Gale`s View from Westminster - January 2021

GALE`S VIEW FROM WESTMINSTER - JANUARY 2021January. Back to School. For a day. Schools are safe? Yes, but no, but yes but no. School`s out! Except for a growing number of vulnerable children and the children of key workers. Confusion and indecision in the Department for Education leaves Teachers in despair. Parliament is recalled for the second time to approve school closures. Keir “Captain Hindsight” Starmer wants schools open…er, no…shut. 

The 2021 Summer GCSE and A level exams will definitely go ahead – or be cancelled.  Sorry, yes, cancelled. Insurrection on The Hill in Washington incited by Yesterday`s Man from  the White House. Impeachment for a second time and an ignominious end to The Tramp`s vile Presidency.  His unsubtle attempt to rig the vote in Georgia fails and the Republicans lose control of the US Senate . The Tramp`s Cheerleader, Mr. Farridge, condemns the rioters on Capitol Hill but not his hero . Genocide in China leads to divisions in the House of Commons as the Foreign Secretary falls short of demanded action. .Hospitals near breaking point. Covid 19 threatens to swamp the NHS. Many other urgent medical procedures cancelled and temporary morgues opened to receive the dead, After the Christmas logjam Cross-channel freight traffic is reduced to a trickle. A `bumpy` start to the vaccination programme says Minister Zahawi but the programme gathers momentum. A glimmer of light in the darkness but vaccine wars with the European Union as the Commission blunders into a diplomatic row. Her Maj (94) and Prince Philip (99) have their jabs in Windsor Castle and Prince Charles virtually launches his Terra Carta at the One Planet Summit in Paris in another attempt to save humankind   from itself.

On New Year`s day the Education Secretary, Gavin ` Pike` Williamson told us that there would be `no further delays` to schools re-opening and that children would be back at the start of term on  Monday January 4th which, to be fair, they were. For just one day.

There have been several `groups` coalescing the right wing of the Conservative Party for some time now.  First there was the “European Research  Group” that carried the flame for the purist Brexiteers, a body of parliamentarians that some would say brought down Theresa May, installed Mr. Johnson as their front man in Downing Street and came dangerously close to delivering Britain`s No Deal departure from the European Union.  Then there was the Northern Research Group made up of `Red Brick Wall` Members who, having won their seats from Labour in the 2019 landslide, have no wish to see Mr. Johnson turn them into One Term Only MPs and have already muttered darkly about future Leadership challenges.  And now we have the Covid Recovery Group chaired by a former Conservative Chief Whip, Mark Harper, and which bears more than a passing resemblance to the ERG.  To a significant and possibly unhealthy extent Downing Street and therefore Departments such as Education appear to be in thrall to the Covid Reform Group , many of whose members regard themselves as responsible for the elevation of  Mr. Johnson to is coveted position in the Premiership.

So while some of us were viewing with alarm the rising infection and death rates, noting the appearance, pre-Christmas, of the aggressive “Kent mutation” of the Covid virus, warning of the likely escalation of the spread of the disease post Christmas-mingling and calling for a delay in the return to school others were insisting that  “schools must go back”.

Had all of the ducks been in a row that might have been desirable.  First, schoolchildren have lost far too much education during the last twelve months, second the need for pastoral and social contact with teachers and friends is of significant importance in terms of mental health as well as learning  and third, in practical economic terms, many parents need their children to be in school in order to go to work themselves.  Unfortunately, far from being in a row, the ducks were waddling all over Mr. Williamson`s playground.  The idea that,  at just a couple of days` notice,  teachers and pupils could all get Covid-tested to eliminate those carrying the infection was a non-starter. Add to that the belated realisation that the “Kent Strain” posed a serious threat to a National Health Service already in danger of being overwhelmed and you could see the U-turn coming  without having to use binoculars

So on the morning of January the fourth the Prime Minister announced that “it is safe to return to the classroom” while Council leaders from the Shires were saying “no it`s not” and by the evening of the same day

we were told that children were “vectors for the virus” and that schools would have to close  until a `review` on February the fifteenth.  Except, of course, that schools did not close: they remain open, as during the first outbreak of Covid 19, for the children of key workers and those young people who are deemed to be vulnerable.

This time there are far more “Key worker and vulnerable” children and schools are accordingly finding it much harder, particularly without the Spring and Summer ability to work out of doors, to maintain social distancing. Additionally, many more staff have contracted the disease themselves and the task of trying to teach in-school with diminished staff numbers while at the same time providing on-line lessons for those at home is almost impossible. Somehow, however, they are coping – just.

Lockdown. Summer GCSE and A-level exams cancelled and grades to be awarded on assessment although exactly by whom and by what yardstick still has yet to be determined.  All but non-essential retail outlets closed. No Golf, No Tennis, No Pubs (except for take-away meals) No foreign holidays, No mixing with other households.  Back almost to square one and in winter.

There will always be the “Covidiots” who think that the rules are not made for them, of course, but as some are already finding out fines of up to £10,000  are beyond the reach of most pockets and not worth paying to participate in an organised snowball fight or a ` group ramble` or an illicit `rave`. While the civil libertarians scream `dictatorship` and the Covid-deniers continue to ignore the statistics, the infection and death rates continue to rise, hospitals are hovering right on the brink of collapse and NHS staff are working beyond the limits of exhaustion. By the month`s end our borders are at last,  if far too  belatedly, effectively closed and arrivals from overseas are heading for quarantine hotels at a cost to themselves of some £1500 for the duration of their stay. And the toll in human life, per capita one of the highest in the world, passes 100,000 and is still rising.

Although I am still unclear as to why it has been necessary to put the Minister for Business, Energy and IndustriaI strategy in charge of the rollout of UK`s vaccination programme I do not wish to rain on Nadhim Zahawi`s parade.  At the 31st of the month 8,378, 940 people in the UK had been vaccinated . That figure includes health and care workers and about two and a half million  people over 80 years of age; it is a higher proportion of the population than most countries in the world and  better than the countries of the European Union, of which more later, by a country mile. The Joint Council for vaccination and Immunology` which is independent of Government, set out the first four cohorts, by age, vulnerability and risk, to be vaccinated by 15th February and with a fortnight still to go we are on track to hit that target.

The start of the programme was, as the Health Secretary Matt Hancock acknowledged , “lumpy” and there remain significant lumps that have to be ironed out.  Because of the volatility of the Pfizer vaccine, the first available, “The system” licensed those permitted to administer the first shots. Extraordinarily that meant that, in East Kent for example, only one of three major hospitals was allowed to vaccinate NHS staff – meaning that at the start or at the end of perhaps an exhausting ten-hour shift key health workers then had to travel up to forty miles to receive the first of two jabs. I find it hard to believe that our hospitals to not have deep freezers and at least a couple of people capable of giving an injection but at the time of writing it is still the case that only two of our three hospitals are permitted to do the job and a significant  number of NHS staff still remain unvaccinated.  Why?

Again, because of the nature of the Pfizer product and also a disgraceful lack of willingness on the part of some GP practices to participate in this great national effort, Primary Care Networks embracing several practices under one dispensing roof were established. These were soon accused of dragging their feet but the reality of the situation has been that locally the GPs have been ramming the vaxccine into peopes` arms as fast as possible but utilising all of  the supply made available in just one day of each week.  The Government has trumpeted the establishment of `mega-centres`  capable of vaccinating hundreds or even thousands of people daily and even locations such as Lichfield Cathedral and  Epsom racecourse have been brought into play. These centres have, of course, to be supplied with the raw material and the suspicion is that this has been done at the expense of the smaller centres leaving gaping holes, as my Kent parliamentary colleagues  will testify, in a safety-net through which many, including the elderly who are housebound and cannot  travel , are still falling.

The approval of the less temperature -sensitive Oxford University / Astra Zeneca vaccine,  a triumph of Government-backed Academic and Industry co-operation,  has, however, begun to transform the landscape and the Government`s shrewd prudence in ordering massive quantities of both products is now starting  to yield impressive results. Doctors are permitted to transport the Oxford product from the hub to their own surgeries and housebound patients can begin to be treated in their own homes.

I have not been slow to  criticise, when necessary,  this administration and its handling of the pandemic to date .We have the highest Covid 19 death rate in the world because we were far too slow to lock down in the Spring, in the early days the supply of Personal Protective Equipment was woefully inadequate, we did not pay anything like enough attention to the protection of those in residential homes, the NHS has been short-staffed and over-stretched,  bureaucracy and red tape have been allowed to prevent qualified volunteers from contributing their services to the `war effort`, common sense has been sacrificed on the altar of doctrine  and obesity has played its part in contributing to the lethal cost of the disease.  We must, though, give credit where credit is due.

As Secretary of State for Health Matt Hancock has faced a truly daunting and harrowing task . How he has maintained his composure, his courtesy and his irrepressible good humour over so many months I do not know. He has, of course, had the support of a dedicated NHS family that at every level has risked and sacrificed life and worked to beyond the extra mile to save lives and he has been blessed with a team led by Kate Bingham that, on the vaccination front, have made the right development and acquisition decisions while so many others in high office have been making mistakes or have found themselves distracted by Brexit considerations.  If we can now see a glimmer of light at the end of this tunnel and if Spring might just be in the air then that is due to the effort , notwithstanding the `teething problems`,  to get as many people as possible vaccinated as fast as possible, to relieve the pressure on our hospitals and staff, to get people back to work and back to schools to enable us to re-establish some sense of normality and to start to re-build shattered businesses and the economy.

Much of which is in sharp contrast to what has been happening in the European Union from which we have just departed.

Before the EU Referendum I described the Brussels Regime as arrogant, over-weening, bureaucratic and corrupt. I omitted to mention that it is, as has been demonstrated recently ,also  incompetent.

It is no secret that, even as a Euro-sceptic, I voted to remain within the European Union.  I did so because for all of my misgivings I believed  that in the interests of our economy and of our national and international security we were  better off seeking to exert influence from within rather than , as a now  modest presence on a large world stage, sacrificing the undoubted benefits of the Common Market and relying even upon our own diminished defence capability and membership of NATO for our protection in an increasingly dangerous world.  I hold entirely to that view.

That said, it has been made very clear that we were right to eschew the prospect of a European Foreign Policy and a European Defence Force as the prerequisites of the realisation of a desire in some quarters  to create a United States of Europe.  Co-operation over matters of mutual and global interest – climate change and the environment for example – is one thing but Europe has demonstrated, not just over the past ten days but over the past ten months, that when national survival is at stake common purpose goes out of the window.

Notwithstanding the efforts of the European Health Commissioner , Stella Kyriakides, to achieve some co-ordination in the fight against the Coronavirus pandemic the EU approach has been disjointed, chaotic and, at a supra-national level miserably ineffective. From the earliest outbreak in Italy to the most recent shambolic response of the Commission that has resulted in an unforgivable diplomatic gaffe it has been “every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost”. While the attempt by French President M. Macron to dangerously and irresponsibly try  to undermine belief in the efficacy of the Oxford vaccine at the same time that the European Commission was seeking to lay contractual claim to suppled of the drug from the manufacturers, Astra Zenica, was crass and politically inept. And the Commission`s own initiative, which would have destabilised the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic was a disaster in the making.  As a diplomatically experienced friend of mine commented, in any organisation other than the European Commission heads would have rolled by dawn.

Whether this was a dismal,  low-level and possibly freelance initiative to try to mask the failings of an EU vaccination programme that is way behind the curve, has failed in timely fashion to approve and order vaccines and has led to the suspension, in some countries of the entire life-saving programme,  is as yet unclear. What we do know is that in an attempt to drive a coach and horses through the protocols, in a manner that makes Mr. Johnson`s threat to tear up an international Treaty via the Internal Markets Bill look positively honest, The European Commission announced through a Press Release that it proposed to ban the export of vaccines from Ireland to The Province, thus effectively re-establishing the `hard border` that EU negotiators on both sides has spent months in painstaking determination to avoid. The Irish President, Micheal Martin, who first heard of this proposal through the Press Release, was, to say the least, not best pleased and Michel Barnier, the EU`s Chef Brexit negotiator, was also quick to proclaim the folly of the decision.  The Commission President, Ursula von Der Leyen, found herself in full and abject retreat on behalf of her Commission colleagues leaving the United Kingdom standing firmly on top of the moral high ground. It even allowed the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (“CDL” as he likes to be called ) to magnanimously offer to try to assist the EU with their vaccine supplies and a rollout programme in which we now, of course, have some experience.

If this leads to a shift in the relationship between the UK and the EU and the ironing out of some of the more absurd by-products of our Trade and Relationship agreements then that will be a very good thing. What is vital, though, is that not just the EU ( including of course the UK citizens living within EU countries) and the UK but the whole world is protected against Covid 19 by all of the available vaccines as soon as possible. Only then will we literally be able to breathe freely again.

The Forty-Fifth Presidency of the United States of America ended with the incumbent enjoying the dubious distinction of being the only US Commander-in-Chief to face the process of impeachment twice.  It was never going to be a pretty sight. The Tramp is a bad loser. But he is a loser. His efforts to cast doubts upon the conduct of the Presidential election, upon the probity of the many dedicated officials responsible for the management of that endeavour and, of course, upon the whole democratic process and the very result of the election itself were shameful. They marked down the holder of one of the highest and most prestigious offices in the world as a man mean of spirit, low in intellect, spiteful, petty, spoilt and deeply dishonest. If Donald Trump`s legacy is to go down in the history of America as that Nation`s worst President ever than that legacy will have been be well-earned. 

The Tramp`s last stand, which precipitated the second vote by the House of Representatives for impeachment, was, of course, his rousing of the rabble and the incitement of that mob to storm The Capitol, to seek to intimidate its democratically elected occupants and to desecrate its sanctuaries and its hallowed halls. That mob, fired up by the lies and hatred propagated by their `Leader`, sparked images that winged swiftly around the world, brought shame upon a proud Nation and gave succour to the enemies of free speech and liberty globally. Arnold Schwarzenegger, sometime Governor of California, described the carnage as “America`s Kristallnacht”.  The Tramp left the White House not with a bang  but with a self -aggrandising, self pitying whine. Not surprising that as he flew South in Airforce One for the last time even his Vice-President preferred to attend the inauguration of the Forty Sixth President, Joe Biden and his chosen Vice-President, rather than stay to say farewell to Yesterday`s Man. There are, no doubt, some who are still prepared to admit that they voted for this man but they must be a diminishing and sad band of forlorn brothers.

Fortress Washington, devoid of most visitors and safeguarded belatedly by hundreds of armed troops presented a strange and surreal backdrop for an inauguration ceremony that was socially distanced in many more ways than one.  But after the death and mayhem of the earlier vents upon Capitol Hill the event bore its own relatively and unusually quiet dignity and the job was done.  In his inaugural address President Biden said:

“Recent weeks and months have taught us a painful lesson. There is truth and there are lies. Lies told for power and profit. And each of us has a duty to defend the truth and to defeat the lies.

We face an attack on our democracy and upon truth, a raging virus, a stinging inequity, systemic racism, a climate in crisis, America`s place in the world. Any one of these would be enough to challenge us in profound ways. But the fact is that we face them all at once, presenting this nation with one of the greatest responsibilities we`ve had. 

So with purpose and resolve we turn to those tasks of our time, sustained by faith, driven by conviction and devoted to one another and the country that we love.

I pledge this to you. I will be a President for all Americans. And I promise you I will fight for those who did not  support me as for those who did”.

Facing a scatted and deeply divided nation Sleepy Joe faces a Herculean task. Those of us who do not share his socialist policies will of course have our own partisan concerns about the direction in which the Biden/Harris administration may yet take our most formidable ally but he has set off on the right foot down the right path and we have to wish him well in the best interests of humankind.

Meanwhile, back in the squalid world of lies for power and profit there lurks Vladimir “The Poisoner” Putin.

Do you remember Imre Nagy? Or Aleksander Dubcek?  The Neo-Soviet apparatchiks whose company I was until recently required to share in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe do not like to be reminded of these names . Neither are they enamoured of Alexei Navalny, whose raw political courage has exposed the` Life-President` of the Russian Federation for the murderous, corrupt, weak, avaricious thief that he actually is.  Having survived an attempted assassination by Novichok , saved only through his hospital treatment and recuperation in Germany, Mr. Navalny has returned to Russia to face arrest, imprisonment and trial on trumped up `breach of parole` charges. It is all too likely that, while a `free` world looks on, Alexei Navalny will go the way of Nagy and Dubcek but tens of thousands of ordinary Russian people from Vladivostok to Moscow suggest that it is possible that ,as with Jan Palach in Czechoslovakia, Navalny has lighted a flame of popular outrage that  Comrade Putin may find hard if not impossible to extinguish.

In other news The Prime Minister`s  `over my dead body` border down the Irish Sea is reportedly leading to the predicted shortages on the supermarket shelves of Belfast, sub-standard food parcels delivered in place of free school meals have in turn been replaced with the vouchers that cynics claim will then be spent on beer and cigarettes and  Storm Christoph has heaped woe upon misery by adding floods to pestilence and death. Former Prime Minister Theresa May has accused Mayor Boris of  abandoning the nation`s moral compass. The present Prime Minister has woken up to the fact that his actions may have placed the very fabric of the United Kingdom at risk and is mounting a rear guard action to try to save the Union. Simultaneously The Wee Lassie in the Tin Hat,  Nicola Sturgeon, is promising, in the run-up to Scottish Parliamentary elections , a Catalan-style unauthorised referendum to make a unilateral case for independence. `Swampy`, the eco-warrior has surfaced again or to be more exact has burrowed underground in Euston Square in an attempt with fellow campaigners to stop the inexorable construction of the High Speed 2 railway line. `Lord` David Frost, fresh from negotiating the UK`s side of the Brexit Trade Agreement, has been quietly dumped as Downing Street`s preferred choice for National Security Adviser and the job has been given to  Sir Stephen Lovegrove, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Defence  and a man who has impeccable qualifications for the job. Do we detect the hand of the grown-up Dan Rosenfield, Mayor Boris`s replacement for Dominic Cummings  as Downing Street Chief of Staff, in this shrewd appointment? I suspect we do.

On a brighter note, Sir Ben Ainslie, the `Comeback Kid` of Formula One Sailing has piloted his racing yacht bRITAnnia  (“Rita”)  into the final of the PRADA cup in New Zealand. The winner then has the right to challenge the Kiwis for the Americas Cup – the trophy that Sir Ben really wants to bring back home. We`re rooting for you, Ben.

Coronavirus lockdown logic. You can go fishing but you cannot play golf.  Two cups of tea drunk in the open air constitutes `an illegal picnic`. The Prime Minister can ride his bicycle in circles around St James` Park but not, apparently, the seven miles to the East End and back. (Although to be fair he does make the rules!)

The Church of St Marylebone in London has increased its congregation for six people to over one hundred. How? The Reverend Canon Stephen Evans has diched the 1980s Modern language version of the Book of Common Prayer and returned to the `rich liturgical language` of the version that had served the church so well for the best part of five hundred years.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan sent £1.5 million of London`s taxpayers money up in smoke during a politically New Year`s correct fireworks display for no live audience. Is there a Mayoral  election in the offing?

Watch out for squawks of protest. Defra is planning to cull wild parakeets. Known as the `grey squirrels of the sky` there now an estimated 31,000 of the non-native birds flying around the woods of Britain.

The 1970`s hit movie Grease, screened on BBC Television as part of its Christmas offering, has been condemned by modern audiences as `Racist, sexist, homophobic and slut-shaming` as well as being `overly white`. If the movie, released with a PG certificate in 1978, was a statue it would no doubt be in line for demolition by yjr thought police.

Sir Michael “War Horse” Morpurgo has removed the `anti-semitic` Merchant of Venice from his Children`s Book of the Tales of Shakespeare. No qhality of mercy for William Shakespeare then.

Ofcom, the media regulator, has expanded its definitions of `hate speech`. Originally covering four themes, Race, Sex, Religion and Nationality it now embraces fourteen categories having been `required to make changes` that leave comedians and those with an interest in freedom of speech wondering what, exactly. Is left to take the mickey out of,

That man whose Euro-fox has been shot has re-branded his fringe political movement as “Reform UK”. The rebel withot a cause, Mr. Farridge, now wants to tilt at the Covid 19 Lockdown windmill.Marginally more topical than campaigning for “Yesterday`s Man” and the ex-President of the United States I suppose.

Is it the end of the line for the steam train? The Heritage Railways Association is concerned that a lack of politically unacceptable coal, could mean that lovingly preserved locomotives could hit the buffers.

Eddie Izzard, the cross-dressing `celebrity` has aspirations to become a Labour MP. That could pose difficulties for a future Speaker. The Hon. Geentleman? The Hon. Lady? The Hon. Person?

Meghan Markle, aka The Duchess of Sussex, was supposed to be going to take UK citizenship. That boat has been missed. During her residency in Californis the deadline for naturalisation has now passed. Meanwhile the ex-Royal couple have logged off from their ten million followers and  abandoned social media because of a surfeit of abusive posts. Trolling is deeply unattractive but those who live by yhe tweet do tend to die by the tweet.

Advice for the Prime Minister from the broadcaster and Labour Peer Joan Bakewell. “If you are going to make a serious statement brush your hair”. Is that a Wig or a Tory?

The Muslim parents of Uxbridge High School girl, Gihan Hanus, have been threatened with court action for keeping their daughter away from school. She was sent home because her skirt was…..too long! 

Unintended ` benefits` of leaving the European Union..  The War Graves Commission is having to make staff in Europe redundant .  With the ending of the Pet Passport Scheme individual permits will be required for each visit – at a cost of about £100 per throw on top of EU veterinary fees for return inspections and treatment. And Dutch border guards are now confiscating ham sandwiches carried by British visitors because the importing of meat, fruit, vegetables and fish are not permitted from third countries under EU rules. As Mynheer Plod says “Welcome to Brexit”.

Mr William Rees Mogg, Leader of the House of Commons and Member of Parliament for the nineteenth century, has proclaimed that the fish around our shores are now happier “because they are British fish”. Britain`s fishermen have described this as “cos wallop”.

Another “benefit” of Brexit: P&O are now having to run “ghost “ ferries on the short sea  route between Dover and  Calais because freight drivers are being delayed by red tape.

Kyah Jordon has become the first person in the UK to be convicted of drink-driving an E-scooter. The 22-year-old reveller who had never ridden one before managed to drive the vehicle through three sets of red traffic lights on the Isle of Wight.

The Salford Broadcasting Corporation has apologised for describing the music producer and convicted murderer Phil Spector as `talented but flawed. Seems to me that that was an accurate descriotion but the Woke Corporation says that this `did not meet our editorial standards`. His former wife Ronnie, not bound by such editorial controls, described Spector as “a brilliant producer and a lousy husband”.

Leicester University is said to be dropping its courses in Medieval English, which includes of course the works of Chaucer,in favour of a `decolinised curriculum` that ebraces Race, Gener and Diversity that reflects “students` own interests and enthusiasms”.  And we always thought that Chaucer took a fairly keen interest in drinking and sex.

Meanwhile the University of York has taken against the Three Wise Monkeys as an `oppressive racial stereotype` and exorcised the  little primates from a  poster advertising an Art History Conference. Which seems perverse as the three wee treated with reverence in their era and country of origin, Seventeenth century Japan.

The Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers , founded in 1942,  (Motto: Arte et Marte or By skill and By Fighting ) are considering dropping the use of the rank of Craftsman, which is the REME`s equivalent of Private, `because it is too gender-specific`. The suggested alternative is “Technician”.  Have the  Riflemen now got the Guardsmen in their sights?

Disney is now seeking to  deny childrenthe right to watch the  because it displays `racial stereotypes`. 1953 Cartoon version of Peter Pan

A British  fashion house has worked out that it is cheaper to burn  garments  unsold in the EU than to return them to the United Kingdom. By the time Export Clearance, Importcharges and import VAT have been paid the goods are likely to be worthless.  And British shoppers ordering clotjes online from the EU report paying import charges of £82 on a £3200 coat , for example, which now includes VAT at 20% ples a `handling fee` for the additional paperwork.

The G7 summit, planned to be held in Cornwall in the summer, clashes with The Trooping of the Colour, The Annual gathering of holders of the Order of the Garter and Prince Philip`s 100th birthday.  Dis Mayor vBoris consult Her Maj before he announced his English Riviera extravaganza?

And “The Beast”, the armoured vehicle normally used to transport the President of the United States of America, will not be travelling to Carbis Bay, the location of the jamboree. The Cornish roads are too narrow so Sleepy Joe will be flying into Newquay in Air Force One and then taking Marine One, the Presidential chopper, down to the beach.

Gerry Marsden (78) was the front man for the `Merseybeat` band Gerry and the Pacemakers that, in 1963, sent its first three sinle records to Number One in the UK Hit Parade. Gerry tried his fist at boxing but after a particularly bruisinfg bout against future bantamweight champion Alan Rudkin he picked up the microphone and performed alongside The Beatles at Liverpool`s Cavern and Casbah clubs. A contract with Brian Epstein and “How do you do it”, “I like it” and “You`ll Never Walk Alone”, which becale the anthem of the Liverpool Football Club, followed . He filmed “Ferry `Cross the Mersey” in 1964 and appeared in London`s West End in “Charlie Girl” for three years. Gerry Marsden was awarded the MBE in 2002.

William Link (87) was the producer and writer behind the television shows “Murder, she wrote” starring Angela Lansbury and “Columbo” which, starring Peter Falk ran for seven years between 1972 and 1979

Ronald Atkins (104) was the longest-lived person to have sat in the House of Commons. The left-wing Labour Member for Preston North was a nuclear disarmer and champion of the military aircraft industry simultaneously. A thorn in the sides of both Harold Wilson and James Callaghan he was first elected in 1966, lost in 1970 and was re-elected with a majority of 255. He then lost the seat to the Tory Robert Atkins by 29 votes after two recounts. He remained a member of Preston Council until he was 93.

Geoff Stephens (86) was the 60s/70s Singer/Songwriter who had hits with “Tell me When” (1964) Dave Berry`s “The Crying Game”(1964) “Winchester Cathedral” (1966), “A Kind of Hush” which made the US charts and was top of the UK Charts when covered by Herman`s Hermits in 1967. He received his Ivor Novello Award in 2000

Albert Roux (85) was the chef whose La Gavroche restaurant received its first UK Michelin star in 1974. He  returned to Britain With his brother Michel in 1967 after an earlier spell in 1952 in Nancy Astor`s   kitchen and with the French Embassy in London. . In 1976 b he took over the Waterside Inn in Bray and earned his third Michelin star in 1982.  Roux in Parliament Square followed as did the TV series Home With the Roux Brothers He received the OBE in 2002 and was made a Chevalier de Legion D`Honneur in 2005.

Tommy “The Doc” Docherty ( 92) played soccer for Preston, Arsenal and Chelsea before his thirty to years as a coach during which time his Manchester United Team  beat Liverpool in the FA Cup Final in 1977

Eleanor ` The Spitfire Woman` Wadsworth (103) was one of a team of 166 ladies who delivered new Spitfire aircraft from the factory to wartime airfields.  The Air Transport Auxillary pilot who had previously been an architect`s assistant flew solo after just twelve hours training and clocked up 590 hours and 430 solo flights during her wartime career.

Gerry Cottle (75) has succumbed to Covid 19.  He was born in Carshalton in Surrey and as a fifteen year old he ran away from home to join the circus. During forty years in the ring he worked as a juggler, unicyclist and clown before founding his own show, which became the largest in the world, in 1970  with his wife Betty and Brian Austen. He pioneered the replacement of performing animals “razzmatazz, daredevil acts and magic”, At the peak of his career his circus required 150 trucks to transport and performed three shows daily in a Big Top that seated 1,500 people.

Eve Branson (96) was a former West End show dancer and Air Hostess, She became the youngest of C C Cochrane`s ` young ladies`and, disguised as a man, helped to train glider pilots during the war. She toured with ENSA as a dancer and then became an air hostess with the embryonic BOAC  working in decommissioned Lancaster bombers. She is reputed to have funded, with £100, her son Richard`s Virgin Records which metamorphosed into today`s Virgin Atlantic empire.

Christopher Little (79) who in 1995, `discovered` a 29 year old Joanne Rowling after his office manager rescued the manuscript of Harry Potter and the Philosopher`s  Stone from the waste bin. The book was turned down many times before Bloomsbury agreed to take it as a favour and bought the UK and Commonwealth rights for an advance of £2,500.  In 1998  Little sold the US rights for $105,000 and the film rights for $1.8 million.   JK Rowling`s fortune is now estimated at £795 million.  Little also represented Darren Shan (“Cirque du Freak”) and Kate Mc Cann  (Madeline) and General Sir Mike Jackson.

Barbara Shelley (88) was Hammer Horror`s leading lady on celluloid in the 1960s. In 1964 she played opposite Christopher Lee in “Dracula Prince of Darkness” , then in “Rasputin the Mad Monk” and “”Quatermass and the Pit”. She also played opposite George Sanders in the film version of Joh Wyndham`s “The Midwich Cuckoos” re-titled “The Village of the Damned”. On stage she toured with the Royal Shakespeare Company and on television she appeared in Danger Man, The Saint , Hadleigh and Doctor Who.

Phil Spector ( 81) was the `60s music producer who creted the “wall of Sound” that transformed the pop music of the era. He made bans such as the Ronettes (“Be My Baby” ,The Crystals (“Da Do Ron Ron”)  , The Righteous Brothers (“You`ve lost that lovin` feeliin`”) and perhaps most famously Ike and Tins Turner`s “River Deep, Mountain High” before moving on to o work, in the `70`s, with The Beatles ( “Imagine” and “My Sweet Lord”). Spector, a musical genius, also talked of “the devils inside that fight me”. In 2007 he was convicted of the murder of a nightclub hostess, Lana Clarkson,  and ended his days in a Californian prison.

Dame Margaret Weston (94) was the first woman to be appointed to lead a national Museum when she became Director of London`s Sciance Museum in 1971. As an electrical engineer she was recruited from GEC to create an electrical engineering gallery  and then worked on the Children`s Gallery before becoming Keeper of the Department of Museum Services. She laid the foundations of the Science Museum Group  which embraces the Yprk Railway Museum ,and She was a Fellow of the Museums Association, An Honorary Fellow of Newnham College Cambridge and a Fellow of the Science Museum. The National Science and Media Museum in Bradford.

Larry King (87) was the former host of CNN`s “Larry King Live” programme. Ross Peroot, the Texan billionaire, announced his Presidential candidacy on the show in 1992 and Marlon Brando gave King his first interview in twenty years .Margaret Thatcher was interviewed during her “book signing” tour of America and it is believed that during Kin`s reign he may have interviewed as many as thirty thousand people, including six Presidents.

Larry King adopted what in Britain would be known as the `Jimmy Young` softball approach to his guests, believing that this was more revealing than the inquisitorial style of interviewing. He is survived by the eighth of his wives.

Charlotte Cornwell (71) played with the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and the Nationa lTheatre but will be best remembered for the 70s BAFTA Award winning TV Series, Rock Follies in which she starred with Rula Lenska and Julie Covington.

And finally…
Merlin, Queen of the seven resident Ravens, has gone missing from the Tower of London. Legend has it that if the number drops below six the Kingdom will fall. Time for the Yeoman Warder and Ravenmaster to get to work as the nesting season approaches.

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