May 132016
 

Aberdeen Voice has been talking to young Scottish Actor Declan Michael Laird since AV began. We’ve charted his progress from River City to The Stella Adler Academy of Acting through to commercials, castings, forthcoming TV series (watch this space). Today we’re talking to him about a charity – more of a movement really – that is helping thousands of homeless people across the world.

The centre of the action this year will be Glasgow. Declan talks with Suzanne Kelly.

Declan Laird 12Declan’s just come from a commercial casting call; we’ll see how it goes. I can’t say what it’s for, but I will say he’s worth it. There never seem to be as many good news stories as there are bad, and talking to a young talented man who remains down to earth despite growing fame makes a pleasant change. To be talking to him about a worthwhile cause he’s giving his time to is a genuine pleasure.

Aside from his acting career which is really taking off (more on that soon), he is about to make a documentary which he’ll produce.

We talk football first, as we’ve done in the past. Where else to start than the fairy-tale ending to this year’s Premiership and Leicester? He’s full of enthusiasm.

DM – “Oh my god, oh my god, it was insane. It is so inspiring – it’s so great. It just shows the power of self-belief. If you had told those guys they’d win at the start of the season, they wouldn’t have believed you. What were those guys at the start of the season 5,000 to one or something?

“I read the letter ‘we do not dream’ by Claudio Ranieri where he talks about the boards saying to him at the start of the season ‘this is a huge season for us; we must stay in the premier league; we must score’ – what mad management skills that must have taken to keep the players motivated and to keep them from not losing the belief we can do this.”

I suggest that if you’re really hungry for something like winning the Premiership, then it’s probably easier to fight than if you’re comfortably earning £50,000 a week.

DM – “The likelihood is that they will not defend the title, but those guys will forever have that story to tell their kids and grandkids.”

I tell Laird it reaffirmed my faith that it doesn’t always have to be about who has the bigger chequebook – me and several million other people.

Declan sent me the Homeless world cup video – it is incredible.

DM – “It’s a documentary I’m producing called ‘Playing for Change’. It’s been my project for the last two and a half years. There are three things I’m very passionate about – acting and entertainment is one; the second thing is football, and the third thing is that I’m a great mental health and homelessness advocate.

“I’m a great believer that we should not be stigmatising people with addiction and mental health problems; instead we should be asking why they are not being helped. We should not be criminalising these people, but helping them get out of their addiction so they never have to become homeless. There is a big stigma – if people meet homeless people living on the street, they think they are better than them. 

homeless pic 2“The homeless are there through no fault of their own: they have to deal with issues that no one helps them with or they’ve been too ashamed to ask for help with.

“There are two sides of this mental health problem. It’s not spoken about enough because it’s not a scar on the outside you can see like an injury – if it’s inside and people can’t see it, and people don’t want to talk about it. In US people do talk about it – but they just throw medication at people.

“Talking about it in conversation can really help.”

I find myself wishing more people my age felt like Declan does. In my experience the homeless come from abusive family lives and have nowhere to go. They can be people who lost their money and homes after break ups.

They can be ex-service people who received absolutely no support or counselling on their return to the UK. They can be refugees fleeing brutal governments, bombing, and starvation. They can be people with existing physical and mental health problems: in my experience whatever has led to them being on the street either exacerbates or creates emotional and mental health problems – all of which should be wholly avoidable in any kind of compassionate, decent society.

Then Laird says something that for me hits a crucial nail on the head:

DM – “The younger generation are talking about it, but there is still a shame associated with depression or anxiety they don’t want to come forward about it because they think it is a sign of weakness. I personally feel it is a sign of strength – because you’re maybe just more sensitive. 

“A lot of actors, musicians, artists end up with maybe addiction or mental health problems and the public goes ‘oh it’s just another actor who’s died of an addiction or overdose’ and I think it’s because they are more sensitive – worse, people around them are not always interested in helping them.

“For the last year and a half because of my passion I go down to the homeless shelters maybe about once a month. I also do drama therapy at institutions and mental health clinics to promote mental health. We deal with people with schizophrenia and conditions like that and drama therapy and acting classes help.

“It’s amazing Suzanne – as an example there’s a guy with Tourette’s – normally he’s shouting and bawling, then apologizing, then shouting and apologizing some more. But when you give him a scene to do, he’s imagining himself to be someone else and his Tourette’s just disappears. It’s astonishing. It’s an outlet for whatever they’re feeling inside. 

“Through acting they can express their issues in scenes; if they feel angry, they can act out that anger; if they feel fear, they can act out their fear.”

We talk about the therapeutic values of art, music and drama for people with these issues. Declan continues:

DM – “I met Street Soccer Scotland’s David Duke who runs Street Soccer Scotland and I got involved. David’s story was that 10 years ago he was 23, and homeless in Glasgow. In a Bellshill hostel he saw a flyer ‘Represent your country in the Homeless World Cup’ and he responded. This initiative was started by a guy named Mel Young, the founder of The Big Issue. 

“David went to the trials  – which were at the time pretty makeshift – it was the first year and they didn’t really know what they were doing. He managed to get through the local trials (they were just guys then but there is a women’s team now too) and his team managed to get to Edinburgh.

“David was made captain of the team and got his side to Copenhagen and they won. When they came back, it really inspired him and he decided to change his life – he had an epiphany and decided he could really change his life. If he could have that epiphany, then why couldn’t other people? So he started the charity Street Soccer Scotland.

“David’s basically devoted every single day to going around Scotland and the whole UK getting people off the streets and getting their confidence back through football. They get the jobs and housing — but only if they are putting in the hours of volunteer work for the charity first.

“I started meeting the players, spending time with them, having lunch with David – and with refugees. He works with a lot of refugees, but also 10 years on they have many women too. They mentor Street Soccer USA, Street Soccer England, India, Sweden. Sir Alex Ferguson is one of their ambassadors.

“So whenever I travel back, I make a point of going to meet them, and when I was back at Christmas, my brother Stefan and I – Stefan’s a coach from Aberdeen FC – we took a training session for the team and we took them to lunch – to Tony Macaroni’s that was on the 23rd December. We sat and spent the day, and just had a good time.

“David told me “Declan – the Homeless World Cup’s going to be in Glasgow this year and I’m going to manage the team”. I was like ‘oh wow what a great idea for a documentary’; not just for me but to bring to life your organisation and get you the plaudits you deserve and to bring the homeless world cup to light.”

We talked for a while longer – He’s talking to a few potential outlets for this project, and the resulting documentary will undoubtedly shine a light on an initiative that will continue to help – no, actually to SAVE lives. I will save details of this and Declan’s acting career developments for a future interview.

The Homeless World Cup Tournament will start the first week in July. Volunteering and support would be welcome; further details here http://www.streetsoccerscotland.org/news/2015/04/team-scotland-announcement/

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Apr 012016
 

Melrose Sevens, The Greenyards, Melrose, Scotland, Saturday 14th April 2013. PLEASE CREDIT ***FOTOSPORT/DAVID GIBSON***With thanks to Gemma Setter.

On Saturday 9 April, Aberdeen Grammar Rugby Club will join 23 other Scottish and international teams for the 126th annual Aberdeen Asset Management Melrose Sevens. The club will be giving it their all this year in the hopes of bringing the sought-after Ladies Cup back to Aberdeen for the first time.

Now an Olympic sport debuting in Rio de Janeiro this summer, rugby sevens was conceived over a century ago in the picturesque border town of Melrose by local butcher and player Ned Haig as a fundraiser for his team.

With its shorter length and fast-paced action, the seven-a-side sport quickly grew in popularity both in Scotland and overseas.

The annual tournament has captured the hearts of rugby fans across the globe, and 12,000 spectators will travel to Melrose to see the world’s oldest rugby sevens tournament in the flesh. For those unable to attend in person, the competition will also be broadcast live on the BBC.

Aberdeen Grammar Rugby Club will face stiff opposition on the day from around 20 eager Scottish teams, as well as international sides from Italy, France and Belgium who will all be vying for the glory of lifting the Ladies Cup in the home of rugby sevens.

Title sponsor Aberdeen Asset Management will return to support the historic rugby sevens tournament for the fifth time in 2016.

Martin Gilbert, chief executive of Aberdeen, says,

“In recent years, interest in rugby sevens has increased dramatically. From its origins in the depths of the Scottish borders to its new high-profile status as an Olympic sport, rugby sevens’ popularity and impact on the worldwide sporting community is undeniable.

“As the birthplace of rugby sevens, Melrose is still dedicated to fostering new talent and the town holds a special place in fans’ hearts. Each year thousands from around the world make the pilgrimage to The Greenyards in order to witness the sport at its roots. The atmosphere on the pitchside is incredible – unlike any other – but those unable to travel can still enjoy the action on screen.

“With the world’s attention firmly focussed on rugby sevens, the teams will be training harder than ever to lift the trophy at the tournament which started it all. Aberdeen is proud to support a sport which from humble Scottish beginnings has gripped the world, and continues to grow in popularity.”

The Aberdeen Asset Management Melrose Sevens offers fun and excitement both on and off the pitch, making the tournament an exciting experience for families, couples and rugby fans who like their sporting action fast and exhilarating. Couple that with the impressive fancy dress and electric atmosphere that fill the stands, and it makes for the perfect day out.

Tickets for the event start from £10 for children, £15 for senior citizens and £20 for adults. Family tickets are also available for £50, admitting two adults and two children.

For more information about the Aberdeen Asset Management Melrose Sevens, and to book tickets, visit www.melrose7s.com. Keep up to date with the action on Twitter @melrosevens

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Feb 192016
 

AberdeenAssetManagementWith thanks to Esther Green, Tricker PR.

While EastEnders has brought the mental health of new mums into focus with the explosive story line around Stacey Branning’s breakdown following the birth of baby Arthur, a Scottish charity is continuing to build on its pioneering work that is championing mental wellbeing among new mums and families.

Aberlour in Scotland is delivering vital support to women who find it difficult to cope with the emotional challenges of pregnancy and childbirth through a Perinatal Mental Health Befriending operating in Falkirk.

The pilot project has been such a success in its first year that it is to be extended to the wider Forth Valley region, through funding from Aberdeen Asset Management and others, to provide increased numbers of parents and families with early intervention that can help them overcome challenges and support them in the new phase in their lives.

Although post-natal depression is well documented, it’s only recently that perinatal mental health has hit the headlines for being a major concern for vulnerable women and their children, with research showing that if a mum-to-be experiences poor mental health during her pregnancy, and does not receive the appropriate, timely support, she is at greater risk.

Stacey Branning’s experience of postpartum psychosis following the birth of her second child has been one of the biggest storylines in EastEnders this year and the BBC soap has received praise for well researching the issue and raising awareness of the dramatic impact that having a baby has on some women, as well as the lack of availability of mother and baby beds.

Stacey’s condition is a severe mental illness that requires specialist care but during pregnancy and in the year after birth women can be affected by a range of mental health problems, including anxiety, depression and postnatal psychotic disorders. Early identification and provision of appropriate and timely expert care are needed to prevent illness from occurring or escalating and to minimise harm to the woman, her baby and wider family.

Statistics for Scotland show that:

  • Perinatal mental illnesses affect between 10 -15% of women in Scotland.
  • 71% of health boards in Scotland do not have any midwives or health visitors with accredited perinatal mental health training.
  • Only five Scottish health boards (36%) have a specialist community perinatal mental health service.
  • Depression and anxiety affect 10-15 in 100 women during pregnancy and in the first postnatal year.

Aberlour’s assistant director Liz Nolan set up the early intervention project in Falkirk drawing on a tried and tested model operated in England by Family Action, working with women who need mild to moderate support. Central to its success has been the use of highly-trained volunteers and the positive relationships they develop with women and families, over time.

All volunteers undergo intensive training to prepare them for the role and so they understand the importance of listening and not probing, and working at the new mum’s pace. In the first year 21 volunteers were trained and have assisted 20 families in their communities, working with them for as long as their assistance is required.

Ms Nolan says that people may have heard of the baby blues and post-natal depression but there is a lack of realisation about the effects pregnancy and childbirth has on some women and how this in turn affects families.

“Society places strong demands for perfection around pregnancy and birth but things don’t always turn out as hoped,” said Ms Nolan.

“There are certain expectations on women having babies but it’s not all strawberries and cream and things can go wrong, if it doesn’t all go to plan it can have an impact on a woman and their families.

“Sometimes a woman can be worried about talking about it because they believe these are not the feelings she should have, but for some women this is a time that can cause anxiety or depression, the opposite of how they are expected to feel. Some feel isolation, are anxious about going outside the home, anxious about meeting up with other parents or about being a first time parents.

“Life isn’t perfect and it’s OK to ask for help and our volunteers understand and work with mothers and families to support them and overcome the challenges.”

Every case is different and each volunteer commits to giving up to three hours a week of their time over the course of a year, which means they can build up good lasting relationships and provide continuity of support.

With the pilot working so well, there have been requests for access to the service from the wider area and with additional funds now in place, the charity will be able to employ an additional volunteer co-ordinator, with means they can deliver training to more individuals who in turn can help families in the wider Forth Valley region from April.

Karin Hyland of Aberdeen Asset Management’s Charitable Foundation, said:

“We’re pleased to help Aberlour extend its project supporting women who have been identified of being at risk of mental health illness during the final stages of pregnancy and up to the baby’s first birthdays. By working with mums and babies during this critical time they are helping families become more resilient and active members of their communities again.”

The Aberdeen Asset Charitable Foundation was established in 2012 to formalise and develop the Group’s charitable giving globally.

The Foundation seeks partnerships with smaller charities around the world, where funds can be seen to have a meaningful and measurable impact and the firm encourages its employees to use their time and skills to support its charitable projects. The main focus of the Foundation is around emerging markets and local communities, reflecting the desire to give back to those areas which are a key strategic focus of the business and to build on the historic pattern of giving to communities in which Aberdeen employees live and work.

For more information visit http://www.aberdeen-asset.co.uk/aam.nsf/foundation/home

Feb 112016
 

Inside_the_Bon_Accord_centre_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1241608With thanks to Phil Moar, Account Manager, Citrus:Mix.

A series of insightful public information films which showcase the work of a number of Scotland’s leading charitable organisations is set to be shown in an Aberdeen shopping centre.

DFP Television is to stage a community roadshow within Bon Accord & St Nicholas for seven days, starting from Monday, February 22. A total of seven films will be shown within the Bon Accord mall with an aim of raising awareness to the north-east of their subject matter.

The work of St Andrew’s Children’s Society, Scottish Safety Camera Programme, NHS Grampian, Victim Support Scotland, Aberdeen Housing Partnership/Moray Housing Partnership, Home Energy Scotland and Guide Dogs will all fall under the spotlight.

In addition to the films, the DFP team and representatives from the organisations taking part will be available throughout the week to offer help and advice alongside handing out various information packs to those who require it.

Craig Stevenson, centre manager at Bon Accord & St Nicholas, is delighted to welcome the roadshow to the Bon Accord mall.

He said:

“We’re looking forward to welcoming both DFP Television and representatives from the organisations to the Bon Accord mall for what is sure to be a range of informative and insightful short films on some of the country’s most-loved organisations.

“At Bon Accord & St Nicholas, we are always looking at ways of adding to a shopper’s own experience and I’m sure the various subjects included in the films will strike a chord with many of our visitors. If we can help direct people to the correct support that they may require then we would be delighted to do so.”

Bon Accord & St Nicholas are at the heart of Aberdeen city centre’s retail sector, offering 840,000 sq ft of prime space and home to around 100 stores. Scotland’s largest Next, Aberdeen’s only Topshop and Topman standalone store as well as the City’s largest New Look and River Island are among the key retailers.

The centres, which attract an average of 275,000 visitors a week, are owned by BMO Real Estate Partners and managed by specialist retail agency Savills. For further on the centres visit www.bonaccordandstnicholas.com.

Picture Credit: “Inside the Bon Accord centre – geograph.org.uk – 1241608” by Stanley Howe. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons 

Nov 102015
 

David ForbesWith thanks to Future Choices.

Local charity boss and carer David Forbes was featured on STV’s Real Heroes on Monday November 9 in the ‘Carer of the Year’ category.

David is the only person from Aberdeen to appear in the show which is in it’s third series.

The film piece showed what not only what David does for his disabled mother who he cares for 24/7 but also in his voluntary role as Chairman of Future Choices, helping to get disabled people out of their homes.

David said:

“Since being shortlisted for this special award, it’s been completely overwhelming and im so proud to be representing the Granite City in this National competition.”

Voting is still open to vote for David, either by text or for free on the stv website. To vote for David by text, text HERO 18 to 86660.

Voting for this category closes on noon, Monday 16th Nov 2015

David added:

“I’m absolutely blown away with everyones support and people taking time out to vote for me, thank you all, im truly blessed to have so much support.”

The results show will be televised in December.

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Sep 282015
 

Award-winning director Anthony Baxter tells Aberdeen Voice’s Suzanne Kelly of an upcoming BBC screening of ‘Dark Side Of The Greens’ that is an absolute must for Trump-watchers.

view_from_Munro_kitchen_july_13_of_bund_with_vegetation_created_by_Trumppreventing_access_where_it_previously_existed_blocking_light_and_view

The BBC is broadcasting an hour long version of Montrose Picture’s latest film (originally called A Dangerous Game in the cinema release) this Wednesday 30 September at 9pm.

Over the weekend the national papers gave the programme universally favourable reviews and it’s Mark Kermode’s TV film of the week.

Given the fact that Donald Trump is currently frontrunner as the Republican nomination for the Presidential race, it may have additional relevance obviously.

And there’s plenty of Scottish material in it too of course.

Baxter and his partner fellow journalist Richard Phinney were infamously arrested on the Menie Estate for having the temerity to ask Trump staff when the Forbes family were likely to have running water restored (Trump’s construction team ‘accidentally’ broke the pipes and didn’t fix them for a week).

The issue of reliable running water remains problematic – as does the once unquestionable freedom of the press in Scotland, and the former absolute legal protection that SSSI sites like the Menie Estate’s moving sand dune system had.

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Mar 142014
 

The Queen having tea_RL_1_003.tifFor 12 years the establishment and celebrities were grist to the Spitting Image mill; nothing and no one was sacred. If you weren’t laughing, you were outraged. By Suzanne Kelly.

Issues of the day were brought to light, political sleaze was explained and mocked in spectacular fashion, and well, those of us with a sense of humour had a great laugh.
A new exhibition in London’s Cartoon Museum pulls together puppets, memorabilia, news reports and anecdotes. It is a small exhibition in a small museum.

However, while floor space may be limited, the depth and breadth of the collection and the Spitting Image exhibition is deeply impressive.

This is also one of the most important shows you’ll have the chance to see, if press freedoms (facing new threats) and political satire are to be understood, preserved and appreciated.

The Cartoon Museum has been flying the flag for the cartoon as art and entertainment since 2006, and features a great diversity of art going back centuries. There are simple cartoons such as ‘Popeye’ which were simply intended to amuse. There are biting political cartoons from the distant past, and social commentary cartoons spanning decades which, when collected and curated, form an extremely important historic record.

But this Spitting Image exhibition must be the most impressive and engaging of all the museum’s major exhibitions to date.

There is an impressive schedule of evening talks and events featuring those who worked on Spitting Image. Roger Law (a founder of SI with Peter Fluck – listen to them on Desert Island Discs here  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p009mlw9 ) will deliver an illustrated talk on 19 March on ‘The Art of Theft’.

There is a Spitting Image Roundtable on 7th May with people behind the show, and a ‘Design your own puppet character’ session with puppet maker and puppeteer Scott Brooker.

“At 10pm on Sunday, 26 February 1984 British television witnessed the birth of a new phenomenon – a satirical puppet show which would push the boundaries of taste and decency, present the Royal Family, politicians and celebrities alike in surreal yet telling situations, and become one of the most talked-about programmes of the 1980s and 1990s. The country had never seen anything like it.” – CartoonMuseum

We may never see the like of Spitting Image again; it was the reactionary product of a heady mixture of Thatcherism, international issues, domestic political power struggles, the Reagan/Thatcher special relationship, and later on celebrities and sports. Apparently Peter Cook once remarked that the sports vignettes were his favourites.

Perhaps they were, but Spitting Image’s satire wasn’t so much biting as it was scorching. Many times it pushed the envelope just a bit further than people expected; many viewers for instance finding the Queen Mother puppet a bridge too far.

Thatcher Cutting up Britain (c) Spitting ImageMargaret Thatcher in S&M gear likewise provoked a response.

Memorable puppets included a completely grey John Major, a schoolboy Tony Blair sporting an ‘I’m the Leader’ badge, The Queen, and a slobbering Roy Hatterslea will be in the public conscious for quite some time.

In the display was a never-used Osama Bin Laden puppet – it oozes menace.

Imagining what could have been made of this in a sketch is a powerful idea to grapple with; the puppet sits in its case waiting for an opportunity which never materialised.

The exhibition screens Spitting Image episodes, and on the day I visited, many people stopped to watch the segment depicting how Zola Budd came to be English rather than South African, and while doing nothing more spectacular in her Olympic race than tripping up American Mary Decker, Budd nevertheless managed to make a bit of money from her exploits.

Spitting Image was a platform of perfect political satire and the springboard for many of our most important talents – Ian Hislop, Nick Newman, Harry Enfield, Rory Bremner, Hugh Dennis, Kate Robbins and John O’Farrell are some of those who were involved.

The show evolved from the partnership of artists Roger Law and Peter Fluck who met in Cambridge as students. Cambridge and its Granta magazine must have been quite a crucible. Peter Cook and Dudley Moore sprang from that Cambridge seam, and were responsible for an increase in political satire in the 1960s.

Cook’s ‘Establishment’ nightclub in Soho must have been incredible; Roger Law was also involved in that venture as an artist.  Cook of course lent his support in many ways to Private Eye magazine, still the zenith of political satire in the UK today.

The exhibition was well attended when I was there; people of different ages and several tourists wound their way through the gallery. Watching the episodes being screened on a wall brought back the importance of the show; we visitors watched in silence except when laughter broke out which it frequently did.

The puppets are quite something to see; the fact they were collected together at all is something of an event. Many were auctioned off and the collection dispersed; one puppet disappeared only to surface years later at a boot sale – from where it was rescued.

The ephemera and historical notes gave insights from many different perspectives; it was safe to say the visitors read the information presented with relish. There are many anecdotes which I won’t spoil by sharing – do go visit the museum if you can.

It’s a gem of a show, and I only wish it could tour the country (with a stop in Aberdeen of course).  Actually, I wish that we could have a new version of Spitting Image for today. However, there are many reasons whatever the next big thing in popular political sarcasm is, it won’t be Spitting Image.  Gallery Director Anita O’Brien had a few minutes to speak; she explained:-

“Satire is one of the great art forms which Britain invented, which continues to thrive. The difficulty with Spitting Image now, though people would like to bring it back and feel it would be wonderful is that the political climate and landscape have changed, and people are not as politically involved. I think when it comes to people the nature of their political involvement has changed. The media has changed; you had four channels then; it is far more fragmented now.

“I think people do different things – there is an emphasis on CGI, and people’s expectations of media has changed – people expect a different look and feel (to the latex puppets of SI). I also have to say cost – I just don’t think the media would be able to bear it – it would be very labour intensive, and a huge number of people would have to come together.

“I think that might be the biggest stumbling block. Also they were all very involved and quite committed to what they were doing. They perhaps hoped they would bring down the government; it didn’t happen [we laugh]. This was the ‘80s; there was a very strong political engagement; very anti-Thatcherite.”

I suggest the fact that the programme existed had an impact on political engagement, and suggest that Spitting Image was the reason people even knew who cabinet ministers were. O’Brien commented:-

“I think a lot of people who maybe might not have read political columns at the time would have watched the programme… Peter Cook said he actually enjoyed the sports more than the politics; if he wanted politics he would have read a newspaper. We’re hoping that people will come who might not have seen it and can come and become more aware of it, and gain a view into satire.”

But what’s the point of political satire? Is it nothing more than childish, vulgar base humour with no hope of achieving anything?

Here’s an example then:-

“In the mid-1980s Gary Trudeau, writer and illustrator of the comic Doonesbury used satire to help put an end to a racially motivated law in Palm   Beach, Florida. The law in question mandated that all workers or employees, including gardeners, retail clerks, janitors and taxi drivers, who were part of a racial minority were required to register with police and obtain and ID card within 48 hours of accepting a job.

“In 1985, upon discovering the continued existence of this Jim Crow legislation, Gary Trudeau illustrated a series of comics lambasting Florida’s government for its continued support of a racist law. By 1986, local politicians drew up the “Doonesbury Act” and repealed the outdated law.” – http://www.sarcasmsociety.com/satire.html

Sarcasm and political satire are sometimes the only weapons people have against powerful institutions and powerful people. We now have threats to our free press coming in light of the News of the World hacking scandal, wherein a sledgehammer is being used to crack all the nuts, good ones and bad ones, for the actions of a few corrupt, powerful people in the press, who were buying information from the police.

Compared to the laissez-faire approach and support the government gave to the banking sector in light of the vast scale of corruption it was and is riddled with, does the recent attacks on press freedoms really warrant any new law? Should those who are meant to be scrutinized by a free press have the right in a democracy – whatever that is – to limit the important checks and balances the press provides?

Let’s hope not. It is bad enough that the press is under fire as a whole institution for the actions of a few.  Let’s make sure that political satire remains a protected, powerful and widely-used tool of dissent and change.

And with that, I buy a few posters. As I’m leaving, I’m thinking about Private Eye, Hislop, Ingrams, Granta, and ultimately Peter Cook.

Before I leave, I ask when we’ll see the like of Peter Cook again; ‘Indeed’ is O’ Brien’s answer.

Spitting Image – From Start to Finish runs until 8 June 2014

Cartoon Museum,
35 Little Russell Street,
London,
WC1A 2HH,
Tel: 0207 580 8155
www.cartoonmuseum.org

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Jan 242014
 

In a fit of pique Duncan Harley rages against the machine for what its worth.

bruce duncan harley4Big Brother, Corrie and now Benefits Street are at odds with much of normality in the UK.

Following the revelations about Saville using Auntie Beeb’s dressing rooms to groom over one thousand vulnerable children for sexual purposes it’s really quite surprising that anyone even watches terrestrial TV in the land of Logie Baird.

With the advent of Roku and Netflix, who really wants to be confronted with folk at the front door demanding money with menace.

–          Hello sir or madam, I am a licensing authority enforcer. How are you tonight?

–          Mainly fine, why do you ask?

–          It’s just a courtesy really.

–          Good. I have corns due to my age and a problem with my eyes.

–          Yes, we have the power to destroy your credit rating.

–          Oh, is that good? I don’t watch TV much.

–          Why is that?

–          I am blind and deaf.

–          Can I come in to your house please to discus this delicate matter?

–          Actually, under the terms of my moral obligation to be disgusted by the BBC’s failure to safeguard my childhood fantasies regarding Top of the Pops, veteran broadcaster Stuart Hall and those Daleks who turned out to be just plastic studio props with toilet plunger’s sticking out the front, I think not.

– OK, that’s all right then. Good day sir or madam. We have the power to destroy your credit rating.

You pays your money and you get what you pay for though and at €170.28 a pop, the licence fee raises some £3.6bn per year for those such as Mark Byford, the former deputy director general of the BBC, who defended a controversial pay-off package that saw him leave the BBC with £949,000 in his bank account.

Byford left the BBC in 2011 after being made redundant as part of a drive to cut the number of highly-paid senior executives at the BBC. He told BBC Radio 5 live’s Victoria Derbyshire:

“I absolutely don’t think it was greed on my part at all”.

He said the pay-off was “properly approved” and added:

“I absolutely think I’ve done no wrong.”

A report by the National Audit Office released in July 2013 criticised the BBC for paying out £25m in severance pay to 150 outgoing senior BBC managers which was some £2m more than their contracts stipulated.

Mr Byford’s payment was revealed to be the highest at £949,000, after 32 years of service at the BBC. That’s around 65 thousand licence fees. Good money indeed!

In contrast the Albanian licence fee is 800 Lekë (€5.81) per year and in Bosnia and Herzegovina where the civil war and the associated collapse of infrastructure caused very high evasion rates it is around €46 per year. Seemingly the somewhat desperate Bosnian authorities collect the fee via telephone bills. BT with a vengeance perhaps?

Mind you Albanian State TV was until quite recently mainly showing Norman Wisdom movies from the 1960’s and Bosnia has yet to recover from the effects of the international outrage following the ethnic cleansing of the country during the Balkan genocide.

As for Coronation Strasse, lips may well be sealed until the result of an upcoming court case involving street TV star Bill Roach is settled.

According to the Guardian:

“a woman alleges she was led to men’s toilets and made to perform sex act during studio visit at the age of 14.”

“The court were told by two women that Coronation Street actor Bill Roach sexually assaulted them in the toilets at the programme’s television studios when they were teenagers. The now 63 year old complainant told Preston crown court that Mr Roach “pulled her into the men’s toilets and forced her to masturbate him.””

If indeed true, this is disturbing testimony.

Then there’s that case unfolding against Mr Rolf Harris of Tie Me Kangaroo down fame plus something about It’s a Knockout host Stuart Hall who is currently in jail after finally admitting 14 counts of indecent assault on girls as young as nine between 1967 and 1987

With Lord McAlpines untimely death the national press may wonder whether to publish and be damned or to stay silent and appear uncertain.

Somewhat famously, Lord McAlpine was completely and wrongly accused of sexual misconduct. Various bodies such as the BBC wrongly implied that the now dead peer was a paedophile. Some of his friends attribute his demise entirely to the completely unfounded allegations. Many will feel sorry for the peers sad last days.

The BBC will be plunged into a major crisis with the publication of a damning review, expected next month, that will reveal its staff turned a blind eye to the rape and sexual assault of up to 1,000 girls and boys by long time disc jockey Jimmy Savile in the corporation’s changing rooms and studios.

Dame Janet Smith, a former court of appeal judge, who previously led the inquiry into the mass murders by local GP Dr Harold Shipman will seemingly say in her final report that the true number of victims of Savile’s sexual proclivities may never be known but that his behaviour had been recognised by BBC executives who took no action.

Many in the UK currently wonder why they are paying a licence fee to fund a shameful publicly funded system which appears to ignore not only the law but also morality.

The UK requirement for a dog licence was abolished in 1987. Prior to this dog licences were mandatory but the requirement was widely ignored with only about fifty percent of owners having one. The final rate for a dog licence was a meagre 37 pence.

The TV licence should perhaps follow suit very soon.

A YouGov poll for The Telegraph recently found that almost two thirds of those surveyed agreed that the licence fee should be abolished because so many households had satellite or cable television.

The “Stop BBC Bias” campaign is encouraging “refuseniks” to register with it by phoning 09012 702 414 or by visiting its website – www.bbcbias.org although as of the time of writing the site is unavailable due to “technical problems.” It’s on error 404 seemingly.

A BBC spokesman recently said:

“Our policy is and always has been clear. If you don’t have a licence and are using televisual equipment, you’re breaking the law.”

There perhaps lies self interest.

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Jul 122013
 

Voice’s Old Susannah takes a look over the past week’s events in the ‘Deen and beyond. By Suzanne Kelly.

With the warmer weather, all sorts of undesirables are on the move in our area.  Recently these dodgy types somehow infiltrated the otherwise inaccessible Union Terrace Gardens, and havoc reigns.  Some of these people are so out of their heads on Ribena and Cola (‘coke’ to give it its slang term), that they have taken to lying down on blankets for hours, enjoying what they call ‘grass’ and ‘sun’.

Some of them are barely dressed, wearing shorts and sleeveless tops.  The sooner we get a web under construction, the sooner these miscreants will leave.

Thankfully, just as King Arthur will return to the people one day, Kate Dean has resurfaced.  Her triumphant return to the public eye surely presages her return to public life. 

The Press & Journal gave her a cover photo, and several pages to admonish us for not having the web of granite.  She is quite right in saying we will remember where we were on the day the web died.

As to me, I was in the city council chambers, listening to the likes of Jennifer Craw baying like wounded banshees when the web was kicked into the long grass.  Then I accompanied several other granite web refusnik  nimby-types, and celebrated with a few beers.  Where were you when Kennedy, Elvis and the City Gardens Project died?  If it’s not too emotionally distressing to share your Web memories, please do write in.

There was also a striking photo of Kate petting a cat, which in no way put me in mind of Ian Fleming’s Blofeld character.  Kate tells us she is now working for/with Remploy.  Many Remploy factories are set to close across the country; perhaps this is the time for her to campaign to help those with special needs and abilities to fight for their support services…

After months of research and interviews covering all sides of the Menie Estate saga, the BBC’s Panorama aired on Monday this week.  I joined a dozen or so people in a local pub to watch the programme’s first airing together.

Personally, I was very disappointed.  I’ve spent most of the past 5 months waiting for this programme, wondering what Sarah Malone Bates would be wearing on camera, and how her rapier-like wit would deal with reporter John Sweeney’s questions.  Alas!  I don’t think we got to see her at all!

What’s the point of being the Vice President if you don’t get to be on telly?  I wonder if the catch phrase ‘You’re Fired!’ ever enter her mind when she thinks of her TV star boss?

We can all learn a few public relations tips from his Panorama performance

First, it was awfully good of The Donald and his Mini Me to find time to talk to the Beeb, in between trips to Africa to kill leopards and dangerous elephants, hacking bits off  the carcases for lovely trophies.  I’m not the only girl to have swooned at the footage of the Trump clan braving the jungle to kill critters.  A woman sitting next to me turned very pale at the images of the dead things and severed tails in the Panorama clip; it must have been because the guys were so macho.

We can all learn a few public relations tips from his Panorama performance.  In case you missed it on Monday, here’s a handy link for future viewing:-  http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b036yklf/Panorama_The_Trouble_with_Trump/  Inevitably, this week’s definitions are connected to the show.

Bromance: (modern English) Term used to describe a close friendship between two men.

Alex and Donald; Donald and Alex.  They met, they started a transatlantic bromance over lobster, oysters, champagne and planning permission.

North East Scotland was going to get 7,000 jobs (Trump says in the interview with John Sweeney) and a billion pound golf and housing complex.  In exchange Salmond was going to over-ride environmental protection and protocol.  Hand in hand they romped over The Great Dunes of Scotland (aka the Menie coastline).

It was all too good to last.  They broke up, and the dirty linen hit the headlines.

The bromance between Don and Alex has died; and no love is lost between Local Hero and Top Scot Michael Forbes and the Donald, either.  in the recent past Trump has called Forbes ‘a porker’ – heaven knows what precisely that means.  Let’s assume it means Forbes is not as physically pleasing as Trump – but then again, who is?  When John Sweeney asked Michael Forbes how he felt at being called a porker, Forbes responded:

 “that was pretty good coming from a clown.”

Sadly, I see no bromance brewing there, either.

Don’t look for a budding romance between Anthony Baxter and Donald Jr either.  Baxter was accused of being a criminal by Junior, quite understandably.  Film maker Baxter went (as directed) to Trump’s site office to discuss the loss of water to the properties; the Trump people accidentally broke a crucial water pipe and accidentally left the residents without water for 7 days.

Junior says Baxter went into a house uninvited with a camera over his shoulder.  That house was the site office, and Baxter was told to go there by Trump staff, all captured on film.

Quite rightly the police then busted Baxter and his pal on the Trump site manager’s say-so.  Now Junior says Baxter is a criminal; Baxter for some reason seems to think Don Jun is a liar. ( No valentines this year then).

To Read: (English – infinitive verb) to look at printed words and digest their contents.

The arguments between Salmond and Trump were at the height of acrimony on two topics:-

Did Salmond ask Trump’s support over the release of the Lockerbie bomber?  Did Salmond promise there would be no offshore wind farms?  The answers seem to be yes and no respectively.

Donald seems to have proof that Alex wanted a letter of support from Trump.  Trump tells us this would have hurt his popularity (as if such a thing were possible).

But what of Trump’s continued cries of foul over the offshore wind farm?

Trump states in his unabridged copy of the Panorama interview that George Sorial was present when Salmond promised not to allow offshore wind farms.  As unbiased a witness as one could wish for, it is a pity Sorial or someone in his office didn’t read the part of the 2008 Scottish Government Reporters’ planning report that referred to the wind farms.  For alas!  If our First Minister did make such a promise, it didn’t register with the government reporters; their report which gave approval for the golf complex reads in part:-

“21.106 “No particular concerns are raised about the coastal path network, landscape impact, links to the airport or the proposed offshore wind development. It was agreed that the only particular issue for the city council was whether the proposed housing would have an effect on the traffic in the city,  such as at the Bridge of Don…”  
http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/212607/0067709.pd

Colour me over-cautious, but if a government report on my multi-million pound project came out, I’d have one of my legal guys read it.

If such a report made reference to ‘the proposed offshore wind development’ when I thought my pal had promised there was not going to be an offshore wind development, I’d probably look into it before building bunds, bulldozing the place and locking the gates shut.

I’m no lawyer, I’m no town planner, I’m no Donald Trump – but to me a report referring to a proposed offshore wind development would make me wonder if there were a proposed offshore wind development.

Easy mistake.  Perhaps the Trump people should hire some experts going forward to look at documents and legalities.  But clearly Team Trump wasn’t going to make any further mistakes, and so he decided to film the film makers.

Media Bias: (modern English) a condition of television/print media/radio to have a particular stance on issue or issues, demonstrated in the contents of its publications/broadcasts favouring one side of an issue. (Aberdeen residents won’t know much about media bias, but thankfully that left-wing, biased, socialist bastion which is the BBC provides one).

The Trump Organisation had a brilliant idea – Trump made his own video tape of John Sweeney interviewing him, and posted the ‘uncut’ interview footage on YouTube.  This would let the world see how biased the BBC is.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZlHvVbHqVI

It may be a hard concept for Press & Journal / Evening Express readers to grasp – but sometimes news reports can be slightly skewed to play up or play down particular stories at the whims of owners, or even editors of media companies.  The Donald wanted, per usual, to make sure he captured the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

The Trump videotape begins by explaining that John Sweeney has a ‘lousy reputation’.  I’m sure the BBC are really sweating it now.  I’m sure if someone posted on a public website that Trump had a lousy reputation, Donald would just forgive and forget, and not launch any nasty lawsuits.  I guess we’ll see if Sweeney is as magnanimous as Trump.

No doubt the BBC created a wholly one-sided Panorama programme.  This is evidenced by the extensive interviews Panorama held with father and son.  Obviously, the only reason these gun-toting, slightly aggressive gentlemen look bad is because of how the BBC edited them.

So what does this video show?  What devious  Machiavellian twists of the BBC are laid bare?

The tape begins with Donald explaining how his mom / grand mom loved Scotland (aww), and how the only logical tribute to this love was to put up a few hundred homes and a golf course or two on The Great Dunes Of Scotland.  The interview was going swimmingly; I was starting to warm towards Trump myself, then bang!  The aggressive interviewer had the temerity to ask about a massive lawsuit and possible mafia entanglement.  Oh dear.

Unfortunately the Trump team’s camera failed to record this mafia/Ft Lauderdale section of the interview; the screen went black.  Mr Trump then had to leave immediately to go see a group of people, quite understandably.  The Trump-recorded tape ends with a black screen with text inviting the viewer to ‘notice the reaction of the producer in the back ground who expressed her disgust with Mr Sweeney’s unfair and biased interview.  Quite right.

As if Mr Trump having leased his name to a now-failed Ft Lauderdale development with over 40 people now filing lawsuits has any bearing on his ability to create a development here.  You’d almost think the poor man has a bad track record.

Some spoilsports who objected to granting permission for the development at Menie had expressed concerns with the Trump organisation’s track record and reputation.  But this wasn’t going to get in the way of his company being deemed suitable to have its way with The Great Dunes of Scotland.

Back in the day, the government reporters’ report referred to some of these objections:-

“We were passed some letters of objection from the public that contain offensive remarks about the applicant and his business; inappropriate comments directed at others; defamatory and personal comments about councillors involved in decision making in Aberdeenshire; and political statements favouring one party over another.

“None of these matters has any bearing on the planning merits of the case and such comments have been discounted from our consideration which is concentrated on those issues that are relevant to deciding an outline planning application.”

 We should all thank those unbiased government decision makers, not least the Aberdeenshire planning officers who brushed away these petty concerns.  Trump may not have brought the 7,000 jobs or the houses or the hotel yet, but that’s surely nothing to do with his track record.  It’s only the wind farms stopping us from having the world’s greatest golf course.

Next week’s definitions:  unaccountable, back-tracking, deceitful, scheming, exaggeration, manipulation – and other planning-related technical terms.

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