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Tony Curtis RIP: The lost art of complex realism

Paul Mason | 12:11 UK time, Thursday, 30 September 2010

Sometime in the 1980s I caught the overnight ferry to Paris and arriving too early in the morning had to wander around the streets in the twilight. For a long time I was the only person in sight but then a diminutive figure appeared also wandering aimlessly.

He was swathed in a checked overcoat and seemed to have hair that was both permed and brylcreemed, and a healthy tan. He nodded at me as he passed. It was Tony Curtis.
He had on his face that impish look of wonder, and a total relaxation and composure, that I now understand as the whole basis for his acting achievement.

Born in the Bronx as Bernie Schwarz, to a mentally ill mother, Curtis spent time in an orphanage and then the US Navy during World War II. He trained as an actor with some of the most radical figures in American theatre at The New School in New York, at a time when it was swamped by working class wannabee method actors - but his looks meant he was not destined for a career as a moody anti-hero.

The studios recruited him for his sultry onscreen persona but, as you piece together the bits of his early film career, Curtis gets deeper and deeper into portrayals of societal dysfunction and injustice. Films like Trapeze, the Outsider, the anti-racist drama The Defiant Ones are what made Hollywood in the 1950s a bastion of "progressivism".

But Curtis' triumph was his performance in Some Like It Hot. Here Curtis plays a saxophone player on the run from mobsters who has to act out two roles: that of a female saxophone player in an all-girl band, and a frigid Ivy League millionaire with a voice like Cary Grant.For me, Some Like It Hot stands as the 20th century's most complete comedy. It was voted the greatest American comedy film ever made, but I would happily drop the word comedy out of that accolade.

Watch the ease with which Curtis (Joe) turns from blustering, thwarted wide-boy into an involuntary girl called Josephine in the space of one phone call, in the following scene he and Jack Lemmon escape from the St Valentine's Day massacre. Watch as he acts out the very moment of establishing the fake character of oil millionaire "Junior", prompting Marilyn Monroe to famously exclaim "Shell Oil?!?!?!"

Much of the charm and genius of Some Like It Hot is in the script and direction: the creation of conceit upon conceit, but the believability and the creation of the "world" of the film is in the hands of the actors.

But the world of that film is a lost world: the world of ensemble acting; the world where actors steeped in the traditions of Brecht, Piscator and Stanislavsky could turn out intelligent, challenging, collective performances in films that spoke the shtick of the streets so fast that you had to be a city-dweller to keep up.

And something else is lost: my sometime colleague on Newsnight Review/The Review Show, Sarah Churchwell, makes the point that in the "screwball" comedies of the 1930s there are women portrayed whose personas stand as a kind of reprimand to the simpering "feminine" roles allocated to young women actors today. I think the same could be said about Curtis and masculinity.

His performances in the late 50s and early 60s contain an honesty, complexity and a centredness in the male persona that you will have to go a long way to find on celluloid today (paradoxically the best TV drama actors still achieve it - I am thinking Michael K Williams as Omar in The Wire, or James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano). Whether its the film business losing the will to portray people in the way Curtis and director Billy Wilder did, or actors losing their ability to deploy this complex realism, something's missing.

It's missing even more now he's gone.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Time. That's what's missing. There is no time to hone or develop one's craft, or explore the greats of Brecht and Stanislavski fully, or even rehearse with your fellow actors before the cameras roll.

    Drama Schools: Stanislavski taught in a month; Method Class on Wed afternoon just before tap dancing class. Shakespeare just this term. Brecht - no thanks. Berkoff - you must be kidding - it's just for amateurs and kids. Meyerhold - "who?" No depth. No perseverance. No exploration. But get an agent asap. Instant acting for an instant age.

    Even stage shows now expect actors to turn up to first rehearsals "off-book" (ie knowing their lines), for TV it's DLP (dead letter perfect), or in musical theatre knowing the time-worn dance steps, and then only rehearse for 10 days.

    "Captain Picard" no less felt shock at being expected to know his lines for the first day of Next Generation shoots. A few years back I saw him give a fantastic performance in Ant & Cleo but make slight textual errors (i was coaching another actor at the time take on the role so knew a lot of the text myself). So what?!! He was fantastic. He lived every syllable as if it had just erupted inside him for the first time.

    It maybe that the industrial process of TV demands instant verbal perfection and fast turnaround and so comes at the cost of artistic truth. No exploration, no search for truth, just delivery, delivery, delivery. Watching Amanda Burton (a very decent actress) in Waterloo Road the other day i was utterly shocked and saddened at the paucity of the script she was expected to inhabit. Her acting was terrible - done in a hurry with BIG emotional hamming, and the camera work - all "Bourne Identity" hand held rubbish - which is now the off-the shelf substitute for depth and realism.

    Ian McKellan, too, in the Observer also bemoans the lack of interest in depth of young contemporary actors today. It's all about "getting seen" and "getting a profile" so you can get work. Hang the craft. Hang the journey. The US (i am told) still offer space and time for actors to explore their craft, what with the leftovers of the Actors Studio still plying their trade. In the UK the soaps set the expected norm and entry level into the big time.

    The Rep system, which was the UK alternative to the theoretical approaches and experimental schools in Europe and the US, developed in British actors the ability to discover the nuances and truth in and between words, mine the hidden depths of artistic structure, and simply be able to play seven different characters all in one week. Now, most TV actors struggle to portray anything more than an empty rendition of themselves.

    Midsomer Murders, for all its glorious naffness and self-parody, used to revel in the brilliant character acting of it's suspects, drawn from a generation steeped in the stage and screen of yesteryear, and a culture of having to create depth and truth in a myriad of different characters week in, week out. Now, it seems merely populated by footballers' wives and Soap emigres.

    For "quality ballast" the same old faces are continually sought. No wonder. They know their craft. They have substance. Why look elsewhere when Ken, Judi, Rick or Emma are on hand? The same is true in theatre. Younger actors struggle to get the time to develop their skills on stage in quality productions, and learn the joy in exploration, as they fight to be "discovered" moving from one scratch company to another.

    Pathetically ironic but the ensemble ethos is almost always invoked when a new company is formed, with all the usual trust and bonding exercises which achieve very little (a few titanic drinking sessions and a few healthy punch ups in the pub would do far more good - as Rugby is rediscovering! lol.). These so-called ensembles are formed only to be disbanded once the production is over. Some ensemble. True ensembles live on year after year, thus delivering truly memorable performances: Mike Leigh. Woody Allen. Scorsese. They all know the value of a cast who know and trust each other intimately.

    Those who do try and embark on a voyage of discovery through their art miss the boat. "New! New! New!". Or, is that now, "Next next next (generation)". What value longevity, time, consideration, depth? Instant fame; instant acting. Instantly forgettable. "Thank you. NEXT!"

    Anyway Ireland's tanking and Spain too so i'll get back to following the End of Western Civilization pt III, as i'm sure you are too, Paul.

  • Comment number 2.

    its the scripts. script is king.

    tony surely has 'ease' in his acting which is the sign of a skilled workman if not a master.

  • Comment number 3.

    Something is missing, that spark or creativity bourne of hard won real life experience and tempered by a finely tuned nature to direct it towards something which engenders a positive experience for all who are touched by it.

    We are like the lotus eaters of mythical times, the lack of creativity (ala Some Like it Hot) is an expression of the culture of the lotus eaters starting to feed back into the traditional creative outlets stiffling that which makes life worth the living in a deceptively comfy bed of 3dtv, broadband, facebook and elf n safety.


    Tony Curtis lived.

  • Comment number 4.

    There is a Hollywood story that a veteran Billy Wilder, having finished pitching an idea to a Hollywood 'big-shot', who appeared to have just left High School, was asked by the said 'big-shot' what films he had done. To which Billy Wilder is alleged to have asked the studio guy what he had done - and exited.

    That's the problem with Hollywood nowadays - no sense of history nor understanding of what has gone on before. Everything is youth, youth, youth and many who make the decisions in Hollywood today have little knowledge of the likes of Wilder and Curtis... little knowledge of what has gone before.

    It is said that great actors can make even a mediorce screenplay good but take a great screenplay, throw in some brilliant actors and genius of a director and you end up with Hollywood that surpasses mere film or entertainment - it becomes Art. It becomes legacy.

    I was trying to make a list today of all the greats that Curtis himself had worked with - Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Jack Lemmon, Janet Leigh, Marilyn Monroe, Laurence Olivier, James Stewart, Gina Lollobrigida, Ernest Borgnine, Sidney Poitier, Cary Grant, Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov, Elizabeth Taylor, Kim Novak - the list goes on and on and on... and these are just the acting talent and not a list of the writing or directing talent that Curtis worked with.

    Channel 4 News just described Curtis as a movie star and not a great actor - how wrong can they be? You only have to look at the roles he chose and the performances that he gave in 'The Defiant Ones', 'The Sweet Smell of Success', 'The Outsider' - a pretty boy would not have chosen those films. An actor would and did.

    Thanks for your anecdote about Tony Curtis Paul and for your lovely tribute to him.

    There is no point in saying more about 'Some Like It Hot' other than that Curtis could play drama and comedy equally as skillfully whilst also fulfilling the pretty boy action hero in Hollywood epics.

    A movie star Channel 4? No, one of the great actors of his age.

  • Comment number 5.

    Sarah Churchwell, makes the point that in the "screwball" comedies of the 1930s there are women portrayed whose personas stand as a kind of reprimand to the simpering "feminine" roles allocated to young women actors today. I think the same could be said about Curtis and masculinity"

    Sarah made an astute observation/remark.

    "His performances in the late 50s and early 60s contain an honesty, complexity and a centredness in the male persona that you will have to go a long way to find on celluloid today....Whether its the film business losing the will to portray people in the way Curtis and director Billy Wilder did, or actors losing their ability to deploy this complex realism, something's missing."

    It's just an acknowledged fact that Hollywood stopped playing to male gentile expectations as the USA demographics changed and the country became more neo-liberal/liberated. A change for the worse. Still they'll pay for it. :-(

  • Comment number 6.

    Great post trikidiki.

    May I suggest that you check out the stories of young actors on the numerous Hollywood gossip sites such as Blindgossip, Blinditemsexposed, CDAN (Crazy Days And Nights), and others.

    When you read about the, alleged, fake marriages, fake partnerships and faked dating in order to move from D-list to A-list, and realise just how short a time an actor has to make it up the list before another becomes the favour of the month, it is truly eye-opening and disheartening.

    Being good at your craft appears to have little to do with anything nowadays. Who you are seen with, who you are sleeping with and what you are prepared to do, allegedly, and with whom is how to build a career as an actor it seems.

    The casting couch has always existed on both sides of the Atlantic.

    Your point about soap operas is well made.

  • Comment number 7.

    Did you change the name of this blog to Matinee Idol Scrawl?

  • Comment number 8.

    tawse

    Bloody hell!

    It must be the whiskey!

    I've just seen Blears again on BBC2 and am still thinking she don't look half bad!

  • Comment number 9.

    I must just like feeble, un-empowered women!

  • Comment number 10.

    I'm now just watching a programme on BBC2 tonight about privately educated boys.

    I have just thought of the affirmation...

    'Give me a child untill the age of 11...and he will be a free-market capitalist for life'

  • Comment number 11.

    DebtJuggler - I worry for you. I truly do.

    Given a choice between Hazel Blears or Tony Curtis in drag I think I would choose Tony Curtis anyday.

    Now I am worried about myself.

  • Comment number 12.


    oh dear! the boys boarding school programme gets worse.

    The programme is getting sadder and sadder (Harrow btw)

    Boys aged 9

    OK ...it's your first interview for a job at the world bank. I go to shake your hand!

    No!


    No!


    You dont shake a hand like that!

    Not limp wristed!


    No! you don't squeeze his hand to death!


    blah!

    blah!

    blah!


    Father says ...sorry son...I have not seen you for 9 months because I've been serving in Afghanistan!

  • Comment number 13.

    Father says ...sorry son...I have not seen you for 9 months because I've been serving time in Pentonville for mortgage fraud!

    Nah, that is fantasy.

  • Comment number 14.

    8. At 11:38pm on 30 Sep 2010, DebtJuggler wrote

    I've just seen Blears again on BBC2 and am still thinking she don't look half bad!


    Mind you, in the spirit of era, thinking of 'Singing in the Rain', what comes out of her mouth can be... taxing...

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-11444657

  • Comment number 15.

    as a kid girls would swoon when Tony Curtis came on screen, they screamed the place down but in The Vikings you could see the guy was not just a pretty face but a real actor. I always rated TC as he came from the streets could see thorough the BS's and still had a healthy respect for humanity and all it's failings. Paul did a fantastic tribute to him and typical of a guy who won't cross PL, when he married Janet Leigh, they divorced in 1962, a marriage which I thought was made in heaven, I would love to know what went wrong there I think his best part was in Sweet Smell of Success and also Lancaster's best performance.. great actor,,grest guy..

  • Comment number 16.

    Paul
    Off-topic but in your review of "23 things" you made a comment which is way off the facts:
    “In his most audacious assault, Chang attempts to show that the decline of manufacturing compared to services is a) over-stated (because of mis-classification) and b) primarily a function of manufacturing’s efficiency and dynamism, allowing it to produce more with less.”
    As Newsnight's Economics Editor this is a most amazing viewpoint - both the fact that it's an assault, and even more that it's audacious. The classification argument goes back to Marshall's "Principles of Economics"; Fisher, Clark, Fourasie, Baumol and Fuchs had asserted the other arguments before 1970.
    Have a read of "The Shift to Services: A Review of the Literature" Ronald Schettkat, Lara Yocarini, Institute for the Study of Labor, December 2003, if you don't believe me.
    On topic, I'm tempted to say "Nobody's perfect" but...


  • Comment number 17.

    y'know paul, I am not sure 'complex realism' has been lost.

    You just have to know where to look for it, interestingly the place where it has found sanctuary is in childrens television.

    i know i have sung the praises of CBBC 'horrible histories' before, here are acouple of my favourites, i think Tony curtis would have loved these and like me, wondered why this kind of thing can only be found on childrens TV now?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YjeqRHdBwkY


    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbeozXrw4E4


    and finally

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51aHb_U8Zr0


    Enjoy

    .

  • Comment number 18.

    no17 addendum

    If newsnight really wants to /has the courage to do something special and groundbreaking in journalism, maybe you should consider linking up to do a couple of 'specials' with the team from 'horrible histories' but with a more contemporary theme.

    We may laugh ( as in my post above) at the ideas and antics of our ancestors but the well is equally as deep today.

    Go for it newsnight, you have the journalistic and editorial talent and the reputation, use it, dare to be different, dare to dream.


  • Comment number 19.

    @17 - Nice links Jericoa :-)

    Complex realism isn't dead - you only have to consider Bremner, Bird and Fortune.

    On the other hand, although Terry Pratchett writes fantasies, his characters are firmly rooted in THIS world.

    Decades ago, in a PG Wodehouse novel I read of a fraud perpetrated by one of the characters - called "Flying a Kite". It went something like this. £100 was deposited in a bank. Then a cheque for £200 was drawn on this and deposited in another bank. Then a cheque for £400 was drawn on the second account and deposited in the original. And so it went on until the character was in a position to withdraw £1000 and put in on on a horse running in the 2:30 at Newmarket. Of course the horse lost, and the result was comic disaster.

    Now, I am sure you see the parallels. Similar money multiplication and gambling has been carried out by the banks, but somehow it isn't illegal. And the resulting disaster isn't comical either.

  • Comment number 20.

    #19

    Glad you enjoyed them, I share the sentiment on the financial crises, it would be a good sketch to run for 'children in need'

    ''The newsnight team does the banking crisis in the style of CBBC Horrible Histories''.

    It is no less ridiculous than this.


    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3RacavLulI&feature=related


    Except the joke is still on us and I doubt the studio audience would be laughing, in fact they may be more likely to grab the nearest blunt instruyment and head off to the City of London.

    Perhaps we can get the British Banking Association to sponsor Children in need for £1million if they do NOT do the sketch as described above.

    Got to be worth a punt eh Newsnight... do it for the children....



  • Comment number 21.

    @20 I'll settle for the Horrible Histories team, or maybe Paul, Stephanie and Robert, doing a "Bankers In Need" sketch?

    I wouldn't trust the bankers - they'd probably make themselves out to be victims. Anyway, I think having your humour lobes removed is a condition of the job.

    Ah well, back to the OU revision for an hour or so, then get ready for my choir's concert tonight in aid of the RNLI (and a beer barrel for us.)

  • Comment number 22.

    14. At 12:49pm on 01 Oct 2010, JunkkMale wrote:

    'Mind you, in the spirit of era, thinking of 'Singing in the Rain', what comes out of her mouth can be... taxing...'

    -------------------------

    What a clip!!!

    Oh well, I guess I have to agree!

    She is pea sized...and obviously pea brained.

    It says a lot for this country that she was ever able to reach the position of Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Minister without portfolio and Labour Party Chair.

    She's not a very good at lying either!

    Gawd 'elp us!

  • Comment number 23.

    THE REASONS FOR THE END OF THE 'AMERICAN DREAM'?


    This article is about the demise of The American Dream:

    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

    Think about:

    1). The almost catastrophic shift in the USA demographics and economy https://www.ets.org/perfect_storm

    2). The Drebeneque denial brought about by John Rawls' 'Difference Principle' (look into this yourselves, it's subtle.).

    3) The recently enacted 2010 Equality Act, which if I've read it right, actually sees past 'Protected Characteristics' favouring any group over any other (amongst others, the act repeals the 1976 Race Relations Act - think Faith Schools).

    For what it's worth, I think it's good that Newsnight's Economics Editor posted the above article - but how many will try to see through the 'Veil of Ignorance'?

  • Comment number 24.

    As an alternative to the link, here's a BBC one which went up at about the same time:

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/11458523

    Edmund Connelly's and Steve Sailor's articles are worth a look for further background reading.

    When is a minority a minority? Consider some London boroughs where White British is now a minority (or Hispanics in California the home of Hollywood).What is the context for deciding what a minority is?
    If White British comprise only 25% of a Local Authority (say in East London), are they not a minority group? Do they have Protected Characteristics?

  • Comment number 25.

    In his keynote speech to the Conservative conference in Birmingham the Chancellor will say that failing to address the growing mountain of borrowing now will lead to spiralling repayment costs, rising unemployment and higher interest rates."

    Telegraph 4 October

    https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/conservative/8040562/George-Osborne-Britain-risks-lost-decade-due-to-credit-card-economy.html


    Could Paul Mason, Stephanie Flanders or Robert Peston please look into, and perhaps even let us in the public know, how much the likes of Tesco, Top Shop, Starbucks, Virgin, British Gas, British Airways, BT, BP etc borrow on their 'credit cards'? It's very convenient to talk about what the average Mr and Mrs Public allegedly borrow, but what about all of the onetime Public Sector companies which are now Private Sector companies which borrow from banks to run their businesses? How much do THEY owe, and by bailing out the banks by sacrificing even more Public Sector jobs and services paid for by public taxes, how much are we in fact bailing the PRIVATE SECTOR OUT and destroying what is left of the public? Surely the Conservatives (and Lib-Dems) would never play a part in any of that? Nor would New Labour or New Ge4neration Labour surely?

  • Comment number 26.

    14. At 12:49pm on 01 Oct 2010, JunkkMale wrote:

    With respect to the Andrew Neil 'malicious and wicked' New Labour remarks by Blears and her efforts to explain them, I keep reminding myself that whilst none of us are omniscient when one listens to the high verbal fluency of the likes of Hazel Blears and Russell Brand this should be contrasted with the snail pace speech of good philosophers and scientists who are in the truth business (the first in how we talk about truths and the second in efforts to improve upon what we hold to be
    true) It seems to me that those with little conscience may have the advantage of greater verbal fluency as they are less aware of the consequences of their behaviours? We all have one X chromosome, perhaps some of us who have a bit extra put our brakes on allowing us to look further in the interests of human safety? It's rarely those drawn to modern politics, comedy or the media..

  • Comment number 27.

    25. At 1:43pm on 04 Oct 2010, tabblenabble01 wrote:
    Could Paul Mason, Stephanie Flanders or Robert Peston please look into, and perhaps even let us in the public know, how much the likes of Tesco, Top Shop, Starbucks, Virgin, British Gas, British Airways, BT, BP etc borrow on their 'credit cards'? It's very convenient to talk about what the average Mr and Mrs Public allegedly borrow.........
    -------------------------------------------------------

    By the same token the comment a week or two back from the BoE that we should spend more than save should be addressed (if it has to be addressed anywhere) to the corporates that are supposedly sitting on cash mountains.

  • Comment number 28.

    "27. At 4:27pm on 04 Oct 2010, Kit Green wrote:

    By the same token the comment a week or two back from the BoE that we should spend more than save should be addressed (if it has to be addressed anywhere) to the corporates that are supposedly sitting on cash mountains."

    Do you reckon they think we're ALL stupid Kit? (all except them of course).

  • Comment number 29.

    Paul,

    Norman Wisdom has gone now as well. There was intelligence and realism embedded in his slapstick style too.

    Ben Elton will probably go for a health check tomorrow.

    Where is Ben anyway.. surprised his brand of humour has not come around again directed at bankers rather than politicians this time. But there again what media network would put him on primetime now?

    Newsnight interview perhaps ' Ben elton takes on the bankers' a stand up comedy sketch from Ben followed by some serious debate on the issues he humourises?

    That could work rather well y'know..

    Dare to dream NN.

  • Comment number 30.

    #25 and #27

    The extent of debt in the economy is easily measured by the extent of "assets" held by the banking sector. Currently this sits at about 5 times GDP. This will be the aggregate of personal, corporate, and public sector debt. See Andrew Haldane's Banking on the State.

    At the peak Icelandic banks held about 8-10 times their GDP. Now they are suing their former prime minister for economic negligence.

    Every sensible person in this country should stop watching X-Factor or the Apprentice and read Peter Warburton's Debt & Delusion.

  • Comment number 31.

    "Where is Ben anyway.. surprised his brand of humour has not come around again directed at bankers rather than politicians this time."

    -------------------------

    Why stand up when making money?...when you can make it sitting down!

    Meltdown by Ben Elton
    https://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/nov/10/ben-elton-meltdown

  • Comment number 32.

    About 15 years ago I saw a very sprightly Norman Wisdom, he must have been late 70s is not 80 then, launch himself up and over a grand piano - backwards - in an interview that I and a colleague were editing for an Arts show.

    I could not do that then and I am twice as tall as him and half his age.

    For a moment, as no doubt intended, I thought he had done himself a terrible injury and had probably broken a hip. But Norman being Norman had fooled us all, got up laughing and smiling.

    A wonderful comic, a wonderful actor and seemingly a truly wonderful, kind and lovely human being.



  • Comment number 33.

    "Where is Ben anyway.. surprised his brand of humour has not come around again directed at bankers rather than politicians this time. But there again what media network would put him on primetime now?"

    You still don't get it do you? ben's humour was egosyntonic and consistent wit the wider anarchistic/libertarian strategy of eroding the state (politicians made to appear useless back then via Fluck and law etc, Elton etc is seen more recently in the Expenses Scandal). It is perfectly possible for 'alternative comedians' to play a role with those more directly helping the state to wither away, i.e Thatcher and friends at the time. All you had to do was laugh as the rug was pulled from under your own feet. Get it? Or will your ego make hat too hard to grasp. That is how it works I am suggesting. (feel free to substitute WE for YOU in all the above if that helps as I use YOU just to drive the point painfully home :-( )

    It all thrives on vanity. Remember Yes Minister. Civil Servants just had an Honour Code to preserve the state. They could not speak in their own defence either.

    be sure to look up the Connelly, Sailor and most recently Hitchens (Oct
    4 Slate) articles on the Identity Politics subterfuge. Look upon comedy as one strand and look carefully for the target as the non gay, non black, non female, non disabled, group (look at the workforce)

  • Comment number 34.

    30. At 09:16am on 05 Oct 2010, Hawkeye_Pierce wrote:

    OK, I'll follow up your references. But, do they, or can you, shed any light on the specific questions raised in our posts?

  • Comment number 35.

    "A wonderful comic, a wonderful actor and seemingly a truly wonderful, kind and lovely human being."

    Or someone else, who like Russell Brand and many others (e.g Fry), had to be the centre of attention at the expense of everyone else around them (see Hattie Jacques on Wisdom). I take it you saw the programme "‘The Secret Life of Norman Wisdom aged 92 and three-quarters’?" with Wisdom's daughter-in-law 'visiting' him in the Isle of Man?

    A benevolent warning: these types burn brightly, but it's all illusion, which is nothing to aspire to. So long as so many are taken in (and it's hard to tell given the way that the media is self-selecting i.e a bias - many say it's 'just fun'), we are collectively at risk. Stop reinforcing bad behaviour.

  • Comment number 36.

    #31

    I have never read any of his books, he does pop up every now and again I notice but in the 80's he was everywhere and quite influencial, despite tabblnabbles protestations I miss that kind of fresh dynamism irrespective of undelying motive.


    #32

    Fantastic anecdote Tawse, I am looking forward to re-discovering Norman in the coming days / weeks as the tributes and re-runs will flood in. I remember he was one of the very few who had the capacity to make me laugh (just by laughing himself often) until I cried and my tummy hurt.

    Modern life does not seem to generate that kind of 'hard won' creativity anymore in an individual. Sure there is talent out there but, I dont know, it all seems tainted somehow to varying degrees, there was an undimmed raw and impenetrable genuine diamond like quality to Norman Wisdom and his talent. ''Mr Grimsdale'' ... I am smiling already, what a legacy to leave.. thank you Norman, thank you so much.


    #33 Tabble,

    I get a flavour of where you are coming from but 'strategy' implies some form of organisation behind it, if the dynamic you suggest is at play I think it is at a sub-conscious level.

    Irrespective I still think there would be value in the approach I suggested (a Ben stand up routine on bankers followed by a serious debate on the same) its the idea of being able to break the stranglehold on the reported view on the current crisis I see as being the most important thing to get a proper debate going outside of the confines of current thinking and yet mainstream.

    If Ben in some way could assist to unlock that bottleneck then why not?


  • Comment number 37.

    36. At 1:08pm on 05 Oct 2010, Jericoa wrote:

    "#33 Tabble,

    "I get a flavour of where you are coming from but 'strategy' implies some form of organisation behind it, if the dynamic you suggest is at play I think it is at a sub-conscious level. "

    No it doesn't. You are wrong and it's really important that you grasp this. Look into some sociobiology (or operant analysis), evolutionary strategies are not conscious. These are descriptions which explain behaviour. Think of an ant colony. Ants don't plan. Their behaviours are Fixed Action Patterns which have been selected by evolution to work this way. Forget plans or intentions. Think of behaviours in terms of consequences alone. Animal behaviour is controlled by its consequences. One of the greatest cons/misdirection in recent times has been to make out that intentions matter. Reasons are not causes.

  • Comment number 38.

    36. At 1:08pm on 05 Oct 2010, Jericoa wrote:

    "Irrespective I still think there would be value in the approach I suggested (a Ben stand up routine on bankers followed by a serious debate on the same) its the idea of being able to break the stranglehold on the reported view on the current crisis I see as being the most important thing to get a proper debate going outside of the confines of current thinking and yet mainstream.

    If Ben in some way could assist to unlock that bottleneck then why not?"

    Because once one has to resort to celebrities to get things moving one has already lost the plot?

    The only debates which ever matter are those which comprise stages in legislation in Parliament, and even these don't make much difference as the Bills were drafted long before behind the scenes by Civil Servants, the substantive work is done at the Committee Stage and in the end, it's seats which matter. We are, across our EU democracies, in the grip of legislation which, as I keep saying, is largely Libertarian (anarchistic). We don't need more self-centred anarchistic comedians making things even worse whilst getting a small fortune for their troubles. Try to see what I am saying here.

    Have you ever stopped and asked yourself what humour actually is, or do you just stop at the laughing?

    We, like the BBC, are hog-tied by legislation -

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criminal_Justice_and_Immigration_Act_2008

    Did you laugh at 'Little Britain'? Do you see how littler it has become?
    Is that funny or tragic?

  • Comment number 39.

    #34

    This Spectator link puts our debt to GDP at 4 times (i.e. circa £6tr):

    https://www.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/3078296/the-true-extent-of-britains-debt.thtml

    This isn't split out by Private, Corporate or Gvt though. The following from an IMF researcher gets us a bit closer:

    https://forums.imf.org/showthread.php?t=3757

    Therefore putting total liabilities at about £7tr. Trying to work back from the figures we get something like:

    Consumer - £1.5tr
    Gvt - £~1tr
    Corporate (exl. fin) - £0.5tr
    Corporate (Financial) - £4tr

    Clearly the last two items are the most fuzzy. Certainly companies have had to really ramp up their debt to equity ratios (i.e. leverage) to remain competitive this last decade or so (again Warburton covers this off I seem to recall, even writing in 1999).

    Incidentally, here's Warburton writing in 2001, and see how poignant his observations are:

    https://gata.org/node/8303

    But I still declare that the financial sector has the worst Return on Capital Employed that mankind has ever witnessed:

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/newsnight/paulmason/2010/05/uk_emergency_budget_open_threa.html

  • Comment number 40.

    Thanks. That's a start. I take it you can see where we are headed on this? It's about knowing what we are every referring to with figures.

    For example, if one were to assume about 14 million home owners and, (just for the sake of argument), estimated that they all had an outstanding mortgage for £180,000 (one should really , double that as the lifetime debt for the mortgage), one could say that even if there were just 10,000,000 homeowners with just on average a £180,000 mortgage debt, that would be a £1.8 trillion debt alone would it not?

    The big question is why the corporates are not being encouraged (by HMG) to spend their money, which of course includes the banks.....Are we being befuddled by Libertarians? Silly question I know...

  • Comment number 41.

    #38

    I am possibly not as far away from your position as you think, I understand the requirement to control our base line instincts, I understand the potential for regression surrounding the libertarian / anarchist agenda increasing embodiment (bizarely) in law.

    If you are concerned and want to assist to effect a change to halt the decline in the westertn governance (as oppose to China governance whom I would presume you broadly approve of) then I think you have to recognise that you have to mobilise those same baseline human instincts as every succesful control system of humanities darker side has done in the past. The most obvious one being religion, religions use of celebrity is as blatent as it gets. Capitalisms harnessing of human greed is another great success (until recently when it has hit the buffers of sustainability and some bright spark undid the harnesses in the early 90's).

    If you alude to Niche's 'superman' (Zarathustra is a bit of a celebrity as well)it is self defeating, the core value in existing at all is to be happy. On that score the intellectuals fail miserably in my experience of them, give me a night of dancing under the stars around abonfire to the beat of African drums any day over a debate about Carl Marx in a pub. I often come back to something Steve Biko said 'westerners have cold calculating minds, africans experience life''.

    First you have to agree what a successful life actually is before you build a system to promote and sustain it. I suspect through the considerable intensity and power of your intellect you dont see that, it dominates you.

    I have never seen little Britain by the way, is it any good? :)

    #39 hawkeye,

    Depressing but nicely put together and thanks anyway. I am off to track down some norman wisdom clips on u tube now as an antidote.


  • Comment number 42.

    "If you are concerned and want to assist to effect a change to halt the decline in the westertn governance (as oppose to China governance whom I would presume you broadly approve of) "

    China basically implemented the Old Labour system! Go back and look at the Fabian Society, the Webbs, and what the Beveridge Report brought about. I just get exasperated at how naive people are today as they have no recollection of what life was like in the 50s and 60s when we actually had a state. The anarchists use horror stories about 1930s Germany then the pre 1953 USSR then modern China to put you all off voting Old Labour here that's all.

    All you have to ask now, is why, and how it's still being egregiously done as they milk what is left of the Public Sector whilst bankers and those in the Private Sector sneer and get fatter.

    It's been said before, probably many times, but it all comes down to population growth and where in the gene pool most of that growth actually is. What we urgently need is a major shift in policy, and I'm not at all sure that a £500 pw cap on benefits at the larger lower end (which is where most benefits now go) and a small cut in Child benefit for those in the 40% bracket, is the best way to go about this (to put it mildly to disguise extreme irony). But is anyone taking this on board?.I fear not.

    " often come back to something Steve Biko said 'westerners have cold calculating minds, africans experience life''.

    Go and look at the birth rate, longevity, war, murder/rape and general disease (including AIDS) not to mention chronic poverty in Africa and then come back and say that again. What you've written and quoted is utter nonsense and my picking you up on it is my doing you a very big favour. Why are they so keen to leave in droves? Most of them are like big kids, and most of the continent (like some South Asian countries (Bangladesh and Pakistan are not a lot better maybe 15 mean IQ points up on Sub Saharan Africa) are illustrative of what happens economically, politically etc if one leaves one's populations to run their course in terms of natural dysgenic birth rates. Don't kid yourself that it can't happen here, it already is. See recent Child Benefit allowance and my link back to Beveridge 1942 - some tried to stop it!


  • Comment number 43.

    41. At 9:23pm on 05 Oct 2010, Jericoa wrote:

    "First you have to agree what a successful life actually is before you build a system to promote and sustain it. I suspect through the considerable intensity and power of your intellect you dont see that, it dominates you."

    Let's get something very clear. I am not playing one-upmanship here.
    What I'm writing isn't a bit of clever academic argument either, it's just an empirical description of a lot of what is factually happening, or has happened in the past. If some of it's unfamiliar to you that's probably mainly because I've been doing this somewhat longer than you have, that's all. That doesn't make me any smarter or better either.

    Just take what I write, compare it with alternative accounts, find material which doesn't quite fit, and try to do something useful with it as believe it or not, I'm just trying to be helpful. I think we are in a hell of a mess, and I'm trying to explain how and why in order to highlight what needs to be done to get out of it. Read the pdf by Connelly and think about how much of the media is used to poison collectivism in the interest of individualism as consumerism (i.e profit). I am suggesting that what we are seeing is a Libertarian team effort. An economic 'kulturkampf' with most of us being the suckers.

  • Comment number 44.

    #41, 42 and 43

    Jericoa...take in what is accurately being analysed by tn01.

    It may be upalletable, but it is all broadly true. It IS 'their' dirty little secret.

    For a compelling proof of what tn01 says, just listen (very carefully) to Cameron's closing speech today re 'Big Society'...and all will become clear.

    These Trotskyite free-market anarchists, if nothing else, are certainly consistent.

    The child benefit announcement this week is just a case-in-point.

    (just out of interest, how often did you question your engineering tutors?...and if you did, how often were they right and you were wrong?)

  • Comment number 45.

    I think he has a point!

    - - - -


    Faisal Islam - House Price Plunge Is Off The Scale!

    "I didn't even know a monthly fall of 3.6 % was possible. Ob monthly figures are volatile. This is off the scale ... Do catch up BBC!!!"

    https://twitter.com/faisalislam/status/26628928206

  • Comment number 46.

    Just a quick note guys, struggling with redundancy issues / severence negotiations at the moment so no time to post, thanks for the responses, I will elaborate my position further as soon as I get chance on this thread.

  • Comment number 47.

    Best of luck Jericoa.

    If it is of any help I know of some people in a Central Govt legal dept that got 'outsourced' to Welsh Assembly control who have been offered redundancy.

    They get 3 years salary if they go now or they get 1 year salary if they go next year - and several could not make up their minds what to do.

    Fascinating, the older ones do not wish to go even though they are getting the better packages. The younger ones have an attitude of "Oh well, we will get another job!" but many of them weren't even glints in their father's eyes back in the 1980s. They have no idea what is coming.

  • Comment number 48.

    Good luck Jericoa.

    I don't always agree with your posts, but I do admire your optimistic outlook on life in general.

    An experienced bilingual engineer (and REAL wealth creator) shouldn't find it too difficult to secure employment quickly, even in the current economic climate.

    It's the younger ones that I really fear for.

  • Comment number 49.

    47& 48

    Thanks guys appreciated, severence negotiations are going well, looks like I will get the same pay as an external technical consultant for the same company working only 2 days a week plus reasonable (but only a fraction of government)''redundancy'' for going relatively quietly.

    In return they get me out of the board, their most junior member always challenging them proved too much in the end, as I said to the HR consultant today ''a triumph of leverage over substance''

    A theme often explored here is it not.....


    #44

    ''just out of interest, how often did you question your engineering tutors?...and if you did, how often were they right and you were wrong?)''

    I challenged them all the time, mostly by not turning up at all or turning up in a condition not conducive to learning. The whole thing bored me. I thought a lot of it was art dressed up as science or visa versa, but they found it hard to grade that and I nearly failed (got a third class honours after flunking and re-taking 2 out of the three years).

    When I got out of academia and started in the real world of engineering, after a hands on aprenticeship I seemed (despite my poor academic record) to do extremely well making it to Technical Director at 39 and into the boardroom, at which point I immediately seemed to be identified as a delinquent again and got thrown out this week (but not for poor attendance and application this time).

    I have never had a claim against my work and the feedback I get is quite the oposite. I saw and still see the 'hard' number crunching aspect of engineering as an approximation of something else, not as an absolute.


    I go into such detail and offer up these personal (and very current) anecdotes because it does express where I am coming from in many of my posts and (forgive me) in what I am trying to do in awakening in certain individuals the spark of the idea that analysis is not everything and to realise that is neither corrupting or a mark of ill mental discipline, it is an aceptance of the way things actually are.

    For example #42

    " often come back to something Steve Biko said 'westerners have cold calculating minds, africans experience life''.

    ''Go and look at the birth rate, longevity, war, murder/rape and general disease (including AIDS) not to mention chronic poverty in Africa''


    Of course you are right in a literal sense and I would never disagree with that.

    However is not one ultimate expresssion of '' cold calculating minds' the nanny state and the compensation / elf and safety culture UK plc circa 2010. That clearly does not bring happiness. Equally 'experiencing life' in its extreme could be Somalia 2010. That does not work either (although i prefer the former).

    Scientific method and 'reason' is an incredibly powerful tool, but it is just a tool, it is not a perfect way to describe or predict reality itself. Dont take my word for it ask Niels Bohr, or take a look at the surprised expression on my former tutors faces that the class drop out has done better than all the straight 'A' students who never challenged their tutors in any way except perhaps to point out a numerical error on the tutors string of calcs (approximations I should say) on the blackboard.

    How is that possible?


    That same philosophical dynamic underpins one aspect of the financial crises, it is a kind of number blindness, '' like a drunk using a lamp post, for support rather than illumination'' as Churchill said of one politician who relied heavily on statistics and research in his political exchanges.


    Are you feeling tipsy by any chance tabblenabble01 :)

  • Comment number 50.

    "Are you feeling tipsy by any chance tabblenabble01 :)"

    No.

    In the above post, you've effectively stated that you're your own worst enemy. By all means question other people in order to gain a better understanding of what they are saying or doing, but if that isn't one's purpose in doing so, just remember that this too will be communicated, and one is likely to be regarded as only being dimly aware of what one is doing, i.e as behaving a little more dimly than one might have expected, all things considered..Nobody looks clever by trashing rationality, especially not an engineer. It's like a doctor trashing medicine. It speaks volumes, and should lead to them being struck off.

  • Comment number 51.

    #50

    ''Nobody looks clever by trashing rationality, especially not an engineer.''

    I am not trashing it I am simply putting it in its proper place.

    Secondly, under scientific method if something fits the theory and is repeatable it becomes accepted.

    I have been a practising engineer for 17 years, in that time I have had no claims against me and nothing has fallen down, in fact I am often called upon to advise on claims against others.

    On that basis I would say I am looking pretty 'clever' dont you or would you deny that hard evidence?

    The biggest mistake I find engineers make which allows me to get my teeth into them is that they rely too much on the numbers and analysis and in so doing miss the bigger picture. Those seem to be the guys that do best at university as well as such traits tend to get 100%, i imagine similar minded people end up on the trading floors of the banks by the same mechanism and we all know how that turned out.

    So who exactly is their own worst enemy here, me or you?




  • Comment number 52.

    51. At 2:05pm on 08 Oct 2010, Jericoa wrote:

    "I am not trashing it I am simply putting it in its proper place.

    Secondly, under scientific method if something fits the theory and is repeatable it becomes accepted."

    No. That is not how science works. You're writing nonsense and somebody needs to point this out to you and others. I'm doing so. You should be grateful. I'm not interested what you do elsewhere (it could all be made up for all we know), I'm just commenting on the statements you post here. You don't even know how to spell some of the names you cite, so what does that suggest about the extent to which you know what you are talking about (and they aren't just typos). If you really want to know why we are in a mess, look at your behaviour and how you respond to having your errors highlighted. That is not how engineers or scientists behave. Scientists and engineers are trained to look for errors in their work, and to thank others for highlighting them. You are describing incompetence not competence. Not only that, but you provide lots of others evidence consistent with this assessment. Don't shoot the messenger, it's all your own doing.

  • Comment number 53.

    The problem with 'complex realism' is that sometimes (e.g. in Ken Loach's case?) it's just far too complex for the authors/writers to see the wood for the trees. Ken, for example, is an able champion of the poor 'underclass' in his films, but without ever really looking very far into why the poor are in fact poor in the first place. Like so many others who rush to the support of 'oppressed' minorities, I suggest he's been used to further the agenda of another minority elite.

    The one's who do the most harm are the ones who get some of it right, just not enough to make any real difference other than muddying other people's waters

 

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