Costa Coffee takes over Captain Mainwaring’s bank branch

Captain Mainwaring at The Crown

The Crown as Martins Bank, Walmington-on-Sea

I don’t imagine that Dad’s Army’s Captain Mainwaring ever tasted a frappucino. (They came long after 1940.) But the Chalfont St Giles, Bucks pub that posed as Mainwaring’s bank in the Dad’s Army film is about to open as Costa’s latest coffee shop.

Costa Coffee Chalfont St Giles

The Crown becomes a Costa

Sadly, the much loved Crown closed last year, as I blogged in May. It was one of our favourite venues for anniversary and birthday dinners. (I took my very first iPhone photo on one such occasion in 2008.) Losing a pub is always a sad event, but if we have to swap dinner for coffee a Costa is a good choice. (Make mine a skinny latte and tiffin…)

The Crown Chalfont St Giles pub sign

Sign of the times

PS: we paid our first visit today, 20 December. They’ve done a very nice job converting the pub. The coffee’s great too!

Costa Coffee opens in Chalfont St Giles

Costa Coffee opens in Chalfont St Giles

Goodbye to Guardian’s Media Talk podcast

The Guardian Media Talk podcast

Media Talk silenced

Fridays will never be the same again. The Guardian’s Media Talk podcast has ended after eight years.

It’s not a huge surprise. The Guardian has been losing money – like most newspaper groups – for years and has been making cutbacks for some time. (The venerable separate Media section of the print edition was merged with the main section in 2011.)

I’ve been a regular listener from the beginning. I loved the mix of wit and insight into the changing media scene from the likes of Matt Wells, Emily Bell and Maggie Brown in particular, as well as final presenter John Plunkett.

Media Talk has chronicled one of the most dramatic eras in media history. The digital revolution has led to what many see as print’s terminal decline. Rupert Murdoch introduced a paywall – the opposite approach to The Guardian and Mail Online – then was laid low by the phone hacking scandal, which the Guardian played a big role in breaking.

Media Talk was off air when the paper’s revelations about the News of the World hacking Milly Dowler’s phone became a major scandal in 2011. But I was there a week or so later when Matt Wells recorded a special edition on the subject with a panel including Guardian editor in chief Alan Rusbridger.

Ironically, Emily Bell herself said in the farewell podcast that there are signs that podcasts are enjoying a revival. All is not lost: John Plunkett and team are hoping to revive the show as an independent production. Please subscribe to make this happen.

PS: Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff writes critically about the Guardian’s US expansion in GQ.

 

 

In praise of David Abbott

The Economist management trainee advert

Simply brilliant: classic David Abbott

Back in the 1980s, many people said the best thing on British television was the adverts. It was a tribute to the work of adland legend David Abbott, who died this week.

Abbott created some of the most memorable, wittiest ads ever conceived. It ranged from the clever – the brilliantly simple Economist ads quoting the 42 year old management trainee who never reads the paper – to the tender “Good Old Yellow Pages” TV commercial featuring elderly author J R Hartley using the directory to track down a copy of his book about fly fishing. He also overturned the assumption that only sex and sexism sold cars by brilliantly selling safety to as a benefit of buying a Volvo. Continue reading

Guardian wrong on Chris Huhne – readers’ editor

The Guardian’s readers editor Chris Elliott today accepted the paper was wrong to allow Chris Huhne to use his weekly column to attack convicted judge Constance Briscoe’s part in his own conviction.

I blogged my disgust at Huhne’s column the day it appeared. I think the Guardian made a misjudgement giving Huhne a weekly column. But this crass piece was the final straw. Continue reading

Grim up north: The Guardian’s hatchet job

 

Newcastle

Northern pride: Gateshead and Newcastle upon Tyne

The Guardian was once a proud northern newspaper. As The Manchester Guardian, it was one of that great city’s treasures, along with the Hallé, Manchester University and free trade. The historian AJP Taylor celebrated it in his essay about the city in his book Essays in English History.

How things change. The Guardian is now arguably our most London centric national newspaper. Its outlook is Islington not Irwell. It’s hard to imagine the Manchester Guardian publishing Saturday’s ‘It’s grim up north’ article by Andy Beckett about the north east. True, Beckett set out to portray the impact of government spending cuts on the region. And no one would pretend that the north doest face some stark challenges. But it was a bleak and inaccurate portrait, describing the north east as our remotest region – a surprise to anyone enjoying the excellent transport connections from Newcastle. And I have news for Andy Beckett: distance from Islington isn’t a definitive measure of remoteness. On that basis, Sydney, Australia would be the back of beyond.

Beckett’s article has sparked outrage. Hartlepool MP Iain Wright pointed out the irony of casting the region as a British Detroit given the success of Nissan’s plant in Sunderland, which he says builds more cars than Italy. PR consultant Sarah Hall has launched a petition under the hashtag #NEandProud asking Beckett to return to the north east to write a more balanced piece.

I first visited the north of England when I was 15, returning regularly when I was at university in Leicester. I loved the sheer difference between Yorkshire and the south of England. (It took longer for me to get to Newcastle.) I was struck by the stunning scenery and the vibrant cities. As AJP Taylor said of Manchester, part of the glory of the north east is a refreshingly different outlook from that of London and the south east.

The media love lazy stereotypes. Growing up in Cardiff I was all too familiar with them; I grew weary of explaining that Cardiff wasn’t in the valleys and that the only coal mine in the Welsh capital was in the National Museum.

One last thought. The great northern cities were products of a fiercely proud local tradition. They were not forged by dictat from London. Britain is so much poorer for the miserable and demeaning centralism that has blighted our politics over the past forty years. If Andy Beckett wants to win back a few friends, he could do worse than start a campaign to put the local back into public life.

PS: thanks to CIPR president Stephen Waddington and Stuart Bruce for pointing out the Andy Beckett article after I missed it first time round.

Newcastle Gateshead by night

Light on the Tyne: Newcastle and Gateshead

 

Chris Huhne: The Guardian’s shame

Convicted criminal and Guardian columnist Chris Huhne

Chris Huhne, convicted criminal and columnist

I was horrified when The Guardian gave convicted criminal Chris Huhne a weekly column. It was a big misjudgement. But today’s column, in which the former cabinet minister wallowed in self pity about his conviction, marked a new low.

To recap. Chris Huhne is the liar who put lives at risk. As I blogged when he was convicted:

The act of deception that destroyed his career was intended to avoid a driving ban. Yet just weeks later he was banned anyway, for using his mobile phone while driving. The man is a menace. And any sympathy we may have for his former wife – Huhne walked out on their 26 year marriage – is tempered by the fact she put other people at risk through their reckless act of conspiracy.

This foolish and vain man says in his column today:

Although I was guilty, I justified my denial to myself by saying that it was a relatively minor offence committed by 300,000 other people.

That’s all right then. Lots of other drivers put lives at risk, so it doesn’t matter. The man has learned nothing. He cares only about himself. The conviction of Constance Briscoe is irrelevant: as he concedes in the column, his own conviction was justified. Yet this awful man compares his carriage of justice (we can’t call it a miscarriage as he admits he was guilty) with the Stafford NHS scandal, in which people died. The man is as dim as he is vain.

What possessed the Guardian to give so much valuable editorial space to this man? It’s not as if he has any valuable insight, or has achieved anything in his political career that made him a catch as a columnist. This grubby business is such a contrast with The Guardian’s Pullitzer prize for its NSA revelations.

I should add that I don’t object to newspapers employing convicted criminals as columnists. I supported The Guardian when it was attacked over its columnist Erwin James, a convicted murderer, who had worthwhile insights into the criminal justice system without any sense of brushing aside his crimes.

Let’s hope that the paper sees sense and axes this weekly insult to its readers.

Dad’s Army and The Crown, Chalfont St Giles

Captain Mainwaring's bank, The Crown Chalfont St Giles

Captain Mainwaring’s bank: The Crown, Chalfont St Giles, Bucks

I blogged last month about the sadness of seeing a closed bookshop, the Lion & Unicorn in Richmond, Surrey. It’s just as sad to see an abandoned pub. The Crown in Chalfont St Giles, Bucks, has a famous past: it posed as Captain Mainwaring’s Martins bank branch in the 1971 film version of Dad’s Army.

Captain Mainwaring at The Crown

The Crown as Martins Bank, Walmington-on-Sea

We really miss The Crown, as it was a favourite venue for birthday and anniversary dinners. We celebrated our fifth anniversary there on a beautiful summer evening in 2008 – our first night out since Owen arrived some eight weeks before.

The Crown Chalfont St Giles pub sign

Sign of the times

The owners have applied for permission to turn it into a cafe, and locals are hoping for a Costa. It won’t be the same, but as a Costa fan I’d much rather that than the sad sight of a closed pub.

On the move: how Bob Hoskins helped adults to learn to read

The sad news that Bob Hoskins had died prompted many memories of his part in great films like Who framed Roger Rabbit and Mona Lisa. But my mind went back to 1975, when he starred in a British TV series called On the Move, which helped adults learn to read.

Bob Hoskins On the Move BBC 1976

Bob Hoskins as Alf Hunt in BBC’s On the Move. Photo: BBC website

It was an unlikely Sunday evening BBC TV hit. Hoskins played a removal man called Alf Hunt, sympathetically portraying Alf’s frustration and embarrassment about how his reading and writing difficulties affected his everyday life. The series attracted 17 million viewers as Alf’s made progress after getting help to improve his literacy skills.

We watched it every week, from the catchy opening titles featuring the Dooleys’ hit, to the very end. At the age of 12 in 1975, I was lucky to have strong reading and writing skills, but knowing friends who struggled helped me identify with Alf. The hit also showed the power of television in an age when we had just three television channels: BBC One, BBC Two and ITV.

Who would have thought such a worthy role could have launched a Hollywood career?

 

Solving Daily Telegraph iPad app problems

Daily Telegraph iPad app

Daily Telegraph iPad app

I love reading newspapers on my iPad. I get them delivered to my tablet without having to go to the letterbox, never mind the newsagent. I can catch up on the news wherever I am in the world, as long as I’m online. The Daily Telegraph iPad app is one of my favourites, as it’s one of the most elegant apps.

But it’s not the most reliable. It rarely if ever downloads automatically, unlike the Guardian and Sunday Times. And recently it has stopped downloading at all: it sticks at 8% downloaded.

Time to use the app equivalent of turning a pesky computer on and off again: I deleted the app completely and downloaded it afresh. This is where I ran into difficulties. It asked me to enter my details as a subscriber. I chose ‘digital subscriber’. But it didn’t recognise me. I tried again. And again. Still no joy. It kept asking me to buy a subscription, which I already had.

At this point I called the 0800 number. A helpful man told me I needed to take a different route: click on the cogwheel on the bottom left of the app screen. Click subscriptions, then choose restore purchases. Enter Apple ID password – and you’ll not be asked to buy a new subscription.

Restore purchases

Choose restore purchases

This solved the 8% hitch. It still doesn’t download automatically though…

Maria Miller: shameless not sorry

What a surprise. The culture secretary Maria Miller defrauded the taxpayer by dishonestly claiming expenses on a second home her parents live in. Had she been a benefit fraudster, she’d have been jailed. But she’s a cabinet minister, so she’ll be deciding on press regulation instead.

Five years after the Daily Telegraph exposed the industrial scale on which MPs were defrauding us by false expense claims, politicians are as shameless as ever.

No wonder Nigel Farage is a happy man. No matter how repellent his policies, the outsider is reaping the rewards from public disgust at the outrages of the political establishment. He must have been amazed at his luck when Nick Clegg agreed to debate Europe. Clegg, the former outsider, is now the ultimate insider: the cheerleader for the coalition, after breaking all his election promises. (And having made a good living from the EU gravy train.)

Back to Maria Miller. David Cameron has proved as false as Tony Blair in promising to clean up politics. This shameless politician asked the press to drop the matter today. Miller threatened the parliamentary watchdog in a bid to force the commissioner to drop action against her. And her adviser threatened the Telegraph. These people simply don’t care. They have contempt for the taxpayers who are forced to pay to keep the gravy train on the rails. Politicians’ promises are empty words, given cheaply unlike their expense claims.

PS: the Telegraph tonight published the chilling threatening call from Miller’s adviser. The adviser for the minister deciding press freedom.