Category Archives: United States

What’s sauce for the goose…

WATCHING Newsnight this evening it became clear that in the next few weeks, President Obama will embark on (a) a rescue plan for America’s banks, and (b) a massive stimulus package for the economy.

Since America’s economic problems are similar to our own, and the prospective remedies similar to those already carried out here, can we expect David Cameron to welcome the American rescue package(s) with the same derisive scorn with which he greeted Britain’s?

Perhaps not the most auspicious start to a relationship with a president Do-Nothing is pathetically desperate to emulate. But it would certainly confirm Obama’s initial, instinctive view of him as “a lightweight”.



Filed under Barack Obama, David Cameron, Economy, United States

An Obama-free zone

DON’T take the headline the wrong way: most readers know I prayed for an Obama victory in November and was overjoyed when he won.

But it’s the only thing everyone else is talking about and you can’t escape it – it’s all over every newspaper, radio station and TV channel. So today, consider this site a little island of calm, untouched by the frenzy and jubilation of this historic inauguration day, free from the screeds of analysis and reportage, speculation and vox pops.

And another thing… where real life needn’t intrude.


Filed under Barack Obama, Blogging, Media, United States

Patrick McGoohan: not (just) a number

I CAME late to The Prisoner, the TV series for which Patrick McGoohan will inevitably be best remembered.

It was 1989, and a friend encouraged me to watch the whole series which he had just bought on VHS. So I did. I considered it dated, a bit pretentious, dull at times. I also thought it was utterly addictive, and I couldn’t wait to see the final episode where all the mysteries would be explained.

What a disappointment! I once read that McGoohan even received threats from fans who were enraged at the inability of the series finale to answer a single question without creating at least two new, unanswered ones. I seem to remember there was something about a man in a monkey mask and an articulated lorry carrying a cage.

The Prisoner was genius, of course, whatever the verdict on the 17th and last episode. It did what very few, if any, TV series had dared to do before or since, and explore the complexity of the relationship between the individual and society, or the individual and the state. Whatever, it was always about the individual. “I am not a number – I am a free man!” the rebellious Number Six (McGoohan) would shout at the start of each episode, just to remind the audience that his protagonists wanted to compromise, or take away completely, that individuality.

Okay, enough of the obsessive fan stuff – the real reason I felt I wanted to pay tribute to McGoohan is not, in fact, because of The Prisoner; it’s because of Columbo, and because Columbo is Carolyn’s all-time favourite TV show.

McGoohan, a good friend of Peter Falk’s, directed five episodes of the series, played the murderer four times, wrote two episodes and won two Emmys for his work on Columbo. I recall one episode where he played a retired secret agent who, in saying goodbye to Lt Columbo, tells him: “Be seeing you…”

He had many other roles, one of the most memorable being Edward I in Braveheart (1995). But as I said, it’s The Prisoner which will be his cultural legacy. There have been a number of attempts to remake it (sorry, we’re supposed to call them “reimaginings” now, aren’t we?) for both the small and the big screen, and I recall reading that a new version will find its way onto our TV screens this year.

Always a risky proposition, especially when the original is still regarded with such affection by so many people. But there’s no doubt that the themes The Prisoner explored are at least as relevant today as they were in 1967, so who knows – it could be successful if done properly.

McGoohan was one of a rare breed who had the luxury of dictating exactly the kind of roles he wanted to do. He was a successful writer and director, and as well as creating one of the most iconic fictional characters of the 20th century, was rare in Hollywood circles by enjoying a 57-year long marriage; he is survived by his actress wife, Joan Drummond McGoohan.

Number Six

McGoohan as Number Six...


... and as the murderous Nelson Brenner in the 1975 Columbo episode, "Identity Crisis"


Filed under Society, TV, United States

In praise of… W?!

REGULAR followers of this blog will know I’m hardly a fan of W, what with the stolen election, Guantanamo Bay, CIA agents being publicly identified, etc.

But listening to The News Quiz on Radio 4 tonight has almost made me a supporter of the 43rd, even at this late stage in his presidency. It almost made me throw up listening to those so, so clever, self-satisfied,  smug panellists (I exempt Jeremy Hardy from this criticism because he is actually funny) smirking loudly at Bush’s (admittedly phoney) Texan accent and laughing at their own witty observations about how stupid he (and therefore America) is.

(And that was before the whole embarrassingly self-congratulatory rubbish about jolly hockey-sticks protests against Heathrow’s third runway, to which all the contestants were inevitably, predictably and depressingly opposed. Still, I guess you use Gatwick to fly out to your Tuscany villa, don’t you?)

Anyway, back to W: whisper it, but no-one gets to be president of the world’s only super power by being stupid. Yes, he mangles his syntax more violently than John Prescott at an NFU rally, but just because he can’t swap repartie with Stephen Fry does not make him a hillbilly. His record on aid to Africa, for one thing, puts all his predecessors to shame.

Admittedly, his record on just about everything else is rubbish, and, as I said, listening to The News Quiz only made me almost support him. But spare me the political “wisdom” of most (not all) of these Radio 4 comedians. Honestly, by the way the Toksvig sneers self-approvingly, you would think she’s a Liberal Democrat or something.


Filed under Media, United States

Bush praises his ‘gallant friend’

PRESIDENT Bush made a very moving, personal and true tribute to Tony Blair today when presenting him with the Medal of Freedom. 

Hat-tip to Guido, who has published it in full without comment. I’ll do the same:

The first day I met Tony Blair, almost exactly eight years ago, he was in his second term as Prime Minister and I was just starting out. After our first meeting, a reporter asked if we’d found anything in common, and I jokingly replied that we both used Colgate toothpaste. (Laughter.)

The truth is I did feel a close connection to Tony Blair. As I said after the first meeting, I knew that “when either of us gets in a bind, there will be a friend on the other end of the phone.” My friend was there, indeed, after America was attacked on September the 11th, 2001. And it just wasn’t on the phone line. When I stood in the House Chamber to ask the civilized world to rally to freedom’s cause, there in the gallery was the staunch friend, Prime Minister Tony Blair.

He was there in a moment of trial to affirm the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom. And he was there to show America, and all nations, that he understood the stakes in the war on terror. As he said, “just as the terrorist seeks to divide humanity in hate, so we have to unify it around an idea. And that idea is liberty.” Under Tony Blair’s leadership, the might and the moral authority of Great Britain have been applied to the war on terror from the first day. Our nations have worked proudly together to destroy terrorist havens, liberate millions, and help rising democracies to serve the aspirations of their people.

Tony Blair’s entire career is defined by his devotion to democratic values and human dignity. At his very center, this man believes in freedom — freedom from oppression, freedom from hunger, freedom from disease, and freedom from fear and despair. In the House of Commons, as the longest-serving Labour Prime Minister in history, he fought to lift up his nation’s communities and better the lives of all its people. He helped turn generations of violence in Northern Ireland into years of peace. He drew the attention and conscience of the world to the suffering in Africa, and he continues to serve the cause of peace and democracy as the Quartet Envoy to the Middle East.

Out of office but still in public life, Tony Blair remains on the world stage as a man of high intelligence and insight — and above all, as a man of faith and idealism and integrity. The former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom will stand tall in history. And today the United States of America proudly honors its gallant friend, Tony Blair.


Filed under International, United States

Congratulations, Tony

WHAT a pity I won’t be able to see for myself the violent expulsion of soggy muesli from the mouths of thousands of Guardian readers as they open their papers in the morning to see that Tony Blair is to be given America’s highest civilian award.

Well done, Tony – well deserved. The sensible parts of the country will be proud of you.


Filed under International, United States

Sole man

WHAT is it with Iraqis and footwear?

In 2003 one of the iconic news images of the invasion was of local Iraqis pulling down a statue of Saddam and then hitting its face with their flip flops. There seemed to be something profound in the act.

And now, President Bush gets two shoes thrown at him by an Iraqi journalist during a news conference. 

I trust the secret service inspected the missiles to make sure they weren’t laced with anything. 


Filed under International, United States, Whimsy