Thursday, 12 April 2018

Britain is no country for one old David called Ron Ryall about to have his house demolished by a young Goliath called HS2

Back in 2004, when he was 56, Ron purchased his house at Dews Farm on Dews Lane in Harefield, near West Ruislip, an area in West London which is part of the London Borough of Hillingdon. He bought it from the Council when it was semi-derelict and spent 10 years, painstakingly restoring it to its former glory.

The core of the house was built between 1575 and 1600 and towards the end of her life, in 1602, Queen Elizabeth I visited it for a few weeks and in 1896 the house was the birthplace of Cecil John Kinross in 1896 who was awarded a Victoria Cross when he was just 19 for his extreme bravery during the First World War. Unfortunately the planned route of High Speed 2, which will link London, Birmingham, the East Midlands, Leeds and Manchester will cut through the living room and under the terms of compulsory purchase, Ron and his family have to be out by July.

Ron runs a garage, marked as 'Petitioner's property', up the lane from his home, a business he initially set up at the age of 15 in 1962, the day after he left school. It too will be removed. His son and his family live in a cottage in Dew Lane and his mother, lives next to Ron in a self-contained annex in what was formerly the servants’ quarters. In 2015 he said : “This isn’t a hard-luck story. I’ve got everything I could possibly want. I’ve worked all my bloody life for that – from a council house to a mansion. I’m quite proud of what I’ve done."

Seventy year old Ron asked the question about the construction of HS2 : "Don't you think the services are more important than getting to Birmingham 10 minutes quicker ?" and was followed by his tearful daughter Crystal who made her own plea to stop the destruction of her father's property.

Ron has also said : “Members of my family have lived round here since 1924 but we’ve got to be out by the summer. I have no idea where we’re going to go." He was referring to his grandparents who moved into a cottage in Dew Lane and "If I didn’t care about this place I would take HS2’s money and run. But I do care about it. All I want is to be able to keep my house and pass it on to my grandchildren."

HS2 first wrote to Ron in 2013 to tell him the rail link would affect his home. A spokesperson said : “We have been in ongoing negotiations with the owners of Dews Farm and following an assessment by a team of independent chartered surveyors, have made an initial offer. We know that every home is unique and appreciate that there will be different opinions about the true value of a property. However, we believe that this offer is accurate and that our proposal to pay for the costs incurred during moving adheres to the compensation code.”

Ron has been to Westminster to petition MPs about changing the route and exercised his right that anyone affected by HS2 can address concerns to a select committee of six MPs, who can ask HS2 Ltd, the Government-funded company that is developing the railway, to tweak its plans. In Ron's case there has been no tweaking. He was familiar with the British Constitution, but said : "We haven’t got one! And we should have. It’s all going wrong. This is wrong – what they are doing with ordinary people.”

Ron has said : "An Englishman's home is his castle, until HS2 want it" and :

“I love my country but I fear my Government.” 

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Brexit Britain is a country which has inspired old radio DJs like Tony Prince, to "throw out friendship through the radio and embrace all the countries of the world”

A new online radio station was launched this week. It was inspired by Tony Prince, a 73 year old DJ who has a long pedigree. Born in Oldham, Lancashire in 1944 at the tail-end of the Second World War, the only son of a scrap metal worker,Tony attended Oldham Art School and subsequently worked as a jockey, TV salesman and toolmaker before becoming lead singer in a local band, 'The Jasons', in 1959. In 1962, at the age of 18, he started as a club DJ and two years later he was expelled from the Musicians' Union for playing records in dance halls rather than employing live musician's.

He moved to Bristol to work for Top Rank, presented an early ITV pop music programme, 'Discs-a-Gogo' and then in 1965, joined the pirate radio station, Radio Caroline North, on a ship in the Irish Sea, where he developed his persona as "Your Royal Ruler". Two years later, when the Marine Offences Act banned pirate radio, he joined Radio Luxembourg.

Now, 53 years after he first took to the airwaves Tony, along with other veterans of the golden era of pirate radio, is embarking on 'United DJs', their new music adventure with the station broadcasting 24 hours a day from a studio on a business estate just outside Maidenhead. They aim to target listeners bored by the blandness of modern music radio, provide an antidote to playlist-dominated commercial networks and capture the buccaneering energy of pop radio in the 1960s and 70s.

Tony said the idea grew out of a meeting of old broadcasting legends at his home : “We are kind of a brotherhood. All the DJs of the past meet regularly to chinwag, and we were all talking about how bad the scene had got for radio.”  The former Radio 1 breakfast show host, 71 year old, Mike Read, 72 year old Dave Lee Travis and 79 year old “Diddy” David Hamilton are among the familiar voices behind a new station. When interviewed, Mike drew parallels between the movie stars creating 'United Artists' and their creation of 'United DJs.' It was he who launched the new station at 7am Monday 2nd April :

Other 'volunteers' working initially for free because, as Tony said : "Until we start making money, nobody is going to make money," are the 75 year old, Emperor Rosko, one of Radio 1’s launch DJs, who is presenting a Saturday evening show from his home in Los Angeles, while 80 year old Laurie Holloway, the musical director for Michael Parkinson’s chat show, will play big bands and show tunes on Sundays. In fact the all-star DJs are allowed to select their own tracks from any era and give free rein to their personalities, liberated from the restrictions of corporate-run stations.

Tony said they may eventually apply for a DAB digital licence and he hoped the network would capture the spirit of a confident Britain engaging with the world as it leaves the EU : “We are the Brexit channel. We are just going to throw out friendship through the radio and embrace all the countries of the world.” 

Successful or not, the new channel has certainly enlivened its old DJs and given them a sense of purpose and Tony, for one, said : “It’s given me a new lease of life. The adrenaline is flowing, and there’s reason to get up in the morning. I was going to start going golfing more often but I’ve cancelled my membership because I haven’t got the time now” and : "We feel like we’re getting a standing ovation on the radio. One listener said it was like he’d walked across a desert for years and finally found an oasis. People are saying, ‘This is what we’ve been waiting for, at long last something that breaks the manufactured mould.’ ”

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Britain is a country where bowel cancer screening is a lottery for old men

According to Cancer Research UK, one in 14, mostly, but not exclusively, old men and one in 19 women in Britain will be diagnosed with bowel cancer and about 16,000 people die from the disease each year. If caught early, at stage one, patients have a 97% survival rate for at least five years, but discovered later, at stage four, this falls to just 5% for men and 10% for women. After prostate cancer, it is the most common cancer for men and level pegging with lung cancer.

At the moment there are two types of test used in the NHS for bowel cancer screening :

* bowelscope screening - a test where a thin, flexible tube with a camera at the end is used to look for and remove any polyps inside the bowel.

* home testing kit - the FOB test - a kit used to collect samples of excrement and post them to a lab so that they can be checked for small amounts of blood, which could be caused by cancer.

As things stand at the moment bowel cancer screening starts at the age of 50 in Scotland but bowelscope screening is not until 55 in England, but not Wales and Northern Ireland and then, only in those areas where it is available. The the standard method is the home testing kit offered once every two years between the age of 60 and 74. Presumably, after the age of 74, old men and women aren't worth the expenditure.

BBC news presenter, George Alagiah, has said his bowel cancer could have been caught earlier if the screening programme in England was the same as in Scotland. He was first diagnosed four years ago, at the age of 58 and last Christmas he was told that the cancer had returned and it’s now stage four.

Now, with supreme irony, 61 year old Andrew Lansley, who served in David Cameron's Conservative Government from 2010-12 as the minister responsible for the Nation's health, has fallen victim to bowel cancer.

He said : "When I was Health Secretary, among the early plans for cancer investment that David Cameron and I announced in October 2010, was a commitment to introduce a one-off flexible Sigmoidoscopy, or 'bowelscope' test, at age 55, with a pilot leading to a national roll-out across England by the end of 2016. If this had happened, I would have been called to this new screening programme. But the 'bowelscope' is only available to about 50% of the population. A lack of endoscopists and difficulties with IT have frustrated delivery. Bowelscope could save 3,000 lives a year, but training and recruiting endoscopists and support staff will take years.”

Apparently, the Government aims to introduce a test for bowel cancer called FIT, 'Faecal Immunochemical Test', which should increase screening, detect more cancers and requires fewer endoscopies than Bowelscope. Andrew said that FIT : “should now be an immediate focus with a roll-out this year in addition to following Scotland’s lead by bringing forward the screening age to 50. I was fortunate that I was in a hospital that does conduct such testing.”

He described himself as "lucky" to have seen a GP who had referred him to a specialist and a “first-rate” NHS surgical team, who were responsible for his seven-hour operation but added that cancer survival “must not be about luck”.

Britain : A country where bowel cancer detection is a lottery and old men in Scotland have a better chance of having their bowel cancer detected than those in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and half of those in England have a better chance than all the rest. 

Monday, 2 April 2018

Britain is no country for poor old pensioners in Dagenham, but is very much one for the well-off ones down the road in the City of London

According to a new analysis of Government data reveals big disparities in the level of pensions enjoyed by old men and women across Britain and the 'average pensioner' living within the City of London enjoys an income that is over three times bigger than his counterpart in Barking and Dagenham.


Recently released HM Revenue & Customs data revealed that there were about 1,000 old men and women living in the City of London, which includes the Barbican Estate, who receive a total pension income averaging £37,900 a year and means that it tops Britain's table for pension income.

Yet a mere eight miles away is the area with Britain's second-lowest pension income where, in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, the mean average pension income that old people have to manage on is £12,800. The only part of the country with a lower figure was Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire where the mean average is just £12,300.

In addition, the second, third and seventh spots in the table of the highest-income areas were also taken by London boroughs : Westminster where pensioners have an average of £29,500 p.a,, Kensington and Chelsea, £26,700 and Camden, £24,000.

The insurer, 'Royal London' said the figures : “highlight shocking disparities in pension incomes even within the same region” where “very prosperous pensioners” are living only a few miles down the road from those who are struggling on much more modest incomes.

Helen Morrissey, Personal Finance specialist at Royal London said : “When it comes to pension incomes, there is not a simple north-south divide. While all of the top 10 local authorities are in London and the South-East, three of the lowest-income authorities are also in London and the South-East.”

In the other nations of Britain the disparities, while there, are less stark : In Scotland, mean pension incomes range from £20,000 in Stirling to £13,900 in North Lanarkshire and in Wales they range from £18,700 in the Vale of Glamorgan to £13,900 in Caerphilly.

* * * * * 
Charles Booth, the great Victorian social reformer published his colour coded map of the East End of  London 129 years ago, in 1889, and it revealed that Old Nichol, a slum in the East End of London stood cheek-by-jowl next the the wealthier district of Shoreditch to the west.

There were no pensions at that time. If poor old men, who made it into old age, could not be looked after by their family, there was no alternative but the workhouse. One hundred and twenty-nine years later, the modern day counterparts of the old men in the photo living in Dagenham now have an 'average' of £12,300 a year to live on, which means, of course, that many have less than this.

Victorian Britain : very much a country for rich old men and very much not one for the poor ones down the road.

Twenty-first century Britain : very much a country for rich old men and not much of one for the poor ones down the road.

Friday, 30 March 2018

Britain is a country which once made and now says "Goodbye" to an old actor called Bill Maynard

Bill, who has died at the age of 89 and who, in his long career on stage television and radio, had given so much pleasure to millions, was born Walter Williams in Surrey in 1928. before moving to Leicestershire where he was brought up in the 1930s.

He recalled : "I was born in Heath End, a little village in Farnham, Surrey. My dad was from Ullesthorpe. He was in the Army. He wanted to come home. We settled in South Wigston in a place called Lansdowne Grove, or rat alley as everyone called it. It was opposite the tip. There were rats everywhere. We were poor. I didn’t go to school for a while because I didn’t have shoes."

"Every Saturday night, we went to South Wigston Working Men’s Club. One night, the turn didn’t arrive so they had what was known as a “free and easy.’’ I went up and sang George Formby’s 'Leaning on a Lamppost.' I was eight. I went down a storm. The very next day, I was struck down with scarlet fever. I was in quarantine for 16 weeks in a sanatorium in Woodhouse Eaves. No-one could visit me, so my dad bought me a ukulele and a book on how to play it and for 16 weeks, that’s all I did. When I came out I learned the guitar, the mandolin, I had singing lessons, dancing lessons. By the age of nine, I had an entire act."

A bright lad, he passed the 11+ exam and attended Kibworth Beaucham Grammar School, Leicestershire and after leaving school started his stage career as a variety performer and got his big break at the age of 25 in 1953, with his first television broadcast on 'Henry Hall’s Face the Music' for which the BBC had asked him to change his surname and, as he was walking around London, he saw a poster with 'Maynards Wine Gums' written on it so he said to himself "That'll do."

The new 'Bill Maynard' got himself "a good agent" and he : "worked at Butlins with Terry Scott. We had a double act. I was getting paid £9 a week. I sent £8 home to my wife, Muriel and kept £1. I didn’t need much. I had my digs and food paid. I didn’t drink, not back then. I just drank Vimto. After a tour of army camps with Jon Pertwee, I had a steady stand-up slot at a strip show in London called The Windmill. All the BBC talent scouts came there. They knew if you could make people laugh at The Windmill, you could make them laugh anywhere."

He said his tv double act with Terry Scott, 'Great Scott – It’s Maynard' : "turned me into a superstar. I couldn’t go anywhere. I was a sex symbol. I was treated like royalty. I used to go to watch Leicester City and they gave me free tickets, drinks, a parking space right outside the ground."

By 1960 he a household name. He had it all : TV shows, magazine interviews, top hotels, adoring fans, loads of money - earning £1000 a week, but, as he said : "I went from that to doing local rep theatre, earning £9 a week. Why? Because I has this silly idea that I wanted to be a serious act-or."

It had been a traumatic experience and when he was back on his feet he said to Muriel : “Just promise me one thing, my darling. Never make me go back to the clubs again.’’  With understatement he confessed : "It was a mistake. First, it nearly ruined me. I was paying tax a year behind my earnings. So when I was bringing home £9, I was paying tax on £1,000 a week. I had to sell my house, three cars, everything I possessed in Hampshire. I went back to working the clubs. I was heckled. People called me a has-been. It was awful." 

Part of his recovery involved appearances in a series of 'Carry On' films in the early 1970s : 'Loving,' 'Henry,' 'at Your Convenience,' 'Matron' and 'Dick' as well as serious roles in Dennis Potter's tv play, 'Paper Roses' in 1971 in which he starred as a reporter, Clarence Hubbard, on the last day of his life and Colin Welland's tv play, 'Kisses at Fifty' in 1973 in which he led as Harry.

Bill returned to centre stage with a comedy based on Sapcote Working Men’s Club and in particular, the man who ran it. As he recalled : "I came back to comedy. I enjoyed it, and what took me a long time to realise is that not everyone can do it. I did 'This Is Your Life.' I wrote my biography : 'The Yo-Yo Man.' And I had this idea. I wanted to do something about my local working men’s club, especially this larger-than-life character called Peter Wright. He was a gregarious chap, full of life. Everyone loved him. He loved everyone. Peter became Selwyn Froggitt."

After a pilot episode in 1974, he starred in the Yorkshire Television sitcom 'Oh No, It's Selwyn Froggitt!' over four series from 1976–78 and with viewing figures over 20 million and was followed by 'The Gaffer' which ran from 1981 - 83 and who he described as "a grumpy old so-and-so who hated the world" and was a "good contrast" to Selwyn and "was so well-written, full of great lines: “It’s not what you know or who you know – it’s what you know about who you know.” "

Personal tragedy now struck with Muriel's death from cancer and Bill went on the road performing with actor pals and drinking buddies when he got a call from a tv director who said : “There’s this roguish character. I don’t know if you’re right for it, he’s called Claude Greengrass.” Bill played the lovable old rogue in 'Heartbeat' from 1992 -2000 and its spin off series, 'The Royal' until 2003 when he was 75.

He recalled that : "Greengrass was little more than a walk-on part, but they offered me a nice fee for the first episode so I did it. I worked on him. I gave him a bit of humour. They hadn’t planned that, but they liked it. I did the first episode and you know the rest. I was there for nine years. He put me back on top."

His tenure are Greengrass in Heartbeat was cut short by a stroke : "I spent 16 weeks in Leicester General Hospital. I thought I was buggered. It took my left side, but not my speech and not my marbles, thankfully" and "When they did 'The Royal', a spin-off of Heartbeat, they wanted Greengrass to play a bigger role. I wondered how I’d do that, after my stroke, but he was in hospital, so that was ideal. I went from one hospital bed to another."

In 2003, Bill began work as a presenter on BBC Radio Leicester, where he had last worked in 1968 and his show, 'Bill of Fare', aired every Sunday afternoon for nearly five years, until he was dismissed without notice on 5 February 2008.

According to Bill all went well until a new head of radio was appointed : "She wouldn’t let me play my own choice of music. They moved my time slot around. They didn’t want me talking to the traffic girls. I had to stop being so controversial. I knew what they wanted. They wanted me out. But I said to them: “I won’t leave – you will have to sack me.’’ They did eventually. It took them three years, though. “I hope you’re not going to be too bitter about this Bill,’’ the boss said when I left. I knew what she meant. But I rang the Mercury the next day.”‘I’ve got a story for you,’’ I said. “Radio Leicester sacks Greengrass.’’ And that was the headline the next day."

Bill, who, like many who find their forte by generating laughter, was at heart a serious man and once said :

"I wish, when I was younger, I didn’t have so much fear. Fear stops you doing things. I read a brilliant self-help book once which said you should do something you are afraid to do every day. I did that. Then I did two things, then three. Then I found I was living my life without fear. That’s the key to a good life."

Bill sings 'Heartbeat'

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Britain says "Happy Birthday" to its oldest of old men, Bob Weighton, 110 years old and unhappy with Brexit

"If there’s anything that characterises the present world, it is the recrudescence of tribalism in Brexit, Trump, Putin."

Bob's Britain on the 29th March 1908 :
Ten days after Bob was born, one hundred and ten years ago today in Kingston-upon-Hull, Yorkshire, a young Winston Churchill entered the Cabinet for the first time as President of the Board of Trade; in June, the first major Suffragette rally took place in Hyde Park and an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 people demanded 'Votes for Women'; a loaf of bread cost 2 ½d and a pint of  beer 1 ¾d; across the Atlantic, Henry Ford’s Model-T was introduced, costing $850 and on this side, EM Forster’s 'A Room With A View' and 'The Wind in the Willows' by Kenneth Grahame were published in hardback.

If he was dandled on the knee by grandparents in their 80s, they may themselves reflected that they were babies, like him, at the time of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

During he intervening 110 years between his birth and today Bob has lived through two world wars, seen 21 prime ministers, five monarchs, the rise and fall of communism and fascism, the moon landings, the birth of the NHS, and the transformative power of technology.

Bob :

* stayed at school until he was 16 in 1924 after his father paid an extra £3 a term for his education so that he could take up a marine engineering apprenticeship and, after qualifying, moved to Taiwan, to teach at a missionary school, but first had to spend two years in Japan learning the language.

* in 1937, at the age of 29, married Agnes, in Hong Kong then returned to Taiwan, where his son, David was born and en route back to Britain, was diverted to Toronto, Canada, due to the outbreak of the Second World War.

* fathered two more children in Canada before moving to Connecticut in the USA and worked in a factory that made airplanes for Britain to help them fight the war and also worked closely with the American Secret Service broadcasting propaganda to Japan, before moving to Washington and then back to Britain after the war had ended, eventually taking on a teaching position at City University, London.

* saw Agnes, his wife, pass away when he was 87 in 1995 and his son Peter in 2014 and is now grandfather to 10 and great-grandfather to 25.

Bob's Britain on 29th March 2018 :
Twenty-five days before his 110th birthday Gary Oldman gained an Oscar for his portrayal of Prime Minister Winston Churchill in the film 'Darkest Hour' ; two months before a March4Women Rally took place in London with thousands of protesters calling for gender equality; a loaf of bread cost £1 and a pint of beer £3.60; a Ford Fiesta cost £13,470; Amazon sold the DVD of the film version of E.M. Forster's 'A Room with a View' and Peter Hunt's 'The Making of Wind in the Willows' will be published in paperback tomorrow.

This time last year Bob said that he was a "bit irked" to be celebrating his 109th birthday on the same day Brexit was triggered and although he was "not enamoured" with all of the European Union's decisions and spending, he felt quitting was a "mistake." He said he did not regard Theresa May's signing of Article 50, as "a step forward at all" and joked : "She didn't ring me up to see what my reaction would be." 

He described himself as "very internationally-minded," partly because his grandchildren and great-grandchildren are "scattered around Europe" including some in Germany. He said that Britain leaving the EU would be like a divorce : "You can't just walk away and expect it not to have any repercussions. It's not like resigning from a golf club because you don't like the secretary, it's more like a divorce with all of the heartache and recriminations that follow. However, you have to live with the way things are not the way you would like them to be."

He has lived through “times that have been exciting, times when it’s been very scary, times when it’s been the dawn of a new day. At the moment, it’s a total muddle – you’ve got Trump, Putin, and political stalemate in Britain.”

He was not in favour of Brexit, he said. “I have a son who married a Swede, and a daughter who married a German. I flatly refuse to regard my grandchildren as foreigners. I’m an internationalist but I’ve not lost my pride in being a Yorkshireman or British. I’ve lived in a number of countries and I felt I was at one with the people there. You can make as good a friend with a German or an Argentinian or a South African as you can with the man next door.”
Bob took 'A Level' German at the age of 70 and keeps two small flags, German and Swedish, on his mantelpiece – a nod to his international extended family.