Monthly Archives: November 2015

To Be or Not to Be

Reading an article in the Mail on Sunday recently, about one of Britain’s leading classical actors, Sir Anthony Sher, and his rather furious reaction to Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowe’s view that a university education was needed to understand Shakespeare, reminded me of the clash I once had with the actor.


In April 1981 a young South African actor by the name of Anthony Sher unexpectedly telephoned to ask if I would be willing to help him with some advice for a part he was about to take in a new play by Mike Leigh called Goose Pimples. The role was to play a Saudi Arabian student in London. My immediate response over the phone was that I had arrived in England at the age of eighteen, having lived till then in Palestine, and therefore could not

claim any expertise on the background and habits of Saudi Arabian students. My best advice was that he should make a direct approach to the cultural attaché at the Saudi Arabian embassy in London, or to any other institution with links to that country which would offer far more insight on the subject than I ever could. This was exactly the route he was following with his research, he said, but even so he would appreciate a few minutes of my time

if only to exchange views in general. A meeting between us, he added, would in any event be of some social benefit if nothing else. Naturally I did not wish to be uncooperative towards a newcomer to the country who was under the impression I could be of some help to him. That, combined with his insistence, led me to say that of course I would be delighted and I suggested he come to my office at Namara House.

Our meeting took place soon after and I formed the impression that a major new talent was about to make an impact on the London stage. (Time would show I was right in my assessment.) We chatted endlessly about the theatre, a medium that I was beginning to be passionate about, but barely touched on how he could best play a Saudi Arabian student. He must have realized by then that my knowledge on the issue was very limited indeed. Probably he was curious about my own assimilation into British society and wanted to find out, as a Jewish South African émigré, whether assimilation was possible where a wide cultural divide existed. We parted with my saying that I looked forward to seeing the play on its opening night and that I only wished I could have been of some assistance.

The fateful evening came. I took my seat in the front row of the theatre, from where I could hear every word and pick up every nuance. As the play progressed, I felt a growing sense of outrage at the way Arabs were being ridiculed. It seemed to be holding Arabs up to mockery, portraying without any subtlety whatsoever the plight of the inebriated student. The whole performance, to my eyes, was vulgar in the extreme and left me deeply shocked. The liberal tolerance and sense of humour on which I prided myself deserted me and frankly I could not stomach the crudeness of the play. I refrained from clapping at the end of the show – a fact noticed, of course, by Anthony Sher and his fellow actors as they took their bow. The theatre was too small for me to conceal my disgust and anger and when I found my name wrongly spelt where I was given a credit in the programme notes it was the last straw. I left the theatre as soon as I could find my way to the exit.

To vent my anger I reviewed the play in the Literary Review. I made no bones about saying I had found it ‘nauseating and dishonest since it is based on a series of premises that are demonstrably false’. The press then made quite a story of my review being the most savage the play received, although I was listed in the programme notes as a ‘special adviser’ to the cast. This went down badly with me, as did the rest of the piece ‘Atticus’ wrote in the

Sunday Times after he had asked me for my comments. The play was appalling, I said, and I hated the hypocrisy of those involved who claimed that it portrayed Saudi students sympathetically. Under the heading ‘A Belief in Freedom – Up to a Point’, ‘Atticus’ claimed that Anthony Sher had tried his best to pacify me by saying that, from a Muslim point of view, the play was a cautionary tale that showed the dangers of drinking and attempting to womanize. ‘Atticus’ then ended the piece by expounding on its headline: ‘While one does not want to give even more publicity to this storm-in-a-teacup play, it is none the less worth doing for Attallah’s immortal riposte: “I am a publisher and I believe in total artistic independence. But there are limits.” ’

My response was to write a letter to the Sunday Times, which published it under the heading ‘Editorial Freedom’ on 24 May: The piece in your Atticus column (May 3) under the heading ‘A Belief in Freedom – Up to a Point’ shows varying degrees of inaccuracies.

I was not listed as ‘special adviser’ to the cast. It was a simple credit in the programme, where I was listed with scores of others. I told your reporter that my name was spelt wrongly, and I also told him that my advice was never sought by Anthony Sher nor was it given. In the last paragraph purporting to convey my feelings on editorial freedom, I am again misrepresented. As a publisher, I believe in editorial freedom but recognize sometimes this freedom is abused under the guise of artistic licence. This is what I recall saying. I did not contradict myself by suggesting any limits.

It is a sign of changing times that where matters of race are concerned in today’s social climate political correctness has become something of an obsession rather than a natural awareness of the evils of racism. In view of this I do not believe it would now be possible to stage Mike Leigh’s Goose Pimples in its original form. There would be no alternative but to tone down some of the more offensive elements. The public has become highly sensitive to the question of race – some would say over-sensitive, to the point where freedom of expression has become jeopardized. In retrospect, my reaction to the play was largely amplified by what I felt to be the unfair criticism of the Arabs to be found everywhere in the media at the time. Arab largesse was rewarded with sneers. Very rich people did not circulate money in the way the Arabs did in those days. The Arabs were never given the credit they deserved for this and therefore the balance was uneven. It was true that, with the advent of

oil and the wealth that came with it, the behaviour of some Arabs put out the wrong signals, but this behaviour was not, as was usually assumed, typical of Arabs in general. Ostentation and vulgarity are to be found everywhere; a sudden excess of wealth may have a destabilizing effect for a time and cause a deterioration in moral values. Faced with the play today, I would be less angry and more composed.

It was an irony that the producer of Goose Pimples, who crossed swords with me over my attack on the play, should later have married Fiona Golfer, an enchanting woman who worked for me for a brief period at Namara House, and also have counted me among his theatrical ‘angels’ on more than one occasion. It went to show how a conflict can sometimes be the prelude to a beneficial association. Many years later, when the impresario Howard Panter and I collaborated on a few theatre productions, he took me backstage to effect

a reconciliation with Anthony Sher. We buried the hatchet, Goose Pimples by then being little more than a distant memory. I felt sure his playing of the Saudi Arabian student, however misjudged, never had any malice in it. He had played the role with his usual professionalism. As I predicted, he became a great actor, and over the years his contribution to the English stage has been immense.

Yehudi Menuhin, a Most Ardent Campaigner

There was general agreement that Yehudi Menuhin was not only a great musician but also a great human being.

I had already been in contact with his father, Moshe, over The Palestinians, and was interested to hear the son’s views on some of the issues involved. My lead-in to the subject was a question about Wilhelm Furtwängler, who had remained in Germany and continued his career as a conductor almost till the end of the Nazi era. As a result he had been much criticised. Yehudi Menuhin’s assessment was both eminently sane and full of insight.

A very great conductor and an absolutely clean man, no question of that. He stood up for Hindemith, he protected a great many Jews, helped many out of Germany, and himself had to escape towards the end of the war. He happened to conduct the orchestra when some of the German leaders were there, but we can’t expect everyone to behave in the same way. Sometimes it takes more courage to remain in your country than to leave it. Those who stayed suffered a pretty bad fate, and those who came out, after all, escaped. Yet there was this feeling of superiority among those who escaped, thinking that they showed great determination in leaving it behind. I would say, Jew or Gentile, you can’t blame those who stayed, you can’t blame those who escaped. It’s just the way things went. But Furtwängler himself was a man of integrity.

The anti-Semitism I have seen in my lifetime has had a psychological impact on me only to the extent that I know it is important to maintain the dignity of the Jew and to avoid a kind of behaviour that might prompt a response. The caricature of the Jew is the businessman with the big cigar, who does exist sometimes. They can be charming and interesting people. What bothers me sometimes is that they are a little like desert flowers. When they have only a drop of water they blossom. They make the most of the opportunity, as they did in Germany before the Nazi days, when they occupied extremely powerful positions. That must have created a certain amount of resentment. Of course, it gives no excuse for anti-Semitism, but you can understand it. The Jew does not stand out in Italy or Greece, nor would he in China, since the Chinese are far cleverer at business than the Jews. There are so many different types of Jew, but traditionally people have fastened on the Jew who is obviously different from them. But there are so many that are in no way different. It’s like the problem of the black in the United States. There are almost a majority of blacks that are nearly white, and no one bothers about them.

It is true that the Jews are far too sensitive, though they have perhaps been sensitised by history. They are too ready to imagine an insult; they are not prepared to give enough leeway, even to allow for a certain misbehaviour; and it is part of the psychology. One can understand that too, and one must understand it. They have to compensate for certain established assumptions. If it’s not one thing it’s another. If it’s not religion, it’s jealousy or it’s race. Yet it’s none of these things actually. It’s simply that people are nasty and want to condemn anything if they can find a little difference; can say that hair is frizzed instead of straight or there’s a detectable accent. Then they pounce on it.

Unfortunately the Jews have come to Israel with the narrow aim of making themselves an independent nation, to a large extent disregarding the environment and the rest of the world. They didn’t come to establish a nation with the Palestinians and a wonderful federation (though now they realise that perhaps they should have done). They came instead with the pure desire to establish a Jewish state to the exclusion of everything else. They did it very successfully, but they did it ruthlessly, and probably the sense of fear is equal on both sides. I feel that the only solution lies in a federation, totally equal, as in Switzerland. If both have an equal title to the land, what else can you do? Meanwhile there is something cruel about all of us. We are capable of the most horrid things, especially if we have suffered them ourselves.

Yehudi left an indelible impression on me: a shining example of goodness
and humility.

He would never have thanked you to feel humbled in his
presence, but that was the effect.

Last Evening Launch Party at Daunt Bookshop in Holland Park


Here is my short address for the occasion.

Excellency, Ladies and gentlemen, we are assembled here today to celebrate the publication of Joannah Yacoub’s first book, which Quartet are proud to publish.

For Quartet to add short stories to their list is rather a rare occasion but, having discovered a new talent and a storyteller of note, we could not resist the temptation of having a flutter to remind the market that this medium can be as entertaining as a fully blown novel.

Joannah writes with verve and considerable insight. Her startling virtuosity is inspiring and a joy to watch and read with breath-taking admiration.

The title story is about a portrait of a Russian officer bought from a crooked Lebanese art dealer that causes mysterious events and strange men come calling.

Elsewhere a cat, tortured in pre-Revolutionary France, returns to wreak revenge; a German soldier deserts to see his mother in a devastated Germany with surprising consequences; an exotic birdcage seems possessed of strange powers to its new owner; an erotic genre story, risque but elegantly constructed, perhaps, even so, not for the fainthearted…

Just five synopses of ten remarkable stories heralding a most impressive debut.

At this rate, Joannah will no doubt go far. She has all the makings of a writer with the courage to tread where others fear and a mind capable of innovative thought and a rich lexicon to boot.

People like her need encouragement and backing. So please show us the colour of your money and buy as many copies as you can afford – and spread the good word wherever you happen to be.

Thought for the Day

You are never too old to believe anything thrown at you, however preposterous it seems.

Apparently, men who help with the housework have a better sex life, a study suggests. Researchers, and there are many of them these days, asked over one thousand couples how frequently they were intimate. They found it was more often where the man felt he had made a contribution to the household chores.

The study, published in the Journal of Family Psychology, flies in the face of previous research, which found that men who do more housework have less sex.

Study author Matt Johnson, of the University of Alberta, said: ‘Rather than avoiding chores in the hopes of having more sex as prior research would imply, men are likely to experience more frequent passion when they simply do their fair share.’

Tell it to the Marines, was my first reaction. However, on second thought, as the difference between genders, and their odd comportments in our gone-crazy society these days, the unbelievable becomes more palatable and psychology points the way to uncharted horizons.

The result is all in the mind, although no logical explanation seems available for why the sharing of housework makes more men active in the bedroom.

Be that as it may, it is still good news for those whose languidity in the performance of their conjugal duties is far too mediocre for comfort, to take heed, put on an apron and dedicate themselves to the kitchen sink.

Perhaps then, a winning streak in the bedroom will surprisingly engulf them to the eternal pleasure of their partners.

Hi-De-Hi, Hi-De-Ho…

A Glorious Leap into Stardom

There are times when a photograph of a pretty woman makes your heart beat at a crescendo more in tune with her sexual appeal.

It’s a rare feeling that transcends the limits of normality and gives you a bolt of ecstasy, the likes of which you seldom experience.

Emilia Clarke, born 26 October 1986 (or 1 May 1987, as sources differ) is an English actress best known for her role as Daenerys Targaryen in the HBO series Game of Thrones, for which she received two Emmy nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a drama series in 2013 and 2015.

Clarke made her Broadway debut in a production of Breakfast at Tiffany’s as Holly Golightly in March 2013. She was named Esquire‘s Sexiest Woman Alive in 2015.


No wonder. Her looks have a freshness combined with sexual dynamics that are irresistible to anyone who recognises quality enshrined in a classical form that subjugates men without even trying.

The British star, who de-robed for this raunchy bedroom photo shoot, has already scooped GQ‘s Woman of the Year recently.

Her path to glory is certainly rosier than anyone would have predicted.

The Law is No Longer an Ass

Progress is often hampered by outmoded legislation.

With the ‘feminaza’ rearing its ugly head when women are doing extremely well in all walks of life, surpassing men at universities with their achievements and enjoying divorce settlements which are perhaps the largest in the world, it is a cheering development to find that London is losing its reputation as the libel capital of the world.

The number of defamation cases last year fell by nearly thirty per cent as restrictions on claimants came into effect.

Research soon to be released highlights one great area – claims relating to social media.

Legal analysts say the Defamation Act of 2013 is causing the drop in cases. It requires potential claimants to show actual or probable ‘serious harm’ caused by a written or spoken statement. Previously claimants merely had to demonstrate that a statement was ‘false and defamatory’ – in other words, that it was wrong and lowered the reputation of the claimant in the eyes of ‘right-minded’ people.

According to research by Thomson Reuters, the number of reported defamation cases in the UK fell in the past year from eighty-six to sixty-three – the lowest level for six years.

Social media-related defamation cases rose to eleven last year compared with eight in 2013/14.

Harry Kinmonth, a media law solicitor at RPC, a London law firm, said: ‘The serious harm threshold is making claimants think hard about whether they will be able to demonstrate the necessary harm to their reputation.’

Freedom of expression must remain sacrosanct. Celebrities with money have in the past taken advantage of the law, especially since the introduction of the restrictions imposed by the legislation that masquerades under the far-fetched censorship of political correctness which, in my view, demeans the mere tenets of democracy.

Anything that liberalises the stifling laws that renders fear into the words that express inner feelings must be scrapped to enrich the way we feature opinions, irrespective of the Big Brother syndrome.

A Little of What You Fancy Does You Good

Jeremy Vine, the indestructible journalist who rose to such prominence as a contestant in Strictly Come Dancing, has at last met his Waterloo by being booted out by the judges when it came to the crunch last Sunday.


His popularity with the public which kept him in the BBC show over several weeks despite some questionable routines came to a crushing end to the utter dismay of his followers who considered his entertainment value to the show almost indispensable.

On the other hand, Katie Derham the delectable television journalist and presenter of the Proms had the viewers glued to the screen with a sizzling rumba in a backless black and red dress split all the way to her thigh.


Although an elegant woman of great charm, eloquent with beautiful features, she had never been looked upon by the public as a sex siren. Now in her new role, as a dancer, she has developed a dimension, where her sexuality has become a topic of conversation and a potent force to recognise, in the arena of seduction.

On Saturday’s episode, which was watched by 10.24 million, the biggest talking point was 45 year old Radio 3 host Miss Derham. One viewer wrote on Twitter: “Wow, Katie Derham looked amazing on Strictly.” Another posted, “Katie Derham was gorgeous. Best Strictly dress ever!”

I must admit she was ravishing. She exuded a hypnotic aura around her, rarely seen on Strictly. My bet is that she will go far, not necessarily as the best dancer but as a fully fledged woman with a capacity to seduce the non-seducible.

If she fares as good in Blackpool next Saturday, then she establishes herself as a competitor to reckon with.

Go for it Katie and show us your metal!

Thought for the Day

Why has taking the plunge become a woman’s most common sexual antenna in her armoury?

It is naturally enticing, addictive to a child at birth irrespective of its gender, remains with men for the rest of their lives and, in a society where sexuality has become so pronounced, women are equally attracted to its irresistible, life-enhancing properties such as a refined sexuality which is itself uniquely intoxicating.

To be engulfed in the most cherished upper part of a woman’s body, especially a beautifully crafted mound of exquisitely overwhelming, satin-like flesh, is a dreamlike elixir the equal of which is hard to find.

It is, in fact, orgasmic poetry that defies description.

It is also the language of lovers, the sexual peak of the comfort zone that we rarely experience – and the ultimate in human conjugal union…

Manchester On The Ascendancy

Those who live in Manchester must feel a certain pride that the city has been named one of the top ten cities in the world to visit next year by the travel guide, Lonely Planet. Hailed as a ‘dynamo of culture and the arts’, Manchester was praised for its inspirational attractions including galleries, theatres and, last but not least, football.

It’s ranked eighth in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2016 list, behind Dublin but ahead of Rome. Manchester has been lavished with new investment as the unofficial capital of the government’s much-heralded ‘Northern Power House’. Describing the city as ‘the UK’s cultural boom town,’ the guide picks out the Whitworth Art Gallery – which had a £15 million regeneration, as the country’s most important.

James Smart, of Lonely Planet, said: ‘Manchester has been transformed in recent years. Whatever experience travellers are after – culture, sport, shopping, nightlife – they won’t come away disappointed.’

Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City Council, said: ‘This further underlines Manchester’s growing global status.’

Kotor in Montenegro took the number one spot because it offers a ‘picture-perfect visage from virtually every angle.’

Lonely Planet’s top ten:

1 Kotor
2 Quito
3 Dublin
4 Georgetown, Malaysia
5 Rotterdam
6 Mumbai
7 Freemantle
8 Manchester
9 Nashville
10 Rome

Those travellers who visit Manchester will probably rate it much higher as the city continues to astonish its visitors for the facilities it provides, and for its welcoming Northern hospitality.

Is God Male, Female or Neither?

Is God a man or a woman?

It has always been assumed that God is a man. But no one knows His gender and some people go as far as refusing to discard the possibility of the Almighty being a woman.

But the country’s most senior female bishop has stated recently that God is neither He nor She.

Challenging sexism in religion, Rachel Treweek said, ‘God is God and should not be seen as male.’ But the Bishop of Gloucester also insisted she was no feminist and simply wanted to ‘gently challenge people’.

‘Language is very popular in shaping people’s views and shaping our culture,’ she said recently in an interview in the Observer. ‘In the Creation narrative we are told that God created human beings in God’s likeness, and then it goes on to talk about male and female. If I am in the image of God, then God is not to be seen as male.’

Despite her breakthrough appointment in June, the fifty-two-year-old said the Church of England had a long way to go to combat sexism. She warned: ‘We’re not where we should be with diversity, particularly ethnic minorities.’

Bishop Treweek called on the Church to accept it was made up of ‘people of all colours, genders, different experiences, different social backgrounds’ adding that she was frustrated that ‘people haven’t necessarily heard the narrative I want to give’.

The former Tory MP Ann Widdecombe, who left the Anglican church following the decision to ordain women priests, told the Daily Mail: ‘Undeniably, if you follow the gospel, then God is most certainly a man. If you don’t follow the gospel, then why are you a bishop?’

In May, a proposal from women priests to start calling God ‘she’ was derided as ‘plain silly’ by Mrs Widdecombe.

Monsignor Alfred Gilbey, the ultra-orthodox Catholic society priest who lived in grand style at the Travellers’ Club in Pall Mall, and who I interviewed, had a rare eloquence and gave the impression of a single-minded individual who was not afraid to cause controversy, especially when it came to his views on women.

Tackled directly on the subject, he swiftly emerged as a woman-hater extraordinaire, nostalgic for the days when universities and other institutions were strictly male reserves. His view, he considered, was ‘wholly compatible with the God-given design of women as complementary to men’. Which was to say they were not the equal of men.

I could only feel he was taking an unnecessary risk. What if God turned out to be a woman? What then for Monsignor Gilbey?

The Rt Revd Treweek, who was recently introduced as one of twenty-six Lords Spiritual at Parliament, is a controversial figure. Four weeks ago, angry villagers in Willersey, Gloucestershire sent hate mail containing rotten meat to her office in a row over a housing development. Last month, she was among eighty-four bishops who pleaded with David Cameron to do more to tackle the refugee crisis. Her diocese has since made efforts to help refugees and asylum seekers in Gloucestershire. She has promised to focus her efforts on helping people on the margins of society and tackling issues of social justice, homelessness and domestic violence.

In my view, she’s better off doing her charity work than trying to allocate an identity to God – which is perverse to the edicts of Christianity and the gospel. In that respect her denial of being a feminist does not ring true.