Sunday, 19 February 2012

Sammy Davis Jr.

During the week the name of Sammy Davis Jr. was mentioned and someone said they hadn't realized he was more than a somewhat mannered singer.   This is an easy mistake to make; Britain did not receive the quantity of shows which demonstrated his ability.  Let's put that right now that by thanking the uploaders and his estate who have made  material available so that we can glimpse how this major talent worked and begin to appreciate that he was one of the very best popular entertainers which America has ever produced.

Those who knew him insist that he was in fact the greatest; talented in  an over-arching way that was difficult to see it all at once.

Exhibit one is a section of a 1963 show he did with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.  Despite the natural competition between them, they knew who was the talent on that stage.  Sinatra pleads  "What do you waaaant of us?" They go through their joshing and party pieces in the time honoured "Hollywood Party" mode, then at 6:14 Davis produces Marlon Brando.

He doesn't just impersonate a character; he acts it for both good and ill, showing the power but also the incoherence in that style of theatre. Impersonations, my foot. Right there in a tiny link you have a profound critique of the method school of acting; Davis was never incoherent in his life and he's not convinced that it is of any value.  Dammit, this is supposed to be performing for an audience, not modelling.

The Copa Room, Sands Hotel, 1963 part 3

Item 2.  This interview ought to be compulsory viewing for every grunting youth in the land. Pay attention boy, this is how articulacy makes people forget about the looks of the person in front of them. Although Davis regularly joked about race - it was, and is, a major political consideration which can get in the way of a performance - it is known that what he was particularly sensitive about was the glass eye he was obliged to wear after a car accident.  Although he walked in rhythm, it's observably the case that he was no raving beauty. Perversely, that was lucky. A prettier face might have found it impossible to cope with the disfigurement.  As it turned out, people were not all that bothered; they wanted him to joke, to dance and to sing. Luckily, so did he.

Wogan interview with Sammy Davis Jr. 1989 (part 1 of 4)

His signature song, Mr Bojangles, has many versions available. This one is from 1985 and is remarkable for its simple orchestration which never overpowers the poetry. When lesser performers attempt it they misunderstand it to be a schmaltzy tum-ti-tum.  Davis shows that it is in fact an intimate monologue delivered to you, personally.

Mr Bojangles 1985

A Youtube search now shows the major performances of his life and The Estate of Sammy Davis Jr. has archive photography and further material.   In 1964 Ed Sullivan knew he had created a special moment when Davis and Ella Fitzgerald appeared together for him.  He says that when the audience grows up, it will tell its children they saw them perform.  What Sullivan could not foresee is that the recording survived and is here.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Job of the Month - Ferryman

There can be no finer life than to be a ferryman down at St Mawes in Cornwall, moving people across the rivers of the frilly landscape.  One lucky person will be paid to be the Place Ferry Skipper from April to October. 

They are looking for an experienced boat-handler but will provide training and certification for a local qualification.  All you have to do is steer a little boat safely from one side of paradise to the other, taking account of the tides, carrying the tourists and locals while the money-making season is on. 

To get an idea of the job, this is one of the bigger ferries towards the Falmouth side, with a pod of dolphins playing around it.

If you can't pilot a boat, they sometimes need ticketing and distribution staff.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012


To the Theatre Royal at Bury St Edmunds for the first production of StageFright by Michael Punter, directed by Colin Blumenau.

Set 1894 during the run of Sir Henry Irving's  "Faust", the action takes place on a night with winter weather so foul that it traps Sir Henry and his theatre manager, Bram Stoker, in an attic dressing room in the eaves of the Lyceum theatre in London.

By coincidence, the temperature on Saturday in Suffolk was -7C during the day and -12C at night, so the audience came in having just experienced the sucking cold of an icy grave.

Bram Stoker was writing Dracula in those days, summoning him up from the influences of theatre, religion, secular philosophy and his own Irish talent - under-estimated by Iriving - so that there seems to be another character, one who never appears, threaded through the work.

It is believed that Irving disapproved of Dracula - he is said to have walked out of a reading and never played the part, although it would have been natural to offer it to him. It is also possible that Conan Doyle saw the pair working and fed that in to his own creations, Holmes and Watson, recognizing it to be much more than a case of an employer and a technical manager.

Irving  was a self-made man and he knew exactly what he was doing; creating effects on the stage. Even his name was partly an illusion, re-fashioned because it sounds so much better than John Henry Brodribb.   Michael Punter gives Irving all the doubt and superstition which goes with the job of acting no matter how hard Irving tries to stick to rational responses.  If you spend your working life summoning up illusory characters, isn't there a risk of calling up something real, Irving wonders, of speaking the Devil's name and having him answer. Perhaps he is always listening for the invitation, like an actor waiting for his stage-call on the other end of a speaking-tube?

Stuck for that freezing night in an attic, the pair of them begin to discourse on this - or rather, Irving declaims and Stoker sets up the lines for him, because that is how their relationship works. They think they are alone but an empty theatre is never completely empty; you have to be careful what you do, what you say because you never know who may be listening. Could a building record the events which happen in it, Irving muses.  If you ask the staff of Marks and Spencer just a few yards away in the modern shopping centre in Bury St Edmunds they will tell you yes, and the building doesn't even have to exist any more. They still get half-ghosts of monks wading through their sales floor and sinking down staircases which have not existed for centuries.

The snow falls outside and soon Irving and Stoker begin to suspect they are not alone.

The Theatre Royal is an 1819 building, beautifully refurbished for a modern audience, so that this is the perfect intimate place to watch a play which aims to recreate the conventions of Victorian stage and parlour magic.   The set has been constructed to nudge out in to the auditorium, dissolving the line between stage and seats so that we are invited to float in the dingy cluttered room, a spectral presence, as if hovering at a seance table.  This is the world where lighting is by gas; that is the product of science and an advanced economy but gas light is still soft and variable and is delivered in fittings which resemble the old oil lamps.  We are looking in to a dusty jewel-box of enchantment and treasure.

The director and author were adamant; to capture the rich flavour of  High Victoriana it had to include stage illusions which the Victorians would have expected in a theatre they would have recognized. Drama had not yet reached the naturalistic psychological approach which is most common today.  Stoker and Irving squabble about this;  Stoker has all the best technical arguments but Irving's case is made in the play itself; there's no mistaking the jump of the audience when .... spoilers, sweetie.

The premier run of Stagefright is at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds
From Tuesday 14 February until Saturday 25 February
Tickets cost between £8 and £20 depending on seat and performance, bookable online (scroll down and select date).

For some locations in Suffolk, the theatrebus deal is available which includes transport, the ticket, a drink and the programme.  All tickets: £23  For under 26’s: £11.50

Concessions are available including the £5 on-the-day for under 26 year olds, but must be booked via the box office: 01284 769505

The performance is suitable for anyone over 8 years old but is genuinely frightening.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Chymorvah Appeal ruling

Allsorts disappointed with ruling
Peter and Hazel Bull of the Chymorvah Private Hotel in Marazion have lost their appeal to treat civil partnerships differently to marriage as a matter of religious belief.

Full ruling -  Bull & Bull v Hall & Preddy

This means that while the Bulls cannot refuse to have civil partners sharing a double bed,  exclusively gay hotel owners will rely on there being no specific cases which challenge their own blatantly discriminatory practices.  

A marketing term applies here; "gay-friendly" hotels are hotels which reassure guests who happen to be gay that they are welcome. "Exclusively gay" hotels are a significant niche market which specializes in welcoming guests who are gay. They are usually run by hoteliers who are also gay. They exclude other other guests on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender. It is not clear that this has been legal for a while now, but there has been no significant challenge to the practice, only to some of the advertising.

The popular Pride Lodge in Blackpool advertises
Pride Lodge offers '4 star' accommodation specifically for the LGBT guest and their friends. We do not masquerade as a Blackpool Gay Hotel, we are exclusive and choose not to accept bookings for families or Stag and Hen parties,
So Pride Lodge does not accept a) heterosexuals (unless perhaps you are a friend of an LGBT person) and b) married heterosexuals. It believes it can treat people in civil partnerships differently to those in marriages - precisely the opposite of what was intended in law, now clarified in the Chymorvah case.

Hamilton Hall in Bournemouth is run by John Bellamy, offering specialist retreats exclusively for men; there is an emphasis on gay men but the hotel says that it will accept bookings from heterosexual men.  It wasn't him who worried about the Chymorvah's inconsistencies:
"Political correctness is a doctrine, fostered by a delusional, illogical minority, and rabidly promoted by an unscrupulous mainstream media, which holds forth the proposition that it is entirely possible to pick up a turd by the clean end."
Bellamy apparently understood the danger and intolerance of the Chymorvah case but perhaps was poorly quoted in February last year:
"We've been campaigning for this law for years so that everyone is equal, but it could spell the end of gay-only resorts."
Well then, maybe either stop campaigning and accept that if you want to discriminate, the others will have to be allowed to as well. 

Bellamy immediately went to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) for legal advice.  They say they won't prosecute him - because it is alright to discriminate if you are gay but not if you hold religious beliefs -  ands since they can veto these cases they can probably prevent anyone else suing him.
Hamilton Hall is also the first men only hotel in the UK to be investigated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and be allowed to continue being a MEN ONLY HOTEL. 
In a similar vein, Guyz Hotel has changed its wording which used to specify that the hotel was exclusively male and exclusively gay, so that now is by implication. Except on the nudist weekends where you can be gay or bisexual but must be male. And naked, thus bringing it with the possible exceptions.

Key West in Torquay is an entire resort which is exclusively male, gay and bi-sexual i.e. it discriminates against exclusively heterosexual men, and women.  It does this by bringing itself within the definition of a private club.
At Key West Resort our ethos is to provide a safe and enjoyable environment for Gay and bisexual men. In order for us to achieve this Key West will operate as a Private Members Club. To use the facilities or to stay at the resort it is a requirement that you fit the criteria of the membership, Gay or Bisexual Male, you will be required to sign an acknowledgement (or tick the accept box when booking online) that you have read and agree to the membership rules.
A gay club can refuse to allow heterosexual married Christians in at all by calling themselves a club, but a Christian heterosexual hotelier cannot refuse to allow a pair in a civil partnership to share a double bed. Can you agree to be discriminated against?  That surely does not give  protection against the legislation. Maybe Chymorvah should just make it clear that it is private members club.

In the year since the original  Hall & Preddy v Bull & Bull case there has been a subtle change on the websites and marketing.  It is still clear which are the exclusively gay hotels but some of them have become reluctant to be identified. The case has done nothing to help them openly promote their businesses, which have had to go back to the days of people knowing which were the gay places and which not.  Cliff House in Devon has been established as a gay-owned, gay-clientel hotel for forty years now, but does that mean it will refuse bookings from hetersexual couples? It is difficult to tell from its gallery which includes things such as "Gareth's Mum's Wedding".

What should have worried the EHRC was that both the comments in Pink News and a balanced piece by Nelson Jones in the New Statesman  lacked sympathy with the prosecution.  It is obvious to anyone who isn't a lawyer that what matters is everyone making a living and everyone getting the hotel room they want.  That is best done by tolerating the inconsistency on both sides. The price for gay hotels is the very modest one of a couple of insignificant private hotels which are barely any different from the Pink House in Brighton.  They just all operate slightly different exclusion criteria.  Goose. Sauce. Gander.

There are female hotels too.  Hitherto a smaller sector, they may appeal to gay women but the overall sense is of refined gentility which relies on nicely brought up ladies not wishing to bump in to wuff gentlemen in the corridors.  The demand for this is growing. You would not worry about your daughter or your granny using these exquisite rooms; they might also appeal to ladies of very orthodox religious views.  Overall there is more tolerance of this version of discrimination but the growth in the service has become controversial as business hotels begin to reserve corridors by gender - and may refuse a booking from a man if there are only 'female' rooms left.

The irony is that while the Chymorvah hotel in Marazion found itself in the middle of a fight because it refused entry to two men who happened to be civil partners,  the original claimants Hall and Preddy didn't rock up to the beatiful women-only  Chymorgen on the North Cornwall coast only a few miles away and demand to be let in.

Apparently they don't mind being discriminated against on the basis that they are men, but they do mind that a pair of Christians won't recognize their civil partnership as equivalent to marriage. 

It is, and was, always about trying to force the public, and especially the orthodox Christians,  to accept civil partnership as marriage, which is why Hall and Preddy went to Chymorvah and not Chymorgen. 


Earlier link: Marriage a la mode - Popcorn

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Inside PR and Corporate Communications - Part 3

Corporate Complications
A guest post by Submariner

Being respected only to the extent that you are feared is pure Tucker, but it’s not good for the long term for a retailer. People always have a choice. If the rejection of your plans for a new store in Little Binding is felt by half the town to be a victory for local democracy against the forces of oppression, you’re well on the downslope and it’s time to short the shares. The Tucker doctrine puts you on the opposite side from your customers. In the case of the Tesco crew, they are even on the wrong side of the Blair backlash.
In business and politics alike, times are hard. In the post-bubble economy everything feels like a crisis, and in a crisis the feeling is that anything goes. It’s only human nature to want the comfort of a mythical deadly PR assassin on your side.
But out among the reality-based community, it is not going to help. This is no time for smoke and mirrors, no time for bluster.
The best corporate communication is when the audience sees the business, not the spin apparatus. If you want long term support, take your pain when it’s due. Be frank with your employees, customers, and lenders. Guide expectations to where you think they should be, realistically. Don’t try to put an unrealistic gloss on your losses or revenue reductions.
Educate people about what you can and can’t control in the market. Your business may well be affected by snow, the electoral cycle or the Japanese tsunami, but don’t look as if you’re asking to be excused. Say what the effect has been, when it will drop out of the numbers, and what (if anything) you’ll do differently in the future.
If customers, employees, investors or other stakeholders feel they are being spun a line, they will not give credit even for actual performance and good works. What they will respond to is meaningful management action, backed up by solid facts, good listening and a sense that there are overlapping interests between them and the organisation doing the communicating. No-one ever won trust through intimidation, and fear paralyses better than it motivates.
What politics and the corporate world need more of is the anti-Malcolm. The best communicators are those who concentrate on gathering proper evidence, telling the truth, helping people inside and outside to accept and understand reality, and using their own understanding of the world to help the business make the truth better over time.
Yes, yes. I know. No-one wants to hear that now. It’s all so Pollyanna, enough to make you puke. Hand me the Malcolm mask, and the Profanisaurus. I’m off out to get a job.

Part 1 - A Tucker of your own
Part 2 - Life Imitates Art

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Inside PR and Corporate Communications - Part 2

Life Imitates Art
A guest post by Submariner

Consider. In The Thick Of It, the ineffectual DoSAC head of media relations, Terri Coverley, had been recruited from a popular retailer in an attempt to make government more business-like. She was out of place, a transplant, and struggled with the transition.

But more recently the flow in the real world has been the other way. Political spinners have been whirring out of the Westminster mother ship and planting their seeds in the nation’s commercial boardrooms. They may come from Tucker’s other-worldly culture but their influence in more earthly businesses is now firmly cemented.

Just before Christmas, ASDA, a business which used to have its feet on the ground, hired Sian Jarvis, until recently top spin doctor at the Department of Health, to open doors in government and keep the media in their place.

Later this month Abbie Sampson, ex DEFRA, DfT, Gordon Brown adviser and currently Number 10's chief press officer, will become head of news at Which?

Also in February Tesco, which has long liked to be scarier and shoutier than anyone else, will make room in its nest for Ruth McAllister, a current Number 10 press officer.

Tesco was an early pioneer of the Tucker approach. The company’s Alien Queen of Spin is Lucy Neville-Rolfe. Before pitching up at Tesco she did the lot in the Westminster village: DEFRA, DTI, Cabinet Office, Number 10. And she has established a fully-functioning hive. McAllister will be jostling for elbow room with previous Number 10 veterans: news manager Tom Hoskin,  Tony Blair's former private secretary David North, and Blair’s former head of events Victoria Gould
Tesco plays the PR and politics games the Tucker way. For them, it’s not enough to win. The other side has to lose, and lose badly. Tesco’s campaign machinery for imposing vast new colonies stores upon the peasantry has been brutally effective over the last 15 years, but some time over the last decade they smashed the office mugs and retired the mouse-mats with “Every Little Helps” and went instead with "Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair"

Yesterday - Part 1  A Tucker of your own

Tomorrow - Part 3  Corporate Complications

Friday, 3 February 2012

Inside PR and Corporate Communications - Part 1

A Tucker of your own
A guest post by Submariner

Malcolm Tucker, the hard man of government PR in TV comedy triumph The Thick Of It, is not based on BadAl Campbell after all. At least not according to Peter Capaldi, who plays him.
For a fictional character, Tucker has had a remarkable cross-over into real life, or what passes for it in the worlds of politics, the media, and senior business management.
When Capaldi visited Number 10 a couple of years ago he was amazed at how many government PR people wanted to be photographed with him, despite the bullying, the bad language and the general brutality. I wasn’t amazed. Tucker is superbly written, and superbly performed. You can’t take your eyes off him: he dominates the screen. And for all his faults, he is funny, a relentless stream of cruel wit cutting down all barriers in his path. Who would not love to be able to do that sometimes?
What began as a gargoyle has become a recruiting poster. Tuckermania is now more than a fad for its fans. In interviews Bad Al himself has been careful to align himself with Tucker’s energy, determination and ability to turn the air blue. He knows the glow of reflected glory. But, alas, Machiavelli, alack Armando, satire can be dangerous.
For a while now, the corporate world has been passing through the looking glass. It has been seduced by a fiction. It has fallen for the whiff of testosterone, the heroic vulgarity, the aura of dangerousness, and the mythology that you can always control the media through intimidation. If you’re an important CEO, you want a Tucker of your own.

Part 2  - Life Imitates Art