The Jazz Pilot or Flying Above The Stars (part 5 and finis)

concluding the story of Roger Wolfe Kahn, dance band leader, composer and pilot

Roger transforms himself into a flyer (1931-38)


Roger finds his musical career less and less satisfying. Apart from the constant references to Daddy’s boy, reinforced by Hannah, he finds his dance band life out of tune with the times. His conscience troubles him – can he really go on playing dance band music in the Depression? Millions are out of work, and former patrons of his bands and clubs have been wiped out financially. Some are selling apples in the street, others have committed suicide.

Otto remarks that Roger is providing employment for hundreds of musicians and support staff who might otherwise be out of work. “Or rather, I am” he remarks rather caustically, rubbing in the very point that Roger most resents. And he adds that Roger’s friend, Mayor Jimmy Walker, has asked New York’s entertainment centres to play only happy tunes. He suggests that Roger help him. But Jimmy Walker has been broken by the Depression. He has run out of wisecracks. He is about to flee the city to Europe to escape corruption charges. This conversation reinforces Roger’s feeling that his own era is over.

Roger also senses that the world will eventually have to confront the Nazis. What good will dance music do in that struggle? Thinking of the pro-Nazi patrons of the Berlin nightclubs, he even wonders whether dance music is “on the wrong side.”

Roger takes to his aeroplane more and more to escape from his problems and worries for the future. (More contrasts visually between beauty and freedom in the air and the artificial gaiety of night clubs and now, the miserable Depression-hit streets below the aeroplane).

Roger makes a forced but safe landing in a field in Maine. He meets a local girl, Edith Nelson (always called Daisy) who does not recognize him. He is taken with her immediately, but dare not identify himself: he is, after all, still married. When she asks his name he blurts the first one he can think of – Bertie Wooster. He pretends to be just a visiting British flyer.

Still as Bertie Wooster, he flies back to Maine secretly at regular intervals to see her again. His silly-ass manner is rather at odds with his obvious skill as a pilot, but Daisy accepts him as Bertie the pilot. He is acute and revealing about the appeal of flying – alone and dependent on his own skill to escape the Earth. She takes her first ride in his aeroplane. Normally a daredevil, he becomes very cautious. She urges him to be more ambitious, as she has watched him before. She demands to know the aircraft’s ceiling and when he tells her, demands that he go higher. “Higher than the stars?” he asks in his real voice. “That’ll do,” she replies. He pushes the aeroplane beyond its limits.

When they land safely, Roger is undone by her tiresome younger brother, an obsessive aircraft enthusiast. He recognizes the aeroplane as a unique model, owned by Roger. Quickly Roger pretends to be his personal pilot, borrowing the aircraft for a joy ride. But later alone with Daisy he admits his real identity. He could not tell her that he was a married man – but the marriage will soon be over. Will she forgive him and wait for him? She agrees at once. Whether Bertie or Roger, or anyone else, he was the man she wanted.

The final break with Hannah is relatively amicable until she reveals that she has been seeing heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey. A prizefighter, he snorts. Yes, she snaps back. Someone who had to make his own way without Daddy’s money, and all alone in the ring, dependent on his own efforts and no one to cover any mistake. He admits her logic.

They divorce. He proposes to Daisy in his aeroplane, sky-writing “Will you marry me?” She accepts.

Otto dies suddenly. Roger is genuinely grieved. He has lost a loving father. But he is also free of the shadow. He marries Daisy only ten days later.
He finally makes up his mind to give up music. NOTE: Daisy became very deaf in later life. If this was apparent when she met Roger it gives him a powerful emotional motive to give up music – if she cannot hear his beautiful arrangements. Possible scene of the orchestra playing to an appreciative, dancing audience – from which she alone is excluded. Daisy asks if he is certain – there are hundreds of pilots but only one Roger Wolfe Kahn, bandleader. He is certain.

After some hair-raising stunts promoting the Cabot airmail pick-up device, Roger signs up with the Grumman company as a full-time test pilot.

He puts their new prototypes beyond their limits. We see more hair-raising stunts. We see him working hard as a mechanic fixing engines. ON his hands again – not manicured any more, but dirty and calloused. ON all his fine suits being given away (this time the hobo with style is delighted with what he gets.) But his musical gifts have not gone. He plays the piano for his workmates at Grumman. Once he accompanied the best performers in the world, now it is amateurs in the canteen. At the Grumman airfield, he sees a teenage apprentice at the canteen piano, painfully trying to pick out “Begin The Beguine”, a hit that year (1938) for his former employee Artie Shaw. Roger takes over and shows the boy the chords. The boy asks if Roger was really once a famous band leader. “Not really. I knocked around a bit with Artie Shaw when I was a kid.”

However, his musical ear remains intact and helps him spot problems with engines. “This engine should hum in E flat, it’s doing F, almost F sharp.”
He is never tempted to a musical comeback, except once. A celebrity band is assembled in 1938 at Roosevelt Field for the unveiling of the giant mural on the golden age of aviation. Rhoda the painter, herself a flyer, persuades him to pick up the baton. ON his hands, once again, even more workmanlike. The band canters through some of his old repertoire to great applause. We hear the same taut performance of “Crazy Rhythm” as at the opening, clearly at his direction. Rhoda and Daisy congratulate him but he says modestly “I’m just a pilot now, the boys were smart enough to ignore my baton”.

Ends

09. May 2022 by rkh
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The Jazz Pilot or Flying Above The Stars (part 4)


continuing the story of Roger Wolfe Kahn, dance band leader, composer and pilot

An interlude with Jeeves

We are indeed borrowing Jeeves from P G Wodehouse. Conflating two episodes from Jeeves’ career, the great man is in New York and has given notice to his English employer, Bertie Wooster, because he cannot bear to listen to Bertie’s efforts to play the banjolele. He and Roger take to each other, but Roger is worried: he too plays the banjolele. Not like Mr Wooster, I trust, remarks Jeeves. Roger promptly plays the banjolele faultlessly.


Jeeves gives Roger a sartorial makeover. His current wardrobe and two-dollar hats are given away to the poor. One outfit is actually rejected by a hobo with good taste.

Jeeves takes Roger to the best tailor in New York – where they meet “Gentleman Jimmy” Walker, Hizzoner the Mayor. Roger, dazed, orders dozens of beautiful suits, shirts and ties. He resists only when Jeeves and Walker try to force him into spats (favoured by Otto Kahn and his banking partners.)

Roger also meets Jeeves’ former employer, Bertie Wooster. They become friends and compare the sartorial lessons Jeeves has given them. Roger helps Bertie compose a piece as a journalist, “What The Well-Dressed Man Is Wearing In New York”, a companion to the London version published in his aunt Dahlia’s magazine, Milady’s Boudoir. He also teaches Bertie to play the banjolele properly.

Jeeves has a good musical ear and is an asset to Roger as a composer and arranger. Gradually, as with Bertie Wooster, he becomes a substitute parent.

Still only 19, Roger attends a meeting with other well-known bandleaders including Paul Whiteman and George Olson. The purpose is to establish a cartel to prevent “poaching” of musicians by bands, curb runaway salaries and “establish order” in the marketplace. Roger initially objects but another bandleader remarks heavily that they cannot all afford to be bountiful with Daddy’s money. Roger is shaken and joins the cartel.

Jeeves listens sympathetically to Roger’s account of the meeting and his general chafing about his father’s shadow – the constant requests for “Baby Face” and the snide press coverage of “Master Roger” suggesting that he would never have been a bandleader without Daddy’s money behind him.
We see him briefly helping to dress Roger as a bandleader and a flier, making minute last-second corrections.

Roger and Hannah (1931-33)

Roger hires Hannah Williams and her sister for a Broadway revue. She has a hit song “Hard Hearted Hannah”, followed by “Cheerful Little Earful.” He is taken with her: underneath her Broadway sophistication he sees his dream “natural girl”. Jeeves is sceptical and hints that if Hannah is such a “natural” girl Roger need not constantly send her a stream of expensive presents. But Roger does not listen. His relationship with Hannah deepens and Jeeves goes back to Bertie Wooster (the banjolele is no longer a barrier.)

Roger woos Hannah under pet names from her hit songs, begging her to be his cheerful little earful not hard-hearted. Hannah thinks this a little childish.


The Depression hits the United States. Broadway is badly hit, as are Roger’s band and nightclub takings but he is insulated from the full effects of the Depression by the Kahn fortune, which stays largely intact. Roger continues to shower Hannah with expensive gifts. She begins to see Roger as a welcome refuge from the Depression.

They marry secretly in Oheka Castle – on Otto Kahn’s terms. Bitterly she discovers that she must give up her Broadway career. They go on honeymoon – with Otto – to Europe. Scenes in 1931 Berlin: Roger watches the Nazis beating up Jews. Were they not super-rich foreigners, he and Otto might be victims too. They visit some fashionable nightclubs, where Roger discovers that many of the High Society patrons are Nazi supporters.

Some scenes mimicking Citizen Kane, Hannah miserable in a series of opulent Kahn mansions.

Roger’s marriage disintegrates slowly. Hannah taunts him for living on his father’s terms. She will not be another of Master Roger’s toys. They keep up appearances in public, where Hannah accepts the nicknames she has learnt to resent.

08. May 2022 by rkh
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The Jazz Pilot or Flying Above The Stars (part 3)

continuing the story of Roger Wolfe Kahn, dance band leader and pilot

Boy Roger (1910s)


The Kahn family in a private box at a classical concert. Roger, the smallest, bored and fidgety. ON his hands, playing an imaginary syncopation, until he gets a slap.

The Kahn family at home watching Roger reluctantly at the piano. He gets through a classical piece accurately enough but lifelessly. Then to their horror he starts playing it in ragtime.

Roger’s twelfth birthday, celebrated at their astonishing country home in Long Island, Oheka Castle. He receives not only a scaled-down powered car but a flight in an aeroplane (a very rare treat for a child in 1919). ON his small hands, caressing the instruments. He wants the aeroplane to go higher – above the stars.

Teenage Roger (1920-27)

The Kahn family in their mansions enduring his attempts (O.S.) to learn one instrument after another … terrible school reports from his exclusive private school, he does nothing except play cheap music … Roger working on the engines of the family’s fleet of cars in the garage to make them faster (ON his hands again, dirty for the first time)… racing cars and boats against his elder brother Gilbert … persuading his father to buy a private plane and hire a pilot (the co-pilot of the opening sequence) and learning to fly himself.

Roger regularly uses the fire escape to leave the family mansion at night, bribing the janitor to keep silent. He slips away to speakeasies (Prohibition has started) where he jams with other musician. Later he takes to spending nights away from home, living in cheap hotels or even sleeping on other musicians’ floors. He jams with a wider and wider set of jazz musicians, overcoming jibes about his youth and wealth, and starts recruiting for one band after another by paying lavishly.

Roger in demand as a bandleader in better and better locations. (Again, these are all artificial environments, lit exclusively by artificial lighting. They will contrast visually with the wide-open flying landscapes, with natural light and colour.) Roger is in also in greater and greater demand as a composer of tunes for shows and as a recording artist. He is a perfectionist and a disciplinarian in the studio, and never satisfied with the final take.

Maintaining his flying ambitions, he orders his own state-of-the-art aircraft. He can already fly it, but cannot get a full pilot’s licence until he becomes 21.

His father is still disapproving, although he continues to pay Roger’s generous allowance.

Roger being reluctantly photographed for Time. The photographer asks him to wear a smarter suit. He refuses – his off-the-peg department store number is good enough for him.

Roger at various engagements, evading a succession of vapid High Society flappers by citing band business and taking off in his aeroplane (which becomes a literal and figurative means of escape.)

Roger setting up two luxurious nightclubs. They are successful and he gets even deeper into fashionable society. One of his buddies is Jimmy Walker, a witty, glad-handing, fun-loving but corrupt New York politician and author of a successful sentimental song “Will You Love Me In December As You Do In May?” On Walker’s piano, Roger rearranges and peps up the sickly 1905 melody by Ernest R Ball, but Walker cannot persuade him to introduce it into his band’s repertoire. Roger also resists the dapper Walker’s attempts to get him to visit a good tailor. But he does assist Walker’s successful campaign to become Mayor of New York in 1926.

In spite of the popularity of his bands and nightclubs, Roger is soon in financial difficulties. He asks for a bail-out from his father. Otto agrees, shrewdly realizing that this will give him financial control over Roger’s life. He not only bails him out but buys him a new aeroplane. But he imposes two conditions – Roger must dress better and he must employ a reliable personal manservant. Otto (an Anglophile) has the perfect candidate – Jeeves.

07. May 2022 by rkh
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The Jazz Pilot or Flying Above The Stars (part 2)

An outline television series based on the life of Roger Wolfe Kahn, dance band leader turned pilot

Before main title and credits: Roger, barely out of his teens, in white tie and tails as a bandleader at a private dance. Opulent surroundings, lit only by artificial lighting. Opulent, glamorous people dancing or listening to the band.

ON Roger’s hands wielding the baton – beautifully manicured. The band perform an uptempo number, “Crazy Rhythm”, faultlessly. Great applause at the end. Roger bows and acknowledges the band, but quickly scuttles away ahead of the rest of them.

Walking at a fast pace in the corridors of the big house of the host of the dance, Roger furiously divests himself of white tie and tails. Jeeves, his gentlemen’s personal gentleman, picks them up. (Yes, it will later turn out to be the famous Jeeves. See below.) We see that Roger is wearing the first layer of a flying suit.

We hear the strains of “Crazy Rhythm” again, just slightly off-tempo.
Roger expresses his surprise to Jeeves that listeners can’t get enough of “Crazy Rhythm” when the show it came from (“Here’s Howe”) folded after a few months. Jeeves assures him that it is a most engaging number. Roger listens for a few seconds, and then remarks that it proves the critics right – the band don’t need to follow his baton. Jeeves assures him again: the trained ear recognizes the difference at once for the second, conductorless performance is much looser.

By now they have reached a hut by the house’s private airfield. Watched by the co-pilot, Jeeves helps Roger into the rest of his flying kit. Meticulously he adjusts a scarf and points out a small error in the cuffs, which Roger adjusts. He will see Roger again in the city. With genuine feeling under his reserve, he wishes Roger a safe flight. All the while “Crazy Rhythm” is still playing in the background.

Roger and the co-pilot complete the final checks on the aeroplane. Luxurious by the standards of 1928 but amazingly fragile by the standards of the present day. ON Roger in the pilot’s seat. ON his hands still manicured, caressing the instruments before he puts on his gloves. “Crazy Rhythm” segues slowly into the sound of aircraft engines as the aeroplane takes off.

ON Roger and the co-pilot as the aeroplane gains height. The co-pilot remarks on the fine display of stars. Roger replies that when he was a boy he wanted to fly above the stars. The co-pilot comments that he’s above them now and cites some of the stars at the party. Norma Shearer and Clara Bow were all over Roger. He replies simply: look how small the mansion seems from here. And you can’t see the people inside. The co-pilot presses him. He gives more names – Gloria Swanson, Dolores Del Rio. Didn’t Roger even speak to them? No, only about requests for numbers. But there is one thing Roger forgot to say to all the celebrities there. What? asks the co-pilot. “I never said goodbye” – he turns the aeroplane around and does a daring dive over the mansion.


Main title and credits
Engine segues back into other Roger Wolfe Khan performances.
Still ON the aeroplane as it flies past towns and cities. In each place, at ground level, we see posters advertising a different Roger Wolfe Kahn orchestra.

06. May 2022 by rkh
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The Jazz Pilot or Flying Above The Stars (part 1)

The High Society bandleader who made his greatest music in the skies. Or
The rich darling of Broadway who found himself by flying above the stars.

A film treatment based on the life of Roger Wolfe Kahn, 1920s bandleader and composer who became a daring test pilot in the 1930s

Roger Wolfe Khan (born 1907 died 1962)


Roger Wolfe Kahn was the boy who had everything. Youngest child of the millionaire American financier and philanthropist Otto Kahn, he was raised in luxury, free to indulge his twin passions for speed and jazz music. As a teenager he raced cars and speedboats – and learnt to fly an aeroplane. Resisting his family’s efforts to turn him into a classical musician, he taught himself over twenty jazz instruments and composed syncopated dance music. He formed ten separate dance bands, employing a host of jazz legends including Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Gene Krupa and Jack Teagarden, which were booked into leading hotels, night clubs, resorts and opulent private homes during the Prohibition era. He made dozens of popular recordings and composed music for Broadway shows, including “Crazy Rhythm”, and others which became standards.

He himself founded several nightclubs, which were the last word in elegance and luxury. Le Perroquet had a mirrored dance floor and an aquarium under each table. Initially casual in dress and lifestyle, he soon became a style icon himself, travelling to and from Europe with fifty handmade suits and innumerable neckties. Dark-haired, with fine, sensitive features, he had an adoring female following, but told interviewers he was looking for a natural girl, without any High Society airs.

Outside his musical career he drove a series of racing cars and speedboats and flew private aeroplanes – each one faster than the one before.

At age 19, he made the cover of the newly launched Time magazine – one of the youngest people ever to do so. But his father had been on the cover before him. This hints at the one shadow in his celebrity superstar life. The shadow of his father, Otto Kahn.

Under a calm and urbane exterior, Otto Kahn had a powerful personality. A great lover and patron of “serious” music, Kahn initially discouraged his youngest son’s jazz career but then changed his mind and backed him financially to the hilt. (Roger had discovered that jazz musicians, night clubs and above all, finding a reliable bootlegger, were expensive outlays.) But not for the first time a son found that an indulgent father has more power than a hostile one. For all his musical genius, he could not escape the tag of being Daddy’s boy. Patronizing journalists refused to take him seriously as a bandleader or composer; some even hinted that his bands never followed his beat and kept their own time. In performances, to his suppressed fury, audiences regularly requested him to perform the corny old favourite “Baby Face.”

In 1931, still only 23, Roger thought he had found his chosen girl. Hannah Williams was a Broadway star, singer and comedienne and half of the Williams Sisters, famous for her number “The Cheerful Little Earful”. They were married secretly in the massive Kahn country house, Oheka Castle, in Long Island. The secrecy was at the insistence of Otto Kahn who also forced her to give up a starring role in a Broadway musical, “Sweet And Low.” Although he was reconciled to his son’s jazz career, no Kahn could marry a showgirl. They had a honeymoon in Europe – but Otto came too.
The three were photographed, elegant and exquisite, in Berlin. In 1931, with Hitler in the offing, this was already a dangerous place for a Jewish family to visit.

When news of the marriage was eventually released, Roger and Hannah of course were adopted among America’s favourite celebrity couples. He called her publicly “my cheerful little earful.” But the marriage was soon under strain. She wanted to resume her Broadway career, Otto and Roger wanted her to stay at home as a Kahn wife.

Restless and unhappy, Roger found more and more solace in flying. He regularly flew himself between engagements with his different bands. He began to enjoy these journeys more than the actual engagements.

In 1933 Roger and Hannah divorced. By then, they had each chosen other partners. Hers was the former heavyweight boxing champion, Jack Dempsey.

Roger’s new love was Edith (Daisy) Nelson, daughter of a Maine politician. They married very soon after his divorce, and had two children, a girl and a boy.

In 1934 Otto Kahn died suddenly. At this point Roger decided to give up music altogether for flying. He fulfilled his last band engagements, paid off his musicians, and became a full-time pilot. For some years he demonstrated the Cabot Airmail Pick-up Device, which required daring, low-level flying. Then he became a test pilot for the Grumman air company, working on the prototype fighters and dive bombers (mostly with Cat in their name, Wildcat, Hellcat etc) which became famous in World War Two.

He rose to senior executive positions with Grumman, but still flew his modified Bearcat to get to meetings. He died young (54) in 1962.

Roger made one reluctant comeback as a bandleader, in 1938. He was persuaded by the artist and fellow pilot, Aline Rhonie Hofheimer, to conduct a one-off assembly of musicians at the airport at Roosevelt Field, NY, at the party to celebrate the unveiling of her giant mural on the Golden Age of Aviation. He left the orchestra pit for the last time and went back to his new life of flying.

04. May 2022 by rkh
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Goodbye to the Western world. We’ll all be sorry when it disappears

published In Comment Central February 8, 2022 – before the Ukrainian resistance astonished Putin and the world

I have just lost a night’s sleep thinking about the threats to Ukraine and Taiwan and the choice that each may impose on the Western world between surrender and war.

I cannot remember losing any sleep over the similar dilemma posed by the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. Mind you, I was then fourteen and at boarding school. One can say many things about English boarding schools in the Sixties, but they certainly knew how to fill up inmates’ time. A packed routine of lessons, games, household chores, homework, cadet force, bursts of compulsory religion, choir/concert/school play/societies, scrounging food and drink, spreading rumour and gossip, mild rule-breaking and rebellion and occasional serious scandal blotted out home life let alone events in the outside world. I cannot remember any interruption of this routine for the Cuban missile crisis and the brink of nuclear war. There might have been an extra chapel service.

We kept calm and carried on, conditioned by years of comics, movies and television in which the good guys (whether cowboys, detectives, space pilots or World War Two fighters) always won despite impossible odds. We still believed that the United States and the Western world in which we lived were the good guys. The young American President was the marshal facing down the bad guys. Our country and the rest of the Western world fell in behind him as his posse. Eight years later this world view would be memorably satirized in alternative theatre as “John Ford’s Cuban Missile Crisis” but it was not challenged at the time.

Our faith in the marshal was eventually justified. Kennedy found a course between war and surrender. Nothing in the current crises suggests a repeat of his success.

There was no pandemic in 1962 and its impact is still with us. Cuba was a single crisis, now there are two, widely spaced with very different adversaries. If the current American President has a policy for either event his collapsing poll ratings and his bitterly divided country, still not far from civil war, give him no domestic strength to carry it through. The American people (with plenty of reasons) have lost the habit of rallying around their President in a time of crisis.


The United States has virtually no reliable allies. At the moment when it might actually need and value a “special relationship” with Britain, we are about to lose our Prime Minister over a wine-and-cheese party and endure a caretaker government in a messy process to choose a successor. The EU is of no value to the United States over Taiwan and a hindrance to it over Ukraine. Too many of its members have been suborned or intimidated by Russia. France, its would-be leader, is determined to pursue its pretensions of independent great power status.

For all that millions of people still yearn to live there or enjoy its way of life, the United States has lost its moral status as leader of the free world and guardian of universally cherished values. It was lost and never regained in the Vietnam war. For the first time in history, that war made global protestors willing to accept the United States being defeated by its enemies, regardless of what they might do to their conquests.

Ever since the United States became a global superpower there have been voices on the Left which regard American capitalism and militarism as the prime or even only source of the world’s troubles. Until Vietnam, they were a shrill minority even within the Left. After Vietnam, their view seeped into the mainstream of liberal and progressive opinion. Each decade afterwards provided some evidence of the failings of American policy and of American society itself. Liberals and progressives were given more and more pretexts to abandon faith in the United States and its allies, especially the second Iraq war and the excesses of the “war on terror” and their recent experience of Donald Trump. Patriotism and the defence of Western values fell into the hands of neo-conservatives and the far Right, which of course accelerated their abandonment by everyone else on the political spectrum.

Compared to the Cuban missile crisis it has become very much harder for any American administration to form an intellectual and moral “coalition of the willing” at home or overseas in support of any use of American power, especially, of course, if it involves casualties.

I now believe that the United States and the Western world are going to acquiesce in open or de facto Russian control over all of Ukraine. I also believe that mainland China will view this as a perfect opportunity to seize Taiwan by force. I also believe that these events will end the world in which I have lived my life, whose conditions and assumptions were ultimately guaranteed by American strength.

That world gave me and my family and friends elections which meant something, public administration which was generally honest and fair and a legal system which offered remedy when it was not, rising living standards, diverse sources of information and entertainment, and the right to speak and live virtually as we pleased. It gave us immense opportunity to discover how we wanted to live and what we wanted to say. For those outside it, that world offered ideals to aspire to and cause to challenge those who denied them.

Now anything that survives from it will be on sufferance from mainland China and (in western Europe) from Russia. Surrender of Ukraine would accept the Putin doctrine that no country on his borders or with any Russian population can be better governed than his Russia, in case it gives ideas to the Russian people. Surrender of Taiwan, as with the subjugation of Hong Kong, will acknowledge the similar Xi doctrine that no country with Chinese people can be better governed than his China. Surrender of both will convince millions of people elsewhere that the West will never defend its adherents and its values: they will scramble to come to terms with the victors.

The defeat and eclipse of the Western world will not disturb the shrill Leftists who have always hated it. But I fear that it will also be accepted passively by too many other people: those who have taken issue so often, and often so rightly, with the Western world’s failings that they have lost the habit of defending it and comparing it to its challengers. They never acknowledge that the Western world is simply a better place than Putin’s Russia, a state built on lies, corruption and violence or Xi’s China, a colossal electronic prison camp, exercising unprecedented powers of surveillance and control over its people, the world’s greatest violator of human rights, the world’s greatest user of forced labour. They never acknowledge that reform, redress of grievance, decent government are possible in the Western world in ways which are unimaginable to Putin’s subjects and Xi’s – or those of the Taleban in another country where the West has been defeated.

Such people always have an excuse not to make a stand for Western values. Afghanistan? Too backward, too corrupt, Western values never suited them anyway. Ukraine? Also too corrupt, not really part of the West, Russia has legitimate interests there. Taiwan? Too far away and it’s really part of mainland China even when it votes not to be. If and when Putin turns on the Baltic states, no doubt they’ll find some excuse to desert them as well.

Of course we’ll also have to put up sooner or later with the calls from “old hands” and experts, especially those who have tried to make money from Russia and China, for a “re-set” in relations with them. A re-set will mean accepting all their conquests and destroying any fear of a penalty if they pursue new ones.

My family was forced to leave the United States, the leader of the free world, during the McCarthy era. In the years after, I have taken part in many protests against American policies and leaders, and indeed British ones. Yet I remain sleepless and depressed at the prospective collapse of American power and Western influence. Everything which normally occupied waking life now seems pointless and trivial. Louis MacNeice put my feelings better than I can in his “Autumn Journal” at the time of Munich:
“But did you see
The latest? You mean whether Cobb has bust the record
Or do you mean the Australians have lost their last by ten
Wickets or do you mean that the autumn fashions —
No, we don’t mean anything like that again.”


29. April 2022 by rkh
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Save English Cricket From The ECB

An appeal and a promise to the Minister of Sport

Nigel Huddleston Esq MP
Minister for Sport

Dear Minister,

By all reports the England and Wales Cricket Board is about to make a decision with terrible and irreversible consequences for English cricket. This is part of a misguided strategy based on false premises, selective information and wilful ignorance of the historic strengths of English cricket.

The imminent decision is opposed so passionately but so cogently by so many providers and devotees of cricket that there is a real threat of litigation against it. English cricket could well be plunged into legal paralysis and protracted civil war.

We have no personal stake in this decision. We are simply cricket authors and long-standing devotees of the game who have played it, watched it and studied it in over thirty countries, and who now present a regular cricket-themed podcast.

On that basis we beg you to intervene before the decision is taken. We realize that this would contradict the established “hands off” policy of your Department not to involve itself directly in sports administration. That is why we ask you only to secure a pause to enable the many arguments against the ECB’s decision and strategy to be thoroughly debated and assessed – not least by the ECB itself.

The ECB is proposing to renew for ten years its current media deal for English cricket. This will entail continuance of the Hundred as the centrepiece of broadcast cricket coverage in that period and its dominance of the cricket schedule in August, the peak month of the English season. It would therefore entrench the baleful impact of the Hundred on all the rest of English cricket.

Seen in isolation, the Hundred is a harmless but pointless innovation in cricket. It offers nothing new to the game in playing skills or spectacle for watchers. The ECB has offered no reliable evidence of its commercial success and its ability to attract new spectators to the game. It has not been followed by any other country as a format nor, critically, by major media in other countries. In its second year, it has been largely shunned by overseas stars. Hundred teams will consist mainly of English players sucked away from their counties.

The ECB has never identified the costs and revenues specifically attributable to the Hundred, nor assessed its opportunity cost and the alternative use it could have made of the resources invested in it. In particular the ECB never assessed the potential gains from building on the established profitability of T20 and its success in winning new audiences for all forms of cricket.

The ECB has never taken into account the impact of the Hundred in devaluing and displacing other competitions, especially the County Championship. The Hundred has driven it to the margins of the English cricket season, when playing conditions are at their worst and viewing conditions are at their least enticing. The Hundred has thus ensured that the Championship can no longer fulfil its essential function of preparing players for English Test cricket, which remains the game’s prime source of spectatorship, revenues, investment – and inspiration. We have just completed the worst sequence of Test performances in living memory. The Hundred can only help to ensure that it continues.

The Hundred is not only bad for the health of English cricket but also bad for the health of English children. When the government and the NHS have been rightly campaigning against child obesity it was shameful for the ECB to aim a new cricket competition at children and have it sponsored by junk food.

The ECB has never established why it was necessary to create a new cricket competition as the saviour of English cricket from which the counties, the traditional providers of cricket, were deliberately excluded. They assumed too easily that people had deserted county cricket, ignoring the impressive following which all the counties had built on social media and latterly through streaming. They never explained why people who had deserted cricket teams rooted in their local communities, steeped in local history and culture, should suddenly follow outlandish new teams with no history and an identity confected from marketing babble.

However, the Hundred made total sense as part of an ECB strategy of centralizing its control of the game, and culling the first-class counties or even extinguishing them altogether in favour of a franchise-based system in eight major cities.

We have not space to list all the objections to this strategy. We believe that the following three are compelling on their own:


• Replacing counties with franchises reduces democracy in the game. Counties are members’ organizations through which cricket fans can exercise real local influence. Franchises are not. They treat fans only as passive consumers. The ECB has no accountability to fans.

• Eliminating counties extinguishes the efforts they all make to discover new cricket talent, especially in remote places and disadvantaged communities. It is highly significant that Azeem Rafiq, the prime victim of racism in English cricket, has strongly opposed any reduction of counties. This would restrict the opportunities for future victims to find alternative pathways into top-flight cricket. Franchises have no motive for long-term investment on grounds and infrastructure, as all the counties have undertaken over decades. Franchises are parasites on the talent and facilities developed by others.


• Limiting top-flight cricket to eight cities automatically increases the cost and travelling time for spectators who do not live there. This effect will bear especially on poor and disabled cricket fans.

For all these reasons and more we urge you again to secure a stay in the ECB’s plans – a stay in the execution of English cricket.

We urge you to meet opponents of the ECB to present you the objections in more detail. You would receive expert testimony if they included three guests from our podcast, the distinguished journalist George Dobell, co-founder of the Cricket Supporters Association, Annie Chave, founder and editor of County Cricket Matters, and Andy Nash, former Chairman of Somerset CCC and a director of the ECB until he resigned on principle.


We mean no offence in telling you that they and other guests when asked have failed to identify you as the Minister of Sport. This merely reflects the general priority of sport in government. However, we would like to give you the chance to rectify matters as a guest yourself on our podcast. We are confident that you would find this an entertaining and worthwhile experience – and if you take the course we recommend we would be glad to introduce you as the Minister who saved English cricket.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Oborne Richard Heller






27. April 2022 by rkh
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Ukraine’s National Anthem: Shche Ne Vmerla Ukrainy

This was the English translation I found for the words by Pavlo Chubynskyi

The glory and freedom of Ukraine has not yet perished
Luck will still smile on us brother-Ukrainians.
Our enemies will die, as the dew does in the sunshine,
and we, too, brothers, we’ll live happily in our land.
We’ll not spare either our souls or bodies to get freedom
and we’ll prove that we brothers are of Kozak kin.

It led me to attempt another English version. It is not a strict translation and there is an extra verse. It may be used without payment for the benefit of Ukraine, although I reserve the right of acknowledgement as their author.


Ukraine lives ever free and glorious
One family with one fate.
Our sun will burn our enemies like dew.
We’ll all live happy in our state.

We offer up our bodies and our souls
No sacrifice too great to save Ukraine:
We’ll live up to our Cossack past,
We’ll light our nation’s torch again.

We’ll fight through the winter’s deepest cold,
We’ll fight through the summer’s burning heat,
We’ll fight for the soil of our Ukraine
Where freedom grows as tall as wheat.



09. March 2022 by rkh
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Vamp Against Vlad

A global musical protest against Putin

In the Vamp Against Vlad, people all over the world at a given moment would play, sing, or chant one chosen minor chord – against Putin. It would not need any words. G Minor should be in most people’s range. They could play it together (the biggest loudest chord ever played) or in relay as people pick up the chord from each other, making the longest chord in history. Famous performers in all musical genres might lead it.

In a crowd of millions, inevitably some performers would come in late and some would be above or below concert pitch. No matter: their efforts would actually reinforce the raspberry message of the Vamp chord.

The Vamp should begin at noon Moscow time on the chosen date. In a global event, it might be passed east to west through time zones to hit noon in each one, and then resume daily where it started. It would be brilliant if Russian protesters joined in, and it would tie down a huge part of Putin’s security apparatus if it had to arrest anybody on suspicion of performing a , G Natural or B Flat or D Natural. Moreover, Putin’s cultural controllers would look stupid if they tried to ban every musical work in G Minor.

25. February 2022 by rkh
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And A Happy New Year To You Too, Enver Hoxha

At this time, I always like to relay Enver Hoxha’s encouraging words to the Albanian people on New Year’s Day 1967 (as rendered by the English service of Radio Tirana). “This year will be harder than last year. However, it will be easier than next year.”

Jeremy Corbyn tried to tell this as a sparkling jest at a seasonal party after his election as Labour leader but he somehow failed to convey the irony and you could have stored meat in the audience. Hostile media seized on the incident to suggest that Corbyn actually admired Hoxha and indeed, that he never met a crazed Stalinist he didn’t like. It put Corbyn off sparkling jests and he spent his remaining leadership in deadly earnest, which often earned him more laughs.

Hoxha’s New Year Message is probably the most honest promise ever made by a politician, and it is one that he certainly kept year after year. When he died in 1985 his country was friendless, sealed and destitute. Its biggest industry was denunciation: a third of the Albanian people belonged to his internal security service, the Sigurimi, and informed on the other two thirds. I visited Albania in 1992 just after the final collapse of Communism and met a man who had spent over thirty years in a gulag after being denounced for not weeping hard enough in the public mourning for Stalin’s death. The country was beginning to revive in a nascent capitalist new order. One business doing well was Hoxha’s elaborate mausoleum, converted into a discothèque where people could literally dance on his grave.

The only promise to match Enver’s is that given by the Old Testament King Reheboam on the recommendation of an ancestral Dominic Cummings and a team of young hotheaded special advisers. A visiting delegation asks for tax cuts and a few U-turns from the tough administration of the dead King Solomon. In the King James Version, Reheboam replies: “My father made your yoke heavy and I will add to your yoke. My father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.” Taken as an election manifesto, this did not fare too well. Reheboam lost ten of the tribes of Israel to his rival Jereboam, retaining only the Blue Wall tribes of Judah and Benjamin. I speak as a past winner of the Bertie Wooster Prize for Scripture Knowledge.

Without matching the stark honesty of Hoxha and Reheboam several modern politicians have achieved the same accidental hilarity.

Marshal Costa e Silva was the second President from the military junta which ruled Brazil in the late 1960s. Attributed to him is the proud boast that “When the military government took over, the country was on the edge of a precipice. But now we have moved confidently forward.”

John Major as Prime Minister reacted to a terrible local election drubbing in 1995 with a stirring patriotic image: “We will do precisely what the British nation has done through its history when it had its back to the wall, turn round and fight for the things it believes in.” Sixty million quick-marching as one into the wall.

Peter Mandelson has contributed almost as much to literature as he has to politics, but he was not at the top of his game running Labour’s election campaign in 2010. In rapid succession, he praised Gordon Brown’s granite-like resilience (granite either resists impact or shatters, the one thing it does not do is bounce back), suggested that the Tories had underlined the central plank of Labour’s programme and claimed even more dramatically that the economy was on the road to recovery but that the Tories would pull the rug from under it.

Only recently he has joined a new bank and is promoting its claim to be “finally democratising the sleepy backwater of domestic and international transaction banking”. Some banks might promise only to dam or drain or dredge a backwater but this one offers to democratize it. Will there be votes for Rat, Mole, Toad, Badger and Otter and what if they get outvoted by the nasty ferrets and stoats and weasels? One can only hope that the bank will manage money better than metaphors.

As Vice-President to the senior Bush Dan Quayle attracted four years of mockery for a sequence of supposed gaffes. Many of these were invented, but when given responsibility for the space program he really did say that “It’s time for the human race to enter the solar system” and that “For NASA, space is still a high priority.” I interviewed Dan Quayle in office and came away with some liking for him. He was affable, genuinely tried to answer questions and often showed symptoms of coherence. I would like to believe that his space remarks, and his general claim that “the future will be better tomorrow” were an attempt at post-modern irony but I fear that they were spontaneous. For years he sent me the same very nice Christmas card, but this stopped when I sent him back one of my books.

His boss, George Bush senior, was regularly convicted for driving the English language without due and attention. His wife was a sad victim of an intended tribute when he told the Washington press corps: “They say, in Washington if you want to be loved, get a dog. Well, I don’t need a dog, because I’ve got Barbara Bush.” He had an unfortunate habit of reading out instructions from his speechwriters or handlers. He once surprised some disaster victims on a visit by beginning his prepared remarks with the words “MESSAGE – I CARE.” However, sometimes he achieved an unconscious pathos, as when responding to bad economic news: “We’re enjoying sluggish times and we’re not enjoying them very much.”

As I write these lines, the David Brent of British politics is still our Prime Minister. Like Brent, Boris Johnson is idle and incompetent but expects to be not only forgiven but admired for being an entertainer. He takes immense trouble to maintain that status: before every public appearance his hair is expertly tousled and his suits hand-rumpled by a leading Savile Row tailor. A bulging book of spontaneous gags accompanies every Prime Minister’s Questions.

It must be galling for him, in his final days in office, to reflect that as a professional prepared entertainer he has won far fewer laughs than so many amateur predecessors got without trying. As they used to say in old-time variety auditions: leave your name, but not with us.

Richard Heller has a suitcase full of jokes rejected by his former employers Denis Healey and Gerald Kaufman. He recycled some of them into his latest book The Prisoner Of Rubato Towers (Xerus Publishing).

31. December 2021 by rkh
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