July 22nd NCF Event

You are invited to hear

Anne Marie Waters, founder of Sahria Watch, speaking on

One Law for All?

Sharia law in Britain


on Tuesday July 22nd 6.30pm to 8pm

55 Tufton Street, London SW1P 3QL

RSVP prwhittle@btinternet.com

Writer and human rights activist Anne Marie Waters recently founded Sharia Watch, www.shariawatch.org.uk , a new campaigning group which aims to challenge the growth in influence of Sharia law in Britain, whether through formal and informal Sharia courts or by integration into existing institutions. She was previously spokesperson for the One Law for All campaign, and a council member of the National Secular Society.

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Submitted by peterwhittle on Thu, 2014-07-10 09:58.

Opera is Not Just Our Most Expensive Noise

In the current edition of Standpoint, Roger Scruton writes that 'opera is a crown to be won, a sign that the composer has finally stuck his head above the clouds on Mount Olympus.'

In this article, which can be read in full here, Scruton gives a beautifully considered explanation and defence of opera. He highlights in particular the work of rising young composer Oliver Rudland (right), whose new one-act opera, Pincher Martin, has its premiere at the Royal College of Music on July 24th:

'...Sacred things are especially intolerable to those who no longer believe in them. An urge to desecrate is the inevitable successor to a lost habit of reverence. Hence Siegfried is dressed in schoolboy uniform, Mélisande is lying on a hospital bed in sheltered accommodation, Rusalka is taking a bath in a whorehouse, and — well you know how it goes. The best one can hope for in the state-subsidised opera houses of today is that the singers will all be dressed in Nazi uniform, but otherwise allowed to get on with the plot.

New operas can escape that fate, since the composer is around to prevent it. In Rudland's Pincher Martin music, words, sets, gestures and lighting are integral parts of a unified dramatic conception, and Rudland is determined that the opera should be realised exactly as he conceived it. Without an official subsidy and all the paraphernalia that tends to come with it, a composer can take full control of the performance, and not just of the score. Equally it is when subsidies are not forthcoming that we see how unnecessary they are. Singing automatically places the actors in an imaginary world, and properly crafted melodic lines will shape the passions, the relations and the gestures according to the inner logic of the drama...'

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Submitted by peterwhittle on Thu, 2014-07-10 09:45.

Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be

Whittle's London in the new edition of Standpoint looks at the capital on film:

'Like politics, acting seems yet again to have become dominated by the privately educated, rather than working class boys like Michael Caine or Bob Hoskins'

Lionel Bart's pre-Oliver! stage hit Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be is currently being revived at the Theatre Royal in the East End. I wonder what London audiences today will make of it. Joan Littlewood, the legendary producer who got the original 1959 production together, was evangelical about the need for working-class actors not only to be seen and heard but to be heard in their original voices, untouched by Rada and its belief that only received pronunciation bestowed the authority required of all real actors. The following decade gave us a slew of famous figures from genuinely working-class origins — Michael Caine and Terence Stamp (pictured), both London boys, became bona fide Hollywood stars — and finally it seemed that working-class actors had broken out of their "character and comedy" ghetto.

That era is as dead as the notion of Swinging London. Like our political class, acting seems yet again to have become dominated by the privately educated. The bullishly agitprop-spouting Littlewood would doubtless be horrified at the way in which economic restraints and the breakdown in social mobility have led to a remarkable rise in solidly public school performers, and she'd be right.

But it's not the whole story. Of all the changes that have taken place in the capital in the past couple of decades, the gradual disappearance of traditional working-class communities, indeed of working-class identity itself, is the most stark. As an older Lambeth resident says in Michael Collins's wonderful book about London's working class, The Likes of Us, "It's like we were never here."EastEnders, the BBC's series of largely working-class life in the modern East End, is little more than a polite fiction. What this means is that audiences who are still quite versed in, as it were, the more upmarket costume drama aspects of London's identity will have little familiarity with that group of people who once made up the bulk of its population. No working-class culture, no working-class actors. Fings definitely ain't wot they used t'be.

Bob Hoskins, who died last month, was born far from the sound of Bow Bells (in Bury St Edmunds) but his popular persona was certainly that of the rough but goodnatured cockney. Again, his voice — superficially threatening yet warm, humorous, even innocent, underneath — must strike younger audiences unfamiliar with London's past social terrain as exotic, even a bit corny, rather like Dick Van Dyke's infamous cockney impersonation in Mary Poppins. But it was the kind of voice that surrounded me growing up in the Sixties and Seventies.

Two of Hoskins's most memorable films, The Long Good Friday, set amid the decay of London's docklands in the Seventies before gentrification set in, andMona Lisa, in which he played a driver charged with ferrying a high-class call girl, depicted a city which was either in decline or simply hole-in-the-wall seedy. It always seemed particularly hard for London to rise to the occasion on film; its grey tattiness always worked best as the backdrop for a certain sort of clichéd urban grittiness. Too heavy for romance and too parochial for big scale action — it was always more The Sweeney than The French Connection — London only really came into its own as an all-purpose setting for Olden Times. The majestic colonnades of the Royal Naval Hospital, just along the road from me on the banks of the river at Greenwich, have stood in for everything from Tsarist St Petersburg (for Crime and Punishment) to revolutionary Paris (Les Misérables) and been pressed into service for enough movies set in 18th-century Whitehall to give them an identity crisis.

This cinematic treatment of London has certainly changed in the past decade or so, as it has become a different kind of city. It has gone in two distinct directions: there's the glossy and loved-up oeuvre of Richard Curtis, or the gangster and geezer version, pioneered by Guy Ritchie, which now seems to form a whole sub-genre. Rupert Everett beautifully summed up Curtis when he described him as the Leni Riefenstahl of Blair's Britain: all liberal sensibility, multicultural harmony and well-meaning posh chaps. When seen from a Notting Hill window, this shiny, happy London — easy in its own skin, as the cliché has it — certainly looks like a great place to be. Less inviting on the other hand but with a new, harsh glamour, the crime-ridden world of movies such as RocknRolla and Layer Cake portrays a city of designer suits, good-looking hard men and billionaire interlopers.

What these pictures of London have in common, however, is a distinct air of self-consciousness. While we might recognise aspects of the city in each, neither version feels genuinely familiar. Few of Curtis's characters could now afford to inhabit their beloved West London, which, with its acres of empty investment properties, is in danger of becoming a ghost town. And Ritchie's duckers and divers look increasingly like exercises in masculine nostalgia. Neither Michael Caine nor Bob Hoskins would, I'm sure, feel much at home in either landscape.


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Submitted by peterwhittle on Thu, 2014-05-29 15:30.

Forthcoming Event: Julie Bindel

From picket line to picket fence: what happened to the gay rights movement?

A talk by the journalist and activist Julie Bindel, author of the controversial new book Straight Expectations

Tuesday June 24th, 6.30pm - 8pm, at 55 Tufton Street, London SW1P 3QL

RSVP to prwhittle@btinternet.com 

Has the gay rights movement lost its edge? Did the struggle against anti-lesbian and gay oppression lose its way?

More than four decades after the start of the gay liberation movement, lesbians and gay men can legally marry, adopt children, and enjoy the same rights and respect as heterosexuals ... or can they? In Straight Expectations, Julie Bindel, an out lesbian since 1977, tracks the changes in the gay community in the last forty years and asks whether fighting for the right to marry has achieved genuine progress, or whether the new legal rights have neutered a once-radical social movement.

Drawing on extensive original research into changing attitudes towards sexuality, as well as interviews with scientists examining the 'gay gene', gay liberation pioneers, religious figures and key players of all political persuasions, Straight Expectations asks:

- Is sexual orientation learned or latent?

- Do lesbians and gay men have anything in common?

- Have we now reached a stage where the 'only gay in the village' mentality no longer has any place in society?

Julie Bindel is a freelance journalist, broadcaster and feminist activist. She is the co-founder of the law reform organisation Justice For Women. In 2013 she was named in the top 100 most influential gay and lesbian people in the world. Straight Expectations is her first book.


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Submitted by peterwhittle on Wed, 2014-05-28 14:39.