By Sarah Thrift, Tue 4th Mar 2014
From Behind The Mask, the extraordinary memoir written by Paddington Rail Crash survivor Pam Warren is out today.
Here’s an exclusive extract from Chapter 9: Home, The Psychologist And The Survivors’ Group
The first meeting of the survivors was held at the Posthouse Hotel in Swindon on 8 April 2000. I arrived early with Peter and Jane to look over the function room I’d hired,
having no idea how many people might turn up, what their attitude would be or what we were going to do or say. All I knew was that it felt like a positive step to be taking.
Just before 11 a.m. the first people arrived, wandering into the room quietly; there was no animation, no chit-chat, no normal first-meeting enquiries. I look back now and realise we probably all looked very grey, subdued and even haunted. As a few more came into the room I tried to smile and put them at ease, though I’m sure my appearance didn’t help matters with my face distorted by sores and my skin grafts grotesquely displayed through my plastic mask. Not to be perturbed I continued my role as hostess: ‘Tea, coffee, water?’ I asked. ‘There are nibbles at the back of the room.’
I must have said, ‘Hello, I’m Pam Warren’ two dozen times. ‘Hello, I’m Pam Warren. Nice to meet you. Thank you for coming,’ which was playing havoc with my vocal cords as they
tired very quickly. I followed each introduction with a nervous laugh and an explanation as to why I couldn’t shake their hands, quickly waving my own, encased in the black pressure-garment gloves to demonstrate the point. I can’t recall exactly how many there were, but I think about fifty-odd people. We arranged the chairs in the room into a semi-circle facing a table at the top of the room and sat down, just looking at each other, until I forced myself up and said, ‘Well, thank you all for coming. I don’t know what to do now … erm … I suppose one of the things we ought to do is talk about what happened?’
There was a deafening silence, and my nervousness and uncertainty grew by the second, until someone asked, ‘Do you remember the smell? That awful smell after the crash?’
It was as though a giant ‘on’ switch had been flicked, as everyone suddenly started talking. ‘What train were you on?’ … ‘Where were you?’ … ‘Which carriage were you in?’ … ‘Do you remember this?’ … ‘Do you remember that?’
We all left our chairs, moved towards each other and broke off into little groups, all talking, all very animated, with gestures, hand movements, a few quiet tears and even some smiles. I moved between the huddles of people, listening and chipping in. Nobody had to explain anything – the mere mention of diesel, or the fireball, or the wreckage was enough. Everyone knew what it meant, looked and felt like – we had all shared in it first-hand and now seemed to have a tangible bond that needed no verbal explanations. The meeting ran for the rest of the morning and into the afternoon. I had only booked the room for a couple of hours but the Posthouse staff were brilliant and understood what was taking place. However, I don’t think any of the people assembled noticed the time, we were just so enthused.
I came away feeling an overwhelming sense of relief. There were people there who completely and utterly understood, and there were so many of us – none of us were alone.
Having called the meeting to some sort of order, we all agreed to meet again. It was at this point that someone suggested we form a group – my blood ran cold as I remembered the STAG meeting. ‘What sort of group?’ I queried.
‘A support group,’ one of the others responded.
‘Somewhere we can get together and chat, exchange ideas, pass on experiences,’ another replied.
‘Where we can help each other,’ came another.
I relaxed and my blood flowed again. Although we had a mixture of ideas, we all wanted to be an emotional support for each other. I don’t believe campaigning was even mentioned at this time, simply that questions needed to be posed to the rail industry – to Railtrack – regarding their safety record. One or two of us were to go away and look into the Clapham rail disaster report and the findings of the Southall rail crash. It was early days for the internet, but the HSE and Railtrack preliminary reports into Paddington were already available online. For anyone taking the time and trouble to root around, to talk to survivors of the crash with significant experience of railways, there was plenty of information to be gleaned. We were about to become rail industry experts in a very short period of time. ‘OK,’ I said, ‘but this has to be done on a bit of a proper footing, otherwise our meetings might drag on for hours. Can we agree that whatever happens we are a democratic group so everyone has an equal say?’ Everyone agreed.
I mentioned that I absolutely loathed committees (which I still do), but felt we needed to appoint someone to arrange the meetings and be a sort of coordinator. As the words left my lips I sensed all eyes were on me, though with friendly smiles, swiftly followed by fingers pointing at me. I had no choice but to agree. As for what we might call our meetings? We decided on ‘The Paddington Survivors’ Group’.
By Judith Long, Thu 20th Feb 2014
Investigative journalist, Chapman Pincher, has spent a lifetime exposing official secrets. During a stint in the army in the Second World War, Pincher developed an interest in weapons and how they worked – an interest which opened the door to an unexpected and exciting career. Although he retired from Fleet Street in 1979, he continues to investigate and collect evidence to this day.
In his autobiography published this week, Chapman Pincher : Dangerous To Know, he reveals how he built up some of his biggest cases, how he made and used his connections for information and how, with what he calls “far more than a fair share of lucky breaks”, he got worldwide scoops time and time again.
Here’s a sneak peek from Chapter Three – Rocket Man:
When, in August 1945, news of the destruction of Hiroshima by one atomic bomb astonished the world, [Express editor] Christiansen was told by Lord Beaverbrook that the event was so historic that he must keep the story going on the front page for a fortnight. (Foreseeing the vast political implications, Beaverbrook himself had dictated the front-page headline: ‘The Bomb that Has Changed the World’.)
Bound by a secrecy deal with the US, the government issued no newsworthy information. So the editor turned to me in some desperation. I knew that Professor Marcus Oliphant, of Birmingham University, had been involved in the British atomic effort so I telephoned him. Oliphant told me that the US government had released a thick report describing the whole project and that the UK atomic HQ in London had an advance copy. With the agreement of my colonel, who was fascinated to know what was in it, I went there in civilian clothes, gave Oliphant’s name and was allowed to see the now historic Smyth Report, as it was called, and make notes. The colonel gave me a week’s leave, provided that I reported my findings to him each evening, and I went daily to take notes and then write my story which, of course, did not mention the report.
The result was a succession of world scoops because there had been a hold-up on the release of the Smyth Report in Washington! The editor was so impressed and relieved that he offered me the post of defence and scientific reporter on my release from the army, meanwhile expecting me to continue with my clandestine contributions. The salary he offered was many times greater than anything I had earned before and was not restricted by fixed annual increments but would be entirely performance-based. I accepted immediately with delight, having entered the one profession in which I could utilise all my acquired knowledge.
By Sarah Thrift, Thu 30th Jan 2014
Yesterday saw the launch of Ad & Wal – Values, Duty, Sacrifice in Apartheid South Africa by Peter Hain at South Africa House. This book gives an extraordinary account of an ordinary couple, Peter’s parents, Adelaide and Walter, and their struggle against the apartheid regime.
Peter Hain made time to sign books for all attendees before giving a brilliant introduction to the main event: Jon Snow’s interview with Ad and Wal. To a rapt audience, Ad and Wal talked about their fondness for one another which has lasted for almost 70 years. Jon asked them about the inevitable difficulties that arose from being banned, and the impact it had on both their personal and political lives. In a lively addition to the interview, Jon reflected on his own political activism involving a trip to Old Trafford with Peter Hain and other fellow university students as part of the anti-apartheid sport protests of the 1970s. A police scuffle, an arrest, and some impressive mathematical deductions ensued.
When asked to reflect on what they missed most about South Africa after their exile, Wal quickly responded with ‘the weather’ then ‘the people, our friends and family’ before adding ‘the weather really was the main thing though’ with an amused chuckle. After the interview Ad and Wal were delighted to sign copies of the book and posed for photographs with children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
If you’d like to read the fantastic story of Peter’s parents, purchase your copy of Ad and Wal today.
By Robin Renwick, Wed 22nd Jan 2014
“Like everybody else, I long to be loved. But I am not prepared to make any concessions whatsoever”. Helen Suzman
Ever since I started taking an interest in South African affairs – an interest that began when I was an undergraduate at Cambridge, where earnest progressives sought to establish their anti-apartheid credentials by declining to drink South African sherry – the activities of Helen Suzman always seemed to me to offer the clearest beacon of hope that some kind of sanity might in the end prevail.
When, nearly 30 years later, I arrived in South Africa as a fledgling British ambassador, I still had never met this woman I so much admired. I did so with some trepidation. In the course of her political career Mrs Suzman had seen a great many high commissioners, and then ambassadors, come and go, some I am sure more memorable than others. Yet I was greeted with all the friendliness and helpfulness that had been shown to every one of my predecessors and the innumerable other well-intentioned foreigners who regarded Helen Suzman as their most reliable guide to the political labyrinth of apartheid.
I was delighted to find that, in addition to being the most determined and effective opponent of injustice, Helen Suzman also was the most entertaining company it was possible to find in South Africa, or anywhere else for that matter. However difficult the circumstances, lunch with her was sure to end in gales of laughter, and I will never again be able to watch anyone pouring soda into a glass of whisky without hearing Helen say: ‘Don’t drown it!’
Never lacking in resourcefulness, on one well-remembered occasion, trying to avoid violence at a demonstration in Cape Town, she was confronted by a snarling Alsatian police dog straining on its leash to get at her. A dog-lover herself, she ordered the animal to sit, which it proceeded meekly to do, convulsing even the police with laughter at their own expense.
In the course of weekend fishing trips with her in the eastern Transvaal I discovered that, as in her dealings with her political opponents, she did not believe in taking any prisoners. Every trout she caught was dispatched to the smokery and served up for future dinners, while I was painstakingly returning mine to the river from which they came.
Behind the clear blue eyes, sparkling with intelligence, lay a biting wit, steely resolve and utter determination never to let up in her attacks on the system she abhorred until she saw it crumbling around her. Over four decades, she campaigned relentlessly against every manifestation of apartheid – against grand apartheid, forced removals and the homelands policy, detention without trial and all abuses of authority on behalf of the victims and countless millions disenfranchised by the system.
This extract has been taken from the introduction to Helen Suzman – Bright Star in a Dark Chamber by Robin Renwick.
To read the incredible story in full, purchase your copy here
Recent Reviews for Helen Suzman
“Helen Suzman was sharp, incisive, principled and loads of fun. So is this biography." John Carlin, Author of Invictus
“[T]he truest of liberals… this crispy, lucid account is persuasive in presenting her as the doughtiest of fighters for human rights anywhere and one of the finest parliamentarians.” The Economist
“A fascinating insight into the life of a truly great South African… Former British Ambassador to South Africa Robin Renwick has penned a book rich with examples of her humour and political brilliance.” The South African
“A remarkable biography about a memorable woman. As British ambassador to South Africa, Lord Robin Renwick established a lasting friendship with Helen Suzman. Hence the excellence of this biography.” Stanley Uys, veteran South African journalist and political commentator
By Biteback Publishing, Mon 20th Jan 2014
Over the weekend we heard the tragic news that one of Biteback’s authors, Dr Alexandros Petersen, had been a victim of a bomb blast that took the lives of 14 people in Kabul last week. Dr Petersen was working on a biography of the Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili due to be published by Biteback this August on the anniversary of the Russia-Georgia war of 2008. He had secured John McCain to write a foreword and was proceeding well with the book along with his co-author Richard Cashman.
As we understand it, Alexandros had just started a new job as a professor at the American University in Kabul. He was an incredibly talented student of international politics and geo-strategy, as THIS BLOGPOST, written only a week ago, demonstrates. You find out more about Alexandros on his website HERE.
A young life has been cut tragically short by the actions of Taliban terrorists. All of us at Biteback send our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends.
By John Nickson, Thu 12th Dec 2013
By John Nickson, author of Giving is Good For You: Why Britain Should Be Bothered and Give More
“Christmas means ITV” was a self -promotional puff I recall from television in the nineteen seventies that prompts a more important question: is CHRISTMAS good for us? Christmas may be good for publishers but is a hellish time for most people I know. I agree with Tolstoy who might have said: “All happy family Christmases resemble one another, every unhappy family Christmas is unhappy after its own fashion.”
I am not a puritan. Although I am an atheist and my childhood was unhappy, I have a celebratory temperament that rejoices in good food, wine and, in particular, music. I have to confess to believing that God does have all the best tunes. Wherever I am, I have to go inside a church.
I am, however, repelled by the ghastliness of Christmas, the banal advertising and all the tat we have to endure for weeks before Christmas Day with its unwanted presents and legacy of boredom, dyspepsia and fat. But worst of all, is the conversion of Christmas into a festival of consumerism, encouraging a belief that, apart from birthdays, giving is something you do only at Christmas.
By not giving regularly, we are denying ourselves. Giving really is good for us and can be fun. Giving is what we are supposed to do. We are naturally selfish but altruism has also given us an evolutionary advantage. Just as the need to eat and have sex are rewarded with pleasurable feelings, so giving makes us feel good. We are social animals who thrive when we collaborate and care for each other. We started being philanthropic long before Christmas was invented. In the foreword to my book, Robert Winston says that the remains of pre-hominids living in France 700,000 years ago suggest that they chewed food for those who had lost their teeth and who would otherwise have starved.
After thirty years as a professional fundraiser, donor and charity trustee, I believe that humanity is in danger of losing the plot. In the nineteenth century, when the Victorians invented the modern Christmas, most of us in all classes were philanthropic. There was, of course, no welfare state and I have no wish to go back to a Dickensian time when people were born and died on the streets. However, we have lost as well as gained since then and what we seem to be losing is commitment to those we don’t know.
There has been a colossal increase in personal wealth in the last thirty years with the largest share of national income going to the richest 10%. Inequality is growing and is proved to lead to more dysfunctional, violent and unhealthy societies at great cost to us all, including the rich. Meanwhile, almost half of us give nothing to charity and the richest give proportionately less than the poor. Despite unprecedented personal wealth in Britain, charitable giving fell by up to 20% between 2011 and 2012.
I decided to write a book to encourage the mean to follow the example of the generous. I was encouraged to do so by some of Britain’s most generous benefactors . So it was that I approached Biteback Publishing in the summer of 2012, full of passion and moral fervor. Sam Carter, commissioning editor, invited me to talk at him for ten minutes and after due consultation with his colleagues, I was invited to write Giving Is Good For You. The stark question I had to ask myself was this: was I correct in my belief that giving is not only good for us but that the motivation to give is deep rooted in the human psyche and that by giving we can redeem ourselves and transform our lives? By wishing to follow the example of Richard Wagner, whose operas are obsessed with redemption, was I biting off more than I could chew?
I decided to go on the road to find out. I needn’t have worried. I talked to nearly 80 benefactors and those who work for charities and was overwhelmed by the response. I haven’t quite managed to match Wagner’s achievement but those I interviewed were truly inspirational, the heroes and heroines of our age because they refuse to be daunted by the scale of the problems facing us. They are determined to seek solutions by supporting the most vulnerable, the homeless, the young unemployed, those denied human rights, enabling the most disadvantaged to enjoy high quality education, pioneering medical research as well as investing in higher education and the arts for the benefit of us all.
Everyone I met told me that giving has transformed their lives, whether they were funding a refuge and re-education for sex workers in Newcastle, giving a million year to support the young unemployed in Yorkshire or funding research into poverty and what could improve the lives of slum dwellers in Bangladesh.
I also learned that philanthropy is for everyone, including the old woman who sticks a pound coin onto a piece of cardboard every month and sends it to The Passage, a charity for the homeless in Westminster.
I can be shameless about promoting my book because I am giving my royalties away. If you are looking for a book that could change your life, please read Giving Is Good For You. Even better, send a copy to anyone you who know who is rich and uncharitable. One of the interviewees in my book knows Boris Johnson who has recently championed greed and envy. She is sending him a copy for Christmas so that he can find out how little the very rich give and what those who do give think of those who do not give. He may be surprised. And so might you.
Happy New Year!
By Sam Deacon, Tue 3rd Dec 2013
Geoffrey Robertson QC speaking at Monday’s press conference
Yesterday saw the release of Geoffrey Robertson QC’s controversial new book Stephen Ward is Innocent, OK. In it Geoffrey highlights the unjust nature of Stephen Ward’s trial – the notorious scandal which brought down the Conservative Government. With a tenacious style and clear emotion Geoffrey brings to light the true injustice of the case, labelling Stephen as a scapegoat for those in power. It would appear that there were members of the judiciary that actively sought to conceal influential evidence that may implicate high profile members of the Establishment, members that remain – to this day – concealed in the shadows, in the wake of Profumo affair.
Gathered before members of the press, Geoffrey Robertson QC simply, yet eloquently, spoke of the judicial misconduct which led to Stephen Ward’s conviction and consequently his suicide, bringing to light the irregularities which encumbered Stephen’s defence. The focus of Geoffrey’s discussion was the establishment’s continued refusal to release important transcripts relating to the Stephen Ward case from the public archives. When the National Archive was challenged as to the reason for this they stated that the transcripts contained unsubstantiated claims of prostitution as well as details of the sexual life of named individuals.
However, were these documents to be released it is highly likely that they would prove crucial to procuring the ultimate overturning of Stephen’s conviction. With the help of high profile members of the community such as Lord Jeremy Hutchinson, Sir Andrew Lloyd-Webber, and Mandy Rice-Davies – a personality that lies at the heart of the controversy surrounding the case – Geoffrey put forward the need for Stephen’s conviction to be overturned, clearing his name and finally undoing the wrong that was done. To read Geoffrey Robertson QC’s case in full, get your copy of Stephen Ward was Innocent, OK now.
Those that fought, & those that are still fighting, for justice. (Left to right: Anthony Burton, Lord Jeremy Hutchinson, Geoffrey Robertson QC, Mandy Rice- Davies, Sir Andrew Lloyd-Webber).
By Sarah Thrift, Fri 22nd Nov 2013
November 22nd, 1963.
One can only imagine how Oswald felt on the morning of Friday, 22 November. He would have forced himself into a state of grim determination. He had to succeed; whether he was doing it for himself, or because he was under orders with dire consequences for failure and rich rewards for success.
The motorcade swung left into Elm Street at 12.30. Oswald then raised the rifle and fired three shots, the third shattering the President’s skull. He put the rifle back behind some boxes, walked quickly down the stairs, and left the building seconds before the police sealed it off.
After collecting his passport and a few other things from his lodgings, a bus took him a mile further away from the scene of the crime. He started to walk towards a cinema, which may have been a rendezvous point. Was he going to meet someone who would assist his escape to a safe place? That is what they would have told him; but he was too naïve to realise he could not be allowed to live to tell the tale.
Officer JD Tippit of the Dallas Police was on a routine patrol when he saw Oswald walking purposefully along the road. On seeing the police car Oswald hesitated, half turned as if to run away, but then – remembering to keep calm – he continued to walk in the same direction as before. The hesitation had been enough to make Tippit suspicious, so he approached Oswald with a view to satisfying himself that he was not up to something sinister.
Oswald panicked, drew his revolver, and shot officer Tippit dead.
He ran on to the cinema; but there had been witnesses to the shooting and the police soon arrived and overpowered Oswald. He was taken to Dallas jail where he was charged with the murder of Officer Tippit. Within half-an-hour of his arrest he was also suspected of murdering Kennedy. He was questioned for several hours with no lawyer present and no notes were taken.
Two days later, Oswald was shot dead by Jack Ruby when he was being transferred from the city jail to the county jail.
The evidence strongly suggests that Oswald’s time in New Orleans and, more particularly, his visits to the Soviet Consulate in Mexico City, were directed by the KGB. Oswald had been invited, or instructed, to go to the Consulate where he was briefed by Kostikov (the KGB assassin expert), Yatskov and Nechiporenko. From Mexico, he went straight to Dallas, where he had no home and to where the President would be paying a visit. His job at the Depository was fortuitous, but alternative arrangements would otherwise have been made to shoot from somewhere else along the President’s route.
Khrushchev would not, under any conceivable circumstances, have authorised or condoned the assassination of President Kennedy with whom he had been fostering a better relationship since the Cuban Crisis.
However, Ivan Serov was not part of the inner circle of Soviet leadership. He had lost his position as head of the GRU and no longer took orders directly from Khrushchev, the Politburo or the Central Committee.
In the course of the social meetings he would have had with his friends and fellow-Stalinists Andropov and Kryuchkov in the summer of 1963, Serov may well have raised the possibility of taking revenge on Kennedy for – as all Stalinists saw it – the Soviet Union’s humiliation over the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Did the idea develop into a plan that Andropov and Kryuchkov could put into action from their positions in the Central Committee? We know that Kryuchkov had already been active in relation to Oswald’s future after he returned to the United States. They would have identified the Soviet Consulate in Mexico City as the best place to operate from and it had the added attraction of not involving any of the KGB stations in the United States.
These three militant Stalinists had stronger motivation, better opportunity and greater resources to kill Kennedy than anyone else in the conspiracy line-up. As steadfast Stalinists they were dedicated to the elimination of all ‘enemies of the people’ and Kennedy – the brash representative of the United States and capitalism – was public enemy number one.
For a more detailed consideration of the KGB links to the Kennedy assassination read A Spy Like No Other – The Cuban Missile Crisis, The KGB and The Kennedy Assassination by Robert Holmes.
25% off for a limited time only.
By Sarah Thrift, Tue 8th Oct 2013
It’s almost super Thursday, so let’s see what Biteback has coming up in the publishing calendar!
Weirwolf: My Story by David Weir #Weirwolf
What is it? The fantastic, compelling account of Paralympian hero, David Weir.
Who is it for? Anyone who wants to relive the inspirational events of London 2012. Absolutely everyone.
Our survey says: “His is a truly inspirational story.” Seb Coe
Everybody’s Business: The Unlikely Story of How Big Business Can Fix the World by Jon Miller & Lucy Parker #EverybodysBusiness
What is it? An insightful exploration of the business world, revealing unexpected solutions to big problems.
Who is it for? Businessmen, businesswoman, and anyone wishing for future success.
Our survey says: “This is such an important theme. I’m 100% in agreement with this argument.” Dominic Barton, Managing Director – McKinsey & Company
Prisonomics: Behind bars in Britain’s failing prisons by Vicky Pryce #Prisonomics
What is it? A fascinating insight into Britain’s female prisons, from personal, political and economic perspectives.
Who is it for? Politicos, economists and women.
Our survey says: “A deeply impressive and powerful book.” Mark Leech, The Prisons Handbook
The Biteback Dictionary of Humorous Literary Quotations by Fred Metcalf #LitQuotes
What is it? The definitive collection of humourous literary quotations, from the established expert Fred Metcalf.
Who is it for? Keen readers & writers, anyone with a sense of humour.
By Sarah Thrift, Wed 2nd Oct 2013
We’ve seen jokes from Boris Johnson, tears for Michael Gove and rousing cries courtesy of David Cameron.
As responses to all of the aforementioned are being discussed, we’re taking some time out to remember a few of the great things that the Tories have said in the past. Iain Dale’s new book, The Dictionary of Conservative Quotations, has helped us do just that. An entertaining collection, useful for any right-leaning reader, and an essential companion for speech writers. It’s on special offer at the moment, so make the most of our generosity while you can.
Winston Churchill, 1930
“It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations.”
Margaret Thatcher, 1975
“I sometimes think the Labour Party is like a pub where the mild is running out. If someone does not do something soon, all that is left will be bitter and all that is bitter will be left.”
William Hague, 1997
“We have no intention of stooping to a new politics without conscience. Let them stoop. We will conquer.”
David Cameron, 2012
“This party has a heart but we don’t like wearing it on our sleeve. Conservatives think: let’s just get on with the job and help people and not bang on about it. It’s not our style.”
Michael Gove, 2013
“Ed Miliband complaining about school spending is about as credible as Kim Kardashian complaining about invasion of privacy.”
And, of course, a joke from Boris:
Boris Johnson, 2004
“Voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts and increase your chances of owning a BMW M3.”
By Sarah Thrift, Fri 27th Sep 2013
Hugo Rifkind, columnist and writer for The Times, The Spectator and GQ has written a brilliant book. My Week: The Secret Diaries of Almost Everyone is out now, and guaranteed to keep you entertained. To celebrate publication, and the fact that it’s Friday afternoon, we’re giving you a couple of snippets from Part 1: British Politics
Friday – Boris Johnson during an afternoon chat with the PM
Back into Downing Street to see Dave.
‘Time to stop dissing the Feds, old chap,’ I tell him, as we crack open a bottle of wine.
‘What?’ says Dave.
It’s Phoenician, I explain, and I tell him he should be nicer to the police. Then I show him a helmet I nicked off a community support officer when his back was turned and we reminisce about that time, with the Buller, when somebody threw a pot plant through a window.
‘Do you feel old?’ says Dave. ‘I feel old.’
‘You’ve got a pot plant on your desk,’ I say, and Dave looks scared for a moment, and then nods.
Then there’s a thud.
‘Bulletproof,’ says Dave.
‘I’ll get a broom,’ I say.
Friday – Ken Livingstone on the mayorial election and Boris Bikes
Still not answering my phone. But this morning, I run into him knocking on doors in Tower Hamlets.
‘I want a word with you,’ he says.
‘Bugger off,’ I say. ‘We’ve nothing to talk about. I’m taking back what’s mine. This city is mine. I’ll be turning Boris Bikes into Ken Bikes and sinking your stupid bloody buses into the Thames. You just see if I don’t.’
‘Never mind all that,’ says Boris. ‘Can I have the number of your accountant?’
Friday – Ed Miliband on David Leaving after losing the leadership vote
Finally, Ed has a window. He’s sad.
‘I don’t want you to go,’ he says.
I have to, I say. Otherwise people will just think I’m undermining you whenever I make a speech.
‘They might not,’ he says.
I’ll never be able to do a funny voice, I continue, or else people will think I’m mocking your funny voice.
‘Hold on,’ he says.
I’ll never be able to hold ridiculous reactionary policies that don’t make any sense, I say. I’ll never be able to make an announcement using the same lame catchphrase over
and over again. I’ll never even be able to walk around in a really stupid jerky fashion, or else people will think…
‘Need a lift to the airport?’ says Ed.
Friday – George Osborne on his vital role in government, and… trousers.
Dave, Oliver and Ken pop in, for a mid-morning cup of tea. Dave says I’m looking well.
Thanks, I say. I slept for two whole hours last night.
Hence the way my skin is now pale white, rather than its customary greyish green.
The PM says we have two big problems, and the main one is the newspapers.
‘All the stories are too hostile,’ agrees Ken. ‘You need to write them more nicely.’
I only write the Evening Standard, I tell them.
‘Oh,’ says Dave. ‘Well, the other problem is growth.’
There’s no easy solution, I say. People just need to work harder.
‘That’s rich coming from you,’ says Oliver. ‘When I’m not even wearing any trousers.’
I don’t want to do this anymore, I say.
‘Go on, then!’ says Ken. ‘Walk!’
‘Wait!’ says Dave. ‘Does anybody else know how to use the kettle?’
Ken says that’s a fair point. ‘Two sugars, George,’ he adds.
By Sarah Thrift, Mon 23rd Sep 2013
The Labour Conference is well underway and everyone is keeping a close eye on what the Reds are talking about. We’ve selected a handful of our favourite quotes from The Dictionary of Labour Quotations by Stuart Thomson to keep you informed and entertained.
Clement Attlee (1949)
‘I have none of the qualities which create publicity.’
Tony Blair (1997)
‘The children would love it if I had The Spice Girls around in the evening rather than John Prescott and Gordon Brown.’
Brian Clough (2004)
‘Of course I’m a Champagne Socialist. The difference between me and a good Tory is he keeps his money while I share mine.’
Harriet Harman (2007)
‘I am in the Labour Party because I am a feminist. I am in the Labour Party because I believe in equality.’
Gordon Brown (2009)
‘We are the Labour party and our abiding duty is to stand. And fight. And win. And serve.’
Ed Miliband (2010)
‘The new generation of Labour is different. Different attitudes, different ideas, different ways of doing politics.’
Ed Balls (2012)
‘The nature of politics, Dermot, is that the first minute or two really matters.’
In need of more Left inspiration? Buy The Dictionary of Labour Quotations. It’s on special offer now.
A keen Labour supporter? We’ve got plenty of books that might be of interest
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By Sarah Thrift, Thu 19th Sep 2013
Shirley Williams can easily be described as one of Britain’s best-loved politicians. Her charisma, intellect and empathy are appreciated by men and women across the political spectrum and beyond.
This week, Biteback published the definitive biography of a great woman. In the opening pages of ‘Shirley Williams: The Biography’ by Mark Peel, the author recalls his tentative enquiry in October 2000. Peel recalls asking Shirley ‘whether she would be at all interested in my writing her biography and, much to my delight, she consented.’ Lucky for us all that she did! Mark Peel, a renowned biographer, provides us with original, personal material about her relationship with her mother, Vera Brittain, and about Shirley’s relationships and marriages. The book also sheds important light on her political beginnings, and the developments throughout her extraordinary career. Intrigued?
Here’s a sneak peak from one of the early chapters.
Destined For Politics
Although Shirley departed quite happily for her first day at nursery school in September 1932, her extreme youth led to a rough baptism with her peers. ‘She is very easily roused if anything or anybody annoys her,’ commented her first report. ‘On these occasions she is inclined to become very negative towards everybody and this continues for some considerable time.’ It took the rest of the year for her to find her feet and become fully accepted. By her second year the runes appeared much more favourable. Her growing sociability, her interesting observations on the other children’s behaviour and her artistic creativity were all the subject of favourable comment. ‘One forgets that it is only this term that Shirley has been working with the older group of children. She is well adjusted and happy. She is developing rapidly.’ The only cloud on the horizon was the upset caused by the absence of her parents from home.
‘Has definite phases when she needs attention and approval of an adult. This seems often to correspond to the times when her mother is away’ was the verdict of her report in March 1934. Shirley’s demand for her mother’s attention began to prey on Vera. When taxed about her maternal neglect at the time and later she was sensitive to the charge, especially since she had disapproved of the way her mother’s generation had left their children to other people. She would later recall the heartbreak that the pain of separation from her children had caused her, never more so than during her three months in the US in 1934 when she would cry herself to sleep. Yet aside from ascribing her neglect to her perceived calling to make the world a better place (‘I had gifts, even more standards, to pass on’), Vera claimed, quite justifiably, that her input into her children’s upbringing was quite considerable. Not only did she take them for walks, enlightening them as to the different types of bird and flower, she also read to them after tea, and in John’s case taught him the piano, before putting them to bed. When they were ill she looked after them, employing her nursing experiences to good effect.
If the children continued to harbour regrets that they didn’t see more of their parents, they at least were fortunate in the range of surrogates to help ensure that both of them, especially Shirley, had happy childhoods. Entertainment in those early years often centred on Winifred Holtby, known to the children as Aunty Winifred. Tall, slim with golden hair, and invariably attired in a striking assortment of hats and dresses, she endeared herself to everyone by the radiance of her personality. ‘For my brother and me,’ Shirley later recounted, ‘Winifred was the source of unending pleasure: stories, games, wild fantasies, exotic visitors … Our favourite game was “elephants”. We would pile cushions high up on Winifred’s back, and issue orders from our rickety howdah as she crawled carefully across the floor.
As Mark Peel notes in the introduction ‘Her genuine friendliness and capacity to relate to all types, so rare in a politician, led people into thinking they knew her.’ This book will certainly help readers to achieve that.
Buy your copy from Biteback. It’s cheaper from us than from any other retailer
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By Sarah Thrift, Tue 17th Sep 2013
Janis Sharp spent ten years fighting her son’s extradition to America. Their cause captivated the media and the general public for a decade. Now the full story is finally available for all to see. A compelling, passionate, and touching read, Saving Gary McKinnon is guaranteed to entertain and enthrall readers in equal measure.
To celebrate publication day, we’re giving you an exclusive extract from this fantastic book. Enjoy!
Chapter 8: Snatched
More than three years had passed since Gary’s arrest in 2002, so we were sure it was going to be dropped. I mean, they couldn’t just decide to try to extradite him more than three years after his arrest, could they? Suddenly, on 7 June 2005 the phone rang: it was Gary.
‘Mum, I’ve been arrested.’
‘Oh no, Gary, no!’ I screamed. ‘Where are you?’
‘I’m in Brixton Prison.’
I could hear the fear in his voice.
‘What’s wrong, Janis, what’s happened?’ said Wilson anxiously.
My voice was breaking and I could hardly speak. I was trying to hold it together as absolute terror struck my heart.
‘Gary’s been arrested, he’s in Brixton Prison.’
Saying the words out loud made it worse somehow, as though an invisible veil shielding me had been ripped away, forcing me into a stark reality I wasn’t ready to face. It reminded me of when, months after my mum died, I had to fill out a form that involved writing down that my mum was ‘deceased’ and I couldn’t do it. I mean obviously I knew my mum was dead, but somehow having to write down that word was the most traumatic thing, as the finality of her death hit me and I was forced to accept the painful reality I thought I had faced but hadn’t. Actually saying the words ‘he’s in Brixton Prison’ tore through my heart. I couldn’t even voice the thought of the word ‘extradition’ as that would make it real and my mind couldn’t deal with it right now. I could hear Gary’s voice in the distance.
‘Two men jumped out of a car when I was walking along the road and asked if I was Gary McKinnon. When I said yes they arrested me and bundled me into a car. They said they were the extradition squad and brought me to Brixton Prison. The guards are taking me to court in the morning.’
Gary was trapped; I wanted him out. I wanted to run with him to safety but they had him, he wasn’t free anymore.
‘When the extradition squad stopped you, you should have said no you weren’t Gary McKinnon. Why didn’t you ring me? I could have done something!’ I screamed.
‘You couldn’t, Mum.’
‘Are you in a cell on your own?’
‘No, I’m with a Scottish man.’
‘What is he in prison for?’
Gary fell silent.
‘What is he in prison for, Gary?!’
‘He’s accused of murdering someone but I’ve told him my mum and dad are Scottish.’
‘Oh, that’s all right then.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I’m being sarcastic, Gary, ignore me. How did they know your address? Surely they should have contacted Karen, your solicitor, first and arranged for you to go into the police station instead of pouncing on you in the street and bundling you into a car?’
‘I’m sorry, Mum.’
‘It’s not your fault. How can they be allowed to arrest you three and a half years after the fact? How can they?!’
Wilson took the phone.
‘It’ll be OK, Gary. We’ll see you in court tomorrow and your lawyer will sort it out.’
‘Someone else wants the phone. I have to go in a minute.’
‘OK. Take care, Gary, we love you.’
‘Love you too.’
Keen to find out how this extraordinary battle was won? ‘Saving Gary Mckinnon’ is available cheaper than any other retailer from us here.
Watch Janis Sharp discuss the book on BBC Breakfast
Follow Janis Sharp on Twitter
Praise for Saving Gary McKinnon: A Mother’s Story:
“A remarkable story told by a remarkable woman.” Duncan Campbell, The Guardian
“This book is essential reading, not only as a political thriller and a personal story, but also as an eye-opener to the way our freedoms can be threatened. Bravo Janis!” Julie Christie
“A compelling read.” Trudie Styler
“[I]t is impossible not to be touched by her determination to convince the system to take notice of the little people who so often get lost in it. As Christie writes in the brief foreword: Bravo Janis!” Sian Griffiths, The Sunday Times
By Sarah Thrift, Fri 13th Sep 2013
The LibDem conference is fast approaching! And what better way to celebrate than with this definitive collection of the best things Liberals have ever said?
Duncan Brack’s fantastic new book, The Dictionary of Liberal Quotations, offers readers the chance to relive the highlights, humour & historic words of the world’s Liberal thinkers. It’s on special offer for the duration of the conference, so get your orders in quick.
Edmund Burke, 1768
‘It is a general popular error to imagine the loudest complainers for the public to be the most anxious for its welfare.’
Nick Clegg, 2012
‘The freedom to be who you are. The opportunity to be who you could be. That, in essence, is the Liberal promise.’
Tim Farron, 2013
(on the Liberal Democrat’s ability to survive)
‘A bit like cockroaches after a nuclear war, just a bit less smelly, we are made of sterner stuff.’
George Bernard Shaw, 1903
‘Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.’
David Steel, 1976
‘The road I intend to travel may be a bumpy one, and I recognise the risk that in the course of it we may lose some of the passengers, but I don’t mind so long as we arrive at the end of it reasonably intact and ready to achieve our goals.’
Shirley Williams, 1999
‘Women bring fresh value to politics. Where they play a large part in shaping the culture of public life, as in Scandinavia, politics begin to change… Our voices should be heard. In a world wracked by violence and by poverty, we cannot abandon the struggle.’
In need of more Liberal inspiration? Buy The Dictionary of Liberal Quotations. It’s on special offer now.
A keen Liberal Democrat? We’ve got plenty of books to choose from
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By Stewart Purvis, Thu 5th Sep 2013
Among the contenders must be submitting the first draft to the publisher and waiting, sometimes rather a long time, for any feedback. There’s waiting for the first review and later trying to work out if many people are ordering the book by analysing Amazon’s often opaque rankings.
I plead guilty to all of these but perhaps the moment I feared most, and experienced today (5th September 2013) – Biteback publication day of When Reporters Cross the Line – was coming face to face with somebody you have written about and haven’t met since the book was finished.
It happened this morning in the wonderfully swish but slightly Orwellian surroundings of the reception area of the BBC’s New Broadcasting House in London. I had been invited by the BBC World Service programme Newshour to discuss the book with Martin Bell. In my ‘Martin Bell’ chapter I praise the veteran award-winning correspondent for his journalism but am sceptical about his concept of ‘the journalism of attachment’ and whether it is consistent with the requirement for ‘due impartiality’ which Parliament has placed on British broadcasters.
Like many former foreign correspondents Martin has a long memory for those who may have crossed him in the past. As I saw him sitting in BBC reception waiting to record our discussion I did wonder if I was about to join that list. His first words ‘good morning boss’ were reassuringly polite but slightly misleading. I never was Martin’s boss, in fact I was once the editor-in-chief of his main rivals at ITN. But I knew that to the frontline reporters like Martin there was a generic class of ‘bosses’ and I had once undeniably been one of them.
So it was only when we started recording our discussion with BBC World Service presenter James Coomarasamy and Martin got his first chance on air to say what he really thought about what I said about him in the book that I could relax a little. He didn’t dispute any of the facts or opinions, instead he embraced the themes I’d addressed and developed his own thoughts on them. I was further reassured when James asked me questions that revealed that he’d actually read at least part of the book – not something that always happens on these occasions.
Afterwards Martin and I left ‘New BH’ looking forward to our next meeting – at the book’s launch party – and I began looking ahead to my next encounter with a ‘victim’. Frederick Forsyth, best known as a successful thriller writer but back in the 1960s a BBC foreign correspondent, has agreed to debate with me at the Frontline Club in London on 25th September. We’ll be talking about his days covering the Nigerian Civil War in Biafra, why the BBC pulled him out and demoted him and why he went back under his own steam and at his own risk to work alongside the Biafrans.
It is now many years since Forsyth and Bell were on the frontline but the fire in their belly about what they did, why they did it (and who did what to them) burns just as fiercely as it did then.
Book your tickets to see authors Stewart Purvis & Jeff Hulbert in discussion with Lindsey Hilsum & Frederick Forsyth, chaired by Stuart Hughes. The event starts at 7pm on the 25th September at the FrontLine Club.
Follow Stewart Purvis on Twitter
Join the discussion. Tweet about the book using #CrossTheLine
By Sarah Thrift, Fri 30th Aug 2013
Whilst the end of the summer can make people feel a wee bit blue, September marks the beginning of an exceptionally exciting part of the publishing calendar. So what has Biteback got in store for you? Let’s take a look…
Billed as the must-read political book of 2013, Damian McBride’s Power Trip is already causing a stir. Hilarious, sharp, and gloriously revelatory, prepare to be shocked and entertained politicos.
An absolute must for anyone with an interest in media, journalism and ethics. This book is a unique and timely consideration of ‘the line’, who has crossed it, and why.
The first-ever biography of one of Britain’s best-loved politicians, Shirley Williams. Revealing childhood dreams, political aspirations and turbulent personal relationships, Mark Peel has told her story in exquisite detail.
Telling the extraordinary true story of a mother who fought to save her son from extradition and imprisonment. After ten years Janis Sharp’s battle is finally over, and this compelling book recounts her struggle for Gary McKinnon’s future in brilliant detail.
A fascinating and intelligent read, two attributes which earnt this book a place on Keith Simpson MP’s Summer Reading List. At Power’s Elbow uncovers the intriguing truths behind three centuries’ worth of prime ministers and their aides.
As Winston Churchill once said, it is a good thing for an uneducated man to read a book of quotations. In very truth, it is a good thing for an uneducated/educated Conservative/Labour/Liberal to read a book of quotations. That’s why we’ve got an essential book of 2000 quotations for all of you, of every political persuasion.
Gathering together the best of the best in business, Fred Metcalf is well-known for his hilarious collections of quotations, and this is a welcome addition to the bunch.
By Mick Smith, Fri 9th Aug 2013
Everyone knows that the codebreakers of Bletchley Park broke the German ciphers, giving Churchill and his generals an unparalleled view inside Hitler’s command post and cutting as much as two years off the end of the Second World War. That story is told in full in Biteback’s The Secrets of Station X. But even now very few people realize that by the time of D-Day in June 1944, a substantial proportion, possibly even the majority, of people at Bletchley were working not on German ciphers but on Japanese codes.
It has always been assumed that the Americans broke the Japanese codes and ciphers. This is partly because there has never been the same interest in the war in the Far East here in the UK as there is in America. It’s true that British troops fought the Japanese in Malaya and that tens of thousands of British soldiers captured by the Japanese were treated appallingly. Yet the British never felt quite so threatened by the Japanese as they did by the Germans who were just across the Channel waiting to invade.
The assumption that the Americans broke the Japanese codes was largely due to the fact that the first stories of the amazing achievements made by British and US codebreakers during the Second World War were published in America and dealt with US exploits against the Japanese, a much more immediate war for the US people given the successful attack on Pearl Harbor.
It was only when GCHQ started releasing its files in large numbers in the late 1990s that we began to realise the extent of the British involvement in breaking the Japanese codes. The main army messages were first encoded and then the encoded text was enciphered using streams of randomly generated figures. Yet John Tiltman, one of the greatest of the Bletchley Park codebreakers, managed not just to work out what the code and cipher system was but to break it within a few months of its introduction.
When the Japanese navy went over to a similar system with its main code, JN-25, Tiltman broke it within weeks. All of that information was shared with the Americans and it was a similar story with most of the other Japanese codes and ciphers. But while the British made the initial breaks into all the main Japanese military and naval codes and ciphers, it was the Americans who were better at keeping on top of the codes and ciphers, using large numbers of machines and personnel.
The work against the Japanese codes and ciphers was not dominated by either country, it was a truly collaborative story and now for the first time that story can be read in e-book form in The Emperor’s Codes.
By Sarah Thrift, Wed 7th Aug 2013
Are you a Kindle convert? Do you commute? Do you enjoy taking your e-reader on holiday?
We understand the importance of keeping up with the times, so as well as offering great deals on new and exciting titles, we also team up with Amazon to ensure our eBooks are available quickly, easily, and reasonably. We’ve got 6 fantastic books on offer as part of our Kindle Summer Promotions.
5 Days in May: The Coalition and Beyond By Andrew Adonis £1.19
A fascinating account of the discussions which led to the coalition government.
‘This is a political thriller with a twist.’ Times Literary Supplement
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Burning Our Money: How Government wastes our cash and what we can do about it By Mike Denham £1.19
Disatisfied with government spending? Economist Mike Denham gets to grips with government wastage and possibilities for the tax-payer. Well worth a read.
The Butler’s Guide: To Running the Home and Other Graces By Stanley Ager and Fiona St Aubyn £1.29
A charmingly illustrated guide to running the home, from one of the most celebrated butlers of the 20th Century.
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Crime: How to Solve it – And Why So Much of What We’re Told is Wrong By Nick Ross £1.49
Challenging common misconceptions of crime, former Crimewatch host Nick Ross tackles contemporary issues in an innovative way.
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Harry: The People’s Prince By Chris Hutchins £1.79
Get to know the man behind the headlines with this revealing biography. Charting the changes of the people’s prince, Chris Hutchins has produced a royal treat.
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Seller Beware: How not to sell your business By Denise Barnes £1.19
An invaluable guide to selling your business, from someone who learnt it the hard way. It’ll make you think, it’ll make you laugh, and you’ll certainly leqarn something.
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By Dirk Beckmann, Tue 16th Jul 2013
For over 20 years I have been impressed by the products and methods of Apple and many of my business opportunities were directly connected to the innovations that came from Cupertino. When starting my company, I had to design a brochure for a big client. In the early nineties, owning a PC or Macintosh with which to create something like a brochure was rare, but I happened to know someone. I was able to pay him on an hourly basis for the usage of his Mac, and for the first time I was working with Pagemaker to do the layout. The invention of Desktop Publishing by Aldus, Adobe and Apple made my project possible and so I became an entrepreneur.
There were a great number of innovations from Apple that made things possible for our company. More importantly we were able to learn from the way in which Apple innovates. First there was the simple question “What would Apple do” if they were to create this website or shop? The team came up with answers such as “they would reduce it”, “they would focus on typography” or “they would create a marketplace around it”. Apple became a model for us in many ways.
With the introduction of the “think different” commercial, Apple was transformed as a brand. Whilst we had been fans of their products before, we became pretty much connected to the company in those days. What happened? Apple reinvented itself in a few years and came to stand for something we wanted to stand for too. With the introduction of the iPhone they delivered something huge and once again it was a whole new opportunity for us to make business.
In this spirit, What would Apple do? is a book about innovation in digital business. It’s about a different way of seeing markets. It’s about being focused on the pure essence of what you make and about working for real people in a real world rather than concentrating on target groups or statistics.
Firstly, it explains the way in which Apple sets about its creations, the communication around the brand, how to create really simple products and the business models that enabled the company to become the most valuable corporation on earth. Secondly, it is about imagination. What would Apple do if it were to create something other than PCs or iPhones? What would a kitchen look like? What would a car look like? What would a newspaper look like? It is an attempt to map the unique Apple approach outlined in Part One onto other real world products and services.
If you are looking for innovative ideas and business opportunities in the digital era, this book will inspire you.