MEMOIR

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. PART - 2..
PART - 3
.n....PART - 4
 

1977 - 1989

 
 

 

Contents

Teacher Man

The Straitjacket

The Propaganda Machine

Sensational Trip

A Blind Move

A Life-Changing Accident

Back with 'Benevolent' Auntie

Or Not So Benevolent?

Political Context

 

Teacher Man

'Teacher Man' is the title of a book by Frank McCourt, written in 1997, where he describes events while teaching at a fairly rough school in New York around 1958.

McCourt's childhood, as related in earlier books, was vastly more turbulent than mine. His problems were total, mine were limited to school. He suffered far more than I did, and the abuses were so severe they drove him in the opposite direction to me. That is, instead of inwardly condemning his conditions, he accepted them. Whereas I, with my congenial and secure circumstances, was well equipped to never doubt myself and my interpretation of what I observed. Whether psychological or physical, my inner self-confidence was pretty solid.

Only later, as an adult, reflecting on his situation as a kid, did McCourt have the insight to see how deprived it was, and that he'd been a hapless victim. He goes on to denounce and vilify this in his books. Then, as a teacher, he takes the same approach as I took ~20 years later in 1977.

I applied for and attended 6 interviews before landing a job. Why I persisted instead of reverting to the electronics industry mystifies me now, and I'm tempted to go into some detail on the interviews I failed. They were enlightening, to say the least, and quite varied. Three of the schools were heinously strict and rigid on rules and discipline, two others relaxed and casual. The one I ended-up in was about half-way between.

The usual method for teacher recruitment brings to mind the brutally stark selection procedure often used in beauty contests: several candidates attend, each is taken aside and interviewed separately, then finally one is selected and the rest off-handedly dismissed.

The first interview I failed was at a school in Braintree advertising for teachers of 'A' level maths. I was in good company: of the others who failed, one was a bright friendly Cambridge graduate - who, by making a small detour, I gave a lift back to in the mini - another was an ex-oil-rig engineer of about my age of 28, and two others also well qualified with several years' experience.

The job was clinched, however, by a shy, rather dowdy young woman just out of college with no experience and whose main subject was geography - maths being her second option. She'd said while we all sat in the waiting area that her maths was shaky and besides she wasn't too keen on the Braintree area. Being totally naive at that first interview about how selection worked, I'd have put all my money on her being the least likely. How wrong can one be?

Discussing the outcome with the Cambridge graduate as we drove back, it became obvious what had happened. The head sought to recruit only meek conformists who he could easily manipulate, and who wouldn't present any kind of challenge in future.

"Ambition," declared Proust, "is nothing more than a lust for power." There's always exceptions - but generally, from what I've witnessed, I'm inclined to agree.

Since top jobs in any industry are prone to attract the most ambitious, the most psychopathic, then schools - being essentially dictatorships - are doubly vulnerable. And whatever a potential dictator's agreeable qualities, they will inevitably lean towards tyranny. In the relatively compact domain of a school, very little skill is required to subdue and rule totally, but to eliminate challenge and competition will doubtless be a priority over competence - as also frequently applies in industry.

Two other interviews were with similar heads. One of these, at Bedworth, was the most totalitarian of all. This head was alone (normally unheard-of) and I the sole candidate (also unheard of). He said he'd scheduled interviews with each candidate separately. All I can say in his favour is that he was honest and forthright. Tall, weathered, scrawny and energetic with an intimidating stare, he definitely belonged in Dickens' time: no calculators, he emphasised, strictly no liaison between departments, which had their own small staff-rooms, and firm discipline throughout - zero tolerance. This guy didn't seek teachers, he was after martinets. He had a cane too, which he proudly brandished as one might a badge of honour. I was glad to get out of there.

Another resembled in appearance James Coburn when in a foul mood and confronting a deadly enemy (me). Flanked by two timid-looking colleagues who may as well have been stuffed dummies, this guy was dogma personified: utterly inflexible, devoid of any trace of humour or empathy, power insane...

So far, I couldn't imagine feeling comfortable working under any of these despotic nutters. Nor could I imagine anyone less suitable than these for being in charge of kids.

One interview, though, also in Warwickshire, gave the precise opposite impression. This was run on the lines of the then famous Countesthorpe school, which even had a smoking room for six-formers. Although he ended-up appointing a better qualified candidate than me - jobs at such rare schools attract many applications - this head was unusually friendly and recommended a book by a colleague of his in Bristol: 'The Bullring' - which I bought and read. It was about a kind of discussion group where kids would freely voice their views on any issue about school without fear of censure, plus the chance of ideas being introduced in practice. Although refreshingly avant-garde, I thought even this 'Countesthorpe' approach could be more progressive with someone like me involved. I kept this arrogance to myself.

Finally, after caving-in and telling them what I knew they wanted to hear, I landed a job at Towers school in Kennington just north of Ashford, Kent.

I read the contract carefully - which comprised one side of A4, so was pretty easy to digest. Obviously, most rules were unwritten, I thought. Then I turned to a thick wad of other documents they gave me. Set-out as a long list were all the 'unwritten' instructions, concocted - so it seemed - according to the whim of someone with a twisted sense of logic. Most were standard status quo pap. A few were a bit draconian like being 'loyal' to and supportive of other members of staff - regardless. That one, I reflected with a smile, could potentially rebound on the authorities - it wouldn't have been within their capacity to realise that it had ambiguous interpretations. One instruction I particularly recall stated: 'Do not court popularity with the children.' Surely, I thought, that should be 'unpopularity'? Isn't it well-known that kids learn much better from someone they like than from someone they don't like? Was this a simple typo, or was it what I suspected: more draconian crap from the prick-headed author of this wad of drivel? Wasn't it just another example of the perennial attempt in the education-system to turn logic on its head, and in doing so ditch actual education in favour of totalitarian control?

Either way, that instruction at least was one I would most definitely overlook.

I'd been at the school only a few months when I finally moved into my first house - a 3-bed semi about half-a-mile from the school: 39, The Pasture, Kennington. At the beginning I'd stayed with a friend and his wife at Maidstone who were exceptionally kind, providing meals etc., then being reluctant to accept any recompense. I remember above all for the first time watching the Muppets there. Not wishing to outstay my welcome, I subsequently spent a delightful month or so in a bedsit at Folkestone... I especially liked the proximity of the sea, and most mornings that summer if I was up early enough, I'd take a stroll along part of the upper and then lower promenades there.

Howard, my head-of-dept, a tall, cheerfully stern guy with a black beard, shared some of my opinions, especially an opposition to physical punishment. Yet with the excuse of upholding democracy, he failed to reprimand a young teacher under him who was a brute, prone to occasionally smash a kid around the head. Whether this was some weird interpretation of the 'loyalty' issue, or avoiding confrontation, I was unable to fathom?

Whatever Howard thought, I never hesitated to openly criticise that kind of depraved and counterproductive aggression. The black glances I sometimes received in response, I returned - with the intention of imposing a sense of guilt or at least remorse, though probably it just evoked the same resentment I felt from them? Occasionally, the head would enforce corporal punishment - which he'd usually delegate to his pugilistic deputy. If a kid in one of my classes was involved, I'd always pretend (if plausible) to be somehow partly responsible, hence protect them. This meant the deputy and me were - by tacit consent - sworn enemies the whole time I was at the school.

Luckily, Howard also failed to reprimand me, and gave total support when around Easter I was in big trouble for responding casually to several questions on sex from a class of 13-year olds.

This happened in a free period when standing-in for a biology teacher who was off sick. A couple of extrovert kids asked, and when I answered others joined in with more questions. I told them nothing they shouldn't have already known - and probably already did know. Uncertain whether they were serious or just checking me out for a bit of fun, I saw no harm - in fact, only good - in replying appropriately. But later that day a girl who was still, mysteriously after two-years, in touch with a former male primary school teacher of hers, retold to him, presumably out of context, what I'd said. This teacher, I guess some kind of puritan - and naive too in trusting the girl's motives - phoned the head to complain.

The first I learned of this was when a kid who'd been in the class called at my house early the next day and warned me of impending trouble. I was astonished - I'd thought no more about it, nothing I'd said could have been more trivial or less offensive. The kid added, though, that the rest of the class were outraged by the girl's 'allegations' and would give me their full support.

When I arrived at school, the deputy head approached me and instructed that I refrain from responding to any such questions in future while my 'position' was considered. Apparently, the school governors had also been informed.

Howard, who could never have been accused of naïveté, was of the opinion that the girl in question was the most promiscuous in her year, and probably had regular sex with a variety of wayward older boys. Either way, he said the fuss was ridiculous and he'd make sure I kept my job. As a back-up to this, I wrote a several-page account of the offending 'lesson' for the head. He didn't respond - in fact there was no response, ever - and the issue faded into history.

That such a minor event had evoked so much agro, though, left me feeling a bit vulnerable. Who could say what other unwitting misdemeanour I might stumble into? Apart from this unsettling incident, other aspects of the job were also not to my liking: occasional prodding from the deputy head that I should be more strict, incessant marking, endless lesson preparation... which occupied the bulk of most evenings at home... all seemed a bit of an imposition. As for the lesson preparation, I felt at least I owed it to the kids to make their classes interesting and fun - it also meant I didn't have to think about keeping order.

Often, I'd hire a film to supplement the usual classroom drabness with something entertaining and exciting. Anything remotely connected with maths would do: 'Donald in Mathmagic Land', for instance, but also elementary physics, astronomy, architecture, etc. The technician who hired/bought equipment, films and so on, said I was the only teacher who regularly showed films. Being a first year - probationary - meant I wasn't allowed to take kids out of school on day or field trips.

Showing films also gave respite from preparation. And with inferior TV in those days a film was still a novelty. The kids always enjoyed them.

After the fiasco of the 'sex-lesson', though, I began to seriously consider looking for a job back in industry where, in contrast, working life would at least be emotionally neutral. First I thought of British Aerospace near Bristol - which I'd considered before. But as I sat watching TV, it occurred to me that maybe I could apply to work in the rather more appealing field of television. So I wrote off-the-cuff to the BBC.

In the meantime an exchange of teachers and pupils took place between Towers School and an equivalent in France, and I offered my house as accommodation for a couple of the female teachers. A few months later - after I'd resigned - I was invited to France by one of them for a holiday.

So, for first time in my life, I went abroad and spent two fabulous weeks in France. I took the Newhaven ferry and was picked up at Dieppe by this teacher and her fiancé, who I stayed with at St Brieuc in a smart mansion that belonged to one of their families. After day trips to the coast with swimming in fabulous clear warm sea - how come it's so much better just that short distance across the channel, I wondered - we drove an hour or so inland to a big rustic farm house where their family was vacationing. We remained there several days, most evenings visiting friends or relations who lived nearby or them visiting the farm house, to all join in a traditional French evening meal that would last from ~19.00 to ~23.00. With rarely less than a dozen people around the huge table, sometimes in a huge stone-floored kitchen, everything would be of best quality and laid on in great abundance: wine, especially. They all had washing-up machines too, which were rare in the UK in those days.

One of the young couple's father was also involved in education. He expressed astonishment when he learned that corporal punishment was still legal in the UK. It astonished me that he didn't already know. Tradition, however antiquated and primitive, has always lingered in the UK more than elsewhere. France, in contrast, even allowed smoking in the classroom - though that particular concession I believe soon became outlawed with the prevailing trend.

Back in the UK, I prepared for a change of employment. I spell out roughly how 'the board' (the second BBC interview) transpired in 'The Job'. The preliminary interview was brief: after reading a card that checked for colour blindness, I provided a few personal details and the interview concluded with several basic technical questions.

By the time I received a letter of acceptance, the first week of the summer term had arrived - several days too late for giving a term's notice as stipulated in the contract. So the head insisted I apply for a local authority 'special dispensation'. Even so, to my amazement, several senior staff including the headmistress tried to persuade me to reconsider. They offered me all kinds of 'sweeteners', concessions and incentives: a promotion to above basic grade, overall charge of a new electronics course, including for first years - which were the best by far to teach... first years still sparkled with that infectious childhood zest that fades during years two and three, so by year four (which I think is officially called 'ninth grade') there's not much spontaneity left. One or two other benefits were mentioned, and it did make me pause. I'd have been in charge of a new department, effectively, and teaching mostly electronics. What a difference I could make to these kids' lives and outlook... would I be up to it? Who knows how much of that zest they lose is due to the 'straightjacket' of school? I suspect a high percentage, close to 100 probably. I mean, a few never lose it; then again, most do - so maybe it's a natural process?

I hesitated only for a moment... then submitted my resignation.

On the last day of term, when I left, I experienced a distinct sense of something akin to déjà vu. Kids crowded to get my autograph, just as I had as a 12-year old at the end of my first year at that lousy school I'd attended then: to get the autograph of our attractive young history teacher, Marlene Skeels, who everyone loved and who was also leaving. I was as sad now to leave the kids as I'd been sad back when my own favourite teacher was leaving. Marlene's influence on me had been huge, and was more conspicuous now than ever. Not that I latched-on to history - the absence of her entertaining lessons, and the drab monotone tedium we were dished-up with instead, turned me off that particular subject more-or-less permanently - but her example as a human being, in how she behaved towards us and treated us kids... that, in contrast to the rest of the picture, was as impressive as it was unforgettable. She was just so relaxed with us, always smiling and cheerful. And probably no more than ~24-years old, I'd guess. Why couldn't other teachers be like her, I'd wondered? It wasn't difficult to be pleasant, after all. She and her fiancé took our class on a coach trip to Cambridge one Saturday to visit the Fitzwilliam Museum. What a fabulous memory.

Tellingly, too, was when crowding for Marlene's autograph, the head had appeared and tried to hustle us away. As soon as he'd gone we returned. Incredibly, the exact same thing happened with me: history repeating itself? In other respects it would be inaccurate, scarcely to say brash, to align myself with Marlene. I'd be surprised if my seditious approach had any such influence as she, should any of those kids still remember those days in my classes - which I doubt. They'd be in their 50s now, of course.

 

The Straitjacket (or Straightjacket)

Before concluding this section, I should add a few comments about these new (to me) issues and experiences: existentialism, psychology, education... how they interrelate or fail to relate, and how this has influenced my thoughts and opinions.

Quoting from the back-cover of R.D. Laing's 'The Politics of Experience' (1967):

"Modern society clamps a straightjacket of conformity on every child that's born. In the process Man's potentialities are devastated and the terms 'sanity' and 'madness' become ambiguous..."

I felt myself being draped in that straightjacket - or part of it - as a 5-year old. I'm aware now, of course, that more elusive aspects of Laing's straightjacket had surreptitiously descended over me right from birth. I guess some of that's what we call 'culture'. The key to escape, though - at least partial escape - from any kind of straightjacket is to recognise its presence. To do that, one needs contrast - of which I had none until, as a 5-year old, I was hit by a discrepancy so profound that I would have had to be a retard to have missed it.

In the form of 'school' I, together with my hapless peers, had landed part-time in an opposite culture that, as I saw it, could only be described as hostile. True, this new situation included occasional windows of cordiality, but always an impending menace seemed to lurk. With continued support from my original solid, agreeable base, I spent the next decade either avoiding or shaking off the deeper influences of those hostilities - both of which to an extent I succeeded in doing. But having to grow-up with and adapt to an ongoing encumbrance like that leads one to the belief that the outside world is essentially alien. And the simplest, most obvious, survival strategy - for a kid, at any rate - is to outwardly conform while (if one is to maintain any kind of inner integrity) inwardly rebelling. Which means that learning to improvise and compromise become crucial. All this, of course, has to be gone through alone.

Once in my teens I began discussing the issue with one or two peers - those who I thought must surely share my observations. Most, I was astonished to learn, didn't - and I remember wondering: how could anyone (but someone heavily blinkered) fail to see what was so obvious? Of course, everyone's background is unique, as too is how they perceive the world around them, and then how they adapt. Most, apparently, accept their circumstances without question - they conform inwardly as well as outwardly, depending (presumably) on the balance between encountered hostility and their circumstances elsewhere: ie, at home - and on how they interpret these. In relation to this perspective, see: 'BIG Options'.

No notion of this 'straightjacket', though, was evident to me from any other source... until, that is, I joined the existentialism group at Bath university - as described above.

I suppose I could be criticised - when in my late teens at any rate - for failing to scour the great annals of literature and philosophy. I had, after all, perchance discovered and devoured by then quite a range of sci-fi as well as science non-fiction: from Asimov's brilliant 'Foundation' trilogy and beyond, to Rothman's 'Laws of Physics' and much more like it - all to an extent that well saturated me with the 'scientific method' and possible technological futures. And, like most people at that age, I was becoming competent in many aspects of practical living.

But could I really be blamed for failing to inquire of those less discussed and exposed aspects of life, the less 'entertaining', the less materialistic: ie, existentialism and psychology (to name the two that are relevant here).... since the question arises: where does one start? When there's no way of putting observations into words... how was I to know of any philosophy, quite apart from what, precisely, the one that applied to my particular circumstances might be called? Likewise for psychology. I accept that I'm finding excuses here for my ineptitude, lack of insight, curiosity, etc. at the time. I was, after all, in a situation where personal initiative was the only way of uncovering virtually anything.

So, unlike sci-fi and science, these issues were obscure... as too, amazingly, was politics - which I now realise was all around me, and conspicuously too if only I'd opened my eyes. Had I been going about focussed only on what interested me or whatever came into my immediate field that I could relate to - until I was 27, that is, when it was presented to me 'on a plate', as it were? Had I forgotten that 'straightjacket', or - more alarmingly - acquired a new one?

I did throw off quite a bit of restrictive humbug in my early teens, I remember, when I finally saw through and rejected a good chunk of the less-hostile status quo that had been drummed into me - at least those parts that conflicted with my particular 'sense of reality'.

Writing this now in 2015, age 66, I can see, in other existential literature, where as a kid my own 'stupidity', ignorance, and lack of confidence might originate:

"A large part of stupidity," says Paul Goodman in his 'Growing Up Absurd' - p72, "is just this chronic boredom, for a person can't learn, or be intelligent about, what he's not interested in, when his suppressed thoughts are elsewhere. (Another part of stupidity is stubbornness, unconsciously saying, 'I won't, you can't make me.')"

Was it the 'pain' of boredom I was escaping or the pain of hostility? I can't remember ever having been bored except when trapped somewhere like a classroom with nothing to spark my interest, being required to focus on or conform to what I saw as some banal, pointless or bizarre instruction or mode of conduct. We are, after all, 'taught' to be stupid: to be blind to our 'straightjacket'... how else does the 'establishment' succeed in hoodwinking us into conformity?

The following is a copy of the first page of chapter-3 from Laing's 'Politics of Experience', which sums all this up with remarkable concision. In my mind, it's the most poignant, accurate and pertinent observation of the effect of 'culture' I think I've seen since reading Orwell (to whom Laing appropriately refers). On first reading, it seemed unclear but somehow important - so I went through it again. Then on a third reading it leapt out at me as the powerful and supremely perceptive statement it is:

The Mystification of Experience

It is not enough to destroy one's own and other people's experience. One must overlay this devastation by a false consciousness inured, as Marcuse puts it, to its own falsity.
     Exploitation must not be seen as such. It must be seen as benevolence. Persecution preferably should not need to be invalidated as the figment of a paranoid imagination, it should be experienced as kindness. Marx described mystification and showed its function in his day. Orwell's time is already with us. The colonists not only mystify the natives, in the ways that Fanon so clearly shows,* they have to mystify themselves. We in Europe and North America are the colonists, and in order to sustain our amazing images of ourselves as God's gift to the vast majority of the starving human species, we have to interiorize our violence upon ourselves and our children and to employ the rhetoric of morality to describe this process.
     In order to rationalize our industrial-military complex, we have to destroy our capacity both to see clearly any more what is in front of, and to imagine what is beyond, our noses. Long before a thermonuclear war can come about, we have had to lay waste our own sanity. We begin with the children. It is imperative to catch them in time. Without the most thorough and rapid brain-washing their dirty minds would see through our dirty tricks. Children are not yet fools, but we shall turn them into imbeciles like ourselves, with high I.Q.s if possible.

* Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (London: MacGibbon and Kee, 1965); also Frantz Fanon, Studies in a Dying Colonialism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1965).

 

If anything ought to be imprinted on all our minds, then that should. The reader may well be already familiar with this perspective, otherwise it's a great lesson; but if it fails to open our eyes, then perhaps nothing will.

From ICH:

"That there are men in all countries who get their living by war, and by keeping up the quarrels of Nations is as shocking as it is true..."  -  Thomas Paine

"Make wars unprofitable and you make them impossible." -  A. Philip Randolph

Technically, the word 'absurd' describes the conflict between seeking inherent meaning in life, and the inability to find any (see wikipedia). For me, though, there is no conflict, hence life is not absurd. Experience tells me that what I discovered for myself as an infant, and learned to accept by the time I was ~15: ie, 'that life is inherently without meaning', is precisely the prerequisite necessary for inspiring the creation of one's own meaning.

If you want to drive ahead, but find your car is without an engine, the prerequisite is to build and install one. Likewise with meaning. What could be more obvious? But if you fail to acknowledge the lack of an engine.... or the possibility that what's already provided is a figment, mere hallucination...

The problems begin when instead of creating meaning, we adopt one from 'outside' (usually what, as children, is forced down our throats). The chances are this won't be a meaning at all, but a fabrication, a fake, a diversion - something contrived (like any propaganda) to dupe us, probably into joining some league or religion or other kind of counterfeit scheme with the purpose of turning us into acolytes, 'sheep', conformists - which these days means moulded to fit the corporate ideal: ie, an obedient slave and consumer.

Either way, the meaning you adopt may or may not involve myths and magic (as it frequently did in past times), but if it's not yours, if it's not authentic to you, then it probably won't work... not for long, anyhow... because someday, when your inner world is challenged, you'll see through it - and if this happens subconsciously then you might need a counsellor or some brain-zapping drug to help you through the anguish of being forced to acknowledge reality, the world as it actually is - warts 'n all, as the saying goes.

Laing takes this further to include ALL experience... and since experience is not so much what happens to us as how we interpret it, then meaning becomes relevant. Experience includes our thoughts about what we learn. So while 'meaning' is just one of many aspects of our understanding of the world and existence, it's a fairly crucial one. For another perspective on this see 'The Master Game'.

I can only speak from my own angle, as it all appears to me, but there are reports of almost an epidemic these days in 2015 - of mental illness, of (the younger generation especially) striving for things that are essentially 'empty', that are not only worthless or pointless but practically unattainable too: ie, great fame, great wealth... The corporate media - the whole Big Corp machine - has woven into culture whatever they perceive will increase their wealth and power, as personified in the market system: making things and consuming them. This means the contemporary milieu demands from those so lost that they take serious notice of it whatever is most profitable, which overwhelmingly comprises, it seems to me, what one might term the 'trash' of life... one has only to view a sample of TV adverts for all kinds of products designed solely to create profit (never mind the side-effects on their 'victims' or the environment), from processed foods (said to fill ~80% of superstore shelves) to numerous kinds of shampoo (can there be a more apt name for such a product?), and I wonder, how much does the meaninglessness that derives from being denied the freedom to develop one's own 'unique' authenticity have to do with vulnerability to those twisted 'commercial' demands - or for that matter, to any propaganda?

Of course, the meaning I'm so far addressing here is subjective. Any notion of objective meaning only becomes of serious interest when the fact of mortality begins to intrude. This usually doesn't happen until one's mid 30s, though can occur as early as 20, as it did for Hermann Hesse, and possibly even before then, or perhaps as late as to not be recognised at all in a long lifetime.... depending on a range of factors.

I describe roughly how, during a brief period of absurdity, an intellectualised version of this took place for me: HERE. It involved searching the work of some of the most astute minds throughout history - which unanimously conclude, inevitably, that no level of deductive reasoning or empirical analyses has or could ever reveal an objective meaning. Like anyone who strives to think rationally, I already knew this. Nothing could be more obvious. Yet somehow I must at some point have lacked the confidence to accept it... doubted my own (at that time it was purely my own) judgment, and lapsed briefly, as I say, into 'absurdity'. I suppose without some convincing 'outside' confirmation, the notion that life has no objective meaning can be hard to swallow - until (at least in my case - and I was in pretty good company with those astute minds of the past), I'd methodically researched those sources for myself. I did this in part by reflecting on my own 'experience', and partly by examining what those old sages had unearthed.

Ideally, this conclusion should be acknowledged (at least provisionally) by everyone - why else do the best private schools teach Plato, Seneca, Voltaire, Tolstoy.... if not to protect their clients from growing-up 'absurd'? If, quite apart from those old texts, we too are left with no choice but to rely on our own authenticity and have the confidence to trust our constructions, including - as some people prefer - no construction at all, at least nothing substantial or tangible - then we can ALL enjoy the psychological freedom that - perhaps by a unique stroke of luck - happened for me.

 

The Propaganda Machine

So it was with mixed feelings I launched into what became more than a decade at BBC Television Centre.

(I refer to the BBC as a 'Propaganda Machine' in retrospect... see also 'Sideglance'... it wasn't - isn't - just the News-&-Current Affairs depts that are involved with propaganda, bias, censoring and so on.)

Haunted at first by the residual sadness of leaving the kids, I soon embraced the contentment and buzz of this new prospective 'career' in the entertainment industry. The relief from the effort of work, and above all from confronting authority, easily outweighed whatever effort I imagined lay ahead.

My first directive was to attend the residential training centre at Wood Norton near Evesham in Worcestershire. I remember the cloudy Sunday afternoon when I drove through the Cotswolds in the mini that autumn of 1978. The bare fields, trees bending in the wind, leaves blowing... these seemed to symbolise my situation: the old world ending, the new soon to be born.

The set-up was precisely the kind I'd have imagined for military 'officer' training back in the 50s. The place had a definite air of tradition and decorum. Dorms were mostly twin rooms, with a few singles for milksops. I shared with a spritely guy called Barney - practical joker extraordinaire. Still (enviably) in the juvenile phase, Barney was alert to any opportunity for a lark. His presence was a bit of an inspiration. His antics re-awakened my own sense of fun. Crucially, I didn't have to 'behave' anymore (not that I had, particularly, at the school - but now I didn't have to conceal or pretend).

Most fine mornings when others crowded into the cafeteria for breakfast, I'd charge up the driveway and take a winding muddy track that led to where an antenna stood on a hill. This, I'd been told, was part of a strategic government communication network in case of nuclear attack. Indifferent to this, I'd continue to the top, where there was a big field surrounded by woodland. If there was time, I'd walk or run around it.

The first weekend I drove home on the Friday evening, then returned Sunday. After that I remained over the weekends and either wandered around (neglected?) plum orchards by the river - which to my delight happened to be in full fruit - or drove to Worcester or Evesham, or on one occasion to Stratford-on-Avon.

Eventually back in London, I began in Telecine at TV Centre where I soon learned to load and run films: 16mm for documentaries, educational, animations, etc. and 35mm feature films. And soon got to grips with 'tarif' (TV Apparatus for the Rectification of Inferior Film) which comprised a pair of joysticks that adjusted bright (left) and dark colours, their central knobs adjusting 'levels' respectively - and the control-room routing system, etc.

The considerable idle-time between bookings - and sometimes within them - gave opportunity to wander around the building, meet engineers and operators in other departments: studios, network control, etc.. people one would otherwise only communicate with via a phoneline. I especially recall soon after I started there spending much of one day with an orchestra in Studio-1 - the largest studio, at the front of TV Centre on the left as one entered from Wood Lane. Never having attended an orchestral performance, this was a sensational new experience. The sound was nothing like the live pop-groups or bands I'd been used to as a teenager, nor even the only concert I'd ever attended at the RFH to hear Jacques Loussier play his fabulous style of jazzed-up Bach.

That winter of 1978/9 turned out quite harsh, and the journey of ~70-miles from Kennington in Kent became quite a challenge. Luckily another guy in the department lived at Maidstone so we'd share driving between there and TVC. The shift pattern, mostly midday to midnight - or 13.00 to 00.35 (officially) with overtime for later transmissions - meant travel was conveniently off-peak. I recall several nights struggling back home in the mini well after midnight, the M20 barely navigable for ice and snow even on the one 'open' central lane, passing abandoned vehicles, taking care not to slow enough to get stopped by the friction of the snow.

The 7-day fortnight shift pattern that interleaved on the alternate 7-days with another crew was a definite improvement on the usual 5-day week. Twice a fortnight, on two days together, I'd bed-&-breakfast at Mrs Eley's in Lime Grove, which was popular with BBC staff. Every fourth fortnight would be scheduled at Lime Grove studios where the early-evening current affair programmes were made and transmitted from.

That first summer I put the house up for sale and began looking for somewhere nearer to TV Centre. First Molesey - an attractive popular location just south-west of Hampton Court, maybe 12-miles from TV Centre. Then Ruislip at about the same distance... and prices. Then Bushey, a bit further out... gradually going north until finally ending up at Luton, ~35-miles distant, where I found a place I could just afford similar to the Kennington house.

While still at Kennington when I had two days off together, I'd often drive either to my sister's at Hastings and spend the day there, or the much further distance to Huntingdon to visit my parents. One Sunday, however, when I'd invited my sister and her husband over for lunch, I forgot and drove instead to Huntingdon for the weekend.

When they arrived that Sunday and rang the bell they received no response. However, a flicker of movement behind the frosted glass, or maybe a hint of sound from within, alerted them to the fact that I - or at least someone - was inside. Mystified - since such behaviour from me would have been entirely out of character - they persisted and moved around the house, calling out, trying to get whoever was there to respond - which eventually he did.

It turned out that Gary, a kid I'd taught, had got into trouble with the cops, had sought refuge at my place and had managed to undo a back window I'd left slightly open. He'd consumed all the food, various cans, etc., so not a scrap of anything left. The situation with my uninvited guest soon became clear, and my hapless visitors left.

Fortunately, a few weeks later I moved to Luton. In the meantime Gary lived in a tent, first at Foot's Cray (a campsite in south London I passed on my route to work), then at a site near Old Oak Common beside Wormwood Scrubs, a short walk from TV Centre. Once at Luton, Gary found a job in a solicitor's office and soon began training as a legal executive. Although not keen on the academic side, he was bright enough and within a few months was representing people in court. Occasionally, he'd even get taken to lunch by a judge.

We were at Luton for two years. I used to often drive to work for the late shift via Ashridge park - I'd go there on days off too. Ashridge is a huge area of woodland stretching from Berkhamstead to Ivinghoe. Allowing a couple of hours spare, I'd enjoy a fabulous wander around there, running and walking for miles. Then at work I'd sit back and rest watching TV until teatime, when I might wander down to Hammersmith and along the river before heading back for the evening of film-showing. Quite a lifestyle!

Other times, on days off, I'd go across Warden hill (Luton), or even walk to Hitchin along a deserted bridle track where I remember the 'blue-plaqued' house where Henry Bessemer was born - inventor of the Bessemer converter. Or I might drive to Woburn Park and spend a day there walking part of the perimeter, past the zoo and around by the great house. Occasionally, in summer, I'd cycle there via the quietest country lanes.

One significant event around this time was that I became a vegetarian - and have remained so to this day. I had no plan for taking this step; the idea hadn't even crossed my mind, but a producer at the Beeb had made a documentary film about the meat industry that exposed an appalling level of brutality as well as various 'economising' tactics and further exacerbating effects from the relaxation of certain laws by the Thatcher government, which predictably - an obvious potential risk - led to the BSE (bovine spongiform encephalitis) or 'mad cow disease' epidemic. Since meat producers represented a powerful political lobby, this was doubtless to make an already lucrative industry even more lucrative. Plus, for instance, the government spent £bns bailing-out farmers during the foot-&-mouth epidemic. The film, though, exposed the total neglect of animal-welfare in abattoirs, and some highly distasteful processing, all of which was not something I'd ever given much thought to, so although not really surprising was quite shocking.

A few days later, having let this wash over me, as it were, I was at a butcher shop in Leagrave (north Luton) near where I lived. Laid out behind the guy in the shop was a big tray of superb-looking chops. When I asked for one the guy said, "Sorry, they're for a hotel."

"Have you got anything like them?" I asked.

"No." was the reply.

I shrugged and left the shop wondering whether to look for another. Then I remembered the documentary. A moment later, reflecting on the high price of meat compared with other food, and the notoriously adverse health implications of eating meat, plus the effort in preparation and cooking compared with other foods... hardly to mention the huge environmental implications... I made the 'momentous' decision to just stop buying and eating meat altogether - for good! To say 'momentous' is really a joke because although I'm fairly particular about eating healthily most of the time, food is not something I think much about - I mean, I eat to live rather more than live to eat.

Perhaps hypocritically, I continued eating fish, though only wild fish, as well as free-range eggs and cheese. But to this day in 2017, I've eaten no meat (knowingly) since 1981.

It was around 1981 too when we moved to St Albans (35 Cottonmill Lane), maybe ~12-miles nearer to work for me. Gary seemed not to mind taking the train to Luton, but soon acquired a motor-scooter.

The St Albans house was a 1930s semi, solidly built with cavity walls and picture rails, etc., but in need of some modernisation. I soon began making alterations: extending the kitchen into the over-large hall, installing a gas boiler and central heating - in those days a gruelling task with copper pipes, blow-lamp, solder, etc. - knocking the small bathroom and separate toilet into one room with new bath and toilet, and finally cutting an archway between lounge and dinning room to make a single large living area (including a catnic to support the arch). Although plumbing and the various alterations were a completely new experience for me, everything, amazingly, worked-out fine. And timewise, it was easy to fit in with the 7-day fortnight shift: going to work was like taking a day off!

Another detail from this period that was to become highly significant for me concerned my introduction to two kinds of literature. Reflecting now in 2017, I'm astonished how I'd been so ignorant of such tremendous works of art, and had missed-out for so long. First, my sister introduced me to political literature in the form of Tressell's masterpiece 'The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists' - one of those books that I felt I already knew, as if from a 'previous life'. Initially daunted by its size - almost 600-pages - as with Gogol's 'Dead Souls' a year or so later - I became immersed from the first page... nothing could have dragged me from either of those remarkable tomes, which although very different, actually have parallels. The other was when Clive (our film-clerk in Telecine) introduced me to the work of Hermann Hesse. I wasn't sure if I'd even heard of Hesse before then, but on the strength of Clive's advice I went straight to Waterstones in Kensington High Street and bought an early work of Hesse's: 'Knulp'. Again, I was soon hooked and before long had devoured several of Hesse's other great works. Another 4 or 5 years were to elapse before I was alerted to even greater literary works by Malcolm Bradbury's stupendous series on Channel-4: 'The Modern World: Ten Great Writers' (ie, see Dostoyevsky).

 

A Sensational Trip

In late summer '82 or maybe '83 (?) my aunt Jean & family on Long Island invited Mum, Dad and me over for a 3-week hol, to include a week-long coach-tour from New York to Montreal and back via Quebec and Maine during the sensational autumn display of trees. I recalled the Expo-67 event at Montreal as shown on TV at the time, so one afternoon when we eventually got there I walked the long round-trip across a colossal road-bridge over the St Lawrence and back through the Expo park with most of its buildings from '67 still intact - and far smaller than I'd imagined from the pictures - then across enormous lock-gates back to the main city. The next evening in Quebec Dad and me took a ride on the ferry and back over that turbulent seaway.

The rest of our stay on Long Island comprised mostly day trips, including in New York: a pleasure-boat around Manhattan island past the statue of liberty, a visit to the top of the Empire-State building, and several other tourist activities. One day we drove out to Montauk. In all a pretty sensational holiday.

 

A Blind Move

A year later I did an incredibly stupid thing. I can't say it was impulsive, exactly - I'm really not the impulsive type, I like to sleep on a decision and in the course of my life have probably missed a few chances because of that. But this guy Roger at work had landed another job... in Plymouth, at TSW (Television South West - an independent regional broadcast outfit). He and his family - wife, two girls and a baby - were moving down to near Yelverton, about 7-miles north of Plymouth. When he told me this I immediately felt a twinge of envy: who wouldn't want to live near the sea away from the great metropolis and instead amidst outstanding countryside with fresh air, no traffic jams, sea views..? When he added that the outfit still sought engineer/operators, the image of living in a house on a cliff overlooking a wild rocky beach and sea arose in my head. Over several weeks this image remained indelibly fixed until I finally decided to apply.

In my mesmerised state it never struck me that there were good reasons for the vacancies, nor did I wonder how they'd remained open all those weeks before I applied. Could it have been because most in the industry were reluctant to live in such a 'remote' location? Or that if you weren't born in the region, then to live there took some getting used to after somewhere like London (or Bristol or Norwich even)? Or was there some fundamental problem with TSW? Astoundingly, not one of these questions occurred to me. How thick can a person be?

After a brief and strangely bland interview I was offered a job. And still I failed to twig. Something niggled me, but I couldn't figure precisely what. So I accepted, then resigned from the Beeb, sold the house in St Albans and moved my belongings to Roger's double garage near Yelverton. By the time I started there it was the beginning of December, and Gary, fed up with representing inept criminals in court, had left a few months earlier. He went first, I think, to Germany... and after a year or two ended up in Ireland before contacting me again.

So in seasonally damp, cold, windy weather - and with nowhere else within easy walking distance of TSW - I rented a grotty room at the top of a 4-storey house near the Hoe. Imagine all those stairs!

Well before December was out, I knew I'd made a big mistake. Quite apart from the dull nature of the work compared with the variety and sophistication I was used to, of about a dozen staff there I related well to only three or four. The rest were either hostile, aloof or otherwise weirdly 'distant'. This was an entirely new experience for me. I had never encountered anything like it in any other employment or even back at school as a kid.

One indicative example of the circumstances there was an episode concerning a load of booze the management provided as a Christmas gesture of goodwill. I wish I'd kept the document, which was quite hilarious and entirely appropriate - more resembling an infant-teacher's rebuke to unruly kids than a caution to a morose rabble of self-centred ego-driven adults - but about a week before Christmas we received a written reprimand concerning infighting and arguments in the department over missing items from this curiously large consignment of booze.

Since I'd been home for the weekend when the booze both appeared and (partially) disappeared, there was no way this could apply to me... yet still I was somehow implicated. Not that this bothered me in the least - essentially an outsider, as I remained throughout, I ignored the others as, over several days, they intermittently disputed (and unwittingly confirmed the veracity of) the accusations of 'juvenile squabbling'. Like spoiled children with an exaggerated sense of entitlement, they continued to bicker even as they indulged in this booze during the few days left before Christmas.

When we returned after the Christmas break I decided, for the first time, to indulge like the others in what little booze remained - scarcely a fraction of what had existed before. Now and then, and keeping a low profile - I had the impression, correctly as it turned out, that due to my diminutive 'status' I (unlike the others) was supposed to get permission from the chief - I'd grab a tipple from where the booze was kept behind a stack of equipment.

One young guy who'd worked there several years had taken a pronounced dislike to me - he'd applied several times for a job at the Beeb to no avail and seemed to think his failure was my fault! At one point I noticed he'd spotted me taking a drink, at which he sloped quietly away. Seconds later the chief, who shared this guy's hostile attitude, appeared beside me and launched into an inordinate reproach. He'd already confronted me before Christmas over receiving a phone call from an old friend at TV Centre who wondered how I was getting along... the place, apparently, had a reputation in the industry. Why hadn't I known this? More to the point, why had no-one warned me before I jumped ship?

The next day what little booze that remained had disappeared. So in my downcast frame of mind I decided to buy some for myself - and for several weeks, after a stroll around the Hoe and the Old Town, I'd sit every evening on my bed feeling sorry for myself and sipping dark rum until I fell asleep. Then I'd wake the next morning feeling decidedly groggy and dreading the day ahead as strongly as I'd looked forward to it when at the Beeb.

I could fill-in much more about that place and the people there, and about the weird guy and his mother who owned, and lived in the basement of, the house where I stayed - and who were, at least the guy was, an astonishing replica in appearance and manner of the infamous Norman Bates from 'Psycho'. But by the end of January I decided I'd had enough. There was no prospect that my position would improve, so without a clue what I'd do next for a job, or even caring, I resigned.

Although I rarely saw him, I'd got along fine with the guy who ran Personnel. It was him to whom I handed my resignation: a month's notice. He smiled (and did I detect a sigh?), asked no questions, just said he understood and wished me well.. almost as if he'd expected it.

Then I wondered: what's the easiest next option? I didn't hold-out much hope, but no harm, I thought, in applying for my old job back. So I wrote. And, of course, they said OK - after only 3-months I wouldn't need re-training like a new recruit. So now I had to find a house back in London and move my stuff there.

I needn't have told them, of course, but to see their reactions was an entertainment. So during my last few weeks I received numerous cold, silent glances from those who now resented me even more, it seemed, for my prospective return to where they'd been several times rejected. When they did concede to speak it was to complain about a personal issue: I'd failed to perform some task or other, I was late (even if by a few seconds), I looked unkempt, I smelt of stale sweat (those last two were probably true)... one conceited prick asked outright, as if with genuine surprise: "How come the BBC employs an idiot like YOU?" I just shrugged and grinned smugly - what else in response to such a jerk? He didn't have a clue, and nothing I said could have altered that.

It was obvious to me why the Beeb hadn't recruited these types: when I'd joined back in 1978, I got the strong impression at the interview board that as well as reliability and technical competence - assessed by dept managers on the board - the key aspect sought by personnel (which they don't always get right) was a level of modesty, or at least a low score on arrogance and a kind-of flexibility consequent of this, which is good for team work and generally conducive to a positive working environment.

By a remarkable fluke I soon found an excellent detached house I could afford half-way along a quiet road near the river in Walton-on-Thames: 59, Dudley Rd. Due partly to its slight 'cosmetic' disrepair and being owned by a building firm who'd taken it in part exchange for a newly-built house - so their aim was to offload it as swiftly as possible - the house was unusually cheap. Since I did my own conveyancing so could respond to issues straight away - and the builders had their own solicitors - the entire transaction took less than a month. So by the end of April I was in.

 

A Life-changing Accident

During March and April, I stayed at my parents' in Huntingdon and commuted. I think it was in March: one night when we were all asleep, Dad got up for a pee and fell, hit his head and damaged his spine so became totally paralysed for several months.

I've always been a light sleeper so the bang of his fall woke me. I sensed something serious had happened and immediately got up. When I found him lying there I woke the rest of the house. The ambulance was called and he was tested for epilepsy and so on, then taken to a neurology ward at Addenbrookes in Cambridge. After a week or so he could wriggle a little finger, then a few weeks later he moved his arm... until eventually after about six-months he was able to walk jerkily with walking sticks like a spastic.

His walking never improved beyond this in the next 14-years of his life, but still he achieved a lot in that time, even being able to drive again, get around town on a motorised chair, have holidays and even swim - which in the early days was part of his therapy in a special local pool for disabled people.

Above all, he wrote an outstanding memoir detailing his life, especially the WW2 years, up until about 1962. Despite his intention to describe the accident and subsequent recovery in a sequel, he alas never got around to it.

 

Back with 'Benevolent' Auntie

It was great to be back; I felt 'at-home' again. And the range of work broadened to include VT: recording, working with production staff, editors and so on. The reason I say 'benevolent' is because one could almost live at TV Centre.... the inner-circle of the ground floor was mostly dressing-rooms for artists, with nearby facilities such as showers, assembly areas for drinks and snacks, etc., all available to anyone. As well as the BBC Club bar on the 4th floor, at least one of three subsidised restaurants would always be open. These were in a spur and overlooked the Blue-Peter garden and Wormholt Park. The only facility that had to be booked officially was to sleep in a dressing-room - though the place did have a few lesser-known 'cubby-holes' where at a push one could illicitly 'bed-down' for the night. Otherwise everything was laid-on.

And so began a further 5-years of comfort and ease - especially now with a detached house at last and only 15-miles from work.... as well as close to Hampton Court, to where I frequently walked via the Thames towpath past Sunbury lock, and sometimes on to Kingston. Also Bushy Park and Richmond Park were just a short bike ride away. I could write a whole story on that half-decade.... on days-off biking often to Windsor Park and around the entire estate or to Dorking and along the North Downs Way with its expansive views south, biking the towpath to Kew and even into London, locking my bike to the railings outside Tate Britain for a free couple of hours contemplating Turner's magnificent paintings.

Once, cycling around Hyde Park Corner, the bike's free-wheel ratchet failed - the only time that's ever happened to me - and just at the point when I was right in the middle of everything... could there have been a more inopportune moment? Leaping off and dodging through six hectic lanes of moving traffic I somehow managed to clear the mayhem unscathed. Then had to return home by train.

Sometimes at work, I might have a whole afternoon free due to a cancellation or an overlap of staff from early and late shifts. So if I had my bike I could slope-off and peddle to the Grand Union Canal just north of Wormwood Scrubs and along the towpath as far as Regents Park. Or I might walk to Olympia, then Earls Court and through the wonderful Brompton Cemetery, or to the western end of Hyde Park past the round pond and Kensington Palace, then after several hours in Waterstone's huge bookshop in Kensington High Street I'd return through Holland Park and maybe an exhibition of ceramics or paintings in the orangery. It was only a short walk down to the Thames at Hammersmith too, or along to Acton Park.... so many excellent parks. On several occasions I walked to Kew gardens for an afternoon of wandering around (10p entrance fee in those days) and twice to the huge working beam engine house there.

One guy who worked in TV-recording was famous among recording-engineers in the London area for his splendid Christmas parties. Every year a week or so before Christmas Dave and his partner would send invites around all the TV companies: ITV, ITN, Ch-4... etc., many of whose recording engineers were ex-Beeb. This annual event would be held at their large flat in Ealing and was always well-attended.

The first Christmas after that slightly traumatic TSW/Plymouth episode (1984), someone at this fabulous party approached me and asked: "Are you Phil Clarke, the guy who was briefly at TSW?"

"That's me," I replied, "I could only take three-months of it."

"You did well," he said, "most haven't lasted a month."

He then called over and introduced two others who'd briefly worked at TSW. I'd heard I wasn't alone in falling for the delusion, but was astonished to learn of several more. And it seemed my 'adventure' had earned me a minor reputation, evoking a certain esteem among people I'd never met. It was great to be in their company; and with unlimited alcohol, that evening became one I well remember.

Back at work, as I say, meeting producers, production assistants, etc., when they came to VT to view, transfer, edit and so on, was a regular occurrence. Since any confidence I had in my skills for judging programme quality was fairly low I usually kept opinions to myself, but although some of their productions were impressive, a few struck me as excruciatingly dull. What seemed consistent above all, though, was that the Education Programmes were almost always the latter: mind-numbingly lacklustre. Maybe they were on a low budget compared with others? More likely, I later concluded, it was a management problem: the staff seemed less motivated, less involved and less committed than those from other departments.

I think it was autumn 1985 when scanning the BBC internal newspaper 'Aerial' I spotted a request for ideas from that department. I decided to try waking them up with a few unorthodox suggestions I thought they should have adopted ages ago. I sent about ten scenarios, which for a professional touch I typed-out in some detail, each on a couple of sides of A4 with sub-headings: Aims, Procedure... etc. Who knows, I thought (in a flourish of wild optimism), they might even offer me a job?

After several weeks of no response, I inquired of one of their production staff. She promised to investigate and let me know. Eventually - after several nudges and reminders over even more weeks when I perchance caught her in the area - she finally remembered to inquire... and discovered that my response had indeed been received. A few days later when I saw her again she said someone would in due course visit me for a chat, probably the Executive Producer: the 'esteemed' (or feared?) Michael Garrard.

Another month went by - and still nothing. Then, after persuading a reluctant new production assistant to reveal details of her next filming session, I managed to 'gatecrash' a film crew. She'd told me the location, which turned out to be a 'hand-made brick' yard with a traditional kiln somewhere in rural Buckinghamshire, and when... so a few days later off-shift I drove out there. When the producer, Lucy Parker, asked who I was, I introduced myself.

Lucy, I later learned, was the daughter of Peter Parker, once head of British Rail.... production depts at the Beeb were solid with these kinds of connections, including ex-Oxcam, ex-private school, frequently Jewish and nearly always with classy accents. What hope for a naive, presumptuous little upstart from VT who fulfilled none of these criteria? Whatever was I thinking of? (The historical baggage responsible for this phenomenon is outlined in this brief 2015 Guardian account by Seumas Milne).

I've always felt a curious (though mild) distrust of anyone with a 'classy' accent - at least, until I've got to know them. Perhaps like Jewish people reputedly, they're inclined to operate with an unjustified sense of entitlement or superiority, as well as to be wealthier... and do less work (or more pleasant work)... than other people. That's my attempt to rationalise - if it's a prejudice then it's the only one I have that I'm aware of.

However, fortunately for me, Lucy was too preoccupied with her programme to afford me more than a cursory OK nod. But it struck me that 90% of the real work was down to the camera man and the guy who held the mike - then later an editor. And it turned out a pretty boring and overlong day, if occasionally engaging, traipsing to various locations, filming this, then that, an interview here, a cameo there... I was glad when it was over and could drive home. I wondered how the hell even the most skilled editor on the planet could turn the material they'd filmed into a programme with any appeal.

Finally, having more-or-less dropped the entire issue, another month or so later - around early December - a memo appeared in my inbox inviting me to an interview at their office in Ealing: 19.00, it said. So along I went to what turned out to be part of a rambling old building the Beeb rented not far from Ealing Broadway tube station.

When I arrived the place was deserted and in virtually complete darkness, just emergency lights, so it seemed. Finding my way along a dark corridor then another then up a staircase proved tricky - maybe it was part of the test? Eventually, I spotted a dimly-lit office surrounded by glass panelling. It was a drab office too, a bit chaotic yet quite big and meagrely enlivened by a bubbling percolator on a table at one side with a plate of jammie-dodgers.

Two scruffy-looking guys slouched awkwardly on hard chairs at a long desk. For all I could tell, they might have been vagrants: homeless squatters. One was short and fat with a straggly black beard (copiously flecked with jammie-dodger), while the other was taller and older, maybe in his mid 50s, with a rugged, anguished face. Upon seeing me the anguished guy stood, beckoned me in and we shook hands. One of them was Michael Garrard; I somehow missed which. Incongruously, both spoke with the obligatory classy accent.

I sat opposite them on another hard chair. Straight away the anguished guy launched into a convoluted description of a scenario that struck me as bizarre and hardly appropriate for a TV programme, then asked what I thought: would it make a fine concept to pursue?

I'd expected to be grilled for ideas, new approaches, on how I might proceed with, organise or research and present some topic - perhaps expand on one of my earlier 'outlandish' suggestions.

Not wishing to be a killjoy, I said that perhaps his idea could be tried. Then the bearded guy chipped-in, elaborating with even weirder augmentations. Bemused, I shrugged and said, timidly, "Why not?"

Now the tall guy looked really anguished and the bearded guy leaned forward glaring at me intimidatingly. The tall guy then resumed with several ludicrous embellishments - as if outlining some kind of colossal multi-million-pound Disney playground rather than a series of budget educational TV shows.

Unable to make sense of this, I told them I had no idea whether such a scheme would work; maybe it would, maybe it wouldn't... who could say?

At that point they glanced at one another - both with expressions of acute irritation, and I wondered briefly if I was at the right interview. There was no-one else there, no other 'candidates' - which struck me as odd: was it only me they were here for? As noted, the whole building seemed otherwise deserted.

Then the anguished guy stood, and shaking his head said that was all, and began to usher me up and out. I half-resisted at first, wondering what the hell was going-on: I'd hardly been there ten minutes. I remember saying "But...", and him responding with an impatient: 'Thank you, that's all... thank you.. we'll be in touch." hurrying me away as if he couldn't get me out fast enough.

Perhaps they were expecting someone more assertive or pretentious, or arrogant even? Either way, so ended one of my strangest ever interview experiences, and my only - predictably futile - attempt to penetrate the most lowly of those mysterious elitist BBC production departments. Not that I was too bothered; after that dreary day of filming I'd gone a bit cold on the prospect of working in production. Needless to add, I never received a rejection letter or even a memo. Nor did I bother to pursue anything like it again - though in retrospect, considering imminent developments in TV production financing and hiring, opportunities for anyone like me were soon to improve considerably. To be fair, though, most other departments were probably more imaginative and I just got unlucky?

It's worth noting that during the next 5-years or so the industry underwent the start of a great upheaval that would become almost a revolution. This was partly due to new technology, but primarily down to government policy (ie, privatisation, tightening budgets, etc.). The natural development this gave rise to created an increasingly cut-throat environment: programme financing became highly focussed, contract work increased, and most production staff switched to freelance - hiring themselves to the most lucratively beneficial company or to whoever would take them. The whole industry was fragmenting.

It was no surprise to me, and could have been a remarkable coincidence, and even if it wasn't then someone would at least have had to spruce-up the originals, but about 5 or 6 years later on Channel-4 I saw advertised a series of programmes that were an almost exact replica of the list of ideas I'd submitted: that is, those carefully worked-out and typed details of mine. On reflection, I supposed my suggestions were really quite an obvious development - if ahead of their time with regard to their 'informal' nature. But by then, what did I care? My interests were now elsewhere.

However, back to '86: A few months after that farcical interview, by an extraordinary stroke of luck I became involved with a series of programmes for Documentaries called 'Great Explorers'. I owe huge gratitude to that experience, since it jogged something in my brain that over the next couple of years ripened into an aspiration that - unimaginable at the time - would alter the entire direction my life was to take.

The programmes followed the footsteps of several great pioneer explorers. The key production team had actually travelled part of the routes. For instance, one episode emulated the trek that led to the discovery of Great Zimbabwe, while another followed what became the Alice Springs to Darwin 'Stuart Highway' in Australia. Yet another took them to the US and Lewis & Clark's famous 1804 - 1806 expedition from St Louis to the Oregon coast.

Meeting this aspirational crew was as stirring as their programmes, but I didn't dwell on it... that is, not consciously. That I might spontaneously embark on such a venture myself didn't even occur to me; if it had, then I'd have dismissed it as out-of-the-question. I wouldn't have had a clue how even to begin. To travel as part of a TV crew, though, would have been another issue and pretty terrific, if for me a fantastically unlikely prospect... but to independently leap onto any kind of venture? No chance.

Yet there remained that faint, indistinct irritation in the back of my brain - like some strange unanswered but vital question. Unaware of its nature, I ignored this increasingly unsettling sensation for more than a year before I realised - or thought I realised - what it was, its origin.

In a programme about exile, Aerial Dorfman and Bruce Chatwin discussed the inherent - but now largely dormant - human trait for the nomadic life. Before farming and settlements, they were saying, this had been our way-of-life for many thousands of years. I knew this already, but the discussion related the phenomenon to present day migration and our inclination to travel - which it suddenly dawned on me could be the very source of my unease.

In addition, as mentioned, I'd been reading Hesse. First 'Knulp': the eternal vagabond who shared characteristics many of us might recognise in ourselves. Then 'Steppenwolf', who despising the trappings of a cosseted bourgeois lifestyle - in which most of us are inclined to immerse ourselves - instead sought the 'mad', the 'fantastic', the 'surreal'. And finally 'Narziss & Goldmund' a story that takes place in a monastery - probably based on the one at Maulbronn I visited a few years ago and from where Hesse absconded when he was just 12. The tale follows the implicitly gay relationship between confirmed introvert Narziss, an established older monk and mentor, and Goldmund, a young novice whose unfolding worldly passions reveal an extrovert nature. Hesse saw how these inherent human characteristics of introversion and extroversion influence and steer the course of our lives. And I could see how my own psyche related more closely to Goldmund's, for whom any risk from heading out into the 'unknown' wider world would present no obstacle.

So, as I interpreted it: my 'feet were itching' - and together with Hesse and that trip to the US back in '83, 'Great Explorers' had awakened my psyche to the innate condition that Dorfman and Chatwin had so eloquently described.

All this created a kind-of dilemma. The problem was, despite everything, I liked my job, I liked the people I worked with, I liked where I lived, I liked everything about my life as it was. I was more than contented.

Occasionally on shift-days off, a telecine-supervisor friend, a very good friend who lived just across the river in Sunbury, would come over and we might stroll along the tow-path to the pub near Sunbury lock, enjoy a couple of pints then stroll back for a coffee at my place on the patio... a fine way to spend a summer afternoon. Or another day we might drive out somewhere interesting... it was truly a great life I was having, enjoying every day. Not a single complaint about anything - even the traffic never bothered me - at worst it was like playing a video game.

That summer I biked via nearly exclusively quiet country lanes, to Portsmouth. Then took the ferry to the Isle of Wight for a week of biking around, bed-&-breakfasting. A sensational week - not a drop of rain. Some days I'd cycle out to Holmbury Hill, or as mentioned, the north downs. Or I'd drive to Worthing for the day, maybe stopping on the way at Box Hill near Dorking for a wander up that famous slope covered in box trees - for the spectacular views south.

My life was well perfect in every way. Unlike many, I was neither plagued by ambition, nor cravings for more money. I owned an excellent car (a Maxi), was as fit as when I was 20, and enjoyed the company of occasional lovers... what more could anyone want?

The previous winter had been harsh and at Virginia Water end of Windsor Great Park I'd walked miles through deep snow including across that huge lake there the ice was so thick, and along a great avenue between the lake and a wood of tall monkey-puzzle trees.

To give-up this lifestyle would be mad, crazy, unthinkable!

 

Or Not So Benevolent?

But then several events together completely changed my focus, events that revealed - as the sub-heading suggests - a 'not-so-benevolent' Auntie. It's 1987 - the year of the great storm - which amazingly hardly affected me, but more on that shortly.

(Readers averse to political issues can skip this section by clicking HERE.)

At the start of the year, in appropriately dramatic fashion, Alasdair Milne - the BBC Director General - was sacked: ie, see Guardian Alasdair Milne sacked, which presents the history from Milne's son's perspective in 2015 - and which I'm sure is more objectively accurate than my own experience of developments as follows...

The significance of the sacking went scarcely noticed by me at the time... did I live in a dreamworld, or what? I mean, it featured in the national news, reverberated around the building I worked in, and was probably the most pivotal event not only during the decade I worked there, but in the entire history of the BBC.

In characteristically audacious style, Thatcher announced it at a formal dinner attended by Milne, who was probably the most exemplary DG the Beeb ever had. His fate, ostensibly, was due to his refusal to block the repeat broadcast of 'The Monocled Mutineer', an outstanding fact-based drama about mutiny during WW1; an event that I think had never been publicised (at least, not overtly).

It goes without saying that to publicise such integrity from 'working-class' conscripts - in open revolt in response to finding themselves victims of incompetent or deranged politicians waging one of the most disastrous and insane wars of slaughter and horror ever - was to justify insubordination. Never mind the iniquity of the political elite of the time... now represented by the Thatcher government... defiance is always intolerable to such 'autocrats'. From an article by John Pilger:

It's 100 years since the First World War. Reporters then were rewarded and knighted for their silence and collusion. At the height of the slaughter, British prime minister David Lloyd George confided in C.P. Scott, editor of the Manchester Guardian: "If people really knew [the truth] the war would be stopped tomorrow, but of course they don't know and can't know."

As he saw it, Milne's obligation - in contrast - was to reveal, inform, enlighten. His style was professional: hands-off - give your best producers the long leash deserving of any competent artist; he must have realised, though, in the reactionary political climate, that his tenure was conditional and at risk of termination. He'd already 'got-away-with' several controversial productions, each time deciding that to censor would be against the public interest. Besides, this was all just theatre, not current affairs or even documentary.

Possibly Milne was naïve of how far politicians were prepared to go to silence a dissident voice. Wouldn't it be seen as disproportionate, regressive - I imagine he reasoned - for any government to censor this highly regarded organisation? But the Establishment was incensed, and for them 'The Monocled Mutineer' was apparently the last-straw. Despite an impeccable reputation for impartiality, the Beeb's screening of such dramas would doubtless have been seen by the Establishment as outrageously partial - no matter the accuracy of its portrayal of historical events that the public may have had little conception of more than 70-years on. But wouldn't censorship be an over-reaction and result in a public outcry? Surely there'd be some kind of backlash or revolt?

As it transpired, there wasn't even a murmur. The Establishment, shrewd and pitiless as ever, had calculated with precision and took their revenge - and, most crucially, sealed the future of the BBC as their key propaganda machine... all with total impunity. And so it remains - yet such is their skill with propaganda that the BBC retains a reputation for at least a level of impartiality.

Another controversial drama I recall that Milne had cleared for broadcasting was 'Edge of Darkness' concerning a plot that involved espionage and an actual key nuclear facility. Anyone taking this literally might have warmed to CND's anti-nuclear message. There were several other equally 'challenging' dramas whose titles escape me. And earlier plays too, like Bleasdale's 1982 'Boys from the Blackstuff', would have infuriated a Tory government.

But the repercussions from Milne's sacking were profound and the Corporation was never to recover. Ie, from wikipedia in 2017 on Milne's successor:

[Checkland]... was more cautious and less radical than Milne, and therefore much less unsettling to the Thatcher government. It has been claimed that the exodus to Channel-4 in the early 1990s of dramatists like Dennis Potter and Alan Bleasdale, who had both been responsible for series which caused outrage among Conservatives during the Milne era, had much to do with the relative lack of risk-taking at the BBC under Checkland and his successor John Birt, who was deputy director-general throughout Checkland's reign.

The period following Milne's demise saw the exodus of many talented producers, leading to a reduction in innovation - especially 'drama' - and a palpable dip in morale. In lockstep with this, management in general adopted a more draconian style - as if shifting back to the 1950s. Above all, though, censorship became a permanent feature, a veritable sword-of-Damocles for producers, production staff and managers who remained.

New recruiting methods consolidated this regressive position in the form of selecting only those with a record of 'unconscious self-censorship' - as elucidated with regard to news-reporting by Noam Chomsky in an interview with Andrew Marr: "If you believed something different, you wouldn't be sitting where you are..." see YOUTUBE.

I remember more than one occasion months later, during pre-views of current-affairs documentaries, the producer's puzzled disbelief when anyone voiced observations of bias. Clearly, producers were blind to it - precisely the 'inherent-censoring' the new management had intended.

From then on, government influence only strengthened and so far as I can tell has not let-up since. In 2017 one has only to view alternative sources like Al Jazeera and RT together with responsible internet news sources such as ICH.

However, back in 1987, a few months after Milne's premature exit, another disturbing event occurred that directly involved the videotape department (VT) and me. I'd been scheduled in VT control that fortnight so could observe most of what happened. I describe this episode in detail HERE.

Briefly, I became aware that the BBC was engaged in facilitating trade between the Wimbledon Tennis Association and a South African TV station: ie, selling recordings of matches via satellite. This was during apartheid, but even without apartheid such 'trade' would have been inappropriate, possibly illicit for any public corporation.

The South African government was under pressure from international anti-apartheid sanctions: diplomatic, financial, internal instability, etc. UK trade unions and many others supported sanctions. The Tory government, predictably, refused to apply them and instead only encouraged trade. Even so, it was sanctions that finally forced an end to that obnoxious regime in 1991.

My unwitting intervention - on advice from an arts crew to alert Alan Yentob, controller of BBC2 (formerly head-of-arts) to the scandal - was probably instrumental in blocking rather than creating publicity. It was assumed that, being Jewish, Yentob would sympathise with victims of apartheid and intervene to stop this sanction-busting trade. Not only did he turn a blind-eye to it, but as noted, and as later became apparent, was instrumental in preventing publicity. Doubtless with any scandal like this there would have been financial as well as (in this instance) political implications.

We were astounded when the scandal failed to appear in the press. But what an eye-opener. It wasn't until many years later, as I say, that Yentob's complicity was revealed after documents concerning dealings between Israel and apartheid South Africa came to light, most notably concerning Israel's attempt to sell nuclear weapons to that country. As for the Wimbledon fix-up, the public were never informed - which I believe remains so to this day.

Now in 2017 I find it hard to believe how stupendously naïve we were: I don't just mean Yentob's duplicity - that should have been expected. What's most shameful is our failure to realise that under the Thatcher regime the BBC was essentially being turned into an Establishment propaganda weapon, and above all with no challenge or outcry from anywhere.

As we know, subsequent governments have only consolidated this - as, with astounding temerity, was demonstrated by Blair when he sacked Greg Dyke after a junior reporter exposed government lies linked with the Iraq invasion and David Kelly - a report that was later fully authenticated.

Since this declared reason for sacking Dyke - ie, a junior reporter breaking protocol - was pretty tame, I guess the real reason was anticipation of future events for which a successor would have to be found. It was no secret that Dyke was well liked, supported his staff and would not have been susceptible to underhand compliance. (I wondered how he got selected in the first place... perhaps a pre-emptive deterrent during politically 'quiet' times to dispell accusations of government interference in such appointments?)

I may seem to be leaping onto a tangent here, but I feel inclined, in the context of what I witnessed regarding the issues at hand, to bring subsequent observations, accurate or otherwise, more-or-less up to date - ie, to 2017. These are entirely relevant to a memoir - ie, reading of updates and analyses from reporters and commentators with impeccable reputations for diligence and integrity. After all, anyone who follows these 'global' issues can't help but to be influenced in how they perceive the world, and their position in it. Hence....

 

Political Context

Thompson, who replaced Dyke, was Jewish and a close friend of senior members of the Likud party in the Israeli government - during 2004-2012. This was a crucial period for anti-Iraq, anti-Palestine propaganda, or more significantly: pro-Israel, pro-western bias... which meant, above all, 'self-censoring' (as noted above, ie: Chomsky-Marr) and 'embedded' reporters, etc.

It's no secret that the UK media, especially the pseudo-'impartial' BBC (and consistently with every UK government) has for many years been run or overseen by Jews or those sympathetic to Israel.

This became clear during the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and has become increasingly conspicuous in recent years with UK media reports (or lack of them) and UK politicians' comments likewise concerning Israel's ongoing atrocities and injustices against Palestine. When Israel bombed and decimated large areas of Palestine in 2009, dropping numerous phosphorous bombs and killing more than 1000 Palestinians, Thompson (ie, wikipedia) refused airtime for the 'Gaza Appeal', yet independent channels transmitted it repeatedly.

I'm not an avid radio listener (at least, not of Radio-4), at most I hear the occasional half-hour programme and news bulletin, but in 2016 (and probably for a year or two before?), as well as now in 2017, some reference to the holocaust has been voiced on Radio-4 virtually every day. Do other people notice this? It's certainly a phenomenon of recent years. Sometimes whole programmes are dedicated to the subject, or analyse a new film or book that covers some aspect of it. Frequently, the relevance in a programme is tenuous at best, as though shoved-in as an (incongruent) afterthought.... and I think: 'What's that got to do with it?'

And from a twitter contributor I follow:

Media Lens ‏@medialens  24 Sep 2015 Senior @BBCNews producer: 'We wait in fear for the telephone call from the Israelis.'

It's as if, while conducting the most brutal assaults and repression against Palestine, the Israeli government (via its various UK lobbies) is using its grip on media not just to prevent anything anti-Israel from reaching the airwaves, but also to keep reminding people of the holocaust in order, presumably, to revive their sympathy for Jews as victims - so they might, I guess (why else?), judge Israeli atrocities less harshly... that they might ignore the incarceration of 2-million Palestinians and the relentless theft of their land... scarcely to mention the ongoing oppression, sporadic murders and other horrors committed by Israel.

I should emphasise: It's as if... But if these references to the holocaust mean anything in the current political climate then it can only indicate the level of concern that supporters of Israel must have for their reputation and the antisemitism they constantly provoke around the world. Most supporters of Israel when interviewed on the subject seem void of any conscience, incapable of regarding anyone other than Jews as worthy of justice or even respect. Arabs in particular are spoken of as 'less than animals': '... it's not in their nature to be concerned about territory...' '...this land belongs by right to the Jewish people...' etc. Supporters of Israel seem to completely fail to recognise their culpability.

It should be noted, as an aside, that these same Jewish lobbies appear to be attempting in 2016/17 to infiltrate and undermine Corbyn's reformed Labour Party. Blair, as we know, was (is) their hero. Apart from his policies, which is fairly crucial, the fact that Corbyn isn't a natural 'leader' is what makes him, in my view, more attractive than contenders. Politicians with so-called 'leadership-qualities' are usually ego-driven and problematic: see 'The Myth of the Strong Leader' (Guardian review)

At the end of a 7th Feb 2017 article where after requesting information on the issue from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Craig Murray (former British Ambassador) writes:

"FCO Media Department have replied that they refuse to give me any further information on the subject, and that I should proceed through a Freedom of Information request so the FCO can assess properly whether the release of any further information is in the national interest.

...I am confident I know what they are hiding, and that is FCO complicity in a large nest of Israeli spies seeking to influence policy and opinion in the UK in a pro-Israeli direction. That is why the government reaction to one of those spies being caught on camera plotting a scandal against an FCO minister, and giving £1 million to anti-Corbyn MPs, was so astonishingly muted. It is also worth noting that while the media could not completely ignore the fantastic al Jazeera documentaries that exposed the scandal, it was a matter of a brief article and no follow up digging."

So much for the 'self-censoring' British media! No wonder 'False News' is becoming so popular.

- - - - -

A few months after I joined the Beeb I was assigned several days of bookings in an old fire-proofed 35mm telecine at Lime Grove. My task was to transfer to tape part of a huge batch of monochrome nitrate film. Under certain ambient conditions nitrate film is at risk of spontaneous combustion, and although some of the reels were in a poor state, lucky for me none of it caught fire while I was there. But it's due to the nature of what was recorded on the film that I mention this here.

As I say, the film quality was extremely poor. Worn and damaged sprocket holes made it jitter and lurch. Blacks and whites were severely crushed causing lack of detail despite 'tarif' adjustments to minimise the effect. The level of scratching and dirt-&-sparkle exceeded anything I'd ever seen then or since.

But the content was Hitler's Nazi death camps - on and on, one after another, reel after reel of it. Over and again shots of thousands of emaciated naked bodies lying in heaps and being shifted by big mechanical diggers and bulldozers into long trenches. The film belonged to The National Film Archive and was being transferred before the brittle nitrate film disintegrated - some of it was already beginning to crumble.

I was given the option to move to another booking if I found it disturbing to watch. But because I knew it had all happened before I was born, it seemed remote. And the abysmal picture quality enhanced the impression of distance in time. I may as well have been watching a mock-up or the result of some 19th Century massacre for all the effect it had on me.

One baffling fact consistent throughout was that the bodies were emaciated, as one might expect from starvation or a wasting disease. It has been speculated that typhus spread by lice was responsible. But this was only a small sample of the film that existed. Had they been gassed too? There was no evidence of it in what I saw - except so many bodies all at once, and naked? So-called 'deniers' claim that no one was gassed. I'm left with an open mind.

But whether gassed or not, the fate of these people appalled me as much as it would anyone. Mostly Jews, I presumed, though according to reports by no means exclusively, these victims of Nazi brutality (and neglect?) were probably just ordinary people like me caught up in an abominable psychosis that infected much of Germany in the 1930s and early 40s. I've speculated on the causes of antisemitism in WW2 Germany elsewhere, but the inhumanity of those times - hardly to consider Vietnam with napalm, the Cambodian 'Killing-Fields' and so on - is hard to comprehend... especially for me when all my life I've opposed any kind of brutality.

And this is why I oppose Israel, which seems to be taking some kind of terrible revenge for what happened to an earlier generation of theirs. That 'revenge' has been going on since 1947 I think, or 1967?, and is worse now than ever. Many Israelis don't support their government, but most do. Some of my 'heroes' are (or were, when alive) Jews: Alexei Sayle, Noam Chomsky, Harold Pinter... I could make quite a list. They are neither Israelis nor, I believe, would they support Israel. But most Israelis and many Jews elsewhere don't only approve of the brutality of the Israeli government, but seem oblivious to why it invites hostility from the rest of the world... like they have a blind spot, an inability to perceive how grotesque they appear to others - maybe some curious inculcated sense of privilege and right of authority over everyone else is the cause? See HERE.

Finally, while on the subject of Israel, I may as well present another 'maverick' angle. This concerns the controversial issue of 9/11. It's not disputed that Israel's existence is dependent on financial and other support from Washington. And that Israel is seen by some as an outpost of the USA, while others regard the USA as an Israeli colony. Either way, Israel and the USA have become inextricably linked.

Back in the 1990s several crucial things were taking place. One was that PNAC (Project for the New American Century) - comprised of and together with senior right-wing republican politicians (mostly Jews) - began to plan, as part of their imperial aim for world domination, to invade and take control of both Afghanistan and Iraq. Attempts by Russia to assert control over the former were failing, and Dick Cheney was keen to organise the installation of a lucrative oil pipeline across the region.

As for Iraq, it was no secret that Saddam Hussein presented, as Israel saw it, the greatest threat. For one thing, Iraq had been rewarding Palestinian families whose sons had martyred themselves by attacking Israeli defences. For another, all major western oil outfits had had their eye on Iraq's vast oil reserves for some time. Besides which, Saddam (although a dictator who never hesitated to dispatch opponents) was a 'benevolent-socialist'. So even without imperial ambitions, there was every reason, as both Israel and Washington under G W Bush saw it, to invade Iraq at the earliest opportunity. It would provide an enormous boost for the US military too, large sections of which had been 'marking-time' for several years. In addition, there'd be huge opportunities for 'reconstruction' and private 'security' outfits. All these: Israel, the arms, oil, reconstruction, security industries, were set for colossal gains from a war. The losers didn't come into it: indigenous victims, adjacent countries, soldiers, the public who had to cough-up the $trillions it would all cost...

Also in the '90s, unlikely as it seems - though I suppose it's a possibility, as Robert Harris speculated in his novel 'Ghost' - Blair may have been 'recruited' (by the CIA?) specifically for the role he was to play in the invasion... at least, it would explain (among other things) why he refused to back-out. The pressure from numerous quarters (official and otherwise) to climb-down was colossal, yet he stood firm. Even now, after the death of more than a million Iraqi civilians, the exile of several million more, and at the cost to the UK government of ~£12bn, plus universal acknowledgement that the invasion represented the UK's greatest blunder since Suez, Blair still claims it was 'the-right-thing-to-do' (or did until recently - maybe the CIA have disowned him?). For PNAC it was fine: if nothing else, it destabilised the whole region for the foreseeable future.

Before the invasion could begin the Bush government needed a pretext to convince congress. Saddam's gifts to Palestinians couldn't remotely justify mobilising the vast US military machine any more than Cheney's pipeline for invading Afghanistan. Some kind of dramatic shock event was essential.

It was in the '90s too when the New York Port Authority realised it had an enormous problem regarding the World Trade Centre: the Twin-Towers, which it owned, had been constructed in the '70s using, incredulously, asbestos - which was known even then to be toxic and dangerous... yet had been 'woven' into the very fabric of the structure. But now this was causing concern since the buildings would have to be abandoned, possibly demolished - at phenomenal cost.

The Twin Towers were occupied by trading outfits. One way or another, it has been speculated - and strikes me as highly probable - wealthy Jewish traders, Mossad, senior republican politicians and others, got together and examined the situation in context. Their task: to devise a scheme that might solve all these issues in a stroke. Their efforts resulted in what came to be known as 9/11.

I don't think such a conclusion is to over-estimate the ingenuity or influence of those who oversee these kind of strategic manoeuvres. Either way, there's a wealth of 'coincidences' to back it up.

It has never been disputed that many wealthy Jews made huge fortunes from speculations based on what could only have been foreknowledge of 9/11. Reports of a group of Jews leaping from a minibus near Manhattan and celebrating as they watched the first Twin Tower hit, may be unreliable even with video 'evidence'. But it was also reported that no Jews had turned-up for work at the Twin Towers that day. Inevitably, there are many theories and speculations over an event like this. But for the US airforce to have been somehow 'grounded' just on that day, the president away from Washington... and several other curious details including CIA operatives with leads on the hijackers being taken off-duty or put on leave, or details concerning the fate of buildings in the vicinity... or how the central pillars of the Twin Towers containing lift shafts and stairs would have had to be detonated at intervals... etc., etc., must lead any questioning person to conclude more-or-less as I have. What other explanation is possible or likely when a project with the enormity of the invasion of Iraq was in the balance? And especially with Israel the key beneficiary, never mind the slaughter.

Who doesn't remember the pre-emptive military build-up, then the wait, months of bizarre humbug about 'breaches' and 'material breaches' leading to the withdrawal of weapons inspectors and the consensus of opposition from them, from scores of military historians, diplomats, academics, Nobel laureates... and finally multiple millions of public demonstrating across the world?

Then Libya, next Syria.... which Obama shrewdly thwarted - though the US ambassador to Syria at the start of anti-government hostilities there admitted openly his involvement in the uprising. Since the US is a military economy, I suspect that no US president has very much power when it comes to certain 'undercover' or clandestine military operations: is it 750 bases they have around the world? Imagine the cost, while poverty in the US is endemic. Quite apart from the hubris, the impertinence, I'd say the entire setup is as insane as it is incredible. Like the banks as described in Steinbeck's 'The Grapes of Wrath', they have created an indestructible monster...

So that's my take, and with evidence I'd stand corrected. But these events shape the way we think and perceive, which is why I believe it's relevant to include in this memoir.

* * * * *

Anyhow... as for the big 1987 storm, that hit a few months later in October. I slept through it completely, which was amazing with me being a light sleeper. And I was on the early shift too. Yet even on route to work when upon reaching Hampton Court the road to Kingston was blocked by huge fallen trees, I still didn't realise anything unusual had taken place. I just diverted through Bushy Park - which for a change of scenery I often did anyway. But when I was forced to keep diverting onto alternative routes, as one might at peak commuting times, it became obvious that the situation was far from normal. Still, I arrived at work only half-an-hour late; some didn't make it at all.

Back in 1987, though, I wasn't the only one disillusioned, but the events I describe certainly refocused how I saw the BBC. This, more than anything - more even than that curious 'nomadic' gene - is what gave cause to re-evaluate my position. My brain still reverberated too from the memory of those masterpieces of literature: from 'The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists' that my sister had given me several years earlier, to Hesse, then the outstanding works of Malcolm Bradbury's 'Ten Great Writers'. But all these issues together were to swirl around in my head for almost another year before I finally woke-up and took the belated leap into the void and a new era... 'Born Again!'

 

Onto PART 4

A New Era