gear.  It protested forthwith, and responded by sliding slowly, and most unhelpfully, into a hedge.

“‘What are you doing?”  asked Mr Bluebird.

Trying to drive on ice, was the answer I ought to have given.  “Trying to not be killed,” was the answer that came out.  Still the car behind me is flashing it’s insolent little lights, its inhabitants probably laughing at how filthy our car was whilst preparing for murder and sharpening their axes.  It’s going to end here.  We’re going to be hacked to death by a Somerset madman.  It has come to this.  I thought of all that wasted life – the journeys untravelled, the books unread, that half chewed bar of Galaxy in the fridge that I would certainly have eaten had I realised I was going to die, and the embarrassment of being found dead – in 400 years – in mismatched undies.  Like the degenerate townies we were, we froze in fear of impending horrible-ness.  We slid, ungracefully, through a village called Butterbean Huddersfield (or similar) with our hearts hammering and the bile rising in our throats.

Sanctuary was offered by the miraculous recovery of one bar on my mobile phone reception.  “Please help – we’re lost,” I blubbered to our hosts who – with the calm and a tone of voice that suggested “You’re not lost AGAIN,” read through the remainder of our journey ; through the village whose name sounds like a type of cheese, onward, not left at the fork, no, right at the next fork…..Within moments, it seemed, the house loomed out of nothingness into a welcome blaze of light, and warmth and strong tea.  Once inside, of course, with the dark outer world seemingly a universe away, oh how we laughed about our 130 mile journey from London which ought to have been 110.   How we guffawed when we reminded ourselves how futile and close to tears we had felt lodged in that fat layby 50 miles from anywhere an hour before.    It was lovely to be deep in the countryside, once we had found it.

Before supper someone thrashed me at table tennis and I went to retire into a hot bath.  Over dinner we eat hot lamb and drink some dessert wine my brother collected from a supermarket 30 miles away which tastes of vanilla cake.  Exhausted, I flop onto the settee and adjust to the blacker-than-black skies, the sound of….well, nothing actually, and the dream of turning into a peaceful country bed.  My brother maintains that I would have found the right house sooner, or later, after all, despite our screaming.  Screaming?  Yes, he said, unless it was just me singing again – he thought he heard shouts, when he was following us and flashing headlights at us from his car directly behind us, offering to help us to our destination.

Please return to The London Bluebird if you have enjoyed this.  This blog is updated every Thursday.

A Riotous Message

This week an exotic species has raised itself up, jettisoned in from the deprived and blighted peripheries of our nation’s underclass and made themselves visible by robbing Dixons, JD Sports, breaking into stores and essentially producing the most radical mode of rioting for a generation.   Britain – as always – is fixated on the short term solution (people are like that here) rather than the long term. Much indignant reaction calls for a 1955 approach: stocks, plastic bullets, death sentences, lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key growling contempt and various other colourful ideas for how to control the feral.  Social networking sites are awash with sweeping , simplistic comments, which are always the last resort of the stupid. Consequences for actions is preoccupying victims and the societies against which the perpetrations have been carried out, many of whom withstood attacks in boroughs little equipped with money or power to re-establish themselves quickly.  In the last five days, moral law-abiding Britain has been brought face-to-face with its own brutal underclass and it doesn’t like it.  Not a jot.  Peculiarly, attempts to produce explanations for the macro/micro socio-economic conditions which resulted in a fear-free underclass within British society are too often met with attacks of leftist apologism.     Rioting in this country is as old as the hills, only this particular episode is so riddled with personal greed and some quite bizarre claims of human rights to materialism – “I deserve that Plasma TV, and yes, let’s steal some watches on Clapham High Street” say the rioters – that moral indignance has, for the moment, overtaken the importance of logical explanation and debate.  Rage is understandable, of course, and dangerous as it also carries the fear of vigilante reprisals which, naturally, our government is keen to repress.  But rage in the face of lawlessness doesn’t get things done.  The law does.

Of course, there is no doubt whatsoever that the rioting is uncivil, terrible, terrifying, indefensible and unacceptable.  That is a no brainer, but what is unsavoury is the nature of the discourse, and the keenness for politicians to take centre stage and bitch-slap each others’ faces with left/right blame.  Those at the margins of society sort of remain there, dim and invisible to the rest of us, threatening, isolated and disconnected from a political process that continues to allow urban decay to fester away, irrespective of whatever wing that political ethos springs from.  The papers have had a field day.  They love this sort of thing, which happens on average every 20-30 years in this country, because the British tabloid press are slags for the psychology of fear that they are dedicated to perpetuate, as opposed to common pragmatism or pro-activity.  If they have you fearful, they have you paralysed.  There is enough fear on the streets should you wish to go and look at some and take some i-phone snaps like everyone else, but The Daily Snail and the The Pun  has been projectile vomiting fear like there’s no tomorrow.  They would like to convince us there is no tomorrow, the country is sinking into a morass of sports shoes and stolen audio visual equipment , that the majority of people under the age of 20 are destroying society, we are being “swamped” (an extremely key word in the debate surrounding urban decay) by the feral animals in hoods etc etc etc (are you finding this as boring as I am?) whilst reaching further into the lexicon of grammatical poverty.  “National Lootery!” screamed The Pun yesterday, implying the whole nation is at it.

What our chroniclers, reporters and journalists owe to this country is to point out that a maximum of – say 2,000 young people in London and – on the absolute outside – another 2,000 people in the Midlands and the North West, have been involved in these riots. Three men in Birmingham have been killed.  The BBC reports that the Salford and Manchester riots featured “1,000” people, but I want to scare you a little bit, so let’s say 2,000 to be excessive.  That’s 4,000 in total.  Let’s take it to the outside and whack on another 1,000 – say, 5,000 people.  It sounds a lot, yet in Britain there are 7.5million people aged between 10 and 19.  Therefore, an absolute maximum of 0.065% of British teenagers have been involved in the riots in some form.  There has been no effort to point out this contextualisation.  This is one of the most peculiar and insidious aspects of the British tabloid press: its entrenched and somewhat spastic inability to engage in logical debate, logical debate being something only found in our four broadsheets, and to stealthily fan the flames of “Broken Britain” related paranoia into a spiral of helplessness.  These newspapers often do not encourage action of any kind.  It is like listening to a national groan, a long wailing of hopeless, constipated grievance.    The result is a population being herded into feelings of failure and futility.

However, in the last 24 hours, operation #RiotWombles and #RiotCleanup has brought about a rash of British cleaning, evoking images of blitz spirit and showing inhabitants of all our major cities that have been affected waving cups of tea about and harvesting broken glass and various items for recycling whilst clearing the streets away.  An estimated 1 million people in towns and cities have been involved in this voluntary clean-up operation.  That’s, for those of you interested in statistics, instead of de-contextualized reportage, is 1.43% of the British population.   That’s 22 brooms metaphorically pushed up the backside of every teenage looter or rioter bent on destruction.  See also http://www.operationcupoftea.com/ which currently has over a quarter of a million Facebook followers and which sells branded tea products, advocates to “make tea not war!” and advises the population to jolly well stay in and have a brew until the nasty business has subsided.  The profits of their branded tea products will go directly to those affected by the riots.  If aliens landed on Planet Earth and asked for a generic picture of the English nature, you’d have to be a depressive pessimist to show them pictures of the riots.  You’d direct them instantly towards Operation Cup of Tea’s homepage.  It tells you so much about English resilience, reaction, psychological regrouping and stoicism.  The Huffington Post picked up on Operation Cup of Tea yesterday evening so in the following few days the site is fully expected to go stratospheric.

Urban social decay, broken societies, the detritus of society bent on destruction appearing in the form of rabid hordes of arson-fixated looters first appeared in the 1850s, peaked very highly in the 1880s, 1930s and the late 1970s / early 1980s.   You’ll note a distinctive pattern in the economic temperature of these times; riots are recession friendly.  Like bailiffs.    As soon as the urban spaces were filled by the mid-nineteenth century, having been fuelled by the industrial revolution, an underclass of urban decay appeared as a characteristic of it.  Our fears of annihilation, degeneration and bankruptcy have to go somewhere, and for the last 150 years they’ve been directed towards the urban poor, some of which occasionally live up to our fears, often with, as what has happened in the last five days, a staggering audacity and absence of fear in the face of municipal authority which tends to disturb the mainstream population more than the physical action of robbery itself.  You’d be hard pushed to find a world city in the West that does not have vast economic disparity.  Yet when the facts are viewed coldly none of these societies are literally – or metaphorically – “broken”.    The painful alliteration of “Broken Britain” was invented by The Sun in 2002, and became a coarse concertina of a label, in which anything can be sandwiched that corresponds to present representations of social breakdown – teenage pregnancies, the absence of conventional parental units, social deprivation, crime, drug abuse and endemic violence.  It has been applied to so many things that it is almost rendered meaningless.   We are doing ourselves an enormous disservice if we allow our mental faculties to be “swamped” by the over-arching culture that tells us such baloney as “we are broken”.  The dialectics of despair inherent in the concept of being broken serve only to disenfranchise us from the possibility of realizing a different future.   In short, it socially and mentally disempowers us.  Conversely, “Broken Britain” implies that at some point it was “Unbroken” which doesn’t mean anything.  Because it wasn’t.

The strange thing  is that underclass, the vagrants, those that exist beyond our normal society, do not and cannot permeate the robust rich commercial and residential heartlands in the centre, i.e. they cannot and do not “swamp”.  What they do is smash and grab, violate and terrify randomly – and this is something the authorities constantly seek to curtail – but there is too much long-term fundamental structure and normality in the way we live to sustain further development, to “seep” into conventional societies values, aims and customs.  Urban societies co-exist but rarely combine their own socio-cultural codes.  Urban spaces are remarkably intricate like that ; we share spaces but are removed, and we see faces yet are strangers to the humans behind them. Many of us in London are no more than 1,000 yards from a crackhouse.  But that doesn’t mean we all go inside them.   There is no evidence in world history of a mob rule “breaking” through this invisible urban divide and making a fundamentally functional and law-abiding liberal democracy “broken” by usurping its social structure, magistrates, the legal system, police force and the common morality of the man on the street.   Political revolution with ballast, money and power behind it may end with the cutting off of a king’s head.  But riots do not manipulate in the same way.  Further reading (excellent reading) on this can be found in Peter Ackroyd’s London : The Biography in which its section on the London mob throughout the age illustrates the implausibility of a mob “breaking” into a city and literally obtaining it.

An overwhelming majority of people in this country are moral, law-abiding, understand the fundamentals of property, robbery and ownership, and go about their world with noble decency.  If that wasn’t the case, this would be Zimbabwe, or operate like the Wild West.  And it clearly doesn’t.   There is no excuse for riot and destruction and the rule of mob terror.  But at least what it does do is provide us with enough hysterical behaviour, thank you very much.  We don’t need the newspapers to do it for us too by failing to contextualize crime.  We are doing our civic duty if we robustly challenge the manner of reportage, read our history books and look coldly at statistics.  Statistics at the Home Office http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk feature year on year crime detection rates in England & Wales, separated by offence type.   A comparison of the figures of 2009-10 and 2010-11 show, for example, a 13.1% drop in reported criminal damage but a 4% rise in general theft offences.  You see?  Calm and statistical.  Very helpful.  Simples.  David Cameron’s speech yesterday has brought some much needed authority and rational reassurance to the country.  Decisive action and pragmatism work well in riot situations, but unfortunately he was three days too late, because he was too busy shoving focaccia down his neck in Tuscany, and his speechwriters brought together a series of strong phrases designed to try to get a Prime Minister who had lost his public back into trust.

The truth is:  this is an intrinsically decent, robust little island that can and will handle the various nonsenses and nutty things thrown at it.  There is danger inherent in the acceptance of the belief that the robbery and violence of a tiny minority heralds an ongoing downward turn of significant national momentum which will lead us into a Wellsian dystopia.  This is utterly bonkers.  There are urgent issues which must be addressed in various quarters of the country, but pessimism and hysteria is distinctly unhelpful, as ever neat, simplistic explanations for this week’s attacks.  Neither is this a time for naivety : it may take years for the social deprivation of some of Britain’s most down-at-heel areas to establish a different sort of destiny for their young.  My urge to you is : take a closer look.  If there is distaste for logical, and socially contextualized debate, in your newspaper, which renders you with increased feelings of isolation and hopelessness in contrast to crime statistics or the position of Britain, ask yourself why.  This is the same country that took to the streets brandishing brooms on Tuesday morning in London, the same country that has so many wonderful things and people which to be proud of, a gracious and decent country that must be championed, that is – in my humble opinion – a frankly fucking marvellous place –  and a country whose robust commercialism, culture, traditions and decencies are obvious to see to those who wish to see them.    The idea that the fabric of civilized society has disappeared and unravelled is one of the worst bum steers in popular culture in the last two centuries.  Travel around rural England, visit ordinary suburbs, and it’s all still there, alive and kicking, making a mockery of all us paranoid townies.   London will simply get on with it, host the Olympics, get Boris and his silly haircut waving a torch about and everyone will be blessed with a feeling of patriotism again.    Getting up and dusting ourselves off with characteristic tenacity and stoicism and without hysteria is what is in our blood; giving up on a decent country isn’t.    Most of us who are not from the edges of British society are magnificently lucky : unlike those that are from the lowest end of the social spectrum, we are not culturally impoverished, we have had the benefits of an education, we have functional parental units with no problems with hard drugs or welfare dependency.  We’ve had it all.   We are doing that education and those cultural benefits an enormous disservice if we become so philosophically bankrupt that we believe a tiny mob intent on riot have the requisite power to define this country, and take us down with them.

Please return to the London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog is updated every Thursday.

The Hour Has Come

As London slakes its thirst on the first of many summer spritzers, don’t you think our cool, balmy evenings suit the outrageously sexy The Hour on Beeb 2?  I do.  Essentially, The Hour had me with it’s era-faithful hairstyles, structured 1950s and air of noble broadcasting intent, and I even managed to get away from the fact that Dominic West has a neck that makes him look like a toad.  For Mr West is aware – exuberantly aware – that he is rather Hot Stuff.  He minces his eyebrows about quizzically, looks out of that oddly craggy face and leers out of the television as if to say “Ladies – Get a load of what I’ve got, you lucky lucky minxes.”  Strangely, I cannot find him attractive.  I think he’s borderline sinister, but in a way that suits The Hour.  His is the public face of this fictional news show set in the late 1950s and broadcast from the imitation White City building of “Lime Grove”.   In this week’s instalment he had Romola Garai in her vintage seamed stockings on what looked like an extremely uncomfortable settee.  In fact, Romola Garai’s flat in The Hour doesn’t so much look like a flat as a annex book lock-up round the back of Senate House Library.  Still, there was Mr D West, smirking and slurping his way through the scene in order to distract us from the dreary municipal – looking surroundings.  But we know, don’t we, that D West’s character is Bad News.  He’s probably going to break Romola Garai’s post war, rationed little heart by Week 5 and leave her weeping in a 1950s headscarf whilst nursing the very first English cappucino.

The show has thrown me into a vintage quandary.  I was so disappointed to miss the Vintage event at the South Bank last weekend (a repeat of what happened at Goodwood last August) as it would have been an ideal opportunity to whip out the gravy browning, roll my hair into bangs and find out just what ladies did in the 1950s to make their tits look like missiles.  Unfortunately, I wound up in another country.  The Hour is an education.  Everything is bolstered and strapped and contained within clean lines.  The millinery is presented in beautifully classic style.   Set against a Egypt-tastic back drop of the Suez Crisis, it also features a grand performance by Anna Chancellor in mannish white shirts, who gets to smoke fags, look rueful, drink whisky out of beige coffee cups and sidle about pouting and barking out historically-vital pieces of information, such as “They’ve set fire to the central square!”  “We need you to radio in on Thursday – all day, do you hear?”, “The French are getting testy.”

Somewhere there is a spy.  A great big fat one.  This being the late 1950s it has to be a Russian.  Or a Czech.  Or Lucille Ball.  The phrase that sums up the 1950s is more You Never Felt More Paranoid, rather than You Never Had It So Good, although D West was having it rather good last night. The furtive World Service BBC worker of no particular Eastern European heritage who has been creepily oozing around the sidelines since Episode 1 played more of a central role last night.  Well, a central stairwell role, anyway, as he lost a peculiar struggle in a stairwell last night with a man who weighs about 8 stone.  His opponent was Featherweight Freddy Lyons, sidekick to Romola’s character, Bel, who is clearly daft in love with her and doomed to misery, as no one can ever overawe the potency of D “Toad” West once he gets himself going (poop poop).  Featherweight Freddy’s grammar school integrity and almost-innocent, wide-eyed application to his craft is partnered with a habit of using newspaper cut outs of gruesome going’s on as wallpaper in the house where he lives with his father in an unknown London suburb.

Personally, my money for the spy is on Anna Chancellor.  All that hanging around the Lime Grove studios on Saturdays in red lipliner?  Surely that could only mean an assignation with one of Russia’s fruitiest cunning villains.  Last night’s episode featured a really bad excuse – apparently old Duckface was at work as she was “early for supper with a dreadful Great Aunt…” and had nothing better to do.  You don’t allow Great Aunts to take you out for supper.  It’s too terrifying.  Anyway, most of my great aunts are now unavailable to dine as they are dead.

Someone else who is dead is Terence Rattigan.  But you wouldn’t know that he is dead because he is basically everywhere.  In one of those eerie zeitgeist moments, something in the upper-middle class pinched emotions of Rattigan’s world has struck a very loud chord with an entirely new generation of theatregoers in the last 18 months.  For about twenty years there were no Rattigan plays on at all, now the West End is swimming with them.  The tide shows no sign of going out either.  BBC4 hopped on this 1950s bandwagon this week by chucking Benedict Cumberbatch in a three quarter length coat and sending him moodily strolling about Soho (Why?) whilst telling us the story of Rattigan’s life and career, from nerve-wrenching opening nights at The Criterion through to money, adulation and fame, on to hosting grand parties at his Ascot manor, and out the other side into drunkenness, Rattigan a forgotten, maligned and sick man.   This was excellently told.  I knew very little about Rattigan, beyond the genuinely superb plays, and the nicest thing about Cumberbatch is that he is very personable, i.e. not at all like an actor.   He is also very articulate and modest,i.e. not like an actor.  Benny Cumberbund and T Rattigan were both Harrow alumni so it was dead glam.

What was noticeable was the archive trawl.  Televised plays of Rattigan’s work from the 1970s and 1980s, complete with bendy sets and 1980s pale brown Habitat sofas masquerading as 1930s Brighton chaise longues, were a real revelation, and a horrible reminder that the BBC doesn’t film plays anymore to televise them, because they’re a bunch of lily-livered pussies who think we are all too stupid to want to watch them.   The recent Old Vic production of Rattigan’s Cause Celebre was brilliantly done on Radio 4 (complete with resplendent gin and tonic ice chinks) but no one would be brave enough to put it on the television.  Oh, and please PLEASE can we have a full viewing of the version of Cause Celebre they did show a slither of, which seemed to come from the back end of the 1980s?  With Helen Mirren swooning over the young David Morrissey as if her eyes would fall out?  Something for gentlemen in that scene, and something for the ladies.  Double bubble.

Benny Bumbercund was of course in the recent NT production of After the Dance which could also be called After the Dance I did Frankenstein and stuff and SO much in demand I went to do Sherlock.  A televised version of that after the interesting Rattigan documentary would have been delightful.  Instead, we got this hackneyed 1985-ish version of it, with terribly sound editing, absolutely no David Morrissey, and Anton Rodgers playing a dipsomaniac fruitloop (I preferred him in that thing set in Pinner called May to December where he dated a gym mistress).  If BBC4 isn’t prepared to televise plays I don’t know who is.   The universality of Rattigan’s work means they continue to have resonance and ballast to engage with the modern televisual audience.  Systematically, television undermines and underestimates our intelligence, until, eventually, we shall all be forced to watch Teletubbies on a 24 hour loop.  We have some of the best plays ever written and no one televises them.  Something tells me that back at the fictional Lime Grove studios of The Hour of the late 1950s not filming our own plays would have been unthinkable.