Sunday, 20 December 2009

Weakest Link

My great (or not so great) moment on national television arrived on December 9 2009, with the broadcast of an episode of “Weakest Link”, which had been filmed on September 16 of that year. The footage shown on television was only the tip of the iceberg, whereas I prefer the full story, which is set out here – mostly written from memory prior to the broadcast so the wording of dialogue is not exact. On the day of filming, I travelled by train to Slough, the town where “The Office” was set, and took a taxi ride across the border from Berkshire into Buckinghamshire. On arriving at Pinewood Studios, I took some photos of the famous gatehouse entrance to the studios, which were opened in 1935

I had been given a 2.00 call time ahead of planned filming from 3.30. In view of this, I had aimed to get to Pinewood at about 12.00, allowing plenty of time for any train delays, and duly arrived around noon. At the Pinewood TV studio, I reported in at reception, and was then shown to the contestants’ room. Here I met Gemma, who had led the audition I had participated in, and also Kevin, who had been the first contestant to arrive. After settling in, I popped out for a quick walk around the car park, from where I took a couple of photos of the James Bond set. Back in the contestant room, I met other participants as they arrived, and also ate BBC sandwiches for lunch. We learned from Gemma that this was the first day of filming for “Weakest Link” after a three month break. This was Gemma’s final day with “Weakest Link”, as she was moving to “Strictly Come Dancing”, a new series of which would start broadcasting two days later. David Cheeseman, the BBC researcher covering the episode I was participating in, arrived accompanied by another bloke called Dave, who would be taking on work with “Weakest Link” when filming moved to Scotland. Three episodes of “Weakest Link” were filmed that day, and I saw part of the first programme via a live video link. This included some great banter between Anne Robinson and a couple of the contestants, a retired lady who writes romantic novels, and a bloke who is training to be a barrister.

At 2.00, once all the contestants had arrived, we were led off to another room. Here we were met by the two ladies who form the wardrobe team. We had been asked to bring three separate outfits, with a note on various colours and patterns to avoid. Besides the shirt and trousers I was wearing, I took along a further four shirts and two pairs of trousers. The wardrobe team sought to avoid clashes between the outfits worn by all of the contestants. After consulting the developing colour chart for the episode, one of the ladies selected a pair of trousers plus two possible shirts. These were to be taken away for ironing. When handing over my trousers, I asked one of the ladies if she could specifically iron them inside out, having been advised to do so by Jeannette, due to the mix of materials. The lady advised me that she had been doing ironing for many years. Once the colour line-up was finalised, the outfit I was to wear for the filming consisted of a pair of brown trousers, bought a few days earlier, and a dark blue shirt, which had been a present from my wife back in 1995.

Each of the contestants were called in turn into a corridor for a biography chat with a lady named Claire. David Cheeseman had spoken to each of us on the telephone – my call had lasted forty five minutes – and typed up notes that were to be passed to Anne Robinson, to give her ideas on quizzing contestants about themselves. David had produced a good summary of my diverse activities, and Claire noted a few minor corrections. As I had mentioned disco dancing, Claire said I could expect Anne to ask for a demonstration.

Alongside the biography chats, each of the contestants were sent to the make- up room, where two ladies applied make up. The information pack from the BBC had advised that all contestants, including the men, would require make-up. The application of make-up was a (relatively) novel experience for me. The make up lady also topped up the gel in my hair. I then got changed into my show outfit, as did the other contestants. Amidst chat about the programme, we learned from the Scottish Dave that audience numbers for “Weakest Link” were currently around 2,500,000 per show. Gemma added that the audience for “Weakest Link” had actually been higher than that for “Big Brother” in the current year.

As we prepared for the show, there was a lot of discussion among the contestants, and a good camaraderie developed. We were shown the podium line-up, and I was pleased to find that I would be in the centre, directly opposite Anne Robinson. The full line-up, from left to right on the television screen, would be.

Kevin. A student, aged 20, who also ran a website selling T shirts.

Gillian. A retired lady aged 67, who was keen on line dancing.

Adam. Aged 32, a project manager, and singer in a rock band, Black Manalishi.

Ellie. A student, aged 20, who was studying history.

Andrew. Myself, a local government officer and writer, age about to be mentioned.

Katie. Aged 25, a lieutenant in the army.

Laurie. He was 62, and worked for a company that imports nuts.

Sally. A medical secretary, aged 52.

Chris. Aged 41, he was a trainee driving instructor.

Gillian and Laurie joked that the older members of the group should join together to vote against the younger ones. I said I was getting old, and asked if I could join the relevant group, but Gillian disagreed. I suggested that Gillian should guess my age, and she tried 23, while some of the others said they thought I was in my thirties. I then revealed my age as 44, to general surprise.

As we looked at the podium line-up, Gillian suggested a banking strategy for the first round. With Adam getting the initial question, due to his name being first in the alphabet, Gillian would be the last person to face their opening question. Gillian suggested that if everbody else had got their question right, she could bank the £800 in the chain, rather than attempting to immediately increase this to £1,000 maximum available in each round, as the latter course would mean the loss of the potential £800 if she got the answer wrong. With the prospect of adding another £200 to a banked £800 by getting a further four questions right in succession, there was a team agreement to Gillian’s suggestion. It was quickly established that a new run from Adam could lead to Katie getting the £200 question, with Laurie banking if all went to plan.

Next we were taken back through the contestants’ room, and off to the programme’s official green room, which was elsewhere in the building. The BBC comedy “My Family” is filmed in the same building, and there were photos of the cast displayed on the walls of the corridor alongside the green room. We were joined in the green room by Claire, who went through the technicalities of the rules for the contest, and also gave us some pointers regarding the banter with Anne. We were also told collusion on voting was not allowed, and that the production team had been known to block the broadcast of shows where there had been a fix. Claire gave an example where the men had decided to vote off the women in alphabetical order, which she said was a silly idea. I asked whether Claire was suggesting that the men did not know the alphabet. The next stage was a lady named Julie running through the technical process for the studio, including the camerawork, plus the “walk of shame” and interviews with contestants after the programme. Then the contestants were filmed chatting amongst ourselves for the opening scene of the programme. As the afternoon progressed, it was apparent that the start of our filming was going to be considerably delayed, with the two previous shows having over-run their expected time slot. Food was provided in the green room and, several hours on from the lunchtime sandwiches, I ate a couple of croissants, to avoid hunger during the filming. Most of the contestants seemed a bit nervous. I also felt some nerves, but my main feeling was one of excited anticipation. There were several last calls for visits to the toilets as the time for filming slipped. With a strange sense of direction, I had managed to get a little bit lost in the corridors around the wardrobe area earlier in the afternoon. During the course of the afternoon, I managed a few other diversions during the extended preparation for filming. The BBC team appeared to conclude that I was prone to such mishaps, and the Scottish Dave acted as an informal minder, keeping an eye on me. It was all part of the fun.

We finally made our way into the studio at 5.30, two hours later than scheduled. I walked into the studio with a sense of excitement, as I arrived in the place I had seen so often on television. I felt like a footballer who was about to play at Wembley Stadium for the first time. Following our arrival, the floor manager, another bloke called Dave, ran though the technical details, focussing on the camera prompts, and use of the voting boards. The two make up ladies arrived to top-up make up for the contestants now, and were to return for this process after each round. I had a practice of my dance moves, which did not go as well as planned, as I banged into a metal hoarding marking the back of the podium. I was about to try the dance again, when I noticed that Anne Robinson had arrived in front of us. Just before filming started, we had a practice display with the voting boards, using made up names – I chose Fred. Some of the contestants got the boards round the wrong way, prompting some withering remarks from Anne. First Anne asked Gillian whether she had seen the show before, following which she asked Kevin how old he was, and when he said 20, Anne remarked “Goodness sake”. My glasses slipped down my nose, and I pushed them back up, which led Anne to tell me not to scratch my nose – I pointed out what had really happened.

The contest started at 6.00. In the first round, we started with Adam. I was the third person to be asked a question, and correctly stated that the day between Wednesday and Friday is Thursday. It was an easy question, but I still felt nervous as I delivered the answer. With the first eight questions answered correctly, Gillian banked £800. The chain started again, and I was soon answering another question, stating that the second word in the continent names beginning North and South is America. Katie got the next question right, and Laurie banked £200 taking us to the £1,000 maximum for the round. I had been one of the four people to correctly answer two questions, but with the right answers having been given to all of the questions in the round, the elimination of a weakest link could be a lottery. I decided to vote against Sally, based on my perception that she appeared more nervous than the other contestants. We were told to pretend we were still writing after we had actually written the name on the board, to allow time for each of us to be filmed in this task. A member of the production team counted the votes, while Anne Robinson was working out which of the contestants she would speak to.

Once the votes had been cast, there was a break of a few minutes before they were officially announced. After we had finished the writing exercise, we were able to perch around the dais where Anne normally stands. I asked if there was time for a drink of water, to which Dave, the floor manager, said we would have to wait until later. There was a bit of chat among the contestants, with the consensus being that it had been difficult to vote against people who had not got any questions wrong. We were called back to our podium positions, and filming resumed with each of us announcing our votes. This started with Kevin voting against me, but I avoided getting any other adverse votes. Once all the votes were revealed there was a tie between Gillian and Katie. Anne began the banter, asking Chris about his work as a trainee driving instructor, and prompting him to give a physical demonstration of his technique in starting a car. Anne then moved to Ellie, with the focus on the latter’s being a history student, who was writing a dissertation about the history of sex. Next Anne turned the attention to Katie, asking about her work with army, and how many stripes she has on her uniform. Anne referred to the fact that Katie could have banked £200 instead of answering a second question. Katie had followed the banking strategy discussed by the team during the preparations, during which the planned sequence had worked on the second chain starting with Adam. As Gillian had answered her question correctly, the banking should have been done one step earlier than we had envisaged. The votes against Katie were presumably due to people realising this. I felt that the votes against Gillian were unfair, as she had suggested a strategy which worked. Anne advised Katie that she was the strongest link, and Katie duly used her casting vote against Gillian, with the latter being the first “weakest link” to depart from the contest.

In the second round I got both of my questions right. First I identified that Chloe Smith, who had recently won a by-election to become Britain’s youngest current MP, is a Conservative. Secondly I stated that the word which can describe both an unwelcome plant and a person of weak physical stature is weed. During the break between rounds water arrived – we each had a bottle with our name on a label. As we chatted, Katie said that she had been nervous at being questioned about her work in the army, and had been required to read and sign a 22 page document setting out the army’s rules on contact with the media. I had asked at my workplace whether there was any specific advice if I was asked about my work for broadcast on television, and been told I just had to be sensible. When filming resumed, and the votes were announced, it was clear that Kevin was being voted off. Anne started the banter for the round by asking Laurie about his work for a company that imports nuts. Laurie pretended not to get involved with Anne’s attempts at innuendo, before saying that is was all below the belt.

Then Anne turned to myself. My moment in the spotlight had arrived. Anne opened by asking if my work in local government and as a writer was dull. I replied that my writing is creative. Anne decided to find out if I knew any local government jokes, to which I responded that the specific area in which I work is accountancy, for which I had several jokes. Wishing to avoid making a hash of telling anything long or complex, I tried a quick remark, saying that accountancy is a great cure for insomnia, and explaining that if my wife has trouble getting to sleep she says to me “Tell me about your work, my angel”. I hope that Anne would pick up on my being referred to as “my angel”, as I had a great story about how my wife and I met each other that followed from this – it had gone down very well at my audition for the programme. Instead Anne wanted another accountancy joke. I responded with “There are three types of accountant, those who can count, and those who cannot”. Anne looked confused, and asked for more, but I said that was the joke. Anne then asked for another joke, and I said “Why did the accountant cross the road? So that he could bore the people over there as well”. Anne then said she had heard I am keen on disco dancing. I said I had won a competition for this. As we moved away from simple joke telling, the banter got more interesting. Anne saw I was enjoying this, and I said “I can keep it up all night”. When Anne said I should put my voting board down, I said I knew what was coming next, and that I would be asked to display my dance moves. I added that I had seen the programme on the BBC at tea-time. I performed a quick run through my dance moves, with a commentary, explaining the arm and leg movements, the twirls, and my ending on my knees. The filmed version included a reverse twirl in addition to the routine I had practised earlier. When I had finished, Anne Robinson said that “the new Michael Jackson” had been found. Anne asked if I could tell a further accountancy joke. I said I had a very good one, but it was a bit rude, and Anne said I should try it. So off I went with a joke that ran more or less as follows. “An accountant leaves a note for his wife one morning saying ‘At the age of 54 I am seeking some youth and excitement in my life, and will therefore be spending tonight at the local hotel with my 18 year-old secretary’. When he arrives at the hotel in the evening, the accountant is surprised to find that his wife has left a message for him at the reception. This note says ‘I too have reached the age of 54, and seek youth and excitement. I shall be spending tonight with my 18 year-old toy boy, and expect to have a great time. As an accountant, you will surely realise that 18 goes into 54 more times than 54 goes into 18’”. This produced laughter from several of the other contestants. When Anne asked why I had voted against Kevin, I said this was due to his getting the date of the Battle of Hastings wrong – he had said 1666 instead of 1066. Kevin then departed. As one of the blokes from the production team sorted out the voting boards ahead of the next round of questions, he said that my jokes had been great. Then it was question time again.

In the third round I got my first question wrong. Being asked which sensory organ includes a series of named bones, I got confused, and said the hand, whereas the correct answer was the ear. My next question was which German group had a hit with “Evacuate the Dancefloor”. I did not have a clue, and therefore passed rather than offering an answer – Anne announced that the band was Cascada. Having failed to get a correct answer in this round, I realised there was a possibility of my being voted off, but hoped to avoid the drop, as Laurie had also got a couple of questions wrong. As I voted against Laurie, I noticed Katie and Ellie both voting against me. During the break between rounds, Katie apologised for voting against me, and I told her it was not a problem, as I had got my questions wrong. Several of the other contestants commented favourably on my performance in the banter. The Scottish Dave said my performance had given the BBC crew a great laugh, although it was unlikely that my last joke would be shown on television. There was also a return of the water bottles during this break. When the votes were revealed, five of the votes had gone against myself, and two against Laurie. This meant that I would be departing as soon as Anne had completed the next set of banter. Within a few minutes of the excitement of my dance and jokes, I now experienced the disappointment of defeat. It was a rollercoaster ride, but that’s life.

Anne turned to Sally, who works as a medical secretary, asking whether she found the doctors she worked with attractive. Sally said that she did not. Anne then asked Sally for her view of Chris, who she did not find sexy. Anne asked if Andrew with his dancing was sexy, and Sally said “yes”, to which I replied “thank you”. Anne also asked Chris why he voted against me, and he said I had a bad round. Then it was time for the inevitable phrase from Anne, “Andrew you are the weakest link, goodbye”. Now I had to make the “walk of shame” off of the set. We had been told beforehand that this walk would have to be made twice, as it was filmed from two angles, and that we had to remember to exit the podium by the same route each time. I duly walked away from the podium, returned for a moment, and then walked fully off the set, being given directions from the production team as I did so. I left the set at shortly after 7.00, which meant I had been in the studio for just over 90 minutes, and involved in filming at intervals across a little more than an hour. On leaving the set, I was led down long corridors to a small room, in which Julie conducted what could be called my post-match interview, accompanied by a cameraman. Julie had a chat with me about the main features of my participation. I thought this was an introductory process, ahead of the filming of the real version, but answered Julie’s questions as well as I could in case I was being filmed. Julie then confirmed my belief that this had been the warm-up, before re-staging the discussion which was now filmed. Unfortunately several times when I made a point that Julie liked, she suggested a re-phrasing of my answer which was then filmed again. Amidst the repetition, some of the spontaneity in my answers was lost. Julie seemed pleased when I said that Anne had not got one of the jokes I told, and I suggested that Anne was not as smart as she thinks she is. Amidst disappointment at being voted off relatively early, I spoke about the positive elements, with the enjoyment of my banter with Anne being prominent. I was surprised at the way in which about ten minutes was taken to get what would only probably be a twenty second soundbite on the TV, especially as the comments part of the programme tend to be rather formulaic. At the end of the day you are only as good as your last cliché.

After the filming was complete, I made my way back to the contestants’ room, passing Adam on the way, as he had been voted off at the end of round four. I watched the remainder of the contest on the live video link, while also talking to other contestants, and members of the BBC team. I also took some photos, and collected a BBC cheque for £11, representing the reimbursement of my taxi fair. Laurie departed at the end of round five, being followed by Ellie in the next round. The final vote eliminated Sally, which left a final between Chris and Katie. During the final Anne Robinson made a small error in asking a question to Katie, who got the answer wrong. Katie was given another question to answer instead. After a close contest, Chris won the final in the sudden death section. Chris and Katie returned to the contestants’ room, and Chris received a round of applause from both contestants and BBC staff. After a round of farewells, I left the studio at 8.20, and shared a taxi to Slough station with Ellie and Laurie. During the journey home I had telephone conversations with my family about the show. My disappointment at an early exit from “Weakest Link” was less important than excitement at the positive experience of participating in the programme, enjoying the good life, and I still had the screening of the programme on television to look forward to.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Orwell and Waugh

Hello again. Looking through some of my previously unpublshed writings, I recentlly came across the following from 2003, which I think worth posting here:

George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh

This year sees the centenary of the birth of both George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh. They make an unlikely pairing, Waugh the reactionary defender of privilege and Roman Catholicism, contrasting with Orwell the passionate advocate of democratic Socialism. Although their political outlook and lifestyle were very different, Orwell and Waugh came from a similar background. Waugh’s ancestry, which he was to comment upon at length in “A Little Learning”, a volume of autobiography published in 1964, was solidly middle class. Orwell’s immediate family was also middle class, but further back he had aristocratic, and even royal, ancestry through the marriage of his great great grandfather Charles Blair (1743 – 1820) to Mary Fane, a daughter of the Earl of Westmorland. For most of the 1930s and 1940s – the decades in which they made their literary reputations - Orwell and Waugh lived on parallel lines, with little to connect them apart from their literary brilliance, but towards the end of Orwell’s life they became acquainted, and wrote about each other’s work.

The first connection between the two men was a couple of passing references to Waugh in the title-essay of Orwell’s book of literary criticism “Inside the Whale”, published in 1940. This essay moved from an appreciation of the work of Henry Miller into a study of the difficult position of novelists in an age of rapid political change. In the following years Orwell mentioned Waugh a few times in his writing. Waugh did not return the compliment until 1945, and then only in private. In his diary entry of August 31st 1945, Waugh wrote “I dined with my Communist cousin Claud [Cockburn] who warned me against Trotskyist literature, so that I read and greatly enjoyed Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’”. “The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh” were not to be published until 1976, a decade after his death. Waugh’s first published reference to Orwell, and the first significant recognition between the two men, was therefore his review of “Critical Essays”, which appeared in the issue of the “Tablet” dated April 6 1946.

It is a mixed review, which Waugh apparently wrote in a hurry. Waugh’s diary entry of March 25th 1946 shows the piece was written on that single day, amidst his campaigning over problems with the local water supply, and doing some gardening. Waugh opens with a perceptive appreciation of the collection of ten essays written by Orwell on literary and cultural themes, which “represent at its best the new humanism of the common man”. In the course of favourable comments on most of the pieces in the book Waugh, however, felt the need to let slip his prejudices against Orwell’s viewpoint. A piece in which the reactionary outlook displayed in “Gem”, “Magnet” and other magazines aimed at schoolboys is criticised, leads Waugh to declare “Mr Orwell betrays the unreasoned animosity of a class-war in which he has not achieved neutrality”. Towards the end of the review Waugh, remembering the Roman Catholic audience of the “Tablet”, goes off at a tangent. He suggests that Orwell has seen the falsity in humanism, but rejects the obvious alternative of religion. Orwell is charged with being “unaware of the existence of his Christian neighbours” and in “ignorance of Catholic life”. Following this Waugh comes up with “Mr Orwell’s writing is as readable as his thought is lucid. His style is conversational. Sometimes it lapses into the barrack-room slang of the class-war”. Waugh adds “It is a pity, I think, to desert the lingua franca of polite letters for the jargon of a coterie”. He also warns his readers that Orwell’s essay on Salvador Dali had previously been suppressed “on grounds of obscenity”. In the final sentence Waugh redresses the balance for Orwell, stating “There is nothing in his writing that is inconsistent with high moral principles”.

Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited”, published in 1945, and Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four, which appeared in 1949, represent diametrically contrasting reactions to the political upheaval caused by the Second World War. Waugh retreated back to the inter-war years, as he glorified aristocracy, Roman Catholicism, and Oxford University. Orwell looked ahead, and warned about the threat of a totalitarian future. Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited” appears to have provided unlikely inspiration for Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” in a couple of instances. Waugh has Lord Brideshead becoming engaged to Beryl Muspratt, a widow whose eldest son is at Ampleforth, a Catholic school (Book Three Chapter 3). In “Nineteen Eighty-Four” one of Winston Smith’s colleagues at the Ministry of Truth is named Ampleforth (Part I Section IV). This specific point suggests that Orwell’s use of the name Julia for the heroine of his novel may follow that of Lady Julia Flyte, the central female character in Waugh’s book.

In February 1949 Orwell agreed to write a 5,000 word article on Waugh for “Partisan Review”, a magazine in the USA to which he had been a regular contributor since 1941. Orwell was not, however, to get beyond writing notes for the article, due to poor health. It is unfortunate that Orwell could not write the piece, as it would have been a fascinating pendent to Waugh’s review of Orwell’s essays. At this point Orwell was resident at the Cotswold Sanatorium, at Cranham in Gloucestershire, being treated for tuberculosis, an illness that had plagued him for much of his life, and would lead to his death the following year. Orwell’s notes for the article appear in Volume 4 of “The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters” (edited by Ian Angus and Sonia Orwell, 1968), including: “Analyse Brideshead Revisited. (Note faults due to being written in first person). Studiously detached attitude. Not puritanical. Priests not superhuman. Real theme – Sebastian’s drunkenness, & family’s unwillingness to cure this at the expense of committing a sin. Note that this is a real departure from the humanist attitude, with which no compromise possible. But. Last scene, where the unconscious man makes the sign of the Cross. Note that after all the veneer is bound to crack sooner of later. One cannot really be Catholic & grown-up”.

Coincidentally, having been prompted by their mutual friends Anthony Powell and Malcolm Muggeridge, Waugh made a series of visits to Orwell at Cranham. Orwell sent a copy of “Nineteen Eighty-Four” to Waugh upon its publication in June 1949. Waugh commented at length on the book in a letter of July 17. Ironically, I should mention that the following quotes from the letter include an obscenity from Waugh. After noting that “I have seen a number of reviews, English and American, all respectful and appreciative”, Waugh wrote “please believe that I echo their admiration for your ingenuity. On the other hand, Waugh continued “But the book failed to make my flesh creep as presumably you intended”. Waugh also cast doubt on the validity of Winston's rebellion, writing “It was false, to me, that the form of his revolt should simply be ******* in the style of Lady Chatterley - finding reality through a sort of mystical union with the Proles in the sexual act. I think it possible that in 1984 we shall be living in conditions rather like those you show. But what makes your vision spurious to me is the disappearance of the Church”. It was probably not the message Orwell wanted to read, but Waugh did at least accord the book the serious consideration that it deserved. The comments in the letter represent a fitting conclusion to the brief, and enigmatic, links between Orwell and Waugh.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Freedom of Information

I thought I would add my views to the controversy over MPs’ expenses, following recent publication of the official details. This followed on from the extensive leaking of information by the “Daily Telegraph”. The official information was made following requests under the Freedom of Information Act, after lengthy resistance by MPs over several years. I am annoyed that the “Daily Telegraph” has largely used the expenses detail against the Labour Party, and in favour of the Conservatives. Being outside the public sector, the “Daily Telegraph” is exempt from Freedom of Information, and has not had to disclose how much, and to whom, it paid for the leaked detail about MPs’ expenses. Should somebody from the “Torygraph” be made to appear before a House of Commons committee to explain?

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Hello again.

As a Manchester United fan I am looking forward to their meeting with Barcelona in the Champions League Final tomorrow. Ten years ago today, in Barcelona, United dramatically won the Champions League. Good reason to post the following, written for my book "Europe United".

Manchester United and Bayern Munich met in the Final at Barcelona’s Nou Camp Stadium, before a crowd of 90,245, on May 26 1999. Ironically both Finalists had only been runners-up in their domestic leagues the previous season. After progressing through the qualifiers, they had met in the group stage of this season’s European Cup, and drawn both of their matches. Both clubs were forced to field a weakened team for the Final. Bayern were without Bixente Lizarazu, a Frenchman, and Giovane Elber, a Brazilian, each of whom were carrying long-term injuries. United lacked Roy Keane and Paul Scholes, combative midfielders who were both suspended due to bookings picked up against Juventus. Keane’s role as captain was filled by Peter Schmeichel, the goalkeeper, who was making his final appearance for the club. United were managed by Alex Ferguson, who had been captivated by the European Cup when he attended Real Madrid’s 7-3 win against Eintracht Frankfurt, in his native Glasgow, as an eighteen year-old, back in 1960. Now Ferguson had the chance to win the competition, and emulate Matt Busby, a fellow Scotsman, who had led United to victory in 1968, on their only previous appearance in a European Cup Final. Bayern Munich’s coach was Ottmar Hitzfeld, who had led Borussia Dortmund to victory in the 1997 European Cup Final – after they had beaten Manchester United in the Semi Final. This was Bayern Munich’s sixth Final – the hat trick of wins in the mid-1970s being followed by defeats against Aston Villa, in 1982, and Porto, in 1987. The 1999 Final was being played on the anniversary of Bayern’s defeat against Aston Villa. The referee, Pierluigi Collina, became the first Italian to control a European Cup Final since 1991, with this being the first such contest since then that did not feature an Italian club. On the other hand, May 1999 had already seen Parma win the UEFA Cup, and Lazio become the last ever winners of the European Cup-Winners’ Cup. Collina was one of the world’s most recognisable referees, with his bald head, bulging eyes, and authoritative manner.

This match was one of the most dramatic Finals in the history of the competition. Bayern Munich struck first, with Mario Basler scoring from a free kick – wrong-footing Schmeichel – after five minutes. Despite this setback, United remained calm, had most of the possession during the remainder of the first half, and created the better goalscoring chances. Dwight Yorke went close to scoring on twenty minutes, and United threatened twice in the last five minutes of the half – firstly with a free kick from David Beckham, and then with a clever passing move that ended with Oliver Kahn, the Bayern goalkeeper, diving at the feet of Ryan Giggs.

Bayern nearly doubled their lead within two minutes of the restart, as Carsten Jancker made a powerful run into the United penalty area, followed by a shot from a narrow angle, which Schmeichel did well to push wide of the goal. Eight minutes later Manchester United in turn threatened, as a cross from Ryan Giggs on the right found Jesper Blomqvist, only for the latter to shoot over the bar from close range, as Kahn came to challenge him. United continued to enjoy the majority of play, and chances, as the second half progressed, but Bayern’s occasional attacks appeared more threatening. Schmeichel was the busier goalkeeper, and had to make an excellent save to deny Effenburg with seventeen minutes remaining. On seventy nine minutes Basler made a powerful run down the right wing, beating several United players, and then laid the ball off for Mehmet Scholl, whereupon the latter’s chipped shot beat Schmeichel, but hit a post. Five minutes later Bayern hit the woodwork again, with an overhead kick from Jancker striking the crossbar during a goalmouth scramble that followed a corner. In the minutes following this second reprieve, United pushed strongly for an equaliser, but Teddy Sheringham, Yorke, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer each failed to make the most of opportunities to score.

As the end of the scheduled forty five minutes of the second half arrived Bayern Munich still led 1-0. UEFA officials put Bayern’s ribbons on the trophy, but the signal from the fourth official that three minutes of stoppage time were due gave Manchester United hope. During recent years United had scored many winning or equalising goals in the closing minutes of vital matches – indeed they had done so in the second leg of this season’s Quarter Final, and in both legs of their Semi Final. At the start of stoppage time, United moved forward, and won a corner on the left. Schmeichel ran the length of the pitch to join the United attack in the Bayern Munich penalty area, and his presence put pressure on the opposition as David Beckham’s corner flew into the goalmouth. The Bayern defence only half-cleared the corner, with the ball reaching Ryan Giggs just outside the penalty area. Giggs drove the ball back towards the goal, and Sheringham calmly slotted it, on the turn, into the bottom left-hand corner of the net. United had finally scored the equaliser that their determined pressure merited. Having simultaneously avoided immediate defeat and seized the initiative from Bayern Munich, Manchester United sensed the possibility of scoring a further, decisive, goal in stoppage time, rather than enduring the tension of extra time. United attacked again, and Solskjaer won them another corner on the left. Beckham’s delivery was met at the near post by Sheringham, whose glancing header sent the ball across the goalmouth towards Solskjaer, who volleyed it into the top right-hand corner of the net. Schmeichel, who stayed in his own penalty area this time, celebrated the goal with a summersault – a moment memorably captured on television. Moments later Collina blew the final whistle, and Manchester United had suddenly won 2-1, with two goals scored in stoppage time – both by substitutes – after trailing for almost the entire match. The equaliser had been dramatic, but the way in which it was followed by a winning goal was simply sensational.

Manchester United’s players and management began to celebrate their victory almost in a state of disbelief, having faced defeat only a few minutes earlier. Alex Ferguson’s immediate comment to a television interviewer was “I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it, football, bloody hell”. The Bayern Munich players reacted with equivalent despair, having lost due to a turnaround even more surprising than the latter part of the 1987 Final. The United players collected their winners’ medals, and the trophy was held aloft by Peter Schmeichel and Alex Ferguson. An excited Schmeichel said afterwards:

Not even Hans-Christian Andersen could have written a fairytale like that. One thing I have learned throughout my time with United is that we never give up, and we proved it tonight. You cannot get higher than this. Tonight is the night for Manchester United and champagne.

The victory was a dream finish to Schmeichel’s eight-year career with United. He had established his reputation as one of the greatest goalkeepers in the world during Denmark’s surprise victory in Euro 92, and been outstanding in the 2-0 win against Germany in the Final. Now he had thwarted the Germans again. Although they rode their luck in the Final, Manchester United were deserving winners of the competition, being unbeaten in their 13 matches, during which they scored 31 goals. They had also completed a unique treble, becoming the first English club to win the domestic championship, FA Cup, and European Cup in the same season. Besides dominating English football during the 1990s, they had been a major force in the European club competitions, winning the Cup-Winners’ Cup in 1991, and showing increasing ability during a series of campaigns in the European Cup. United had now won the European Cup for the first time in thirty one years, an echo of Real Madrid regaining the trophy in 1998 after a thirty two year gap. This Manchester United team had reached even greater heights than their predecessors of 1968. Indeed Manchester United were soon to convert their treble into a quadruple triumph, as on November 30 1999 they beat Palmeiras, of Brazil, 1-0 in Tokyo, with a goal from Roy Keane, to become the first English team to win the World Club Championship. Forty three years after Matt Busby had shown the foresight to lead United into Europe for the first time, they had finally won the silverware to match their claim to be the greatest club in the world.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day

Today is International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day, the day on which writers make part of their work freely available on the Internet. This great initiative in communication began in 2007. With today also being Saint George's Day, I thought the following piece from my book "Legends of British History" was appropriate to place here. All the best from a technopeasant.

Saint George and the Dragon

The supposedly reserved British public excelled themselves with a great display of patriotic flag-waving during June 2002, in a momentous double celebration. The month opened with a four day weekend to mark the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. This coincided with the commencement of the England football team’s campaign in the World Cup finals, which were staged in Japan and South Korea. The Union Jacks with which the British greeted the Jubilee were accompanied by the flag of Saint George, the banner of England. The Republic of Ireland were also participating in the World Cup finals, with a team that included several men born in England of Irish descent, and Irish flags were seen flying alongside those of England. As England and Ireland progressed to the latter stages of the tournament, flags flew from homes and cars for three weeks. This outpouring of patriotism was accompanied by some media discussion about the origins of Saint George, and the English national flag, both of which were demonstrated to be muddled in obscurity or legend.
Saint George was not English. Indeed it is almost certain that he never even visited England. The story that George sailed through the stretch of water that separates south west England from the southern coast of Ireland – now known as Saint George’s Channel – in order to visit Glastonbury, the spiritual home of English christianity, can be dismissed as wishful fiction. Saint George’s place in the national affections stems from the ironic way in which the English, while often displaying a patriotism that borders on nationalism, with an alleged superiority to other nations, have relied heavily on the assimilation of foreign influences in the development of our history and culture. Saint George is a saint whom the English have had to share with many other peoples, and places. At various times George has been acclaimed as patron saint of Antioch, Aragon, Armenia, Branganza, Catalonia, Constantinople, Ethiopia, Ferrara, Genoa, Georgia, Germany, Hanover, Hungary, Lithuania, Malta, Portugal, Russia, Schleswig, Valencia, and Venice. George has also been adopted as patron saint by archers, armourers, husbandmen, knights, and soldiers, while his influence is supposed to have helped people suffering from leprosy, plague, and syphilis.
George appears to have been a Palestinian soldier, who was tortured, and murdered, at Nicomedia (now Izmit in Turkey) on April 23 303. George’s death was part of the “great persecution” of Christians within the Roman Empire, which was commenced by Diocletian (ruled 284-305), and continued by Galerius (305-311). This repression was halted in 312, upon the abrupt conversion to Christianity of the Emperor Constantine I (311-337). By the end of the fourth century, Christianity had become the leading religion within the Roman Empire. Within a few centuries of his death, the cult of Saint George stretched across both Europe and the Middle East. Although Saint George is generally associated with the man murdered in 303, there has been some debate about his original identity. George features in one of the most famous books written by a British historian, namely “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” by Edward Gibbon (1737-1794), which was published in six volumes between 1776 and 1788. In 1988, the two hundredth anniversary of the appearance of the final volumes of Gibbon’s work, I bought and read a one volume abridgement, with the truncated title “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”, edited by D M Low, which had been published in 1960. Gibbon asserted that Saint George was the same person as George of Cappadocia, a notoriously corrupt tax collector, who became the Christian Archbishop of Alexandria, and was murdered by a pagan mob in 361. Gibbon wrote that, as a result of the manner of his death, George “assumed the mask of a martyr, a saint, and a Christian hero; and the infamous George of Cappadocia has been transformed into the renowned St George of England, the patron of arms, of chivalry, and of the garter”.
The single action for which Saint George has become universally known is an astounding act of chivalry, in which he rescued a damsel in distress, and slayed a dragon. The popularisation of this tale cannot, however, be traced much further back than the appearance of the “Golden Legend”, a collection of biographies of saints, written by Jacobus de Voragine (1230-1298), an Italian prelate. This book was translated into English in 1483 by William Caxton (circa 1422-circa 1491), the founder of English printing. The legend has been told many times, with many variants, but the basic story can be recounted in a few sentences. A dragon was said to have preyed upon a fabled country or city, using its vile breath to poison humans. The people managed to appease the dragon by feeding it two sheep each day until the supply of these animals was nearly exhausted. A decision was made to start offering humans as food for the dragon, and the drawing of lots selected the king’s daughter as the first such victim. As the moment of sacrifice impended, George rescued the princess, using her girdle to capture the monster. George then offered to kill the dragon in return for the people being baptised into the Christian faith. George’s dispatch of the dragon was duly celebrated with 15,000 baptisms, following which the people of this unknown land lived a Christian and caring life, in honour of George’s brave act.
Knowledge of Saint George apparently first reached England around four hundred years after his death, with one of the earliest references occurring in the “Martyrology” of the Venerable Bede (circa 673-735) – a monk of Jarrow Priory, who was one of the foremost scholars of his day. Around the turn of the first millennium the writings of Aelfric “the Grammarian”, abbot successively of Cerne Abbas (Dorset) and Eynsham (Oxfordshire) helped to spread the word about George. His reputation was strengthened by English participation in the Third Crusade. During the First Crusade a vision of George had preceded the Christian victory at Antioch (now Antakya in Turkey) in 1098. A century later, Richard I (reigned 1189-1199) led a strong English force in the Third Crusade, and apparently also saw a vision of George, who was already regarded as an international patron saint for soldiers. Richard put his men under the protection of George, and they learnt about his cult in the region where it originated. In 1222 the Synod of Oxford appointed April 23 as a feast day, this being the first English recognition of Saint George’s Day. Edward I (1272-1307) was the first English king to display the flag of Saint George. The flag’s red cross on a white background symbolises the blood spilt in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
The Hundred Years War between 1337 and 1453 brought the high point in the English cult of Saint George. His courageous defeat of the dragon made George an ideal figurehead for an English nation locked in protracted war against France. Edward III (1327-1377) owned a relic of George’s blood, and oversaw the effective recognition of George as England’s patron saint. George displaced the previous joint holders of that honour, who had been lacking in military prowess. Edmund, King of East Anglia (854-869) was tortured, and killed, by Danish invaders, who conquered his territory. Edward “the Confessor” (1042-1066) was an exceptionally pious man, whose quiescent approach to international relations, combined with an unconsummated marriage, that left him without an heir, could be seen as one of the roots of the Norman Conquest.
In 1348 Edward III founded the Order of the Garter, which brought together English knights in an attempt to recreate Arthurian romance. The order owed much to the inspiration of Saint George, and Edward III created Saint George’s Chapel, at Windsor Castle, as a meeting place for its members. The first formal meeting of the order took place on Saint George’s Day in 1349. The naming of the order stemmed from a ball held by the English court in France in 1347, during a lengthy siege of Calais. Although Edward III was married to Philippa of Hainault, he apparently had what would now be called a crush on his cousin, Joan of Kent, who was nicknamed the “Fair Maid of Kent”, due to the combination of her being the daughter of Edmund, Earl of Kent (a son of Edward I) and her beauty. Joan was also married, in fact she had wedded two men in quick succession, namely Thomas Holland and William Montague, the latter being both Earl of Salisbury and King of the Isle of Man. The bigamous nature of Joan’s second marriage led to it being annulled. Following the death of Thomas Holland, Joan would marry Edward “the Black Prince”, a son of Edward III. During a dance at the Calais ball, one of the blue silk garters that Joan was wearing to keep her stockings in place fell to the floor, and was immediately retrieved by Edward III, who in turn tied the garter around one of his legs. Amidst suggestive comment from onlookers about his action, Edward declared “Honi soit qui mal y pense”, a French phrase meaning “Shame on him who thinks shameful thoughts”. The French version of the phrase features on the Lion and the Unicorn emblem of the United Kingdom, along with “Dieu et Mon Droit”, a motto introduced by Richard I. Building upon the Arthurian theme, Jean Froissart (circa 1333 – circa 1404), a brilliant French chronicler who surprisingly became a member of the English court during the Hundred Years War, claimed that King Arthur had flown the flag of Saint George as he battled to defend the independence of Britain.
George was venerated by a series of monarchs in the century following the death of Edward III, as the war against France gave way to the Wars of the Roses, in which both Lancastrians and Yorkists proclaimed the saint as a champion. George’s leadership was famously invoked by Henry V (1413-1422), in a speech prior to the English victory against the French at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. Later that year Henry Chichele, who had been appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 1414, promoted Saint George’s Day to the rank of a principal religious feast. In the twenty first century, Saint George’s Day is recognised by the flying of flags from public buildings but, despite spirited campaigns from groups of patriotic citizens, April 23 is not a national holiday in England.
Saint George has remained a significant part of the English identity ever since the fifteenth century, but there has not been a major development of his cult during that period. In view of the English monarchy’s promotion of the saint, it is surprising that only six of our nation’s kings have borne the name George – with each of these having ruled in the last three hundred years, rather than the medieval period or the Middle Ages. The first such monarch was George I (1714-1727), who was born at Osnabruck in Germany, as a member of the Hanoverian monarchy. At his birth on May 28 1660 – coincidentally the day before Charles II became king upon the restoration of the English monarchy, following the interlude of Oliver Cromwell’s Republic – George had virtually no prospect of becoming king of England. Following the Act of Settlement 1701, the Hanoverian royals began to prepare for possible succession to the English throne, and the future George II, who had been born at Schloss Herrenhausen, in Hanover, in 1683, became a naturalised Briton in 1705. George II, the son of George I, reigned from 1727 until 1760, when he unfortunately died of a heart attack while sat on a lavatory. George II was followed by his grandson George III (1760-1820), the first of the Hanoverian kings of Britain to be born in this island. George’s reign is famous for Britain’s loss of the colonies which became the United States of America, and also spells of supposed “madness” – the latter of which will feature at length later in this book. George III was replaced as effective ruler in 1811 by his son, the Prince Regent, who reigned as George IV from 1820 to 1830. George V (1910-1936), a great great grandson of George III, presided over Britain’s conflict with Germany in the First World War, during which he changed his family’s surname from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha – the Geman principality of Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria – to Windsor. The idea for the surname came from the discovery that Edward III had been known as “Edward of Windsor”, due to his birth in Windsor Castle. George V was followed by his son, George VI (1936-1952). The latter was named Albert Frederick Arthur George at birth, and known as Bertie to his family, but officially called himself George. In 1940 George VI introduced the George Cross and George Medal, to recognise acts of bravery during the Second World War.
Saint George’s Chapel is an enduring legacy of George’s elevation to be England’s patron saint. The chapel created by Edward III was rebuilt by his great great grandson Edward IV (1461-1470 and 1471-1483), with work commencing in 1475. Edward IV was the first king to be interred in the chapel, which has become one of the premier burial grounds of the British monarchy. Edward IV was followed by Henry VIII, Charles I, George III, George IV, William IV, Edward VII, George V, and George VI. Four of the six kings named George have therefore been entombed in the chapel. The exceptions are the two Georges who were born in Germany. George I died during a visit to Germany, and his brial took place in Hanover, making him the first English monarch to be buried abroad since Richard I. George II was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey. The royal consorts buried in the chapel include Edward IV’s widow, Elizabeth Woodville, and Jane Seymour, the third wife of Henry VIII. Most recently the body of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, was buried in the chapel, alongside that of her husband George VI, fifty years after his death had occurred in 1952. The ashes of Princess Margaret, a daughter of George and Elizabeth, who had died a few weeks before the Queen Mother, were also interred in Saint George’s Chapel. Our rapid journey through several countries, and across the centuries, in search of the significance of Saint George has brought us back to the Britain of 2002, which is where we started.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Back again

Hello again

Few days on from the last entry, and time to start telling what I am doing now, rather than reprising the past.

At present the focus of my writing activity is a book entitled “Footballers’ Lives”. This provides biographical sketches of some of the world’s greatest footballers – including Pele, Alfredo di Stefano, Diego Maradona, George Best, Eusebio, Gary Lineker, David Beckham, Paul Gascoigne, Bryan Robson, Johan Cruyff, Zinedine Zidane, and Eric Cantona. In the course of the book, developments from the origins of organised football in the nineteenth century, through to the mass appeal, and increasing commercial importance, of the present-day game are traced. The relative obscurity of the footballers of the past has given way to a position where the leading stars of the game are celebrities with worldwide reputations

Well that is the plan…may post some of the book here as it progresses.

Alongside this work I am busy with publicity for “Legends of British History”, which is going quite well. Book has received 5 star review on Amazon, and relevant chapter has been featured on Samuel Pepys’ diary website. The story of this book is unfolding on the Wessex Publishing website.

Back again soon with more.


Sunday, 22 March 2009

Hello again

Hello again

Not sure how many people are reading this, but I noticed that Google picked up the previous post within a few days of its arrival.

Before I get down to ordinary posting, here is a longer introduction, modestly (?) taken from the publicity for my latest book, courtesy of Wessex Publishing. Think it sets the right (slightly eccentric) tone:

“Legends of British History” is Andrew Godsell’s fifth book. Each of his previous books are notable efforts in their field. “A History of the Conservative Party” was the first critical history of the Conservatives ever published. “The World Cup” provides a massive history of the world’s leading football competition. “My Life” stands as the unique autobiography of a young author enjoying his first fifteen minutes of fame. “Europe United: A History of the European Cup / Champions League” is the most comprehensive chronicle of the relevant competition. Andrew’s writings on football, politics, history, genealogy, and rock music have appeared in magazines and newspapers, plus an educational textbook, and several websites. Moving from fact to fiction, a contribution to textual accuracy led to an acknowledgement of Mr A Godsell in the Penguin Classics edition of “Dracula” by Bram Stoker.

Andrew combines writing with a career in accountancy, a profession well-known for its interesting and lively personalities! The attention to detail required in accountancy flourishes in Andrew’s writing, and he is nicknamed Statto. Political activism has included participation in both general and local elections, leading to a controversial clash with a Conservative Member of Parliament. In the world of very amateur football, Andrew played with more enthusiasm than technical ability for both Arab Banking Corporation and Deportivo Finance, before retiring from active involvement in the game. He was interviewed by the BBC at the 1990 World Cup finals, and ITV at the 2006 finals. Andrew’s competitive efforts have won prizes for table tennis and disco dancing. He was publicity co-ordinator of Brooce Fans for Fair Ticketing, a campaign against ticket touting which attracted media attention, and featured in the book “Twenty Nights to Rock: Touring with the Boss” by Bill Tangen, an American sports writer, and fellow Bruce Springsteen fan. Andrew’s supposed failings in the housework department have been discussed with amusement on ITV’s “This Morning” programme.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Hello, I am Andrew Godsell, and the purpose of this Blog is to share my experiences as a writer, and person, with readers. To introduce myself, I live in Hampshire, England, and have had five books published, with (I think I can say) modest success. I have not reached the big time, but have had a lot of fun along the way, across many years. Will keep this opening post short, and return with more later.