Posts Tagged ‘been’

The Blitz: why has Hull been ommited from the BBC series?

September 12th, 2015

Anniversary of the Blitz: ‘I thought, I cannot be alive’

Laughably, it was because no suitable local celebrity could be found to guide the BBC cameras around Hull’s proud Victorian civic buildings, her 18th-century Old Town, her vast docks, and her spectacular Gothic parish church with its colossal perpendicular windows (mercifully left unscathed).

This ignores the fact that Hull has a series of brilliant and notable people connected with it – starting with Alan Johnson, the affable MP for Hull and Hessle, and continuing with actors Maureen Lipman and Sir Tom Courtenay, BBC radio luminary Jenni Murray and a raft of groovy musicians: Roland Gift from Fine Young Cannibals, Everything But the Girl, The Housemartins…

But perhaps it is just as well they didn’t find someone to do it. Because Hull has its own singular character and story which has never relied on celebrities to promote it.

It was named the 2017 City of Culture partly, the judges said, because the force of the city was not delivered via one or two famous people on a red carpet. Hull’s triumphant pitch came from a passionate desire felt by the entire city.

Secondly, Hull has other concerns. Of course the Blitz is acknowledged and respected here. There are still bomb sites in the middle of the town; walking around this morning, I passed one. But right now, the feeling and the mood here is all about the future.

With less than 500 days to go before arrival of the juggernaut that is the £18 million City of Culture, the thrill and excitement is palpable.

Arts institutions are getting ready for a new unveiling, with more than a fresh lick of paint; several are being rebuilt.

Will Hull still exist in 100 years?
Why you should visit Hull – before it’s too late

A spectacular, 365-day programme is being put together, with the partnership of not just local, national and international cultural institutions, but also every child in the city, and 4,000 volunteers.

Let other cities trot out their celebs to play out their war stories, and good luck to them. The nation will soon see that Hull has a different story to tell.

• Rosie Millard is chair of Hull City of Culture 2017


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The Blitz: why has Hull been omitted from the BBC series?

September 9th, 2015

Anniversary of the Blitz: ‘I thought, I cannot be alive’

Laughably, it was because no suitable local celebrity could be found to guide the BBC cameras around Hull’s proud Victorian civic buildings, her 18th-century Old Town, her vast docks, and her spectacular Gothic parish church with its colossal perpendicular windows (mercifully left unscathed).

This ignores the fact that Hull has a series of brilliant and notable people connected with it – starting with Alan Johnson, the affable MP for Hull and Hessle, and continuing with actors Maureen Lipman and Sir Tom Courtenay, BBC radio luminary Jenni Murray and a raft of groovy musicians: Roland Gift from Fine Young Cannibals, Everything But the Girl, The Housemartins…

But perhaps it is just as well they didn’t find someone to do it. Because Hull has its own singular character and story which has never relied on celebrities to promote it.

It was named the 2017 City of Culture partly, the judges said, because the force of the city was not delivered via one or two famous people on a red carpet. Hull’s triumphant pitch came from a passionate desire felt by the entire city.

Secondly, Hull has other concerns. Of course the Blitz is acknowledged and respected here. There are still bomb sites in the middle of the town; walking around this morning, I passed one. But right now, the feeling and the mood here is all about the future.

With less than 500 days to go before arrival of the juggernaut that is the £18 million City of Culture, the thrill and excitement is palpable.

Arts institutions are getting ready for a new unveiling, with more than a fresh lick of paint; several are being rebuilt.

Will Hull still exist in 100 years?
Why you should visit Hull – before it’s too late

A spectacular, 365-day programme is being put together, with the partnership of not just local, national and international cultural institutions, but also every child in the city, and 4,000 volunteers.

Let other cities trot out their celebs to play out their war stories, and good luck to them. The nation will soon see that Hull has a different story to tell.

• Rosie Millard is chair of Hull City of Culture 2017


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Has a lost Nazi ghost train carrying gold finally been found? Two treasure hunters think so

August 19th, 2015

It is believed that towards the end of the war, as the Red Army closed in on the city of Wroclaw, Nazis loaded a train with gold and other treasure and sent it south west.

“Lawyers, the army, the police and the fire brigade are dealing with this,” Marika Tokarska, an official at the Walbrzych district council, told Reuters.

“The area has never been excavated before and we don’t know what we might find.”

Workers Inspects Gold Bars Taken From Jews By The Nazi's And Stashed In The Heilbron Salt Mines

According to local legend, the train vanished after heading into mountains straddling the current Polish-Czech border.

“In the region we actually two gold train stories,” Joanna Lamparska, a local historian, told Radio Wroclaw.

“One is supposed to be under a mountain and the other somewhere around Walbrzych.

“But no one has ever seen documentary evidence confirming the existence of such trains.”

Other historians point out that the Nazis dug miles of tunnels in the south-west mountains of what is now Poland in one of the biggest construction projects in the history of the Third Reich.

The reason for the tunnels remain shrouded in mystery, and some believers in the ghost train argue the Germans may have excavated secret railway stashes and hidden the loot in one of them for safe keeping.

The value of its cargo may also explain the lack of documentation of the train as the Germans could have put secrecy before paperwork, they say.

A US soldier inspects thousands of gold wedding bands taken from jews by the Nazi's and stashed in the Heilbron Salt Mines

How the gold came into the Nazis’ posession also remains unclear. It has been suggested the treasure is linked to the Nazis’ monumental wartime looting spree, which stripped museums and private houses of their artworks.

Walbrzych local government has refused to comment on the matter other than to ask the claimants to come forward and give the location of the apparent find as it may have been boobytrapped with mines.

Taduesz Slowikowski, a treasure hunter who has searched for the missing train, said he was sceptical that the alleged find in southern Poland would still contain the treasure.

“They may have found the train, but not the gold,” he told Radio Zet, a Polish national radio station.


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Spying has been an old boys’ club for too long

March 6th, 2015

The devastating failures of MI6 in the run-up to the Iraq war brought about a new recruitment crisis. Whether women officers would have been better equipped to ask the right questions about Iraq, or to spot that Saddam was duping them, is impossible to say. But as we watch the spread of Islamic State and the recruitment of young women as jihadist fighters, the case for bringing women into the intelligence services is more overwhelming than ever. The radicalised young people who endanger us today live among us, are taught in our schools, and grow up in our communities, where the Mumsnet crowd with their baggy jumpers and shopping bags so often hang out.

Hazel Blears and her committee are certainly not the first to understand the value of women as intelligence officers. When in 1940 Winston Churchill was looking for ways to help the French resistance, he created the Special Operation Executive, and authorised the recruitment of women to drop behind enemy lines. A woman riding around occupied France on a bicycle, he thought, would attract less attention than a man.

Jessica Chastain plays an elite CIA agent in Zero Dark Thirty

The male officers who trained these young women were often sceptical about their abilities. They were too “innocent” or “girlish” to be of use. But it soon emerged that many of the SOE women were as resourceful and courageous as any man and resilient under fire and under torture, too. The senior SOE woman staff officer, Vera Atkins, who helped recruit these SOE women, never had any doubts that they would be as successful secret agents as men. Atkins also took on women with children. Violette Szabo left behind a young daughter when she dropped by parachute into France. Women worked instinctively, were steely, and the best judges of human nature, Atkins believed, herself becoming one of the most influential staff officers in SOE.

She would certainly have agreed with Maurice Oldfield, director of MI6 in the Seventies, who once said “intelligence is about people and the study of people” – study in which women so often excel. Yet, as the ISC report rightly acknowledges, it is not enough to recognise the value of women as intelligence officers. The challenge is how to make the job attractive to them.

Female spies such as Nancy Wake proved their worth in World War Two

The very culture of the intelligence world immediately alienates most women. Even Mrs Thatcher had a healthy scepticism of “the service”, keeping it at arms length. The report describes a culture that “rewards those who speak the loudest or are aggressive in pursuing their career” and adds that women who have children are quickly sidelined. Instead the service should support such women and promote their talent. The idea of recruiting mums as spies is easily ridiculed. But successful companies worldwide are increasingly turning to mothers with young children, offering them attractive contracts with flexible hours. We also know the “enemy” is using more women. It is time our intelligence services did the same.

Sarah Helm is the author of ‘A Life in Secrets’ and ‘If this is a Woman’, about female spies and prisoners in World War 2


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James Runcie: 'My father would have been bemused and amused by Grantchester'

October 5th, 2014

The six-part ITV series is based on The Grantchester Mysteries, a sequence of novels I began to write five years ago. I didn’t intend them to be a fictionalised, alternative biography of my father – and I still hope they aren’t – but one cannot easily escape a strong paternal influence.

Robert Runcie became a clergyman shortly after the war. He lived in Cambridge at the beginning of his ministry (I was born there) and was later chosen to become Archbishop of Canterbury in 1979. He didn’t go round solving murders, but when I began to write a series of six crime novels, intended as a moral history of post-war Britain, it seemed almost obvious to make the central character a clergyman (the only alternative would have been a doctor). He would be a fictionalised version of my father, sharing his love of humanity, his ability to think the best of people (while sometimes fearing the worst), his cheerfulness and his love of the ridiculous, as well as his sadness and disappointment in the face of human failing.

I wanted to place this man in the midst of social change, beginning in 1953, the year of the Coronation. Britain was beginning to find itself again, DNA was discovered, the death penalty was still in effect, homosexuality was illegal, and career opportunities for women were limited. The novels would stretch over some 25 years and trace how modern Britain evolved, chronicling and balancing what I take to be good things (higher living standards, medical advance, the abolition of the death penalty, greater opportunities for women) with the bad (the decline of community, selfishness, intolerance, racism, homophobia, crime).

The series is easy enough to describe. It’s an Anglican Father Brown, Morse with morals, or Barbara Pym with no clothes on. This, by the way, is important. I wanted a sexy vicar, and I know we have found in Norton just the man; someone fresh from playing a psychopath in Happy Valley, who is a world away from the comedy clergy of Dick Emery, Derek Nimmo, and Arthur Lowe and much closer, I hope, to Tom Hollander’s excellent Adam Smallbone in Rev. That series has, in many ways, prepared the ground – without it, we might not have had such a positive response to the original, seriously unfashionable idea (a central character who is a practising Christian? Was I out of my mind?). Setting the tale in the Fifties obviously helps, as it makes the religion more confident and less of an anomaly than it is in Smallbone’s aggressively secular world.

READ: Why does Happy Valley have everyone talking?

James Norton stars as Sidney Chambers in Grantchester (ITV)

Not that this is cosy. Like my father, Chambers fought against evil in the war; now, he has to confront different evils in the ensuing peace. What keeps him going, apart from a strong faith, is both his love of intrigue and his compassion. The paradox is simple: as a clergyman, he has to think the best of people; as a detective, he must assume the worst.

The Fifties setting offers a more closed world than the one we know today. This is a time of tact, reticence and, for want of a better word, manners. It is far from shouty modern life in which people declare their most intimate secrets either on Facebook or over their second pint of lager. Sidney has to decode conversations in which privacy is fiercely held and secrets are dangerous. He has to understand both what drives people to commit acts of desperation (sex, money, betrayal, revenge) and what may eventually redeem them.

His talent as a detective lies in his ability to listen and to understand far more than he is being told. People share confidences that they wouldn’t with anyone else (particularly the police) and so Sidney becomes party to information that he must either withhold or reveal. (The series begins after a funeral when a woman insists that her secret lover did not commit suicide but was murdered.)

Grantchester is not Dostoevsky (although he is an influence), but it comes, as you might expect, from a liberal Anglican sensibility that understands ambiguity, seeks understanding and embraces tolerance.

READ:

There are, perhaps, indulgences. Sidney (named after my father’s favourite Anglican, Sydney Smith) becomes intrigued by a piano- playing German woman who loves Bach (my mother taught the piano); his first love (played by Morven Christie) is an amalgamation of two of my best friends; while Inspector Geordie Keating (played by Robson Green) is named after Roly Keating, now chief executive of the British Library.

The series is written out of affection for its characters and is designed to entertain rather than impress (it took me four novels to work that one out), and there is little of the gruesome evisceration found in the work of Stieg Larsson or Martina Cole. We are closer to John Mortimer’s Rumpole and even (bizarrely, hopefully and ambitiously) P?G Wodehouse.

Recalling that writer’s Great Sermon Handicap, in which bets are placed on various clergymen’s sermon lengths, I have to confess there is perhaps an element of preachiness to it all. My editor once said to me: “These are disguised sermons, aren’t they?” I am not ashamed of that and I am hopeful that the television series, as well as being dramatic, consists of thoughtful and moral meditations on subjects such as loyalty, friendship, deceit, cruelty and generosity. There are all the usual human fallibilities and they are taken seriously; but they are also viewed, wherever possible, with a kindly eye. (Hate the sin, but love the sinner.)

I try to imagine what my father would think of it all, and I can almost see him, aged 93, in a wheelchair perhaps, with a rug over his lap, watching the filming of that war scene. I think he would have been bemused – and amused. I can imagine him laughing about it afterwards and saying that it wasn’t like that at all. I don’t think for a minute that he would ever say that he was proud of me, but I hope he would at least be secretly intrigued.

And this is, of course, is what fiction does. It brings the dead back to us. It allows thought, conversation, an alternative afterlife. It reminds us that we are not alone, that we can find moments of respite beyond our own flickering humanity and that, while those who are no longer with us can still be remembered, death’s dominion is neither dark nor desolate.

Grantchester begins on ITV on October 6 at 9.00pm


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‘If the sniper’s bullet had been just two feet to one side, my father’s life would have been over’

May 31st, 2014

Of course, I have no monopoly on being proud of a close relative’s part in the war effort: there are many people up and down the country whose fathers, grandfathers, uncles, brothers and cousins also played courageous roles in the fight against Nazi Germany.

However, my father was, unwittingly, largely responsible for my boyhood interest in bravery: something that quickly developed into a passion and one that has played a significant part in my life for more than half a century.

Eric Ashcroft, a gentle, kind, popular man with a wicked sense of humour, was always modest about his wartime exploits, but eventually, with much prompting from his persistent son, he told me of his terrifying experience on D-Day.

I was about 10 at the time and the conversation took place at our family home in Diss, Norfolk. I sat wide-eyed as he conjured up the metaphorical smell of fear and the physical smell of vomit as his landing craft crashed through the waves and approached Sword Beach. As part of Operation Overlord, more than 155,000 men came across the Channel in some 5,000 vessels to land on five beach areas, each given a codeword.

Lord Ashcroft with his father after the war

Decades after my father filled me with pride over his exploits, he gave a recorded interview to the Imperial War Museums (IWM) that remains in their archives.

As he landed on an area of Sword Beach designated for the assault by his Battalion of The South Lancashire Regiment, he and his comrades were greeted by anti-tank, mortar, machine-gun and rifle fire, most of it from the main German defence strongpoint, codenamed “Cod”.

My father, the battalion signals’ officer, described his run up the beach: “About two-thirds to high watermark, I was knocked sideways when, so it would appear now, an 88mm splinter struck my right arm as I was moving across the beach… I just kept moving until the party got cleared of the beach and took stock of our position some 200 yards inland.”

When my father paused beneath a bank with the enemy beach wire just ahead, he applied a field dressing to his bloodied wound and crouched besides his CO. “Colonel [Richard] Burbury was about two feet away from me and the next thing I knew he rolled to his side and was shot in the chest,” my father said. His CO had been killed by a sniper.

Eric Ashcroft during the war

Lieutenant Colonel Burbury’s life was over, aged 38, and, soon afterwards, my father’s war was effectively over, too: but not before his battalion had moved on later the same day to seize the village of Hermanville less than a mile away. My father was eventually ordered from the battlefield and received treatment, first, at the regimental aid post and, later, on the hospital ship returning to Britain.

As I reached my teens, the initial interest in bravery that my father had generated grew and grew. I became the schoolboy geek who knew more about the Normandy landings than any of my contemporaries.

Courage is a truly wonderful quality, yet it is so difficult to understand. You can’t accurately measure it, you can’t bottle it and you can’t buy it, yet those who display it are, quite rightly, looked up to by others and are admired by society. Wiser men than me have struggled to comprehend gallantry and what makes some individuals risk the greatest gift of all – life itself – for a comrade, for Queen and country or sometimes even for a stranger.

Yet, perhaps, ultimately we do not have need fully to understand why individuals display courage; all we need do is admire it. Over the years, my passion for bravery, in general, transformed itself into one for gallantry medals, in particular.

Such medals are the tangible record of an individual’s service and courage. When I was in my early twenties, I hoped one day to own a Victoria Cross, the ultimate decoration in Britain and the Commonwealth for bravery in the face of the enemy.

Shortly after my 40th birthday and by then fortunate enough to have made a little money as an entrepreneur, I bought at auction my first VC: a decoration that had been awarded to Leading Seaman James Magennis during the final year of the Second World War.

Today, from that modest start, the collection is comfortably the largest in the world. In 2008, I made a sizeable donation so that the VCs could go on display in a new, purpose-built gallery at IWM, London, along with decorations already in the care of the museum. The gallery was opened in November 2010 by the Princess Royal, and today I am the proud owner of 183 VCs and 14 George Crosses, the latter being Britain and the Commonwealth’s most prestigious award for gallantry not in the face of the enemy.

I have written four books on bravery, I have a monthly column in Britain at War magazine and I write widely for national and regional newspapers about courage. Furthermore, I regularly lecture on gallantry up and down the country.

My continuing aim is simple: to highlight great acts of courage and to ensure that those brave men who carried them out, whether they lived or died following their actions, are not forgotten.

On a personal level, I credit the conversation I had with my father nearly 60 years ago for leading to my passion for gallantry. Indeed, when the VC and GC gallery bearing my name was unveiled four years ago, I publicly dedicated it to him.

My father was one of the fortunate wartime servicemen: he made a full recovery from his injuries, was promoted to captain, survived the war, had a satisfying career as a colonial officer and, eventually, died in February 2002, a month before his 85th birthday.

As the 70th anniversary of D-Day approaches, I am glad that I travelled to Sword Beach and stood, for the first time, where my father was wounded and where so many of his comrades fell. Matt Limb, my enthusiastic and knowledgeable battlefield guide, was able to pinpoint, to within a few yards, the exact spot where my father had landed.

I also visited Hermanville War Cemetery to lay a poppy cross at the grave of Lieutenant Colonel Burbury. Incidentally, his gravestone wrongly gives his date of death as June 7 1944 – rather than June 6 – and, for the sake of accuracy, I am going to investigate how it might be corrected.

In an area of more than 1,000 war graves and with birdsong as the only sound, I contemplated the thin margin between life and death. If the sniper’s bullet had been just two feet to one side, my father’s life would have been over, aged just 27, and I would never have been born.

Lord Ashcroft at Hermanville War Cemetery at the grave of his father’s CO, Lt Colonel Richard Burbury (JULIAN SIMMONDS FOR THE TELEGRAPH)

At Pegasus Bridge Café Gondrée, the first house liberated by the Allies at the dawn of D-Day, I was given a warm welcome for lunch by the charming Arlette Gondrée, whose parents lived in the property during the German occupation with their three young daughters. It is the sort of welcome she and her family have generously extended to the British veterans for seven decades.

On Friday, as the veterans gather in Normandy for their “swan song”, I will join the rest of the nation in paying my respects to all the courageous individuals who turned the course of the war in the Allies’ favour with the greatest sea invasion in history.

However, given all that he did for me, I hope I will be forgiven if just one of those brave young men remains at the forefront of my thoughts for much of the day: Eric Ashcroft, my father, my inspiration, my hero.

Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC is a Tory peer, international businessman, philanthropist and author. For more information on his life and work, visit www.lordashcroft.com. For more information on his VC collection, visit www.lordashcroftmedals.com. Follow him on Twitter @LordAshcroft


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