Friday, November 30, 2007


"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." An eloquent defence of tolerance, or a cosy assumption from people who don't have to face the consequences of what they defend?

Had the Oxford Debating Society students known their onions they may have been surprised to learn that the saying attributed to French writer François-Marie Arouet de Voltaire was actually written by Stephen G Tallentyre, a pseudonym for (female) writer Evelyn Beatrice Hall. She added it to her 1906 biographical book The Friends of Voltaire. It was only intended to summarise Voltaire's attitude and were not words that he himself actually uttered.

Renowned for his satirical wit, Voltaire, a millionaire at forty, did not occupy the moral high ground - and even if he had uttered 'his' famous expression he would not have extended it to all.
It was Voltaire's (erroneously based) free speech ideals that led to the Oxford Union Debating Society's controversial invitation to two 'racists'. However, Voltaire believed that Africans were a separate species, inferior to the Europeans and that ancient Jews were "an ignorant and barbarous people".
Paradoxically an atheist-in-religious-guise, Voltaire used 'faith'. In his day freedom of expression came with the caveats not against the Church and not against the State - he fell foul to both. Little wonder that a biographer - writing under a male pseudonym - placed an often misunderstood ideal in his mouth. Women did not have the same rights as men circa 1906.

So was female writer Hall was secretly lobbying for the rights of women at the beginning of the 20th Century through an early liberal racist philosopher?

Ironically the Oxford Two are a symbol of Voltaire himself. He was in complete accord with what both had to say and would no doubt defend... to the death.
What is even more ironic - something the free-speech-brigade avoids - Voltaire shared the same self-absorbed belief that his 'race' alone was at the pinnacle of species, rather than a fractious part of humankind.

But freedom is not democracy and democracy is not free.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Philippines hotel siege: surrender

Military ‘rebels’ who seized a luxury hotel in the Philippines capital have agreed to surrender, for the safety of the hostages.
"We're going out ... because we cannot live with our conscience if some of you get hurt in the crossfire," Antonio Trillanes, a Navy Lieutenant informed them.
About 200 civilians (many journalists) were trapped inside the Peninsula Hotel in Manila when the rebels, calling for the overthrow of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, took control of the building which is ringed by troops. Guest inside were said to be 'calm'.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007



Some years back, an investigation was conducted by two undercover reporters working for Punch Magazine - Pete Sawyer and Jon Paul Morgan . The pair of sleuths presented a groundbreaking piece of journalism, following months of painstaking research, that was featured on Channel 4 News - as the lead item - and copied in newspapers and magazines the length and breadth of Britain. Reproduced here (with the kind permission of Punch Magazine) is what the pair uncovered...

'Doing undercover work at night, can make you stick out like a sore thumb. Pete and I used to dress quite smartly at first and pose as businessmen searching for our own documents, sometimes we used to dress like tramps, and actually hardly ever got noticed. Except when we appeared on Channel 4, and our cover was blown. We still caught them dumping personal details though!' (JPM)

'The banks had become really sloppy, creating an illusion of security where in fact none existed. In many instances we found passwords, opinions on customers, amounts held, phone numbers, pass numbers, oh... and a jam doughnut.'
'In order to show that this wasn't just a London problem, we broadened our investigation with the help of colleagues credited above.'
Can our data ever be secure in their hands? Is there still a place for a National ID Card? We leave it up to you to decide. Data recovery

Monday, November 26, 2007


Could Mankind be the only technologically advanced society in the Cosmos?

D. Bruce Merrifield, writing in Integrated Patterns of Civilization, seems to think so. Apparently it is due to surges in greenhouse gases, which coincide with periods of global warming, that we may occupy a unique place in the Cosmos... alone.

Merrifield's report, published in American Thinker (November 2007), claims that it is only during the last 5,000 years weather conditions have allowed an advanced civilisation to emerge on planet Earth. Samples taken from ice cores in the Antarctic Ice Cap and the Sargasso Sea record that a unique set of circumstances led towards our present civilisation.

Global warming has been periodically recurring for many hundreds of thousands of years Mankind has evolved by periodic 100,000-year great ice age-ending warming periods, each coincident with enormous surges of carbon dioxide and methane from the oceans. These surges, lasting about 15,000 to 25,000 years, are far greater than those currently generated from fossil fuels. Remarkably, in the last 5,000 years, a number of shorter periods of warming have taken place, lasting 200 to 300-years. And in the brief history of Mankind, each of the shorter warming periods has coincided with the rise and decline of major civilisations.

Amazingly, between these sequential warming periods, advances made in one civilisation have not been lost to the next. This one factor alone has allowed Mankind to gain an evolutionary foothold. We are currently about 20,000 years into the most recent of the 100,000-year cycles, and this one peaked about 10,000 years ago. It has since been cooling. However, these warming cycles are coincident with the earth's elliptical orbit around the Sun. Solar radiation bombarded the planet and as it did so it increased and decreased in strength. The Earth has cooled from its most recent peak up to about 8500 B.C. when a previous civilisation was ‘snuffed out’.

In Fact, the rise of the civilisations has been coincident with these warming – or birthing - periods. Times that were conducive to the increased availability of food. Naturally civilisations grew. The cooling process was reversed when a new great surge of methane rose into the atmosphere at about 5000 B.C. Is it any coincidence that this was the period that coincided with the beginning of civilisation in the Nile, Euphrates, and Tigris River Valleys?

Fortunately, the rise and fall of civilisations, which were sufficiently close together, ensured that any cultural advances made in each civilisation did not die out. Such a fortuitous sequence has never occurred before in any of the previous 100,000-year warming periods. The result has been that the extraordinary advance of civilisation to its present state and may be unique in the process of Earth's evolution - and the Cosmos itself. Remarkably all the great incremental advances in the human condition were made during these sequential periods About 90 percent of all scientific knowledge has been generated during the last ‘30’ years.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

London Councils: double indemnity.

Is service-provider London Councils really running a range of services designed to make life better for 'all'? In a previous article we tried to test this claim by posing a question: how many councils know the law. Unfortunately, instead of an answer we were given the old heave-ho. [Blame the press office... 'freelancers' are apparently amoeba.] Be that as it surely may…

was intrigued to find a press release - posted by London Councils on the Internet under its then guise the "ALG". It boasted of inconsiderate motorists who were to face fines for blocking people's driveways in London.

So, a simple question, well answered. Albeit many years ago.


The problem is that it was posted back in 2003... before our undercover investigation began. [See London Councils: Just the ticket.]

So why then does this 'four year old' press release have the same reference number (83/03) as another press release dated three days later? [Headed “Press release: New measures will help tackle child poverty in London – says Association of London Government” - aka... London Councils.]

Different story. Different date... But with the same press release number...?

Perhaps one was meant for the eyes of the mainstream press and the other for those lower down the chain.

But don't take our words for it, take theirs... just click on the enclosure link above.



The London underground 'map' was created by graphic designer Henry C Beck (pictured below) in 1933.

'Harry' Beck, as he was known, was an engineering draughtsman at the London Underground Signals Office. Less map more diagram, sheer simplicity is what makes the 'map' so user-friendly. He constructed the diagram in his spare time. Harry had the idea of creating a full system map in colour. He believed passengers riding the trains weren't too bothered about the geographical accuracy - this was way before the Congestion Charge - but were more interested in how to get from one station to another and where to change. The idea has since been emulated around the world.

Harry continued to update his Tube map on a freelance basis. [The Victoria Line was added by someone else and many additional changes were also introduced, without Harry's approval.]

Harry struggled furiously to regain control of his map down the years. Unfortunately for him, responsibility was eventually given to a third designer Paul Garbutt. Ironically, he changed the style of the map to look more like Harry's map of the 1930s. Harry too attempted subsequent versions, but the workplace, like the underground, is forever evolving, and Harry became persona non grata. He continued to make sketches and drawings for the map until his death aged seventy-one.

After long failing to acknowledge his importance as the Tube map's original designer, London Regional Transport relented and created the Beck Gallery where his works can be seen.

Transport for London started to credit Harry for the original idea and his name now appears on modern Tube maps.

Henry C. Beck , born 1903. Died 1974.
A commemorative plaque rests at Finchley Central tube station.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007



Researchers never seem to mention it but the dead scientist's will, proved at the District Probate Registry at Winchester, not only states a time of death but when the will was written - the 26th November 1998.

Fresh from his frequent trips to Iraq, which ended - also coincidentally - in 1998, what was it that convinced the scientist that he needed a will at that point?

Why did he not write a will during those dangerous times in Iraq, and in the unhappy times before he was 'found dead in the woods'?

Was it the first time Dr Kelly had drawn one? If so it was rather late in the day. But then, so was his conversion to religion the following year.

Was Dr Kelly following Baha'i law in writing it? It is a requirement of that particular faith that a will be done... But Kelly is said not to have joined the movement until 1999 - which is curious.

Either he wrote the will before he joined the faith or joined the Baha'i faith much earlier than acknowledged.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007



Following on from our last expose many of you wrote in to tell us why you felt that you had been kept in the dark about a change in the law that came into force four years ago. It is now unlawful to block "any part of the footway or verge where it has been lowered to meet the level of the carriageway... for the purpose of assisting pedestrians to cross or assisting vehicles to enter or leave the road across the footway or verge.” In other words homeowners, frustrated by cars blocking their driveways, now have legal redress in the fight against selfish parking.

The new law currently applies to London only. An owner can demand that a car is removed even if there is no vehicle being blocked. To enforce the restriction no traffic order or signs are required and - providing the owner has requested it - a penalty charge notice can be issued… Or at least that is what the law states.

TheBigRetort exclusive reveals that despite Section 14 of the London Local Authorities and Transport for London Act 2003 (introduced to combat blocked driveway parking), some London councils have not been made aware of it by the organisation that was set up to guide them.

In some cases councils' are acting unlawfully and are not singing off the same law sheet.

In one instance, notably Lewisham Council - on the advice of its legal department - does not recognise the law.

In fact, there is confusion for some authorities as to where the jurisdiction for the offence lies: Councils or Police. The police often claim that it is a matter for the local authority, which is largely true, however, on the other hand, many local authorities are without guidance from choirmaster London Councils, previously known as the ALG.

TheBIGRetort highlights that many councils need to be given clear guidance on this quite important law, which concerns the whole of London and visitors to it.

So what advice has been given?

We asked London Councils... Its response leaves us in no doubt why many councils are misguided about the dropped kerb law.

In fact, when we enquired about the guidance offered Natinder Boparai, press representative of London Councils, refused to answer. A former freelance journalist, she claimed that this was due to the fact that we were "non-commissioned freelancers” - not on the payroll of a newspaper or magazine (which rather negates the description "freelance" one might think) - and that the information was - or so she claimed - 'not readily available'. She also felt that a query from a freelancer 'can eat into the time of my people', time best reserved for the 'nationals'.

Despite this reaction, the "non commissioned" report commissioned by TheBIGRetort, reveals that some councils are either flaunting or ignorant of the law, largely due to a lack of co-ordination by London Councils itself.

We asked each council: DO YOU ISSUE PCNs TO VEHICLES BLOCKING DROPPED KERB DRIVEWAYS? These were the responses.

Barking and Dagenham Council said ‘Yes.’ It issued PCNs 'twenty-four-seven'. [We marked it 8 out of 10.]

Barnet Council played us some classical music - for a while - and then wanted to know if the wheels of our investigation were 'on the pavement or on a yellow line'. It was on neither. 'No,' it said. However, when urged to confirm this it changed its response to ‘Yes’. [We place Barnet in the “not sure” section. Zero out of 10.]

Meanwhile Bexley Council informed us that a single driveway must be registered before enforcement, even though the law does not state this, and that if it is a shared driveway then an automatic penalty applies. It also operates outside business hours with a skeleton staff. [9-10.]

In north London Brent Council informed: “If a vehicle is blocking your drive, in or out, in this case we remove it.” [9-10.]

Nearby Camden Council responded, “We do enforce that… You give us the registration and address and we send an officer around (twenty-four seven). We ticket it, but if it’s a persistent offender then we also tow.” [9-10.]

At Bromley Council, where an out of hours team also operates, the answer was a resounding ‘Yes’. [9-10.]

However, at the City of London Council, where curious and ancient laws apply….”I’m not sure. I’ll just check,” an AMERICAN SOUNDING WOMAN said as yet more jazz music followed her pleasant voice. She later confirmed, “If it’s a private driveway then we don’t.” [0-10.]

Croydon Council seemed more up to speed. “We do if it’s a personal driveway with a dropped kerb.” Officers ticket and remove up to 630pm, after that time they just ticket. Homeowners will need to call by 9pm as the line closes after that time. [9-10.]

Over at Ealing Council they played us lots of mood music. However, between the beat we were assured that our call was important to them and that it would be answered by the next available adviser, and following which more mood music filtered through the phone. To be fair it apologised for the delay etc - more music. Customer services…? There wasn't any. We asked for parking enforcement. “What’s it about?” We explained... but the "adviser" seemed ‘confused’. More ringing... Leave a message this time or follow these options. We hung up instead. [We placed the borough in the “don’t knows” but ”No” seems a strong category. 0-10.]

Greenwich Council insisted that it ticketed, “Only with a yellow line.” We mentioned the Act that made it an offence - since 2003! - and received the following response. “I couldn’t tell you that…you would have to go higher than me, but as far as I’m aware we can't enforce it.” [A big “No” from Greenwich then. 0-10.]

Hackney Council wanted to know if the car was on a yellow line. No. “Let me find out for you.” Following a pause we were informed that the authority can log it (on the database). “It usually takes half an hour for an enforcement officer to inspect, and then we can ticket it (or tow).” The scheme operates from 8am-8pm but there is also an out of hours team. [7-10.]

Hammersmith and Fulham Council operates a call queue system on its phone system. So be prepared to listen to a load of guff that is of no relevance to the beleaguered homeowner with a blocked drive. Simply please hold for connection, and then listen to another instruction. “We would have to send someone out to see if it’s parked illegally or not.” In fact the adviser did not know and had to ask for further instruction. A dreadful repetitive beeping noise designed to get rid us did just that. [0-10.]

Haringey Council actually removes cars from blocked driveways, but only between the hours of 7am-6pm Mon-Sat. And only if the car is parked "more than half way across the drive." [7-10.]

Harrow Council seemed far too busy to answer the phone. Normally a persistent bunch, we gave up. [0.10.]

Havering Council said “Yes”. Parking attendants operates 9-5, but it is also operated out of hours too. [9-10.]

Hillingdon Council said “It must be a single driveway, that is not shared with a neighbour, and the exact details of the vehicle must be supplied.” Response times can be up to two hours. The scheme operates from Mon-Fri, 9-5pm, with police standing in outside these hours. [9-10.]

Hounslow Council… Well... the adviser was not aware of the law, claiming that it only had authority to remove vehicles that were parked on a yellow line. "Otherwise it’s a police matter." [Which is the truth but not the whole truth, Guv.] When informed this was incorrect, he responded, “You’ll have to speak to my supervisor.” [0-10.]

Islington Council... You may be surprised to learn that for Islington to issue a ticket a car ‘has to be committing a contravention’. “If there are no road markings then (anyone) can park there. We may use our discretion and ask them to move it.” When we attempted to point out that this was incorrect the adviser seemed stunned. He did not, we concluded, know the law. [0-10.]

Kensington and Chelsea Council responded, “That is correct… a PCN is issued to the vehicle.” [9-10.]

Kingston Upon Thames Council passed us to the environmental services to the strains of the Four Seasons then on Planning, who told us we needed “Highways” and so on. Eventually we discovered that it too did not apply the law correctly. It only issued PCNs if there were yellow lines. When the Act was brought to its attention its “adviser” said that she would find out 'more'. And indeed more Four Seasons followed. And more... Finally, “we assess it” the adviser informed. We do not know if this was a reference to Vivaldi. [0-10.]

Lambeth Council said that it “depends”. Depends on what? "We can arrange to have them removed, if there is a white line pasted across it then they’ll get a penalty charge. [Incorrect... A white line is just a courtesy marking. It is not required by law. The Councils’ charge for painting these so it may be this that guides them. 0-10]

Lewisham Council was challenged on the parking issue. “If you don’t have a yellow line, you can’t enforce it. If a vehicle is blocking your drive, imprisoning you, then they (the police) must deal with it.” We pointed out to the NCP officer that it is a contravention under the Act. He responded: “Are you asking about your vehicle, or the law? [Both actually.] He seemed annoyed and officious and so we did not pursue the matter. We concluded that Lewisham Council is not only ignorant of the law but ignorant full stop. [0-10]

Unlike an adviser we spoke to at Merton Council... He knew the law - inside out. He spoke clearly and concisely, and was extremely polite and professional too, which was unusual. Amongst many things, he pointed out that an owner can “allow” a person to park adjacent to their own driveway. Where a multitude of residents use the same driveway, the council will react automatically and a penalty will be charged. "Those are the rules." (Yes Merton… but if only some of your sister boroughs knew it.) In our survey, Merton came out on top with its knowledge, response and helpful manner. [10-10.]

Newham Council was also marked higher than many of the other councils who seemed vague in their responses, rude, or just plain daft. “Yes we do, “ was Merton’s big retort. “Give us a call and we send someone around. We need a signature from someone in the house.” The scheme operates from Mon-Fri 8-4pm with a tow-away, and at weekends with just a ticket. [We gave Newham Council 9 out of ten.]

Redbridge Council put it plainly, “As long as it’s on the road and it’s blocking your driveway… it doesn’t have to have a yellow line. You have to sign a witness form.” It operates from 7am-11pm Mon-Thurs. Fri-Sat until 1am. Sunday 11pm. [9 - 10.]

In leafy Richmond upon Thames Council we were passed around the houses. “If there are no parking restrictions then I would have thought not.” The adviser was unaware of the law so we decided to probe deeper... But the Parking Shop seemed equally confused. “If it’s a controlled parking zone, and on a yellow line only.” We were passed over to the parking wardens when we became to nosy. However, the one we spoke to seemed in a bit if a fugue state and had to refer to other colleagues. Finally he told us “Yes… but only if authorised by a supervisor.” A requirement that was later dropped as we probed ever deeper. It operates between the hours 7am-10pm. [We marked it 3-10, but it would have been less had we not probed.]

Southwark Council parking shop initially seemed confused. “We don’t issue tickets for that… that’s obstruction.” [Meaning the police deal with it.] However, when we probed and the driveway was described it was decided that a ticket could be issued - 24/7. In some cases the vehicle could be towed. [3-10.]

Sutton Council informed us that the expected waiting time to have TheBigeRetort's query answered was three minutes and 52 seconds. We moved up slowly in the queue accompanied by familiar music. We were also informed that any information given would be ‘held on a database’. Due to its initial slow response we knocked a point off Sutton, but, to be fair, this belies the fact that both the call centre adviser and the NCP officer we were passed to knew the law and applied it correctly. “One full wheel has to be adjacent to the flat part of the dropped kerb,” we were informed. [8-10.]

Tower Hamlets Council was an unusual one... An adviser claimed that all of the driveways in Tower Hamlets have yellow lines, and so the law there is applied with this in mind. [We could not rank it, as it did not include the new law. Unless the adviser was wrong and all the driveways do not have yellow lines. In which case we would mark it to zero.]

Waltham Forest Council responded with a “Yes”. The council immediately logs the contravention on a screen and NCP sends a traffic warden with a tow truck 24/7. [9-10.]

Wandsworth Council, after initial confusion, passed us over to a person 'in the know'.… And he did. “In October the council had 5 calls relating to Dropped Kerb Parking.” A “27 Offence PCN” was attached and in each case the vehicles were photographed and ‘relocated’. [Probably to Lewisham where no one cares. We marked it 8-10 due to the confusion, but it would have been a ten had we been put through to the right person.]

Westminster Council seemed a bit overzealous with its application of the law - and apparently flaunts it; which for a seat-of-democratic-government borough is unforgivable. The contravention is recorded as a “62c”. "As soon as a parking attendant sees it they can issue a ticket. This is done regardless of whether a request has been made by an owner and despite there being no yellow lines." In other words, if a person blocks their own driveway they will be ticketed. It operates 24/7. [We marked Westminter 0-10 because we don't think it should ticket an owner's vehicle unless it's on a yellow line.]

Finally, a word on London Councils itself...

The organisation is funded by the boroughs councils. Lobbying forms a major part of its remit, but it also develops policy in many key areas. For instance it claims on its website “to help our member councils deliver better services, and to promote better cross-borough and pan-London working.”

Ironically, John O'Brien, its new Chief Executive, was previously director of Local Government Performance and Practice at DCLG and, formerly, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Prior to joining government, he was a director at the Improvement and Development Agency for Local Government.

[A man after our own heart, he sounds like a bit of a freelancer himself. However... we mark his organisation 0-10 due to its failure to communicate with its membership, and, of course, that last bastion of truth and justice, the freelance press.]

Thursday, November 08, 2007


TheBigRetort has always found calls for the resignation of the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police to be unwarranted.

If heads should roll they should fall lower down the ranks.

However, it was part of Sir Ian's statement to the press following calls for his resignation that pricked our ears.

Sir Ian ended his statement, with the following - curious? - paragraph:

"A report published this morning also revealed that none of the 17 members of the public on board the train recalled hearing officers shout "armed police" prior to killing Mr de Menezes, even though all eight police in the carriage claimed they had."

The question is why the Commissioner needs us to know this.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


TheBigRetort exposé reveals how the former movie star and MP for Hampstead and Highgate has displayed her boobs in the past... both of them.

Glenda Jackson MP does not do flesh. Instead, as soon as she opened the door and we entered the room she turned her back and then waved imperiously towards two seats. It was after all her "surgery". [A misnomer if ever... the description lends itself to the medical profession Glenda.]

I am here with the owner of a bar styled Brondes Age. A popular venue situated on the Kilburn High Road, as a result, with its ambiance and music, owner "Brian" had created one of the must check-out places in NW6. But small business landlord Spacia look set to demolish that dream.

Brian desperately needed his MP's help.

Enter Glenda Jackson - in the flesh - breathing heavily. I had strongly disagreed with her about Brian’s chances of success, because of this she appeared to get more than a little annoyed.

"You WILL lose! You have NOT got a chance! You WILL LOSE! You can do anything you like but YOU WILL LOSE!" Rigor mortise set across her face in what was possibly a grin.

Apparently Spacia had a right under the shorthold tenancy agreement to demand Brian vacate the premises, following which Brondes Age would be torn down, which seemed like a gross irresponsibility - and a crime against the community. The building would be rebuilt, with flats above it, and Brondes Age would be totally rebuilt - then let for a higher rent. Brian could have first refusal of course, but the date of the rebuild and the rental costs were uncertain...

For all his hard graft, Brian would face ruin whilst Spacia would profit through its property windfall.

But Glenda did not see it that way... she shrugged. It was not her problem: "You must have known when you took the tenancy on that this could happen!”

"Yes, but--"

--"You will lose!” She cut Brian off.

“What are you doing!” she enquired as she peered over her desk at me.

I was taking notes. "Writing," I said.

“Writing what…!” MP Jackson turned to me and screamed.

“What you say.” I gulped. She seemed angry.

“Well don’t! Put that pen down!” She held my gaze like a banshee. "I’ll let you know what I have said!" she roared imperiously.

I put my pen and notepad away… Years previous I had dreamt of taking more than her words down.

Brian and I sat and listened. YOU WILL LOSE... We were ushered out. YOU WILL LOSE. She obviously enjoyed the mantra. YOU WILL LOSE.

The last time I had seen Glenda in the flesh she stood some thirty feet tall, was bollock naked, and had nipples like two headlights full beam. She was also breathing heavily… but not at me. [The movie was titled Women in Love. Too young to see it, I had 'bunked' into the cinema.]

‘We’ll see,” I said, and added, "Thanks... for your... help."

I offered Glenda my hand. She looked at it curiously as if it was contaminated… She took it, gingerly, and shook it limply, then closed the door.

Of course MPs are always right. Obviously Brian lost his battle. Obviously Brondes Age was demolished... obviously.

Only it wasn't.

Because Glenda Jackson had displayed two very large boobs that day. Sorry, I mean "boobies".

Six months later, having ignored her assertions, and having conducted our own "surgery", Spacia sold out to Brian... and Brondes Age survived.


In the world in which we live there is an argument that bullying can be a useful tool.

Kelvin Mackenzie, the former newspaper editor and blowtorch of reasoned debate, claims that forceful motivation – renamed in this liberal age - is an absolute must.

Kelvin bullies his employees, but only if they are at a certain level - bullying across the board and not unproductive and demotivating bullying down.

According to Kelvin – and he is presumably not alone in this - bullying is what keeps us ahead of the global productivity game, without it we will whither on the global vine. But do bullies exist purely in the playground and boardroom, or can they be found in other strands of our society? And are we, as Kelvin MacKenzie may claim, simply mistaking forceful motivation for bullying?

The answer must surely be No... With our current obsession with such shows as The Apprentice, Big Brother, X Factor, Hell’s Kitchen… we are in fact officially a bully nation

Take Dragons’ Den…

The show originated in Japan... Owned by Sony, the format consists of entrepreneurs pitching for investment finance from five of the nation’s top venture capitalists – Dragons – who effectively bully but rarely invest. (The BBC admits that many deals ultimately fall through.)

Theo Paphitis, likes to snort and sneer like a cheeky schoolboy standing on the sidelines whilst the chief bully gets underway; in this instance the chief bully is us.

Peter Jones, the school monitor who manages to be both present and absent – until the last moment when he finally makes a snide appearance and sticks the boot in.

Duncan Bannatyne, the millionaire ice-cream salesman who can hand over a 99-er with a knowing stare.

Deborah Meaden, a dragon if ever, the head girl with a face of thunder that looks as if she repeatedly slaps it with a wet kipper just to get ‘that look’.

New dragon James Caan, who is rather a nice chap for the moment… but just you wait and'll get a bunch of fives instead of fivers.

And that leads me to Richard Farleigh, former Dragon and tech wizard from Oz who, instead of breathing fire, was a man bereft of the bully gene, gently chiding entrepreneurs for their presentation, helpfully pointing out the flaws in each invention or business plan, the thinking man’s Dragon.

Could this be why the producers of the show turned on him?

Apparently Farleigh was booted off the show because they wanted to see an ethnic face on “Dragon”. An antipodean not fitting the ethnic bill, his was not a case of bullying, but out-and-out New-Brit racism. One can almost imagine the brainstorming sessions in the aptly named White City where the BBC has its HQ… Asians are good businessmen we must go Asian.

Nothing against James Caan personally (seems a nice bloke actually) but bring back Richard Farleigh.

Suggestions for next BBC Dragons' Den script meeting: Theo’s seat is always vacant, so ditch the Cyp thereby saving his kids' inheritance, keep the Asian, but - above all - bring back Oz.

Buy the T-shirt now!

[Note... A Sunday Mirror investigation into Dragon’s Den revealed 13 of nineteen contestants on the show promised cash never received it. The total amount unpaid came to £1.9m. However, before going to this site please see a biteback comment left on TheBigRetort... it seems that there are two sides to this tale and even a Dragon can choose the wrong business partner.]

Thursday, November 01, 2007


The Metropolitan Police has been found guilty of breaching health and safety laws over the fatal shooting of Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes.

Mr de Menezes was shot seven times by officers at Stockwell Tube station. He was mistaken for failed suicide bomber Hussain Osman.

The jury convicted the force on the second day of its deliberations. It was fined £175,000 in addition to £385,000 costs by trial judge Mr Justice Henriques.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair was in court to hear the verdict.

The jury cleared the operation commander Cressida Dick attaching, ‘no personal culpability’.

The family of Jean Charles de Menezes pledged that they would not rest in their fight for justice and said they were awaiting a "full and thorough" inquest.


PRIOR to and during her tempestuous relationship Heather Mills-McCartney (seen in the photo left with Sir Paul) often danced with the devil - usually in the form of a journalist. But as they danced the lady should have noticed that her partner had a camera in one hand and a pen and paper in the other.

Because there is always a 'copy' to file… which is why you can never completely trust Satan.

Now Lady Maccabeth claims there is a hate campaign being waged against her by the tabloids. True… few people like or trust her. Her outburst on GMTV yesterday drew further criticism from detractors who claim to have witnessed grief... but through a veil of 'crocodile tears'. [For further postings on crocodile tears see “Soham: Insincere grief”.]

It is certainly true that the mocking of the loss of one of her limbs ranks amongst the vilest media baiting in print... Remember here is a very attractive woman who - against all the odds - fought back from a horrifying and debilitating injury and walked taller and prouder on one leg than most people do on two.

In addition, here is the ‘lady’ who was extremely successful at highlighting the dangers of landmines. Who brought forth public awareness of various charities. Who down the years has revealed a dedication to challenging the war machine that was not just a scene-stealing celebrity moment (a one off) but a life’s calling. It is safe to say that she is not going to simply hobble away (no cruelty intended).

Heather Mills first met her future husband Sir Paul McCartney when she was a guest speaker at a charity event during which she spoke passionately and effectively. As a result, and in defiance of her critics, she bagged a national monument into the bargain. [The Beatles used to hang out in my aunties caff before they made it… but that’s another story.]

It was one of my aunts who, during an epileptic fit, collapsed and stumbled into a fire. By the time she was pulled out it was too late... her leg had to be amputated. This event changed her life. Always a happy-go-lucky woman she became withdrawn… Her husband ran off with another woman leaving her with three kids. In Liverpool, during the 60s, ridicule was no different - then or now it seems - and ‘Pegleg!’ was often screamed by way of what some people presumably thought was a joke – just like Heather.

Maybe it wasn't so much a joke but what they or she perceived as a weakness, but my auntie became isolated. Most of the time following her accident she spent lying on a sofa in the lounge in front of the telly or reading a book. She was eventually found on the sofa, life cut tragically short.

Did she take an overdose having been driven to 'the verge' or did she simply vomit and choke during another epileptic spell?

We shall never know... we just knew the pain was over

Anyway, it no longer matters. Life, in spite of a missing limbs, moves on… Which brings us back to Heather…

Heather lifted herself up from that sofa... She added a famous surname to her own… She refused absolutely to allow others to ‘steal’ her dignity and prior to her meeting and during her time with Sir Paul she displayed an incredible strength of will. Sadly however it was not just this that was absent in her GMTV ‘fight back’ yesterday and the criticism now directed at her (by a few people) is that she produced crocodile tears during the interview.

The above is something I feel able to comment on. I spent fourteen years working for one of the most prolific casting agencies in the movie business. Davis-Zimmerman Casting saw an enormous amount of talent pass through the revolving door of fame. Whilst many did not see the Hollywood sun set over their Spotlight page - the actors’ equivalent of Wall-Mart - a few did go on to become stars.

However, be that as it may, what I eventually discovered during this time is that insincerity is easily highlighted on the screen - mostly videotaped ‘auditions’ [which I still have locked away in my loft. So watch out Jude, Elizabeth, Uma, Hugh, Daniel etc!]And one thing is certain... insincerity on camera need not in itself suggest that a person is being deceitful or untrue to their emotions.

‘What’s my motivation?’ Dustin Hoffman once asked director John Schlesinger. ‘What were paying you, darling!’ came the riposte. [Actually, judging from the performances the majority of actors are now turning in this may be an industry standard.]

In fact, during my time in casting I quickly learnt that the ability to turn on the 'water taps' must rank amongst the most difficult and unnecessary manifestations of sadness/anger/hurt that an actor (unfairly usually women) need to display. [Note the emphasis.]

An observation that should come with the caveat: in the time allowed. Because no five-minute audition ever produced an Oscar. And the greatest difficulty for some actors to get their swollen heads around was that emotion does not come out of a vacuum, but builds. [An accomplished actor does it in stages.]

‘Build! Build! Build!’ Some got it. Many didn’t. And by no means was it only the most successful that ever did.

An actor doesn't just burst into tears s/he builds towards the moment. Often trying not to cry is more effective than trying. Grief builds. It shows in the body, the voice, the eyes, the voice, back to the eyes etc. But mostly it shows in the broken sentence of an unscripted speech.

NOW IS A GOOD TIME TO CRY THE BAD ACTOR SAYS. Of course... it never is... because emotion builds.

However yesterday on GMTV the emotion did not build. It started at the bottom and quickly jumped to the top. It was, as my ex and dear departed boss Noel Davis might say - himself a former accomplished actor- ‘More effing ham than Sainsbury’s!’ He might also have added, ‘She’s a regular See You Next Tuesday that one!’

But, like the part, Lady Maccabeth would not have got that either.