Gale's Westminster View – May 2021

GALE'S WESTMINSTER VIEW – MAY 2021May. The `Indian mutation` of the Coronavirus hits Britain and throws the June 21st `back to normal` deadline into doubt Fish Wars break out between France and Britain in the Channel Islands and a gunboat is sent.

The `who paid for the re-decoration of the Downing Street Flat row rumbles on. A massive manhunt follows the murder of a much-loved PCSO , Julia Jones, while out walking her dog in Kent. `Super Thursday`, the biggest test of voting opinion since the 2019 General Election, leaves a trail of Labour wreckage and a bemused leader of the Opposition in its wake confounding those that though that even `Non-Stick` Johnson might have some difficulty in riding out the storms swirling around his administration. Preparations for the G7 summit, to be hosted by the UK in Cornwall, proceed apace. The Government publishes its` traffic- light` selection of countries that are `green` to visit and countries that are `red` and off-limits .Amongst the useful `can-go` destinations is Ascension Island, home to some British and US service personnel and about half of the world`s entire population of Sooty Terns. (There was so little to do that after just three days marooned on this South Atlantic outpost I knew just about all of the birds by name!)  There is a low-key State Opening of Parliament and a lengthy menu of legislation proposed for the forthcoming session. Proposals for a Planning Bill that will make it even easier for developers to smother the Garden of England in over-priced boxes are likely to hit rough water if they ever get launched.

The BBC finds itself very much on the back foot after Lord Dyson produces an excoriating report of Auntie`s attempts to cover up the subterfuge that lay behind Martin Bashir`s now infamous Panorama interview with the late Diana, Princess of Wales. International news is dominated by the internecine warfare between Palestine and Israel. `Genocide` is an over-used word and it is not often that two sides in a conflict appear to be hell-bent on the total extermination of each other but the Israeli air attacks upon Gaza and the militants` rocket attacks upon Israel give a whole new meaning to `women and children first`.

The hijacking, on the orders of Alexander Lukashenko the dictator of Belarus, of a Ryanair plane  bound from Athens for Vilnius in Lithuania , its forced landing in Minsk and the abduction and incarceration of a Belarussian dissident, Roman Protasevich, and his girlfriend have set alarm bells ringing across the globe. Given `Ras` Putin`s support for this maverick regime – he does like backing unspeakable dictators does he not? – the world has moved another significant step towards serious conflict.

The UK is desperate to unveil a trade deal with  Australia at the G7 summit. So desperate that  it seems to some that The Trussette, Secretary of State for International Trade, is prepared to sacrifice the livelihoods of British Farmers on the altar of expediency. `Great British Railways` has been launched by the Department for Transport to try to kick some sense into the botched privatisation of British Rail and to co-ordinate the operations once again. All we need now is late trains, stale sandwiches  and a few strikes and it will be just like old times. Boy David Cameron and `Gollum` Cummings have both spent some time before Commons Select Committees this month and between them have generated some predictable but unattractive headlines .

The Home Secretary`s attempts to control the cross-Channel flow of  migrants have not achieved stunning success. In the first four months of this year double the number of illegally- trafficked human beings have survived the hazardous rubber boat crossing and arrived on the shores of Kent. There has been a Cup Final played before live spectators this month and a Eurovision Song contest that, shall we be generous and say , “Britain did not win.”

And Carrie Symonds has quietly and secretly become Mrs. Boris Johnson. We wish thecouple the happiness that, after the year that they have had to endure together, they deserve.

Hartlepool is the County Durham port town whose natives once hanged (or not) a shipwrecked monkey during the Napoleonic wars in the mistaken belief that the poor creature, whose gibberish they could not of course understand, was a French spy. It was also the parliamentary seat of one Peter Mandelson, formerly “The Legacy” Blair`s puppeteer and now Lord Foy, unsolicited adviser to the Labour Front Bench. It has now entered the history books as the constituency that fell, for the first time since its creation from the old Hartlepools in 1974, to the Conservative Party on `Super Thursday` at the beginning of the month. Ms Jill Mortimer now represents Hartlepool in the House of Commons with a Conservative majority of 6,940.

Given the turmoil surrounding the Prime Minister in the form of “Wallpapergate”, the sorry saga of “who paid for what and was it legal?”,  during the refurbishment of the flat above Number 11 Downing Street in which the Prime Minister, his fiancée and their dog, Dilyn, have been living , and with all of the attendant hostile  publicity, a Leader of the Opposition might have hoped for a rather different result in the by-election. Indeed, taking into account accusations of `cronyism` in the award of Government contracts during the pandemic and misjudgements of the timings of not one but several lockdowns, the belated departure under a thundercloud of  the Man From Barnard Castle, his Political Adviser, together with  the unhelpful reappearance of Man David on the scene as a former Prime Minister accused of abusing his position and `little black phone book` to curry favours on behalf of a failing private business , Sir Keir Starmer might have felt that all of his Sundays had come at once.  Indeed, his relentless pursuit of the tired “Tory sleaze” mantra suggests that he believed that playing the man and not the ball was the sure-fire way to win the day. He was wrong.

When it comes to “non-stickability” it seems that Mayor Boris, which is how `The Man on the Zipwire` will always be remembered, leaves The Tramp at the starting gate. True, there were some grumblings in the shires and the emergence of a re-vitalised Green Party that cost us some County seats because of the MHCLG`s dunderheaded approach to the urbanisation of rural England but `Up North` in the land of the Red Wall seats what mattered was the vaccination programme. And it is, unquestionably, working.

So in addition to Hartlepool the Conservative Party won metropolitan mayoralties  and Council seats in Labour heartlands and even down south  Mayor `No-Khan-Do` of London had a nasty fright and discovered that his re-election was not quite the cakewalk that he had anticipated. We are, though, stuck with the man for the next three years (usually four but the election was postponed because of the pandemic) and that may well prove to be enough time for the Overlord of the New City Hall to bring England`s capital to a grinding halt.

If you were the Leader of the Opposition with the Dogs of Corbyn snapping at your heels and facing a personal poll rating worse than Red Jerry`s  what would you do under these dire circumstances ?  You would `take full responsibility for the defeat` of course – and hurl your Party Chairman and Campaign Organiser upon your sword!   Starmer`s decision to fight to the last drop of somebody else`s blood by sacking Angela Rayner caused uproar – and not only on the  Left of the Labour Party. It made even those on the Government benches who may once have had some vestige of regard for `Captain Hindsight` wince. The man who appeared to go the extra mile to lose the `Super Thursday` elections then demonstrated that he could not orchestrate a re-shuffle of his Shadow Cabinet either.  Faced with the outcry Starmer has re-appointed Ms Rayner as Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (CDL) in charge of Party Reform an policy, has axed the popular Shadow Leader of the House, Valerie Vaz and the Long-serving and loyal Chief Whip, Nick Brown  and has replaced his Shadow Chancellor, Anneliese Dodds, with the feistier Rachel Reeves. This led that socialist stalwart Khalid Mahmood to opine that `The Party has been captured by Urban Liberals`.

As a side-effect of these elections the Labour MP Tracey Brabin was elected as the Mayor of West Yorkshire. This means another by-election in Batley and Spen, the seat that she won  when her predecessor, Jo Cox, was murdered on the streets of the constituency. It looks as though Kim Leadbeater, who was Jo Cox`s sister, will fight the seat for Labour which on paper ought to seal the deal. But `Gorgeous George` Galloway, the former renegade Scottish Labour MP is threatening to stand `against Keir Starmer` which might throw another spanner into the less than well-oiled works.

Strange, is it not, how some dates and places stick in your mind. It was on the evening of the first Wednesday in September 2019, after a meeting of the 1922 Committee that the Prime Minister had attended, that I  `doorstepped` Mr. Johnson in the Committee Corridor outside Room 14 and told him that if he did not dispense with the services of Dominic Cummings then Cummings would bring him down. This, you will note, was before the 2019 General Election , before the Covid Pandemic  and before the `Barnard Castle` episode.  The `unelected foul-mouthed oaf` that I had referred to on breakfast television that morning clearly had the Prime Minister`s confidence. My warning went unheeded and Cummings stayed.

I am not sure whether Mr. Cummings would be better cast as Gollum in Lord of the Rings or something rather unpleasant out of the Harry Potter series. What I do know is that I was wrong and that at least to date and despite his best endeavours he has failed to unseat the Prime Minister. Not for want of trying, In the course of his many hours of testimony in a Committee jointly chaired by the ever-courteous Messrs Greg Clark and Jeremy Hunt we were subjected to a tirade of bile and invective only thinly disguised by the production of ``quotations` and `references` and a photo of a Downing Street whiteboard, as `evidence`.

Cummings`  session before the committee  was preceded by a barrage of `tweets` suggesting that the Prime Minister had, against advice, chosen in the early days of the pandemic to believe that  Covid 19 would `only kill those over eighty` and that `herd immunity` would solve the problem . This is a theme that he returned to in the course of his testimony. Had he been heeded, we were asked to believe, then with proper planning and testing all of the lockdowns to which the UK has been subjected could probably have been avoided. Johnson, said his former confidante, was ` unfit to lead Britain`, an out-of-control shopping trolley that had  cost  `tens of thousands of lives `  as a result of the mis-handling of the crisis. Mayor Boris had been `distracted by his personal life`, with Carrie `Crackers` Symonds presumably, and the Health Secretary Matt Hancock should have been fired many times over for `lying to the Cabinet and the House of Commons` and very possibly to his milkman as well!

Looking back it seems extraordinary that in seven hours of carefully-rehearsed presentation Cummings hardly appeared to acknowledge his own privileged role right at the heart of Number Ten  Downing Street. The self-styled minor foncionnaire  `tried to quit` in September 2020 apparently but he clearly did not `try` hard enough. He also sought to re-write the Rose Garden Press Conference following his excursion to Barnard Castle. This was not, we are now told,  an outing to test his eyesight at all but a necessary journey to remove his family from the abuse and threats to which they were being subjected  to in London. Did he think to mention this to the Prime Minister, his employer? Well, no. So far as one can ascertain he did not. Asked after the event for an opinion as to whom they trusted least the Great British Public in an opinion poll said Cummings 65% and Johnson 51%. Which is not a ringing endorsement of either man.

Mistakes there have been a-plenty, as the planned inquiry will no doubt reveal next year. Twenty-twenty hindsight is an attribute with which all politicians are blessed but it is I think clear that we did not see the writing on the Italian wall and  locked down too late in March 2020 . We took the brakes off too soon in the early summer of last year, we mis-judged the effects of thousands of students returning to college in the Autumn, we dithered over Christmas before that lockdown and we wasted a critical two weeks before placing India on the red travel list this Spring allowing an estimated 20,000 passengers from the sub-Continent to enter Britain potentially carrying the infection.  The shortage of protective clothing at the beginning of the outbreak  was a disgrace, the award of a number of expensive contracts to companies with no apparent qualifications for the work left, shall we say, a certain amount to be desired and the early `World Class` test-and-trace programme was a world-class embarrassment.   We do, though, have a world-class vaccination programme that may see us through this grim piece of history and out on the sunny side and it is that which is at present driving public opinion.  Things have, it seems, run rather more smoothly since Mr. Johnson has deprived himself of Mr Cummings advice.

We cannot, though , take much credit for the handling of this year`s holiday season.  The Government , recognising the desire of people to travel and the need to try to revive an aviation industry that is currently on a life-support system has once again sent out mixed messages. While `staycation` has been the buzzword of the season and the Chancellor is clearly keen to boost the economy by encouraging people to take there holidays in Britain we have been too ready to give a nod and a wink to the idea that those that wish to will be able to fly off to the sun. (The super-rich do that anyway but that`s another story).  The underlying message has consistently been `If you book a holiday abroad you may have to cancel it` but with the prices for every cottage in the West Country, by the Coast anywhere, or in the Lake District all through the roof it is not surprising that many people have chosen to take a punt, even facing the prospect of more Covid tests and 19-hour queues at airports on their return.

The fact is that the call is not only with our Government: there are now foreign  holiday destinations that do not want even those who are prepared to be tested, isolate and repeat the process upon return to the UK. The `Indian Variant` is `not welcome here`.

And it is this fly in the ointment that is leading to the very thing that the travel, hospitality and entertainment businesses want least: Indecision and the stop-start policy-making that has flowed from that.

For the State Opening of Parliament this month  Her Maj arrived in a limo with another carrying Prince Charles and Camilla travelling behind. And that was it. No horses, no carriages, no massed bands and phalanx of trumpeters. No posh frocks . The Royal Gallery, a massive and ornate ante-chamber to the House of Lords, normally  holds about three invited guests invited  for this occasion to witness The Queen as she processes from the Robing Room through to take her seat on the throne and read the Gracious Speech.  This year there were, I think, just thirty-four of us suitably socially-distanced and able to get a very good view of the modest procession with the State Crown carried and not worn and announced with a fanfare from a sole horn-player.

The speech itself contained bills to address Voters Identification, Gay Conversion Therapy, Asylum, The Fixed Term Parliament Act, Online Safety , welcomed measures connected animal welfare and much else besides. Slipped in almost initially unnoticed was the lifetime votes bill that will give ex-pats the right to vote in UK election in perpetuity, hopefully in time for Harry Shindler`s 100th Birthday. The glaring omission was Social Care but there is always the all –embracing  “and other measures will be laid before you” so perhaps that and any legislation necessary to build the new Royal Yacht, The “RY. The Duke of Edinburgh” , may yet find a slot in the programme.

Acts of Parliament have, since 1497, been inscribed on vellum and until recently all sixty-four thousand of them have been stored in the Victoria Tower in the Palace of Westmister. By the emd of this session there will be a couple of dozen more to add to the collection that is soon to be moved to a safer storage space.

In other news  the prospect of a trade deal with Australia is making waves. The National Farmers Union and the National Beef Association are concerned that in her eagerness to reach an agreement the International Trade Secretary may open the doors to shipments of cheap hormone-treated Australian beef that would undercut our own producers and pose a risk to our own high farm animal welfare standards. Lis Truss, the Secretary of State has sought to offer assurances in the form of a fifteen-year phase-in of any imports and confirmation that hormone-treated beef will not be permitted to enter the UK. There is still the underlying concern, however, that while `food standards` may be maintained `animal welfare standards` will not and in any event without inspections on the ground in Australia - -or indeed any other country with which we may wish to trade – there is no way to guarantee the security of processed meats. Those of us who have concerns about these matters want any deal to be discussed in parliament before it is signed off but with the G7 Summit at Carbis Bay in Cornwall fast approaching  I suspect that if the Government can avoid the delay of scrutiny it will do so.

Not that our farmers should be worried: with the Local Government Department promoting a planning bill designed to make it even easier to turn greenfield sites into housing estates there pretty soon will not be much agricultural land left to worry about – and then we will need all of the Australian beef that we can buy!

Lord Dyson`s 126-page report following his investigations into the manner in which a BBC Reporter, Martin Bashir, secured the trust of the late Princess Diana that enabled him to secure the Award winning but now infamous Panorama TV interview with her has left the Salford Broadcasting Corporation squirming.  Bashir himself resigned, on `health` grounds and shortly before the report was published, as the Corporation`s `Religion Editor` . It has become clear, however, that not only did standards of journalism fall lamentably with the use of fake documents that fuelled what Diana`s son, now the Duke of Cambridge and heir to the throne,  has referred to as her paranoia,  but also that the Corporation mounted what was effectively a monumental cover-up to obscure the truth. As a result Tony, now Lord, Hall, a former Director General of the BBC and the man who was supposed to oversee the `woefully ineffective` investigation of the matter has found it necessary to resign from his post as Chairman of the National Gallery. Condemning the BBC`s `We know best` attitude the Secretary of State for Culture, Oliver Dowden, has made it clear that he is not remotely impressed by the handling of another damaging episode in the broadcaster`s history. The current Director General, Tim Davie, is going to have his work cut out to repair the reputational damage that the BBC has suffered nationally and, because of the prominence of the subject of the Bashir interview and her subsequent premature death, internationally as well.

The “Northern Ireland Protocol” , a significant plank in the `triumphant` EU withdrawal agreement negotiated in the Prime Minister`s name before the 2019 General election, is now described by our negotiator  Lord (David) Frost as `dead in the water.`

Given the election of Edwin Poots, the former Agriculture Minister who defeated the more moderate Sir Jeffrey Donaldson to succeed Arlene Foster as the Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, that is not surprising. It  may pose some further problems if the EU decides to enforce an agreement that is rapidly becoming not worth the paper that it was written on. The protocol, which has effectively created a border down the middle of the Irish Sea, itself replaced the `wholly unacceptable` backstop negotiated by Theresa May as Prime Minister and which many still regard as a better solution to the Irish border issue.  

Meanwhile the entente remains rather less than cordiale. The French Minister for Maritime Affairs (a role much less alluring than it might initially sound) is Mme. Annick Girardin.  Mme Girardin  has threatened to cut off electricity supplies to the Channel Island of Jersey, a State that is wholly dependent upon France for its supply of power.  It will surprise nobody that this alarming over-reaction to a `crisis` relates to fish.  And Brexit.

Post-Brexit French Fishers (we are not allowed to call them `fishermen` any more ) have to be licensed to fish in Channel Island waters hitherto regarded as theirs as of right. Denial, by Jersey, of some licenses led to the inevitable Armada of some sixty protesting fishing boats  heading to blockade the port of St. Helier. So on the eve of the Super Thursday polls in the UK the Prime Minister `did a Thatcher` and sent a couple of gunboats to see off the offending flotilla and to drive the boats from British waters. HMS Tamar and HMS Severn clearly did their stuff and enabled the Bourgeoise Women `s Tabloid to run a banner headline screaming “Le Grand Surrender”.  This maritime engagement  grabbed some useful domestic headlines but was scarcely reported in the French media at all.  Trafalgar it was not.

In fact the whole  saga was kicked into the long grass with a two-month delay on the imposition of Jersey fishing licenses and an agreement to allow Channel Island Fishermen to land their catches in France. M. Macron and Mr Johnson are said to be “like a pair of brothers”. We all know just how bloody sibling rivalry can get.

Viktor Orban, President of Hungary and Leader of the Visegrad Group has visited 10 Downing Street.   And Nazarin Zahari-Ratcliffe is still held hostage in Iran.

Cummings protégé Cleo Watson is behind a `bonkbuster` set inside Number Ten and featuring thinly-disguised political figures of today. Provisionally titled “Whips”, could `Sir Teddy Harmer` be Johnson`s right-hand man Sir (now Lord) Eddie Lister? Time and no doubt `sources` will tell.

Inside City Hall the newly re-elected Mayor of London is now known as Sadiq No-Khan-Do.

The floor of Rome`s Coliseum is to be restored with a retractable replacement at a cost os £16 million. The refurbishment will enable the historic venue to host  `cultural events`. What goes around comes around.

Her Maj is moving into the `Beerage`. Two new ales, Sandringham Golden IPA and a Best Bitter will be brewed from barley harvested from the Sandringham estate.

A bottle of Chateau Petrus claret priced at £4,300 , launched to the International Space station in November 2019  and subsequently recovered unopened is now anticipated to be worth a modest £1miilion.A stellar little wine.  Cheers!

Lord Foy of that persuasion ( who early readers will remember as Peter Mandelson) has helpfully reminded Keir Starmer of the last eleven Labour General Election results: Lose Lose Lose Lose, Blair Blair Blair, Lose Lose Lose Lose

If Cambridge University has its way the summer sound of leather upon willow may soon be a thing of the past. Research has shown that bamboo (grass) , as a replacement for the traditional wood is stronger and offers batsmen (sorry, `batters`) a better `sweet spot`.  There will, I fear, be a season of harumphing in the Long Room at Lord`s.

In a speech to twelve thousand troops in Moscow`s Red Square Vlad The Fantasist` Putin has declared that Russia `stood alone against Hitler`. Those with long memories, including some aged survivors of the Arctic convoys, might recall that Britain and the United States also played a modest part in liberating Europe from Nazi tyranny  - and we did it without trading Adolf`s extermination camps for Uncle Joe Stalin`s Gulags.

For four hundred and fifty years since 1570 the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, which cast the world famous Big Ben (yes, it is the bell and not the clocktower that correctly bears the name) , has been keeping Britain chiming and ringing. Now closed, there are plans to turn this llttle piece of our heritage into a `boutique hotel`. Marginally better, I suppose, than the block of upmarket City flats that those in charge of current housing policy would probably prefer.

For centuries Britain`s silversmiths have proudly produced goods bearing a hallmark denoting the maker, year of manufacture and assay on every sterling item. Is this now under post Brexit threat or will the EU continue to recognise our world class standards? The 1973 Hallmarking Act is not likely to be amended any time soon one trusts.

The man who vociferously objected to Britain`s desire to control our borders during his time as Eropes Chief Negotiator during Brexit now wants to close Europe`s borders for five years. Could this have anything to do with the fact that M. Barnier – for it is he – fancies his chances as a candidate in the forthcoming Frencg Presidential elections where he will, of course, be up against Marine “Send them Back” Le Pen and the increasingly desperately right-wing M. “Let them eat fish” Macron?

The ribald Giant of Cerne, named after the Dorset village Cerne Abbas  from which he takes his name, was always the subject of much merriment amongst those of us who were privileged to go to school in God`s own County. The massive chalk carving, sporting wedding tackle almost as large as the club that The Giant wields above his head, has long been the subject of speculation as to origin and purpose. It is now revealed that the 180 foot  work of art was a tribute to the pagan god  Helith, etched in the turf between 700 and 1100 AD and certainly before the establishment of Cere Abbey in 947 AD. Not, as the boys of Hardye`s in Dorchester were wont to believe, a portrait of an early Headmaster of the School.

New Public Buildings Regulations emanating from the Department of Housing and Local Government have determined that lavatories must be Male or Female. Loos are not `gender neutral` in the public sector.

Newly-wedded Mr and Mrs Boris Johnson are sill having problems with the décor in their flat over No. 11 Downing Street. The £840 per- roll hand-crafted wallpaper keeps falling down.

The Civil Service Commission has determined that those seeking to climb the `velvet drainpipe` in Whitehall are still predominantly `privileged`. Only one fifth are from the `working classes` and a knowledge of the Latin not ordinarily taught in most State `colleges` and `Academies` still helps to sort the wheat from the chaff. Per ardua ad astra.

That will be the same Whitehall that is planning to create a “consultation hub”  as an issue-crunching in-house machine to obviate the need to pay squillions to firms such as Deloittes, Price Waterhouse and McKinsey to tell them what to think. No prizes for guessing who will be advising the Mandarins on how to set up the hub.

Robert Howarth (93) was the Labour Member of Parliament for Bolton East from 1964 until 1970 when he lost his seat by 471 votes. He returned to Bolton Council and took over the Leadership of the Labour Group in 1975 and of the Council when Labour took control in 1980.

Furdoon `Duck` Mehta (!01) was the only Indian officer to fly with a British Air Observation PostSquadron during the second World War. Known as `Duck` because of his bith in Bombay he served in India, Burma and Malaya. His last Military posting, from which he retired to Bombay ( Mumbai) in 1969 ,  was as military and naval arrache to America and Canada based at the Indian embassy in Washington 

Eric McGraw (76) was the founder of the prisoners ‘ newspaper’ Inside’ time which he launched from the charity New Bridge in 1990 asca quarterly publication.It now has a readership of 60,000 made up of prisoners, prison staff, lawyers, judges, Mps and many others. McGraw retired fro the paper in 2015 when he received his MBE.

Don Attlee (98)was the Air Vice Marshall who commanded the Queen`s Flight until 1964 and was appointed an LVO.He joined the RAF in 1942 and trained as a pilot in Canada where he remained in Flying Training Command , converting to jet aircraft and joining 12 (Canberra bomber) Squadron. In 1964 he became the senior RAF intelligence officer at RAF HQ in Germany and was responsible for retrieving and sending back to the UK for analysis top-secret parts of a crashed Soviet fighter plane. He served as an ADC to The Queen and was responsible for arranging Her Majesty`s Silver Jubilee review of the RAF. He was appointed a CB in the New Year`s Honours list following the review.

Paul Marland (81) was the gentleman farmer who represented West Gloucestershire  in the House of Commons from 1979 to 1997 losing the re-configured Forest of Dean constituency in the Blair landslide. In 2005 he became the President of the National Conservative Convention and hosted the Blackpool Conference that effectively anointed David Cameron as the new Leader of the Conservative Party.

Lord (Frank) Judd (86) was a Minister in Harold Wilson`s Labour government . He was, as Minister for the Navy, responsible for ending the Simonstown (naval base) agreement with South Africa. He won the Portsmouth West seast from the Tories in 1966 until 1974 when he fought and held the new Portsmouth North seats by 320 votes. . He campaigned for a `no` vote in the 1975 EC referendum. He finally lost his seat to Peter Griffiths in 1979 and was Director of Oxfam before being made a Life Peer in 1991.

Edwin Apps (89) was the Actor and writer who scripted “All Gas and Gaiters”, the 1960s sitcom starring Derk Nimmo as a chaplain and Bill Mervyn as a bishop. Edwin was born in Wingham in Kent, just a couple of miles from my own home. He was Educated at St. Edmunds, Canterbury  where the school`s President was the Archbishop, Dr Geoffrey Fisher and Dr Hewlett Johnson was the `Red Dean), so-called because of his friendship with Joe Stalin.  After training at the Central School of Drama Edwin Apps appeared in many television programmes as an actor before turning his early years of Canterbury experience into the highly successful comedy series , running for thirty three episodes between 1965 and 1972,  for which he will be remembered.

Gladys Eva (100) was the last surviving WAAF Fighter Command plotter to serve in the Operations Centre during the Battle of Britain and The Blitz. She joined up as a teenager and within a few weeks was sent to Bentley Priory .  She was still only 21  21 when, as a Flight Sergeant , she moved to Nottingham to become involved in the `Thousand Bomber` raids of 1942. Eventually retired and living in Dorset she was a feature of Battle of Britain and other RAF commemorative events and was filmed for the Royal Albert Hall Festival of Remembrance screened last year.

Nick Downie (74) was the former SAS soldier who established a reputation as one of the world`s best combat cameramen. Having served as a professional solidier for six years and fought as an `irregular` in Oman and Kurdistan he metamorphosed into a freelance film reporter  shooting in Eritrea, Afghanistan making a documentary which won a Royal Television Society Award for TV journalism. His series “Survive”, made for Channel 4 in 1985,  demonstrated the art of survival under extreme conditions. He retired from war zones in 1991 and his `death` was prematurely reported in by the Daily Telegraph in 1993. The iron man of television film reporting has finally succumbed to the Covid 19 pandemic in South Africa.

Lee Evans (74) was the US sprinter who stages a Black Power protest on the podium having won a gold medal in the 400 metres at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City.

Freddy Marks (71) was one third of BBC`s “Rainbow” Children`s TV singing trio. The show, featuring Bungle, George and Zippy and hoted by Geoffrey Hayes ran from 1972 t0 1992. The trio left Rainbow in 1989 to work on the “Rod, Jane and Freddy Show”

Ron Hill (82) was the European and Commonwealth Champion . In 1969 he ran from Marathon to Athens having overtaken the Belgian runner Gaston Rolants who he beat by just 35 seconds. He became the Boston Marathon`s first British winner knocking three minutes off the course record. He competed in the Tokyo and Munich Olympics and received his OBE in 1971.

Mike Weatherley (63) was the Conservative MP for Hove from 2010 until 2015 when he retired due to ill health. The Heavy Metal fan instigated the “Rock the House “ event to promote the cause of Intellectual Property.  During his time in the House he opposed the repeal of the Hunting Act, opposed the ban on the display of tobacco products in retail outlets and supported same-sex marriage.

And Max Mosley (81) was the son of Sir Oswald Mosley and Diana Mitford and who  for many years ran Formula One Motor Racing with Bernie Ecclestone. In 2008 the News of the World newspaper ran an expose of Mosley`s liking for sado-masochistic parties with prostitutes. Mosley took exception to the suggestion that these parties had a Nazi theme, reflecting his late parents` politics. He successfully sued the newspaper, which subsequently closed, won 60,000 in damages and devoted much of the rest of his life and fortune funding a campaign to curb what he regarded as the excesses of the Press.

And finally...
During the lockdowns `millions` have apparently turned to gardening for solace. So the Royal Horticultural Scociety, staging this Year`s Chelsea flower show in the Autumn for the first time in 108 years ,is concentrating its designs on  flat-dwellers and their balconies under the banner of `container gardens`. Not surprisingly there are likely to be many medical themes to give a whole new perspective upon herbs and `physick gardening`.

The iconic InterCity 125 train, first introduced into service in 1976 and which broke the diesel train speed record at 148.5 mph in 1987, has made its last mainline journey. The St. Pancras 43-102 is now destined for the National Rail Museum in Shildon in County Durham.

And Debenham and Freebody, purveyors of fine quality goods to the gentry since for two hundred and forty years, has closed its final stores for the last time.


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