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At the end of May 2018, I wrote about the splendid dinner my better half and I enjoyed at Villandry Great Portland Street in London.

We had planned to return this month. Unfortunately, only yesterday, we discovered that all three Villandry restaurants — including the one in Bicester Village, Oxfordshire — closed on August 9.

What awful news. The one in Great Portland Street offered exceptionally good value, especially on wine.

Investigating, I found that London Eater had a post on August 6, based on a Sunday Times article. The post said, in part:

Accounts made up to March 2017 show that Bicester — lost to the site’s landlord in return for a “substantial payment to the company” — made up 47 percent of the group’s entire sales annually. Paired with a 100 percent rent increase at Great Portland Street and a 16 percent increase at St. James’s, losses amounted to almost £1.5 million, compared to £683,564 the previous year.

London Eater noted that Villandry was not the only mid-market restaurant group in trouble:

In the last week, steak restaurants Gaucho and Cau have been lined up for sale, while burger chain Byron admitted that its finances were in serious trouble despite wholesale changes to operational strategy. Villandry, open since 1998, has introduced “pizza and prosecco” and bottomless brunches in an attempt to improve sales, but the news suggests that these innovations aren’t doing enough to account for such a sharp rise in costs.

On August 9, Eater announced that the restaurants had closed:

Eater first learned of the closure from a tipster, who reported that the Great Portland street restaurant was being boarded up this morning. Later, both the Great Portland Street and St. James’s reservation lines rang dead …

Eater reported that the restaurants were struggling last week, with recently filed accounts showing substantial losses. These were mostly accounted for by the closure of a restaurant in Bicester, which had accounted for 47 percent of group turnover 2016-17. Coupled with a doubling of rent at Great Portland Street and a 16 percent increase at St James’s, the restaurants simply could not survive.

Villandry’s final tweet appeared that day, announcing their closure:

On July 10, Time Out posted a brief review that captured the essence of Villandry Portland Street perfectly (emphases mine):

It’s not often you find a restaurant where diners are happy to eat alone, but this is one such place, owing to the unshowy, affordable menu and the chance to sit unhurried and unjudged by easy-going staff. The menu covers all bases: burgers, salads, steaks, plenty of fish and seafood, and weekend brunch. Duck confit was tender and moist, and plum crumble a deliciously fruity concoction topped with chantilly cream.

Villandry seems genuinely happy to accommodate your whims, whether that’s a simple quiche in the restaurant or takeaway chocolates from the compact grocery area. It seems they’ve thought of everything: come summer, there’s a juice bar and a counter serving frozen yoghurt and ice-cream.

We are sorry to see this loss from the London restaurant scene. I wish Villandry’s former employees well.

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President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump left NATO for England on the afternoon of Thursday, July 12, 2018.

Mrs Trump enjoyed her time in Brussels:

The day before the Trumps’ arrival in England, a distinguished former British ambassador to the United States had been brutally attacked at Victoria Station. One possible reason? He defended President Trump:

Prayers for Sir Christopher’s full and swift recovery. He must be in much pain. The Daily Mail reported (emphases mine):

Sir Christopher Meyer, 74, was at Victoria when he was set upon by two attackers, his wife said to The Times

The retired diplomat, who was on his way home, was left with a bleeding and swollen eye socket, a burst lip and a suspected broken nose

Sir Christopher’s wife, Baroness Meyer, said he does not remember the attack, but that police believe the pair may have wanted to rob him.

I’m absolutely shocked by the level of the brutality. They really beat him. It’s appalling — like something you would see in a war zone,’ she said.

‘He looks terrible.  

His left eye is like a golf ball and bleeding, the nose looks like it could be broken. At first I thought that the attack was politically motivated

He is opinionated, and sometimes people have different opinions, but the police told me they believe that it is more likely that they might have wanted to rob him’ …

Fortunately:

Baroness Meyer told The Times nothing was stolen and police ‘acted quickly’ and the first thing her husband remembers was them being by his side.

Sir Christopher served as ambassador to the US during the latter end of the Clinton years and the first two of Bush II’s tenure:

He spent six years in Washington, from 1997 to 2003, becoming the longest-serving holder of his office since 1945.

As ambassador, he welcomed around 35,000 guests to his home a year and was made Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George.

After retiring, he became chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, the former newspaper regulatory body.

For President Trump, the UK is a yuge danger zone. The Conservative Treehouse explained:

The U.K. is considered the most dangerous nation in the world for a terror threat against the President. The scale of the security force assigned to protect President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump is three times larger than the traveling military deployed/needed during the 2017 Mid-east trip to Saudi Arabia.

The following video shows the arrival of Air Force One at Stansted Airport in the county of Essex, just outside of London. Ambassador Robert Wood ‘Woody’ Johnson and UK Trade Secretary Liam Fox met the couple, who took Marine One to the centre of the capital, where they stayed at the US ambassador’s residence, Winfield House, in Regents Park:

Winfield House was commissioned by and owned by Barbara Woolworth Hutton, heiress to the Woolworth fortune, in 1936. Her grandfather Frank’s middle name was Winfield, hence the name and the branded line of Woolworth’s products.

During the Second World War, the Royal Air Force used Winfield House as a 906 barrage balloon unit and as an officer’s club. Interestingly, Hutton was married to actor Cary Grant at the time. They divorced in 1945, after three years. He used to visit Winfield House from time to time.

After the war, Hutton sold the house to the US government for one dollar. Initially, the US Third Air Force used the building as an officer’s club. It became the official US ambassador’s residence in 1955 and remains so to this day:

That evening, America’s first couple were guests of Prime Minister Theresa May at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, home to the Dukes of Marlborough and Winston Churchill during his early life. The Spencer-Churchill family still live there and parts of the palace — e.g. the state apartments — are open to the public.

The Trumps left Winfield House to be airlifted to Blenheim Palace:

The Prime Minister and her husband, Philip May, greeted the Trumps upon arrival:

The purpose of the dinner was to introduce the president to British business leaders in the hopes of forging trade between the two countries post-Brexit.

With that in mind, the Americans from Trump’s cabinet and administration were also invited:

Beforehand, there was time for a photo op and a military ceremony with music:

Then, they went inside:

Sky News reported:

The US president and First Lady Melania Trump were given a red carpet reception at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, where the prime minister pressed her case for an ambitious new trade deal after Brexit.

Addressing Mr Trump in front of an audience of business leaders at Winston Churchill’s birthplace, Mrs May insisted that Brexit provides an opportunity for an “unprecedented” agreement to boost jobs and growth.

And in an apparent plea to the president to remember his allies when he meets Vladimir Putin on Monday, Mrs May noted that Britain and America work closely on security “whether through targeting Daesh terrorists or standing up to Russian aggression”.

The military bands played music prior to departure:

No doubt the evening ended all too soon for some:

I can appreciate Dan Scavino’s enthusiasm. Everyone who visits Blenheim Palace enjoys it.

Tomorrow’s post will look at what happened on Friday, July 13.

Detailed posts on the NATO summit and President Trump’s visit to the UK will follow next week.

For now, Prime Minister Theresa May’s husband Philip May hosted First Lady Melania Trump on Friday, July 13, 2018, more about which below.

As the Trump baby balloon was being inflated before floating over Parliament Square, President Trump was on his way to Sandhurst with the US ambassador to Britain, Robert Wood ‘Woody’ Johnson.

BT.com reports:

He is expected to view a joint US-UK special forces military demonstration at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst …

The president flew into the British Army’s official training centre on Marine One, preceded by two accompanying helicopters.

Woody Johnson, the US ambassador to Britain, was onboard with Mr Trump.

Also attending Sandhurst are several of the president’s aides, including John Kelly, John Bolton and Stephen Miller.

The report left out the Prime Minister:

Meanwhile, Philip May met Mrs Trump at the historic Royal Hospital Chelsea. Suzanne Johnson, the ambassador’s wife, accompanied her. They were greeted by Lieutenant Colonel Nicky Mott, hospital CEO Gary Lashko and Chelsea pensioners John Riley, Alan Collins and Marjorie Cole:

Mrs Trump also met pupils from Saint George’s Church of England primary school, who were making Remembrance Day poppies:

When she arrived into the room, she said “good morning” and asked the children if they would like to show her how to make the poppies.

Mrs Trump had a go at making one, and told the children: “Thank you for helping me.”

She showed Mr May her effort and joked: “Very professional.”

After the poppy making, Mrs Trump listened to school children talk about values and service.

Mrs Trump sat in front of a poster which said “Be the best you can be”.

Mrs Trump recently launched a campaign for American schoolchildren called ‘Be Best’, a poster for which shows in the following tweet:

St George’s has a programme called ‘Be the Best You Can Be’:

Then it was time for bowls:

Meanwhile, Prime Minister May and President Trump were engaging in talks at the weekend home of British prime ministers, Chequers:

One can only imagine what is going through Trump’s mind. Probably something along the lines of, ‘This is a historic moment, because, next time I come here, Theresa May will no longer be Prime Minister’. Sadly, that is a very real possibility — through her own doing for a ‘soft’ Brexit.

By the time this post appears, President and Mrs Trump will have enjoyed tea with the Queen at Windsor Castle and will be in Scotland at Trump’s golf resort, Turnberry, for the weekend.

Mrs Trump tweeted her thanks for a lovely Friday morning:

In closing, for those who are interested, this BT.com article has more information on Mrs Trump’s attire.

It was a year ago at this time in May that I visited one of London’s best kept secrets, Pollock’s Toy Museum.

I’d not heard of it until a good friend of mine suggested it as a place I could take my two American friends who were in town during the Whit Sun (Pentecost) Bank Holiday weekend. (Incidentally, this particular weekend was renamed some time ago to Spring Bank Holiday. But, I digress.)

My friends asked to go to a place that was non-touristy. We couldn’t have asked for a better venue, and, for that, I am ever grateful to my friend for the suggestion. He had been there as a boy.

If you want information only about the museum, skip the History part which follows and go to The Pollock’s Toy Museum experience section near the end.

History

The museum

How Pollack’s got to be a museum and in its current location near Goodge Street Tube station is a real rabbit hole.

The museum’s website glosses over a number of moves and transitions. No doubt most visitors aren’t that interested in the finer details:

Pollock’s was originally a shop and printers, dating back to the 1850’s, based in Hoxton, then a poor quarter of London. Benjamin Pollock’s hand printed, constructed and coloured much of the toy theatre material housed in the museum today.

The museum was created and the shop stock re-designed during the 1950’s and 60’s by Marguerite Fawdry It came to it’s current location in the late 1960’s where it has remained. The collection has been built up by purchases, donations from friends, family and the public. It is an independent family run concern. It is run more for the benefit of the public and to display the collection than for profit.

The museum’s Wikipedia page states:

The museum was started in 1956 in a single attic room at 44 Monmouth Street, near Covent Garden, above Benjamin Pollock’s Toy Shop, where Pollock’s Toy Theatres were also sold. As the enterprise flourished, other rooms were taken over for the museum and the ground floor became a toyshop. By 1969 the collection had outgrown the Monmouth Street premises and Pollock’s Toy Museum moved to 1 Scala Street, with a museum shop on the ground floor to contribute to its support. The museum continues today to be run by the grandson of the founder Marguerite Fawdry.[2]

I then ran across a December 2014 page at ArenaPAL, ‘Behind the Scenes at the Pollocks Toy Theatre Shop Factory Workshop’, which begins with this (emphasis in the original):

‘If you love art, folly or the bright eyes of children, speed to Pollock’s’ …wrote Robert Louis Stevenson in an essay which immortalised Pollock’s Toy Shop – a business that was started in 1856 and still runs today from Covent Garden in London.

Robert Louis Stevenson? I will get to his role in a moment.

ArenaPAL‘s page has interesting photographs from the mid-1940s, showing a little boy admiring one of the toy theatres and men in the workshop building them out of Bakelite and wood.

The text went on to say (emphases mine below):

Pollock’s speciality was in fact the sale and manufacture of Toy Theatres – otherwise known as Juvenile Drama. Traditionally the kits comprised a paperboard stage and accompanying set design with cut out characters according to the play being sold – and sometimes the likeness of popular actors of the time. The miniature production would be performed to family and friends using an abridged script and, until the introduction of the television, was one of the most popular forms of home entertainment in Europe. Toy theatre has seen a resurgence in recent years and there are numerous international toy theatre festivals throughout the Americas and Europe.

That, I did not know.

The museum has a lot of these toy theatres of varying sizes and with different scripts.

Benjamin Pollock’s Toy Shop

The Wikipedia page on Benjamin Pollock’s Toy Shop clears up much of the confusion. A summary and excerpts follow.

The original shop was in Hoxton (east London). Its proprietor was:

John Redington (1819–1876), who described himself as a “Printer, Bookbinder and Stationer; Tobacconist; and Dealer in miscellaneous articles” …

The premises were located at 73 Hoxton Street. In 1851, Redington opened a theatrical print warehouse there:

Redington was an agent for the toy theatre publisher John Kilby Green, and when Green died in 1860 Redington bought up his engraved copper plates. Redington ran the Hoxton Street business until his death in 1876, following which his widow, youngest son William, and daughter Eliza carried on with the business; but soon only Eliza Redington was left to run the print business.[2]

In 1877, Eliza Redington married Benjamin Pollock. The couple ran the shop together. They also had eight children — four boys and four girls.

Pollock was still using Green’s and Redington’s plates and theatre sheets, although:

with the imprint changed to ‘B. Pollock’.[5]

The shop was in an excellent location. The Britannia Theatre was across the street.

Despite that, Pollock wasn’t exactly making a fortune. In the 1880s, he began making toy theatres:

or the ‘juvenile drama’ as it was called at the time, selling toy theatre drops and characters from contemporary dramas for “a penny plain, twopence coloured”. Pollock generally republished older plays by using existing plates, simply changing the names of the actors. His version of Cinderella, for example, which could be bought from Pollock in the 1880s, used plates from 1844.[6]

Pollock’s business was not a success as tastes in the 1880s changed towards magic lantern shows and other innovations

Magic lanterns were early slide shows. The museum has a collection of these.

Robert Louis Stevenson

One day in 1884, Robert Louis Stevenson paid Pollock a visit at his shop. Stevenson’s subsequent essay about his visit proved to be a boon for Pollock’s business.

A considered article from 2009 about that visit appears on Spitalfields Life, ‘Benjamin Pollock, a penny plain, tuppence coloured’.

It says that Stevenson was an only child who enjoyed juvenile drama — toy theatres — at home growing up. He was also aware that as toy theatre manufacturers died and others inherited their materials, the names also changed:

the theatres of his childhood that he purchased in a shop on Leith Walk in Edinburgh were produced by Skelt’s Juvenile Drama and the names on the printing plates were altered with successive owners, “This national monument, after changing its name to Park’s, Webb’s, Reddington’s and last of all to Pollock’s, has now become, for the most part, a memory”, he wrote.

Assembling the theatres was more fun than putting on the play:

… even Stevenson admitted “The purchase and the first half hour at home, that was the summit.” As a child, I think the making of them was the greater part of the pleasure, cutting out the figures and glueing it all together. “I cannot deny the joy that attended the illumination, nor can I quite forget that child, who forgoing pleasure, stoops to tuppence coloured.” Stevenson wrote.

Pollock’s in the 20th century

Wikipedia says that the First World War altered Pollock’s intended line of succession, as his son William died in active duty. Pollock’s daughter Louise helped her father run the business.

One year before he died:

The theatre historian and writer George Speaight was first associated with Pollock’s when he gave a toy theatre performance of The Corsican Brothers at The George Inn in Southwark for Pollock’s 80th birthday in 1936. Speaight was already gaining a reputation for his juvenile drama performances using characters and settings obtained from Pollock’s.[10]

Pollock died in 1937. The Spitalfields Life article says:

toy theatres had become an anachronism and the business was in terminal decline. Yet such was the celebrity that Stevenson had brought, Benjamin Pollock received the unique accolade for a Hoxton shopkeeper of an obituary in the Times.

After Pollock’s death, Louise continued with the business, assisted by her sister Selina. In 1944, they sold the business. Shortly afterwards:

the building was destroyed by an enemy bomb.

Today, a plaque is on a brick post outside of the Hoxton Street location. Spitalfields Life has a photo. The site has council flats on it now.

Wikipedia says that, before the bomb hit, bookseller Alan Keen had bought the shop’s stock from Louise and Selina. Keen ran his business in the Adelphi Building just off The Strand — theatre district — and called it Benjamin Pollock Limited.

In 1946, Keen appointed the aforementioned George Speaight as shop manager. Speaight was associated with the shop — and, later, the museum — for the rest of his life.

Keen popularised his toy theatres by using classic films of the postwar years and their famous stars:

Keen modernised the stock to appeal to a contemporary audience with a toy theatre version of the 1948 Laurence Olivier film of Hamlet devised by Speaight[13] among other innovations. A supporter of the shop at this time was the actor Ralph Richardson, who wrote introductions to the plays.[9]

Unfortunately, nothing could return toy theatres to their previous success. In 1950, Keen had to move the premises to Little Russell Street in Bloomsbury. The following year, Benjamin Pollock Limited went into receivership.

In 1955, a BBC journalist, Marguerite Fawdry, was looking for wire character slides for her son’s toy theatre. She ended up buying not only the stock but also the business. She rented a shop at 44 Monmouth Street — in Seven Dials near Holborn (quite a smart street of boutiques and restaurants these days). In 1956, she opened Pollock’s Toy Museum in part of the shop. In 1957, she purchased the plates from Skelt’s, as George Skelt had recently died. Robert Louis Stevenson had Skelt toy theatres as a child, so this was an important acquisition for the company.

In 1969, the rent in Monmouth Street was too high for the business to survive. Fawdry moved Pollock’s to 1 Scala Street near Goodge Street Station.

In 1980, Fawdry maintained the museum in Scala Street and moved the business to the newly renovated Covent Garden Piazza.

In 1988, Fawdry sold the business to brothers Christopher and Peter Baldwin. Peter Baldwin had a collection of toy theatres and was best known for his role as Derek Walton in the long-running evening soap opera, Coronation Street. He had also managed the shop between acting jobs. A lady by the name of Louise Heard was working in the shop at this time. She, too, would play a role in developing the business.

In 2008, Christopher Baldwin retired. Louise Heard became co-owner along with Peter Baldwin. In 2010, the two opened a second Pollock’s Toy Shop at Hatfield House in Hertfordshire.

In 2015, Peter Baldwin died. Louise Heard continues to run both shops. Wikipedia tells us:

Today the shop produces its own range of toy theatres by contemporary artists such as Kate Baylay and Clive Hicks-Jenkins[19] which have been displayed at Liberty, Fortnum & Mason and the Royal Opera House. It sells reproduction and original toy theatres from around the world in addition to books, puppets, music boxes and other traditional toys.[9]

The museum and trust

Marguerite Fawdry’s grandson Eddy Fawdry currently runs the museum.

There is a Pollock’s Toy Museum Trust which helped to populate the inventory at the museum. They are no longer interested in receiving toy donations, only stories. Their main web page also states:

The trust’s collection remains there, although we have been prevented from having free use of it for the benefit of the public, as our trust deed requires us to do.

However, the museum’s contact page states:

Please note that if you come across a site calling itself Pollock’s Toy Museum Trust, this is not the museum, please ignore it.

The Trust are no longer connected to the museum but continue as a sort of strange purpose less entity!

The Pollock’s Toy Museum experience

I will never forget going to Pollock’s Toy Museum.

First, some practical information.

Getting there

By Tube, alight at Goodge Street Station.

When you exit the station at street level, take a left. At the corner, take another left. When you get to the next corner, take another left. That’s three lefts in total. The museum is at the end of the first block on the opposite side. You cannot miss its colourful exterior!

Admission and opening times

The museum is closed on Sundays and Bank Holidays.

If you want to go this weekend, it will have to be Saturday. But, don’t worry, it is likely to be quiet.

Their Contact page has more details on opening hours and admission prices.

Normal admission is £7 per person, with discounts for seniors and children. Credit cards accepted.

Other notes

There is no tour guide or attendant. Once you pay, you’re on your own.

The museum is in two old adjoining buildings — one from the 1780s and the other from the 1880s — with narrow staircases, which isn’t good for anyone with mobility issues.

The museum’s content is also not recommended for young children:

We recommend it for slightly older children and adults of all ages.

Nor would I recommend it to anyone who is triggered by weird looking toys. Seriously, anyone falling into that category will have nightmares.

It will take between 90 minutes and two hours to complete the museum in full. By that, I mean reading all the brief typewritten notes with the exhibits.

There are chairs in some rooms for those who need to sit down.

There is a restroom near the reception area.

Admission

We had a rather eccentric thirtysomething man at the entrance.

There were three of us and he gave us only one pamphlet to the museum.

My friends, who paid for me (thank you!), asked him, ‘Aren’t you going to give us two more pamphlets?’

He paused, looked at us and grudgingly gave us two more.

He had no personality at all, and I think he had a ‘problem’ of sorts. It’s a charitable act giving people like him a job.

The same went for the young woman who had taken his place by the time we left. I don’t think she could feasibly work anywhere else, either.

My friends said ‘Goodbye!’ on the way out and she just stared at us. Finally, she muttered ‘Goodbye’.

The pamphlet

The pamphlet is really helpful in guiding you from room to room.

Of course, they cannot list every type of exhibit, but the text only gives you a good summary of what you’re going to see.

That said, look carefully as you are going around, because there are some unmentioned gems on the walls and in the display cases.

Touring the museum

Everything is chocka with exhibits.

The first little room before the first staircase has mostly American toys from the 19th and early 20th centuries. All are described, including the provenance of the metal of the money boxes.

The first staircase shows that toys weren’t meant to be sources of fun and jollity. There are a number of 19th century — maybe slightly older — education aids for young children, who were expected to learn, not play. These large boards have pictures on them with a variety of small squares with aphorisms and other short items to memorise. The one I recall most vividly — and not mentioned in the pamphlet — is an Italian board depicting a schoolroom scene. A very comely schoolmistress is sitting behind a desk. A long switch is next to her. A little boy is sobbing his eyes out. The other children are quietly doing their schoolwork. Some of these boards depict scientific concepts children were meant to learn. I felt rather stupid looking at them. I’m not sure I learned those until a later stage at primary school.

If you pause on the landing and look opposite, you’ll see — if I remember rightly — Buzz Lightyear. That’s the most modern toy on display.

Things got more normal in the first room on the first floorthe boys’ den. There are Dinky toys (cars, delivery vehicles), train sets and tin soldiers. There are also a number of futuristic toys from the postwar era. Near the window are 19th century optical toys.

Going up the stairs to the second floor, you’ll see early board games as well as some modern ones. There are also some boys’ comic books that are at least a century old and folk toys from the Subcontinent.

The main room on the second floor is devoted to toy theatres, many of them from Pollock’s. You can also see a photo of Pollock there.

By the time you’re on the third floor, you’ve moved from the 1880s building into the one dating from the 1780s. The first room is devoted to dolls. You can see why they were out of the reach of most little girls two centuries ago. These are quite exquisite — and were very expensive. Don’t miss the 4,000 year old toy mouse from the banks of the Nile!

The next room has toy soldiers and teddy bears interspersed with a grand collection of dolls houses. I did not know that the late Victorians and Edwardians thought that little boys should have a masculine equivalent of a doll to comfort them; that’s where the idea of the teddy bear originated. The dolls houses are fascinating, even for men. One English father built his daughter a replica of the family home, complete with vehicles in the drive. The windows on the house open, and everything is exactly as it was in real life. She must have loved that.

The next room has more dolls from the first part of the 20th century. One of these is a black doll that belonged to a London girl who was from the West Indies. It’s got a great family story associated with it, the finer details of which I cannot remember well enough. Be sure to check it out.

There are also tea sets, prams, farm carts and more.

Again, nearly every room has an international collection, so it’s worthwhile looking at everything. The staircase leading down to the gift shop has a lot of toys from Africa and China.

The gift shop is okay, nothing to write home about.

The restroom is on the way out, just past the gift shop. It’s nice and clean.

Any visitor or Londoner who hasn’t visited Pollock’s Toy Museum should certainly consider adding it to their list of activities for a day out.

I want to go again. I think I’ll treat my English friend to an afternoon out.

For more information and photos, see TripAdvisor and Yelp reviews. That said, I disagree with everyone who says it needs updating. Egads. It most certainly does not! This is about the history of toys, not the latest trends. For that, head to Hamley’s, the toy shop in Regent’s Street.

Recently, my far better half and I had dinner at Villandry in Great Portland Street.

This central London restaurant is conveniently located near Great Portland Street Tube station.

With a Bank Holiday (three-day) weekend coming up, it is worth mentioning to those who are looking for a great lunch or dinner in town.

Overview

There are three Villandry restaurants at the moment: the one in Great Portland Street, Villandry St James’s and another at Bicester Village.

The restaurants use locally sourced ingredients wherever possible:

All our ingredients are ethically sourced and, wherever possible, local to London. Our meat comes from The Rare Breed Company and our fish comes from the Cornish coastline. We use free-range eggs and organic milks. Our sourdough organic bread is from Astons Bakery.

Although Villandry’s history blurb says that the first restaurant opened 20 years ago in Marylebone, I remember a Villandry café there in the early 1990s that was open only at lunch. My then-boss used to go there because it was close to the office where we worked. I left there in 1993. I recall that a Frenchwoman opened it. Menu items included pastries and high-end sandwiches. My boss liked it because it was one of the first cafés to prohibit smoking on the premises. That explains why I never went.

So, I do not know how to reconcile that part of Villandry’s history with the following (click on From the Business in the right hand column), other than to say that perhaps the current owner bought the business from the Frenchwoman:

Established in 2011.

Villandry’s first restaurant opened in Marylebone 20 years ago. Since then it has stepped away from the strictly French, dark wooded format, and has created light, modern Mediterranean inspired restaurants. The last 3 years of new ownership have been devotedly spent working on improving and evolving Villandry’s offering. We offer a light flexible all day dining menu at reasonable prices and our food is predominantly local and seasonal. Currently we have three Grand Cafés and several more are planned for Central London.

The Marylebone location closed and re-opened in Great Portland Street several years ago.

Villandry Great Portland Street serves breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and weekend brunch. (All include healthy options.)

Two types of dinner menu are available, based on whether you have booked a table for the café or the restaurant. The same holds true for desserts (café, restaurant).

Menus are seasonal.

Pastries and cakes are still very much part of Villandry’s identity. If you are lucky enough, you can buy some to take home. They were already sold out when we went.

To get a better idea of Villandry’s restaurants and atmosphere, check out their Twitter feed.

Reasonably priced wine list

Incredibly, especially for central London, Villandry Great Portland Street has a remarkably reasonably priced wine — and cocktail — list.

Our bottle — ordered from the ‘From the Cellar — Once it’s gone, it’s gone’ page (8) — of Chateau Pey La Tour 2014 Réserve du Château Bordeaux Supérieur (Vignobles Dourthe) was £45. It’s no longer on the list, because we bought the last bottle.

Incidentally, we liked it so much, we ordered a case from a wine merchant the next day!

Villandry charged only a three-times mark-up on that bottle. Many London restaurants put a four- to five-times mark-up on wine, which is why SpouseMouse checks the wine list before we book anywhere in town. Restaurateurs make up for low food prices with high prices on wine.

I prefer the Great Portland Street wine list to that of their St James’s location, although the latter has better descriptions.

Our dinner

We booked in the restaurant and enjoyed dishes from the Winter menu. Depending on when you read this, that might have changed.

Both of us started with squid, both reasonably priced at £9 each.

SpouseMouse enjoyed the Salt and Pepper Squid, which was lightly floured, then deep fried and coated with the two seasonings. The tartare sauce was excellent and appeared to be home-made.

I plumped for the Chilli Squid with harissa mayonnaise which was a knockout. That was prepared similarly to the other squid dish but dusted with hot spices, which the mayonnaise complemented perfectly.

In fact, the harissa mayonnaise was so good, our waiter offered to bring me more with the ‘pail’ of sweet potato fries with my main course.

Now on to the main courses, both classically French in preparation.

SpouseMouse enjoyed the roast breast of Guinea fowl with coq au vin garnish and creamed potatoes, although the meat was just bordering on overdone.

I wanted fish and, rather than the sea bass, had the grilled lemon sole meunière, which came with buttered baby new potatoes. The two of us shared those.

The sweet potato fries were superb and came coated with plenty of cracked salt and pepper. The harissa mayonnaise complemented them perfectly.

The sole meunière was perfectly done in the traditional manner: lightly coated in flour and pan fried in beurre noisette (brown butter). I’m still thinking about it. One thing to note is that it arrives at table on the bone, but comes off easily. Be sure to turn the fish over to get to the meat on the other side. I was not asked whether I would like it off the bone but imagine that, if one asked nicely, the waiter would honour such a request.

Both of us would highly recommend our dishes, all of which were perfectly seasoned — a rarity in the current low-salt era of dining.

We did not have room for dessert.

With wine (£45), our dinner came to £126. Money well spent. We would definitely return.

Atmosphere

It was quite interesting to see how Villandry Great Portland Street uses their space.

The display counter with the baked goods and chocolate is round and sits in the café area. From there, one walks through the bar, which accommodates those going for brunch. The bar leads to another room, which is a goodly sized restaurant. Off to one side of the restaurant is an alcove with plush booths.

We would recommend booking the restaurant not only for the menu but also for the traditional linen napery.

It was nice and quiet, too. We were given a choice of two tables, which is always helpful.

Our table overlooked Bolsover Street, which has really changed since I worked near there. Wow. It was definitely worth going out for a digestif ciggy break to wander around. Particularly intriguing was the Bolsover Hotel across the street. There’s so much going on in what used to be a rather sedate thoroughfare.

It’s also worth mentioning that the loos, located downstairs, are sparkling clean.

See TripAdvisor’s reviews for more information.

Service

We arrived on time and were welcomed by name, which added a pleasant touch.

Our junior waiter brought us menus, bread and water. There was no problem in asking for tap water.

Then there was a bit of a wait, but we noticed that the maître d’ was also delivering food.

After he took our order, things went at an improved pace and he took the time to talk about the wine, bring me harissa mayonnaise and enquired as to whether we liked our courses.

There is no need to tip as a 12.5% service charge is automatically added to the bill. I mention this, because I have read that some London restaurants have stopped this traditional practice.

Note on St James’s

Having looked at the Villandry St James’s menus and wine list, I would prefer to return to Villandry Great Portland Street for a better selection of both.

TripAdvisor’s reviews have more information.

Final notes

You can book a table directly through Villandry, which is what we did. It might be better than booking through a third-party site or app. Also, if there is an option to choose either the café or the restaurant, we would recommend the latter.

Incidentally, the wait staff wear traditional clothes and our maître d’ wore a jacket and tie.

Even though there is no dress code and people were very casually dressed in the café, we were in business clothes. That might have got us more attentive service in the restaurant. We noticed our wine was poured more often than at the tables where the couple wore more casual clothes.

In closing: go, go, go! You’ll have a great dining experience!

On Thursday, March 23, 2017, RMC (French talk radio) had a morning discussion on the London attack which occurred the day before.

Les Grandes Gueules (The Big Mouths) discussed the trend for vehicle terrorism, an ISIS-approved method which started with the July 14, 2016 attack in Nice. The Berlin Christmas market attack on December 19 was the next spectacular. On Wednesday, it was London:

The day after the London attack, Belgian police detained a man in Antwerp for driving at speed along a main pedestrian-only street. Reuters reported:

“At about 11 a.m. this morning a vehicle entered De Meir at high speed due to which pedestrians had to jump away,” a police spokesman told a news conference, referring to the street name.

He added the driver was later arrested and additional police and military personnel had been deployed to the center of Antwerp, but did not give any further details.

The Daily Mail reports that the attacker is French-Tunisian. The article has good accompanying photographs.

French media now call such attacks ‘low cost’ terrorism, meaning that no equipment other than a vehicle is required. The radio show panel debated on whether this was appropriate terminology. Opinion was divided. Some found it demeaning to the victims. Others thought it described the situation objectively.

Regardless, the London attack has raised the same reactions and the same questions of previous attacks.

American military veteran, author and film maker Jack Posobiec summed it up on Twitter:

An Englishman, Paul Joseph Watson, Infowars editor-at-large, tweeted:

He also made a short news video in which he put forth the inconvenient truth about the London attacks and others:

People have been speculating incorrectly on the significance of the date the London attack took place. Reuters has the answer (emphases mine below):

The mayhem in London took came on the first anniversary of attacks that killed 32 people in Brussels.

The article also stated that Khalid Masood — formerly Adrian Elms, then Adrian Ajao — whom police shot dead:

was British-born and was once investigated by MI5 intelligence agents over concerns about violent extremism, Prime Minister Theresa May said on Thursday.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement issued by its Amaq news agency. But it gave no name or other details and it was not clear whether the attacker was directly connected to the group.

Police arrested eight people at six locations in London and Birmingham in the investigation into Wednesday’s lone-wolf attack that May said was inspired by a warped Islamist ideology.

About 40 people were injured and 29 remain in hospital, seven in critical condition, after the incident which resembled Islamic State-inspired attacks in France and Germany where vehicles were driven into crowds.

The assailant sped across Westminster Bridge in a car, ploughing into pedestrians along the way, then ran through the gates of the nearby parliament building and fatally stabbed an unarmed policeman before being shot dead. tmsnrt.rs/2napbkD

“What I can confirm is that the man was British-born and that some years ago he was once investigated by MI5 in relation to concerns about violent extremism,” May said in a statement to parliament.

So far, four people have died:

It was the worst such attack in Britain since [July 7] 2005, when 52 people were killed by Islamist suicide bombers on London’s public transport system. Police had given the death toll as five but revised it down to four on Thursday.

Some found it strange that the March 22 London attack took place on the same day that Turkey’s president Tayyip Erdogan said:

that Europeans would not be able to walk safely on the streets if they kept up their current attitude toward Turkey, his latest salvo in a row over campaigning by Turkish politicians in Europe.

While that is strange, it probably remains a coincidence. Erdogan is angry with the Netherlands and Germany at the moment.

Once again, we have the lone-wolf narrative. Patently wrong, as it has been in other terror attacks. Notice Reuters says police arrested eight people. Therefore, how could it have been a lone-wolf operation?

On the notion of normalising terror in big cities, Tucker Carlson had this to say:

Although it sounds clichéd, it is true that prayer — public and private — help greatly at a time like this.

We can pray for the families and friends of victims PC Keith Palmer, fatally stabbed by the attacker, as well as the two civilians who died: Aysha Frade (wife and mother of two daughters), Kurt Cochran (an American tourist, husband and father) and the latest victim, a 75-year-old man. We can pray for Mrs Cochran, who was injured in the attack and is in hospital. We can pray for the 40 injured. Their lives will never be the same again. They will need God’s help for physical and mental recovery.

In closing, The Sun has an excellent set of photographs which tell the horrific story of the March 22, 2017 attack.

What a week for interesting news going all the way back to Abraham Lincoln!

Here’s a selection of what was in the media. Emphases mine below.

Prolonged childhood problematic

Charlotte Gill, a young woman writing for The Spectator, deplores games such as Pokémon Go and Candy Crush as well as games franchises, e.g. Nintendo. These products distract too much from real life which young adults should be embracing:

I genuinely believed that my generation would get over Pokémon – that there would be a collective ‘growing up’ – but I was wrong. Data shows that 49 percent of Pokémon Go users are 25 or over

Such games are viewed as ‘a bit of fun’ – a nice distraction from the world. After all, who thinks about Isis when they’re searching for Pokémon? But I can see a wider issue about Generation Y and its obsessions; a huge denial about being adults. Frankly, it’s all a bit sad.

The trouble with all these baby hobbies is that they distract twentysomethings from doing something good with their lives. And, I know, we all deserve to have downtime and can even turn passions, like gaming, into a career. But for many young people, these enterprises become hugely absorbing, and steal the best years of their lives. The irony is that they will not know that this is happening; franchises with cute, sweet animals come across as harmless and nostalgic.

As a generation, we need to grow up. The world is becoming a more frightening, competitive place all the time; it has never been more important for young people to buck up, get some skills, even set up their own businesses, instead of indulging in the toys and franchises we should have left behind years ago …

The strange thing about all of these pursuits is that young people take pride in them. They think it’s funny to be trivial. It’s ironic, they say. In reality, it seems ignorant. Girlfriends complain to me about men who won’t commit in relationships; it’s no wonder, given that they live in a society that wants to immortalise childhood

Such pastimes are bread and circuses on a small scale. We could be approaching Idiocracy sooner than we think.

London Tube: attempted murder – terrorism or state of mind?

In December 2015, Muhiddin Mire attempted to slit a man’s throat at Leytonstone Tube station in east London.

He was given a life sentence on Monday, August 1 and will have to serve a minimum of eight-and-a-half years.

Law enforcement, barristers and doctors disagreed as to whether the cause was extremism or his mental state. During the attack, he yelled:

This is for my Syrian brothers. I’m going to spill your blood.

Police said that, given some of the content on Mire’s phone, he could have been influenced by extremist propaganda. However, the court heard that he was also suffering from paranoid schizophrenia at the time of the attack. Was his state of mind exacerbated by the extremist material?

In any event, he will start his sentence at Broadmoor Hospital in Berkshire.

Over the past few weeks I have read several letters to the editor in the UK and in France from mental health workers on recent terrorist/extremist attacks. These people are asking for an investigation into any psychotropic medication that those carrying out the attacks might have taken in the weeks and months beforehand.

It is a legitimate question, one that needs further investigation, especially in light of the American lady who met with a tragic and terrible death in Russell Square the night of August 3. Although police are no longer considering terrorism as a motive:

The Met Police’s assistant commissioner for specialist operations, Mark Rowley, said the investigation was increasingly pointing to the attack being “triggered by mental health issues”.

A 19-year-old is in police custody. Originally from Somalia, he lived in Norway before moving to the UK. Police say he is a Norwegian national.

Sky’s report proves what my late mother often said about London — it is the crossroads of the world. It’s worth reading to see the variety of names and nationalities.

Saturday night scare in London’s Camden Town

On Saturday, July 30, an alert member of the public contacted the Metropolitan Police about a suspicious vehicle in Camden Town, London’s nexus for young adults and hipsters.

At 10:50 p.m. police evacuated several pubs and clubs. The Mirror was one of two (that I can see) news outlets to carry the story. Their story pointed out:

It was a major operation on one of London’s busiest high streets at its peak time.

The Met sent in one of their police robots to investigate the car. The London Evening Standard story has a photo.

Fortunately, the car presented no threat. Police allowed night spots to reopen around midnight.

Well done to the quick reaction of the member of the public and the police.

Burger chain, bogus papers and bugs

The UK has several trendy burger chains, one of which is Byron. Its founders sold the business to an investment firm, Hutton Collins, for £100m in 2013.

On July 27, news emerged that immigration officials carried out a raid on several branches. That was on July 4. A Spanish newspaper in London, El Iberico, reported the story before MSM did. Over the past week, leftists bombarded certain branches of Byron with bugs and protests.

The Home Office had contacted Byron to say officials would be going in to their premises on July 4. Byron management sent notifications out to staff that health and safety training was going to take place that morning. As such, staff attendance was mandatory. The restaurant chain refused to comment on whether the health and safety training was set up under false pretence.

The Guardian published Byron’s statement on the incident:

It said: “We can confirm that several of Byron’s London restaurants were visited by representatives of the Home Office. These visits resulted in the removal of members of staff who are suspected by the Home Office of not having the right to work in the UK, and of possessing fraudulent personal and right to work documentation that is in breach of immigration and employment regulation.”

A Home Office source told the newspaper that 35 people were arrested in connection with the raid. They had come from Brazil, Nepal, Egypt and Albania.

The Left went into overdrive online and on the ground.

On Friday, July 29, two central London branches of the chain had to close. Activists smuggled in bags of insects into the Holborn and Shaftesbury Avenue sites. The Guardian reported:

In a joint statement published on Facebook, London Black Revs and Malcolm X Movement said the direct action was in response to the chain’s “despicable actions in the past weeks having entrapped waiters, back of house staff and chefs in collaboration with UK Border Agency”.

“Many thousands of live cockroaches, locusts and crickets [have been released] into these restaurants. We apologise to customers and staff for any irritation, however, we had to act as forced deportations such as this and others are unacceptable, we must defend these people and their families from such dehumanised treatment,” the statement said.

Obviously, these people do not believe in borders. No doubt, there are any number of anarchists among them.

The activists invited Huck‘s Michael Segalov along for the occasion:

On Thursday evening my phone vibrated, a number I’d never seen before had sent me a text.

“Dear Journalist, this is a tip-off”, it read, “info: 8000 locust, 2000 crickets, 4000 cockroaches. See you tomorrow night.”

The bug barrage went as planned. Customers scarpered. Those who were there might have left in panic, without paying. The rest of the night was one of lost income and massive clean-up. The manager of one of the branches was, quite rightly, angry. Segalov wrote:

I get it, sort of. This was his place of work, which was now a shambles, it wasn’t his fault that the raids had happened (he probably didn’t even know they were planned) and now his team were going to spend the night chasing crickets and picking cockroaches out the red-onion relish.

Outside, a female passerby reminded him that staff and the manager were going to have to deal with the mess, no one else. That said, this woman and Segalov think it was still worthwhile.

Why? The people arrested had forged paperwork. They entered the country illegally.

A huge protest of no-borders lefties took place on Monday, August 1 outside the Holborn branch. The Evening Standard reported that the branch was closed after they heard 1,300 protesters might attend. Police were on the scene. The Standard reported:

Byron said in a statement: “In response to the recent Home Office investigation, we would like to reiterate the following.

“Byron was unaware that any of our workers were in possession of counterfeit documentation until the Home Office brought it to our attention. 

“We carry out rigorous ‘right to work’ checks, but sophisticated counterfeit documentation was used in order to pass these checks.

“We have cooperated fully and acted upon the Home Office’s requests and processes throughout the course of their investigations: it is our legal obligation to do so. 

“We have also worked hard to ensure minimal impact on our customers while this operation was underway.”

Well stated.

Taking legitimate citizens’ jobs through forged papers is theft.

Jean-Claude Juncker’s little black book

The EU’s most disliked bureaucrat, Jean-Claude Juncker, told Belgium’s Le Soir that he has a little black book with all his enemies’ names in it.

The Guardian reported on the interview. Le Petit Maurice, as Juncker calls his notebook, serves as more of an aide-memoire than anything else. He thinks it is also a useful deterrent:

He would tell people attacking him: “Be careful. Little Maurice is waiting for you.”

On UKIP MEP Nigel Farage, Juncker:

claimed he respected the Ukip leader and found him “very funny” and erudite.

Yet, he said that he had not embraced Farage during the last European Parliament meeting in Strasbourg:

I whispered something in his ear that was not a compliment. The photos gave the impression that I embraced him.

Juncker has no plans to go anywhere. Juncker has no regard for European citizens. He wants an EU army to cope with the migration crisis, a perfect way to impose more control over us. He is upset that EU countries have not taken in more migrants and despises the reimposition of border controls in the Schengen Zone. I wrote at the end of May:

People like Jean-Claude Juncker are the reason why many Britons will vote for Brexit. Juncker and Co’s arrogance is unsurpassed.

In June, two days before the EU Referendum, I reminded readers of two of his most outrageous quotes:

On EU monetary policy

“I’m ready to be insulted as being insufficiently democratic, but I want to be serious … I am for secret, dark debates”

On British calls for a referendum over Lisbon Treaty

“Of course there will be transfers of sovereignty. But would I be intelligent to draw the attention of public opinion to this fact?”

Jean-Claude Juncker: another reason to be happy Brexit won.

The Khan controversy

For my readers who do not live in the United States, an attorney by the name of Khizr Khan spoke at the Democratic National Convention last week in Philadelphia, flanked by his wife in traditional dress.

The Khans came to the US from Afghanistan via the United Arab Emirates, where their son, Humayun, was born. The family became American citizens once they were eligible.

Humayun became a captain in the US Army and was killed in 2004 in Iraq when he was investigating a car fitted with an explosive device. Americans can be grateful for his honourable and courageous service.

At the DNC, Khizr Khan sharply took issue with Donald Trump’s policy on restricting or temporarily banning Muslim immigration until Homeland Security figures out what is going on.

Trump politely responded in television news interviews by saying the Khans would have been vetted — current policy — and admitted, were he in the Oval Office. However, the polemic continued from Democrats and Republicans, including Khan and Trump.

On July 31, Trump tweeted:

I was viciously attacked by Mr. Khan at the Democratic Convention. Am I not allowed to respond? Hillary voted for the Iraq war, not me!

Charles Hurt defended Trump’s position in a July 31 article for The Hill. Hillary supporters should note the following:

Stop for a moment and ask yourself how exactly the Clinton campaign arrived at the decision to trot out the Khan family in the middle of their highly-choreographed, exhaustively produced convention?

Were they just looking to give voice to the parents of a soldier? That would be a first. Did they want parents of anyone who had died abroad in the defense of their country? Gee, why not pick the parents of one of the fallen warriors who died defending the U.S. consulate in Benghazi? Oh, that’s right. They would have called Hillary Clinton a liar. Can’t have that.

No. Politicians like Hillary Clinton do not see people like Capt. Humayun Khan as a soldier who made the ultimate sacrifice on a foreign battlefield in defense of his country

Politicians like Hillary Clinton see him only a demographic, a dispensable political pawn to be scooted around an electoral map, the way generals used to move armies across giant maps of the lands they were invading.

Here’s the kicker:

Perhaps a better testimony from Khizr Khan would have been for him to talk about how Hillary Clinton was in the U.S. Senate when she voted to invade Iraq. Years later, after that position became politically unpopular, she changed her mind and joined new political forces to vacate all the land across Iraq that so many great American patriots like Capt. Humayun Khan had died for.

It was her vote that sent Capt. Khan to his death. And then it was her decisions later to render that sacrifice worthless.

Of course, the media will run and run with this one, whilst continuing to deprecate Patricia Smith who spoke at the Republican National Convention about her son Sean who died during Benghazi. Mrs Smith is right in saying that Hillary Clinton must come out with the truth. Mrs Smith said she was not even allowed to talk to people at the State Department; they told her she was not ‘immediate family’!

Abraham Lincoln’s letter to his stepbrother

And finally, a fascinating letter from Abraham Lincoln to his stepbrother John Daniel Johnston appeared on Real Clear Life this week.

Lincoln’s stepbrother had asked him for $80 in 1850, the year the letter was written. $80 in today’s money is a sizeable $2,424.24!

Lincoln minced no words in refusing the request. He reminded Johnston this was not the first time he had given him money:

but in a very short time I find you in the same difficulty again. Now this can only happen by some defect in your conduct. What that defect is, I think I know. You are not lazy, and still you are an idler … This habit of uselessly wasting time, is the whole difficulty; and it is vastly important to you, and still more so to your children, that you should break this habit. It is more important to them, because they have longer to live, and can keep out of an idle habit before they are in it easier than they can get out after they are in.

A shorter version should be printed on billboards (hoardings, for my British readers) and posters. It should be displayed on public thoroughfares and in schools. We have way too much idleness today. Idleness brings trouble. Remember when our parents and grandparents used to say, ‘The devil makes work for idle hands’?

He went on to acknowledge Johnston’s kindness to him and proposed that, if Johnson worked over the next five months, Lincoln would match the sum of his earnings dollar for dollar.

Kindle owners can find a book of Lincoln’s letters on Amazon. Maybe that has a follow-up.

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That’s all the news you might have missed over the past seven days.

Have a great weekend! May it be non-newsworthy except in the best possible way.

Readers of mine and admirers of Lleweton will enjoy this guest post from him about Fleet Street, which, until the 1990s, had been Britain’s journalistic home for nearly 300 years.

Llew has written guest posts before about Fleet Street and newspaper work:

Fleet Street, a lost Bohemia

Fleet Street’s cut and paste diplomacy

Llew’s post today concerns in part the controversial ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech by the well-known Conservative MP Enoch Powell. Powell was an erudite man and devoted MP. He was steeped in the Classics, having learned Greek and Latin in his childhood. He became a full professor of Greek at the age of 25. He also served his country during the Second World War, attaining the rank of brigadier. As he achieved so much during his lifetime, suffice it to say that Powell was a polymath.

Enoch Powell 6 Allan Warren.jpgPowell (pictured at left) hoped that, when he gave his ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in 1968, it would open up an honest nationwide discussion about immigration and integration, both of which concerned his Wolverhampton South West constituents in the Midlands. Like them, he believed that rapid immigration was harming integration into English society.

The title alludes to a line from Virgil’s Aeneid. Powell wrote:

As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see ‘the River Tiber foaming with much blood.’

It has been said that Powell used that line only as an expression of foreboding, not as a prediction of conflict.

He sent out advance copies of the speech so that it would not be ignored. Certain Conservative MPs, including future Prime Ministers Ted Heath (party chairman at the time) and Margaret Thatcher, criticised Powell’s speech. Whilst the British public thought Powell had said nothing untoward, the elites were damning.

Powell gave the speech just three days before the second reading of the Race Relations Bill in the House of Commons. Heath had sacked Powell from his shadow Cabinet position two days before the reading.

The speech is still controversial today as is Powell himself. Both are taboo subjects.

Powell left the Conservative Party for the Ulster Unionist Party and served as an MP for South Down from 1974 to 1987. He died in London in February 1998.

Someone who knew Powell wrote a long article about him for The Telegraph in November 1998. The author seems to have been a politician, but the archive post has no byline. In any event, this person wrote:

As I have noted, Enoch was no racist, but he was a nationalist in the best sense of the term – that is, a British patriot who also acknowledged and respected other nationhoods. This was surely why he understood so clearly and so early the European Common Market’s true nature and purpose. Like me, he had originally favoured EEC membership because of the benefits of opening up European markets to British trade. But in the late 1960s he changed his mind and started to emphasise the incompatibility between the root assumptions of the Treaty of Rome and British legal and national sovereignty.

Now onto Llew’s guest post, which touches on Powell’s speech and, briefly, the EU Referendum. It also includes an overview of classic journalism. Enjoy!

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The perils of copytasting

So much of the current political/moral climate brings back memories.

I don’t think I need to stress that I deplore racial hatred and discrimination. But one thing that I think links 1968 and now is that the working class world, under a Labour Government then, felt that its worries were not recognised or taken seriously and were even despised. We have seen that same sentiment recently in reaction to Brexit.

Because many Britons did not think the Labour Government was interested in their concerns, the Tories won the 1970 General Election. I remember winning a pint from a very left-wing Revise Sub-Editor for predicting that result. (Ironically, we got Ted Heath who took us into the EU!)

In April 1968 I was working as a Night Sub Editor at the Press Association (PA), similar to America’s Associated Press (AP), when Enoch Powell sent in an embargoed copy of his controversial ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech. That was during the Easter Recess that year. Easter fell on April 14.  Powell gave the speech on April 20.

The question that evening involved how much of the speech to print in the morning edition. Was it a minor story or a major one?

Determining what news runs in newspapers involves a process called copytasting. Editors and sub-editors – subs — decide what stories get covered and at what length.

I’ve done plenty of copytasting in my time. It’s always a gamble. I remember once we spiked a Ministry of Defence story about a new warship.  It was a rehash of an old announcement.  The MoD press officer, a former colleague, confirmed that. Then the Daily Telegraph led with the story the next day and we caught a rocket for not using it.

In my day the pecking order in a subs’ room at a daily newspaper or agency such as the PA, Daily Telegraph and the Leicester Mercury was:

Day or Night Editor

Deputy  “  “  “ (sometimes)

Chief Sub Editor

Copytaster

Those were Top Table positions. Also involved often would be a senior sub-editor known as the Splash Sub. Then there were the Down Table subs.

This is how the process worked.

The original copy first went from the reporter to the copytaster, who decided whether to use it, how much and marked it up.

He handed the copy to the Chief Sub who sometimes made more assessments.

Then the copy went to a Down Table Sub who followed the instructions, looked out for pitfalls, cuts, checks, etc. In my day this often involved complete rewrites.

The Down Table then passed his work to the Revise Sub–Editor, a Top Table sub, who checked through and could make more amendments before handing the copy to the printers.

When computers came in this was still the process, but it was done on the machine.

It may all be very different now.

With regard to the ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, I did not witness the exchange but was told that evening that the then Night Editor had looked at it and told the Night Chief sub to cut it to 300 words. I presume because of the nature of the Powell piece the Chief Sub involved the Night Editor from the start. The Chief Sub, a tough Glaswegian veteran of the Scottish Daily Express, insisted: ‘We’re using it in full.’ He won that argument.

It was the Night Editor who wanted to use 300 words and the Night Chief Sub who said every word should be used.  The default position of all subs in those days was to try to keep things as short as possible, within the confines of fairness.

I think, essentially the Night Editor, for whatever reason, didn’t pick up the seriousness of the Powell speech. It didn’t miss the awareness of the old sweat from the Scottish Daily Express. Real judgement. There were reports among my colleagues that evening that they had quite a row about it.

The subs had an ironic joke about their seniors on the Top Table or the ‘back bench’ paraphrasing their instructions as ‘Cut it to the bone and let the good stuff run’. The virtue of the system was – and I hope still is – that we reported events without slant, political or any other. In those days we also did frequent updates and summaries of running stories – and no computer copy and paste function. We were also, broadly speaking, an agency of record: Law Courts, criminal cases, both Chambers of Parliament, all sports, including horse racing, etc. etc. Output was enormous.

The PA, like the AP, Reuters and the AFP, served outlets all over the country and, via the foreign agencies, the world – from regional newspapers like the Falmouth Packet and the Southport Visiter (sic) to the national UK and Irish newspapers as well as the broadcasters – all via teleprinter and, in some cases, ‘train parcels’. Yes, really.

I often attended the early morning Holy Communion at St Bride’s when not working at Westminster. The vicar was the much admired Canon John Oates, who arrived in 1984. He helped to smooth the waters at a time when Fleet Street was undergoing dramatic change.

No. 85 Fleet Street was the HQ of PA and Reuters then. Metro International, publishers of the free newspaper Metro, are there now. Reuters moved to Canary Wharf along with some of the national newspapers, the Murdoch titles and the Telegraph. The PA stayed in central London, relocating to Vauxhall Bridge Road, not far from Victoria Station.

I started in local newspapers before that time. I think that is where my heart is still. To sell papers we needed to report what went on in the town or county. People loved reading about their community. I’ve many good memories of calling on vicars and pub landlords and eating cheese ‘cobs’ with parish councillors in their local pubs and Women’s Institute (WI) ladies, gathering their news and editing the reports they sent in on my own WI page.

The job involved day and evening coverage. If there was something to report, we went to it. And reported it. Yes, there was a romance about the job. Reporters are not funded, or allowed, to do that now.  I know that from my battles with the local press as a former volunteer press officer for a charity here. Not that I recall being paid overtime for my trips out of office hours. Four shillings for a lunch – around £5 today — with a contact was the max. It was not a lot.

Free newspapers, based on ad income, have been the ruin of truly local newspapers. It’s a great loss to community cohesion that this sort of coverage doesn’t happen anymore. Online local news does help keep the parish pump flowing but, to me, it’s not the same because it is only seen by initiates.

Times change. Newspapers change. Fleet Street, in journalistic terms, is a shadow of its former self. Only D.C. Thomson & Co., Metro International and the AP are there now. Modern computerised printing plants were built to the east of London in Wapping, hence the transfer of newspapers to Canary Wharf. The widespread use of the Internet has seen newspaper circulation decline. Most people receive their news online for free.

Looking back, I am pleased to have been part of local journalism and Fleet Street in their heyday. Despite the hectic pace – often there were days when stories and names blurred past because of the breakneck speed — those are memories to be treasured.

Image result for leopard skin kitten heelsJuly 14 is Bastille Day, but here in Britain it is May Day. We are interested in our new Prime Minister Theresa May and her Cabinet appointments.

Mrs May has long been associated with leopard skin kitten heel shoes which she wore several years ago at a Conservative Party conference. (Representative ones are shown at left.)

(Photo credits: mozimo.co.uk)

In fact, at the weekend, my better half and I spoke with an older local resident. This man told us, quite seriously (verbatim), ‘I do hope Mrs May wins the leadership contest. Oh, those kitten heel shoes … I do like a firm woman, one who knows what she’s about.’

My overseas readers might ask what happened to the Conservative leadership contest. This is how it all unfolded.

Andrea Leadsom’s miserable weekend

Last weekend, the other candidate running for Conservative Party leader, Andrea Leadsom, gave an interview to Rachel Sylvester of The Times.

Sylvester, incidentally, is married to the Diplomatic Editor of The Guardian, Patrick Wintour. Wintour’s sister Anna is the famous editor of the American edition of Vogue. Their late father, Charles, is best known for editing the London Evening Standard, although he also held similar senior positions at the Daily Express and The Times.

Sylvester asked Leadsom what set her apart from May. Leadsom, always interested in children, answered, in part:

… genuinely, I feel being a mum means you have a very real stake in the future of our country, a tangible stake. She possibly has nieces, nephews, lots of people. But I have children who are going to have children who will directly be a part of what happens next … so I have a real stake in the next year, the next two.

The interview made The Times‘s front page. A media storm ensued. Leadsom tweeted that the quotes were ‘truly appalling’ and the exact opposite of what she actually said. Sylvester defended her interview, claiming that Leadsom was the one who brought children into it. However, renowned political blogger Guido Fawkes (Paul Staines) listened to the transcript and said that Sylvester wove motherhood into her question, something the journalist later admitted in a BBC interview. Fawkes concluded (highlights in the original):

Goes without saying that Leadsom completely denies raising the issue, calling the claim “gutter journalism”. The only way to establish whether or not Andrea Leadsom has been stitched up is to release the full recording – something The Times is refusing to do…

On Saturday, July 9, Leadsom gave a press conference from her home in Northamptonshire at which she said:

Everyone has an equal stake in the future of our country.

However, it was too late. Several Conservative MPs — men and women — criticised Leadsom’s remark on motherhood.

By Sunday, Leadsom admitted to The Telegraph‘s Alison Pearson that she felt:

under attack, under enormous pressure. It has been shattering.

By lunchtime on Monday, July 11, Leadsom announced she was dropping out of the leadership contest.

That afternoon, David Cameron made a brief announcement, saying that a new Prime Minister would be in place by Wednesday evening. He walked back to No. 10, unaware that the microphones were still on. This is what the world heard:

The Telegraph noted:

Somehow, it sounded half-mournful, half-jaunty. It was strangely touching. 

It was a very human moment. It brought a smile.

Speaking of which, July 11 marked the first time the British public saw Theresa May smile (see picture at the top of the Telegraph link). Finally, we saw another side to the ‘steely’ Home Secretary who had served the nation for six years.

Cameron’s final hours

On the afternoon of Tuesday, July 12, an empty removals van arrived at 10 Downing Street:

Simply Removals will no doubt be getting a lot of new business.

This may look trivial, but it is important in the British psyche with regard to a new Prime Minister. It represents the beginning of the transfer of power from one to another. I remember in November 1990 when John Major was announced as Margaret Thatcher’s successor. My colleagues explained that nothing would happen until the removals van arrived.

On Wednesday, Cameron presided over his last PMQs (Prime Minister’s Questions). It was a witty, informative and heart-warming 45 minutes, including those questions and remarks from Leader of the Opposition, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, who wore a tie. Cameron remarked upon it in the nicest possible way to much laughter from the benches.

Conservative MPs thanked Cameron for his achievements and some mentioned particular instances in their own constituencies, particularly the sharp drop in unemployment in certain parts of England.

Even a handful of Labour MPs thanked Cameron for his service.

At the end, the Conservatives gave him a standing ovation. All the Labour MPs heartily applauded him.

Afterwards, Cameron returned to spend a few hours at No. 10 before he gave his farewell speech around 4:45 p.m. His wife Samantha and their three children stood off to the side. Cameron recalled how his youngest, Florence (in Samantha’s womb when Cameron first entered No. 10 in May 2010) once climbed into his red ministerial box when she was little and begged him to take her along on one of his trips. He said that his two older children were known to kick the red boxes, they were so frustrated with their father’s absences from home.

The children, rightly, looked nervous. They had never been in the public eye until now.

Cameron also detailed his many achievements as Prime Minister — a lengthy list. We were blessed to have had him in that post for six years.

Just before 5 p.m., the Cameron family left No. 10 for Buckingham Palace. David and Samantha were in one car and the children in another.

The Queen’s role

Even more important than the removals van was the constitutional step of the outgoing Prime Minister asking the Queen for permission to resign.

This is a formality nowadays, since the successor has already been chosen by the political party, whether Conservative or Labour. However, it was not always so. When the Queen first ascended to the throne, the BBC News panel covering the afternoon’s events said that she used to seek advice from party grandees — the most senior MPs and advisers — on whom would be best placed to become the next Prime Minister. One Royal Family reporter said that this stopped in the 1960s after the Palace had a hand in the appointment of Anthony Eden — responsible for the Suez crisis in 1956 — and Alec Douglas-Home who served for only one year.

It is unlikely that the Queen would refuse a Prime Minister’s resignation. Nonetheless, she must be asked. The outgoing Prime Minister then recommends his or her successor to her. Again, these days, it is unlikely she would refuse that person.

In fact, Theresa May and her husband were already in a car waiting outside the Houses of Parliament. The driver awaited instructions from the Palace to leave. As soon as the Cameron family was being driven away — in black cars, no longer the silver Prime Ministerial ones — the car with the Mays pulled up in the forecourt.

The Queen spent a good half hour with David Cameron. Much of that was a private conversation between the two, then the whole family had an audience with her.

The monarch spent the same amount of time with Theresa May, again most of that privately, then with her husband included for a general conversation.

The Queen already knows Theresa May somewhat because, as Home Secretary, she was part of the Privy Council which meets with her at the Palace.

The Queen would have asked her to form a government. When the Queen issues this request of an incoming, consenting Prime Minister, that person must ‘kiss hands’ with her. In May’s case, this was a shake of the hands and a deep curtsey, à la Margaret Thatcher.

It is possible that the Queen asked May questions about the future government and its direction, although we will never know. Revealing private conversations of that nature is strictly forbidden.

The BBC panel said that, when the Queen was younger, she found the advice of Prime Ministers extremely helpful. That later turned into the Queen’s advising her Prime Ministers. The relationship is that of a CEO (PM) reporting to the Chairman (the Queen).

Theresa May is the 13th Prime Minister to serve under the Queen. It is interesting that she also was granted that position on July 13.

Like her predecessors, May will be expected to meet weekly with the Queen when Parliament is in session. The early Wednesday evening time — Cameron’s — might continue. We can but see.

The Mays left Buckingham Palace shortly before 6 p.m. in the silver Prime Ministerial car. They were in place at No. 10 in time for the evening news.

Security detail

Security cars and motorcycles escorted the Camerons and the Mays to and from Buckingham Palace.

The Camerons, like other former Prime Ministerial families or couples, will continue to have security detail in future.

Theresa May’s address to the nation

Theresa May no sooner got out of the car with her husband Philip when she addressed the people of Great Britain. Philip stood off to the side.

The Spectator has the full transcript, most of which follows. It sounds very centrist if not Labour-like. Excerpts follow (emphases mine):

I have just been to Buckingham Palace, where Her Majesty the Queen has asked me to form a new government, and I accepted. In David Cameron, I follow in the footsteps of a great, modern Prime Minister … David Cameron has led a one nation government, and it is in that spirit that I also plan to lead. Because not everybody knows this, but the full title of my party is the Conservative and Unionist Party. And that word unionist is very important to me.

It means we believe in the union, the precious, precious bond between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But it means something else that is just as important, it means we believe in a union not just between the nations of the United Kingdom, but between all of our citizens, every one of us, whoever we are and wherever we are from. That means fighting against the burning injustice that if you’re born poor you will die on average nine years earlier than others. If you’re black, you’re treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than if you’re white. If you’re a white, working class boy, you’re less likely than anybody else in Britain to go to university. If you’re at a state school, you’re less likely to reach the top professions than if you’re educated privately. If you’re a woman, you will earn less than a man. If you suffer from mental health problems, there’s not enough help to hand. If you’re young, you’ll find it harder than ever before to own your own home …

If you’re from an ordinary working class family, life is much harder than many people in Westminster realise. You have a job but you don’t always have job security. You have your own home but you worry about paying the mortgage. You can just about manage, but you worry about the cost of living and getting your kids into a good school. If you’re one of those families, if you’re just managing, I want to address you directly. I know you’re working around the clock, I know you’re doing your best and I know that sometimes life can be a struggle. The Government I lead will be driven, not by the interests of the privileged few, but by yours. We will do everything we can to give you more control over your lives. When we take the big calls, we’ll think not of the powerful, but you

As we leave the European Union, we will forge a bold, new, positive role for ourselves in the world, and we will make Britain a country that works not for a privileged few, but for every one of us.

That will be the mission of the Government I lead. And together, we will build a better Britain.

This is a very good outcome for the nation in just under three weeks from the EU Referendum result and Cameron’s resignation.

Tomorrow: more about Theresa May and her Cabinet

Sadiq Khan.jpgOn Thursday, May 5, 2016, England, Wales and Scotland held local elections.

(Photo credits: Wikipedia)

New London mayor

London now has a Labour mayor who is also a Muslim, Sadiq Khan. As French radio station RMC put it in their newscasts that day (translated):

London, Europe’s most cosmopolitan city, is on course to elect its first Muslim mayor.

The next day, one of RMC’s talk shows took a listener’s poll asking if they could envisage French voters doing the same. One woman rang in to complain that the question was ‘racist’. In any event, 78% voted ‘yes’ and 22% ‘no’.

Khan, the son of a bus driver and born in Tooting (South London), won largely on the housing issue. London property is frightfully expensive and many people are forced out of the market, either as buyers or renters. Although I did not follow the campaign closely, when I did pick up a copy of the London Evening Standard, the Khan soundbites of the day were about affordable and available housing. And ‘son of a bus driver’ was in every article.

It is unlikely that anything will change in a significant way immediately, however, over time, who knows? It is possible that we will see a certain amount of vocal social polarisation popping up in the coming weeks with a mayor whom a significant percentage of London’s population sees as one of their own.

Zac Goldsmith MP at 'A New Conversation with the Centre-Right about Climate Change'.jpgKhan’s opponent was Zac Goldsmith, the highly popular Conservative MP for Richmond Park. Goldsmith’s sister Jemima was married for several years to the cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan. During that time she lived in Pakistan and still holds dual nationality with that country and the UK. One of their sons helped Goldsmith campaign in Muslim neighbourhoods. Imran Khan’s name still has a lot of pull and meeting his son went down well but, in the end, not quite well enough. Nor did questions about some of Sadiq Khan’s associations.

Jemima Goldsmith tweeted her congratulations to the new mayor and, in a separate tweet, wrote:

When Khan’s predecessor Boris Johnson won re-election as Mayor of London in 2012, pundits predicted that it was highly unlikely that another Conservative would be elected to that post in 2016. And so it happened. One reason is the natural political cycles from right to left and back again. Another is demographic; the city has many more Labour voters who are diluting what used to be the doughnut of outer boroughs which voted overwhelmingly Conservative.

Scotland

A dramatic reversal of fortune for Labour took place in Scotland. For the first time in years, the Conservatives have become the second most prominent party, knocking Labour off that spot. The SNP, representing independence, also no longer has an overall majority in the Scottish Parliament.

Incidentally, it is interesting that these three political parties are headed by women.

Wales

Incredibly, UKIP — the UK Independence Party — won seven seats in the Welsh Assembly.

One of the newly elected UKIP Assembly Members has blamed Cardiff’s increased litter on Eastern European immigrants, although he was unable to back up his assertions with any data.

Labour still hold the majority of seats (29), and Plaid Cymru (pron. ‘Plied Come-ree’) have 12, nudging the Conservatives into third with 11.

England

Despite doubts over Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, their mayoral and council losses were not as dramatic as some pundits predicted.

That said, UKIP managed to win six council seats in Thurrock, Essex (east of London), sapping the Labour vote. This puts them on level pegging with the Conservatives. Each party has 17 seats. Labour have 14 seats and an Independent councillor has one.

Our next national election will be on June 23, as we vote whether to leave or remain in the European Union.

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