Book Reviews Literature Poetry St Ives

Histories of War as seen by two indispensible Poets-Part Two

The St Ives September Festival had a range of controversial poets come to visit. I remember there being a huge stir when D.M.Thomas came to read and the proctor’s of moral rectitude in the unlikely form of delegates from the Town Council were said to have occupied the back row to ensure that an unseemly did not take place. Then Gavin Ewart arrived one evening to give a reading in the decorative surroundings of the Penwith Gallery. I am most vague as to when I heard him -around the mid eighties I think. I remember how he was said to have been influenced by Auden and spending a very entertaining evening listening to the poet reading in an amusing and cultured voice that sounded very English some edgy and clever poems. I have been reading Martial at the moment and I have an inkling that Ewart might well have been entranced by that Latin satirist.

Gavin Ewart : London Remembers, Aiming to capture all memorials in London

Consider the poem which is entitled “The Death of W.S.Gilbert at Harrow Weald” which may be found on the net. It tells of the demise of the famous lyricist of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas:-

Imagine that flat glassy lake in 1911,

a very Victorian part of the prosperous house,

(architect: Norman Shaw),

a beautiful hot summer’s day in 1911.

It proceeds to describe how two Victorian ladies in “decorous bathing garments” enter the lake where the younger gets into difficulties and Gilbert plunges to the rescue:-

He swims to her, shouts advice: ‘Put your hands on my shoulders!’

She feels him sink under her. He doesn’t come up.

She struggles to the bank, he is dead of heart failure.

and finishes with a typical Ewart touch in the next stanza with sweet advice to older men not to fool about with ladies –

But all the same it is good to die brave 

on a beautiful hot summer’s day in 1911.

Returning to the theme of my previous posting I think this a great poem-

This sanitisation of what war means and how it can falsely be portrayed parallels my previous posting of the poem by Tom Paulin.



German Matters Literature Penwith Poetry St Ives

Ein Jüngling liebt ein Mädchen (Heute und Damals)

This poem by Heinrich Heine is simple and clever. It is maybe the kind of poem to which Karl Krauss might have taken exception. It has also been set to music by Robert Schumann in Dichterliebe, op. 48 Nr. 11.

Ein Jüngling liebt ein Mädchen,
Die hat einen Andern erwählt;
Der Andre liebt eine Andre ,
Und hat sich mit dieser vermählt.

Das Mädchen heiratet aus Ärger
Den ersten besten Mann,
Der ihr in den Weg gelaufen;
Der Jüngling ist übel dran.

Es ist eine alte Geschichte,
Doch bleibt sie immer neu;
Und wem sie just passieret,
Dem bricht das Herz entzwei.

It is analysed in German at where they comment  DasMetrum ist nicht regelmäßig, es wechselt ständig zwischen Jamben und Anapästen. Männliche und weiblicheKadenzen wechseln sich hingegen ab, wobei es sich beim ersten Vers der jeweiligen Strophe immer um eine weibliche Endung handelt. This might be translated:-

The meter is not regular and alternates between iambs and anapests. Masculine and feminine cadences are interwoven and the first verse of each stanza  always has  a feminine ending.GE

For some reason this reminded me of one of the amusing poems by Gavin Ewart whom I heard one delightful evening during the St Ives Festival at the Penwith Gallery in the early nineties. The poem is called “Office Politics”.

Eve is madly in love with Hugh
And Hugh is keen on Jim.
Charles is in love with very few
And few are in love with him.

Myra sits typing notes of love
With romantic pianist’s fingers.
Dick turns his eyes to the heavens above
Where Fran’s divine perfume lingers.

Nicky is rolling eyes and tits
And flaunting her wiggly walk.
Everybody is thrilled to bits
By Clive’s suggestive talk.

Sex suppressed will go berserk,
But it keeps us all alive.
It’s a wonderful change from wives and work
And it ends at half past five.

An obituary for Gavin Ewart appears here-  Also this video by Ewart is wryly amusing too:-

Book Reviews Uncategorized

Death of a Pirate

If you are inclined to take your cues from the weekly reviews, as the witty poet Gavin Ewart once expressed the matter, you will doubtless find currently articles as varied as; Russell Brand predicting the imminent decline of the BBC, various interpretations of liberalism and how these struggle for expression in Coalition Government policy. There are concerns too about the legislation governing the internet and references back to the Sixties battles between, on the one hand,  the unbridled self-expression of the free market and, on the other,  the virtues of self-restraint in such matters as the re-examination of the Lady Chatterley trial, now  fifty years ago. An unusual and quite intriguing book, Death of a Pirate, about the development of intellectual property and piracy in radio touches on all these contemporary concerns in a dramatic way. It combines the history of modern broadcasting with a crime story and consequent trial.

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This is a book about the conflict between two determined but erratic men that ended in violent death. The victim was Reg Calvert, whose parents were travelling musicians who separated early leaving him to wrestle a living in various parts of the music business as an impresario and dance hall manager. He had acquired an illegal handheld jet blowtorch as an item for his own self-protection and for that of the bouncers and henchmen that he employed –usually on a non-contractual ad-hoc basis. Through ingenuity in a series of not very successful ventures he came to control the pirate radio station at Shivering Sands. This was situated on a shabby, rusty and disused ant-aircraft gun emplacement on sixty foot high steel legs just offshore at Whitstable. Becoming the base for RadioCity, Calvert it bought from screaming Lord Sutch. It effected the training of a generation of DJs. Although the structure was physically stable financially it was anything but.


It also needed an effective transmitter-including an antenna- which was imported from Fort Worth in Texas under the aegis of Oliver Smedley then engaged in the financial revival of the station known as Project Atlanta. Smedley was altogether a different type. He hailed from a military background and had distinguished himself directing artillery fire in the summer of 1944. Smedley was not just a man of action; he was nearly 20 years older than Calvert and an ideologue for Hayek and unbridled private enterprise. Business machinations and the disputed ownership of the dilapidated aerial (which had comically fallen into the sea when first delivered, being hauled up by an unsafe lashed up crane, eventually recovered by a team of divers) led to Smedley launching a Combined Cadet Force type raid on the platform carried out by a motley crew of Kentish seamen. Smedley organised the capture of the platform and the removal of microphones and the home-made silicon crystal whose oscillations drove electrons up and down the rigged aerial and without this, of course the Calvert’s station could no longer transmit.

These actions eventually led to a highly distraught Calvert being driven down through the darkened hedgerows to the Essex home of Wenders Ambo where Smedley cohabited with his much younger secretary. Calvert’s entry was highly provocative, especially his intimidation of the girl, but scarcely excused his being shot at close range by the irascible Smedley, often inclined to rash action and this encounter was indeed quite unexpected. It was an incident that was to have repercussions for the future of the broadcasting industry.

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Strange encounters and a cast of intriguing characters, including spooks and criminals, make this factual account read like an engaging novel. The settings vary from Dean Street where many seedy business deals were cut to the untidy front rooms of amateur experimenters, laced with wires and triode valves strewn about the place. There are the grand offices of the BBC and the rusting hulks of the early pirate vessels. Prof Johns captures every aspect of the thrill of the early experimenter and scenes of espionage in conflict with the Nazis for control of the ether. The narrative tells of the thrill of the first listeners to the exciting broadcasts from Radio Luxemburg. It relates the propaganda and transmissions from within the narrow borders of the intriguingly independent and strategically positioned state of Liechtenstein. Sandwiched between Austria and Switzerland and with unstable neutrality, its windy heights became crucial to the battle of the airwaves and the control of populations.

A professor of history at the University at the University of Chicago, Adrian Jones provides a thorough and invigorating account. He has briefly outlined the impact of the technical developments from the early problems of feedback interference to the invention of the transistor. In summarising the ideological battles of the information age, he draws memorable pen-portraits of the austere Reith and the flamboyant technical wizardry of P P Eckersley, not to mention the aptly named Plugge. It was Plugge who created the International Broadcasting Company in 1931 as a commercial rival to the British Broadcasting Corporation by buying airtime from radio stations such as Normandy, Toulouse and Ljubljana.

To conclude Adrian Jones has written a well researched and clearly referenced work that demonstrates the connections between technical developments, listeners, broadcasters, academics and political factions. He shows clearly how the pirates provided the music and relaxation that the population, just after the austerity period, really wanted. He is particularly interesting on an academic called Ronald Coase who advanced arguments about the unfairness of the BBC claiming a cultural monopoly. So in addition to telling a tale with journalistic flair his book is also an introduction to cultural history and social change. It is, in this sense, a demanding book which however thoroughly repays close reading. As might be expected, there is a clear list of references and web material for readers to further their own research.


Another review of this book may be found at:-

and more info on London Pirate Radio at