BUSHELL ON THE BLOG
May 16. R.I.P. Tom Wolfe – a tremendous, innovative writer who turned journalism into an art form. Wolfe’s pioneering style – the cornerstone of 1960s “New Journalism” – exploded in driving, often deliriously descriptive, wildly punctuated prose that felt and flowed like pulp fiction. Wolfe, who died on Monday aged 88, was a life-long provocateur. He had a gift for spotting and naming trends, coining apt and unforgettable phrases such as ‘Radical Chic’ and ‘the Me Decade’. He was also one of the first to document London Mods. His essay The Noonday Underground shone a torch on working class kids who spent their dinner breaks dancing at Tiles club (79 Oxford Street); kids like 15-year-old Larry Lynch from Brixton who dressed better than his bosses. Tom found 250 of them in the cellar room immersing themselves “for one hour in The Life, every lunch hour...” Saturday Night Fever was based on that three page piece, transposing the scene to working class Brooklyn a decade later...
Wolfe wrote nine non-fiction books between 1965 and 1981, including The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, about his travels in California with Ken ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’ Kesey and his LSD-gobbling Merry Pranksters. It still stands as the finest account of 1960s psychedelic culture. Yet Wolfe wrote as brilliantly about the space race as he did hipsters and car customizers. The Right Stuff told the story of the first seven Mercury astronauts selected by NASA, and test pilots like Chuck Yeager.
Wolfe’s 1975 book The Painted Word took on the modern art racket and in particular the destructive influence of New York art critics. (Six years later modern architecture got it in the neck in From Bauhaus to Our House.) For years Tom Wolfe had argued that journalism had unseated literature, and then proved there was still life in fiction with his first novel. The Bonfire of the Vanities was published Dickens-style as a serial in Rolling Stone magazine. It was superb, a scathingly satirical portrait of power, greed, money and vanity in New York City during the 1980s when traders like Sherman McCoy saw themselves as masters of the universe. Established authors like Updike, Irving and Mailer took against the upstart. Norman Mailer called Tom “the hardest-working show-off the literary world has ever owned.” Yet they couldn’t stop it or his second novel, 1998’s A Man in Full from selling by the truck-load. I found 2004’s I Am Charlotte Simmons a let-down but his last novel, 2012’s Back to Blood was a return to form complete with rat-a-tat rhythms and Miami’s many multicultural conundrums. Tom Wolfe combined a journalist’s curiosity with a great novelist’s descriptive gifts. He had a real ear for how people talk and a genius that gushed out of him for more than sixty years. We’ve lost a giant.
SOME dozy cop has told English football fans going to the World Cup in Russia not to wave or display the English flag, claiming it could be seen as “imperialistic” and “provocative”. Yes, except the last time I looked England didn’t have an empire. There used to be a remarkably successful British Empire but that flew the Union flag rather than the Cross of St George – the same colours that are flown at multinational events like the Olympics decade after decade without provoking trouble. It’s a given that our self-loathing ruling elite take a low view of England and the English, but I think that were Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts to look into it, he might find that Russia is the country with imperial ambitions these days. And its psychopathic thugs are just as likely to be “provoked” by an English accent as they are a flag.
May 13. For my birthday today, my youngest daughter gave me a triple CD of Music Hall favourites. They’re all here – Marie Lloyd, Harry Champion, Florrie Forde, Billy Williams, Lily Morris, the great Gus Elen, the immortal Max Miller... and it’s wonderful. There are even songs I’d never heard of, like Beatrice Lillie’s surreal ‘The Yodelling Goldfish’. On my podcast I’m always pushing exciting current artists like The Spitfires, Territories, Louise Distras, Xana Romeo, Buster Shuffle and so on. But nothing on earth can make me smile more than the sound of Pimlico-born Gus singing ‘’Arf A Pint Of Ale’ in broad Victorian Cockney. ‘For breakfast never think of ’aving tea, I likes me arf a pint of ale...’ Magical. I think I might join him.
May 12. I was invited along to an Artists For Brexit event in London’s Fitzrovia earlier today. There were authors, poets, musicians, filmmakers, publishers, ex punks and even some actual artists. It was standing room in the pub for an afternoon of performances, which included a folk singer, a comedian, various poets, an Ulster folk musician and even a young opera singer. All ages were represented and the politics of those present ranged from libertarian to Labour Leave. The Guardian would be horrified to learn that the mood was hugely positive and the talk was of democracy and freedom in a world that isn’t increasingly authoritarian and undemocratic. A small acorn from which a mighty oak could grow.
May 11. What would Wellington make of May’s government refusing to agree an amnesty for British soldiers who served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles? How would Churchill view this betrayal of our veterans? Or Monty? Bad enough that we are ruled by clowns, but to hound our former troops – sent to Ulster to keep the peace by a Labour government – while allowing the terrorist killers of innocents to walk free is beyond sickening. The sooner there is a credible alternative to our quisling political class the better.
May 4. A quick update: I’ve just finished writing and editing the We Still Kill The Old Way: Origins novel with Craig Brackenridge. I’m giving myself a breather and then I’ll crack on with the first of two new Harry Tyler stories. Consequently this blog is unlikely to return in the foreseeable future. I’ll still be doing the Rancid Sounds and Sounds of Glory podcasts and will continue to post the links on Twitter and Facebook. Bushell On The Box is published every week in the Daily Star Sunday.
As I write, the English council election results suggest that Jeremy Corbyn is a busted flush. Labour haven’t taken a single Tory council in London. Corbyn now claims the Tories “talked up” Labour’s chances and set them unachievable goals. But it wasn’t a Conservative who said there was “no corner” of the capital where Labour couldn’t win, or that they could challenge the Tories “even in their crown jewels of Wandsworth and Barnet”. It was Sadiq Khan, London’s grand-standing Labour Mayor. Nor was it a Tory who raised the prospect of Labour enjoying a “significant victory” in Hillingdon, it was Labour’s own shadow chancellor, slippery John McDonnell.
Here is the bottom line – the government is barely fit for purpose; the Prime Minister is a dithering embarrassment, her Home Secretary just walked the plank and the Tories are beset with disasters from the Windrush fiasco to their continued bungling of Brexit. Yet Labour still can’t make headway against them! Appeal to Middle England? Corbyn and McDonnell don’t even appeal to natural Labour voters. Outside of the party faithful, few are prepared to tolerate the stench of anti-Semitism around the party, let alone their leaders’ long association with terrorists, fruitcakes and clapped-out ideologies. We don’t trust Corbyn’s Labour on defence, the economy or immigration, and we certainly can’t trust them on Brexit which their unelected Lords are doing their best to derail along with the 109 Lib Dim Lords. (109! They can barely muster eight elected MPs!) Britain is crying out for a principled opposition; one that understands the concerns and aspirations of our people. A Labour leader in the tradition of Clement Atlee or Hugh Gaitskell would make mincemeat of Mrs. May. Is there anyone of that calibre left?
Trump was predictably ridiculed for describing London as a war-zone. But hasn’t he got a point? Our murder rate is now higher than New York’s. There have been sixty killings in the capital this year already, most of them gang related, and there is no sign of the stabbings and shootings drying up any time soon. There should be action this day to clamp down on this tragic waste of young lives. Words are not enough, Sadiq.
April 23. Happy St George's Day. Enjoy the celebrations but remember, to paraphrase Shelley, that the English still need to ‘rise like Lions after slumber in unvanquishable number’ to beat our corrupt establishment. Britain’s ruling elite will use all of their power and influence to ruin our freedoms – watch how the House of Lords operate against Brexit. (Just what is it about the unelected, undemocratic, unaccountable, gravy-train riding dodge-pots of the EU that appeals to unelected, undemocratic, unaccountable gravy-train riding dodge-pots in the Lords, the BBC and the civil service?). I love England but I hate the way it’s curling up at the edges. Our freedoms are under attack, our pubs are dying, and even our humour is under threat. It’s only when we achieve British independence that we can free England from punitive taxation, nanny state strictures and right-on double-think. So shake your chains to earth like dew, which in sleep had fallen on you – ye are many, they are few. Cheers!
April 19. Dale Winton’s death was a real shock. We’d been friends for 25 years. I’ve just written this piece for the Daily Star:
THIS is the moment Dale Winton first came out of the closet – in my bedroom!
The much loved star told me he was gay years before he came out to the world but swore me to secrecy.
Not that his revelation in his 2002 autobiography can have shocked anyone.
I first met Dale when we were both panellists on Celebrity Squares... the day after I’d put his Supermarket Sweep in my Top Ten worst daytime TV shows.
“Garry,” he said. “Dear boy! We need a word.”
We hit it off immediately. Dale was warm, witty, self aware – and always ready to send himself up. We became such good friends that when my wife told him she was expecting our daughter he insisted on being her godfather.
We had a mutual love of Florida. We’d often meet up in St Pete beach and we’d end up in Cody’s Roadhouse where he’d have a full rack of ribs. (He embraced the Atkins diet whole-heartedly).
We did a few TV shows together. His Pets Win Prizes, my Bushell On The Box.
On screen he was a total pro, off-stage he was funny and indiscreet in equal measure. It’s a mark of how much he trusted me that he would pour his heart out about his boyfriends – at least three of them hit him. In later years he fought debilitating depression, but usually he was upbeat and fun to be around. Dale loved music, especially country. He often called to tell my wife who is a country singer about new acts breaking big in the States. He even recorded country songs of his own, which he played us in his Regents Park kitchen. They were pretty good but he bottled out of releasing them. Dale knew TV inside out.
He adored America and owned a huge, deluxe bungalow in Sarasota. He loved cars. He owned two matching red Aston Martin convertibles, one for London, one for Florida. And he was a coffee addict, happily drinking two cups (one hot, one iced) simultaneously. But he was addicted to self-medicating too. The last time we visited his US home he had enough pills on the shelves to stock a pharmacy. But when we last spoke Dale was very buoyant about his Florida Fly Drive show. It was his way back onto prime time after In It To Win It was axed. He described it “Alan Whicker meets Russell Harty”. Unfortunately only one episode was broadcast by C5 before the Florida shootings. That happened on a Wednesday. Dale’s second episode, due to be screened on the Thursday, was then pulled and I saw nothing of the rest of the series. Although the kids were obviously the real victims, this felt like another body blow. All the years I knew him, Dale was big-hearted and generous to a fault. He even forgave me for the less than favourable reviews I gave shows like Touch The Truck. And in fairness he gave as good as he got. When we appeared together on ITV’s You Bet with Wendy Richard, for a wind-up, just before we walked on stage he told me he fancied me and made an unprintable suggestion. If you watch the footage I enter the studio about six feet ahead of him. When he sat next to me on the set, Dale just grinned and said “Gotcha Garry! Gotcha!” I’ll miss you mate.
March 3: This blog is closed due to looming book deadlines. Back next month.
March 2. So the sell-out begins. Theresa May today promised EU fishing fleets “reciprocal access” to British waters in her Mansion House speech. In other words she’ll let the Spanish and Danish fishermen carry on pillaging our fish stocks indefinitely. Tepid Theresa has always been as reliable as British public transport in a light blizzard. In poker terms, she’d fold on four of a kind. The gutless PM is happy to sell our fishermen down the river. Who will she knife next? May and her fellow EU appeasers have been bolstered by UKIP’s self-inflicted collapse and the silencing of the Labour Leave lobby – stabbed in the back by Corbyn and co. (Why on earth would anyone think that staying in the customs union, giving Brussels 100% control of our trade policy with no say ourselves was a sensible option? Let alone a “progressive” one?) Independence must mean exactly that. Genuine Cabinet Brexiteers owe it to the 17.4million to push the rock-solid case for walking away without a deal. Meanwhile, the most reliable rational opposition to the sell-out comes from spiked-online.com
March 1. Happy St David’s Day to any Welsh readers. Come, mun, pints of Brains all round.
Feb 27. I disagree with Max Mosley on most things, not least his bid to stifle the press. But it’s hard not to feel a little sorry for him. Max was 21 when he was involved in his father’s Union Movement. When I was 21, I believed whole-heartedly in an armed revolution to establish a workers’ state. But using the articles I wrote for Socialist Worker and Rebel in 1976 as evidence of my current views would be nonsensical. People can change their minds. Max appears to have lost his faith in fascism by the age of 23, much sooner than I lost mine in Bolshevism. It’s possible that he perjured himself in his court case against the News Of The World, but that is for the law to decide. The main objection to him is that he has used his considerable fortune to fund those who want to keep the indiscretions and misdeeds of the rich and famous out of the newspapers. He did this under the disingenuous banner of a campaign for ‘privacy laws’ andfound a natural ally in Labour’s toad-like deputy Tom Watson who also hates the free press. Max subbed him to the tune of half a million quid. Will Watson give it back? Labour supported the charities that returned a small fortune raised for their use by the Presidents Club – even though that money would have saved the lives of children. Surely the Party should make Tom cough up? Otherwise they will face looking like a cynical bunch of hypocrites for only the 97th time this year. (By the way, shouldn’t the people feeling most aggrieved by Max’s actions be his former comrades in the Mosleyite ranks? All that dosh going to the treacherous, degenerate enemy...)
Pity Egyptian singer Sherine Abdel Wahab who has been sentenced to six months in prison for a joke. Sherine, a judge on the Arabic version of The Voice and one of Egypt’s most famous singers, cracked a gag about the cleanliness of the Nile claiming that drinking from the river might give them parasites. “Drink Evian instead,” she said with a laugh. A Cairo court found Sherine guilty of ‘spreading false news’. She was also ordered to pay a £10K fine. UK comedians who consider themselves “dangerous” should bear in mind that there are still plenty of places where they’ll lock you up for laughing.
Feb 26. RIP Barbara Alston of the Crystals, who has died after a bout of flu. The Crystals were a New York group who signed to Phil Spector’s Phillies label notching up monster hits including ‘Then He Kissed Me’, and ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’. Barbara also sang on the group’s debut single ‘There’s No Other (Like My Baby)’, ‘Uptown’ and the more controversial ‘He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)’ which she later disowned. She passed away ten days ago, aged 74.
Feb 25. Corbyn’s support for keeping Britain in a customs union with the EU makes no sense whatsoever. We are the world’s fifth biggest trading nation and the second biggest economy in the EU. Why on earth would we need to hand control of our trade policy to Brussels? Why does the Labour leader want to tie the UK to the over-regulated, bureaucratic, megalithic, top-down, dysfunctional EU? The truth is he doesn’t. Comrade Cob is playing politics with the biggest challenge in modern history. People will see through it.
Feb 16. Don Letts's documentary The Story of Skinhead is repeated on BBC4 tonight. Don genuinely wanted to tell "the real story" of the world's most misunderstood youth cult and in fairness he got the early stuff right. Unfortunately he got Oi all wrong. Don admits he didn’t like or “get” Oi music and is happy to recycle the usual tired media myths about the Southall riot of 1981. According to the film, a few Oi bands deliberately chose to play the Middlesex town in order to provoke its large Asian population into rioting. Why would they have done that? Don could have asked any of the bands who were on the bill that night, most of them are still alive. He could have asked the paying fans. Instead he lazily recycles old footage. Don tells me, on film, that the bands should not have played “an Asian area”. But the bands came primarily from inner city London and had always played multi-racial areas (including Peckham and Hackney) without a sniff of racial conflict. All of the trouble at Oi gigs up to that point (Ladbroke Grove, Southgate) had been football related. Had the bands deliberately set out to provoke chaos, they would not have booked a gig on the fringe of West London on a night that West Ham were playing at home in East London. They certainly wouldn’t have brought women and kids along.
Let’s get this in perspective. No-one died at Southall. It wasn’t the US hip hop scene. It wasn’t Altamont. Most Oi gigs, and there have been thousands, were and are trouble free. Yet Oi is still uniquely demonised by the mass media because of this one show. The line goes – Oi was just for skinheads (it wasn’t) and all skins were Nazis (they never ever were – although many jumped on the bandwagon after the Mail etc misreported that night). Yes TV can illustrate that analysis with historic footage of young kids making sieg heil gestures. But that’s misleading. Far-right skins were the news story, so that was the kind of shot the news crews went for. (TV history is shaped by the footage available, that then gets recycled, hence the line repeats...) There were thousands of left-wing skins at Right To Work, RAR and ANL events at the time but they weren’t filmed because they weren’t “the story”. There were also the so-called Skin Fein republican skins, pro-Labour skins, the Ladbroke Grove Skins and a vast majority who weren’t interested in politics at all. None of them were ever interviewed by the Daily Mail. As a consequence the narrative established by post-Southall news coverage had a negative effect all over the world. (To underline my point the News of the World once ran a shock horror news ‘exclusive’ about the threat of pro-IRA Nazis on the basis of the views of just one far-right nutcase! No-one ever spoke to the anarchist skins...)
British skinheads weren’t angels. The majority liked a scrap. Most were hooligans, many were thieves. Quite a few ended up in borstal. Their language was largely illiberal. Their views probably wouldn’t ever make the basis of a Guardian editorial. But it is an out-right lie to claim they were all rightwing extremists, and a bigger one to suggest that Oi was. No Oi bands were involved in the neo-Nazi Blood & Honour scene which was launched years later in 1987. Back in 1981 Oi bands hit back at the media smears by doing anti-racist gigs... another fact that is rarely reported. There were violent clashes between Oi bands and neo-Nazis, which the master-race lost. And if you're going to make a show about skinhead politics then surely there should have been some mention of the Redskins, the Blaggers ITA and Red Action’s Oi shows – if only for balance? Don is sniffy about the music not being Jamaican but the biggest skinhead act of all time were the rock band Slade (even if their image was contrived and they quickly ditched it). Besides it's beyond patronising to write off a scene as diverse and long-running as Oi, which stretches from the sublime (Cock Sparrer, Blitz, the Business, the Cockney Rejects) to the ridiculous (Barney Rubble, Splodge, The Toy Dolls etc) via ranting poets, artists and novelists in such an off-hand fashion. Viewers should have been told about the wealth of protest songs that came out of streetpunk, such as National Insurance Blacklist, Work Or Riot, Two Million Voices and Jobs Not Jails (that slogan taken from a socialist skinhead protest march in Sheffield in the summer of 1981). They should have been told about Nellie The Elephant and Two Pints Of Lager & A Packet Of Crisps. They should have learned how Oi influenced bands all around the globe, including Rancid and the Dropkick Murphys. Oi has been maligned and written off for more than three decades, yet it still survives, with scenes everywhere from Indonesia to the States via Russia, China, Australia, Canada, Japan, Germany, France, Malaysia and Scandinavia.
There is a world of difference between skinheads and boneheads. The shaved-bald scruffs of later years were as distinct from the original skins in their fashion, their music and their views, as Mods were from beatniks. It’s a crying shame that extremist politics polluted street music. But it’s worth pointing out that the 2-Tone bands suffered far more from far-Right violence than the Oi bands did, largely because the Oi bands fought back. And why does no-one ask if Malcolm McLaren’s use of swastikas “to shock” years earlier might have attracted the extreme right into punk in the first place? There was a lot of questionable imagery floating around in the 1970s... starting with Bowie’s flirtation with fascism. Southall wasn’t a conspiracy, it was a cock-up, a comedy of errors. That’s all there was to it. The mass media’s treatment of it, however, compared to more violent incidents involving other cults, suggests that there is no-one that the puffed-up middle class hate more than the white working class. The famous Class sketch from TV’s The Frost Report comes to mind: ‘I look down at him because he is lower class’. But unlike dear old Ronnie Corbett, the Oi kids never knew their place.
Feb 15. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn met a Communist spy at the height of the Cold War, according to today’s papers. The revelation comes straight from the files of the Czech state security agency known as the StB. I don’t doubt it. We know Jezza’s judgement is lousy. My only question is what state secrets would a no-mates backbencher ever have had access to? (Comrade Corbyn’s codename was ‘Cob’; specialist subject: ‘Cobblers’).
Feb 8. George Soros, a billionaire financier, has spent £400,000+ to push policies in favour of the global elite – who’d have thought it?
Feb 5. R.I.P. John Mahoney, better known as Martin Crane in Frasier. I’ll write more about him in the TV column, but the curmudgeonly ex-cop was the perfect counterpoint to his clever but pretentious sons. One episode stands out in my memory – the night Marty took his boys Frasier and Nile to his favourite restaurant, a homely steakhouse called Timberland. Naturally the two food snobs took the pee all evening until Martin finally snapped. “All right,” he said. “That's it. I've had enough of you two jack-asses. I've spent the whole night listening to you making cracks about the food and the help. Well, I got news for you: People like this place. I like this place. And when you insult this restaurant, you insult me. You know, I used to think you two took after your mother, liking the ballet and all that, but your mother liked a good ball-game too. She even had a hot dog once in a while. She may have had fancy tastes, but she had too much class to ever make me or anybody else feel second-rate. If she saw the way you two have behaved tonight, she'd be ashamed. I know I am.” No other scene captures why Martin was so important to the sitcom’s success. He was utterly down to earth, a man of the people who brought the common touch and common sense to the show. If Frasier and Niles were its brains, Marty was Frasier’s soul. The brilliant writers, of whom Joe Keenan was the best, supplied Blackpool-born John with classic one-liners too. Like when Niles, talking about his nightmare wife, asked: “What’s wrong with Maris?” Martin replied: “I’ll start, Frasier can jump in when I get hoarse.”
Feb 9. We’ve re-launched the Benny Hill Statue Campaign. We need to raise just £60,000 to erect a larger-than-life bronze Benny in Southampton. So it only takes 6,000 of Benny’s fans worldwide to donate £10 a-piece and we’ll make the statue a reality.
And this time there is no artificial Kickstarter time-limit. The statue campaign is now linked to an HSBC bank account and you can donate via the PayPal button below. We will keep going until we hit the target. No-one involved will receive a fee except for the sculptor Graham Ibbeson. And no money will be wasted on admin or event organisers’ expenses. We will stage fund-raising events, big and small, later this year to help raise the cash. If we top the target, all extra funds will be donated to charity. In an increasingly po-faced and puritanical world, there has never been a better to time to honour this humble comedy genius who brought laughter to millions. You can donate any amount to the campaign via the button below, or on the campaign page.