Clive James December 2011

December 9, 2011


Clives James takes stock of life and literary output

LET’S start with the good news. Clive James’s leukemia, whose diagnosis was widely reported earlier this year, is officially in remission.
Moreover, his COPD – the chronic lung condition that has had him in and out of hospital during the past 18 months – is “under control” .

“On the downside,” James tells me, “my right eye has almost packed up and I have cataracts in both.” He is scheduled for an eye operation early next year.

James’s Job-like run of health disasters during the past two years – he also has suffered a kidney failure and a near-fatal blood clot – hasn’t stopped him from writing. Indeed, he seems to have taken these scares as a cue to hurry up, not slow down. But they have imposed some drastic restrictions on the 72-year-old’s social life. He isn’t allowed to fly, for instance.

…”Not being able to get to Australia without carrying my weight in oxygen is a depressing prospect, especially at a time when I might have to miss the Warne-Hurley wedding,” he says.

And even with his cancer in remission, James must pay regular visits to a clinic for blood infusions. “My immune system is being successfully replaced with an immunoglobulin drip-feed that encourages reading for at least a couple of hours a week.”

All this means that James, at the moment, can’t be interviewed except by email. This isn’t a bad arrangement when you’re interviewing one of the wittiest writers in the world. It will, however, make it hard for me to throw in the standard references to the man’s physical appearance, the firmness of his handshake and what kind of beverage he leans back to sip on while considering his answers.

Improvising, I offer James the chance to provide a scene-setting description of himself. “Surprisingly hale and hearty-looking for someone described in the newspapers as being at death’s door,” he replies. “Clive James gives few outward signs of feebleness to anyone who did not know him when his energy was unimpaired. When he sets the kitchen on fire, as old men are inclined to do, he is a little slow at getting to the blaze. His eyes are a bit screwed up, but he hopes to get that fixed.”

It hurts to think of James as an old man. If he is one, then those of us who grew up with his books and television shows must be growing old, too.

James sailed from Australia to Britain in 1962, age 22. While studying at Cambridge he wrote and performed for the Footlights, where his fellow thespians included future Python Eric Idle, future Goodie Graeme Garden and the eternal firebrand Germaine Greer, with whom he had attended the University of Sydney.

After graduating, James established himself as one of the most stylish and influential London literary critics of his time. When the young Martin Amis began publishing book reviews in the 1970s, his father Kingsley would read them back to him in an Australian accent, convinced his son had fallen under James’s stylistic spell. At the same time, James was attracting a broader audience with his weekly TV column for The Observer. He gave that up in the early 80s, when his booming career as a TV performer began to present a conflict of interest.

In Unreliable Memoirs, his much-loved book about his Sydney childhood, James called himself the Kid from Kogarah. The name stuck, and even now it still suits him. Sick as he has been, James retains a boyish eagerness to take on new projects. An internet enthusiast, he runs his own multimedia site, which he is constantly restocking with fresh links and material. Earlier this year he went back to writing a weekly TV column, this time for Britain’s Daily Telegraph. When a nasty reflaring of illness put him flat on his back for much of the British summer, he continued to file the column from his hospital bed.

These days James is up and about again. He spends half of each week writing in his London apartment and the other half in Cambridge with his wife, their two married daughters and his young granddaughter, who has made several touching cameo appearances in his recent poetry.

“My routine used to be four days in London and three in Cambridge. Now things are more even because all my clinics are in Cambridge: eyes, lungs, oncology. So I write a bit more at home and get in everyone’s road. They are very nice about it.

“Illness has scrambled my timetable because there are some kinds of writing that are affected more than others. My TV column is fun to do and pays for the groceries, which is important to me because I don’t like living on my pension if I can avoid it. A poem still, as always, puts in an appearance when it is good and ready. But between those two extremes there are the long critical pieces that I write for The Atlantic, and I can only say there was a time when they would have come more easily.”

As James pushes on with these ventures, a couple of bigger projects have just come to fruition. A book of his radio commentaries, A Point of View, appeared in November. Hot on that book’s heels, Australian company Madman Entertainment has just released The Clive James Collection, a three-DVD set of documentaries James made for Britain’s ITV during the 80s.

The DVD release comes at an important time for James. Having narrowly dodged death twice in two years, he has been intensifying his efforts to get his back catalogue in order. At his website, he and his cyber team are busy uploading the text of his out-of-print books, so that the oeuvre, when the time comes to leave it behind, will be as shapely and complete as possible.

“I do aim to get all my books on site before the pearly gates swing open before me, or swing shut behind me or whichever it is, and it would be satisfactory if I could do the same for any TV work I value. At my age you don’t really want to lose anything.”

James, who retired from the TV industry in 2000, has always viewed his best TV stuff as continuous with his literary output. But there was a time when his TV fame threatened to compromise his reputation as a writer, and especially as a poet. “I can only wonder,” he wrote a few years ago, in an essay called The Velvet Shackles of a Reputation, “if my name as a poet might not have made quicker progress had I been less notorious for the other things.”

Some of the other things James was notorious for are on display in the new DVD. In one program he dons a tight red tracksuit to participate in a Japanese game show. In another he pulls on a pair of togs, jumps into Hugh Hefner’s swimming pool and interviews a trio of glistening playmates.

But there is plenty of serious stuff, too. There is a riveting hour-long interview with Roman Polanski, who is hair-raisingly frank about the sexual assault charges that made him flee the US. “I like girls of this age,” Polanski explains. (The girl was 13.)

James, who says that interviewing celebrities is “a soul-stealing activity to be good at”, believes his most valuable TV work came in his travel documentaries, known as the Postcards. “I think some of my best writing is in the Postcard programs. Practically every one of them has at least one paragraph of commentary that has me lounging around admiring myself.”

Certainly, James’s way with words is the unifying element of the documentaries. It keeps them fresh, even after 20-odd years. Consorting with various lethal beasts while on safari in Kenya, James says in voice-over: “It was time for breakfast, but we wanted to eat it, not be it.”

I ask James if some of his stunts for the TV camera, in Africa and other places, weren’t a bit rash. It would have been a shame, I suggest, if we’d missed out on his late poetry because he was too keen to get into a two-shot with a charging rhino.

“I’m glad to hear that some of the TV action work looks dangerous because we were fairly careful to make sure none of it was. If I’d had any Steve McQueen tendencies, they would have been quelled by the producers, whose closest connection was with the insurance company. Such was my concern with my own safety, indeed, that I would rejig even the mildest stunt so that I was scarcely even in it. My literary future was safe, believe me.”

Perhaps the key work in James’s literary future was the monumental Cultural Amnesia, published in 2007. Reading that book, one can understand why some critics think of James as a paradoxical figure, or even as two separate men. Can the James who wrote such a polymathic survey of the West’s high and low culture – a book J. M. Coetzee called “a crash course in civilisation” – really be the same man who jumped into Hefner’s pool, surfacing remarkably close to the awesome chest of Miss January?

Well, he is the same man. The paradox, when closely examined, isn’t a paradox at all. The plain fact is that James is a born performer. If he weren’t, his serious writing wouldn’t be so absorbing. He is constantly looking to entertain you with the texture of his language. Cultural Amnesia looks like a brick but it reads like a breeze because James’s prose is driven by the same crowd-pleasing instinct that animated him on the Footlights stage and on TV. With James, you can’t have one thing without the other. And what’s so bad about having both?

Does he miss performing? “I do indeed. I always tried to keep the volume level down, but basically I was the kind of restaurant guest who would perform for the waiter. “The cruellest deprivation, since I got sick, is that I can’t go on stage and do my 1 1/2 hours. Perhaps one day. Unfortunately it takes quite a lot of puff, which I’m short of.”

Sadly, this lack of puff has also taken the wind out of a couple of long-meditated books. For years he has spoken of writing a big novel about the war in the Pacific, the war in which his father died when James was five. This work, James now says, “is reconciling itself to never seeing the light of day”.

A sequel to Cultural Amnesia is a more realistic prospect, although at the moment, James says, the project is “mainly a pile of notes”.

There is better news for fans of the memoirs. To date, the original book has yielded four sequels. James now says that “a sixth volume, incorporating all my medical disasters, is such a potentially hilarious prospect that I don’t think I can much longer resist it”.

The original Unreliable Memoirs has gone through more than 100 printings and sold more than a million copies. Did James sense, while writing it, that he was in the process of striking gold?

“No, I never felt I was on to something special when I was writing Unreliable Memoirs. I was having so much fun I was on automatic pilot. Today, I tend to obsess about a dangling participle on the last page. Now that the book has become a school text I want it to set a good example.”

Consulting my own copy of the memoirs, I’m damned if I can find the dangler in question. Instead I find myself succumbing, yet again, to the ravishing cadences of the book’s conclusion. Dangler or no, those closing pages of James’s book contain some of the most lyrical writing about childhood ever done, anywhere.

“Secretly,” James admits, “when I give myself time, I am very pleased to have written a book that will undoubtedly outlast me, unless they cancel the latest print run on the day I croak.”

Emboldened by James’s candour on the mortality question, I ask him if he minds what posterity will think of him. Would it bother him, for example, if he was remembered more for his prose than his poetry?

“I’d be grateful to be remembered for anything,” he says. “By the way, who’s going to tell me?”

The Clive James Collection is available now via Madman Entertainment.

A Point of View (Picador) was reviewed in these pages last week.


Hazel O’Connor & Myton Hospices

December 5, 2011

My good friend Hazel O’Connor is backing a hospice for which a fund-raising appeal for more nurses is launched. Myton hospices in Rugby, Coventry and Warwick offer free care to 2,000 people every year and rely heavily on donations of £7m a year their running costs.

If you have nothing better to do on the following days, and are in the area, come along and support Hazel and the appeal.

January 6, 2007

This diary has now been moved to

Kevin Cryan

Some thoughts on Saddam’s execution

January 4, 2007

This is fragment of a January the 1st report published in The Guardian on how footage, filmed, it now seems, by an Iraqui official with a mobile phone,  portrayed Saddam Hussein’s execution: 

Camera footage of the final minutes of Saddam Hussein released yesterday shows him being taunted by Shia hangmen and witnesses, a scene that risks increasing sectarian tension in Iraq.

As he stood at the gallows, he was tormented by the hooded executioners or witnesses shouting at him to “Go to hell” and chanting the name Moqtada”, the radical Shia Muslim cleric and leader of the Mahdi army militia, Moqtada al-Sadr, and his family.

 The grainy images, which appeared to have been taken on a mobile phone, disclose exchanges between Saddam and his tormentors, the moment when his body drops through the trapdoor, and his body swinging, eyes partly open and neck bent out of shape. In what Sunni Muslims will perceive as a further insult, the executioners released the trapdoor while the former dictator was in the middle of his prayers.

Sunni Muslims, who were dominant under Saddam, but are now the victims of sectarian death squads, will see the shambolic nature of the execution as further evidence of the bias of the Shia-led government. They have repeatedly claimed that the Iraqi government, helped by the US and British, conducted a show trial, based on revenge rather than justice.

It is repulsive to think that Britain and the USA had, no matter what they say to the contrary, colluded with the Iraqi government in bringing about Saddam’s end in this way. Yes, it is true,  he probably was treated much better than he had treated many of his victims.

Be that as it may, we in Britain and the USA consider ourselves too civilized, too morally superior, to condone in any way blatant acts of revenge even when they are against someone as reprehensible as Saddam.

On January the 2nd Stephen Moss, a columnist with that same newspaper, was pondering the possibility that all the humiliation, taunting and bias that Saddam had suffered would in the end have pleased the late dictator.

.…..if a dictator has to die, this would surely be the way he would choose. One last stage, a worldwide audience at his command. Saddam’s final exchanges with his hooded, gangsterish executioners are already being mythologised. “Go to hell,” one is reported to have said. “The hell that is Iraq?” Saddam supposedly snaps back. A brilliant riposte from a man about to die.

To me this was another good reason why the Americans and British should have stepped in and made certain that he was not allowed to present himself as a martyr. Of course, it may be that both country’s were in fact so anxious to be rid of him that not only were they willing to allow him to be executed after being found guilty of one – relatively minor – crime but they were also willing the see him being thrown, as it were, to the dogs.

Both governments can be very crass when crassness serves an end. There are it seems to me two questions that we all have to ask ourselves; one is whether our government did enough to protest against the execution in first place and the second is whether it did enough to prevent it from the becoming the unseemly act of revenge it almost certainly became. The Guardian, in its leader, today put it very clearly.

The boundary between justice, however unpleasant, delivered by a responsible, sovereign government, and sectarian mob violence, was crossed in an explicit form.

The way in which the former Iraqi ruler died may not alter the underlying morality of his execution, an act which Britain should have opposed more firmly than it did and which was not universally supported even inside the Iraqi government, as President Jalal Talabani’s objections made clear. But the manner of Saddam’s death, ridden with chaos and malice, has made the act much more divisive and dangerous. It was justice delivered in its crudest form, by hooded men taunting Saddam with Shia slogans, the distillation of a fractured and lawless country. The possibility that the pictures were recorded by a senior Iraqi official, as Saddam’s prosecutor Munkith al-Faroon suggested yesterday, underlines the decayed state of what passes for central authority in the country.

It certainly does underline the “decayed state of what passes for central authority in the country”, but try telling that to Bush and Blair, and see the answer you get.   

Ryanair fails to silence critic.

January 2, 2007

I have nothing in particular say against Ryanair or its strident CEO Michael O’Leary. However,  I do believe that that there are times Mr. O’Leary so oversteps the mark by treating his critics – or those people who refuse to see things his way – with such contempt that he deserves to be taken down a notch or two from time to time.  

I have to say that it delights more than somewhat to hear that someone who is standing up to Mr. O’Leary’s and his bully-boy tactics does get backing from powerful UN group such as World Intellectual Property Organization .

The low-cost airline’s  battle to win control of the internet domain name which was set in 2006 by disgruntled former customer, Michael Coulston as a open platform from which he and others could criticize the airline’s business practices, was revealed by WIPO for what it always was – a typically naked attempt by the airline to silence critics. 

Ryanair had complained to WIPO that the domain name infringed on its trademarks and that it should therefore be transferred into Ryanair’s possession.

 But  the WIPO, which was set up by the UN in 1967 with the stated purpose of encouraging creative activity and promoting the protection of intellectual property throughout the world, under an arbitration procedure set up in 1999, rejected Ryanair’s claim. 

Coulston, it said in its judgment, had not breached breached ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) policy [link] in any way. It went on to say that even in where Coulston himself had admitted to breaking with he what he thought was policy, he actually hadn’t. It would appear that he thought that that the mere act of criticized Ryanair was, under ICANN rules, and by default, tarnishing its name. 

The WIPO arbitration panel, obviously realizing that Ryanair was attempting to shut Coulston up by sugesting that he tarnishing the company, thought otherwise. It made it very clear to Ryanair that criticism and tarnishing were quite different things.

…Complainant* states that Respondent** admitted to attempting to tarnish the RYANAIR mark. This argument, though, reflects a misunderstanding of the nature of the tarnishment prohibited by the Policy. Tarnishment in this context does not mean criticism. If it did, every website critical of a brand owner could be branded a tarnishing use. Rather, “[t]arnishment in this context refers to such unseemly conduct as linking unrelated pornographic, violent or drug-related images or information to an otherwise wholesome mark”. Britannia Building Society v. Britannia Fraud Prevention, WIPO Case No. D2001-0505 (July 6, 2001). In the instant case, Respondent’s site criticizes Complainant and its business practices, sometimes in harsh terms, but it does not associate the RYANAIR mark with any unwholesome activity. Accordingly, Complainant has failed to show that Respondent has used the Domain Name to tarnish Complainant’s trademark  

*Ryanair **Coulston 

I like the way  Ryanair’s claim is summarily dismissed by saying that “tarnishment does not mean criticism” before going on to say that “if it did every website critical of a brand owner could be branded a tarnishing use” and finally giving a clear definition of what tarnishment “in the context means”. 

All in all, a victory for common sense I would say. Naturally enough, we cannot expect Mr O’Leary to let a little setback like this get him down. He’s got far too much of a bruiser for that. It’s almost certain that he’ll be crying “foul” – but then this is what he always does when things do not go his way.  

Think before you install Microsoft Vista.

January 1, 2007

John Naughton (see blogroll on the right) comments in an online diary entry he made today

Before Vista, I thought that anyone who willingly used a Microsoft operating system was merely foolish; from now on, I think they will have to be regarded as certifiable.

That’s putting it quite strongly, I think. To understand why he’s come to this conclusion, you have to read the full entry.  


Aids to understanding John’s entry.  

DRM      = Digital Rights Management 

Quentin =   Quentin Stafford-Fraser

Bush and Somalia.

December 30, 2006

While a great deal of attention has been given to the Bush administration’s activities in Iraq, the administration itself has been making mischief in the places around the world other than Iraq 

In Somalia, for instance, it has been supporting the transitional government in its efforts to topple the popular Islamic Courts Union which six months ago brought to Somalia the first peace and stability it had experienced in sixteen years. Now, though both Ethiopia and the US are denying it, it appears that the Bush administration has sponsored the recent Ethiopian military invasion of Somalia. 

This is how the successful invasion was portrayed by Los Angeles Times staff writer Edmund Sanders on December the 29th 

ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA — The headline in an Ethiopian newspaper drew familiar, if unflattering, comparisons to another nation’s faster-than expected victory in a war abroad.

“Mission Accomplished,” blared Addis Ababa‘s Daily Monitor in a story about Ethiopian forces’ triumph over Somalian Islamists this week.

In 2003, the same phrase adorned a banner behind President Bush as he declared an end to major combat operations in Iraq, though the battles and bloodshed proved far from over.

Just as the Iraq invasion has divided Americans, Ethiopians are split over their government’s decision to get involved in Somalia‘s brewing civil war by sending troops across the border.

After just a week of fighting, Ethiopian troops have enabled Somalia‘s transitional government to gain control of a vast swath of southern Somalia that had been seized by the fundamentalist Islamic Courts Union over the last six months. By Thursday morning, Ethiopian and Somalian government troops had reached the outskirts of the capital city, Mogadishu, with Islamic forces there apparently having disappeared into the populace.

Ethiopian leaders are calling the military intervention a smart preemptive strike against the spread of religious extremism in the Horn of Africa. They say the world should thank Ethiopia for defeating a coalition of militant Islamists that U.S. officials have accused of having links to terrorists, including Al Qaeda.   

The Prime Minister, Meles Zenwai, who heads a dictatorial regime in Ethopia, has strongly denied that U.S. soldiers or weapons were being used in any battles, though he noted that Washington and Addis Ababa have a long-standing agreement to share intelligence.

“We are not fighting anybody’s war,” Meles said. “We are fighting to defend ourselves.” Meles said that during a visit this month by U.S. Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top American commander in the Middle East had advised against a Somalia invasion. “He shared his experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan with us, and he indicated that we have, to the maximum extent possible, to avoid direct military intervention in Somalia,” Meles said.

That is certainly not the opinion of Salim Lone, who was UN spokesman in Iraq  in 2003 and is now a columnist of the Daily News Kenya. In his comment is free column in today’s edition of The Guardian, he writes:

Undeterred by the horrors and disasters in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon, the Bush administration has opened another battlefront in the Muslim world. With US backing, Ethiopian troops have invaded Somalia in an illegal war of aggression.

But this brazen US-sponsored bid to topple the popular Islamists who had brought Somalia its first peace and security in 16 years has already begun to backfire. Looting has forced the transitional government to declare a state of emergency. Clan warlords, who had terrorised Somalia until they were driven out by the Islamists this year, have begun carving up the city once again. And the African Union, which helped create the transitional government, has called for the immediate withdrawal of Ethiopian forces from the country, as did Kenya, a close US and Ethiopian ally.


And Lone goes on to scrutinize the real motives behind the
US sponsorship.

As with Iraq in 2003, the US has cast this as a war to curtail terrorism. The real goal of course is to gain a direct foothold in another highly strategic and oil rich region by installing a client regime in Somalia. TheUS had already been violating the UN arms embargo on Somalia by supporting the warlords who drove out the UN peace-keepers in 1993 by killing 18 US soldiers, in order to push out the Islamists. That effort failed and an Ethiopian invasion remained the only way to oust a group with popular support. All independent experts warned against such a war, saying it would destabilise the region.

His conclusion is that the US has once again made a fundamental error of judgment.

The US has every right to be concerned about terror. But the best anti-dote to terrorism in Somalia is stability, which the Union of Islamic Courts provided. The Islamists have strong public support, which has grown in the face of US and Ethiopian interventions. As in other Muslim-western conflicts, the way to secure peace is to engage with the Islamists to ensure that they have no reason to turn to terror.

That’s a lesson Bush never listens to.

Bush and Saddam’s execution.

December 30, 2006

This is how the San Jose Mercury News, with a little help from Associated Press, has reported George Bush’s reactions to the execution of Saddam Hussein.

President Bush said Friday that Saddam Hussein’s execution marks the “end of a difficult year for the Iraqi people and for our troops” and cautioned that his death will not halt the violence in Iraq.

Yet, Bush said in a statement issued from his ranch in Texas, “it is an important milestone on Iraq’s course to becoming a democracy that can govern, sustain and defend itself, and be an ally in the war on terror.”

In a message of assurance to the people of Iraq, Bush said the execution was a reminder of how far the Iraqi people have come since the end of Saddam’s rule.

“The progress they have made would not have been possible without the continued service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform,” he said.

Bush, who has spent weeks crafting a new U.S. policy in Iraq, warned of more challenges for U.S. troops.

“Many difficult choices and further sacrifices lie ahead,” he said. “Yet the safety and security of the American people require that we not relent in ensuring that Iraq‘s young democracy continues to progress.”

Is it my imagination, or does Bush now soundlike a man who is getting increasingly desperate to believe in his own rhetoric? “The American people require that we not relent” What, as they say in prevailing parlance, is that all about? That’s certainly not George Bush speaking.  It’s probably some speechwriter attempt to make him sound as though he is still making some contribution to America’s manifest destiny. And, boy, oh boy, does it sound hollow?

Gerald Ford speaks – too late.

December 29, 2006

According to Bob Woodward’s article in today’s Washington Post, former president of the United States Gerald Ford said that he would not have gone to war in Iraq. In an interview given to Woodward in July 2004, on the strict understanding it would not be published until after his death, the former president said he did not think he would have gone to war, saying that he would have made greater efforts to find alternative ways of dealing with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

“I don’t think, if I had been president, on the basis of the facts as I saw them publicly,” he said, “I don’t think I would have ordered the Iraq war. I would have maximized our effort through sanctions, through restrictions, whatever, to find another answer.” 

Rumsfeld, and Cheney and the the president made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq. They put the emphasis on weapons of mass destruction,” Ford said. “And now, I’ve never publicly said I thought they made a mistake, but I felt very strongly it was an error in how they should justify what they were going to do.”………………………………………………………………………

…………………“Well, I can understand the theory of wanting to free people,” Ford said, referring to Bush’s assertion that the United States has a “duty to free people.” But the former president said he was skeptical “whether you can detach that from the obligation number one, of what’s in our national interest.” He added: “And I just don’t think we should go hellfire damnation around the globe freeing people, unless it is directly related to our own national security.”

As all three men criticised played important roles in the Ford own administration, and as they all considered themselves to be close friends of his, it is very unlikely that this criticism will go down well anybody. He says of Cheney:

“He was an excellent chief of staff. First class,” Ford said. “But I think Cheney has become much more pugnacious” as vice president. He said he agreed with former secretary of state Colin L. Powell‘s assertion that Cheney developed a “fever” about the threat of terrorism and Iraq. “I think that’s probably true.”

It may be that Ford can say, like Othello, that he has “done the state some service”. My own belief is that he has done it a very great disservice by not speaking more openly and frankly when there was a chance that his opinions might have made some difference.

Did they need IPP reports for that?

December 28, 2006

This rather remarkable piece was published in yesterday’s edition of The Guardian.

In two reports, the Institute of Public Policy Research joins union calls for compulsory standard assessment tests (Sats) at the end of key stage two and three to be abolished and replaced largely by a system of continuing teacher assessment. But it also argues for new measures to make schools and teachers accountable. The IPPR says too many schools are “teaching to the test” in an effort to boost their standing in league tables. Such short tests in the key subjects lead to “unreliable results”.

What is really remarkable about this is not that the IPP has come with the recommendation it has, but that this government needs an IPP report to tell it what the educational experts and people with experience of what is actually happening in schools have been saying all along. The fact the practice of   “teaching to the test” was widespread has been very well known for a long time.

Here is the late Ted Wragg writing for The Guardian in 2003.

The Sats industry makes education dreary and mechanical, and their influence on the curriculum is dangerously narrowing, as schools in city areas feel pressed into drilling children to death, too terrified about their low league-table position to innovate. The league tables should also be abolished. They tell virtually nothing about the quality of teaching in a school, and simply perpetuate and extend social polarization.

I suppose that Wragg’s relationship with the government was such that it was always on the cards that said government would ignore as much as it could of what he had to say on any given subject.