Thursday 30 November 2017

'A tale of decay': the Houses of Parliament are falling down

 Photographer David Levene toured the obscure passages and dusty basements of the Palace of Westminster as part of our investigation into its desperate state of disrepair – and parliamentarians’ chronic indecision over how to fix it

The long read
'A tale of decay': the Houses of Parliament are falling down
As politicians dither over repairs, the risk of fire, flood or a deluge of sewage only increases. But fixing the Palace of Westminster might change British politics for good – which is the last thing many of its residents want. By Charlotte Higgins
Friday 1 December 2017 05.47 GMT

Britain’s Parliament is broken. It is a fire risk. It is insanitary. Asbestos worms its way through the building. Many of the pipes and cables that carry heat, water, electricity and gas were installed just after the war and should have been replaced in the 1970s; some of them date from the 19th century. The older the steam pipes become, the more likely they are to crack or leak. When high-temperature, high-pressure steam enters the atmosphere, it expands at speed, generating huge, explosive energy. Such force could be fatal for anyone close; it could also disturb asbestos and send it flying through the ventilation system, to be inhaled by palace workers. The building caught fire 40 times between 2008 and 2012. Last year, a malfunctioning light on an obscure part of the roof caused an electrical fire that could have spread rapidly, had it not been detected at once. Whatever else happens in the Palace of Westminster, that great neo-Gothic pile on the Thames, one thing is constant. Every hour of every day, four or five members of the fire-safety team are patrolling the palace, hunting for flames.

Away from the grand chambers of the House of Commons and House of Lords, away from the lofty corridors, away from the imposing committee rooms with their carved doors, the palace is tatty, dirty and infested with vermin. Its lavatories stink, its drains leak. Some of the external stonework has not been cleaned since it was built in the 1840s, and is encrusted with a thick coat of tarry black that is eating away at the masonry. Inside the building, intricate fan vaulting is flaking off, damaged by seeping rainwater and leaking pipes. Its Gothic-revival artworks are decaying: in the Lords chamber, the once-golden sculptures of the barons who signed the Magna Carta are now dull grey, pitted and corroded.

Beyond its state of disrepair, the building is all too obviously a remnant of a predemocratic age. It was built not to welcome its populace in, but to impress them with its fortress-like grandeur. It was designed when women were, at best, crinoline-wearing spectators of parliamentary life, consigned to the public gallery. With its chilly colonnades of sculptures of male politicians, its heavy, ecclesiastical furnishings and gentlemen’s-club atmosphere, it provides the perfect stage-set for Britain’s “very aggressive, very masculine, very power-hoarding democracy”, as political scientist Matthew Flinders put it.

Nevertheless, the Palace of Westminster is seductive. It wants to beguile those who encounter it with its fantasy of Britishness. The national mythology that the palace promotes from every frescoed wall is of a country where Good Queen Bess forever reigns, where the knights of the round table still quest for the Grail. Conservative backbencher Sir Edward Leigh told me that in his mind the building is inextricably linked with British freedom. “We are the only important country in Europe that has never been a police state, never had a police state imposed on us. We are the oldest functioning democracy of any major country – to me this should be valued. This is not just an office block. It’s the symbolic centre of the nation.”

Leigh is right that the palace is more than a just a building. It is the place – grand and tawdry, magnificent and squalid – that symbolises everything, both good and bad, about Britain and its democracy. Now it is dilapidated, ramshackle and dangerous. And no one seems willing, or able, to fix it.

“If you look back over time, there has been no shortage of people saying that something should be done,” said crossbench peer Lord Lisvane who, in his previous guise as Sir Robert Rogers, clerk of the Commons, commissioned a report into the state of the palace in 2012. “And then you look at the excuses for not doing anything: too expensive, too embarrassing, too soon after the war – which gives you a very vivid impression of how long this has been going on.” (The administration of the parliamentary estate, which includes a number of satellite buildings, is overseen by commissions of the Lords and Commons, akin to boards of directors, although the monarch still officially retains control over portions of the palace. There is no single chief executive figure, and a complex tangle of departments deals with the buildings’ upkeep.)

Screeds of further studies, papers and parliamentary inquiries have warned, bleakly, of a “looming crisis”, of a “tale of decay, disrepair and dilapidation”. The Cassandras who have authored these reports (most recently a joint committee of both Houses of Parliament) warn of constant danger of flood, of the “ever-present threat” presented by asbestos, and, most urgently, “a risk of a major conflagration”. With a hint of desperation, the committee, in its findings of 2016, compared the difficulty of trying to keep the palace safe, despite continual “aggressive maintenance” to “trying to fill a bathtub with a thimble while the water is draining out of the plughole at the other end”.

What is needed, the report argues, is a thoroughgoing renovation programme, preferably undertaken over about six years in an empty palace. The body that actually gets to decide on how to proceed is parliament itself, and in January, MPs will debate whether to set up a delivery authority – an arm’s-length body akin to the organisation that ran the London Olympics – to oversee the works. It will be the first time the question of the palace renovations has come before parliament.

Visible damage on the roof of the Palace of Westminster.
 Visible damage on the roof. Last year, a malfunctioning roof light caused an electrical fire. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

The problem is that MPs are caught in a trap. The renovations, it was estimated in June 2015, will cost a minimum of £3.5bn. (If parliamentarians choose to stay in the building, the work could take 40 years and cost £5.7bn.) Spending vast amounts of money on their own workplace feels, to many, politically impossible. Some of them fear that moving out of the Palace of Westminster could indelibly alter parliament’s culture. Flinders said: “There are those who realise that if they allow new intakes of MPs to go into a new chamber, with new atmospheres, new ways of doing things, places for everyone to sit, new procedures, new ways of talking, they may refuse to go back into what may to them feel like an antique shop.”

The temptation for parliamentarians is to stall. But doing nothing is also a choice. Every year of delay increases the cost of the works by an estimated £100m. Every day that passes makes a catastrophe more likely. Tom Healey, head of restoration and renewal at the palace, told me that the palace’s mechanical and engineering services – all those pipes and ducts and cables – are classified according to likelihood of failure. “By 2020, 40% of them will be at critical or high risk. By 2025, the figure will be 52%. By 2025, most of the building services in the palace will be at a very high risk of failure. It’s a bit like driving a car with 40-year-old brakes: you can’t say when they’ll fail. But the risk is pretty high.” As time grinds on – the projected date of the start of works has already slipped from 2020 to the mid-2020s – so grows the risk of “either a single, catastrophic event, or a succession of incremental failures in essential systems, which would lead to Parliament no longer being able to sit in the palace”, as the 2016 report put it. And if that happens, said Healey, “we have a very big problem”.

So many people are in denial about the state of the Houses of Parliament because the peril is largely invisible – both to the public and to most of its 8,000 or so workers. Most visitors see only its grandeur – enchanting still, despite the scaffolding that covers so much of the building while repairs are made to the roof and to the Elizabeth Tower, home of the great bell, Big Ben. The first thing most visitors encounter is the vast, echoing space of the medieval Westminster Hall, whose great timber ceiling is carved with 26 soaring angels. Then, passing beneath a new stained-glass window commemorating women’s suffrage, one of the few markers of a female presence in the palace, you enter St Stephen’s Hall. You are now in the 19th-century portion of the building: Charles Barry’s masterpiece of planning, each space flowing gracefully to the next, hectically embellished with Augustus Pugin’s neo-gothic detailing, from the gilded wallpaper to the ornate floor tiles. From here you reach the vaulted Central Lobby, from which radiate corridors leading to all the palace’s 1,100 rooms, seven floors, 100 staircases, and 31 lifts – only one of which is fully wheelchair-compliant. (When I visited, it was out of use.)

It is two floors down, however, in the out-of-bounds expanses of the basement – the principal home of the palace’s outmoded cables and ducts – that lurks the most likely source of disaster. Depending on the tides, you might now be beneath the level of the Thames. It is crepuscular; it is stultifyingly hot. The smell of fat is intense as kitchen waste works its way towards the drains. A layer of dust and grime coats the floor.

A labyrinth of passages runs the 300m length of the building, each so thickly lined with ducts and wires that they have become narrow and low. When I visited a few weeks ago, Andrew Piper, the head of design for restoration and renewal, ran his hands across a jumble of cables and pipes, naming each in turn: “That’s data, that’s the fire alarm, that’s security systems, that’s optics for broadcasting, that’s heating, that’s cooling, that’s steam, that’s water. We are particularly keen to get rid of the old steam pipes,” he said. “If you have a steam leak, there can be real damage to people. High-pressure steam can cut through bone.”

Something sticky dripped on to my hand. “This is grease and fat from the kitchens. It seems to be leaking on to electrical pipework,” Piper said. The Victorian palace was not designed, he added, to accommodate the sheer amount of water, kitchen waste and sewage that now flows through its drains. Down a gloomy corridor and a further series of damp steps, announced by a different kind of odour, are two vast, cast-iron vessels – the palace sewage ejectors, in which the effluent produced by parliamentarians and staff gathers before it is pushed into the city drains. They were installed in 1888. “One of them could easily crack,” said Piper. “We get sewage leaks throughout the palace.” Lord Lisvane told me that one of the palace’s disaster-planning exercises, undertaken when he was clerk of the Commons, had imagined a failure of the sewage system. “In that scenario, we had 36 hours before we had to evacuate the building. Aside from all the rather unpleasant stuff about the rising levels of sewage, the fact is that when it hits the high-tension electricity cables, the electricity is out, you don’t have any fresh water, and you are done for.”

All big buildings have their grubby, behind-the-scenes engine rooms. What makes this one exceptional, said Piper, is the sheer, bewildering complexity of it all. There is, he said, never enough time to remove defunct systems, since parliamentary recesses are too short for major works, and the chambers have to be ready for occupation at 48 hours’ notice, in case parliament is suddenly recalled (as it has been 29 times since 1948). That means the ducts and cables just pile up, one on top of the other. “The number-one fire risk is all these ageing electrical services, issues with leaks, wet pipework running over old electrical systems,” he said. The virtually inaccessible maze of Victorian shafts, through which these services pass, could, he said, provide routes for a conflagration to move quickly and unpredictably; there is no proper system of fire compartmentalisation. “That is my biggest fear,” he said. “That’s how you could lose a big proportion of the building.”

The Palace of Westminster is not just a citadel (“the citadel of British liberty”, said Churchill), it is a country unto itself. It operates by its own set of recondite laws, rituals and conventions. Once you are inside, beyond the security cordon, nearly all human needs are met. There is a post office. There is a hairdresser (a Newsnight-ready blow-dry costs £30). There is a nursery, which opened in 2010. There is a gym (with sunbed). At the foot of the stairs to the Strangers’ Gallery (or public gallery) in the House of Lords hangs a notice – now covered, though you can find it if you know how – pointing the way to the old rifle range, where special branch officers offered shooting lessons to parliamentarians as recently as 2015.

Travelling around this strange land is a fraught business. One is constantly committing mysterious, minor infractions. It is like being in a country where the language is comprehensible, but the codes of behaviour are opaque. From the Central Lobby, for example, four corridors radiate. There is no sign to tell you that you cannot take the one that leads to the House of Commons: but if you accidentally stray there, you will get an imperious ticking-off from one of the Palace doorkeepers (59 are employed by the Commons, and 23 by the Lords). There have been doorkeepers here since the 14th century: dressed in white tie, they control the movements of others with punctilious energy. I was reprimanded for loitering “on the blue carpet” in the Prince’s Chamber, and for speaking in the Royal Robing Room, which is sometimes allowed and sometimes not. Doorkeepers are also sources of gossip, wit and speculative histories of the palace. One I met suggested disapprovingly that “Comrade Corbyn” would soon be selling off Pugin’s wildly over-the-top royal throne in the House of Lords “if he has his way”. Another told me that lions depicted on the floor of a certain corridor “have their eyes shut so they can’t look up the ladies’ skirts”. Floors, as it happens, are important: green carpets mean you are in the part of the building owned by the Commons; red carpets mean the Lords.

Notices pinned everywhere contribute extra layers of admonition and exhortation. There’s a staircase that may be used only by MPs; a lift that cannot be used if the Lords are in division – that is, voting by walking into separate lobbies. The yeoman usher, described on parliament’s website as “the deputy to the gentleman usher of the black rod”, has a parking space reserved exclusively for his bicycle; a sign says so. In one courtyard there is even a sign advising parliamentarians what to do if they come across a grounded juvenile peregrine, which is try to throw a cardboard box over it. (A pair of the falcons nests on the roof.) The Lords, naturally, specialises in arcane forms of movement control. “Wives of peers’ eldest sons,” reads one notice, “and married daughters of peers and peeresses in their own right, before taking a place in the peers’ married daughters’ box, are requested to leave their names with the doorkeeper at the brass gates.” A different set of rules, needless to say, governs the movement of peers’ unmarried daughters.

The place is full of mysterious, hidden spaces. Recently, when historian Lord Hennessy, a crossbench peer, was showing me around what he inevitably called “Hogwarts”, he suddenly darted out of sight – up a narrow, red-carpeted staircase that led to his tiny, turreted office. On the upper floors, linenfold panelling turns out to hide secret doors leading to the roof. In Central Lobby, behind a statue of the 19th-century Liberal prime minister Lord John Russell, is an inconspicuous door. From here, 82 steps spiral up to the cavernous, dark space that houses the winding gear for the mighty chandelier hanging below. Being here is like standing in the dome of a cathedral. High above you a great spire rises, with apertures open to the sky, once intended as part of the ventilation system. These days, rain falls softly in here – “very romantic as it comes down”, according to parliamentary archivist and historian Mark Collins. (Less romantic is the damage the water causes to Central Lobby’s gilded ceiling.) Someone had been here before us: wire from a champagne bottle lay discarded on the ground. When I asked Julian Flannery, the lead architect on the restoration programme, how well he knew the building, he said: “No one knows their way around the whole place – except for the locksmiths.” Two such tradesmen are employed in the palace, he told me.

Hennessy is, he said, unashamedly romantic about the palace and its past: “When I pad the corridors if I am here late and everyone else has gone, I sometimes have a sense of the ancestral voices,” he said. (As he told me this, we were sipping stewed tea in the peers’ dining room; a waiter had brought eclairs on a silver tray.) Others are less enthusiastic. The Labour MP Chris Bryant, himself a historian of parliament, and a member of the joint committee, snorted at the notion that the place was romantic. The loos stink, he said. Still, he loves the place: he and his partner were the first couple to have a civil partnership ceremony here. One parliamentary clerk told me of the dampness from the Thames in winter and the overwhelming heat in the summer, of the mice that infest the place, of the difficulty of finding a wifi signal, of the general feeling of grubbiness she feels at the end of each day. But, she said, “the place gets under your skin. It’s like having two homes.”

Some argue that the restoration and renewal programme could be a chance not just to make the building safe, but to make radical changes that could improve Britain’s political culture. Among them is Sarah Childs, who, as a visiting academic to parliament, published The Good Parliament report last year. It is not just that the building is deeply gendered, she argues – heavy, unwieldy doors; an overwhelming number of artworks depicting men; dark, intimidating bars; seats from which shorter, female legs dangle without reaching the ground. It is, she says, that “the building facilitates, valorises, and rewards certain kinds of behaviours and performances that are disproportionately practised by some men – and exclude others.” One might glance, for example, towards the unlovely weekly spectacle of prime minister’s questions, with its shouting, barracking and bullying, particularly of women. When the House of Commons was bombed in the second world war, Winston Churchill insisted it was rebuilt exactly as it was before. “We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us,” he said. Some might ask: is the palace shaping the the kind of politics Britain actually needs?

The House of Commons chamber, where politicians glare at each other across an aisle like hostile choristers, looks the way it does through historical accident. In the 16th century, Edward VI offered the deconsecrated St Stephen’s chapel, with its facing ranks of seating, to parliament as its permanent home; it had previously sat in the chapter house of Westminster Abbey. The basic layout of the chamber has followed exactly the same design since. Today it is in a terrible state. Leaving aside the problem that it has too few seats (427 for 650 MPs) and space for only one wheelchair, there is the fact that the concrete substructure on which it sits has asbestos-lined air ducts running through it. The only way to remove it safely, said head of restoration and renewal Tom Healey, is to break it out of the concrete in which it is embedded. “We’d have to dismantle the chamber panel by panel,” he said. He is also worried about the electrical cables, installed after the blitz. “A lot of them here still have vulcanised india rubber insulation. That eventually turns to dust inside the wall – then you have dust around your cables, and that is obviously a fire risk.”

It is in this chamber that MPs will argue about how to renovate the palace. The debate is much delayed: it was supposed to happen in late 2016, then December 2017, and now it has slipped again to January 2018. In fact, no opportunity for procrastination has been squandered during the entire process. The publication of the 2016 report was itself delayed, at the request of the government: first because of the EU referendum, then because of the UK’s abrupt change of prime minister. Yet more delay will be built in by the government’s motion. MPs will not be asked simply to endorse a “full decant” of the palace, as the report recommended. (Such a move would involve constructing temporary chambers nearby: Richmond House, the current Department of Health building, was proposed by the joint committee for the Commons; the QE2 conference centre for the Lords.) Instead, the motion will empower a delivery board to mull over the options once again – whether to choose the “full decant”, whether the Lords and Commons should depart in turn, or whether parliament should retain a “foothold” in Westminster Hall for ceremonial occasions. According to Bryant, this latest burst of stalling is “risky, and it’s adding millions to the final bill”.

‘The No 1 fire risk is all the ageing electrical services, issues with leaks, wet pipework running over old electrical systems,’ said one of the restoration team. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian
The ordinary citizen may be left wondering: if the most important decision-making body in the country cannot make a decision, then what? If parliament cannot run its own building, then what hope the country?

Logically speaking, the doubt about what to do seems incomprehensible. It is arguably the most complex building in the country: it is parliament’s workplace, a royal palace, a Unesco World Heritage site, has myriad security needs, contains chambers and committee rooms that double up as television studios, and performs a role as a tourist attraction and as the symbolic centre of British democracy. Its precious artworks and building fabric all need conservation. It needs to be made a better workplace. It is, above all, dangerous. The symbolism would be terrible if there were a disaster: imagine news footage of smoke curling out of a hastily evacuated palace at a moment when Britain is struggling to establish a semblance of post-Brexit stability. Of course you tackle it. And of course you move out, because that way the work will happen faster, and more safely, which will be cheaper.

But this is Westminster. This is the world not of reason, but of politics, with all the hedging, compromises, self-interest, short-termism and sheer pig-headedness that that implies. According to Lady Stowell, the former leader of the House of Lords who co-chaired the joint committee, and favours getting on with the works with a full decant, there is a nervousness among some of her colleagues “that, as politicians, we are already hated, and so what sensible politician would agree to spend millions of pounds on our building?”

Because of the delays, and because prime minister Theresa May’s minority government is so weak, opposition to leaving the building has gained momentum. A group of Conservative backbenchers, including Sir Edward Leigh and Shailesh Vara, are contemplating an amendment to the government motion. They object to the building of a “folly” of a replica chamber at great cost; they deprecate the views of the “experts” and “officials” who have recommended moving out. They argue that, with what Vara calls a “can-do attitude”, the work could be done with parliament in situ, mostly through triple-shift working during parliamentary recess.

The language they use is precisely that of the committed Brexiteer: if only their plan is gone at with sufficient verve then everything will be fine; the problem is nothing like as complex as it looks; the experts are pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes. In short, they are in denial. “If parliament really really wants to stay,” said Tom Healey, “we will devise a way of doing it, but it’s important for parliament to understand what that means: several decades of really serious disruption, lifts being turned off, catering facilities closing, the chambers closed for two to four years.”

Stowell and Bryant think the project could be turned to the good: as a major infrastructural project, it will create jobs, and could be used as a boost for apprenticeships in the many trades and crafts that will be needed to nurse this Victorian masterpiece back to health. It could even, said Stowell, become a positive statement of intent in a post-Brexit Britain, when what some regard as a newly sovereign British parliament establishes itself. “We parliamentarians could use it as a way of reevaluating our relationship with the people,” she said.

Others take a darker view. Leigh predicts that the costs are bound to escalate. It will, he says, be “a feeding feast for architects and consultants and builders that has never been imagined before”. He may fear other kinds of feast, too. Westminster, these days, is a byword for many things, nearly all of them awful. The MPs’ expenses scandal still looms large in the public imagination. Trust in politicians is low. Westminster is considered out of touch, a bubble. The Grenfell Tower disaster has drawn attention to the human costs of austerity, and some politicians fear the consequences of appearing to put their own safety above that of constituents. (Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is alert to this: a recent letter to supporters contrasted the sprinkler system currently being fitted in the palace basement with the inadequate fire-safety arrangements in much of Britain’s council housing.) Recent revelations about the sleaze and harassment have not helped. Private Eye summed it up on a recent cover. “House of Commons to Relocate During Building Works”, it said. Below, was a picture of a sex shop.

Underlying the delays and the stalling and the being-in-denial, it is possible to detect a more fundamental anxiety among parliamentarians than the fear of frittering away taxpayers’ cash. It is the fear of an old order passing away. It is the the dread of a separation from a bizarre, rationally indefensible, yet alluring theatre of politics that seems so inextricably linked to British identity and history. It is a fear of bringing in new structures and spaces and behaviours – ones less likely to prop up the white male elite who dominate parliament. “I think there is an agenda with restoration and renewal,” said Leigh. “In kicking us out, the whole thing will change. Inevitably it will change. If you are out for years, institutional memory will die very quickly.”

Some would welcome that. There are parliamentary rituals that would look distinctly odd in a new or temporary building. For example, the speaker’s daily procession through the palace before opening parliamentary proceedings, accompanied by the chaplain, the trainbearer, the secretary, the serjeant-at-arms and cries of “Hats off, strangers!” Or the tradition of MPs physically dragging a newly appointed speaker to the speaker’s chair. Or the doorkeepers’ cry of “Who goes home?” as the house rises. Or the boxes of snuff placed outside the chambers. Or the placing of a prayer card on a Commons’ seat to reserve a place, like a towel on a sunlounger. Or the pink ribbons dangling from coat hangers in the peers’ cloakroom, from which to suspend one’s imaginary sword.

As for the Lords, “If we do decant, we will lose some of the elders of the tribe,” predicted historian Lord Hennessy. In a gerontocratic house that the late Lord Peston once said ran on “gossip and the exchange of medical symptoms”, some will resign from the Lords before suffering the upheaval of a move; nor will they wish to swap their panelled rooms and deep leather armchairs for a conference centre. “The peculiar combination of people in here will be remixed. The average age will drop,” said Hennessy. (It is currently 69.) Flinders said: “Some in the Lords are worried that they are going to come back and find the locks have been changed”.

 The outmoded mess of cables and ducts in the basement seem the most likely source of disaster, said one engineer.
 The outmoded mess of cables and ducts in the basement.

The most radical options have barely been considered by parliamentary officialdom. But many people, particularly members of the public, can’t help wondering: why shouldn’t parliament move out of London during the renovations? Or for ever? What if an entirely new building were to be constructed? It would be cheaper, at least: Scotland’s parliament building, which opened in 2004, cost £414m, almost 10 times over budget, but still a relative bargain compared with the billions restoring the palace would cost (though in reality, Westminster could not simply be abandoned to crumble).

“If we moved out of London, it would have a profound effect on our political culture,” said Labour MP Alison McGovern. “Imagine if we had a national competition for all the towns in Britain, and they could apply to become a city and get parliament in one go. What could be a more progressive thing, if, say, Barnsley could apply, and Barnsley could be the seat of our parliament?” Neil Gray, a Scottish Nationalist MP who sat on the joint committee, believes the debate about restoration and renewal has been much too narrow. “Is the Palace of Westminster the type of environment that we are looking for our democracy to be in? I’m not sure,” he said.

Even as McGovern and Gray spoke, though, I had the feeling of how fantastical their kind of talk was. Notwithstanding the glassy new parliaments of Cardiff and Edinburgh, Britain simply isn’t the kind of country that is willing to uproot its national politics from Westminster, the navel of church and state since the Saxons first moored their boats there, and plonk it down in Barnsley. When, after the blitz, one Glasgow MP suggested moving parliament outside central London – to some practical place with ample parking, an aerodrome and a railway – he was drowned out by cries of derision at the notion of a “Potter’s Bar Canberra”.

In a country so locked into its past, you might think parliament’s history would provide food for thought – because all this has happened before. In the 1820s, the Palace of Westminster was notoriously at risk from fire. It was also unhealthy, filthy and badly ventilated. The House of Commons chamber was stuffy and, on occasion, downright smelly. The House of Lords was an “extensive assemblage of combustible materials”, as architect Sir John Soane wrote in 1828. Everyone knew something should be done. Nothing was done.

And then, on 16 October 1834, a fire began when the House of Lords’ furnace was accidentally overheated. Flames engulfed the chamber. The conflagration spread with terrifying speed, taking out the Commons, offices, committee rooms, libraries – nearly everything but Westminster Hall. Roofs collapsed. Sparks flew like bright snowflakes. The fire raged so hard that the man who became the architect of the new palace, Charles Barry, could see its light from the South Downs, on the Brighton coach. JMW Turner painted the scene: it was apocalyptic yet, in a way, sublime. It was observed afterwards that the whole thing had been eminently avoidable. The prime minister, Lord Melbourne, called it “one of the greatest instances of stupidity upon record”. Caroline Shenton, the former director of the parliamentary archives, recounts the events in her book The Day Parliament Burned Down, and the palace’s rebuilding in another, Mr Barry’s War. (Both Barry and Pugin died young, exhausted by squabbling MPs, the latter after a stint in Bedlam, suffering from psychosis.) Today’s situation, Shenton said, was horribly familiar from her research. “MPs should think”, she said, “about whether they will be able to look their constituents in the eye when the place floods, or burns down – and Britain becomes a global laughing stock.”

Monday 27 November 2017

Keep Calm and Keep a Stiff Upper Lip / Dr Thomas Dixon - Stiff Upper Lip, An Emotional History of Britain - BBC 2

Has Britain lost its stiff upper lip?

Self-restraint has long been part of our cultural DNA, but as the therapy culture gathers pace are we in danger of becoming a nation prone to tears and tantrums at the slightest opportunity?

By Marianne Kavanagh 7:00AM GMT 26 Feb 2010

The Duchess of Devonshire has shocked us to the core. In an interview in the March issue of Tatler, the last Mitford sister, now nearly 90, says the British stiff upper lip is quivering like blancmange. No one used to be sloppy and sentimental, she says. "It was all rather skated over. It wasn't the thing to keep belly-aching."
Grief she remembers as a private affair. "The disaster of someone dying was talked about for a bit and the person was mourned, but you didn't go on about it and take pills and have to be counselled. Money and illness and sex were not talked about in those days."
While most of us sit glued to reality television, from Big Brother to the Chilcot inquiry, the Duchess is resolutely maintaining standards: she won't watch anything sad or violent "or with heaving sheets".
So is she right? Have we all become horribly self-indulgent, spilling out our feelings to anyone who is prepared to listen? Is this really the end of that much-loved British quality of repressed emotion, the dignified silence we once laughed at but secretly admired?
If it's true, you can't help feeling that there should be a suitable period of mourning when we all wander about feeling lost and talking in hushed whispers, because the stiff upper lip wasn't just a code between Bertie Wooster and the implacable Jeeves.
The stiff upper lip was a way of coping with any number of huge feelings that threatened to overwhelm us. It was a very British stoicism that managed to treat issues of great seriousness as if they were utterly trivial. The Mitford sisters were notoriously irreverent, as their published letters show, and the late Sir John Betjeman, who wrote so beautifully about restrained passion, said in a letter to his father in 1929: "Often most 'serious' feelings are expressed in a joke. I very rarely talk about what I really feel."
It all started, this slow slide towards puddles of very public tears, with the Diana moment. That was when we realised that our stiff upper had started to wobble. "We've always allowed outpourings of collective joy – coronations, jubilees, cup finals," says the historian Juliet Gardiner, author of The Thirties: An Intimate History (HarperPress, £30). "But people are afraid of grief. Diana released the floodgates."
It's hard to remember today just how extraordinary the public outpouring seemed in 1997. This was Britain, after all, proud of its Blitz spirit, its black humour and its understatement. Even romantic heroes, from James Bond to Hugh Grant, only ever betrayed extreme emotion by a slight tensing of the jaw. But within hours of the death of the Princess of Wales in a car crash in Paris, a youthful Tony Blair – in office just a few months after a landslide Labour victory – faced the cameras. She had been, he said, "the people's princess" and would stay that way "in our hearts and our memories forever".
Blair's approval rating shot up to more than 90 per cent because he had pitched it exactly right. This was what a shocked nation wanted: emotion openly expressed. As the flowers, notes and teddy bears piled up in a shiny, fluttering carpet outside Kensington Palace, the British public waited for more. Respectfully, but then with mounting hostility, they looked for a similar display of well-phrased grief from the head of the royal family.
But the Queen, a dutiful monarch, had been brought up to mourn in private.
It was a clash of two completely different worlds in one small country. It seemed, quite suddenly, as if dignified silence could be interpreted as cold and unfeeling.
Since then, with happiness and wellbeing high on the Government agenda, and everybody talking about issues, self-esteem and emotional baggage, we're wobbling and quivering all over the place. Expressing how you feel has become all-important. Poor Gordon Brown never seems to get it quite right, either giving us a rictus grin or coming over all emotional to Piers Morgan. Meanwhile Cheryl Cole (via Girls Aloud and The X Factor) has become the nation's sweetheart on the strength of her soulful eyes and friendly openness. The repressed emotion of Brief Encounter now seems rather quaint. (Imagine a remake in 2010: Celia Johnson would have her kit off in seconds.)
You could, of course, argue that we're well rid of the stiff upper lip because it belongs to another age, a way of being British that's tied up with class, wealth and the playing fields of Eton. Phillip Hodson, fellow of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, says: "The stiff upper lip comes from the heyday of the British Empire."
You could only hold on to vast possessions, he says, by pretending that you were "somehow superior, immune to the weaknesses of the rabble and the masses". But nowadays the stiff upper lip may have outlived its usefulness. "There's something much healthier about the new Britain," he says. "Whether sad or happy, we're now prepared to cry."
We're also prepared to wallow in it. Ever since the publication of Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes in 1996, the public has been hungry for misery memoirs, tales of terrible childhood abuse and deprivation (perhaps reading about other people's horrible lives made our own seem more bearable). It seems, too, that we've become more inward-looking, grappling with unanswerable questions like, "Who am I?" and "Where am I going?", and responding to polite inquiries like "How are you?" with vast amounts of personal information as if the person asking really wanted to know. Personally, I blame L'Oréal. "Because I'm worth it" has made us feel all self-important.
But what about the famous British spirit, our ability to keep going in the face of adversity? Has this disappeared? Snap out of it, pull yourself together, get a grip (or, as my teenage son would say, man up). Surely the stiff upper lip is deep in the national psyche, as British as fish and chips and a nice cup of tea. Look, for example, at how the British public behaved on the home front during the Second World War.
Historian Juliet Gardiner has just finished writing a new book on the Blitz, out in September to coincide with the 70th anniversary. Yes, she says, keeping morale high during the war was vitally important and people did just carry on as normal during the Blitz, to the great surprise of the government, which had cleared mental hospitals in readiness for people suffering from "war neurosis".
What this meant, in reality, was that many people just suffered in silence, often for years afterwards. "I think the collapse of the stiff upper lip is a good thing," Gardiner says. "I think today we've reached a happy medium – we're able to share emotion rather than repress it."
Can we really trace this emotional openness back to the Diana moment? Or had the stiff upper lip started trembling well before 1997? Perhaps it all started in the Sixties, when girls with sooty eyelashes and tiny mini skirts started challenging tight-lipped convention. Or perhaps it was the collapse of traditional communities that got us spilling all our secrets to strangers. (Maybe it was the death of the village pub: many a local landlord acted as unpaid counsellor.)
Or perhaps we should just blame the United States. The US therapy culture has crept over in films, self-help books and sitcoms like Friends (no one was ever "there" for anyone when I was a teenager). All those toe-curling phrases have become part of everyday speech – being in denial, wanting closure – and are now, according to Kathryn Ecclestone, professor of education and social inclusion at the University of Birmingham, firmly embedded in our education.
It's not just that children and young adults, from nursery schools to universities, are encouraged to emote all over the place, Ecclestone says. It's the fact that if they don't, it's somehow suggested that they might be repressing something that could turn out to be a problem later in life. It's all done with the best of intentions, she says, but "the danger is that it's possible we could be creating a generation who are very susceptible to the idea that they 'have issues'."
So with all this going on, must we finally say goodbye to that old-fashioned British reserve? Must I now behave with Mediterranean exuberance?
Perhaps we're just doing nowadays what the British have always done rather well, adopting an eclectic mix of the old and the new, trying out innovations but happy to stick with what works. In a recent, moving interview, Andy Sturgeon, this year's designer of the Telegraph Chelsea garden, said that it was tea, tears and alcohol that got him through when his wife Sarah died suddenly, rather than antidepressants or counselling.
Underneath it all, the gritty, stubborn determination to carry on, to hold things together in the face of adversity, still runs through our veins. We may be challenged by weeping politicians and talk of issues and anger management, but we know what to do in a crisis. Think back to 7/7. People were killed; there were horrible injuries. But the next day, Londoners were back on public transport. Of course we were shocked. But we still carried on.
Let's face it, the only thing that ever really breaks through the British stiff upper lip is a bit of unexpected snow. Terrorist attacks, global recession, MPs charged under the Theft Act and a world turned upside-down by climate change: we can cope with that. We're British.

That's quite enough talk about emotion. Cup of tea, anyone?

One who has a stiff upper lip displays fortitude in the face of adversity, or exercises great self-restraint in the expression of emotion. The phrase is most commonly heard as part of the idiom "keep a stiff upper lip", and has traditionally been used to describe an attribute of British people in remaining resolute and unemotional in the face of adversity. A sign of weakness is trembling of the upper lip, hence the saying keep a stiff upper lip. When a person's upper lip begins to tremble, it is one of the first signs that the person is scared or shaken by experiencing deep emotion.

Notable examples in British history include, Captain Lawrence Oates's understated act of Antarctic sacrifice: aware that his ill health was compromising his three companions' chances of survival, he calmly left his tent and chose certain death; Sir Francis Drake finishing his game of bowls before embarking on the defeat of the Spanish Armada; and Lord Uxbridge's calm assessment of his injuries (he had lost his leg) to the Duke of Wellington when hit by a cannonball during the Battle of Waterloo in the Napoleonic Wars.

The ideal of the stiff upper lip is traced back to Ancient Greece – to the Spartans, whose cult of discipline and self-sacrifice inspired the English public school system; and to the Stoics. Stoic ideas were adopted by the Romans, particularly the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who wrote, "If you are distressed by any external thing, it is not this thing which disturbs you, but your own judgment about it. And it is in your power to wipe out that judgment now."The concept reached England in the 1590s, and featured in the plays of William Shakespeare; his tragic hero Hamlet says, "There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so". Poems that feature a memorable evocation of Victorian stoicism and a stiff upper lip include Rudyard Kipling's "If—" and W. E. Henley's "Invictus". The phrase became symbolic of the British people, and particularly of those who were products of the English public school system during the Victorian era. Such schools were heavily influenced by stoicism, and aimed to instill a code of discipline and devotion to duty in their students through competitive sports, corporal punishments and cold showers.

Ian Hislop's Stiff Upper Lip: an Emotional History of Britain, BBC Two, review

Michael Deacon reviews Ian Hislop's Stiff Upper Lip: an Emotional History of Britain (BBC Two), in which our host set out to learn whether we've always been so reserved and unflappable.

By Michael Deacon7:30AM BST 03 Oct 2012

Our definition of Britishness must come from a very old dictionary. In Ian Hislop’s Stiff Upper Lip: an Emotional History of Britain, a new series for BBC Two, our host set out to learn whether we’ve always been so stoic, restrained and unflappable. Well, if we ever were, we surely aren’t now.
Today we’re a nation of whingers, of squawking doom-mongers, of I-know-my-rights solipsists. When we don’t complain, it’s usually only because we’re afraid of the person we’d have to complain to. “Still, must grumble” is our 21st-century motto. Which is curious, because, even allowing for the recession, we’re richer, better fed and longer-living than any generation before us. No smog, no cholera, no prospect of conscription... In short: the less we have to moan about, the more we moan. Lord knows I do. Look at me now: moaning about moaning.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The series is chronological, so in last night’s episode, the first of three, Hislop was examining the British temperament between late medieval times to the early 1800s. Five hundred years ago, it seems, we were an exuberant, even friendly people, who always greeted strangers with a kiss (“You cannot move without kisses!” recorded a Dutch visitor).
Writing a little later, Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) found us “ill-natured” and “uncivil”, but then Swift hated more or less everyone, so let’s not take it too badly. Other sources from around that time suggest that we (or at least, those towards the top of society) treasured “politeness”, meaning not simply good table manners but a refusal to gush. This isn’t to say we were unemotional, or thought emotion unmanly. In early novels such as Henry Mackenzie’s The Man of Feeling (1771), “sentimentality” (meaning the feeling and expression of emotion) was celebrated. Nelson, our national hero in the late 1700s, was in many respects sensitive and insecure; he wasn’t ashamed of that, and nor was his adoring public. Forget Hardy – any man in the land would have kissed him.
It wasn’t until the 1800s, said Hislop, that we developed our stiff upper lip (funnily enough, an American phrase). Hislop argued that stoicism and reserve were forced on us by the French: we had to pull together to stop the filthy, foppish Frogs building an empire to eclipse ours. Wellington, our new national hero after Waterloo, was a paragon of cold resolve. In his youth a fine musical talent, he ended up tossing his violins on the fire; he was determined to be a great military leader, and he wasn’t going to let anything so wet as art get in his way. Look at the portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence: arms folded, lips thin, eyes glaring. There might as well be a speech bubble saying, “Yeah? And? Want to make something of it?”
Next week: the Victorians. I hope we’ll hear more from the main talking head, an academic at somewhere called the Queen Mary Centre for the History of the Emotions, if only because it seems so brilliantly bizarre that such a place should exist. Imagine the lectures. “Sadness was discovered in 426 BC…”
A history of a nation’s emotions is rather a nebulous idea, but Hislop told it well. He’s good at documentaries, and quite different in approach from the derisive team captain we see on Have I Got News for You. Small, courteous, round-faced, shuffling around old buildings in a nice warm coat, he puts me oddly in mind of GK Chesterton’s crime-solving Edwardian cleric, Father Brown. If ever I need a slightly far-fetched murder looked into, I’ll be sure to give him a call.

That British Stiff Upper Lip Exposed!

A Damsel In Distress (1937) - Stiff Upper Lip

Saturday 25 November 2017

THE COUNTRY HOUSE REMEMBERED : RECOLLECTIONS OF LIFE BETWEEN THE WARS / Edited by Merlin Waterson / VIDEO: Country Houses from Above in High Definition - HD

Portrays the social life of British country homes through a series of interviews with the owners and their families.

Edition: -
Author: Merlin Waterson
Taylor & Francis Ltd
Publication date:            
01 Aug 1985
Publication City/Country:            London United Kingdom

4.4 of 5 stars (Votes: 2013)

Friday 24 November 2017

The Long Weekend: Life in the English Country House, 1918-1939. By Adrian Tinniswood.

The Long Weekend: Life in the English Country House, 1918-1939. By Adrian Tinniswood. Basic; 344 pages; $30. To be published in Britain by Jonathan Cape in June; £25.

Partying, hunting, shooting
May 7th 2016

LOOKING back on the years before war broke out across Europe in 1914, Vita Sackville-West, an aristocratic English novelist, remembered an upper-class world of “warmth and security, leisure and continuity”. For many of her aristocratic contemporaries in the 1920s and 1930s, the Edwardian country house was the heart of that world. For them, the pre-war age of innocence stood in stark contrast to what followed. In many memories, it was a period of decline and decay.
One-tenth of titled families had lost their heirs in the trenches. Mansions and estates were put up for sale at an unprecedented rate, which rose further after the stockmarket crash of 1929. Some were torn down, others abandoned: in the 12 years to 1930 more than 180 country houses were destroyed. Wollaton Hall, one of the most flamboyant Elizabethan examples, was transferred to the local city council and became a museum; Claremont in Surrey became a girls’ school. As the importance of land declined, mansions and family seats no longer had much use as a home.
The inter-war era has long been seen as an “Indian summer”, awaiting the death knell of the second world war. But as Adrian Tinniswood argues in an engaging new account of inter-war country-house life, this has obscured a world of energy, invention and change. “Fast”, the byword of the era, applied not just to Soho “flappers” and Jazz Age ballrooms, but to the country-house set, too. The loosening bonds between family, mansion and local community meant the country house was changing, but it was not dying. New owners—often Americans—brought “new aesthetics, new social structures, new meanings”.
A “spirit of restlessness” characterised the age. Country-house parties could last from 48 hours to three weeks. The word “week-end” entered common usage as expanding rail networks and car ownership meant that people could dash to the country on Friday and return on Monday exhausted after a race, a ball, a shoot or a political gathering. (Although, as Mr Tinniswood points out, the phrase in polite circles was still “Saturday-to-Monday”, to distinguish the leisured class from those who had to be at work on Monday morning.) Women, in particular, were confronted with gruelling social expectations: a seven-day shooting party, for example, would require multiple outfits for every day of the week, and spending whole seasons like this was arduous.
Only a fraction of all country houses, mansions and estates was destroyed. And new ones were built. Philip Sassoon, a hyperactive Conservative politician, built Port Lympne in Kent as a “fairy palace”—a gaudily theatrical Cape Dutch-style red-brick mansion overlooking Romney Marsh towards the English Channel. To its architect, it stood as a declaration that “a new culture had risen up from the sickbed of the old, with new aspirations.” There were modernist novelties, too—Crowsteps near Newbury, Joldwynds in Surrey—shocking the public with their shiny white walls, flat roofs and angular façades. But these were anomalies: most of the design in this period was backward-looking, as aristocrats and nouveaux-riches seeking stability and refuge embarked on a frenzy of castle restorations in a bid to “domesticate the past”.
The picture was never uniform. Mr Tinniswood provides rich detail from all corners, uncovering plenty of angst, but also much optimism—until 1939. When the next war came, the idea returned that the world was lost, symbolised, to many people, by the disappearance of domestic service (which, contrary to some alarmist inter-war accounts, had held up buoyantly for most of the preceding two decades). In the 1950s, the National Trust came into its own as a flood of houses passed into its stewardship. The “English Country House” became an object of nostalgia. Mr Tinniswood’s book is a work of historical scholarship, not heritage fetishism. For all its merits, though, it still seems to be a product of the mindset. The English country house casts a long, rose-tinted shadow.

From the print edition: Books and arts

Waugh's Country House: Through the Vita-glass Brightly
Posted on May 9, 2016 by Jeffrey Manley

A new book out this week is described as a social history of the interwar period. This is called The Long Weekend: Life in the English Country House, 1918-1939 by Adrian Tunniswood and is reviewed in the current issue of The Economist. According to portions of the book available on the internet, Evelyn Waugh is cited on elements of country house style and design. A discussion of country house modernization mentions an ad featuring a refurbished 15c. house near Chelmsford with a "Vita-glass sunroom" as well as a swimming pool. Tunniswood cites Waugh's use of this same glass in his fictional creation of Margot Beste-Chetwynde's replacement of her Tudor country house King's Thursday by modernist architect Otto Silenus. In this new structure, "the aluminium blinds shot up, and the sun poured in through the Vita-glass, filling the room with beneficent rays." (Decline and Fall, New York, 2012, p. 176). As explained by Tunniswood, Vita-glass was a British invention that was marketed as allowing into the house all the healthful ultra violet rays of the sun (promoting suntan, vitamin D and even killing germs) just as though one were outdoors, where one also had to cope with unheathful English cold and damp.

In another context, the book describes the transformation of socialite Sybil Colefax into an interior decorator, necessary due to diminution of her husband's income in the 1930s. The results of her work have not, according Tunniswood, withstood the test of time. Evelyn Waugh recommended her to his brother Alec to decorate his house at Edrington. Evelyn urged that "you will be saved the kind of mistakes that are made by decorators who are not used to dealing with persons of quality, and she's businesslike" (Alec Waugh, Best Wine Last, London, 1978, p. 57). Neither of these predictions turned out to be the case. According to Alec, Colefax was always late for appointments, filled the house with inappropriate furniture, and hung the drapery inside out.

Thursday 23 November 2017

Howards End - BBC One

 Howards End review – timely, careful remake explores class and race
Question at the core of EM Forster’s work of who will inherit England has perhaps never been as relevant since he first posed it
 Howards End
 The opening episode of Howards End was a more sober affair than Merchant Ivory’s 1992 rendition.

Lucy Mangan
Sunday 12 November 2017 22.00 GMT Last modified on Monday 13 November 2017 01.05 GMT

Time is a funny thing. To watch the most famous film version of EM Forster’s Howards End now is to watch the 1910 novel overlaid with another layer of history. Merchant Ivory’s rendition came out in 1992 and cemented the pair’s reputation – born in 1985 with their adaptation of Forster’s A Room With a View – as the purveyor of sumptuous Edwardian goods for the contemporary masses.

To watch it now is to be almost overwhelmed by the branding. Every scene is limned in golden sunlight, every costume ripples and rustles to perfection, hair is huge, vowels are rounded and wherever you turn either Helena Bonham-Carter or Vanessa Redgrave are Bonham-Cartering or Redgraving to the fullest limits of the law.

Sunday night’s opening episode of the keenly awaited BBC adaptation of Howards End (four parts, broadcast the old-fashioned way, one a week) was a more sober affair. The weather was non-uniform, the wigs did not need separate billing and the clothes – while still Edwardianly gorgeous – looked like they might survive more than one day’s shooting of the story of the gradual entwining of the Wilcox, Schlegel and Bast families intact.

In the first episode we have the fleeting engagement of Helen Schlegel (wonderfully played by Philippa Coulthard, whose youthful enthusiasm already contains hints of the perilous idealism to come) to a Wilcox son – which is better delineated here than in the film as an outcropping of her infatuation with the whole family – its awkward aftermath and the growing friendship between Margaret Schlegel and Mrs Wilcox. Again, this is developed at greater length than in the film, which will surely make coming events more credible, aided by the fact that the characters here are played, respectively, by Hayley Atwell and Julia Ormond, with all of those actors’ customary intelligence and commitment. Helen has her first intimation of the ultimate futility of life during Beethoven’s 5th – goblins! We’re all just goblins, tumbling around the earth! – and pulls poor Leonard Bast (played by Joseph Quinn more as a simpleton, so far, than a member of the lower middle class) into the chain of events by running off with his umbrella.

One new element that has been added is the presence of characters of colour. The doctor called to examine Mrs Wilcox is Indian. The Schlegels’ maid, Annie, is black (and evidently not fully accepted by their other servants) and Bast greets a black man, dressed as he is, in the street as a social equal.

It moves at a stately pace – possibly shading into plodding at times. A careful, almost worthy air hangs round it but this may disperse once the plot – such as it is – gets going next week.

That said, it is a timely remake. Though some of the finer points of Edwardian class distinctions and propriety may elude us at this distance, the question at the core of Forster’s work of who will inherit England, has perhaps never been as relevant since he first posed it, and the introduction of non-white characters connects it more emphatically to the present.

In the Wilcox and Schegel clans, Forster enshrined two faces of the upper class – the former pragmatic, staid, patriotic, conventional; the latter romantic, intellectual, curious, kind and slightly flighty – but united by the unthinking privilege that social status and money bring. And in Leonard Bast he displayed the lower orders; unprotected, at the mercy of forces beyond their control and just a misstep or missed pay packet away from disaster.

This new version also hints at immigration as a new source of possible inheritors of the earth. Howards End, in whatever form you read or watch it, is an examination of how the rich get the gravy and the poor get the blame. More than a century after publication, the day is not yet come when this cannot strike a chord. Time is a funny thing.

Howards End radiated quality at every turn – review
Gerard O'Donovan
12 NOVEMBER 2017 • 10:00PM

The biggest surprise of BBC One’s new adaptation of EM Forster’s much loved Howards End was just how fresh, contemporary and relevant it felt despite the period costumes and elaborate formalities of its Edwardian setting.

Certainly, the decision to have the American writer Kenneth Lonergan (whose Manchester By the Sea won the Oscar for best original screenplay this year) adapt it paid off, as the clarity of his approach seemed unencumbered by preconceptions of Forster’s novel and his analysis of the tectonic shifts of British class and society.

The story opened with young, intellectual Helen Schlegel (Philippa Coulthard) writing gushingly to her sister Margaret (Hayley Atwell) from the sun-kissed environs of Howards End, country home of the Wilcox family, who had invited her to visit.

The thrusting, materialistic, nouveau riche Wilcoxes were like an exotic species to the cultured, idealistic Helen, who was instantly intoxicated by their difference. She might as well have been a “remoaner” seduced by a gang of devil-may-care Brexiteers. So when she announced by telegram that she had fallen in love with one of them, panic set in among the Shlegels and formidable Aunt Juley (Tracey Ullman dialling down her Angela Merkel) was dispatched to sort things out.

After this amusing set-up, the drama grew subtler. Though the engagement was broken off, the lives of the Schlegels and the Wilcoxes became ever more entangled when the Wilcoxes took an apartment near the Shlegels in London, and Margaret and Mrs Wilcox’s friendship deepened.

Hayley Atwell shone out as the well-intentioned if emotionally repressed Margaret. But she was matched by Matthew Macfadyen, bluffly charismatic as Wilcox paterfamilias Henry, and Julia Ormond exuding maternal poise as his wife.

Add to that a deliberate restraint in the production (not the standard period-drama lushness) that felt just right, and director Hettie Macdonald seemed hardly to put a foot wrong. Even so, one would hope the key character of insurance clerk Leonard Bast (Joseph Quinn) will get more rounded treatment as things progress.
Other than that quibble, this was a drama that radiated quality at every turn. From the outset there was a sense of vivid intelligence at work, a tangible impression that this is a piece in which ideas really matter. For now, though, the most obvious fun was in judging how little in some ways, and enormously in others, Britain has changed in the 100 years or so since Forster wrote his novel. The metropolitan elite still chatter away ineffectually; business folk still cut a swathe through much that is precious in pursuit of wealth. Together, somehow, we all limp on.

Monday 20 November 2017

Charles Manson Dies at 83

Charles Manson obituary
Cult leader and convicted killer responsible for the Sharon Tate murders in 1969

Christopher Reed
Monday 20 November 2017 06.20 GMT Last modified on Monday 20 November 2017 07.09 GMT

The American criminal Charles Manson, who has died aged 83, was responsible for one of the most infamous mass murders of the 20th century, yet the head of the notorious “Family” cult was never convicted of killing anyone personally.

It was partly this, and the bloody nature of the slaughter in Los Angeles on successive nights in the summer of 1969, that led to his name achieving a wider standing – though he had a following of only a dozen pseudo-hippies at the time of the murders. Nearly fifty years after the horrific events, he retains a morbid fascination for many.

Prisoner No B-33920 was originally sentenced to death for the murders of the actor Sharon Tate, the wife of the film director Roman Polanski and eight months pregnant at the time; the coffee heiress Abigail Folger; Polanski’s friend Wojciech Frykowski; Jay Sebring, a Hollywood hairdresser; and Steven Parent, who had the misfortune to pass through the grounds of the Polanski mansion in Benedict Canyon, Los Angeles, on 9 August 1969.

The night after what became known as “the Tate murders”, the deaths of a wealthy couple, Rosemary and Leno LaBianca, were added to the Family’s toll. A month before, the body of an LA drug dealer and musician, Gary Hinman, had been discovered. LA panicked.

The killings, and the wall scrawlings in blood of “Death to pigs”, and the misspelled “Healter Skealter” – Manson’s song title borrowed from the Beatles in which he described the apocalyptic racial war he wanted to create – produced lurid headlines. Guns sold out in Beverly Hills and security firms trebled their business.

The Manson murders occurred in a late 1960s atmosphere of social upheaval, and stirred up moral panic. Neil Armstrong may have landed on the moon, but on Earth the then US president, Richard Nixon, saw the period as one in which “drugs, crime, campus revolution, racial discord and draft resistance” challenged the very basis of “civilisation’s continuity”.

Although at the time of Manson’s trial hippy culture and its attendant drugs were blamed, it was Manson’s failed musical career that seemed to be one key to the killings. In California in the early 60s he had befriended the Beach Boys’ drummer, Dennis Wilson, and the group had retitled a song by Manson, Cease to Exist, as Never Learn Not to Love on their 20/20 album. But Manson, who had been living on Wilson’s ranch until the musician threw him out, had received no recognition for the song.

He had also been rejected in 1968 by a record producer who had originally occupied the Benedict Canyon house. Manson either did not know or did not care who lived there by August the following year.

Three months after the killings Manson was arrested with his cult: five middle-class young women and two men. Although it was these followers who had committed the brutalities, it was Manson who had ordered the killings, and, at the LaBianca home, had tied up the couple before leaving his followers to their butchery.

The ensuing long trial was equally bizarre. Manson and the women carved Xs on their foreheads and, sitting with their backs to the bench, insulted the judge. Once Manson, who converted his sign to a swastika, lunged at the bench. One of the defending lawyers, Ronald Hughes, disappeared mid-trial during a 10-day court recess and his body was found on the day the women were due to be sentenced. The prosecutor, Vincent Bugliosi, made a fortune with his bestselling book on the case, Helter Skelter (1974). Newspaper articles continued for decades.

In a further trial, Family members were also found guilty of the murders of Hinman and Donald Shea, a stuntman and hired hand at the Family ranch who was killed at the end of August 1969, but whose body was not recovered for another eight years.

Manson and the group were sentenced to death, but this was commuted to life imprisonment when California’s supreme court abolished the death penalty in 1972. Three years later one of Manson’s followers, Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, was given a life sentence following an assassination attempt on the then president, Gerald Ford. She was released in 2009.

In the 90s the rock group Guns N’ Roses recorded a Manson song, Look at Your Game, Girl. It seemed Manson might become rich from the royalties, but Frykowski’s son, Bartek, sued successfully for the payments as reparation for the death of his father, who was stabbed 51 times.

Although some found Manson charismatic, others saw little to impress. His rambling conversation, bizarre references and non sequiturs revealed his inauspicious beginnings. Born to Kathleen Maddox when she was 16 in Cincinnati, Ohio, he was initially called “no name Maddox”, but after a few weeks was named Charles Milles.

Kathleen married William Manson, a labourer, and Charles took his surname. His biological father was Colonel Walker Scott, against whom Kathleen won a paternity suit in 1937, but Charles never knew him. Brought up by foster parents and institutions, Charles was soon involved in crime – as a conman, pimp, forger and thief. At 13 years old he was convicted of armed robbery, and at 17 of raping a fellow inmate. By the time he was 32, he had spent 17 years behind bars and would later say: “Policemen raised me, convicts raised me, administrators raised me.”

In 1967 he travelled to the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, then in its early days as a hippy haven. There he smoked cannabis, ingested LSD and began to seek a female following, particularly among middle-class young women seeking rebellion against their “bourgeois” backgrounds. He also gathered a succession of minor film actors, Texan drifters and outlaw bikers and moved his “Family” to an abandoned holding north of Los Angeles, where they would collect and sort supermarket rubbish, then to a dusty ranch on the edge of Death Valley. The scene was set for the slaughters in LA.

After almost a lifetime in prisons, including 11 years in solitary, Manson had only a tenuous grip on reality, and spent his time plucking his guitar at his final institution, Corcoran state prison, 170 miles north of Los Angeles. In 2009 he reportedly attempted to contact the music producer Phil Spector, who is incarcerated at a facility in the same city, in order to make music with him, according to Spector’s wife, Rachelle – an assertion later disputed by California’s department of corrections. “It was creepy,” Rachelle said at the time. “Phillip didn’t respond.”

But the producer and Black Flag frontman Henry Rollins did, admitting in 2010 that Manson had contacted him in the 80s asking for help mixing an album of acoustic pop songs. Rollins agreed, finishing a never-released record called Completion.

In 2012 Manson’s final request for parole was denied. Manson did not appear at the hearing but was quoted as having said to one of his prison psychologists: “I’m special. I’m not like the average inmate. I have spent my life in prison. I have put five people in the grave. I am a very dangerous man.”

His son by his first wife, Rosalie (nee Willis), Charles Manson Jr, killed himself in 1993. Manson’s brief second marriage, to Leona “Candy” Stevens, produced a son, Charles Luther, and he had another son, Valentine, by Mary Brunner, the first member of the Family. In November 2015 Manson applied for a licence to marry Afton Elaine Burton, a 26-year-old follower, but the marriage did not take place.

• Charles Milles Manson, cult leader and convicted murderer, born 12 November 1934; died 19 November 2017

Charles Manson Dies at 83
By Dave McNary  @Variety_DMcNary Dave McNary
Dave McNary
Charles Manson Dies at 83

Charles Manson, the notorious leader of the Manson Family cult that murdered actress Sharon Tate and six others in 1969, died Sunday in a Bakersfield, Calif., hospital. He was 83.

The California Department of Corrections released a statement reading, “Inmate Charles Manson, 83, died of natural causes at 8:13 p.m. on Sunday, November 19, 2017, at a Kern County hospital.”

Manson returned to the hospital in mid-November after being hospitalized in January. He was transferred out of Corcoran State Prison, where he had been serving nine life sentences. He had been denied parole 12 times.

The shocking murders brought the carefree hippie era of the late 1960s to a dark end, with Manson and his followers becoming infamous cultural figures. Though he didn’t commit the Tate and LaBianca murders himself, the Corrections Department said “On December 13, 1971, Manson received a first-degree murder conviction from Los Angeles County for the July 25, 1969, death of Gary Hinman and another first-degree murder conviction for the August 1969 death of Donald Shea.”

Though the murders took place nearly 50 years ago, they continued to have a hold over the popular imagination. Quentin Tarantino agreed with Sony Pictures on Nov. 17 to develop his 1969-based movie project that has the events surrounding Manson as a background. The current season of “American Horror Story” portrayed the Manson family in the “Charles (Manson) in Charge” episode.

A career criminal from an impoverished and abusive background, Manson was first incarcerated in 1951 and by age 32 had spent half of his life behind bars.

An aspiring musician who first learned to play guitar in prison, Manson began gathering followers in San Francisco during the Summer of Love in 1967. In the short time between his 1967 prison release and his imprisonment in 1969, Manson skirted the fringes of show business, even briefly finding himself working with one of the top rock and roll bands in America, the Beach Boys.

He became intertwined with Hollywood in 1968, when he and more than a dozen of his followers lived at the Sunset Boulevard home of Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys. Manson crossed paths with several entertainment business figures, including actors and film producers intrigued by his charismatic hold on his followers and his counterculture beliefs.

Manson recorded several songs and was introduced by Wilson to other show business acquaintances, including music producer Terry Melcher, the only son of Doris Day. One of Manson’s songs, “Cease to Exist,” was reworked by the Beach Boys as “Never Learn Not To Love,” and eventually released by the band with the writing credit attributed to Dennis Wilson.

The band’s changes to his song reportedly angered Manson, who allegedly threatened Dennis Wilson with murder.

In 1968, Manson and his followers were evicted from Dennis Wilson’s home and Manson relocated his group to Spahn Movie Ranch, near Chatsworth, Calif. The locale was rich with film and TV history, and films such as King Vidor’s “Duel in the Sun” and popular TV shows such as “Bonanza” and “Zorro” had filmed there.

From their Spahn Movie Ranch base, Manson launched a killing spree in 1969 with the goal of a sparking a race war he called “Helter Skelter,” based on his interpretation of a song from the Beatles’ “White Album.”

On Aug. 9, 1969, he directed his followers to kill the 26-year-old Tate — who was pregnant and married to director Roman Polanski — and four others at the home she was renting in the Benedict Canyon area of Los Angeles.

Polanski was out of the country at the time of the Cielo Drive killings. The other victims were celebrity hair stylist Jay Sebring, 35; Voytek Frykowski, 32; coffee heiress Abigail Folger, 25; and Steven Parent, 18, a friend of Tate’s caretaker. The word “Pig” was written on the front door in blood.

On the following night, Manson and his followers killed Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary, at their home in the Los Feliz district of Los Angeles. “Death to Pigs” and “Healter Skelter” were scrawled in blood at the crime scene.

Manson and more than 20 of his followers were arrested at ranches in the California desert in the following months. He and three followers — Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten — were found guilty in a trial and sentenced to death in 1971. The death sentences were commuted to life in prison in 1972 when the death penalty was abolished in California. Van Houten was granted parole in September but her release must still be approved by Governor Jerry Brown.

Manson has been the subject of dozens of books and articles. Some, like musician-writer Ed Sanders’ 1971 tome “The Family,” have been investigative and rich in details of the cultural moment of the murders, but many have been simply cut and paste jobs published to satiate the public’s curiosity about the notorious killer.

The story of the trial was re-told in the 1976 TV film, “Helter Skelter,” based on the 1974 book by prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry. Steve Railsback portrayed Manson. The book was adapted for a second TV movie in 2004, directed by John Gray and starring Jeremy Davies as Manson.

The events surrounding the murders were explored in numerous other movies and TV shows including NBC series “Aquarius,” indie film “Manson Family Vacation” and on “South Park.”

In 2013, James Franco announced he would play hairdresser Sebring in “Beautiful People,” though the film was never put into production.

Over the decades, pop culture references to Manson and his murderous clan have abounded, from the name of goth rocker Marilyn Manson to the alt-rock band Kasabian, named after one of his followers, Linda Kasabian.

Manson’s impact was also seen with numerous Manson Family mentions in acclaimed novelist Thomas Pynchon’s 2009 bestseller set in ‘70s Los Angeles, “Inherent Vice,” while Joan Didion’s “White Album” includes an examination of the impact of Manson as well as an interview with Kasabian.

Manson again made headlines in 2015 when his fiancee at the time, Afton Elaine Burton, AKA “Star,” 53 years his junior, was reported to be planning their nuptials in order to secure a claim to his corpse, which she hoped to exploit as a commercial public display piece.

Since the murder convictions, Manson has been imprisoned at San Quentin; the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, Folsom, and at Corcoran.

Steve Gaydos contributed to this report.