Two London Romances

A London Celebration for Two (post-Covid)

Searching on some beach for space
With roughly half the human race
And insects which bite –
Cancel the flight!
In a London maisonette
We two could find a raison d’etre,
So let’s join our names
By the banks of the Thames.

We’ll build in Mayfair
And just to play fair,
Park Lane too
A place where we can be
Chez nous.
We’ll buy up Harrods,
Aspreys and Garrads,
Just for show.
With precious bibelots
And jewels we’ll overflow –
Quite de trop!
Our other shopping
We’ll do in Wapping
In a boat
Then watch the seagulls swoop
And float.
This great big city’s a Hamley’s toy
Just made for a girl and boy
And we’ll turn London
Into abundant

We’ll both go silly
In Piccadilly:
We’ll stroll up Burlington
And if our luck fails
We’ll go for cocktails
At the Ritz,
Amid the glam and glitz
We’ll sip white wine and spritz
And test our wits.
We’ll look at Eros
And hope he’ll steer us
To romance
And then in Berkeley Square
We’ll dance.
The city’s magic can soon employ
The hearts of a girl and boy
And we’ll turn London
Into abundant

We’ll overpower
The grim old Tower
In the spring.
In football stadiums
We’ll sing.
If we feel wealthy
We’ll vithit Chelthea
On a thpree:
We’ll thpend our L-S-D
On fashions wild and free
Thee and me.
Then down in Soho
We’’ll find a Boho
Arts café.
In Ronnie Scott’s we’ll hear
Jazz play.
The city’s simply a wondrous pearl
For one boy to give one girl,
So let’s give London
A mad abundant

We’ll check the night clubs,
Find all the right pubs,
Drink real ale:
Then sleep it off on Network Rail.
In Oxford Circus
We’ll watch the lurkers
Selling tat.
At Lord’s we’ll throw a bat.
At Lock’s we’ll buy a hat
Just like that.
We won’t look shabby
Inside the Abbey.
At St Paul’s
Upstairs we’ll whisper sweet
Love calls.
The city’s charms cannot ever cloy
For this footloose girl and boy
And we’ll make London
Into abundant

A Viral London Affair

A fine romance with no clinches
A fine romance at 78.7 inches
We should be making each other feel desirous
But we’ve been kept apart by this blasted virus.
A fine romance, with no hugging
If this is romance I’d rather have a mugging
We’re spaced out like a couple of desert plants
Our life is a set of can’ts
This is a fine romance.

A fine romance, with no dances
And no close-ups but distant glances:
We used to kick and twirl like a Broadway chorus
But now we keep apart like two lovesick walrus.
A fine romance, my good fellow,
With no love songs unless we bellow.
A fleeting kiss is simply too great a chance,
When we’re locked in durance,
This is a fine romance.

09. August 2022 by rkh
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Golden Summer 1963

published in Wisden Cricket Monthly December 2021

My Golden Summer? A tough assignment for a player in the twilight of a cricket career which never really had a dawn. But I will name the English summer of 1963.

There was some wonderful cricket to watch, and I made the two all-important discoveries about cricket which gave me a career at all.
It was a pivotal season in England’s cricket history – the first after the abolition of the amateur status which had become increasingly unreal. Scorecards gave all players their initials in front of their name. Imitating football, the counties started to play a one-day knockout competition, the Gillette Cup. Each innings was 65 overs – so a full day of 130 overs was very good value for a pre-decimal admission fee equivalent to 37.5p when £20 a week was a reasonable wage and you could get a pint of bitter for around 8p unless like me you were an undersized 15-year-old. Three runs an over was fast scoring in that first year, and ironically, England’s most dashing batsman, Ted Dexter, won the Cup for Sussex as captain by strangling their opponents. But it was a big success, and introduced a still unfinished epoch of shorter and shorter competitions with faster and faster scoring.

It was a wet summer, but my idol, Roy Marshall of Hampshire, still managed 1800 first-class runs. Like me he played in glasses but that is all we had in common. He was an opening batsman who foreshadowed two future Hampshire successors, Barry Richards and Gordon Greenidge, in attacking from the start and turning bowlers into waiters. Along with Dexter, he was the biggest ground-filler in English cricket. I did not see him all that often, living in London rather than Hampshire, but scoured the many newspapers then covering County cricket in depth to visualize his drives, cuts and slashes.

Above all, it was a West Indian summer. Frank Worrell led them. He had an aura, a truly great captain with more greatness clearly in waiting after cricket, only to be robbed from him by disease. His side did not need much from him as a player, although he retained his elegance at the crease. Four batsmen averaged over 40 on still uncovered wickets in the Test series: ever-reliable Conrad Hunte, Rohan Kanhai, who hooked so hard that he regularly ended up on his back, implacable Basil Butcher, and Garry Sobers, for whom I held my breath. Four bowlers took 94 of the 97 English wickets that fell: Wes Hall, whose run-up began at the boundary and sometimes beyond it at smaller county grounds, Charlie Griffith (not called in that series for his deadly yorker), Lance Gibbs, ripping turn and almost never a bad ball, and Sobers, brilliant at every known form of left-arm bowling.

The West Indies produced a series even more gripping than the Profumo scandal. The fans wanted them back in a hurry, and they inspired another innovation to achieve it: the twin-country series of 1965. Three wins to West Indies, one to England and the draw was the one at Lord’s where Colin Cowdrey came out to back with a broken arm against Wes Hall. Two balls to go, all four results possible… Straight out of Henry Newbolt. Easy to forget that Cowdrey did not face them: England’s fine under-rated spinner David Allen was at the striker’s end.

I went to the Headingley Test (which they won by 221 runs) with a school chum – who came from Berbice, in what was still British Guiana. He introduced me to the Guyanese contingent, whom he knew well: Kanhai, Butcher, Gibbs, and I shook the hand of Joe Solomon which had run out two Australians to produce the tied Test match.

Later I met another bespectacled hero – Alf Valentine. No longer needed in the Tests, as a genial elder statesman and occasional captain in county matches he contributed to a happy tour, and he could still get through a maiden over in 90 seconds. I remember him wearing a beautiful pair of shoes, of which he was a passionate collector. It was no surprise to discover that he had a wonderful life after cricket: settled in Florida, he and his second wife fostered hundreds of troubled children.

That golden summer also transformed my playing career. I had not caught the selector’s eye, nor indeed many chances, as a would-be wicketkeeper at a fine cricket school, Repton. I had no aptitude for the role. I had volunteered for it at primary school only to escape the ignominy of fielding at third man at both ends for the lowest possible team.

In the long holiday of 1963, I stumbled across some players in a pick-up match on an open field (where they were not allowed) in London’s Hyde Park. They were glad of an extra outfielder to patrol the boundary near the horse-riding track and to keep cave for a park keeper. They were members of a local pub team and recruited me for a few late-season matches against other pub elevens on slightly better park pitches.

Through them, I discovered that outside school cricket there were a host of teams that worried little about playing ability. They were grateful to me for turning up. I have been playing for such teams for nearly sixty years since, some a bit grander, and in twenty different countries. Availability was my secret. I played even more cricket after turning 50 than before because I became a self-employed, or more precisely, unemployed writer, and more available, especially at the eleventh hour. For many years I had a voicemail: “Where’s the match? When do you want me to be there?”

The pub team did not need a wicketkeeper, and as the youngest member I had to do much chasing in the outfield. In one match, the captain took pity on me (or possibly sought to end the proceedings and get back to the pub). Anyway, he put me on to bowl. And in my very first over for his team, I produced a total ripper. It is hard to do justice to it, but I got a reminder years later when Shane Warne produced That Delivery to dismiss Mike Gatting.

I made then my second major discovery about cricket: its power to deliver to any player a Magic Moment. Of course it delivers many more of them to good players, and intentionally rather than randomly, but it also doles them out to no-hopers. Moments which even their all-time idols could not better, which make their imagined crowds roar and their imagined commentators gasp.

Magic Moments have tremendous power. It takes only one each season to make perpetrators forget days of drudgery and humiliation, and decide to play another season. Magic Moments in cricket can leave an afterglow on life outside. They make despairing dramatists attempt another play, despairing diplomats make another démarche and despairing dentists decide to drill another bicuspid.

I have had other Magic Moments in an undeservedly long career, glow-worms in a cave of mediocrity, but none to beat the first. That is why 1963 remains my Golden Summer.

28. June 2022 by rkh
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Keir Starmer, Norma Desmond and the Sinister Butler

extended version of piece published in Comment Central 30 May 2022

For years Tony Blair has been the Norma Desmond of British politics, a forgotten star living in dreams of the past.

Before the local elections Keir Starmer handed him not only a close-up but a comeback movie. One can understand his motives, however much one disagrees with them and detects little reward from voters from Blair’s re-appearance. But did he really need to bring back Peter Mandelson as the Sinister Butler?

Even before Putin’s latest invasion of Ukraine it made little sense.

Starmer has fought a strong anti-sleaze campaign and plans to continue, despite his own embarrassments: Mandelson would be few people’s choice as a standard-bearer.

If Starmer and his advisers believe that Mandelson is a master election strategist they might remind themselves that he has not won an election of any kind since 2001, as the official candidate in what was then a safe Labour seat. His record as a national campaign strategist is Played 4 Won 1, the unlosable 1997 election against a discredited broken government. His former constituency, Hartlepool, where he might be expected to have most influence, ignored his advice to vote Remain in the 2016 referendum by the largest margin of any in the country. His reappearance there in 2019 failed to ignite a surge of support for Labour in the by-election.

Among leading past and present politicians Mandelson’s personal poll ratings have been persistently negative. So is most media coverage of him.

That was before Ukraine.

Rightly determined to highlight Labour’s opposition to Putin, Keir Starmer breathed fire against party members, especially MPs, who might have been tempted to follow the line of Jeremy Corbyn and StopTheWar.

Both have a lot to answer for in international affairs. Year after year, they have displayed a selective conscience, constantly attacking the errors and crimes of Western powers and their allies and largely ignoring those of others. But on Russia and the second Ukraine invasion their record compares favourably to Mandelson’s.

Jeremy Corbyn never praised Putin for his handling of the economy nor for rescuing Russia from chaos.

Jeremy Corbyn never stayed on an oligarch’s yacht or enjoyed an expert birching at his expense or attended his thrilling balalaika parties at Davos. Jeremy Corbyn never allowed himself to be put on parade at an aluminium smelter or anywhere else to serve the business interests of that oligarch or any other.

Jeremy Corbyn never turned up three years running at the so-called Putinfest, the economic summit Putin staged at St Petersburg to make propaganda and lure suckers into investing in his corrupt kleptocratic economy.

Jeremy Corbyn never served for four years as a non-executive director of the Russian Sistema Group, which included major suppliers to Putin’s military machine, at a reported annual salary of £200,000. He did not choose to stay in that post during Putin’s first invasion of Ukraine.

It is of course highly unlikely that Jeremy Corbyn received an invitation to do any of these things. But they are not on his record. They are on Peter Mandelson’s.

In spite of their outlook on the Western world, Corbyn and Stop The War have brought themselves to condemn Putin’s latest invasion of Ukraine. Peter Mandelson has not. Until very recently, I could find no public comment about it from him. If I missed something, I humbly apologize and am happy to help make it better known.

In fairness, I should cite Mandelson’s reaction to the first invasion in 2014, when he predicted that Putin’s occupation of Crimea would be a “pyrrhic victory”. However, Putin is not renowned as a classical scholar. He may not have caught the meaning of “pyrrhic” and perhaps latched only on the word “victory.”

Mandelson’s first public statement on the current invasion came in a short exchange with Andrew Marr. He did not condemn either the invasion or Putin’s conduct of the war. He stopped Marr short when he suggested that the West would continue to supply arms to the Ukrainians to help them liberate territory occupied by the Russians after a ceasefire. If Putin had been listening, he would have been glad to hear Mandelson’s suggestion that the West might accept his conquests.

The whole exchange produced nothing from Mandelson which would discomfort Putin and nothing helpful to the Ukrainians or his Russian opponents. Much was devoted to establishing Mandelson’s credentials as an expert and an old Russia hand. If anything, his personal assessment of Putin was complimentary: “a very clever, very sharp, very agile thug.” In characteristically arch tones, he described Putin’s aggressive techniques in trade talks with him as EU Commissioner years ago: how lucky for the EU and the Western world to be represented then by someone like him, who had seen through them…

I believe that Mandelson’s words and behaviour over twenty years were more helpful than harmful to Putin. They were certainly more helpful than any useful idiocy he elicited from Corbyn and StopTheWar.

Apart from direct service via Sistema to Putin’s economy and military machine, Mandelson (in my view) helped him indirectly in important ways. His words and behaviours encouraged the view that Putin’s was a “normal” régime and an attractive destination for Western business and investment, ignoring the repeated evidence from its beginnings that it was built on lying, corruption, extortion, repression, violence and a total contempt for the rule of law. He treated Russian oligarchs as independent businessmen rather than Putin’s creatures, ignoring all those for whom even suspected independence resulted in demotion, confiscation of assets, exile, imprisonment, torture or death.

Of course he was not alone in this. He and other politicians, officials, business leaders and a host of supposed experts appear to have believed that trade and prosperity and general “engagement” (a slippery term which all too frequently deserves its sneering quotation marks) would make Putin’s régime more progressive, open and respectful towards basic Western values. This theory was tested historically with Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa – where it clearly failed. It continues to fail in Communist China and Saudi Arabia. It is all too often an intellectual license to trade with scoundrels.

Starmer is well aware of Mandelson’s response – or non-response – to the latest Ukraine invasion and his record with Putin’s Russia. It has been featured in both hostile and sympathetic media. It has been thrown at him by both his Conservative and his Corbynite enemies, and presented to him and his staff privately by people who want to see him succeed. But still Starmer directs all his fire on Corbyn and StopTheWar. He does not deny the published stories that Mandelson is advising him and his staff. This looks like double standards and it undermines his tough and admired stand on Ukraine.

Blair and Mandelson seem to have a totemic value to Starmer and his advisers, regardless of any evidence of their impact on voters. Their restoration heralds a return to the Golden Age of New Labour in government.

There are good things to remember about New Labour in government alongside the Iraq war, the banking crash, the loss of 1.5 million manufacturing jobs, MPs’ expenses and the collapse of trust in politicians generally, but not enough to make many voters treat it as a Golden Age. Even if they did, there is no going back to it.

New Labour has vanished, like Mandelson’s expensive Millennium Experience. Essentially, it promised painless transformation, everyone made happier without any major sacrifice if only a few rich and powerful people could be cajoled into behaving more nicely. Curiously, it had much in common with Corbyn’s Labour. They wanted to harry and tax the rich and powerful and even put them down from their seats rather than cajole them. But the two factions shared the belief that all problems could be solved at the expense of a small group of rich and powerful people. No wonder they ended up sharing the same slogan: for the many, not the few.
Their shared belief is now untenable. The world is not making movies like Tony Blair’s any more. He was handed the best domestic economic inheritance and the most benign global economic environment of any Labour government. It was just about possible then to believe Blair’s painfree promises.

But now no problem, domestic or international, can be solved at the expense of only a few. Meeting Britain’s needs for affordable housing, health and social care… developing sustainable domestic energy … producing goods and services sustainably which we can sell to ourselves and overseas and which create rewarding jobs … providing a decent education system for all children rather than pockets of privilege for the pushy… providing efficient transport … saving our soil, our water and our air (and the world’s) … redressing poverty and inequality at home and abroad… resisting Putin and other terrorists, containing Xi Jinping… preventing the next pandemic… combatting climate change… These problems and many more will require giant adjustments in the way millions of people live now and in their expectations of life in the future.

Understandably, both Corbynites and New Labour present the party’s future as a binary choice between them. There is of course a giant political space in the middle and that is where Starmer needs to be. He may hope to have power delivered to him by the anger of voters over their falling living standards and their perception of Tory selfishness, sleaze, incompetence and infighting but he cannot bet on this, especially if someone replaces Boris Johnson.

Starmer would do better to enhance his reputation for diligence and honesty, and be frank about the changes he will ask all the British people to accept. He will have to ask millions of them to abandon any hope of an early rise in their standard of living. He will have to convince them that any pain and sacrifice will be planned and shared equitably and worth accepting to make the whole country a better place to live.

Tony Blair is at best irrelevant to that long-term mission: Peter Mandelson a positive liability. Starmer now would get more benefit from a public row with him than from taking his advice. So, even more, would any successor.

02. June 2022 by rkh
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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”.


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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