Wednesday, 28 January 2009

New York, London, Milan, Paris and Southport

Napoleon took one look at Southport's Lord Street with its tree-lined boulevards, landscaped gardens and wrought iron fancies and thought to himself, "Zut alors! This is what Paris is missing!"

At least that's according to the pleasingly named architecture professor Quentin Hughes.

His theory is a lovely jigsaw of fact that adds Napoleon's time spent lodging just off Lord Street to his later destruction of medieval Paris to make way for the Champs Elysées etc to argue that Paris was based on Southport.

I'm all for it, let's see some Parisienne chic in Sefton.

For a start we'll be needing an annual fashion week - possibly with catwalk shows on the pier - to rival the four fashion capitals of the world. Admittedly that sounds a tall order until you think of the wealth of golf couture we boast in Britain's classic resort. Plaid shorts and tartan tank tops anyone?

Then there's Hesketh Bank - surely more than a match for Paris' Left Bank culture hub with it's annual steam rallies, village shows and Pumpkin festivals?

We'll also need to see some metropolitan rudeness, so I'm afraid the charmingly polite Campaign for Courtesy and the Ambassador Awards will have to go in favour of the Gallic shrug.

The indigenous WAG population should ensure a suitable level of glamorous, boutique frequenting females to give the whole endeavor the necessary je ne sais quoi.

Really, I have no idea why the similarities haven't struck me sooner.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

A queer case of West End theatre a Wirral murderer and The Beatles

Heath Road, Bebington, Wirral is a comfortable suburban nest - and it is also the birth place of queer thespian and murderer Kenneth Halliwell.
Kenneth shot to posthumous notoriety after taking a hammer nine times to the head of his lover, the award winning playwright Joe Orton.
Years earlier people had predicted that Kenneth's name would be splashed across the front pages - not because he exhibited homicidal tendencies - but because he was regarded as one of RADA's most promising talents.
It was at drama school that Kenneth and Joe met and in the beginning it was Kenneth who was the star, the sophisticate and the older man to Orton's awkward, outrageous, angry outsider.
Before long the tables turned and Orton's advance on the West End was unstoppable - in 1966 Loot! won the Evening Standard Theatre Awards cementing Joe's place alongside the likes of Pinter and Stoppard - while Kenneth's career had stalled.
Holed up in a tiny bedsit close to Angel's Camden Passage the pair kept a claustrophobic joint diary that chronicled Orton's promiscuity in cruel detail, Halliwell's failing artistic endeavours, the pair's trips to north Africa and Orton's stage successes.
Editor, mentor, ball and chain, father figure, failure and muse Kenneth found he had become Joe's foil, and forgotten by the fickle theatre set he increasingly turned to prescription drugs.
Eventually, goaded by Orton, Halliwell snapped and bludgeoned his partner with a hammer before taking an overdose.
The pair were found in their Islington flat by the chauffeur who had arrived to take Orton to a meeting with The Beatles, where he was due to discuss a screenplay he had written for the band.
Kenneth left a suicide note, signing off with:
"If you read his diary all will be explained. KH. PS Especially the last part."
Kenneth's early years in Bebington tell us much about the man who would eventually become a murderer: His mother died in the most bizarre of circumstances, stung in the mouth by a wasp. A pupil at Wirral Grammar School Kenneth was a conscientious objector during the war and at the age of 20 found his father dead, with his head in the oven.
Now enjoying a revival of his work, Orton is remembered as Imelda Staunton and Mathew Horne, hot from his Gavin and Stacey Christmas special triumph, take the lead in Entertaining Mr Sloane at the Trafalgar Studios. Loot! is also onstage at The Tricycle garnering five star reviews.
And just as it always was, Kenneth is forgotten.

Orton on The Beatles screenplay which never was, as interviewed by Barry Hanson:
"I was approached to do a film script for the Beatles. I said it would have to be an absolutely original script. Paul McCartney said do whatever you like. I said that means you'll never be able to do it. He said as long as it's good, that's all right. So I did the script and I was very pleased with it and my agent was very pleased with it and she's not an easy woman to please."

Sunday, 11 January 2009

It's simply not tennis, Wossy

I was surprised to see Jonathan Ross twittering about tennis today.
Because anyone that knows anything about Ross' approach to media reports of his life will know that the tennis court is sacred.
But fanning the flames of the Sachsgate scandal on Twitter, Ross has managed to make sure he stays firmly in the media spotlight during his exile from the BBC.
His 8,334-strong following in Twitterdom has been kept abreast of domestic developments at "Wossy's", and the national papers have dutifully relayed the updates to the rest of the UK.
Things were different back in 2006 when lawyers acting on Ross' behalf kicked up a stink over paparazzi pictures of the presenter playing tennis with David Baddiel. In warnings sent to the press they made it clear that Ross felt that the images were a breach of his privacy.
Fast forward less than three years, and after trouncing Andrew Sachs' right to privacy, Ross must feel differently about sharing details of the tennis court.
Today's twitter updates from Ross below:
"Recoering from exhausting game of tennis - doubles. ma and David Baddiel versus two blokes who didn't even want to sit down for a breather."
"They beat us 6 -1, 6 -1. But one of them used to be a County Champ."
"I still secretly think I might win wimbldone one day. Not so secretly now perhaps."
"I know that really it's fairly unlikely that I'll win at wimbledon, but in movies that kind of thing happens quite often. Ergo..."

So where would Ross stand in the eyes of the law if next week he's papped serving up a double fault and wants to stop the pictures appearing in the press? Can he still claim that he should be able to expect the details of his tennis matches to be private?
The Sun's lawyer Tom Crone launched an impressive broadside at Ross when the Sachs row erupted.
Crone commented: "Jonathan Ross is a serial litigant. Get anywhere near his private life and you’re likely to hear from m’learned friends.
"Since Mr Ross is so keen on consulting his lawyers, perhaps he should ask them to explain what the laws on privacy and harassment mean."

*All typos Wossy's own.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

"Slaapwandelende pedo"

There are times when the news gods choose to bestow favours upon journalists.

I now know this because a case landed in my lap that even the accomplished novelist Jordan could turn into a must-read splash, so bizarre and structurally perfect were its circumstances.

Sitting in the press bench thinking about what to have for lunch and waiting for the robbery trial I was there to cover, another Ormskirk case came before the court listed only "for mention".

Usually this means the lawyers wrangle about the practicalities of the case without debating the actual charges. Not so on December 22 2008.

CPS prosecutor Fiorella Brereton stunned me by coming out with this.

A sleepwalker accused of a sexual assault - against a child.
A lengthy battle to clear his name - actually almost 12 months to the day.
Not just an incident that happened at any old time of year either - but after a New Year's Eve party as we were working on the New Year's Eve edition of the Advertiser.

As I say, even Jordan could knock up a splash with those lines to go on and, thanks to the total lack of other reporters in court, call it an exclusive.

And so it came to pass that I went round to Alan Ball's house in Ormskirk, had a chat with him and wrote the story which has since popped up in the Echo, Lancs Evening Post, Daily Telegraph, Mail on Sunday , Daily Mail (from where it has been linked to by lots of American media including USA Today, Huffington Post & Washington Post) and - my personal favourite - has been translated into Dutch and featured in De Telegraaf where the story has provoked more than 20 comments.

Apart from proving the power of sheer good luck, this story illustrated the way a report can spread across the world thanks to the web and makes me realise how little I do to push my work to a new online audience.

In the past sharing was bad and we kept our exclusives to ourselves, but as news sites grapple for more web users it's hard to see how that mindset will survive.

How satisfying would it be to see some of the 10m+ unique users clicking through to the Ormskirk Advertiser's story instead of the Daily Mail? Would that have been the case if it had been submitted to Drudge?

Right now it's a one way relationship with the internet - journalists are comfortable with the idea of going to Facebook & co to find a story - but rarely link their reports back to the community it came from.

It will probably take some convincing before regional papers accept that there's more benefit in sharing the story online for free to increase traffic over making a profit by selling it to a newswire or national paper.

That said, and as much as I hate "predictions for 2009" style preaching, I do think a reporter's job will start to include seeding our work and getting stuck in online to create a buzz around the stories we've filed.

Hopefully the days when we'll be expected to translate them into Dutch are still some way off.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Save Wirral's culture centres

***Newsflash from the SaveWirral campaign***

For those outside the Wirral this is the news that the peninsula's libraries, leisure and community centres are to be shut down by the council and sold off in a cost cutting drive. Read the full story here.

Monday 5th January - The Lauries Centre, Birkenhead. Start time of 7:00pm.
Tuesday 6th January - Hulme Hall, Port Sunlight. Start time of 7.00pm.
Wednesday 7th January - West Kirby Concourse, West Kirby. Start time of 7.00pm.
Thursday 8th January - Floral Pavillion Theatre, Wallasey. Start time of 7.00pm.