Monthly Archives: September 2013

My Weekend Review: The Gagging of Free Speech

The coalition government is determined to do everything in its power to gag free speech through the back door.

The radical reform they are proposing could lead to vexatious cases being brought against newspapers and book publishers. Already the libel law as it stands is too broadly restringent in a free democracy. Some books published in the US are unlikely to see the light of day in the UK, simply because foreign publishers are wary of our libel laws which are almost close to ridicule in a modern and free society. We are already encumbered with so many laws that the loony liberal establishment has decreed under the guise of political correctness, which inhibit free speech as never before.

Helen Grant, the justice minister, announced last week that she was backing Lord Leveson’s recommendations for ‘costs protection’ in defamation cases to make it easier for individuals to sue large media organisations. I should have thought the opposite was needed given the amount of money that was paid recently to the so-called victims of phone-hacking and defamation; the newly formed lobby of those who benefited greatly from their legal actions, mostly well-to-do celebrities, are now cock-a-hoop trying to take their revenge at the expense of free speech.

The new reforms suggested means that people, even of modest means, who feel that they have had their privacy invaded or who believe they have been defamed could bring legal action without the burden of having to pay the entire legal costs of the proceedings should they fail to win.

Mark Stephens, a media lawyer, said: ‘This seems to be the political sop to the Hacked-Off lobby for the failure of the government to implement the Leveson recommendations. It will encourage people to bring spurious libel actions, which will have a chilling effect on free speech. Newspapers will be left diverting all their money defending a multiplicity of weak claims when they could be using precious resources investigating the likes of MPs’ expenses.’

And what will happen to investigative journalism? It is bound to curtail some of its crucial activities without which the corruption, in some segments of our society, will only augment with much greater ease and impunity. If that were to happen, the Leveson Enquiry would have contributed to the hysteria that it generated, which is now indirectly leading to a witch hunt of celebrities at the mere whiff of some sexual accusation.

The government is, as usual, groping in the dark, rushing into a variety of ill-conceived reforms in order to be seen innovatively-driven. They will be remembered in the same vein as the last disastrous Tory administration under John Major, the reverberations of which are still felt today.

Thought for the Day – or, Six Months Later…

Princess Eugenie, the free-spirited daughter of Prince Andrew and her hell-raising mother, Fergie, seems at first glance to be more than a handful.

Pictured twerking à la Miley Cyrus in the fashionable Alpine ski resort of Verbier last March, where she was holidaying with her sister Beatrice and her parents, the young princess shed every inch of her decorum and took to the floor in the wild new dance, guaranteed to hit the headlines at some future date.

The picture, which is visible to all on the Instagram profile of Mr Wentworth Stanley, the twenty-three-year-old son of The Queen’s cousin, the Marquess of Milford Haven, shows the fun-seeking Eugenie striking the same pose as Miley, with a stuffed bear in the background as if to replicate the MTV VMAs sensation which shocked the world for its sexual vulgarity.

Some of the young royals seem determined to make the most of their privileges, but in the view of many fail to perform a good example for young girls who look up to them for trendy guidance and everything else. I truly believe that as a nation we are overdoing the attention we pay to the young royals and in our enthusiasm ascribe to them qualities which are not always discernible.

We compile lists of the most influential people in Great Britain, naming the infant George, the son of the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge, as number one. He is still in the early stages of his nappies and yet we are already elevating him to the rank of deity, which to me is much too ridiculous to absorb. Exaggeration must have its confines but it seems boundless when it is stretched to the outer limits of reason.

Fat People are at least Simpatico

Fatsos take heart. You might still outlive skinny people who are weight watchers.

The medical profession has come around to accepting the notion that you can be fat and healthy. So, if by any chance you’ve over indulged this summer don’t feel alarm or despair for doctors say being fat will not necessarily send people to an early grave – because such a thing as ‘healthy obesity’ exists.

In actual fact, one in four of those considered obese are lucky enough to be fat and fit, a phrase which to me has rhythmic and lyrical connotations, although I don’t suffer from excess weight.

Studies show that sufferers of healthy obesity have normal blood pressure and process sugar easily, despite their generous proportions, and have a lower risk of various ills than others who are similarly overweight. One five-year-long Italian study found that the ‘healthy obese’ were no more likely to develop heart disease, cancer, or die at any given time, than those of normal weight. In other studies, being fat and fit, the two Fs, cut the risk of ill health even if it did not completely remove it. The figures come from German experts who trawled years of research from around the world into the topic.

Their acknowledgement will bring cheer to well-endowed people such as cook Nigella Lawson, and singer Adele, who have long maintained that it is possible to enjoy a healthy life being fat and fit.

Writing in a medical journal published by the respected Lancet group the medics said accurately identifying those who are F… and F… would cut the bill for obesity treatment.

Gastric bypasses and banding operations costs taxpayers up to £85 million a year, as more and more people become hugely overweight. Targeting treatment to those who would benefit the most could ensure taxpayers’ money is best spent, the researchers said. ‘Potentially scarce resources can be more effectively tailored. Some prevention and treatment strategies can be very expensive and time-consuming.’

Genes are thought to be the key, but working out why some of our bodies resist the toll of excess weight could also lead to treatment to improve the health of the obese that are not fortunate enough to fall into the category of F… and F…

Doctors normally gauge whether a patient’s size is a health concern by using their weight and height to calculate their body mass index, or BMI. But relying on BMI is controversial as it does not distinguish between muscle and fat, meaning some athletes are classified as obese. The German researchers said using BMI alone was insufficient and other factors such as waist size, blood pressure and where fat is stored in the body needed to be taken into account.

But much more research is needed before any formula is ready for use in doctors’ surgeries. And in the meantime, the researchers say that the obese should still think about losing weight. The team from the German Institution of Human Nutrition at the University of Tubingen said: ‘Prevention of obesity through a healthy diet and physical activity should be widely promoted.’

Writing in the Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology journal, they warned that not everyone who is ‘healthy obese’ will stay that way. Dr Ian Campbell, a GP and medical director of Charity Weight Concern, said it made:‘perfect sense that some people could be fat but healthy’, but, he warned, ‘the science is not yet precise. There is always a risk you will develop problems later’.

There you have it. For the glutinous, take heed and be on your guard. Don’t eat yourself to death but contain your greed to a reasonable level and you will probably outlive us all.

It is always the wickedly indulgent among us who have all the luck.

Labour’s Bombshell and the Tory Image

Last week politics in Britain took a real bashing.

Damian McBride, Gordon Brown’s spin-doctor who ran smear campaigns from Downing Street, confessed in his explosive political memoir of having destroyed the careers of two senior ministers and ‘hacked’ into secret Cabinet files. To obtain his objectives, he used the dark arts of media manipulation.

In a viciously disturbing book, he tells how he regularly put the knife into opponents by tipping off newspapers about ‘drug use, spousal abuse, and alcoholism and extra marital affairs’. These revelations, coming from a figure central to Mr Brown’s political operations, will no doubt incommode Ed Miliband and Ed Balls, the former prime minister’s closest allies. The pair were apparently in constant contact with Mr McBride, raising serious issues of what they knew about his brutal tactics. It also begs the more relevant question of whether Mr Brown was party to these machinations which one might assume he was cognisant of.

Two of the victims of Mr McBride were Home Secretary Charles Clark, whose demise was due to the fabrication of a briefing war between him and a key adviser to Tony Blair, and the other was John Reid, considered an obstacle to Mr Brown, who quit the same Cabinet post after Mr McBride leaked details of his ‘alleged drinking, fighting and carousing’.

Allegations about another minister, Ivan Lewis, pestering a female aide were leaked to punish him for criticising Mr Brown’s tax policies. Mr McBride also confesses to logging in to Mr Brown’s office email and leaking details of restricted or confidential documents to discredit opponents. Mr Brown, we are told, developed an elaborate ‘political intelligence operation’ with ‘moles’ on the teams of rival ministers.

What a mishmash of unspeakable behaviour, hypocrisy and disloyalty at the very heart of politics. The Labour Party will have to cleanse itself first and banish this scurrilous infighting, and prove to the electorate that it is worthy of their trust which I’m afraid they have lost. Will they be able to shake their toxic legacy? Only time will tell.

When you look back at both Labour prime ministers, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, you feel a sense of shame that despite their greed for power, hypocrisy and some of the most appalling policies that almost brought this country to its knees, you wonder why anyone in his right mind would want to hear them speak and pay large sums of money for the privilege. To gain what? you may ask. To listen to a lot of boring cackle that will only strengthen our dismay and horror, or maybe to mourn the descent of politics into a hellish pitfall from which it will take many a generation to sanitise.

As for the Conservatives, they suffer from a different malaise. They have, thanks to David Cameron, an image problem they need to address as a matter of urgency. Some of his reforms, namely his gay marriage legislation, have angered many of their traditional supporters who believe ardently in their Christian faith and resent the implications that such a legislation may give rise to. They maintain that the law as it stood gave ample protection to the gay community without adding the provocation of an unnecessary dissension within the ranks of the party. The sudden virtual collapse of their membership bears witness to the enormity of the problem it has engendered.

Furthermore they cannot rely on a future coalition with the Lib Dems, who would rather join forces with Labour simply because they share the same loony ethos about equality and clobbering the rich and the middle classes.

All liberal-minded people share the view that equal opportunity is a human right that no one should be denied, but equality in its broader sense is neither possible nor commendable. It stifles the competitive edge that gives birth to creative energy without which the world would remain static and development impeded.

For the Tories to regain power on their own steam without being hostage to the policies of another party, they desperately need to cultivate their soiled image; to stop tankering with platitudes and go to the heart of the matter, transforming political decline into a respectable resurgence, thereby fostering the trust of the electorate once again.

Going back to basics, old-fashioned as it sounds, is perhaps their only way to salvation.

Big Life

Last night we celebrated the launch of Big Life by Jazz Summers, which is published this week, at the Groucho Club in London. I reproduce my short address below.

Ladies and gentleman, and distinguished guests, I promise to be brief – for I know from past experiences that long speeches don’t go down well with people who are here to have a good time. So brevity has become an essential part of any address I make on these occasions.

We are here this evening to celebrate a great event: the publication of Big Life, an idiosyncratic, memory-lane chronicle of the life and times of Jazz Summers, who burst onto the music scene in 1986 by forming Big Life Music Management with Tim Parry – a management team that was involved in the sale of well over sixty million albums and seventy-two million singles around the world.

It’s the same outfit that was also responsible for over one hundred Top 40 hits during the past thirty years.

But before then, Jazz had already proved his formidable talents. A former musician, he first switched to management when he represented a rising folk singer called Richard Digance in the seventies. Jazz discovered an immediate aptitude for management when Digance was quickly established far beyond the confines of the UK folk circuit. His success was followed by the pop group Blue Zoo and the English gothic rock band, Danse Society – both of which he managed.

In the mid eighties, Jazz’s creative skills reached their zenith when he masterminded the phenomenal global success of a young English pop group called Wham! Jazz exported the group’s UK pop star status to the world, especially to the United States where Wham! achieved three chart-topping singles and a number one album. By the mid eighties, the group had sold over fourteen million albums worldwide, an achievement cemented by an unprecedented stadium tour which included the very first Western pop shows in China, an event later documented in a bestselling film and subsequent video.

I could go on for a long time talking about the many achievements of Jazz Summers, but I’m here to celebrate the publication of his book and not to engage in a thorough appraisal of his many talents. I’ll leave that to his readers and to posterity. In the meantime, I would rather enumerate the many divergent characteristics of the man.

I read his manuscript over a weekend and could not put it down until the last page. I found it down to earth, bereft of the bullshit one so often encounters in other showbiz memoirs. His language, brash at times, has nevertheless a musical resonance to one’s ears and becomes rather addictive. His many adventures, whether in the line of business or in pleasurable pursuits, are always riveting. His encounters with many of the leaders of the music industry are memorable since they shed light on the way they operate and provide the reader with a tunnel vision that he or she is unlikely to have access to in the normal run of things.

Suffice to say that Jazz has lived his life to the full, unperturbed by the narrow rules of the Establishment, and coped with the vicissitudes of time with the dexterity of a man determined to keep ahead – no matter what the odds stacked against him are.

But my main role tonight is to urge everyone here to buy a few copies of his book as a tribute to his achievements, and in so doing defy the present impasse in the book trade which is playing havoc with small independent publishers such as Quartet.

As word of mouth is the most effective weapon today in promoting a book, I leave it to our distinguished guests to show us the generosity of their spirit and the colour of their money.

Having preached the gospel of publishing, which I hope I was eloquent enough to convert some of you, I now hand you over to Richard Digance – who will give you the first comprehensive review of the book.

My Weekend Review: The Undoing of Miley Cyrus

Miley Cyrus’s controversial performance at the MTV Video Music Awards last month has in my view crossed the red line of vulgarity, rendering it a spectacle more in terms of pornographic insinuations than a pulsating erotic display to beguile its audience.

The singer paraded on stage in a bra and knickers and gyrated wildly during a duet with Robin Thicke, which lacked at least the sexual elegance one would have expected on such a highly promoted occasion. Having seen the pictures in the newspapers I can well understand why the public were horrified by the lewd display because it had broken the barriers of decency and gained her no credit whatsoever.

Miss Cyrus, twenty, is now promoting her new single ‘Wrecking Ball’, and when her video was unveiled online just days ago it received more than nineteen million views within twenty-four hours, which conversely goes to prove that the public is not averse to raunchiness. The racy video, featuring the pop star swinging naked on a demolition ball, certainly gave her promotion an added impetus.

Is the new generation of pop stars like Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Rita Ora and others also the new breed of sex vixens likely to be the vanguard of more sexual excesses to come? The hyper-sexualisation of music videos and magazines has already impacted on young girls in a way that some people believe can destroy their self-esteem.

Last year music mogul Mike Stock, who wrote Kylie’s Minogue‘s hit single ‘I Should Be So Lucky’, complained about the ‘sluttish’ lyrics of pop music, in particular those of Lady Gaga. Mr Stock said: ‘It’s easy – if you haven’t got much to sell, stick some sex in the video and it’s job done. It’s both easy and lazy.’

Miley Cyrus, I’m sure, will grow to realise that the more she exhibits raunchiness the more tired her audience will become. So my advice to her: learn to be elegant in all that you do. Keep your delicate parts tucked away and curiosity will have a great propelling power to launch you to a higher perspective and ensure your durability.

Local Government, Wildlife and Marital Relations

Once upon a time, in the early eighties, I had a chauffeur called Nigel.

He wasn’t particularly bright but was good natured and rather gullible. He had a wife much older than himself who wore the trousers at home and terrorised him in the process.

Watching a wildlife programme on television on pumas one evening, I became obsessed with having one as a pet. I thought of nothing else for days on end and at nights had a recurring dream of sitting in my Rolls-Royce with Nigel in the driver’s seat and the puma majestically sitting beside him.

That week I told the girls in my office, located then in Wellington Court, Knightsbridge, of my intention to have the puma in residence there during the day – hoping that each one of them would take it in turns to exercise the animal in Hyde Park just across the way. There was an immediate uproar. The girls rang my wife, bitterly complaining of the dangers of having a wild animal in their midst and urged her to intercede on their behalf to stop me pursuing what they thought was utter lunacy. My wife tried to pacify them, promising to do all she could to persuade me to abort this insane idea from what she called my ‘confused mind’. But they were not convinced.

Before going on the search for the puma, I planned to make my dream a reality and have the front seat of the Rolls-Royce converted in such a way as to make the puma comfortably enthroned, sitting next to Nigel. In the meantime, and before the drama exploded further, I called him into my office to let him know of my plans.

He stood there motionless at first and then his body started quivering in a hysterical tempo, pathetic to behold. I then shamed him by asking if he was a man or a mouse. He tried to utter words which his mouth could not manage to formulate and ran out of my office stricken with fear. The girls ran after him, gave him a glass of cold water to revive his composure and the proper functioning of his senses, before escorting him back into my presence.

I chastised him for being cowardly and urged him to rethink the whole idea, which I felt he should find a welcome change from the humdrum job of being merely a chauffeur – without the challenging excitement I was offering him to pepper up his life. He became calmer and more responsive and asked me to give him twenty-four hours to think the matter over.

The next day he came into my office an altogether changed man and told me he would not be averse to having the puma sitting next to him, as long as he was allowed one weekend to take the animal home to meet his wife. When I asked him for the reason for wanting the puma to meet his missus he smiled and said, as his wife was so bossy, she was likely to irritate the animal who would then eat her and that, he concluded, would solve his problem.

Fortunately for some, the story ended on a happier note without any casualty since Westminster Council refused to grant me a licence – considering a puma to be a dangerous animal to exercise in a public arena such as Hyde Park. My whole entourage were delighted with the outcome. Nigel was disappointed, and I felt a deep chagrin for having my dreams shattered.

As for the authenticity of this drama, my old staff at Wellington Court would certainly bear witness.

Billy Connolly

The sad news that Billy Connolly has been in the wars of late reminded me of our time together, when he appeared in a play I produced with Howard Panter in 1981.

It was Billy’s first proper acting role, and an account of how it came about – and its aftermath – is recounted in my volume of autobiography Fulfilment & Betrayal, which is still available from Quartet Books.

Billy is a superb comedian and a man of extraordinary energy. His life has been punctuated with a multitude of events that were to shape and enhance his career to become an actor of exceptional talent.

His encounter with Pamela Stephenson, who rose to fame as a zany comedienne on television, and his eventual marriage to her was to prove a turning point in his life. He became more disciplined through her positive influence, and stopped his excessive drinking – which probably saved his life. He settled down contentedly, and through his now solid family base rose from one success to another and went on to father three more children with Pamela.

During the 1980s I saw a lot of Billy and Pamela and was always enchanted in their company. They make a very complementary couple and are supportive of each other.

I sincerely hope that The Big Yin, as he is affectionately known to his friends, will continue to entertain us with his usual élan and loony talent – which is prodigiously catching and uniquely personal. Life without Billy Connolly will be fearfully dull, and a great loss to our generation of admirers who grew to like him for what he is – and for his saucy and risky sense of humour that knows no boundaries.

I wish him well and a long life.

The Indomitable Brian Sewell

Outsider II

Outsider II by Brian Sewell is now out in paperback.

The phenomenally successful two volumes of his scandalous and haunting memoirs have established themselves as riveting reads for all those who seek the highest standards of the written word, and applaud a painful honesty in recording the ups and downs of a tumultuous career.

A larger than life, renowned critic who has galvanised the art scene over the last thirty years with his acerbic and uncompromising critique, Brian remains the supreme arbiter of his craft.

No one to my knowledge has caused such rumpuses among the purveyors of the clique that has for so long monopolised the art world, and in the process raised emotions to a boiling point. Yet he remains above it all and is not afeard of the consequences of his pen.

For these reasons alone, the paperback edition of Outsider II should be embraced with the credit it deserves and cherished as an iconic monument to remember.

Praise for Outsider I and II

‘Filthy, snobbish and tremendously enjoyable’ Philip Hensher, Guardian

‘He is the gift that keeps on giving’ John Walsh, Independent

‘There are a few books, only a few, which make one wish to know the author in order to explore his thoughts and personality further. This is such a book – by the outstanding, most outspoken art critic of our time’ Daily Mail

‘A remarkable memoir’ Mail on Sunday

‘He never spares others, but he never spares himself either, and we must admire him for that’ Sunday Times

‘There is constant pleasure in Sewell’s prose: the elegance of phrase, the wry humour and the clarity of insight’ Independent on Sunday

‘He is waspish, indiscreet, comical and utterly outrageous’ Sunday Express

‘The two volumes of Outsider are a major accomplishment. They provide a compelling account of the razzamatazz of the European art world that will be quoted for centuries. Supremely, though, they are a self-portrait of a prickly, fearless, honest man who provided loving loyalty à outrance’ TLS

A Tortured Talent

Lindsay Lohan, l’enfant terrible of American cinema, is a real enigma.

A former child model, teen soap opera star and constantly in and out of rehab, she is a very talented actress known for nonconformity and a self-inflicted tortured life.

She’s been in jail on more than one occasion for dangerous driving while inebriated or in a drug-fuelled condition. Her Hollywood career has veered from the sublime to the calamitous, not by reason of her work, but singularly by her inability to marshal her life in a disciplined fashion. Her reckless existence has made her a troublesome and almost uninsurable actress that most directors are in fear of casting, for she seems to bring about invidious problems that culminate in shooting delays and over-running budget allocations.

Her latest drama is her failure to turn up to promote The Canyons at the Venice Film Festival, leaving the movie’s exasperated director in a frenzy. He had to take to the podium to declare that he had been ‘held hostage by the actress for sixteen months’. Paul Schrader said: ‘I’ve been a hostage of my own choosing of a very talented and unpredictable actress. She said she would be here and she’s not.’ Lohan apparently even missed the first day of the three-week shooting schedule, was fired by Schrader and then re-instated.

During filming of a four-way sex scene, written into her contract, the eminent director managed to get Lohan to remove her clothes only by working naked himself.

At certain points in the film Lohan quivers and quakes, almost acting her false eyelashes off. ‘Lindsay is a fearless actress,’ said Schrader, ‘but she has a hard time faking things, so she gets worked up, which is hard for her and those around her.’

Schrader, who made American Gigolo and Cat People earlier in his career, sighed with relief at the press conference and said, ‘At last it’s over.’

The first European screening of the film met with inappropriate laughter, whistles and boos. Like rubber-necking a car crash, The Canyons is compelling with its affected acting, corny pornography and commitment to vacuity. The film budget was only £200,000 and Lohan was paid $100 a day, plus a profit share. No wonder she did not turn up to attend the film screening in Venice.

I must come clean and admit that I am a great fan of Lohan – and besides, she’s my friend on Facebook. No one in my view can deny that she has a magical presence on film and I can only hope that she will overcome her demons and continue to entertain us for many years to come.

Talent is a commodity worthy of the sacrifices one can give.