Hospital visit

6April2014 hospital visit

I go all the way around the park listening to the Men from the Ministry: Accidental

Devolution for Birmingham Priceless

Mary back in hospital visit her play Scrabble

Scrabbletoday, Mary wins Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.


Bob Larbey – obituary

Bob Larbey was a scriptwriter who mined the comic potential of suburbia in The Good Life and Ever Decreasing Circles

Bob Larbey (right) with his writing partner John Esmonde

Bob Larbey (right) with his writing partner John Esmonde

5:46PM BST 04 Apr 2014

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Bob Larbey, who has died aged 79, co-wrote with his professional partner John Esmonde some of Britain’s most popular television sitcoms, most memorably The Good Life (1975-78).

Amiable and easy-going, Larbey was at school with Esmonde in south London just after the war. The pair sought escape from their humdrum jobs by spending their evenings and weekends writing comedy scripts. By the early 1960s they had enjoyed modest success with sketches for radio programmes such as I’m Sorry, I’ll Read That Again and, for television, The Dick Emery Show.

Bob Larbey

Their first major television breakthrough, however, came in 1968 with Please, Sir!, a series for ITV set in a tough south London secondary modern school; it would generate a feature film and a television sequel, The Fenn Street Gang. Frank Muir, then head of entertainment at LWT, cast John Alderton as the idealistic young teacher Bernard “Privet” Hedges who struggled to keep the unruly pupils of Class 5C in order.

As Larbey celebrated his 40th birthday, he and Esmonde devised their most popular and successful series, The Good Life. In the first episode, screened in 1975, Tom Good, a draughtsman for a plastics company (played by Richard Briers), himself turned 40, seizing this occasion to drop out of the rat-race by jacking in his job in favour of suburban self-sufficiency with his wife Barbara (Felicity Kendal).

Rather than give up their comfortable, semi-detached home in Surbiton, the Goods turned their garden into a smallholding, with pigs, a goat, chickens and assorted fruit and vegetables.

Richard Briers and Felicity Kendal in The Good Life

Although the couple’s lifestyle baffled and often appalled their social-climbing neighbours, Margo (Penelope Keith) and Jerry Leadbetter (Paul Eddington), the foursome always remained friends, and it was this rapprochement that commended the series to the middle classes, at whom it was poking fun. (Larbey himself confessed that he was too impractical to embrace self-sufficiency, but its general philosophy appealed to him.)

While The Good Life was attracting some 15 million viewers a week on the BBC, Larbey and Esmonde were enjoying further success on ITV with their RAF sitcom Get Some In! (1975-78). Starring Robert Lindsay in his first important television role, and featuring Tony Selby as the drill instructor barking orders at 1950s National Service “erks”, the series drew on the writers’ own experiences (Larbey had been in the Army, and Esmonde in the RAF).

After The Good Life, Larbey and Esmonde wrote three further series for Richard Briers, starting with The Other One (1977-79), in which the central character could not have been more different. Perhaps because Briers was cast as a compulsive and unscrupulous liar, the show failed to generate any of the affection viewers had felt for the wholesome Goods, and it was cancelled after only two series.

Larbey struck out on his own with A Fine Romance (1981-84), starring Judi Dench in her first television sitcom, alongside her real-life husband, Michael Williams. “From first to last,” one critic noted, “Bob Larbey’s scripts were well-written, providing not only laughs but also an underlying intelligence.”

He rejoined Esmonde to create another popular and long-running vehicle for Richard Briers in Ever Decreasing Circles (1984-89), in which the star returned to suburbia as Martin Bryce, an anally-retentive fusspot and do-gooder, with Penelope Wilton as his long-suffering wife, Ann.

Penelope Wilton, Richard Briers and Peter Egan in Ever Decreasing Circles

In Larbey and Esmonde’s last series together, Down To Earth (1995), Briers played Tony Fairfax, an expatriate struggling to adapt after returning to Britain from South America; but once again viewers did not warm to his character, and it ran for just seven episodes.

The youngest son of a carpenter, Robert Edward John Larbey was born on June 24 1934 in Lambeth, south London, and educated at the Henry Thornton School in Clapham, where he was captain of tennis and became friends with John Esmonde, two years his junior.

On leaving school Larbey took a job in an insurance office in Soho, then did National Service with the Army, stationed in Germany with the Education Corps.

When he and Esmonde started writing sketches, working together at nights and weekends, they submitted a few to the BBC, which eventually accepted one for a programme starring the comedian Cyril Fletcher, earning them a joint fee of two guineas. Having saved money from their day jobs, they gave themselves three months to make a go of writing full-time.

Their first radio sitcom was Spare a Copper (1965-66), featuring the Carry On film star Kenneth Connor as a bungling policeman. The pair followed this with two further radio series, You’re Only Old Once (1969), with Clive Dunn as a spry pensioner, and Just Perfick (1969-71), adapted from the Larkin family stories of HE Bates.

Meanwhile, Larbey and Esmonde had established a toehold in television, starting with sketches for The Dick Emery Show in 1963. Their first full-scale television sitcom, Room At The Bottom (1967), for the BBC, was about a gang of factory maintenance men . It made little impact, but the following year the success of Please, Sir! (1968-72) propelled them into the front rank of television comedy writers. Turned down by the BBC, the show was snapped up by ITV, attracting a weekly audience of 20 million viewers .

As their careers prospered, the pair worked business hours in an office in the centre of Dorking, midway between their respective homes, often acting out scenes together and noting down spontaneous bursts of dialogue. Distractions were confined to occasional glances at televised cricket.

In the 1980s they created Brush Strokes (1986-91), in which Karl Howman starred as a womanising painter and decorator, with Gary Waldhorn as his boss. They wrote a second sitcom for Howman called Mulberry (1992-93), in which he played the manservant of a cantankerous old spinster Miss Farnaby (Geraldine McEwan).

Although in The Good Life Larbey helped to make Surbiton synonymous with suburbia, he never visited the town he made famous. “To be honest, we were just looking for something that sounded like suburbia in big capital letters,” he explained. “We just picked it at random.” The series was actually filmed in Northwood, north London.

In 2004, 30 years after its original screening, The Good Life was ranked ninth in a BBC poll of viewers’ favourite sitcoms.

Bob Larbey married Patricia (Trish) Marshall, a script-reader for LWT, who predeceased him in 2006. Their son survives him. John Esmonde died in 2008.

Bob Larbey, born June 24 1934, died March 31 2014


The skyline statement (“London’s skyline is about to be transformed with 230 new towers“, In Focus) coincided with the submission last week of a planning proposal for what would be the tallest residential tower in Camden, north London. This massive development right next to the only green space in Swiss Cottage would dwarf Basil Spence’s adjacent Grade II listed library. Despite residents’ representations, no real changes have been made to the scheme. Indeed, the height of the tower has been increased from 16 to 24 storeys.

The bland and characterless tower would loom, without any relationship, over residential neighbourhoods. Its shocking and profound impact on the surrounding conservation areas has been ignored. No thought has been given to the ways the tower will appear from Primrose Hill, Hampstead Heath and Regent’s Park.

This damage might be justifiable if the development was offering permanent affordable housing for families. Yet of 184 flats, fewer than 14% will be allocated to social housing. The developers’ proposed model of mass private rental has not been tested successfully for five years or more anywhere in London. How can five-year tenancy agreements for small flats built over the most polluted traffic gyratory in Camden, targeted at young professionals and offering no facilities for families, build a sustainable community?

The proposed development hinges on the fact that Camden council recently reclassified Swiss Cottage as a major town centre, without any real consultation with residents. This means that high-rise building can now be encouraged here. The heart is being ripped out of local democracy. Hand in glove with the developers, London’s councils and its mayor are forcing these highly inappropriate developments on communities, irrespective of their vocal opposition.

Sarah Howard Gottlieb

Swiss Cottage Action Group

London NW3

Civic democracy will continue to be powerless as long as a minister, on a whim, can grant planning permission. In Vauxhall, three of the 10 towers about to engulf Vauxhall Cross came into being in this way, despite enormous opposition.

The St George Tower (or Vauxhall Tower) was granted on appeal by John Prescott in 2005, despite advice from his advisers in December 2004 that it “could set a precedent for the indiscriminate scattering of very tall buildings across London”.

The two towers to be built on the Kylun/Wendover site were approved by Eric Pickles in August 2012. He was apparently advised that they “would kick-start the area’s regeneration”. Two years on, the empty site is again for sale.

Pauline Gaunt

London SW8

London’s problem is not its changing skyline or the number of tower blocks springing up. It’s what those tower blocks are being built for that is the real issue.

On Tuesday, Boris Johnson approved two blocks in Islington that the council had turned down because there was insufficient housing for people on low incomes. Using his planning powers, Johnson has now given the go-ahead to the two schemes with the proviso that there should be 30% “affordable units” out of 1,000 homes.

But that is meaningless. The government’s definition of affordable is 80% of market rents, which means that for Islington a two-bedroom flat would let at £22,256 per year, affordable only to the City workers down the road.

This is happening across the capital with developments that will do nothing either to improve London’s housing situation or cater for its citizens.

Architectural fashion changes; Centre Point was once regarded as a blight on the landscape but is now seen as a masterpiece. It is not a skyline commission that is needed, but a housing commission to examine urgently the fundamental issues around homes for Londoners.

Christian Wolmar

(seeking Labour nomination for the 2016 mayoral election)

London N7

Catherine Bennett lashes out against Tony Hall’s new agenda for more arts on BBC (“Why has the BBC gone back in time to define itself?“, Comment). For instance, she doesn’t think there is much relevance in presenting opera from the “subsidised but stratospherically inaccessible Royal Op era House”. Is the ROH really so inaccessible? Despite having the lowest public subsidy – 23% – of any major opera house in Europe, tickets start from £4 and we manage to sell 50% of all tickets for £55 or less.

With 40% of our audience under 45, we have a younger audience than most opera houses in the world and our education work reaches almost 50,000 people each year. We have 27,000 student bookers for discount schemes and our live cinema relays are seen in the UK and globally by hundreds of thousands. Our YouTube channel has hours of insights freely available and there are the free activities, including BP Big Screens around the country.

If the Royal Opera House is so inaccessible, then surely one would think putting more of its work on TV would actually be a rather good idea?

Kasper Holten

Director of opera

Royal Opera House, London WC2

Scottish leaders’ fine record

Alexander Linklater has a very blinkered view of creativity and opportunity in Scotland that sharply contrasts with his pitch that “the union belongs to the Scots, it’s at the heart of our cultural identity“, Comment. He accuses the “popular and effective” SNP Scottish government of having “no record on culture”. Clearly, control of broadcasting is of no consideration in Mr Linklater’s world, so he obviously hasn’t noticed the BBC bias saga or the blind spots in BBC programming and underspend in Scotland.

On traditional arts, our indigenous languages and support for internationalising the very best of Scottish cultural output in all genres that feature in the Edinburgh international festivals the Scottish government is very active with limited resources.

Rob Gibson



The consequence of inaction

Regarding your leader column views on the criteria for making a military intervention (“Our view on foreign intervention is in chaos. We need a solution“, Comment). The decision as whether to make a military intervention should take account of the consequences of not taking action. Doing nothing is a course of action in itself, with possible consequences.

Peter Halsey



Give us proper pensions parity

I was puzzled about the pensions provisions in the recent budget and then I read Michael Freedland’s excellent article (“Sadly, new deal is too late for me (and a million or two others)“, in personal finance.

I agree with Michael and think that these annuity holders should not be excluded from the new deal. They should have a choice too.

If the government built new roads purely for new drivers, while only allowing existing drivers to drive on the old roads, it wouldn’t make sense. If for an illness or condition, the NHS offered treatments and possibly cures only to the newly diagnosed and left existing patients bereft of these it also would not make sense. Pensions should be treated in a similarly fair way.

Clearly, if annuities have been received, then the pension pot is smaller. That can’t change, but they should, from the time of the introduction of the provisions, be able to take the remaining pension pot as cash. That would be fair and equitable.

Barrie Gordon


Don’t dismiss ADHD drugs

There is no doubt that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), like many other diagnoses, is a syndromal diagnosis and that pathways into ADHD are multiple (“ADHD ‘not a real disease’ says US neuroscientist“, News). Equally, a range of social and psychological interventions are indicated.

However, there is good evidence to show that severe ADHD, or hyperkinetic disorder, has a significant neurophysiological and genetic component and that stimulants are safe and effective treatments, alongside social, educational and psychological interventions. Non-pharmacological interventions are indicated in mild to moderate ADHD but stimulants form the core of the management of severe ADHD. To argue that they are not indicated puts at risk highly vulnerable children and their overburdened families.

Dr Peter Hindley

Chair of the faculty of child and adolescent psychiatry

Royal College of Psychiatrists, London E1

A picture to die for

Robert Stummer’s article (“Message of love hidden in medieval graffiti“, News) provided a gratifying and welcome insight into an otherwise forgotten source of social history: graffiti, especially Lydgate’s rebus, notably: “Farewell Lady Catherine.” He is mistaken in thinking that cater is a term for a die; rather, it is the four of a die roll, clearly depicted in the photograph. We still retain the ace and deuce for one and two, three is trey, four cater, five cinque and six sez.

Ian Russell Lowell


Snapshot Val Waters View larger picture

Snapshot … back row, from left to right, Uncle Fred, Val Waters’ grandfather and Uncle Syd; seated, Aunt Elsie, Val’s grandmother and mother.

Snapshot: Our much loved Uncle Fred

This photograph, taken around 1920, is very important to me, as it’s the only one I have of all the members of my Hodges forebears before disaster struck in the form of illness. I was born just too late to remember Uncle Fred, but my childhood was filled with stories about him. He is standing on the left, looking quite young. Next to him is my grandfather and on the right is Uncle Syd. Seated are my favourite aunt, Auntie Elsie, with my grandmother in the middle and then my mother, holding a kitten.

Fred was a naughty little boy, so one Monday morning when she was doing the washing, Grandma was persuaded by a neighbour to give him some drops of Mother Segal’s Soothing Syrup (containing laudanum), but it made him so dopey that she never did it again. When Fred developed heart trouble (no surgery for it in those days), she nursed him so devotedly that she ruined her health and had to rest every afternoon.

As he grew up, Fred became much loved by all the members of the family. He had a good sense of humour, and was popular at school, where he was voted the most public-spirited boy. He and Syd used to go courting two sisters in the next street and their dog fetched the right girl when they called.

However, as Fred was never well enough to hold down a job, there was no engagement. He was a very handsome young man (my mother kept photos of him) and the family were broken-hearted when he died, aged 23.

Elsie would never talk about him. Syd woke one night and heard Fred’s voice saying, “I’m going now, Syd” – at the exact time he died, he discovered later. My grandparents had a tablet erected over his grave and my grandma and cousin used to lay flowers there.

As for the girl he’d courted, when she did get married several years later, she laid her wedding bouquet on his grave, with her husband’s agreement.

The Hodges were a working-class family who worked hard. All four children managed to pass the exam that enabled them to attend the local grammar school, though only my mother chose to stay on in the sixth form and go to university.

I feel very proud of them.

Val Waters


Synthetic phonics, far from letting down pupils with dyslexia, is effective for the majority and, coupled with the phonics check, can help to identify those who may be dyslexic or need a different approach (“Dyslexic pupils not helped by reading method”, 30 March).

Structured teaching of lettersound links and how to blend sounds were key components of “dyslexia teaching” long before synthetic phonics became commonplace in schools. We know that many pupils at risk of dyslexia can progress well with a structured phonics programme but would flounder if left to learn more holistically. To read in the broadest sense requires an orchestration of many other skills of which decoding is but one and, for fluent readers, one that they may seldom use; but decoding is a hurdle at which many children have fallen and it is right that early teaching of reading is directed at helping as many children over this hurdle as possible.

Dyslexia Action has supported the use of the phonics check, which involves the ability to read “non words”, as part of a process to identify those who may need a different approach. However, it should not be the only piece of evidence used to examine children’s reading. Neither should it force a straitjacket of prescriptive teaching on to those who have moved on to more advanced stages. Dyslexia Action has been working with the Department for Education to develop information and guidance for teachers on materials and on decisions about their use; more information about this can be found on our website.

Dr John Rack

Director of education and policy Dyslexia Action

Egham, Surrey

In reply to Richard Garner’s personal view regarding synthetic phonics; that is precisely what has happened with my six-year-old cousin. He can read fluently. Or he could. Now he insists on spelling out every word phonetically, even if he knows the word. He seems to think that you have to read like that.

In addition, he is penalised for wanting to read books he enjoys, and his learning has slowed as a result. As a child, I loved books, and would read in my own time for pleasure, even at the age of six. I really believe the key to improving reading is to evoke a passion for books, not turn this generation of children into phonetic robots.

Helen Brown


Joan Smith is right that religion is losing the argument on abortion, contraception and gay marriages (30 March). But if she were to speak to some of the many people, young and old, who worship at one of the newly established non-denominational churches, or, indeed, to a lot of nonconformists, she might be surprised to find that the majority of modern-thinking Christians agree.

Gillian Cook

Market Harborough, Leicestershire

Consumers can indeed play a strategic role by pressing brands to ensure decent treatment for overseas workers (“Cheap products carry a high cost”, 30 March). Thousands who signed our petition on Rana Plaza helped persuade brands to sign the legally binding Bangladesh safety accord. But retailers’ voluntary approach has still left workers toiling long hours for well below a living wage. It is time for government action to end this scandal.

Jeff Powell

Campaigns and policy director

War on Want, London N1

I was alarmed by your report (“Gaia visionary advocates city living”, 30 March) intimating that Chesil Beach had lurched into Devon. Having expended considerable energy climbing to the top of Portland on a clear day, I can assure you that the entire beach is still in Dorset.

Joe Trevett

Society of Dorset Men, Weymouth, Dorset

Columnist Andrew Martin (30 March) refers to “preparing for a dinner party” and what “dinner party hosts are supposed to ask”. Am I alone among your readers in never having been to a dinner party?

Tim Mickleburgh

Grimsby, Lincolnshire


GPs flooded by patients – and we’re struggling

CAMILLA CAVENDISH needs to spend a day shadowing me to see life from this side of the fence. I have been a GP for 30 years in the same practice and have seen huge changes in the way we operate (“Dr Useless says he’s busy. Fine, I’ll be off to the pharmacist then”, Comment, last week). I did not vote for the 2004 contract, which heralded the inability to close our list, which has nearly doubled over the past five years as disaffected patients from other practices and eastern European land workers flood in. We are unable to attract new doctors so we struggle on — with 35 to 40 patients awaiting the emergency doctor on a Monday morning. This is not medicine but crowd control.
Dr Clive Warren Boston, Lincolnshire

Investment needed
We are grateful to Camilla Cavendish (“Dr Useless says he’s busy. Fine, I’ll be off to the pharmacist then”, Comment, last week) for pointing out the huge asset of the pharmacist in the community and pleased that she found her local pharmacist to be so good.

However, different but complementary services and expertise are already offered by general practitioners and pharmacists to patients in surgeries and pharmacies every day.

Care is becoming more complex with the challenges of an ageing population, more patients presenting with multiple and complex conditions and more patients with mental health problems.

GPs are working record hours in surgery and making up to 60 patient contacts a day. Pharmacists dispense about 1bn prescriptions a year alongside the provision of an increasing range of NHS services.

Treatments are being carried out in general practice that 10 years ago would have been immediately referred to a hospital physician and pharmacists are already carrying out medication reviews, supporting people with long-term conditions to stay well and preventing illness through stop smoking services.

Both our professions would like to see a shift in resources that allows investment in primary care and services that promote wellness, preventing costly and unwanted hospital admissions.

This includes increasing the number of GPs who could provide more appointments and longer appointments for patients. A modest rise of only 1% per year would ease the pressures on other parts of the health service, ensuring that patients get access to their general practice when they need it.

We would like to see the NHS make better use of pharmacists’ skills by enabling patients to share their electronic health record with pharmacists and rewarding pharmacists for the quality of the care delivered, as well as better patient outcomes. The NHS will get the most from medicines when pharmacists are better utilised throughout the health system.

Ultimately, the answer to increasing demand, with scarce resources, when patients rightly expect high-quality care will come from collaborative, not competitive, working between GPs and pharmacists.

Enabling pharmacists and GPs to share the care of our population will only come about if patients and their carers see the benefits of such an arrangement and confidence develops that this provides better, safer care.

Dr Maureen Baker, Chair Royal College of General Practitioners,

Dr David Branford, Chair, English Pharmacy Board, Royal Pharmaceutical Society

Barriers to diagnosis
Not for the first time, GPs are left to shoulder the blame for more failures within the NHS. While I acknowledge that my GP colleagues do need to take some degree of responsibility, a difficult task is made more so by current referral channels.

The two-week-wait system has made no difference to rates of early cancer diagnosis. It only works well where the diagnosis is obvious anyway, such as with breast or skin.

Delays are increased by the barriers put up to GP access to diagnostics such as ultrasound, endoscopy and MRI. GPs can increase rates of early cancer diagnosis but must have the tools to be able to do so.
Dr Peter Holloway GP and Clinical Commissioning Group, Mendlesham, Suffol

Too few radiologists
We share the aspiration of Harpal Kumar (“GPs must end culture of delays”, Focus, last week) to achieve diagnosis of cancer at an earlier and therefore more treatable stage. However, we have reservations about his proposed strategy of carrying out diagnostic tests on more people.

The demand for imaging tests has already far outstripped the ability of NHS radiology departments to cope. With around half the number of radiologists per head of population that other western European nations enjoy, we simply do not have the capacity to interpret significantly larger numbers of scans.

We support the national screening programmes for breast and bowel cancers, which can best be detected by imaging. Earlier diagnosis of other cancers will most reliably be achieved by targeting imaging to people with specific symptom complexes and risk factors. We have been producing guidelines for doctors on the appropriate use of imaging for more than 20 years and we are keen to work with Cancer Research UK, healthcare leaders, Macmillan Cancer Support and other stakeholders to ensure that imaging strategies are designed to promote earlier diagnosis.

If this involves an increase in the number of people undergoing tests, significant further investment in radiologists and radiology services will be required.
Giles Maskell President  Royal College of Radiologists

Smear test delays
In 2003 the age to enter the NHS cervical screening programme was raised from 20 to 25 years as evidence showed that screening in the lower age group had little impact on rates of invasive cancer. Cellular changes related to HPV infection are common in younger women, but largely self-resolve.

If a woman of any age presents to a GP with cervical cancer symptoms, she must be urgently referred to a gynaecologist. A smear test at that stage would introduce further delays, even if the public thinks otherwise.
Dr Sally Wood Ludlow, Shropshire

Mum’s raw deal on pay

I COULD not agree more about women being penalised for part-time working (“Wise up, bosses, and make this mother’s day”, Eleanor Mills, last week). As an accountant I can get £35,000 to £40,000 pro rata working part-time; full-time work pays much more overall.

All of the mums I know are graduates but a very small percentage of them work — it is just not worth it. In Denmark both the mum and dad tend to work part-time. This seems a much more equitable solution.
Gill Crane Alton, Hampshire

Flexible friends
Employers continue to consider flexible working cases on an ad hoc basis. Thus many parents, especially women, are forced to leave work, taking vital skills with them. Family Lives believes that flexible working should be seen as a dynamic policy for all (men, women, old and young) to support staff to combine work, care and family life.
Anastasia de Waal Chairwoman, Family Lives

Dear dad, let’s talk

I felt very sad when I read the Mother’s Day article “Do you get on with your mum? My relationship is complex and messy” (Katie Glass, Magazine, last week), but it appears to have struck a chord with many.

My husband had a very difficult relationship with his dad, and eventually wrote a letter. The result was not an outpouring of anger or regret but a much better relationship — my husband was 59 and his dad 89. Took them a while, but it improved things.
Name and address withheld

NHS faces a weighty issue

As always, Rod Liddle has hit the nail firmly on the head with his take on obesity (“Chew on this insult, lardbucket. It’s for your own good”, Comment, last week). When I was an NHS consultant in Essex, I very politely advised a patient at my pain clinic that she could improve her back pain by losing weight. Her daughter, a hospital administrator, reported me to the authorities for being “disrespectful” to her mother.
Dr Charles Gauci, Gozo, Malta

Gluten-free isn’t a fad for coeliacs
I know Liddle is often tongue-in-cheek and that it is a fad to say you are wheat-intolerant. However, there are people, like my daughter and granddaughter, who have coeliac disease, which means they have to eat gluten-free. Going out for a meal is a nightmare, and imagine telling a child she cannot have an ice cream or chocolate sweets that contain gluten. Not life-threatening, but hard to live with.
Lesley Charnock, Long Crendon, Buckinghamshire

Intolerable string ban

BANNING steel-stringed instruments from prison would be a travesty and a truly cruel punishment for one prisoner I met when I worked in HMP Elmley, Kent (“High security, low voltage as prisons outlaw guitars”, News, last week). Elmley houses not only some of the country’s most dangerous men, but also Sarah Baker, a transgender life-sentenced prisoner, who has now served 26 years.

I knew little about Baker but soon discovered that she was full of remorse for her crimes.  I was left almost speechless by the sincerity of her words. More amazingly, I also heard  that she was a violinist and had been friends with the late, great virtuoso Yehudi Menuhin — had she not been in prison, some people felt that she could have been Britain’s greatest violinist. She used to practise for 14 hours a  day, starting with the “Kreutzer” sonata, and then Bach’s partitas for solo violin, followed by  two violin concertos. She would always end with Paganini’s caprices, which often annoyed her neighbours.

Meeting a transgender violin-playing life-sentenced prisoner was not only one of  the most surreal moments in my life, but also the greatest.
Name and address withheld

Melody maker
I do hope that staff in the 49 establishments to which Billy Bragg donated guitars inspected them to see if any files were enclosed.
Ray Watson, Beckenham, southeast London

Losing our cool

I FAIL to see how warming will improve Britain’s climate (“London a flashpoint for climate change”, News, last week). First, we shall start to lose our traditional crops and livestock. Working in summer will become intolerable and affect productivity.

Finally, the loss of the cool British seaside with its pleasantly tepid waters will be a disaster.There will be nowhere to hide from the beastly sun, while tropical fauna invade our beaches with their foul stings and noisome teeth. I don’t like it, sir.
Quentin Lotte, London SW6

Tax blowing in
Last week we were inundated with warnings about climate change, with reports from the United Nations, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs — and then there were the Sahara sands polluting our air.

In my humble view, it was an orchestrated campaign to alarm us all into a state of acute responsibility — in itself a fine objective. So why do I keep wondering if we are being softened up for a raft of new rules, penalties and taxes?
Allan Falconer Nottingham


Toff luck
In November 1995 I went for a job interview at Carlton Communications (“Toff at the top”, Editorial, March 23). The man who interviewed me was smooth and ambitious. His name was David Cameron. I later got the stock “no, thanks, but we’ll keep your details on file” letter. This surely makes me the only Old Etonian to whom the prime minister hasn’t offered a job.
Boris Starling, Dorset

Desert dreams
Your article “Desert gives up Lawrence’s hideout” (News, March 23) refers to the perfect preservation of a Lawrence guerrilla camp to the east of Aqaba, from which he planned his raids on the Hejaz railway. Many of those attacks took place in Saudi Arabia as the railway line from Damascus approached Medina. When working at the new industrial city of Yanbu on the Red Sea coast, close to where Lawrence stayed at times, I ventured east towards the railway. Finding track remains, I followed it north toward the Jordan border across perfect viaducts, and found well-preserved wrecks of trains (no rust in the desert). Your article and the associated interactive map online recalled happy times in the desert — a privilege.
Clive Peacock Kenilworth, Warwickshire

Germans do remember
Harry Mount says the Germans don’t remember the First World War (“Lying cold and alone: the war dead Germany struggles to remember”, News Review, March 23), but if he visits the cemetery in Cannock, Staffordshire, dedicated to German dead of both world wars, he will find Germans looking at all the graves and spending time in the moving memorial chapel. If we had a joint memorial service for the Great War, the Germans might take part, over here.
Jane Kelly, London W3

Prince of smiles
How I had to smile on reading Prince Andrew extolling the merits of failure, sitting in the palace with his “HRH” teacup (“Failure is good for you — and I should know”, News Review, last week).
Dudley Holley, Southend-on-Sea, Essex

Corrections and clarifications

We have been asked to clarify that if beaches do not pass the EU’s new bathing water directive, signs might have to be erected warning the public about water quality (“Kiss me quick before 45 top beaches close”, News, March 16). However, no beaches would actually close, and people would be free to choose to swim or not.

Complaints about inaccuracies in all sections of The Sunday Times, including online, should be addressed to or The Editor, The Sunday Times, 3 Thomas More Square, London E98 1ST. In addition, the Press Complaints Commission ( or 020 7831 0022) examines formal complaints about the editorial content of UK newspapers and magazines (and their websites)


Rory Bremner, impressionist, 53; Paul Daniels, magician, 76; Myleene Klass, presenter, 36; Ian Paisley, former first minister of Northern Ireland, 88; Anita Pallenberg, model, 70; André Previn, pianist and conductor, 85; Paul Rudd, actor, 45; Dilip Vengsarkar, cricketer, 58; James Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, 86


1896 first modern Olympic Games open in Athens; 1917 America declares war on Germany; 1924 first round-the-world flight takes off from Seattle (it takes 175 days); 1944 introduction of PAYE income tax in Britain; 1994 the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi die in a plane crash, sparking the Rwandan genocide


SIR – Given that Nick Clegg has so dismally failed to put the case for our continued EU membership, and that opinion polls show that the Lib Dems may have no MEPs at all in a few weeks’ time, my question is: what is the policy of the Labour Party on the EU?

I have examined the Labour website. It tells me about Ed Miliband, the shadow cabinet, its MPs and candidates. How strange that it does not even mention the European elections on May 22.

Hugo Jenks
Bath, Somerset


SIR – Rear-Admiral Frank Golden valued his dual nationality. He told me that he cherished the memory of the astonishment on the faces of those greeting him when, on an official visit to the Republic of Ireland, he was piped aboard an Irish naval vessel and, in the uniform of a British admiral, answered his welcome in fluent Gaelic.

Christopher Macy

Post earliest of all

SIR – A wooden posting box in Lyme Regis (pictured) lays claim to being the oldest surviving in Britain (Letters, April 4).

It is still set in its original place on the wall of the Old Lyme Guest House, which was, from 1799 to 1853, the post office.

It has a vertical and a horizontal slot, reflecting changing government guidelines.

John Powell
Tavistock, Devon

Too fat to fit

SIR – Why have toothbrush handles become so bulbous that they no longer fit into the receptacles designed for them?

My white bathroom holder has “Toothbrush” in blue letters and four three-quarter-inch holes. The guest room container also sports an oval aperture for the toothpaste, from a pretty rose-covered range of bed linen and accessories sold by Marks & Spencer. No use now. What do I use instead?

Prudence Seddon
Stourton Caundle, Dorset

A better sort of earl

SIR – Two of the Earl of Rosslyn’s forebears would have been particularly delighted by his new appointment as master of the household to the Prince of Wales.

His great-grandfather, the 5th Earl, who gambled away the family fortune in six years and then devised a system to break the bank at Monte Carlo (but failed), was part of the Marlborough House set that fawned on the future Edward VII when he was Prince of Wales. He was tolerated because his sister, the Countess of Warwick, was for a time the Prince’s maitresse-en-titre (later she tried to use her love letters to blackmail the Royal family, but was forgiven).

The new senior courtier’s grandfather, who died in 1929 as Lord Loughborough before inheriting the earldom, tried but failed to win the friendship of the next Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII. “He was sacked from the RN College, Osborne, my first term there in the summer of 1907”, the latter recalled. He was much taken, however, with Lady Loughborough, as was his brother, the future George VI, her lover before his marriage.

In entering the service of Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, the current Earl has made up for the failings of his predecessors.

Lord Lexden
London SW1

Bad call

SIR – Infuriated at receiving unwanted calls from abroad and from British firms that do not abide by the Telephone Preference Service, I too invested in the BT blocking telephone (Letters, April 4).

It was excellent until I realised that many doctors and hospitals withhold their numbers, and that I was missing vital calls. I had no alternative but to cancel the service.

James Shone
Southwell, Nottinghamshire

Becher’s trick

SIR – Peter Oborne (Comment, April 3) tells that Captain Becher’s party-trick was “leaping on to the mantelpiece from a standing start”.

I have seen it said elsewhere that C B Fry would do the same, but starting with his back to the fireplace.

Is either feat properly attested? Or is either actually much commoner than one supposes?

Lachlan Mackinnon
Ely, Cambridgeshire

Enjoy! We’ll see about that

SIR – The politest reply that I can suggest to a waiter’s “Enjoy” (Letters, April 4) is: “I’ll try”.

Helen Atkin

Lewes, East Sussex

SIR – A late friend of mine was known to respond to instructions by waiters to “Enjoy” by saying wearily: “Enjoy is a transitive verb and requires an object.”

That was usually the end of the matter.

Charles O’Connor
London SW7

SIR – A frequent response by a waiter to any request is “No problem.”

As the politically correct brigade has substituted the word challenge for problem, I say: “You mean no challenge.” Result: incomprehension.

Vincent Howard
Barton Stacey, Hampshire

SIR – Worse is a television interview ending with, “Thanks for your time,” and, “My pleasure.” It makes me cringe.

Malcolm Cross
Plungar, Leicestershire

SIR – Two grizzled New York comedy writers I worked with in Hollywood, on being exhorted to “Have a nice day” by a head waiter, snapped back in unison: “Don’t tell us what to do!”

Lord Grade of Yarmouth
London SW1

SIR – Which particular aspect of the Maria Miller scandalis the most infuriating?

a) Her attempt to screw the maximum out of a sloppy expenses system.

b) The overruling of the conclusions of an independent body, which had spent 14 months reaching its conclusions.

c) The unseemly support shown by colleagues just before her apology in the House of Commons.

d) The backing of the Prime Minister, who values her contribution.

They still don’t get it!

Peter Edwards
Coleford, Gloucestershire

SIR – The House of Commons did itself no service on Thursday in its treatment of Mrs Miller.

When will parliamentarians of both Houses learn that this country craves leadership by example in high places?

Air Commodore Michael Allisstone (retd)

Chichester, West Sussex

SIR – I agree with Peter Oborne (Comment, Mrs Miller should have been sacked, and even deselected by the party.

How can the public have confidence in Parliament if MPs get away with this kind of action?

Michael Davey
Warminster, Wiltshire

SIR – This can only reinforce the view that collectively politicians are not to be trusted and continue to look after their own.

It’s appalling that, after the uncovering of the expenses scandal by The Daily Telegraph, these so-called “honourable” members can still make life-changing capital gains funded by the public.

John Cooper
Hitchin, Hertfordshire

SIR – The headline on your leading article “Mrs Miller should say sorry to taxpayers” almost certainly reflected the reaction of 99 per cent of the British public to the latest chapter in the seemingly never-ending saga of MPs’ expenses.

So did your following remarks, “Do MPs not know what their main homes look like? This will strike many voters as another example of the political class protecting its own – and apparently undermining their own regulator to boot.” All this hammers one more nail in the coffin of public trust in politics and politicians.

It is almost beyond parody that Maria Miller is the Cabinet minister charged with overseeing politicians’ attempts to force newspapers to sign up to an archaic, post-Leveson Royal Charter form of press regulation that would do more for politicians’ self-interest than the taxpaying public’s right to know.

Hopefully, the public will also take note of the fact that, once again, it took a newspaper to alert the public to Maria Miller’s questionable interpretation of parliamentary expenses; not to mention the clumsy attempts by government officials to lean on the Telegraph, citing the Culture Secretary’s keynote role in the press regulation debate.

Despite the desperate efforts of Maria Miller and the Prime Minister, with his hasty declarations of support and desire to call the matter closed, the aftershocks of MPs spurning the judgment of the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner will reverberate through to next year’s general election. David Cameron’s decision to leave Maria Miller in place is one he could come to rue on polling day.

Paul Connew
St Albans, Hertfordshire

SIR – Why did Maria Miller need a “second home”? There are many trains between Basingstoke and London, and the journey takes less than 90 minutes. The journey from Wimbledon, where her other home was, takes half an hour.

So we taxpayers seem to have paid more than £90,000 to save this MP an hour a day.

Peter Burke
Carnoustie, Angus

Irish Times:

Irish Independent:

Madam – The garda commissioner makes his way up from the rank and file membership as opposed to some countries that operate a cadetship. The skills needed to perform in middle management are not necessarily adequate to fulfil the huge range of responsibilities as commissioner.

Also in this section

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Put lead in your pencil and use your vote

Sky deal is a slap in the face for GAA fans

If future commissioners are to possess the capabilities to steer the force towards excellence, two criteria must apply. Firstly, there must be a sprinkling of candidates joining from time to time capable of surviving at the various levels and eventually taking on the giant expansion of skills required to perform as head of the force.

Secondly, the promotion system must be capable of identifying, selecting and promoting these members. sergeants, superintendents, chief superintendents and commissioners have a major say and a veto at every stage of promotion of subordinates. The chances of these fulfilling the second criteria are low. The statistical chance of both criteria existing is very remote.

Middle management have plenty to do without the need to be involved in assessing staff for promotion. It is likely that some excellent staff are blocked along the way by managers who are not up to the job themselves or just don’t understand the need for fair objective selection. Simply put, if your chief doesn’t like you, you are not going anywhere. If cadetship is not in the frame, the services of outside help to oversee promotion by continuous assessment, based on ability, will be vital. Nepotism, sporting prowess, and luck are poor alternatives to clarity of thought, training, leadership and skill. Three commissioners forced into involuntary retirement since 1978 prove the need for change.

Val Martin,



Madam – Having long been familiar with the critical work of Anthony Cronin and his thoughts on the inordinately talented trio of Brendan Behan, Patrick Kavanagh, and Flann O’Brien, I must take issue with some of the points he raises in his interview with Willie Kealy, regarding the literary legacy of Brendan Behan (Sunday Independent, March 23, 2014).

Cronin states in relation to Behan: “… as if there’s a solid achievement to commemorate, which, alas, there isn’t. I wouldn’t think – aside from Borstal Boy, which I think is not even in print at the moment – that there’s not much to rest the reputation of the writer on”. I think Cronin sells Behan the writer very short in this assessment.

In fairness to him, Cronin at least mentions Borstal Boy, although he appears to undermine this mention by surmising that it’s not even in print at this point in time. Woe betide any writer who stakes his or her reputation on the exigencies of the publishing industry. The reputations of writers tend to go in and out of fashion, a point that Cronin himself noted some years ago in relation to the unfairly neglected Aidan Higgins. Borstal Boy itself ranks very highly in the realm of prison autobiography, bearing comparison with Jean Genet‘s The Miracle of the Rose and Our Lady of the Flowers. Indeed, Behan’s work surpasses Genet’s in its sympathy with the human condition and in his refusal to treat his characters as mere puppets and playthings.

Cronin also refers to The Hostage as “a totally different sort of entertainment”. This is a fair enough comment, but what about An Giall (the Irish-language play on which the inferior The Hostage is based and which is far more than an entertainment) and The Quare Fellow – both classics of modern Irish drama? And what about Behan’s fine poems in Irish and his masterpieces of short fiction, After the Wake and The Confirmation Suit? All in all, not an inconsiderable achievement on which to base a literary legacy.

Jim McCarthy,

Sandymount, Dublin 4


Madam – The headline to Eilis O’Hanlon’s article (Sunday Independent, March 30, 2014), – “For our seasoned politicians, ignorance isn’t merely bliss, it’s good business” – angered me. Yes, true, if it’s merely a game of French roulette among themselves, while forgetting they are in charge of running a country.

Good leadership was never so necessary in Ireland as now. Tens of thousands are unemployed, mortgage debt is a disaster and the population is burdened with new schemes and taxes.

Nevertheless, for the past few weeks nothing mattered in Dail Eireann – only problems with whistleblowers and phone tapping. Both are connected with inefficiency at the top and little to do with rank and file. As for ‘whistleblowers’ – they weren’t always known by that name! The only whistleblowers familiar to the general public would be those with the local hunts or refereeing matches. Culture changes – apparently it is now honourable and necessary to have a new professional whistleblowers’ outfit set up to combat wrong-doing in higher places. So be it!

Undoubtedly, the next time-waster in Government will be the local elections, when it would serve the country far better if they got their ‘ear to the ground’, started straightening the economy and created some jobs.

James Gleeson,

Thurles, Co Tipperary


Madam – For many years, Emer O’Kelly has been one of your finest journalists, not least in respect of her consistent criticism of the Catholic Church’s dreadful behaviour with regard to clerical sex abuse. Many of the latter columns, indeed, were written long before it was fashionable to ask serious questions of the Catholic hierarchy. It was a huge disappointment, therefore, to read her column (Sunday Independent, March 30, 2014), regarding former TD Patrick Nulty. This is a relatively young politician whose career has been abruptly ended and whose misdeeds have been splashed all over the national media. He has also publicly admitted to having a drink problem.

This very public shame, however, was not enough for Ms Kelly, apparently. She doesn’t consider the adjective “inappropriate”, as used in the media, to be sufficient to describe Mr Nulty’s actions. She manages to describe his behaviour as “pathetic”, “inexcusable”, “sleazy”, “exploitative”, “sordid”, “distasteful” and “contemptible”. He is among the “sad, inadequate people” who “indulge in such behaviour”. His career is ruined, and “many people will say, deservedly so”, Ms Kelly among them, clearly.

When I had finished reading Ms Kelly’s column, the phrase “kicking someone when he’s down” sprang to mind.

While Ms Kelly is clearly no fan of the Catholic Church, a little Christianity would have not gone amiss in her column.

Jim Hickey,



Madam –I think Carole Molloy (Sunday Independent, March 30, 2014), is wrong when she suggests your reporters are ‘Americanised’ after spending their gap year in the States. More likely after having been there for a week’s holidays!

Patricia Keeley,

Dublin 6W


Madam – In response to John McClung‘s letter taking offence at Northern Ireland being called “the North” (Sunday Independent, March 23, 2014), and John Brady’s letter in response (Sunday Independent, March 30, 2014), saying that “Ireland” is the name of this country, I was watching the Channel 4 Countdown where actress Maureen Lipman raved about her love of drinking a pint of Murphy’s in Beara in “Southern Ireland” which she repeated several times.

I checked my atlas, and googled it, but could not find “Southern Ireland” anywhere. Also Ireland is not one of the British Isles, the correct term is the British Isles and Ireland.

Pat Kelly,

Blackrock, Cork



Madam – Carol Hunt (Sunday Independent, March 30, 2014), wrote an article entitled ‘Brush up on mind control and methods to medicate’. She stated that the fluoridation of our water system is for our common good and any other opinion is “pure (bull)**it”. I beg to differ, and take extreme offence to her language. I do not want someone else deciding whether I should have fluoride added to my water for my own good. I can make that decision for myself.

Sharon McCarthy,

Tuam, Co Galway


Madam – It is with complete frustration that I write to you regarding an article by Declan Waugh and the fluoridation of water in Ireland.

He makes endless claims regarding the dangers of fluoride. I am appalled that a national paper is printing this. I hope this is the last we hear of Mr Declan Waugh and his campaign in your paper.

Anita Byrne,

Clonmel, Co Tipperary


Madam – The issue of the under-representation of women in the parliaments of what are supposed to be representative democracies is an interesting topic for debate as is highlighted by your two correspondents Robert Sullivan and Hugh Gibney (Sunday Independent, March 30, 2014).

The facts are that we are told that something like five per cent of TDs elected since independence were women and between 80 per cent and 90 per cent of the Dail at the moment are men. That can be accepted as a law of nature or it can be challenged by saying that it is inefficient to marginalise the interests, perspectives and talents of the majority of the population that are women in what is supposed to be a representative democracy.

The recent introduction of the condition that political parties have a minimum quota of women candidates in the next general election before they qualify for public funding has focused the debate.

What is proposed here is an increase in the number of women candidates, not, as stated by Robert Sullivan, ‘forcing us to vote for women’ and ‘sticking’ them into Leinster House. If the women on the ballot paper do not get elected that is the end of the matter.

Hugh Gibney raises the issue of ‘men of superior ability’ being ‘passed over’. The fact is that many more women of superior ability have been passed over throughout the years since independence because they did not even get as far as being considered by what Hugh Gibney himself calls ‘the relevant powers that be’.

A Leavy,

Sutton, Dublin 13


Madam – Dan O’Brien’s article “No Place for Weakness in Face of Grave Danger” is, in my view, ill-informed. I am married to a lady from a former USSR state which is now a full EU member – Latvia.

Russia has no economic interest in taking over Ukraine. Latvia was promised much when it joined the EU. When Russia was forced out of Latvia employers disappeared, and so did jobs and salaries.

They were not replaced with EU or American companies. All State pensions guaranteed by Russia disappeared. The result was economic catastrophe and today I know Latvian shop workers who earn €250 a month. So all young people left and went to Ireland and the UK as their immigration working laws were more lenient than continental Europe.

Most jobs in Ukraine are from small to medium sized local companies. The Ukraine is being sold a pretty picture in much the same way as Latvia was. Their only benefit will be the ability for their younger generations to emigrate and send home some money to their elders.

Damian Moylan,



Madam – My thanks to William Barrett (Letters, Sunday Independent, March 30, 2014) for his kind remarks. A seconding of his praise for your efforts towards encouraging a new politics.

As I write, the UN publishes its report on climate change for the benefit of those of us who experienced during the winter no mildly-moist intimations of the mortality of our planet’s doomed ecosphere. The legitimate demands of the Ukraine and the re-emergence of Tsarism have slipped us back into a new cold war, to the delight of the world’s military-industrial complex. We are being urged to solve our ‘energy security’ problems with questionable (but sectionally lucrative), quick-fix ‘solutions’ such as nuclear power and ‘cheap’ shale oil. The virus of endemic insoluble civil war spreads from the Middle East. The EU performs its snail’s-pace minuet towards serious economic, financial and institutional reforms. The success of which are all crucial to the viability of our socio-economic system (or ‘non-system’, if you prefer). But for which there is no political will, let alone zeal, among any of our European non-leaders. The wretched of the earth call out for pathetically small measures towards their subsistence and self-dependence but we cannot and – deliberately – will not hear them through the triple-glaze windows on our hearts.

Grotesquely and almost unbelievably, we can now calculate the day, the month and the year when all life on this planet will no longer be viable.

And yet in this tiny country, our ruling class is preoccupied with a sitcom about who, when, where did or did not get official communications – and process them according to standard or even commonsense procedure.

What is missing from our political equation is a pragmatic social democratic party, aware that the politics, the policies, the decisions, the actions, not ‘just’ of the future but of now, must be European and global.

They must earn the future by displaying a courage and creativity for which they have had too few role-models in the recent past.

Maurice O’Connell,

Tralee, Co Kerry


Madam – Six years after the Irish banking debt hard landing that destroyed the Irish economy, Sarah McCabe (Sunday Independent, March 30, 2014) has reported that Irish banks with recapitalised salaries and pensions for themselves, now require normal protocols in terms of debt collection for the doomed debt ratio products of 2005 to 2008. Normal debt collection protocols would apply to normal valued debt only.

From 2005 to 2008, Irish banks were selling unsustainable debt products, with the purpose of competing for aggressive profit growth.

In 2014, protocols include bonus claw back and redress for customers. Mortgage debt products that were doomed from day one will require special protocols to redress the devaluation of bank customers’ lives.

The correct protocol for Irish banks is to redress all 2005 to 2008 doomed debt ratio products before seeking an abolition of the cap on bankers’ pay.

Irish banks should be banned from declaring profitability before they redress all doomed debt ratio products of 2005 to 2008.

A long term customer- and Irish economy-friendly banking strategy is required to replace today’s aggressive profit growth strategy that ignores the Irish economy. Bank customers are the Irish economy.

Irish banks that cannot redress their doomed debt ratio products will fail the 2014 stress tests. The sustainable and honest financial reporting provided by a longer-term banking strategy is more likely to help a bank pass its stress test.

Honest financial reporting and doing the right thing for their customers may yet save Irish banks.

Mike Flannelly,


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