22 December 2013 Pottering

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. Troutbridge has to take part in a Navy exercise, can she avoid hitting anything? Priceless.

Potter around, post a book

Scrabbletoday Mary wins and gets under 400, Perhaps I will win tomorrow.



David Coleman – obituary

David Coleman was a journalist who became the face and voice of BBC Sport as the anchorman of Grandstand and the affable host of A Question Of Sport

David Coleman, who has died aged 87, was the face and voice of BBC Television sport for 40 years, the anchorman for the flagship Grandstand programme on Saturday afternoons and later the affable host of the popular quiz A Question Of Sport.

Until retiring in 2000 he had also covered every football World Cup since Sweden hosted it in 1958, and all 11 Olympic Games since 1960, as well as presenting Grandstand and Sportsnight With Coleman for a total of 14 years.

With his prodigious memory, no-nonsense manner, total command of his brief and infectious and unfailing enthusiasm, Coleman came to define BBC sport as a world-class brand. Ever the critical observer, he was always more than a detached bystander and never flinched from barking out blunt and often controversial opinions about the sporting — and occasionally unsporting — spectacle unfolding before him.

In the brawling 1962 football World Cup encounter between Chile and Italy, for example, which became known as the Battle of Santiago, the first foul was 12 seconds in, and the first sending off came after only eight minutes. “The most stupid, appalling, disgusting and disgraceful exhibition of football, possibly in the history of the game,” was Coleman’s indignant on-air verdict.

But it was as a commentator on spectacular sporting endeavours that he made his mark, his “garrulous gurgle” (as The Daily Telegraph once put it) adding presence to the big occasion. He seized the commentator’s art from the deferential, plummy-voiced, moustachioed phrase-makers of old on behalf of the modern Everyman in the crowd, flat northern vowels and all. “He is the cloth-cap supporter standing on the terrace,” said his long-time producer, Alec Weeks.

Then there was his incredible eye for the action itself. In athletics, that meant separating out a squad of sprinters and calling the result in less time than it takes to read this paragraph. “His race-reading of successive Olympic 100 metres finals — identifying eight men tearing straight at him in a 10 second blur — was,” agreed The Guardian’s Frank Keating, “a party-piece of splendour”.

When Ann Packer won the 800 metre final at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Coleman’s voice characteristically cracked with emotion as she crossed the line. In the supercharged excitement of David Hemery’s 400 metres hurdle race at the 1968 Mexico Olympics, Coleman was said to achieved the remarkable machine-gun delivery rate of 200 words per minute.

As Hemery himself put it: “His voice actually engenders some of the adrenaline that people identify with, and he can create such a spirit of excitement that it helps people to live in the moment.”

To Coleman’s displeasure, his faintly adenoidal tones, chirpy studio presence (which failed to mask an air of tension as he tried to concentrate on what his producer was shouting in his earpiece) and sometimes manically banal observations were so much imitated that he became something of a figure of fun. He was mercilessly sent up in Spitting Image where the puppet Coleman fidgets in his chair, fiddles with his earpiece and keeps saying: “Er… er… ” and “…quite remarkable!”

The satirical magazine Private Eye coined the neologism “Colemanballs” as a generic term for his and other commentators’ gaffes and unfortunate on air turns of phrase.

The most celebrated slip ascribed to Coleman was the observation that [the Cuban runner] “Juanjareno opens his legs and shows his class” — although in fact this was uttered by the athletics commentator Ron Pickering. When Britain’s David Hemery won a gold medal in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics it was Coleman who yelled into the microphone “…and who cares who’s third?” In fact it was another Briton, John Sherwood, who had won the bronze. Sherwood was not happy, but forgave him.

Another gaffe that haunted Coleman was calling the hole-in-the-heart footballer Asa Hartford “a whole-hearted player”. Yet another was his comment: “Forest are having a bad run — they’ve lost six matches without winning.”

Although Coleman spread his talents and sporting knowledge thinly — many found his profound ignorance of racing exposed annually at the Grand National especially irritating — he was, for all the sneers, a highly professional broadcaster. Renowned for his impatience and explosive temper with people less fastidious than himself, Coleman always managed to remain calm — and even bland — on screen.

He made his name on Grandstand where his ad libs and mastery of football trivia standing alongside the teleprinter as the football results came in revealed remarkably acute and detailed research. But he became frustrated by being always studio-bound and yearned for a new challenge. In 1967, however, after repeated wooing by ITV, he signed a new seven-year BBC contract at £10,000 a year, making him the highest-paid broadcaster in television sport.

Coleman’s epic hour in journalism came in 1972 with his prolonged and sombre vigil, working off just one distant fixed camera, during the unfolding of the Munich Olympics atrocity. He had gone to bed at 5am after a drink or two and was woken four hours later to be told that Black September terrorists had taken Israeli athletes hostage in the Olympic village.

For the next two days, as nine Israeli hostages were murdered, Coleman continued to broadcast single-handedly and live from the Munich studio in a 30-hour tour de force — at one stage he interviewed an Israeli weightlifter who, still in his pyjamas, had escaped through a downstairs window.

Drawing on his early journalistic training, Coleman demonstrated a grasp of drama and detail that could turn in a moment into impeccable, measured, sensitive reportage.

The episode took its toll on him. “I didn’t find it very easy to get restarted,” he reflected. “The thought of shouting about a race as if it mattered at all so soon after this was too much.” The following year he left the BBC and moved with his family to Barbados to consider offers from several American broadcast networks, but was back five months later, saying he had decided to stay.

On his return he found that Frank Bough — with whom his relations were never cordial — had replaced him in the Grandstand presenter’s chair; Sportsnight, meanwhile, had been taken over by Harry Carpenter. Coleman sued the BBC, saying he was not being given enough top sports to cover, and once the dispute had been “amicably” settled became a specialist commentator in the field on track events in athletics and on football.

After a couple of years in the doldrums, Coleman bounced back to mainstream popularity as presenter the relentlessly good-humoured A Question of Sport, the quiz programme that first ran for a record 18 years from 1979 .

David Robert Coleman was born on April 26 1926 at Alderley Edge, Cheshire, and educated at Stockport Grammar School. Having heard a radio commentary from the 1936 Berlin Olympics when he was 10, the young man was determined to be a 1500m gold medallist and in 1949 became the only non-international to win the famous Manchester Mile. But when a hamstring injury put an end to his athletic ambitions, he turned to journalism as a career.

During his National Service as a PE instructor with the Royal Corps of Signals, Coleman worked on the Army newspaper Union Jack, and on his discharge joined Kemsley Newspapers. He worked as a cub reporter on the Stockport Express, earning 15 shillings a week. Covering Stockport County reserves for the paper, he was once recruited to make up the numbers when they were a man short. Later he admitted that the Fourth Division club’s result was always the first he looked for on the chattering Grandstand teleprinter every Saturday.

At 22 he became editor of the Cheshire County Press — one of the youngest in the country. On one occasion in the editor’s chair he was assaulted by an irate councillor, stories of whose professional malpractice he had run in the paper.

In 1953 he started freelance radio work in Manchester and the following year joined the BBC in Birmingham as a news assistant. Having made his first television broadcast on Sportsview in May 1954 on the day Roger Bannister became the first runner to break the four-minute mile, Coleman was appointed sports editor, Midland Region, in November 1955.

After the editor of Sportsview, Paul Fox, had seen him interview the footballer Danny Blanchflower on regional television, Coleman transferred to London. In 1958 the BBC’s Head of Sport, Peter Dimmock, offered Coleman the frontman’s job on the new sports magazine programme, Grandstand.

“It was Grandstand that showed how skilled and flexible he was on screen,” Fox recalled. “He was able to listen to the producer’s talkback in his ear, walk across the studio talking sense and then either lead into the next event or sight-read the football results. It was the master at work and it was a joy to watch him.”

Coleman became the BBC’s lead commentator on Match of the Day, which had become a Saturday night institution since its first broadcast in 1964. Because the role took him all over the country, the BBC laid on a four-seater aircraft to fly him to and from his home in Buckinghamshire to the various fixtures, a weekly regime that instilled in him a fear of flying. By 1968 the BBC had started to build its sports programmes around him, making him the star of the midweek Sportsnight With Coleman magazine show.

At the Mexico Olympics of that year, Coleman caused a stir when a tape was leaked of his intemperate outburst against his hapless director during a camera rehearsal. “Jonathan, Jonathan, keep it simple,” Coleman was heard to exclaim. “You’ve got a bloody zoom there, and a camera that’s racing all over the bloody studio. I mean, Christ Almighty, you’d do better on one camera, for God’s sake.

“Get into your original position… I mean, don’t try and be bloody clever… Keep your camera still now… bloody chattering all the way through it. Get your bloody finger out… I’ve never seen such a bloody carnival in my life. Right.” [Cues jaunty music].

In 1971, when Kenneth Wolstenholme left the BBC after failing to agree the terms of a new contract, Coleman took over as chief football commentator. After being replaced by Des Lynam as Grandstand presenter in 1984, Coleman concentrated on his speciality of televised athletics.

As a leading member of the BBC team, Coleman shared the International Olympic Committee’s Golden Rings Award for the best television broadcaster at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. He was appointed OBE in 1992 for services to broadcasting and was the recipient of the judges’ award for sport at the 1996 Royal Television Society awards.

In 2000, the year he retired, Coleman was invested into the Olympic Order, the highest honour of the Olympic movement, the first broadcaster or journalist to be so honoured.

“Without doubt, the finest broadcaster the world of sport will ever know,” was the verdict of his producer, Alec Weeks. In a poll for The Daily Telegraph in 1996, readers named Coleman as sport’s greatest commentator. “In the end,” Coleman himself modestly noted, “I’m just a journalist. That’s what it says on my passport.”

David Coleman is survived by his wife, Barbara, and their six children.

David Coleman, born April 26 1926, died December 21 2013






Henry Porter is absolutely correct that creativity in the workplace is being stifled by conformity, but the roots of this malaise are long and deep (“Deadly conformity is killing our ingenuity. Let’s mess about more“, Comment). Since the 1980s, rampant “managerialism” has become entrenched in many organisations, especially in the public sector. Constant politically driven attempts at improving accountability, efficiency or value for money have resulted in the erosion of employee autonomy and professional creativity, subordinating staff to relentless business plans, corporate strategies, centrally imposed targets and preparation for repeated audits or inspections.

In this regime, replete with layers of middle managers and strategic co-ordinators, individual creativity and imagination are eviscerated. If an activity or idea cannot be measured or monitored by administrators or bean-counters, or ascribed a monetary value, then it is discouraged or ignored.

Pete Dorey


Heartfelt hurrah for the state

Professor Mariana Mazzucato’s article (“Let’s rethink the idea of the state: it must be a catalyst for big, bold ideas“, Comment) demolishes the all too widely held view that private is always good, public is always bad, which has resulted from decades of rightwing propaganda. Is it too much to hope that before the next election the Labour party and perhaps even the Liberal Democrats will take up her ideas for a programme of forward-thinking public spending?

Dr Peter Slade


Saatchi tweets explained

In his article about the Saatchi and Lawson bust-up (“What does a chap have to do to be ostracised?”, Comment), Nick Cohen writes that my reactions to the publication of the photographs of Charles Saatchi grabbing Nigella Lawson by the throat added up to jaunty acceptance of domestic violence and that I viewed the case as “a shameful invasion of Saatchi’s privacy which Lord Justice Leveson should investigate”. As a result of my reaction, “champagne corks were popping” for me in Cork St.

None of this is true. I did tweet the view that the taking of photographs by paparazzi was a form of violence, which is something I still believe. But that opinion was expressed on Twitter before I saw the pictures of Saatchi with his hand around Nigella’s throat, not after, as Cohen implies. Had I seen the photographs, I would not have tweeted what I did.

Just to be clear, I do not think domestic violence is a minor issue. Nor do I believe the photographs showed acceptable behaviour between a man and a woman. To suggest otherwise is to mislead the public about my views and to imply motives in my tweets that were never there.

Waldemar Januszczak

London N6

Our art’s in the right place

I fail to understand why our ambition to see Scotland as one of the world’s most creative nations should be deemed a problem (“Why Creative Scotland needs a kick up the arts“, Kevin McKenna). There is an artistic vibrancy in this country. born out of inherent respect for intrinsic cultural worth.

We have not declared, as Mr McKenna states, that we want to “spend significantly more on film and television”. We will develop our approach to film funding once we have agreed our film strategy in response to a review scheduled for publication early next year. It’s clear that Mr McKenna did not enjoy either Sunshine on Leith or Filth, but we hope he will find something more to his liking among the huge range of creative work that we support. Last year, we funded 1,500 different organisations, individuals and projects.

For clarity: the Creativity Portal provides support for teachers – the feedback that we have received from them has been highly positive; an application for funding from Previously…, Scotland’s history festival, was rejected because it was among 109 that we had to consider, with requests totalling £3.9m. Our funding budget was £1.4m and consequently we had to make some difficult decisions.

Janet Archer

CEO, Creative Scotland

This shameful gender bigotry

Universities UK should hang its collective head in abject shame (“Segregation by gender has no place in the public realm“, Comment). Religious belief systems routinely encourage hatred, fear and ignorance, but towering above all this medieval scaffold is Misogyny, yes, with a capital M – the loathing of women. The idea that universities in a secular, democratic society should comply with the inhuman demands of bigots is beyond belief.

Max Fishel


No need to take notes

It seems anything on film these days has to have music to accompany it (“Synthesisers are killing movie and TV music, say composers“, News). Documentary-makers are particularly guilty of assaulting our ears with highly intrusive, monotonous and repetitive “music”. What’s wrong with a bit of silence now and then?

Roger Lennard

Aston Clinton


Back proposals on toxic waste

The staggeringly rapid growth of the dangerous and often poisonous e-waste mountain should be a wake-up call to manufacturers and the governments whose job it is to regulate them (“‘Huge surge’ in dumping of toxic ‘e-waste‘”, News).

Your editorial “We must design gadgets that don’t poison the planet” rightly highlights the need for companies to be challenged to rethink how they make their products, in order to use precious natural resources more efficiently. That means ensuring they source metals in ways that protect people and the environment, and designing gadgets so they can be easily repaired and upgraded, to give them a longer shelf-life. The life of a typical phone is just 18 months.

The EU is currently debating plans to make companies report on the huge social and environmental impacts of making new electronic products, from mines to factories to disposal. A strong law would give electronics companies an incentive to redesign products and business models, drastically reducing e-waste. MEPs must persuade the UK government to back these proposals, instead of UK ministers attempting to water them down.

Andy Atkins

Executive director

Friends of the Earth

London N1


Whether or not we reintroduce grammar schools, all children should have the chance to benefit from a grammar school curriculum (“Ofsted chief declares war on grammar schools“, News).

A school that does not offer GCSEs in German and physics (for example) is limiting the career potential of its pupils. Although these subjects can be studied ab initio at A-level, or even at university, by then it is far too late to achieve an internationally competitive standard. Many such “specialist” subjects have become the preserve of fee-paying schools.

Language or science academies are not the solution, because they are not geographically fairly distributed and presuppose career choice at the age of 11. Equally, it is unrealistic to expect all schools to maintain specialist staff in subjects such as geology or Mandarin. Every local authority should establish one centrally sited school that offers a spectrum of subjects and is open to all. There would be no additional funding and no entrance exam. But the underlying ethos would be the strong expectation that students aim for academic excellence.

Dr Mark Ellis


Sir Michael Wilshaw states that it is a nonsense that only 3% of children who receive free school meals attend grammar schools when 16% of all children are eligible for free school meals.

Sir Michael is clearly not aware of the evidence of research. Most children who enter grammar schools achieve level 5 in national key stage 2 tests taken in the final year of primary school, but free school meal children are two-and-a-half times less likely to attain that level than other children in their age group. It is this underachievement that is the biggest factor in the numbers of FSM children attending grammar schools.

Of those who do achieve level 5, about 40% gain a grammar school place compared with 67% for other children with similar attainment. The Grammar School Heads’ Association has been working with DfE on this issue. It would take just one more FSM child in each year 7 group entering each of the 164 grammar schools to close the access gap between FSM children and other level 5 children.

Barry Sindall

Chief executive

Grammar School Heads’ Association


If 25% of an age group in an area go to selective schools, 75% of that age group, as a matter of arithmetic, must become the secondary modern element in other schools, whatever names may be used to describe those schools. For example, there are seven grammar schools in Trafford, including several excellent ones. At a time when 59% of pupils in England achieve five “good”, A-C, GCSEs, eight of the other 11 “high” schools in Trafford fail to achieve that level, with six of them only managing 50% or below. In criticising Sir Michael’s remarks, Graham Brady MP is quoted as describing this performance as “incredibly good”.

What is incredible is that Mr Brady should believe this to be true and fail to understand why these “high” schools, despite the best efforts of their teachers, have such difficulty in achieving levels reached by schools in places such as Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Lambeth.

Sir Peter Newsam

Pickering, N Yorkshire

The colonisation of the UK’s grammar schools by middle-class children is not down to the fact that selection by ability is a flawed concept, but, rather, because of the poverty of aspiration in the vast majority of state primaries.

My children’s state primary made no attempt to prepare the children for the entrance examination for the local grammar school. Consequently, the only children to win places were those whose parents had invested hundreds of pounds in private tutoring or who had managed to secure a music scholarship after years of expensive violin or piano lessons. These children were probably no more able than their less wealthy peers. Their parents were simply able to buy advantage and the school happily sat by and let it happen.

Lindsay Rogers

North London










There is substantial evidence that the arts can enhance the effectiveness of conventional medical treatments and aid patient recovery (“Cash-poor NHS spends millions on art”, 15 December). Research has shown that the integration of the visual and performing arts in healthcare reduces drug consumption, shortens stays in hospital, improves patient management, and increases job satisfaction and staff retention. The medical literature on arts and health provides evidence of reduced anxiety and depression during chemotherapy, improved blood pressure among heart patients, improved clinical states in intensive care, diminished stress before surgery and less need for pain relief after it.

This is why so many hospitals, mental health units, care homes and hospices enlist the arts to help alleviate pain and distress. Much of the money does not come from NHS budgets but from charitable, grant-giving and other external sources.

Ian Lawley

Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire

Hamish McRae is correct that we are second only to the United States in being busy shoppers (15 December). The downside is that we have become the victims of Scrooges of the first order. Many shop staff must work late on Christmas Eve to prepare the Christmas unwantables as sale items for Boxing Day. The same staff need to be in store at some ungodly hour on Boxing Day. Consequently, thousands of workers will count themselves lucky to be able to steal a few hours on Christmas Day with their beloved, but too tired to have a real break. For those living away from home it will be a miserable time. Merry Christmas indeed and I pray you all have time to celebrate this year.

Michael Desborough

via email

A recent survey showed that every minute of the working day a shopworker is being verbally abused, threatened with violence or physically attacked. Shopworkers report that incidents are more frequent in the run-up to Christmas. Verbal abuse cuts deep. Many staff will go home upset about an unpleasant incident and worried it will happen again. That is why Usdaw, the shopworkers’ union, is running a Respect for Shopworkers campaign, asking customers to “Keep your Cool at Christmas”.

John Hannett

General Secretary Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (Usdaw)

My old friend and colleague Tom Mangold has criticised me for the “Postscript” to my book The Secret Worlds of Stephen Ward, written with Stephen Dorril and republished this month (8 December). This reports the allegation made to us by a former MI6 operative, Lee Tracey, that Ward’s death was effectively a murder committed by a man working for MI5.

Mangold’s article states that I failed to make “two simple ‘check your facts’ phone calls”, to him and to Ward’s host on the night he died, Noel Howard-Jones. Not true. Mangold was a key witness, so I did speak with him – and so reported in the text both when the book first appeared in 1987 and this year. Howard-Jones declined to comment on Ward’s last hours for the first edition of our book – as was reported in the text.

We also note an account of the evening’s events by a then colleague of Mangold, photographer Bryan Wharton. Wharton’s recollection includes events that Mangold’s does not. Two other Ward associates, the entertainer Michael Bentine and Paul Mann, a key figure in the Profumo case, told us they had information indicating that Ward’s death was not suicide. Another witness, a friend of the alleged murderer, refused to comment.

Would Mangold have wanted us simply to omit all of the above from our account of Ward’s death? Would that have been good reporting? I don’t think so.

Anthony Summers

Co Waterford, Ireland

Hamish McRae says that a pound invested in someone’s twenties will probably be worth four times as much as a pound invested in their fifties (15 December). But interest rates have been around zero for years and may even be significantly negative when investment charges are allowed for. Compound interest does not help in these circumstances!

Paul Main

Fleet, Hampshire





THANK you, Camilla Cavendish, for the article “This sexual apartheid shames the universities that let Islamism thrive” (Comment, last week). Last week a very educated woman who had something to do with universities said on BBC radio that sexual apartheid in lectures was acceptable. I almost choked on my Weetabix.

I am fully supportive of immigration but immigrants must accept our ways and not try to turn the clock back. We must fight this new apartheid in every way possible. I am one of millions of men who believe in total equality. Keep up the good fight.
Trevor Massey JP 65-year-old retired teacher, Congleton, Cheshire
Fighting Islamism
Congratulations on an excellent column. It articulates issues that the British people and government need to take very seriously — and quickly. Some Muslims are trying, cleverly and subtly, to exploit and abuse freedom of speech and the timidity of the public. David Cameron was correct to intervene in the case of UK universities that are publicly funded. Enough is enough.
Mohsen Zikri Isleworth, London
Splitting headache
Bias and segregation can be frighteningly easy to institute. We should be vigilant of this when we allow alien beliefs to take root in our democratic country. We should politely refuse to entertain such apartheid, or the struggles of those such as Nelson Mandela would be for nought.
Elizabeth Davies Papworth Everard, Cambridgeshire
Zero tolerance
Universities have a duty to promote freedom, debate and equal access to ideas, not to appease single-interest groups. Tolerating the intolerant is a liberal folly that will see our precious and hard-won rights eroded. I do not always agree with Cameron but his condemnation of segregation between men and women is timely and authoritative.
Susan Dudley Hedgerley, Buckinghamshire

Safe seven-day care will spread NHS more thinly

I AGREE with your campaign for making NHS investigations and consultant assessment more available at weekends (“Victory for Sunday Times on weekend NHS care”and “If he could, he’d be cheering now”, News, and “Sunday Times wins campaign for 7-day NHS”, Editorial, last week).

However, even if there is money to finance extra staff, where are these skilled persons to be found? Doctors in NHS hospitals are becoming more and more specialised and it is becoming increasingly unacceptable to step outside that sphere of expertise.

Either these specialists will have to be spread more thinly during the week or there will need to be fewer but larger hospitals. Some much-loved health facilities may have to be scaled down or closed. The public cannot have their cake and eat it on their doorstep, and the media must not raise unrealistic expectations.
Dr John Calvert Newmarket, Suffolk
Positive thinking
Many congratulations on the vital part you played in achieving safe NHS hospital care seven days a week. After what seems like years of print-bashing, it’s very good to see what a positive effect a campaigning newspaper can have on a vital structure such as the NHS. Well done.
Stephen Espley Canterbury, Kent
Comprehensive cover
It should not have been necessary to point out to our government that NHS cover should not start at 9am on a Monday and terminate at 5pm on a Friday, or that hospital buildings and sophisticated diagnostic equipment that have had billions of pounds invested in them should lie idle outside those hours.
Don Roberts Birkenhead, Merseyside
Million-pound question
You tell us hospitals will face multimillion-pound penalties for non-compliance regarding weekend working. Where will they find this money? Will the taxpayer have to top up their budgets, or will the money be found through them spending even less on care?
George Knight Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire
Private concerns
Should there not be a similar look at private hospitals, where weekend surgery is very popular? Who is left in charge once the surgeons have gone home and what prompt ancillary services are available in an emergency?
John Martin Manchester
Combination therapy
The combination of seven-day care, Ofsted-style hospital inspections, the routine publication of staff levels against targets and patient feedback gives me faith that a government is taking the NHS reform seriously.
Denis Harding Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire
Duty of care
Throughout the festive season I will be on my hospital’s wards or in its admission unit for the whole or part of each day, save for Christmas Day, and December 28 and 29. So will many of my colleagues.
Dr Roger Gabriel Senior Consultant Physician, Croydon University Hospital

Farm subsidies vital for a level EU playing field

AS A so-called lazy farmer I rarely put pen to paper, but I was so exasperated at the portrayal of our industry by Charles Clover I felt compelled to respond (“Greedy farmers a-milking it, no turtle doves and no partridge either”, Comment, last week).

Subsidies to any industry are always going to be contentious but for many of my age who have never farmed without them, they have been the difference between a small profit and a large loss. They have, however, also helped enable the public to buy cheaper food.

With an increase in farm profitability many have used the surplus not in the “Range Rover showroom” but to invest in infrastructure to ensure increased quality. Farming without subsidy is a goal we all aspire to but it can only become reality if all our competitors are treated in the same way.
Mark Ireland Sleaford, Lincolnshire
Call of nature
Clover is right to urge the government and farmers to do more to help our struggling wildlife. Redistributing subsidies to those farmers who really need them would help, as would making a positive contribution to wildlife on farms a part of the annual independently conducted “farm assurance” audit.

We are making a difference to species under threat such as tree sparrows. Food production and nature conservation can go hand in hand.
Michael Clarke Lockerbie, Dumfriesshire
Growing greens
When the French and our other EU neighbours are only placing 3% of their common agricultural policy subsidy payment into environmental schemes (the UK pays 9%), why do we look to handicap an industry that not only feeds the nation but supports rural communities, by increasing the UK’s payment to 15%?

Our nation’s self-sufficiency in food falls each year so imagine where we would be if Clover had his way of paying farmers not to farm the land.
Andrew Wilson Lincolnshire
Fallow ground
Subsidies remain an imperfect system but UK agriculture would be outsourced abroad if forced to compete against countries with lower costs of production and troublingly lower standards of quality control and animal welfare. The Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution, of which I am a trustee, has never been busier helping farmers who live below the poverty line.

The lion’s share of the blame for the reduction in global biodiversity might be attributed to the urbanisation of our planet as a result of breakneck population growth.
Pat Stanley Coalville, Leicestershire

Still no answers to dementia mystery

THE article “The Famous Five take on dementia” (News Review, last week) by Bryan Appleyard might have given the impression that there is some increased knowledge of the disease causing dementia. This is not the case and a new thrust is required.

My wife developed Alzheimer’s six years ago and died 18 months ago. During our 50 years of marriage she ate fruit and vegetables nearly every day. For 15 years after retirement she would swim 20 lengths of the pool and walked regularly, read thousands of books (non-fiction and fiction), demolished a book of crosswords most months and her memory recall was twice mine, right up to when she started to show signs of Alzheimer’s.

The medical profession has recently said that signs on the brain that it thought were the cause of Alzheimer’s are actually caused by the condition. So drinking more coffee, doing puzzles and following a healthy diet is good advice but just fluff when it relates to dementia. The real message is to give more money for research into the disease.
Tom Cullen Ardfern, Argyll and Bute


Rabbit revulsion
I was shocked to read last week’s front-page story “Horror video sparks angora ban”. What disturbed me more, however, was the accompanying picture published on page five and online, of which there was no warning. I found its use superfluous; one’s imagination is quite capable, sadly, of imagining the horror of a rabbit being skinned alive.
William Wright Waltham Abbey, Essex
Angora exposed
Thank you for covering Peta Asia’s exposé of factory-farmed rabbits who are plucked alive for angora in China — where 90% of the world’s angora originates. As long as animals continue to be treated as commodities rather than the living, feeling individuals they are, Peta will be busy drawing attention to their suffering.
Ingrid E Newkirk Managing Director, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Foundation
Beggaring belief
The Supreme Court ruling that Scientology should be treated as a religion foolishly failed to differentiate between the application of a strict legal definition and common sense (“Hubbard love”, News Review, last week). Millions of children believe in Father Christmas until their eyes are opened, and dozens of brainwashed adults lived as cult members in Waco, Texas, until the myth was exploded.
Julian Whybra Billericay, Essex
The history woman
Patricia Nicol asks why men tend not to read historical fiction written by women (“Historical fiction is in rude health”, Culture, last week ), then later observes that “gender politics [is] so often its subject”. Perhaps she has answered her own question.
Paul Quinton Wolverhampton
Pillar talk
Frank Stephenson, McLaren’s chief designer, says the windscreen wiper is “one of the last bastions of design to overcome” (“Car maker waves goodbye to wipers”, News, last week). Of equal importance is the abolition of the pillars that block a large percentage of the driver’s visibility.
Leon Bennett Netanya, Israel
Border protection
The vast majority of us do not want to stop immigration but we do want robust controls (“May goes to war over EU migrants,” News, last week). Other European countries are also growing tired of having immigrants from less well-off nations taking advantage of welfare systems that it has taken generations to develop.
Malcolm Roberts Fressingfield, Suffolk
Big round of applause
Hugh Canning’s observation that large female singers were unwelcome at Covent Garden (“Tenor-tubbies sing on”, Culture, last week) does not seem to apply to the Met in New York. A live transmission last week of Falstaff had two ladies of ample proportions, Angela Meade and Stephanie Blythe. Big they may be, but their voices were glorious.
Tony Israel London NW8
No defence
Barristers have defended Michael Adebowale and Michael Adebolajo, the killers of Fusilier Lee Rigby. Do they have any qualms about receiving fees for defending the indefensible?
Wally Berry Saint-Barthélemy-d’Agenais, France


Dame Mary Archer, scientist, 69; Noel Edmonds, television presenter, 65; Ralph Fiennes, actor, 51; Gerald Grosvenor, Duke of Westminster, 62; Leigh Halfpenny, Welsh rugby international, 25; Barry Jenkins, drummer with the Animals, 69; Chris Old, cricketer, 65; Vanessa Paradis, singer and actress, 41; Ricky Ross, singer with Deacon Blue, 56; Richard Whitmore, newsreader, 80


1858 Giacomo Puccini, composer, born; 1943 Beatrix Potter, author and illustrator, dies; 1972 Chilean air force finds 14 survivors 10 weeks after their plane crashes in the Andes; 1989 Brandenburg Gate is opened for the first time in 28 years, symbolically ending the division between East and West Germany; 1989 overthrow of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu; 1989 Samuel Beckett, playwright, dies

Corrections and clarifications
Further to the interview with Boyzone (“It’s too easy on X Factor”, News Review, December 8), we are happy to point out that the Press Complaints Commission did not uphold a complaint over Jan Moir’s article about the death of Stephen Gately published in the Daily Mail in 2009. We note that Ms Moir did in fact apologise for the timing of her article. We are also happy to clarify that Ronan Keating and Shane Lynch had not read her article and that their comments were based on the interviewer’s personal interpretation of what it meant, which is disputed by Ms Moir and the Daily Mail.
Our article about the campaign group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (“The naked and the dead”, Magazine, October 20) stated incorrectly that the father of Ingrid Newkirk (Peta’s founder) served in the US air force, that Peta runs more than one animal shelter and that Diana, Princess of Wales, agreed to give up wearing fur at the request of Peta. We apologise for these errors.
Complaints about inaccuracies in all sections of The Sunday Times, including online, should be addressed to editor@sunday-times.co.uk or The Editor, The Sunday Times, 3 Thomas More Square, London E98 1ST. In addition, the Press Complaints Commission (complaints@pcc.org.uk or 020 7831 0022) examines formal complaints about the editorial content of UK newspapers and magazines (and their websites)






SIR – I was about seven when I first heard the story of St Nicholas and the pickled boys, among many saints’ stories. I always remembered why St Nicholas, or Santa Claus, is the patron saint of children. When we started worshipping at St Botolph’s Church, at Lullingstone Castle, I was delighted to find the story depicted in one of the 16th-century stained glass windows (pictured).

I think children like gruesome stories, especially if they have a happy ending.

Joanna Comer
Sevenoaks, Kent

SIR – A German museum has applied for Father Christmas to be added to the Unesco list of cultural heritage, arguing that he has German origins. Good King Wenceslaus, the German-speaking Duke of Bohemia, who lived from 907-935, had as profound an effect on the traditions of Christmas as the fourth-century Turkish bishop Saint Nicholas. Wenceslaus cherished the peace and safety of his subjects and the importance of performing good deeds, clothing the naked, giving shelter to pilgrims and bringing freedom to those born into slavery.

Gerald J Smith



SIR – The work of the Bath Preservation Trust is widely respected for defending the interests of the past. However, the Bath Chamber of Commerce and the Initiative in Bath and North East Somerset, of which I am executive director, are focused on ensuring that the city and its surrounds have a sustainable economic future.

Bath has one of the highest ratios of house prices to earnings in the country, which means that many of our young people are forced out of the area because they cannot afford to buy or rent a property. It is true there are brownfield development sites available, but if all those were given over to the building of homes, there would be nothing left for needed modern employment space to provide jobs.

The Council has found a sensible balance by suggesting a modest use of green belt land for development. This shows that Bath is an ambitious city, ready to face the modern world while ensuring that its historic character is maintained.

Ian Bell
Chew Stoke, Somerset

SIR – Ed Miliband’s attack on developersdemonstrates the political posturing which has blighted the sector for decades, and is the primary reason why we have a such a chronic shortage of homes in this country.

The way to increase housebuilding is by simplifying the planning process. We can only grow and generate employment if we are allowed to build the houses our country so desperately needs.

Bob Weston
Takeley, Essex

Christmas travel

SIR – In an age when we are exhorted to use public transport, there is no bus or train service over Christmas and the New Year. There are those who would prefer not to drive, and those who are unable to do so, particularly people who need to visit someone in hospital. Taxi fares are high at this time of year, so that is not an option for many. When I was a child there was always a regular, if reduced, service every day of the year.

Paul Monahan
Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire

Prioritising goulash

SIR – I note that 24 MPs signed an early day motion registering “sadness” at the decision to sell the Gay Hussar, a Soho restaurant they consider “an important national institution”.

I always considered the Royal Navy, Westminster, historical regiments, the City, our manufacturing industry, energy sector, and old counties were our “important national institutions”. It would appear that our MPs have different priorities, which would explainour national decline.

John Dunkin
London W11

Greens for animals

SIR – Linda Scannell could try visiting her local Morrison’s, where yesterday I bought a splendid bunch of kale for far less than the price of the chopped up, pre-packaged offerings available elsewhere.

Delicious for me and the rabbit.

Marion Allison
Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire

SIR – I was interested to read that Bridget Garvin’s labrador eats unwanted parts of vegetables with relish. Seems a bit of a waste of condiments.

Peter Fineman
Barrow Street, Wiltshire

Foreign operation

SIR – The core of the problem with the Foreign Office must be traced to the incompetence of the officials, as indicated by their inability to speak the language relevant to their posting. The FCO must appoint many more staff who were born or grew up in the relevant country who can not just speak the local language but also fully grasp the idioms. We cannot continue to use a British way of life and upbringing as the template for other cultures who think and behave entirely differently.

David S King

SIR – Peter Oborne criticises me for promoting ethnic diversity and gender equality when permanent secretary of the Foreign Office.

He is right. I did. I am proud of it and would do it again. The idea that this adversely affects the FCO’s ability to do its job strikes me as perverse and insulting to the many exceptionally able women and ethnic minority diplomats who were and are working night and day to promote British interests around the world.

The FCO’s language centre, incidentally, was closed after my time at the FCO. I am delighted that William Hague has reopened it.

Lord Jay of Ewelme
London SW1

Retirement age

SIR – One wonders how the world might now be, had two of the greatest fighters for freedom in modern times stepped aside at the normal retiring age of 65.

Winston Churchill was rising 66 when he first became prime minister in May 1940, and was aged 70 at the war’s end in 1945. Nelson Mandela was 71 when he was released from prison in South Africa in February 1990, and nearly 76 when first elected president in 1994.

Perhaps there is still virtue in age and experience in politics.

Julian Peel Yates
Andover, Hampshire

Recycling rites

SIR – Upon divorce (with no children involved) what is the correct way to deal with the wedding album? Should it be kept, in hopes of reconciliation? Should it be kept, to be sighed over, following a later (unsuccessful) marriage? Should it be sent for recycling, or should there be a ritual burning of it?

Sandy Pratt
Dormansland, Surrey

Without legal aid we abandon our public duty

SIR – I have been a pupil supervisor in my chambers for a number of years. Every one of my pupils has worked throughout his or her years of university and professional training, frequently in low-paid jobs with anti-social hours. They and their colleagues almost universally still enter into practice with crippling debt.

After 21 years of practice, the public funding for my work remains at the same rate or has dropped from that at which my efforts were rewarded 10 years ago. For my colleagues at the criminal bar, it is worse.

The budget for legal aid diminishes year upon year. I fear that the reason for this lies in an electorate devoted to the idea of equality of opportunity. They no longer believe in the principle of a public duty to assist the dispossessed and disadvantaged.

Melissa Barlow
Queen Square Chambers, Bristol



SIR – The provision of extra runway capacity at Heathrow as shortlisted in the Airport Commission’s report means a continuation of the present arrangement whereby, with the prevailing westerly wind, approaching aircraft pass over central London and its western suburbs.

How long before an aircraft comes down short of the runway? There was a narrow escape in 2008, when a Boeing 777 suffered double engine failure due to fuel icing in low temperatures and landed just inside the airport fence. Had the engine failure occurred a few miles further out, nothing could have prevented the aircraft hitting the ground in a highly populated, built-up area with loss of life to passengers, crew and people on the ground.

Brian Bickers
Leatherhead, Surrey

SIR – Having worked at Heathrow for years, I can say that, just a couple of years ago, 25 per cent of traffic at LHR was interline business – people who go through between flights in, at the most, two hours. Much of this time is spent queuing at security, so there is little time to spend any money in the shops.

So why are we even considering inflicting yet more noise and disruption on the area? Just to get more transient bodies through the hub?

G E Priest
Shepperton, Middlesex

SIR – One of the reasons that the main London airports are at capacity is that a massive proportion of the flights into the region are from feeder airlines flying in daily from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff and other regional airports.

If the airlines were to utilise these major provincial airports to launch international flights, much of the congestion, currently being used as an excuse to build yet another south-eastern airport, would disappear, and businesses and tourism in other parts of the country would benefit hugely from improved access to international flights.

Sqn Ldr R E Vincent RAF (retd)
Beaumaris, Anglesey

SIR – It seems pretty obvious that more capacity is needed soon at London’s airports. But it certainly is not obvious to me that HS2 is needed. We cannot afford both with our massive national debt.

So, scrap HS2 and put the money into the airports. There should be plenty left over for improving the existing rail network, which would be cheaper and quicker.

Rodney Tate
Swineshead, Bedfordshire

SIR – George Orwell predicted many horrors which, to a greater or lesser extent, have come to pass when he wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Among them was the renaming of Great Britain as “Airstrip one”.

Henry Coates
Rugeley, Staffordshire




Irish Times:



Irish Independent:


A recent hoarding declared that a local commercial complex offered 100,000 square feet of heavenly shopping. Not far from that, I observed the promise of salvation for those willing to imbibe a particular drink. The lottery is advertised as if winnings were dispensed by God. Lotions and potions promise everlasting youth.

Everybody seeks salvation in some form, fired by the hope that things could be better.

The symbolism of Christmas touches our deepest sensibilities and, understandably, is acknowledged and exploited by the advertising world.

However, lamenting the secularisation of Christmas is misguided; Christmas is, inescapably, a mixture of the sacred and the secular.

The human imagination breaks free at Christmas, urged on by the desire to see our world as it isn’t.

We express inspiring truth in music, art and stories, particularly the story of the Nativity.

What is extraordinary is the way some of the most profound stories ever told are dismissed by those who purport to have had the benefit of a liberal education.

The gospel stories are treated as a botched historical narrative, revealing a failure to understand how these texts functioned in the lives of those for whom they were written.

History as we know it is a relatively recent invention.

The story of the birth of Christ cannot be construed as a collection of facts but as a narrative embodying a range of profound truths.

The account of the angels, shepherds and kings and the birth of a baby is intensely expressive of all that is best in our world.

The story of Bethlehem has touched the hearts and minds of people for over 2,000 years.

The truth is not about the history of Bethlehem but about compassion, generosity, self-giving and expectation.

Happy Christmas to all.




* Early in the week, Ajai Chopra, former IMF reviewer for Ireland, said it was unfair for Irish taxpayers to suffer the cost of bailing out the banks when senior bondholders got their money back.

We know this to be true, particularly in the case of Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide, both of which ultimately proved not to be of systemic importance to the Irish banking system. Yet their creditors were paid in full.

Then we had EC President Jose Manuel Barroso addressing a news conference by saying it was our own entire fault. It didn’t take long for our masters in the EU to begin rewriting history; well, I suppose that is what the victors do, for there can be little doubt that Ireland are the losers.

In Mr Barroso’s mostly vitriolic speech he lambasted Ireland (there was minute praise for Ireland’s progress) and blamed much of the EU’s woes on us. Not once, though, did he mention that most of the so-called ‘bailout’ went towards paying reckless banks on the Continent and in the US. Behind all the smiles and handshakes, we have very few friends in the EU.



* European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso’s assertion that the euro was the victim, not the cause, of Ireland’s financial catastrophe is like claiming that potato blight was the victim of the Famine.



* It’s a bit worrying that someone like Mr Barroso still doesn’t seem to understand the difference between the eurozone financial crisis and the resulting sovereign debt crisis it caused. The sovereign debt crisis arose because, instead of banks’ investors having to face the fact they made a bad investment and lost, the ECB decreed that as a state could not access normal lending, the only way it would be allowed access ECB funding was if it took on the entire debt of its banking system.

Ireland’s misfortune was to be the first country in that position to have such a craven government.

It seems, like most of the politicians and civil servants who chose austerity but were not affected by it, Mr Barroso prefers to wallow in denial and perpetuate the dangerous myth, so close to elections to the European Parliament too, that it wasn’t the ECB that forced the Irish taxpayer to take on the private-sector debts of the banking industry, instead of the Irish taxpayer just having to deal with the debts we would have had to take on anyway as we adjusted to a fall in tax revenue and increases in welfare spending, as lending was withdrawn from the domestic economy.

Mr Barroso would have us believe that there was no alternative at the time, but we know from Iceland that there was an alternative and while neither option was ever going to be pain free, the point remains that there was a choice at that time.

Mr Barroso and his Commission made the wrong choice and he failed to stand up to the ECB on behalf of EU taxpayers.

Mr Barroso should be careful with the ‘facts’ he throws about in that glasshouse he lives in.




* Conor Faughnan (Irish Independent, December 19) is right to be sceptical about the Government’s consultation document for setting out a low-carbon roadmap for the transport sector.

We already pay more than enough carbon tax (in addition to the usual taxes) on our vehicles and at the filling stations.

Any attempt to increase taxes and toll charges with a view to encouraging public transport use is both flawed and disingenuous.

I would not be surprised if this document is yet another means of increasing the State’s coffers.

The Government knows (or should know) that, with a few exceptions, our egregious public transport system is inadequate to cater for the masses.

Consequently, in most cases, people have little choice other than to continue using their cars.

If the Government decides to go ahead and impose increased road/transport taxes on its civilians, then they will be punishing motorists for nothing other than their own failure to deliver a properly functioning public transport system.



* The Irish motorist is heavily burdened by vehicular taxation and anything to do with owning a vehicle, from the expensive initial cost, including VAT and VRT, to excessively high road taxation, followed by road tolls, annual testing, taxation on fuel, insurance, parking and training and licensing of the driver.

For Leo Varadkar to suggest even more motoring tax is utter nonsense, bordering on lunacy.

The idea, especially in rural Ireland, of taking the bus or train to work is another silly notion.

There is insufficient frequency and joined-up planning for anyone in rural areas to take public transport to work with any hope of either getting there on time or getting home in time to get to bed and be up again for the next bus or train.

If I were to take the bus to my place of work, I would first have to walk two miles, catch the bus and then walk another two miles, to get to work at 8am.

I would need to begin my day at 6am and would not get home again until 8pm, and I’m one of the lucky ones. Is this what Mr Varadkar wants for us?



Irish Independent



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