‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ – a tribute to our Great War dead

Published by Freedom Today

TFA cover2 - WW1Some wars are fought to subjugate and oppress, others to redeem and liberate. Some are arise out of vengeance and resentment, others in pursuit of justice and peace. There are conflicts of land and wealth or power and glory. The righteous rhetoric of dictatorship carves into the democratic commonwealth. The principalities of theocracy, plutocracy and oligarchy seem to be perpetually ranged against liberty, justice and the rule of law. In the realm of rationality, there can be no concessions: victory is the goal and virtue the motivation. But their morality is our insanity. Their freedom is our captivity. Give me impotence, and I will show you a slave. Continue reading

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Pick of the Proms 2014

Published by ConservativeHome

Proms 2014 launchThe wide-eyed wait is over, anticipation satisfied and rumours confirmed or quashed. (Actually, they’re invariably confirmed, simply because any orchestra, conductor or classical artist that publicises a scheduled appearance at a “major British/London summer festival” has invariably been booked for the Proms but simply isn’t allowed to say so, which, in this day and age, is a bit silly really). But it all kicks off on 18th July, and there are proms for families, proms for poets, proms for singers and proms for children; there are midnight proms, chamber proms, proms in the park and proms for stage and screen. If none of this creeps into your ears, you have no soul. Continue reading

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Oh What A Lefty War – a revolution victoriously revisited

Published by ConservativeHome

Oh What A Lovely War, (Theatre Royal Stratford East)

Oh What A Lovely War3“And here’s a donkey!” bawls Shaun Prendergast, the magnetic Master of Ceremonies in the revived 1960s musical satire Oh What A Lovely War, now playing at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. And as we await the predictable screen projections of Sir John French or Field Marshal Douglas Haig or any of the other warmongering jackasses and dolts Joan Littlewood so clearly despised, up pops a picture of Michael Gove, to the girly sniggering and overblown applause of the audience. Continue reading

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Art tells us more about the First World War than any politician’s speech

Published by ConservativeHome

s end 3I had the fortune and great privilege when I was at school of appearing in productions of both R.C Sherriff’s Journey’s End and Joan Littlewood’s Oh, What a Lovely War!. Both, in very different ways, had a profound effect on my understanding and appreciation of the First World War, not least because my maternal grandfather (Gramps) – a veteran of both world wars – was conscripted to see me do battle in both productions. I can still remember meeting him in the school hall afterwards: I was eager for a pat on the back and words of praise, but all I got was watery eyes behind a damp hanky. There was I, the schoolboy, frolicking in the trenches of Flanders and waltzing to ‘Après la Guerre’ with Lady Haig. And there was Gramps, the veteran, for whom this was very real biography, and whose friends and colleagues were machine-gunned, gassed and buried on the Somme.

Journey’s End and Oh, What a Lovely War! are poles apart in their apprehension of the First World War. Sherriff’s 1928 play is an intimate, respectful tragedy about heroes, virtues, leadership and sacrifice. It speaks profoundly to pacifists and Just War advocates alike. Littlewood’s 1963 musical is an epic, irreverent romp through fluffy parodies and black-humoured allegory. It speaks volumes to cynics and sceptics without demeaning the memory of doomed youth. Sherriff wept with his fallen comrades, knee-deep in the muddy trenches of Passchendaele; Littlewood skipped with her pierrots, to an imagined dance of slaughter, bravura and vulgarity. Continue reading

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Unqualified teachers have inspired generations of children

Published by ConservativeHome

To Serve Them All My Days2“You haven’t even got a degree, you’ve got the shakes, and you think you’re God’s gift to teaching,” grunts Algy Herries, Headmaster of Bamfylde Boys’ School, in the TV adaptation of RF Delderfield’s First World War novel To Serve Them All My Days. “I take my hat off to you, I really do. You’ve got your work cut out, but there’s nothing like starting with ambition,” he reassures.

I watched this TV series while I was taking my O-levels, and read the book soon afterwards. It is, to my mind, one of greatest novels of the 20th century. The aspiring teacher is Second Lieutenant David Powlett-Jones, a nervy coalminer’s son from South Wales who has been invalided out of the army with shell-shock. His passion is history; his vocation – he eventually discovers – is pedagogy. Continue reading

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A new ending

Published by The Spectator

Journey’s End, (Duke of York’s Theatre)

s end 2“What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?” lamented Wilfred Owen in his Anthem for Doomed Youth. When RC Sherriff wrote his play Journey’s End just a decade after the Great War, he never set out to answer this haunting question or justify what he had witnessed at Passchendaele. But he was the first to bring the horrors of trench warfare to the stage, and by so doing he spawned a genre that would be satirised and appear a generation later as Oh, What a Lovely War!, and a generation after that as Blackadder Goes Forth. With their “simply topping” humour, “ra-ther” eccentricity, and “thanks most awfully” irony, they serve to remind us of the futility of war: they ensure that we will remember. Continue reading

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