Sunday, June 21, 2015

Julie Burchill: Beware the cat

This piece on Julie Burchill first appeared in The Astrological Journal earlier this year under the title 'Julie Burchill: the crab that roared'. It's part-astro-analysis, part mini-memoir

Julie Burchill: the crab that roared

By Victor Olliver

British writer Julie Burchill’s middle name may as well be Acrimony (making the acronym JAB). Whichever publication she writes for (it would be simpler to list the no-go titles) controversy is certain to follow. In addition to her countless print media opinion pieces and reviews, she has written books – including bestselling novel Ambition and lesbian teen romance Sugar Rush, adapted into an Emmy award-winning Channel 4 TV series. The self-described militant feminist and ‘Christian Zionist’ lives a hedonistic lifestyle by the English south coast in Hove, East Sussex. How come she seems not to be like her Crab Sun-sign but more a Lion?

Over the last four decades Julie Burchill has discharged a prose blunderbuss at assorted targets, scattering brilliant and irregular shot for the entertainment of the cross-legged or hunched: for tetchy seated people who post a lot of short messages on Facebook and Twitter. 

Her word-projectiles rip through the faux flesh of exaggerated or self-concocted or celebrity stupidity or cupidity so that we, the seated, may wallow vicariously in the tomato sauce of manufactured gore. No one really dies or suffers injury – though a hit may trigger performance rage in ‘victims’ prior to return fire in self-serving media storms comparable to a Mardi Gras. No one loses in Burchill rows, least of all Burchill herself: she lives in some comfort on England’s sunny south coast for which she gives her money’s worth. She produces all the effects of controversy without the risks of real-world fatwa or vendetta. Her genre is like a video war game such as Call of Duty through which the ambient and purposeless anger of consumer loafers can be vicariously doused. Recliningly.

God knows how many murders and random acts of violence she has headed off. Arise, Dame Jules!

Burchill’s passions may be countless and variable, long- or short-term: Israel, transsexuals, Madonna, Thatcher, ex-husbands, God or god; you name it – but each hate or love lacks nothing in authenticity. She’s even taken a pop at astrology. A visceral passion is stirred, precipitating an internal storm of memorable phrases in a chain-reaction of guided, populist irrationalism. These phrases are the building blocks of (at best) sublime comic invective (or occasional, romantic billet-doux, depending on her mood) that can be tailored to suit just about any medium’s demographic profile, whether The Sun’s or The Spectator’s or The Jewish Chronicle’s or anything in between or beyond.

Around the time of her second Jupiter-Jupiter opposition, she was plucked from nowhere at the age of 17 by a youth-slavering New Musical Express. She never really looked back and these days is still the biggest of the very, very few big freelance beasts of British journalism, the periodic newspaper star-signing and banner marketing name. She is also a notable salonnière, drawing any number of writers and others to her table – once at London’s Groucho; these days, at Brighton venues – for friendship or a cross-pollinating natter. Her manner at these leisurely craics is that of an adoring fan who seeks your instant intimacy (personal space soon narrows as she fills you in on her alcohol, drugs or literary consumption): yet, no matter the opiate of choice under which she claims to steer, the wise guest will notice how very alert she remains to her company, preternatural in her mind-reading and conversational anticipations. And she exudes a great blast of mind-altering warmth.

All this contrasts wildly with the public persona which is uncompromising, predatory, boastful, bombastic, insulting; sometimes cruel or shameless – culturally sussed and super-canny and dedicatedly notice-moi. The pose prose is crystal sharp. Humour is her weapon of choice. No vogue word or idea dodges her conscription. She is a creative, hot-desking opportunist with multiple causes, even if at this moment she calls herself “semi-retired” and is planning an autumn life of voluntary work.

The Burchill natal chart

She was born on 3 July, 1959, in Bristol, UK. Burchill told me herself that birth clock-time is unknown so I have drawn up the midday chart and we should ignore houses and angles. I’ve heard people express surprise that she is a Cancerian. Her ‘superior’, mercurial, erratic and confrontational life-approaches hardly fit the traditional profile of the conservative, supposedly risk-averse Crab. Her horoscope reveals why the apparent disconnect. She’s not labelled a ‘firebrand’ for nothing. She has four planets in fiery, proud Leo – Mercury, Venus, Mars and Uranus in a dominant stellium – and pars fortuna in Leo, an indicator of means of success. She needs others’ recognition to experience contentment, as well as ample space to demonstrate her gifts in a showy, noisy, possibly flamboyant way.

Self-expression is integral to her primal nature to a highly advanced extent.

Horoscopically, she’s one of nature’s show-offs, a conclusion any astrologer would reach even if s/he did not know the chart in question was Julie Burchill’s. An added power bonus to this stellium is out-of-sign Pluto, just seven degrees off in Virgo; the sign of its putative fall (unlikely to be of discernible relevance in my view in a personal chart). Here is the execution through the rigour of self-control. This underlines, among other things, her prose punch and analytical/critical bent, the withdrawal into the solo world of the mind and keyboard where her power is sourced (Mercury ruler and Pluto).

So, in many respects, Burchill is leonine: the socially adventurous queen bee (to mix species), generous and loyal – and capable of amazing generosity (Venus); bold, passionate and courageous, and an excellent organiser (she does not miss deadlines) – but inclined to pushiness, impulsiveness and boastfulness (Mars); an expressive and versatile ‘dramatist’ in speech and writing (Mercury); and abundant with creative energy, hugely self-confident but probably highly stubborn and bossy and certainly inclined to perversity or surprise perspectives (Uranus).

Though Leo is traditionally a warming sign, Uranus masks calculation and perhaps signals a blowy hot-cold sort of person: this, with social Venus close by in the blending stellium, suggests an individual who can adeptly and quickly turn on the charm but often for specific ulterior purposes. Leo Venus ramps up the showiness and likelihood of good earnings and a dynamic social life. Note, also, that her Venus is exactly conjunct pars fortuna, often denoting exceptional charm, striking good looks and the role of ‘partnership’ (business or personal) as integral to progress. Uranus here draws her into unconventional relationships and friendships: even if I didn’t know her personal history I would have to say that private life is likely to be turbulent and prone to sudden partings (she is twice divorced). Saturn trine Venus can denote major difficulties and duplicities in close bonds, but also growing happiness in partnership with maturity.

Uranus however assures a break from the norm in domestic set-up. She says she now lives with husband Daniel (who otherwise occupies a place in another part of town), but who knows? Few outside their long union are certain. Does she still talk to his sister Charlotte Raven, her former lover? She has been very rude about ex-husband Cosmo Landesman yet last December the pair made an appearance together at a public reading, recalling affectionately their first-ever meeting (lots of hot sex and cold vodka).

The Leo archetype blazes in an unhindered natal chart – as in the case of Burchill – displaying an almost regal sense of entitlement to life’s gifts and perquisites. If her Cancer Sun inclines her, perhaps surprisingly, to the personal security and cosiness of family – and/or to the adopted ‘family’ of her social coterie – then Leo makes her their uncompromising defender. She will be ferocious in seeing off attackers, though the large-heartedness of Leo may allow forgiveness even if Cancer clings quietly to the hurt. When the newspaper columnist Suzanne Moore was accused of transphobia in 2013, close pal Burchill valiantly counter-attacked critics as self-appointed champion and drew a lot of flak. Burchill’s personal needs are expressed overtly. The home theatre seeks a drama.

(Fans of Black Moon Lilith [i.e. not a planet but a geometrical point - Moon’s farthest point from Earth] – defined by some as an emerging feminine power archetype in the horoscope – may note that it is square the Leo stellium via Mars and Venus, indicative of power-related conflicts in the life and, at the very least, turbulent associations.)

When I met Burchill

I had some small experience of Burchill’s leonine nature a few years back, for good or not. The summons arrived by email one day: my then Madame Arcati media blog pleased her and she invited me to join her and others for lunch at the Hotel du Vin, Brighton. The moment we met she soaked me in charm, affection and admiration, as if we were old friends. Venus-pars fortuna could not be bettered in display. I was responsive: her Venus conjoins my Pluto (opposition Lilith); so that’s another story of complicated mutual attraction and power triggers. How we all purred. I wondered whether we’d rubbed noses before. At table she seated me between herself and her local vicar. When in later conversation the man-in-frock asked me what was the point of my Madame Arcati website, she suddenly turned from mid-bantering with someone to her left and replied for me – “to tell the truth”. I was impressed by that. Not just by the answer (judged correct if not flattering) but by her perceptual multi-tasking and feline sharp ears. Afterwards, she invited some of us back to her apartment in Hove. There she said to me, “I read your blog - and I never read blogs.” It was meant as a compliment but it was also another way of saying that big is looking down on small. I thought it mean-spirited of me to interpret her otherwise big heart in this way, especially after she spontaneously took down an Italian ceramic wall tile (featuring a pussy cat with the words “Attenti al Gatto” – beware the cat) and gifted it to me on my way out.

The next day she emailed me an invitation to join her and another at very short notice on a 5-star overseas holiday at her expense – yet another example of extraordinary Leo-Venus liberality. I refused of course. Friends thought I was mad not to say Yes to a freebie with (omigod!) Julie Burchill. But experience has taught me to beware idiosyncratic charm offences. It had struck me as odd, for instance, that she had asked me no questions about my personal life situation at the lunch or her flat – she never did. Later, she wrote of our “bromance” in an email. And she sent me a truly excellent lyric poem she’d penned for a pop star. Leo was in full gush; Leo-Venus at her most Santa-esque.

But the truth in my mean suspicion was proved to me at a subsequent get-together in London. She’d invited a few friends to join her and husband Daniel at a drinks in One Aldwych’s Lobby Bar – she was celebrating a Sunday Times Magazine deal or something – I think she’d sold them a short story. One well-known female tabloid hack was off her head on booze and gazed at me with undisguised dismissiveness as she draped herself over a sofa and chirruped at Julie. A small-time radio jock treated me to his absolute certainty that there’s no such thing as an afterlife and that all psychics are frauds. No research was mentioned. I prepared to get away sooner than planned. Perhaps Julie sensed an attitude in me – I was now in an offish mood -  but at some point she leaned over and muttered in a pissed, whispery snarl, “Just remember, I’m the star here”, before quickly moving on and talking sweetly about something else.

The distant roar of the lioness had just been heard in this boutique hotel jungle. Attenti al gatto? I had been put me in my place. It was a mark of her journalistic royalty that she had not even bothered to discover what my place might be.

Burchill and Israel – a love story

Returning to Burchill’s horoscope: Cancer Sun usually bestows a maternal air, moodiness and/or fluctuating interests (likely more so in Burchill’s case with Moon in capricious but ever-curious and clever Gemini). In person the Crab tends to gentleness and accommodation as a rule, resorting to sidling ways if confounded.

The combination of Cancer-Leo upholds fidelity and self-responsibility. Leo’s wild, creative exuberance is restrained by the Sun-Saturn opposition – this is an individual who does not in general forget her responsibilities, but she tends to clash with authority. An uneasy alliance exists between others’ power and her ego.

What else? As I just mentioned, her Moon (emotional nature – and ruler of her Sun-sign) is in Gemini (the communicator/writer, ruled by Mercury in Leo): this tells me that she is a dominant presence, and comfortable in media settings. She will like the company of fellow communicators, writers, speakers and teachers. Her responses are sharp and direct. She won’t be slow in repartee or reply to emails or texts. The instinct to speak up and out will be irresistible; nervous strain sometimes palpable. She has a need for much surface stimuli; is easily bored. Moon’s trine to North Node in Libra speaks of excitability and a pronounced admiration for courage and achievement; but also of a less obvious quest for serenity and/or soul connection – through partnership, or relationship with a god or God or Life. Her growing interest in volunteering may apply here.

Astrologically, the life challenge is to view all sides of an argument (see the nodal Aries-Libra axis). Given the tyrannous Leo richness of the chart this may appear to be a tall order. Nonetheless, the lesson is indicated – beneath the posing, posturing, blather and noise, the soul yearns for synthesis or harmony even if the ‘professional’ in her seeks this through vain, one-sided victory. Perhaps her sense of kinship with Israel is part of this.

On this last point, astrologers may like to note that modern Israel – which Burchill strongly identifies with - has (like Burchill) four planets in Leo (including Mars, widely conjunct Burchill’s Mars) and that Israel’s Mercury is one degree short of exact Burchill’s Moon in Gemini, suggesting that the nation’s extremely bold and courageous or ruthless qualities resonate sympathetically with her internal need to live life through passion, demonstration and certainty. Her heart is drawn to the country’s spirit and turbulent narrative, quite aside from other considerations.

Typical Cancerians are already sensitive to mood. In Burchill, both Jupiter and Neptune are found in delving, sensitising Scorpio. Neptune here especially intensifies peripheral awareness, bolstering capability for picking up on all sorts of subtle cues (social, psychic, etc – think about the way she followed my conversation at the Hotel du Vin with her vicar while she spoke with someone else) and using this data both for insight and assault. Her claim to be indifferent to criticism is not really borne out by her Neptune (or Moon) – quite the reverse in fact. This blustery hubris is her Leo stellium talking, a proud beast that rarely admits a bleed. Neptune trine Sun, sextile Pluto (which co-rules Scorpio) - artistic talent and psychological insight are formidable. Square the Leo stellium, Neptune’s love of dreams and glamour can get the better of Burchill – her celebration of a hedonistic lifestyle being but one expression of this escapist trait. Jupiter square Leo stellium points to huge creative energies but also to larger-than-life characteristics, a tendency to exaggerate, dramatise, over-spend or distort. These are not inevitable features, simply potential.

The chart shape of Burchill’s chart is called a Locomotive because the principal planets fill about two-thirds of the wheel, leaving about one-third unoccupied: the planetary arrangement resembles a train and is often associated with people who leave their stamp on all that they do. The primary ‘engine’ of this pattern is the Gemini Moon. If I did not know this was Burchill’s chart I would say: “At a glance this tells me of highly emotive judgements, excitability, volubility, endless curiosity about people and powerful reaction to opposition or disapproval. At best, intellect and intuition form a powerful duo for analysis and expression. This person knows how to hit a nerve. In some with this combination, distrust of the so-called irrational way of life sits uncomfortably with a highly subjective life perspective.”

With a beneficial sextile between Moon and the Leo stellium planets, media accomplishment is directly linked to contentious, mischievous and lion-hearted performance. It would be entirely fair to say that Burchill is making the most of her natal gifts – and you don’t have to be an astrologer to see that.

PS: This piece, but for a few amendments, appears in my book Lifesurfing: Your Horoscope Forecast Guide 2015. At the time of release, I was no longer in touch with Julie – partly because of the goings-on at One Aldwych (as described above), partly because I didn’t like her public comments on transsexuals following the Suzanne Moore social media eruption; and generally because as much as I admire the Beast That Is Burchill I did not feel any sense of personal communication between us: we were just semaphoring at each other in a one-sided opiate haze.

One Monday morning in February 2015 there was a warm surprise message for me on my Facebook page – from Julie. This is what she wrote: “I'm reading your book LIFESURFING, with me in it! The Israel stuff is UNCANNY! It's SO good! - JB XX PS Sorry if I was a pain, I was in my Neely O'Hara years. Failure has made me FAR nicer”. How could I not be moved by such an outrageous play to my ego, leaving aside the hearty compliment?

What impressed me most was her failure to be predictable. She could have said, “How dare you write about a private occasion and not seek my permission first! How you’re going to suffer!” A surprise can cause me to warm to just about anyone, provided it’s not a kick in the butt. But then her Mercury conjoins my Uranus, making a mutual friend of impulse and open communication.

If I know JB at all it’s largely thanks to her horoscope. And she has not challenged anything in this piece (yet).

Julie Burchill’s latest book is Unchosen: The Memoirs of a Philo-Semite

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Shena Mackay is back - thanks to Virago!

Shena Mackay - where's her damehood?!
I'm sooo delighted to learn that one of my favourite authors, Shena Mackay, is making a comeback! Virago has bought up her entire back catalogue and will start reissuing from November 2015 under its Virago Modern Classics imprint. The titles alone make me moist: Dreams of Dead Women's Handbags, The Atmospheric Railway, Babies in Rhinestones & Other Stories. I could go on. She's one of the few authors to have been shortlisted for the Booker, Orange and Whitbread.

She hit the literary world when she was just 20 - half a century ago - with her baroque, sly humour and lyrical prose, often touching on the seemingly silly or humdrum and turning living room dandruff into balletic gold sunbeam dance. If anyone has a brain, a memory chip of her work should be put into a rocket time capsule and fired into space so that one day, billions of years after we've choked to death on fracked gas, the Borg may discover her and be saved from soulless literalism. Gosh, anyone would think I was a writer myself, bitches.

She's also been commissioned to write her memoir to be published in 2016, with an especial focus on her fascinating life in the Sixties.I shall examine this book most carefully.

Oh, a few more details of the comeback launch book - it's called Dancing On the Outskirts, out Nov 5 this year. Here's a preview which I have lifted - so sue moi!:

"A wonderful collection of short stories by the doyenne of the form, a writer known for `the Mackay vision, suburban - as kitsch, as unexceptional, and yet as rich in history and wonder as a plain Victorian terrace house, its threshold radiant with tiling and stained-glass birds of paradise encased in leaded lights'- Guardian.

"Shena Mackay came to fame aged 20 when she published her first book, written in her teens, with Andre Deutsch. At times darkly surreal and funny, always deft, and highly memorable, her fiction has attracted a legion of fierce admirers ranging from Iris Murdoch to Julie Burchill, Ian Hamilton to Rachel Cooke.

"She was born in Edinburgh but her family moved often and were living in Blackheath, South East London, when Shena left school at 16. Winning a £25 poetry prize in the (prestigious) Daily Mirror Children's Literary Competition marked the beginning of her writing life. Part of her teens - she got married when she was 20 - were spent in Earls Court and the seedy Soho of the 1960s, and she was privileged to meet many artists, visiting Henry Moore at Much Hadham and drinking whisky from bone china tea cups with David Hockney in Powis Square. In the early 1970s she moved to the country with her husband and three children, and re-emerged as a writer in the 80s with a collection of stories, followed by more works including the Booker Shortlisted The Orchard on Fire."

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Are Anna Wintour and Bill Nighy having sexual intercourse?

I have absolutely no idea. In fact I can say hand on cold heart that I could not care less. I am just hoping they don't cycle on pavements together. In Lycra. That would be too much.

Because most blogs are dreary in the extreme

Because most blogs are dreary in the extreme or just hack columns stuck on a space called blog I thought I'd return for a little while to show you how it's done.

The first thing to do as a blogger is to write as you would to a friend or foe. You can drop all those airs and graces.

Most people don't read closely but just skim before they skip off to do something probably not legal. They're in a hurry though they usually can't tell you why. It may be that something's cooking in the microwave or there's a screaming brat to play up to, but in most cases, hurrying is in itself the reason for hurrying. So I adopt a hurried style to match the hurried reading, with hurried reasoning. That way the hurried don't feel you're trying to button-hole them with wordy wankery and in consequence they feel in tune with the rush.

Hurrying is essentially pomposity about one's time and importance. The act of applying oneself to another person's energy emission is ever-so slightly humbling and so ought not to be protracted for fear of giving power away. And that ought not to be encouraged.

It goes without saying that anything read in a rush will be quickly forgotten because there's so much more to read in a hurry. No wonder people say time flies. No wonder people flee to the death camp Dignitas at the age of 54.

The new Madame Arcati has no fiances or fiancees, and admires no one in particular (though special projects or events may detain me). When I am in thoughtful mode, I shall continue to hurry but will adopt a cryptic way of writing in order to cause consternation or dredge-up deeply buried memories.

You can go now.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Most Haunted - by Madame Arcati

Hello dearies. Before Yvette Fielding came along with Most Haunted, there was moi - yes, Madame Arcati. You don't believe me? Well watch this. Part 2 can be watched on YouTube.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Molly Parkin on sale - at Selfridges!

Selfridges' Bright Old Things. Molly Parkin, far right
(Click pic to enlarge)

I've always thought my darling fiancee Molly Parkin should be in a shop window on permanent display. Now a dream is turned to reality. In the New Year, Selfridges launches a "concept" (ie a PR project) called Bright Old Things - or BOT for short. I love a BOT. It involves a load of talents showing off something in a Selfridges window on Oxford Street - and among this lot of BOT is Moll. Each of the participants (ranging in age from late 40s to 80s) has enjoyed some kind of renaissance or career turn in middle to late life.

You'll be able to buy BOT products (Moll's paintings, for instance) in store. But what precisely Moll will be doing I'm not sure. My current understanding is that she may sit in a window and cause traffic jams as millions of people pass by, gawping at her as she paints. It's hard to imagine that this is possible yet what else can one think? Or perhaps Moll will be seated in her own in store pagoda - I just hope a price tag is not attached to her. In which case she might be bought by some Qatari squillionairess and never seen again. What a tragic outcome that would be.

Anyway, keep your eyes on Selfridges, poppets.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Sarah Jane Morris sings Molly Parkin's 'Sally'

Sarah Jane Morris singing 'Sister Sally and Me'. Lyrics by Molly Parkin. Music by Simon Wallace. Filmed by Robert Chilcott. Total bliss - and a taste of things to come from the album, the stage show and the multi-media movie experience. You can see Moll in the video relishing Sarah Jane's stunning performance.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Molly Parkin: Art, cock and lyrics inspire jazz videos

Poppets, it's been too long! I return armed with two gorgeous jazz videos inspired by the sensual and erotic art (and lyrics) of Molly Parkin. Chelsea Hotel Orgy will doubtless prompt post-Christian atheistic beards who work for Google to try to close down this site (not for the first time) - and to expedite this process, may I draw attention to the depictions of massive cock. So Long At The Party is a little tamer and features the fabulous voice and person of Ian Shaw against the backdrop of Parkinalia. I just made up that word. Am I not the cleverest?

So, sit back, poor a drink, forget about Strictly and X Factor. And wallow in another world.

Chelsea Hotel Orgy (Wallace & Parkin feat, Alan Barnes)
Paintings and drawings by Molly Parkin including ‘Chelsea Hotel Orgy’ and ‘Las Vegas Lay’ which were used as the starting point for an improvised blues by Alan Barnes (tenor sax) and Simon Wallace (piano). The video includes preliminary sketches of the featured paintings.

So Long At The Party (Wallace & Parkin feat. Ian Shaw)
Lyrics and paintings by Molly Parkin, sung by the brilliant Ian Shaw with Alan Barnes on clarinet.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Andrew Logan's Alternative Miss World 2014 - be a sponsor!

Poppets, if you wish to do your bit to create yet further confusion in the minds of literalists, fascists and UKIP, do make a financial contribution to Andrew Logan's Alternative Miss World, to be held in London in October.

Was it really five years ago that Madame Arcati attended the 2009 Alternative Miss World? Read all about it here. "Is that a vagina?" co-host Ruby wax wondered aloud as yet another drag interpretation wafted past her. Personal transformation is one of the major themes of our time and I cannot think of a more exotic event than Andrew's for bringing to life the full spectrum of artistic cross-dressing (or whatever the latest term may have been assigned).

I won't go on as I'm busy. But do visit this page and read all about the history of Alternative Miss World and how you can play your part in the furtherance of sartorial and cosmetic art.

Isn't it time Andrew Logan had a knighthood? I hope they don't keep him waiting as they did my delightful friend Sir Christopher Lee.

Andrew Logan's Alternative Miss World will be held at Shakespeare's Globe on October 18, 2014.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Doctor Who: Capaldi is only just short of Cappalling

Madame Vastra - not one for David Icke
Ooh, I don't know, poppets. The Arcati jury's out on Peter Capaldi as the new Doctor Who. A Scottish Doctor Who. And being Scottish entitles him to complain - according to the script. Was this a knowing contribution to the Caledonian Yes/No referendum? A sly allusion to the world of politics to which one Malcolm Tucker once contributed his foul-mouthed wisdom, so ably played by Capaldi? Doctor Who mustn't get too clever - Whovians are not ultra-smart people but obsessives with social limitations. Their one true calling is the history of Doctor Who. What they don't know about the sex lives of Daleks is not worth knowing. History (non-Doctor Who), to them, is a place like Wonderland where everyone's a bit cute  and sounds like Yvette Fielding - Hitler no exception.

Deep Breath unfolded slug-slowly, the more to make space for acting. Capaldi did a lot of acting - his soliloquy in his smelly rags before a tramp turned up with the desired coat may yet feature in a thesp master-class - how to work Waiting for Godot into BBC sci-fi. Fans are quite used to Doctor Who changing shape so we could have been spared the epic anguished struggle with identity. How it went on. Rather like this paragraph. I must move on and set an example.

The lady lizard, Madame Vastra (I do love a madame) who I guess must be male because she's the husband of a human female - or else a native of the Land of Lesbos - easily stole the show: I did love her fireman's pole slide in rescue mode. The only person this will have displeased is David Icke whose synonym for establishment is reptile. I also liked the Jeevesy butler alien who confused mouth with eyelids. This is more like it. More cheap whimsy please and then I can pretend Jon Pertwee is still Doctor Who - my personal fave.

I have no problem with middle-aged Whos. Time Lords should bear the ravages of time on their clocks. Young actors have ardently reported sex drives (Matt Smith's off-camera erections proved far too distracting) and I'm afraid Who must share a raft with Mother Teresa and, er, Cliff Richard. Additionally, what Whos must not do is emote too much or imagine Olivier's ghost is assessing.

At the moment Capaldi has only slightly dodged the rating of Cappalling. Room for much improvement.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Most Haunted: Empty space is engaged

Yvette Fielding
The new Most Haunted is to be found on the Really TV channel - or, Oh Really, as I prefer. Yvette Fielding bellowed at empty space she calls ghosts, "I'm not afraid of you - S-C-R-E-A-M!" She has dispensed with the clairvoyant medium bit - in which a psychic recited information gleaned from Google searches about the relevant property's history of ghosts - which perhaps took up too much face time at the expense of hers: seasoned MH followers will have seen this coming as the ex-Blue Peter presenter diversified into mediumship, exorcism and levitation. These days she presides over ouija board seances, showcases the latest lovely Hammer Horror velvety capes and orders empty space to engage in conversation with her: a tall order given her readiness to shriek at creaks. After all this, the dead simply can't get a word in.

Actually, last night she wore no velvety cape but a tidy ensemble of cross-dressing inspiration: man's jacket, crisp shirt and garish yellow tie, all last seen on the Maggie Thatcher Spitting Image puppet that desired to be Churchill. For this alone I would have sat through a TV charade. Indeed, Yvette's various manifestations offer a running narrative of an ego struggling with the challenges of sharing (camera time). She even shares camera duties now, striding about with a tiny portable, introducing her underlings and tall husband Karl who has aged markedly in recent times. Or else, that was a white misty nimbus about his thinning locks.

The troll-like woman I think called Kath, who produced most of the screams in previous shows and did Yvette's makeup, has been replaced by a pretty, non-screaming near-mute who now does Yvette's makeup (lay off the kohl, dearie). Various hairy hunks bearing camera cargo grunt concordance with Yvette's every word ("DID YOU SEE THAT?!" "Yes."). For welcome contrast, the bald man who I believe is nicknamed Pebbles by MH fans - because he's the suspected astral thrower of stones when empty space fails to fill - has survived Yvette's latest cull.

In place of a medium we glimpsed an aged beard billed as a demonologist. He looked pleasant enough. Sadly he had nothing to do, was quickly forgotten about but made up the numbers when Yvette required crowd shadow scenes.

Perhaps the most interesting new addition is the man at the end - the Ofcom-required sceptic - who resembles the late Syd Barrett, of Pink Floyd fame. Long rock star hair, pretty face; trailer-trash clobber. His monotone instructed that poltergeists may or may not exist - "it's all a matter of belief." May I be the first to announce that Syd Barrett is not dead at all. He lives. Despite appearances.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Roger Lewis - 'Iain Dale's egotistical desire to be morally superior'

I think we can all agree that Madame Arcati is a proven champion of polysexuality (ie anything goes provided it's legal), so I was stricken - yes stricken - when I learnt that a celebrated Arcatiste had been accused of homophobia. The man in the dock is Roger Lewis (author of the classic Seasonal Suicide Notes - get for someone's Christmas. Now) and his accuser is someone called Iain Dale, a droning right-wing radio and TV opinionist who makes executive decisions in publishing.

I recall Mr Dale back in 2013 receiving a police caution after scuffling with a pensioner on Brighton seafront. Apparently, the old codger had dared to wave an anti-nuke banner in the vicinity of Mr Dale's author Damian McBride, prompting the sort of behaviour that Theresa May roundly condemns when the cameras are pointing at her and she's thinking of life beyond the Home Office.

Plainly Mr Dale has no keen ear for humour, camp or otherwise: indeed, to observe him on news chat shows, hangdog face composed in stoicism, is to re-experience Clement Freud but without the jokes (and beard). Then one day recently his eye fell upon Roger's review of a Dusty Springfield book in the Spectator. He was so appalled that he withdrew his company's book contract offer to Roger.

I emailed Roger with my commiserations, asking him what he made of all this. Here's his (slightly redacted) reply, from Austria:

"I wrote a perfectly fine piece on Dusty Springfield, inter alia making the joke that lezzos all have big chins the better to go bobbing for apples - and this cunt Iain Dale, a man of whom I had never previously heard, comes out of the woodwork accusing me of all sorts! And me the biographer of Charles Hawtrey and the world expert on camp comics!

"What I hate about the man is his egotistical desire to be morally superior - no sense of humour, hence of proportion, like those Welsh language fanatics I always poke fun at and who foam at the mouth when teased.

Iain Dale has responded on his blog

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Hacked Off versus Private Eye: Now it's personal

The latest Private Eye's Street of Shame opens with an item on Joan Smith, the new Executive Director of Hacked Off. She promises to target companies that advertise in media signed up to the government-unapproved IPSO which launches next month and hopes to succeed where the PCC signally failed and regulate some of our newspapers. Private Eye is not IPSO-friendly but is Hacked Off-hostile while Hacked Off itself is IPSO-hostile but presently merely cool towards media that are 'unregulated' - such as the Eye.

No space was found to remind us that Joan's arrival in our post-Leveson world introduces a personal element to the ding-dong between the Eye and Hacked Off. Her former spouse is one Francis Wheen, Private Eye's deputy editor, who has much to do with Street of Shame and regularly froths in various places against Hacked Off's outrages (when he's not sulking over the existence of psychics, God, gods, aromatherapists, scented candle magic and anything else not sanctioned by white-coated geeks).

I wonder whether Mr W dispatched a congrats to Joan on her appointment. I do hope so. He strikes me as a gallant sort.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Lauren Bacall - and who was NOT heir to Bogie

In my glossy magazine days I was sent to interview Lauren Bacall. 30 mins had been allotted and she turned up 10 mins late. "I've a lunch date so let's get cracking," she growled. I surprised her with her horoscope, which she proceeded to pick apart because I'd made a basic error (my astro green days) in the calculations - she knew exactly to the degree where each planet and point was in her natal chart, inadvertently giving me a story. When I wondered which then current actor was heir to Bogie - I playfully suggested Richard Gere - she made a vomiting face, repeated his name over and over in a disgusted way ("Rich-hard GEEEre?"), giving me another story. On the 30th minute sharp she shot up and swanned out of the hotel on the arm of her lunch date companion who'd come to collect - John Gielgud.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Duncan Fallowell: Why he's given up on star interviews

Duncan Fallowell: The modern
approach to flogging books
In Duncan Fallowell's latest book, The Rise and Fall of the Celebrity Interview: A Personal Account - a long essay best read in one gulp - Tina Brown is blamed for... oh, let's start again. I'm getting ahead of myself.

I've had some personal experience of Mr F. In another age I feature edited the late IPC glossy Woman's Journal. In my first week in the post, following years as a jittery freelancer, I had to deliver on promises made (aka wishes expressed) to the grand editor-in-chief Laurie Purden MBE and produce big-name interviews by writers. Now. Not just hacks, not just "professionals", but prose naturals of the stylised kind. Of the sort likely to take Laurie by surprise. Because nothing bored her more than an expectation confirmed. She wanted to be taken unawares by an expert in seduction. Only people with a voice and a gift for animating their perverse reflexes in the written word would do. Byron Rogers could do it. I did not know DF but he'd already made an impact (on me and innumerable publications). He really did take one's breath away. He'd pissed off Gore Vidal big time. "He's lazy," bitter, angry Gore growled when I mentioned DF in an interview. "He said that I said writers are like cows - I am not a cow." I liked the way DF started his slebby pieces, as if idly picking up on a conversation begun sometime earlier or out of earshot. By some magic he seduced one into thinking that it was worth listening in on, to see what happened next. All an illusion, of course. All artifice. But this is what he calls a celebrity interview. An unfamiliar voyage into the familiar.

So, I made contact with DF from one of the top floors of IPC Towers and before I could say "lunch" he'd delivered the nightclub queen Regine to me from the sunny south coast of France. The piece enraptured Laurie, not normally given to orgasmic display, such was her intimacy with disappointment. I knew I was safe for a while. Yes, DF: you played your part in my survival.

So, let's start again. In his latest book, DF holds Tina Brown responsible (not solely, but majorly) for the destruction of his brand of celebrity journalism in newspapers and glossy magazines. She's to blame for his decision to give up on interviewing the stars. You'll have to read the book to find out how precisely, but the word "corporatism" is repeated. No matter Tina's glory at Tatler/Vanity Fair/New Yorker/Whatever she did not get DF at all. "She became a control freak," writes DF, of her immunity to his interviews that she'd commissioned. Her editorial expectations were narrow; she favoured the "girlie and conventional": she animated the corporate move against "authorial independence" (ie DF's). Her Vanity Fair became a "watertight plastic product which no writer was allowed to upstage with a personal voice." Tina B unleashed the infection of professionalism on a generation of underling and inferior editors anxious to copycat her success in their own name. Bitch.

That aside there's much yummy goss and much reflection on the pleasing by-product of celebrity meet-ups. I won't repeat the Germaine Greer sexual position that was novel even to DF. The John Osborne letters crackle with acid intelligence and guile. Wily Mick Jagger (probably) positioned a certain druggie book title on a table as a nod to DF's chemical treks. Oh, there's much to savour. And there's no malice. Of Tina B, DF remains fond. It's just she's put paid to his career as a celebrity interviewer. Bitch.

Of course, the celebrity interview is still alive and kicking, as cat litter trays everywhere testify. DF does not credit Hello! as another foe, with its seminally inane Q&As and PR-driven drivel, draped around pendants of posy pics of orange skin. The celebrity interviewer (epitomised by the ever self-regarding Piers Morgan) is now favoured, one half of a recorded collision of a double-barrelled marketing campaign to other media, pegged to book/film/whatever releases (as identified in italics at the end).

During my time at Woman's Journal, by far the most successful interview we ran - as measured by headlines generated all over the world - was DF's discourse with Germaine Greer in which she ended up rating lovers by nationality. British men - all homosexual! You can imagine the impact. All achieved by allowing two people of learning to do battle in and on their own terms. Laurie (bless her) felt no need to interfere though she did order me to strike out a "fucking" or two. We were a smart ABC1 glossy after all.

Student hacks (among others) should read this book to script the next retro-revolution in journalism. The online extravaganza of global readerships has scarcely begun - and these billions of the jaded and the seen-it-all will be seeking tit-hardening surprises. Q&As won't do. Mark my words, poppets.

DF's book can be downloaded here now at 99p

Monday, July 28, 2014

Dominic Lawson & astrology: Cainer offers reassurance

Dominic Lawson treats Daily Mail readers to his recycled views on astrology (it's crap, in short) and even cites a 1940s psychology experiment in evidence, seemingly unaware that certain learned persons have cast doubt on the science status of psychology. I see that Dom is a Sag so I looked up his stars by the Mail's Jonathan Cainer for today. What message has he to impart to Dom? "If you complain, find fault, express a sense of outrage, or generally take pains to point out the downside to any particular plan or idea, it won't be long before someone else echoes your sentiment and you find yourself with many comrades to support you in your protest movement. Stick to smiling this week." So there we go Dom: yet further recycling of your views is forecast in our nation's rags (and in our one satirical organ); each an, er, original voice.