It was sixty years ago today

Pic: Tony Booth/Thebeatlesposters.com

Sixty years ago this week The Beatles played a series of shows in Liverpool after several months away in Hamburg. The 27 December 1960 performance at Litherland Town Hall was a breakthrough – with over 1500 tickets sold – and cemented their name as Liverpool’s top live draw.

Just as sensational as the performance is this wonderful hand-drawn poster for the gig. The exuberant lettering for this and many other of their Liverpool concerts was done by a very talented signwriter, Tony Booth. The one above has been recreated from the original posters he did at the time for Brian Epstein. Booth’s story was told in a 2016 documentary for local BBC TV, which unfortunately I haven’t seen in full. It is previewed in this clip for BBC News, where you get a glimpse of Booth at work. Sadly, he died less than a year later, as this further clip tells us. His work lives on at this website, where you can buy the modern reproductions.

Tony Booth was just one of the many hundreds of poster artists (or poster writers, as they seem to have sometimes been called) who plied their trade in the first four-fifths of the twentieth century. Cinemas and department stores were major users of their work, but because of its nature very few examples seem to have survived. I would love to find out more about how these skilled tradesmen were trained and where they worked.

The Searchers of course had a number of national hits, but among the other support bands for The Beatles at Litherland Town Hall were The Deltones. It’s not clear whether this was the same Deltones as the band from Croydon which had Jeff Beck in their line-up although, according to this page, they had also played in Hamburg. The name seemed popular enough at about this time – there was another group called The Deltones in the US and a band called the Delltones in Australia. And of course later in the 1980s there was a British ska/reggae group with the same name. The other support act, The Delrenas (sometimes called The Del Renas) were another popular Merseybeat band, and some of their members had also played in Hamburg. It was obviously a popular career move at the time.

[Source: beatlesbible.com]

Got the memo

This bunch of ten fallow deer bucks in the Phoenix Park have got the memo: the rutting season is over, and it’s time for the male herd to regroup. Most days last week I spotted a few males in groups of two or three heading towards Acres Road, on the far side of which are the sports fields where the boys hang out for most of the year. Above is pictured the largest group I saw, ten in all. It was getting dark and they were quite a long way away so the picture quality is not too good.

In other deer-related news, the authorities are being more pro-active in trying to stop people getting selfies of themselves with the deer. The government’s Office of Public Works has taken up social media. It has posted a number of videos on Facebook and also now has an Instagram page, which it is trying to promote with a hashtag, #staysafedontselfie

A recent incident, witnessed by Dublin photographer Michael Keating shows how dangerous the deer can be. He told Dublin Live: “The poor family were panic stricken. They got too close to the deer however, and should not have been feeding them.” The man had been handing out carrots when an aggressive buck approached. His wife can be seen quickly bundling the two children away.

Pic: Michael Keating

Let’s be careful out there.

Joe Biden: my part in his victory

I’ve written before about how I got on Joe Biden’s email list, by signing up ten or more years ago for a personalised Christmas greeting from President Obama. Biden started his campaign a year and a half ago on Saturday, 23 April 2019, and the floodgates opened. By Election Day, Tuesday 3 November 2020, 556 days later, I had received 1641 emails from his people.

Despite the fact that I’ve never donated a single cent to the cause (which as a non-US resident would of course be contrary to election funding rules) the campaign has throughout treated me as though I am a fervent supporter. So I have been told many times how grateful Joe was for me “showing up right now” and “having his back”. Indeed, I was the “true heartbeat” of his campaign, and various writers at various times were “in awe” of me.

However, despite my exalted position, the computer fundraising program found it difficult to place me geographically. I had given my zip code as “00”, and so at first I would get emails saying that I was one of the best supporters in the 00 district. Later this became a generic “your state” so as each fundraising deadline approached I would be told that a certain amount was still needed. This would vary from email to email, which led to some inconsistency. For instance, at 22.58 on 30 October Kamala Harris was looking for $25 to meet the shortfall in my state of $67,391:

Three hours and six minutes later, at 02.04 on 31 October, Joe himself wanted my first donation to raise another $168,478 in my state before the midnight deadline.

Over the months, I’ve got used to unlikely names popping up in my inbox. Here’s one from Carole King:

Yes, the same person who had written Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? – at the age of 18! – wanted me to support Joe. How could I refuse?

It’s been a rollercoaster ride for Joe. In the first few weeks of the primary season, he looked old and tired and was a long way off the pace. He got a boost when a leading black Congressman, Jim Clyburn, supported him in South Carolina, and then somehow he swept most of the states on offer on Super Tuesday on 3 March. As the pandemic took hold everyone else dropped out and, with one bound, Joe was out of the telephone box and into the lead.

A thousand or so emails later, he’s made it. I confess that I spent two or three days madly refreshing the live count pages in both Georgia and Pennsylvania, Whatsapping friends and relations as Biden went into the lead in both states. And I stayed up to watch his declaration speech in Wilmington, which was a lot better than I expected it to be.

At the moment it looks as though Trump is determined to tough out the transition period. But he will have to face reality when the Electoral College makes its declaration, which is scheduled for “the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December”, i.e. 14 December. And the four year nightmare won’t be over until 12 noon on inauguration day, 20 January 2021. When it comes to Donald Trump, I don’t think the world will be singing Carole King’s first ever hit:
What shall I write
What can I say
How can I tell you how much I miss you?

[It Might As Well Rain Until September, 1962]

******

As a footnote, it’s worth pointing out that in all these thousands of emails the Biden and the wider Democratic campaign generally used language that was at least respectful. (“When they go low, we stay high”, as Michelle Obama is supposed to have said.) This can hardly be said of the opposition.

When Trump himself contracted “the Covid”, the official Democratic campaign announced that they would pause negative ads, at least for the duration. Barack Obama tweeted that he and Michelle Obama extended their best wishes, and were “hopeful that they and others who have been affected by COVID-19 around the country are getting the care that they need, that they are going to be on the path to a speedy recovery.”

At almost the same time, this email was sent to Republican supporters by the Trump/Pence campaign:

Thank God they’re on their way out.

The perfect tan corduroy suit

Pic: BAMF Style

An article about Bob Woodward’s recent book about Donald Trump prompted me to search for references to Robert Redford’s portrayal of him in the 1976 film adaptation of All the President’s Men. In particular I was looking for something about the outfit most desired by any young man aspiring to be a hotshot investigative journalist, the tan corduroy suit which Redford wears for much of the film, seen in the screenshot above.

And what should I find but a great website devoted to men’s fashion as seen on film and TV, BAMF Style, run by a Californian (of course) guy called Nick. His piece on the outfits worn by Redford is simply wonderful.

There’s more than enough detail on all the outfits worn by Redford:

“Although he occasionally wears other sport jackets or odd trousers, Bob Woodward’s workhorse suit in All the President’s Men is a light brown pinwale-corded cotton suit. Pinwale, also known as “pincord” or “needlecord” is on the finer end of the corduroy spectrum with a count of approximately 16 wales per inch (as opposed to 11 wales per inch in standard corduroy), with wales referring to the tufted cords that give the fabric its name.
Compared to heavier, warmer-wearing wide-waled corduroy, Woodward’s finer pinwale corduroy suit is a wiser choice for the hot, humid summers of Washington, D.C. Lighter-wearing fabrics like linen or non-corded asset may have been more comfortable, but the durability of corduroy would be a strong asset for a tireless reporter constantly on the move; if Woodward had to wear corduroy, he made the right choice.
The single-breasted, 3/2-roll suit jacket has wide notch lapels consistent with the era’s fashion trends. The three front buttons and the two spaced buttons on each cuff are brown woven leather. Woodward’s jacket also has a welted breast pocket, flapped patch pockets on the hips, and a long single back vent.”

There’s also lots of information about his shirts and ties. This of course is my favourite:
“… a light blue oxford cloth button-down collar shirt and a wide-bladed navy necktie with a field of blue teardrop-shaped patterns that create the effect of a repeating zig-zag pattern.”

I confess that I bought a tan corduroy suit in the late 70s, and wore it quite a lot, including to my sister’s wedding. I know I never reached the level of coolness exhibited by Redford – but at least I tried.

There’s lots more to see on Nick’s site. Check it out here.

Worst Debate Ever

I sat through the whole of the first Presidential Trump-Biden debate last night wondering why in hell I was doing it. Only the most masochistic political junkie would inflict such a thing on themselves, I concluded.

I think Jonathan Allen of NBC News has nailed the reason why it was so appalling: Trump may be the only person in the USA who is afraid of Democrat Joe Biden. Allen went on:

“Before their debate Tuesday night, he and his allies demanded that Biden submit to a drug test and let officials check the former vice president for an earpiece.
During the action, Trump absurdly accused Biden of wanting to abolish the suburbs, the cops and “the cows;” declined to denounce white supremacists; and insisted that the election is going to be rigged against him.
And after Trump aggressively failed to demonstrate presidential temperament — blustering, bullying and lying his way through the debate — his campaign manager, Bill Stepien, praised him for being in “control of the conversation.”
Trump’s words and actions are those of a candidate who knows he is losing and has no idea how to fix the problem.
The irony is that Biden was deeply vulnerable: after decades of experience at the highest levels, he’s still not a strong debater. He was noticeably apprehensive; he lacked the motivation and speed to brawl on stage; and he still didn’t have good answers for a host of questions about his record and platform.
But Trump couldn’t or wouldn’t stay focused on Biden’s actual positions. Instead, he ran against a dark caricature of the former vice president while the real version was standing right there smiling.”

I was tuned to the BBC coverage. Just after it finished, presenter Mike Embley called up Washington correspondent Katty Kay who, it can only be said, looked almost shell-shocked by what she had witnessed.  Her initial assessment, which I liked so much I paused the feed and went looking for a pen and paper, was: “It sounded you were being yelled at by all the men you’ve ever had an argument with.”

Three old white men shouting at each other. Hardly representative of the American people. It sets the bar very low for when Kamala Harris steps up for the VP debate next week. I’m sure she will nail it.

No time for both sides: journalists must take a stand

 

Pic: Unsplash

A click on one of Jason Kottke’s Quick Links took me first to this excoriating piece in The Atlantic, where James Fallows lays into the media coverage of Trump’s re-election campaign. It starts:

We’re seeing a huge error, and a potential tragedy, unfold in real time.
That’s a sentence that could apply to countless aspects of economic, medical, governmental, and environmental life at the moment. What I have in mind, though, is the almost unbelievable failure of much of the press to respond to the realities of the Trump age.
Many of our most influential editors and reporters are acting as if the rules that prevailed under previous American presidents are still in effect. But this president is different; the rules are different; and if it doesn’t adapt, fast, the press will stand as yet another institution that failed in a moment of crucial pressure.

Fallows is very critical of what he calls “both-sides-ism”, which he defines as most journalists’ discomfort with seeming to “take a side” in political disputes, and the contortions that result. Reporters are, he says, most at ease when they can quote first one side and then the other, seeming to be neutral between the two—or when they present a charge, and then the response. But this doesn’t work with a President or his representatives who simply lie in public statements dozens of times a day. Therefore, there is no reason to present Trump’s claims on equal footing with other information. Simply put, what he says is probably not true. And yet the instinct is so hard to resist, the impulse to add “some critics say …” is so powerful.

Then Fallows goes on:
We can’t be sure now which is more destructive: a president openly encouraging much of the public to mistrust the democratic process, or that same president openly welcoming foreign interference in the process. Both are steps toward authoritarianism and danger, and awareness of them should shape coverage every single day.

Fallows’s article also had a link to a piece by Dan Froomkin, an experienced journalist who has done 12 years before the mast at the Washington Post, (Stop headlining Trump’s loony disinformation about Covid-19) on a site I’d never seen before, Presswatchers.

Froomkin is unequivocal about the role of the campaigning journalist. His article lams into articles such as this one from AP, which started:
Openly contradicting the government’s top health experts, President Donald Trump predicted Wednesday that a safe and effective vaccine against the coronavirus could be ready as early as next month and in mass distribution soon after, undermining the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and calling him “confused” in projecting a longer time frame.

This approach, Froomkin says, takes no account of Trump’s latest obviously delusional fantasy: that every person in America will be able to get a vaccine “very soon”. It was highly reminiscent of his famous still-a-whopper-more-than-six-months-later that “Anybody that wants a test can get a test.”

Froomkin’s piece ends with a glorious paragraph which should appear in every handbook for the aspiring campaigning journalist for ever more:

I’ve written a lot about Trump’s response to the pandemic, and here is what has been clear all along: It’s an ongoing tragedy that he has no real plan to restore the country to health other than to peddle false hope, predict a quick end, adopt fake deadlines and shift the blame to others. The most urgent need is to test, test, and test even more, but Trump has never liked testing because the results “look bad”. The media has blown its coverage of the federal response by letting political reporters lead instead of health reporters. Political reporters pay way too much attention to whatever Trump says, such that whatever it is makes headlines. They let Trump set the agenda instead of letting knowledgeable people do it. Political reporters also give Trump way too much credit for trying, which he is not. They cover up for his incoherence, ignorance, cluelessness, gaslighting, and yes, just plain stupidity. They generally fail to properly exploit their rare access to him by confronting him with facts and piercing his bubble. They remain complacent in the face of a massive death toll, instead of relentlessly demanding more forceful action.

Great stuff.

A day at the cricket: the Lord’s Test, 1963

Wes Hall’s 40 yard run up, seen at the Oval in 1963. Pic: Audmanettv

Today is the last day of the cricketing summer. A summer so strange that not a single ball bowled in the first class game has been viewed by any paying spectator. However, it’s been great to have some free-to-view cricket back on BBC TV. First, highlights of all the test matches between England and West Indies/Pakistan. Then, live (!), two full T20 matches between England and Pakistan/Australia. And finally, more highlights of the 50-over series between England and Australia. Truly, you spoil us, Mr BBC Director-General.

Watching ball-by-ball coverage of Test matches was something I did all my life until the end of UK free-to-view transmission in 2005. That wonderful Ashes summer, with its series of close finishes, has rightly gone down in history. Over the previous four decades work would sometimes get in the way, of course, but there were always weekends. Plus I was sometimes able to filch the the odd day working from home. These occasions could be a bit dull but one Monday in 1984 I got lucky.  I spent the day correcting proofs on my living room table while at Lord’s, in the corner of the room, Gordon Greenidge was hitting 214 not out, as the West Indies got 344-1 in a run chase.

I’ve only ever been to a handful of Test matches, all at either Lord’s or the Oval, the last being in 1990 when I took my father to see England play India at the Oval. It was Sachin Tendulkar’s first tour, and we saw the young master fielding on the boundary just in front of us. My first visit was, however, 27 years before, to the famous Lord’s Test against the West Indies in 1963. A small group of boys were taken from my school, Thorpe House in Gerrards Cross, by the deputy head (and cricket coach) Mr Wood. His first name was Ken, but of course we never called him that. Test matches in those days lasted from Thursday to Tuesday, with a rest day on the Sunday, so I think that it must have been the Friday when we went. I really have very little memory of the day itself, but we must have travelled by train to Marylebone. I see from this report of the match that this was the day when England captain Ted Dexter hit 70 in an hour after lunch as England chased a first innings score of 301 by West Indies. I do remember watching from side on as Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith bowled with ferocious speed, and marvelling at the length of Hall’s run up, which must have been about 40 yards. (You get an idea of how long it was from the screen grab at the top of this piece, taken from the Oval test later in the summer.)

We were there on the second day, but in fact the Test match went on to a famous final day on the following Tuesday. I was spending my last term at Thorpe House as a boarder (even though we only lived half a mile from the school) so I watched the climax on TV in the boys’ common room there.

On the Monday, Colin Cowdrey had retired hurt with a broken arm, caused by a hit from Charlie Griffith. Then West Indies batted again, and were out for 229, so England were left needing 234. By the time the last hour started England needed 48 to win, with five wickets down. Brian Close and Fred Titmus were in. But then Titmus was out, soon followed by Fred Trueman. The score was 203 for 7 when David Allen arrived at the crease. After a few more big blows, Close was out, with England needing 15. The last fit man, Derek Shackleton came in. He and Allen could perhaps have scored them, but with hostile bowling from Griffith and Hall they could only prod the odd single.

Soon after this, the live TV coverage ended, as it was already past ten to six and the news bulletin due at 5.50 could not be delayed any longer. However, soon after the bulletin started, it came to an abrupt end (apparently under the orders of Sir Hugh Greene, then the BBC Director-General, who had been watching the cricket) and the cricket came back on again.

As the last over started England needed eight runs. They were surely batting for a draw. They got a couple of singles off the first three balls. Then Shackleton was run out on the fourth, but the batsmen had crossed. The nation held its breath as Cowdrey, arm in plaster, made his way to the non-striker’s end. However Allen blocked out the two remaining deliveries and the match was drawn.

Unsurprisingly there is a lot of material online about this match, as well as Arunabha Sengupta’s atmospheric piece referenced above, but written in 2018, which I freely admit I have relied on for this piece. Here is the full scorecard at ESPN Cricinfo and here, amazingly, is a 40 minute YouTube video of the highlights of both teams second innings. There is also a shorter YouTube video of Hall, Griffith and Sobers bowling on the same tour, at the Oval test.

What wasn’t so apparent at the time to a 13 year old boy was the cultural significance of this Test series, which West Indies won 3-1, with only one draw. Only two years before Frank Worrell had become the first black man to captain the West Indies cricket team for an entire series, and this was the first time this had occurred in a team touring England. As a batsman his powers were waning, perhaps not surprisingly as he turned 39 during the tour. He retired from international cricket at the end of the tour and, tragically, died of leukaemia less than four years later.

West Indies fans, probably at the Lord’s Test 1963. Pic: ESPNcricinfo

I do remember the crowd at Lord’s. There were areas of unreserved ‘free seats’ and people could also sit on the grass (you hired a cushion for, I think, a shilling). Large sections were taken up by West Indies fans, as can be seen in the picture above, taken from the Sengupta piece. I love the fact that they are all dressed in smart clothes, with their brief cases and handbags in front of them. This was the first home Test match series against the West Indies for six years, and many more immigrants from the Caribbean had arrived in that time. The sheer numbers of West Indies fans are in stark contrast to the numbers who turn up now to modern Test match series. This perhaps mirrors the declining importance of cricket in the Caribbean – a shame when you consider the heritage they have to build on.

The boisterous crowds have been driven away, says this article in The Cricketer, ‘by high ticket prices, the end of block-booking and overzealous ground regulations on instruments, food and the like.’ The article links to an academic project at University College London which is hoping to shed some light on this under-appreciated corner of British cricket history. Led by Professor Michael Collins, it is compiling a social history of the Windrush generation through cricket which will attempt to answer the eternal question of why, if cricket was so important to so many African-Caribbean people in Britain, has their participation declined so markedly over the last 30 years. Collins says: ‘For many West Indian immigrants to Britain, cricket was a bridge across back to the Caribbean. It was part of their Caribbean identity, but it was also very much part of their British identity.’

It will be an interesting read. I look forward to seeing a copy. Contact Michael Collins here.

1963 West Indies tour Wikipedia page

Summer of 95

The summer of 1995 was a pretty memorable one. In June, we travelled from London to a holiday cottage in Kerry in Ireland, along with my brother, sister in law and their one year old daughter. It was too hot for the locals. One told a local radio phone in: “we Irish aren’t designed for heat. We’re not like the Japanese. It’s so hot I have to have a wash nearly every day”. We introduced our two year old son to a clear blue sea, ate fresh salmon sandwiches, drank cold Guinness and watched the famous South African victory in their home Rugby World Cup final on a tiny TV.

Meanwhile, back in London, John Major announced in his “put up or shut up” speech that he would stand for re-election as Conservative Party leader to stop the endless speculation about whether he should resign or not. After a very brief campaign, he beat the only person who ran against him, John Redwood, by 218 votes to 89.

Still in the world of politics, I did some freelance work for the Labour candidate in the Littleborough and Saddleworth by-election, which took place on 27 July, but I was mainly busy in the small editing and design business that I had set up with my old colleague Lliane Phillips. Life there was going well; we worked from a small office on the top floor above a shop in Upper Street – voguish enough then, balls-achingly on trend now. Under the roof, we got boiling hot in summer and froze in winter. By then we had a couple of Macs. One was the pizza box style LC475, small enough to be portable, the other a Performa. We had both become deft users of QuarkXPress.

Even though we were firmly in the Apple camp, we could hardly not have noticed the release by Microsoft of its new operating system, Windows 95, described this week by The Register in a piece marking its 25th anniversary as “arguably the most consequential event in modern computing history”. I remember that the hype even reached the cartoon pages of the mainstream press, with Gary Trudeau drawing a hilarious sequence of Doonesbury cartoons which ran in the Guardian for a week or more.

Three of the Doonesbury series are shown above. In a search for them on Google, I came across the first two in a guide to the installation of Windows 95, a glorious web page set up by a Florida company which doesn’t seem to have been updated since it was created.

The Register article also has a link to a much under-appreciated resource, an hour-long (!) video guide to Windows 95 on YouTube, where your hosts are two fresh-faced young actors, Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry.

As if to remind us where we are in the evolution of computing history, at one point the video proclaims Windows 95 as the “on-ramp to the Information Superhighway”. The Internet Explorer versus Netscape battle was about to start.  Google’s revolution of search was still three years away.

And all this was just 11 years after Apple’s 1984 campaign that introduced the Macintosh personal computer. The greatest TV commercial ever, according to Advertising Age. How time flew.

Designs on O’Sullivan

For ages I’ve had it in mind to write one of those ‘it wasn’t like that when I was young’ pieces about the history of desktop publishing. But when I turned on the TV on Monday afternoon to catch up on the score in the snooker World Championship match between Mark Williams and Ronnie O’Sullivan, I didn’t expect to spend the next hour chundering around the internet. The result was I came across the modern manifestation of a software program which I thought had long bitten the dust.

There above is Ronnie, in all his open-mouthed glory, snapped by me off the telly and sporting a sponsor’s badge proclaiming the word ‘Publisher’. I couldn’t think what that referred to, even though over the years, there have been a number of programs called with that name, the most notable being that belonging to Microsoft. According to this Wikipedia list, Ventura Publisher and Timeworks Publisher have also popped out of the floppy disk drives of history.

But it turns out that Ronnie O’Sullivan is now sponsored by the Nottingham-based firm Serif (Europe) Ltd, makers of a suite of programs called Affinity Publisher, Affinity Designer and Affinity Photo. Priced at around 50 quid each, they offer a reasonable alternative to the gouging subscription-only model now the only option from Adobe and its Creative Suite. (A nightmarish price of €61.49 a month for a single freelance designer.) The About Us page explains that the company goes back to the early 1990s and its original DTP program PagePlus.

As I still have the full Adobe CS4 bundle, and because I don’t do a lot of DTP work anymore, I don’t really need to upgrade my software, but I have to say that Designer does look like an impressive, professional-level program, and I might be tempted if I were still in the market.

It seems as though it has all the bells and whistles a hip young designer would need, just as long as they can tear themselves away from the snooker. And if Ronnie O’Sullivan goes all the way through to a Sunday late-night final session, it will surely have been a sponsorship deal worth making.