A new scheme for Shoreham Airport is ready for take off

shoreham airport

Brighton and  Hove City Council is considering  waiving  a £1 million fee in order to get a plan to save Shoreham Airport off the ground.

Shoreham Airport is two-thirds owned by Brighton and  Hove City Council and one third by Worthing Borough Council. The land comprises an operational airport along with commercial properties and industrial  buildings.

In June 2006, the councils granted long leases of the airport land and the commercial land to the Erinaceous Group to the tune of £8.1 million. The deal included a requirement for Erinaceous to pay £4 million towards repairing and refurbishing the Grade II listed terminal and the hangar. Failure to make the investment  within five years would trigger a deferred payment of up to £1 million to the councils.

Erinaceous bellyflopped  in 2008 and following payment of a nominal sum, Albemarle Shoreham Airport Limited became the Councils’  lessees in September 2008.

Albemarle has carried out no work despite having listed building consent to carry out maintenance and repairs.

The company is involved in negotiations with Brighton and Hove City Council and Adur District Council which are expected to reach a conclusion next month, while protesters call for urgent action.

Now Brighton and Hove City Council is considering a plan to get Albemarle out of the airport operation.

The £1 million payment will be deferred and paid from profits on eastern development after a company called Brighton City Airport Limited takes over the operation of the airport on a long term lease.

Under the agreement, which will be discussed at a council meeting on May 1, Albemarle will retain its leasehold interest in the east and west development sites but it will surrender the airport lease.

A spokeswoman for the council said: “The aim of the negotiations is to ensure that the airport becomes a sustainable and profitable operation, supporting complementary business interests and economic growth on sit  and securing much needed investment in the airport’s terminal and municipal hangar buildings.”

Updike, Kerouac, Waugh and Orwell – do great lives lead to good writing?

John Updike

John Updike was no Ernest Hemingway.  He fought no tigers, shot no elephants and never shook hands with Fidel Castro. Any biographer of this great writer, therefore, faces a tough problem – how do you write about the life of a man who spent most of his days at a desk, transforming his suburban life into beautiful fiction?

Adam Begley’s attempt is winging its way to me via Amazon and early reviews have been mostly positive. But I am apprehensive that any biography risks shining too much light on the magic of creative writing.

Here is a piece I wrote on subject for  the Guardian.

 

 

When it comes to literary lives, existence is prized over essence, as a browse through the biography section of your local bookstore will demonstrate.

The idea that a writer’s personality should be given greater weight than the work is an idea likely to rile fastidious readers, and those who regard biography as immaterial to an understanding of the writer have found an ally in John Updike. In a piece on literary biography published in Due Considerations, his sixth commodious compilation of reviews, essays, speeches and miscellaneous items, Updike writes: “When an author has devoted his life to expressing himself, and if a poet or a writer of fiction has used the sensational and critical events of his life as his basic material, what of significance can a biographer add to the record?”

Updike is not entirely dismissive of the genre – his new collection finds room for generous reviews of biographies of Byron, Kierkegaard, Proust and Iris Murdoch, among others – but he exhibits a particular disdain for those biographies which seek to sensationalise the life and cheapen the literary achievement.

Even the most diligent of biographers risks devaluing the subject. My youthful ardour for the writing of the Beats in general, and Jack Kerouac in particular, never survived an encounter Anne Charters’ clear-eyed and honest biography of Kerouac. Evidently a sane and sympathetic writer, Charters nevertheless portrayed her subject not as an anti-hero in search of “the moment when you know all and everything is decided forever” but as something of a mummy’s boy, a user of friends and acquaintances. It would be another 20 years before I could pick up my copy of On the Road again. I took it with me on a tortuous trip across Switzerland, crisscrossing that tiny country by rail. The novel was not as overwhelming as I remembered, but far stronger than I’d feared. It should be read by those young enough to have their minds set on fire by fiction and those old enough to have learned that a novel is not some kind of manual for living.

My admiration for another man of action, George Orwell, was deepened by reading Bernard Crick’s biography. Crick approvingly quotes Wyndham Lewis’s remark that good biographies are like novels, but there is no postmodern tricksiness in his approach. With tact and intelligence, Crick examines how Eric Blair created George Orwell, from the hated prep school St Cyprian’s (Crick presents evidence to suggest that much of Orwell’s antipathy to the institution was retrospectively acquired) through formative experiences in the slums of London and Paris (“when you have shared a bed with a tramp and drunk tea out of the same snuff-tin,” Orwell wrote, “you feel that you have seen the worst and the worst has no terrors for you”) to late-found fame as the author of the much-lauded and much-misunderstood Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Crick states: “Sympathy must be present in a biographer – otherwise one would grow sour living for so long with someone one disliked…” and the reader can only wonder, initially, how Lady Selina Hastings managed to spend so much time in the dyspeptic company of Evelyn Waugh in order to produce her sensitive 736-page account of “what it was like to know Evelyn Waugh”.

The experience, it seems, had its challenging aspects but Hastings is a patient and perceptive biographer and one emerges from the book with a greater understanding of how a man with such a monstrous reputation could produce his exquisite prose. After reading Hastings’ account of Waugh’s life, I returned to his novels to find that the face beneath the book (to borrow Orwell’s metaphor in an essay on Dickens) had altered from that of an exasperating curmudgeon to a vulnerable soul.

When a biography of a literary figure manages to alter one’s perceptions in favour of the subject both writer and reader have gained a rare benefit.

 

 

This article was first published in The Guardian in November 2007

Step aside Jay-Z, it’s all over for hip hop

Did you say Vanity Fair?

Did you say Vanity Fair?

 

Back in the day (pre-Elvis), it used to be a truism of dating that you could tell a lot about a potential partner from the books they displayed on their shelves. But when people who could, y’know,  actually read became somehow less, rather than more, attractive this quaint notion was superseded by the rule that you should never date a person who owned a Kate Bush record or a copy of Dark Side of The Moon (maybe that was just in my head).

In the modern age (post-Facebook), no doubt would-be lovers will scrutinise and share Spotify lists with a fervour once reserved for a dog-eared copy of Catcher in the Rye.

But what are we to make of the musical tastes of Vanity Fair readers as unveiled in a new poll?

The poll was conducted by telephone from February 5-9, 2014 among 1,017 adults across the United States.

According to the figures, nearly half of the respondents get their major  music shots via the radio. A mere 17 percent use a digital music service.

Things become even more bizarre when the pollsters pondered the battle for influence waged between Louis Armstrong  and Jay-Z.

Three out of four respondents though jazz as the most important type of American music with 19 percent plumping for hip hop. Not only that, half of those surveyed said that hip hop has most likely reached its peak and will not get any better. Take that Kanye!

Then the survey takes a truly surrealistic twist and asks: “In which decade would you jump off your time machine to see a band perform before they lost their famous lead singer”?

The answers are no less eye-brow raising:  22 percent would go back to the 1950s to see Buddy Holly with the Crickets; 21 percent would head back to the 1970s to see Freddy Mercury perform with Queen; another 21 percent would venture as far as the 1960s and “experience” (geddit??) Jimi Hendrix; 13 percent would see Jim Morrison in his prime and 11 percent would travel back to 1990s and “seek Nirvana in the form of Kurt Cobain”. Nine percent would skip the trip altogether – party poopers.

jimi

When more people in your survey would rather attend a performance by Buddy Holly than Jimi Hendrix, you have wonder if you are talking to people with actual ears.

That said, one in four thought the guitar was the sexiest instrument – whether Jimi or Buddy was on the other end…

 

 

British orchestras face the music

Striking the right note? Barry Wordsworth conducts the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra

Striking the right note? Barry Wordsworth conducts the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra

For years the world of classical music has kept itself aloof from the mainstream. That isolationist attitude may prove fatal.

Orchestras in UK are  increasingly dependent on donations for survival, as a demand for cheaper tickets, combined with cuts in public spending, puts pressure on their finances

A survey, by the Association of British Orchestra (ABO), found that public funding is down by 14% in real terms since 2010. The same survey revealed that almost 40% of donations are restricted to educational projects  and new buildings. Orchestra managers are  less able to invest in musical quality and the survival of many fine organizations is on a knife edge.

The Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra  is feeling the pinch. It’s general manager, Judith Clarke, stood down this year and no replacement will be sought.

At performances I attended this year at the Brighton Dome in Church Street the conductor of the orchestra Barry Wordsworth was reduced to pleading with the audience for donations in between the pieces.

I know to my cost how defensive the maestro is about the situation. When I wrote a review of the orchestra for The Argus which drew attention to the impact the crisis was having on the music, he called me to complain bitterly. But it is foolish to pretend that cutbacks do not lead to a drop in standards – for one thing, orchestras will not be able to  maintain the rehearsal schedule needed to deliver outstanding results.

At the final performance of the BPO this season, Barry Wordsworth told the sparse audience that although next season’s programme will go ahead, the situation remains parlous.

The golden age of public subsidy of high art is over. If the gap in funding is to be repaired through bigger audiences, direct intervention is needed to make it happen.

All taste in music is acquired. Teachers should stop trying to be  hip and instil a love of Beethoven instead of pandering to their pupils’ understandable obsession with all things Beyonce.

How a fizzy drink landed me and Scarlett Johansson in hot water

Getting busy with the fizzy

Getting busy with the fizzy

It was Sir Henry Wotton, King James’s man in Venice, who, in 1604, nailed down the diplomat’s job description .

“An ambassador,” he said “is an honest gentleman sent to lie abroad for the good of his country.”

What the distinguished courtier would have made of the modern trend of brand ambassadorship is anyone’s guess, but it is a safe bet his cynicism would be undiminished.

The marriage of politics and celebrity is one fraught with risks for both sides.

As you will know, unless you have been living in a remote idyll blessedly free of an  internet connection, the latest star to get caught in the crossfire of controversial product endorsement is Scarlett Johansson.

Johansson’s gig plugging the fizzy drink brand SodaStream was judged to be at odds with her work as global ambassador for Oxfam.

SodaStream is headquartered in Tel Aviv and has a factory in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. Oxfam is opposed to trade with the settlements.

The brouhaha brought back memories of my visit to the factory in 2012. I travelled to Israel and the Palestine Authority to research an article about SodaStream for The Argus newspaper in Brighton. As I made clear in the piece, my trip was at the invitation and expense of SodaStream.

The article was published in the newspaper’s business supplement and online and provoked a lively debate. An excerpt was also published on Jonathan Hoffman’s blog on the Jewish Chronicle website and that too generated an animated response.

A commenter called ‘Mary in Brighton’ wrote: “No one was surprised by what John Keenan had to say, it was known it was going to happen. After all where would his next all expenses paid jolly have come from? What Jonathan failed to mention is that Argus journalists are horrified at his sycophancy and at how cheaply he was bought. This article will come back to bite him. Further, that Sodastream feel they have to go to these lengths suggests they are not as confident as they would have us believe.”

If my colleagues at the Argus were horrified they failed to let me know me. Admittedly, life on a local daily newspaper is hectic and few reporters would have regarded  stopping by my desk for a chat on ethics as a productive use of their time. On the other hand, there are not many wallflowers on the reporters’ and news editors’ desks at Argus House and reticence rarely featured in our daily debates as we put the paper together. But maybe on this occasion my co-workers bottled up their outrage only to vent it all over Mary in Brighton. Who knows?

‘Real Real Zionist’ quoted Samuel Freedman, a journalism professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and an expert on media ethics: “A responsible journalist has no business taking a free trip to Israel — or to any other country, or to a Hollywood film studio’s junket at a resort, or to any other destination that is involved in the subject matter that the journalist covers or is likely to cover in the future. Period.”

Salutary stuff from the halls of academe. But there are other, equally valid, views.

David Randall is an editor at the Independent. He has been news editor and night editor of three national newspapers. In his book ‘The Universal Journalist’ (Pluto Press, 3rd edition) he writes: “Hidden advertising (which should be correctly labelled ‘advertising’ and typographically treated accordingly), is very rare in developed countries. Far more common is the acceptance by journalists of what they call freebies, that is free trips with vacation companies, free meals from restaurants or free tickets from theatres all given so that journalists can review them. The danger here is that the writer will feel obliged to write a favourable piece. This need not be so, and the dangers can be minimised and faith kept with the reader if it is made plain somewhere in the piece or in a footnote that the ticket/meal/trip or whatever was given free to the newspaper.”

So there we are: two sides of the same walnut. In the cut and thrust of UK newspapers, David Randall’s approach is more often adopted that Samuel Freedman’s.

I travelled to Israel and Palestine with an honest intention to discover and write about the situation there. I was not offered any incentive to publish anything. And I did not concoct or burnish the information.

One thing I have in common with Scarlett Johansson – it may well be the only thing – is that I know what is feels like to get an ear-bashing from an entrenched position masquerading as moral outrage.

 

The New York Times – still fit to print

Nytimes_hq

Daniel R Schwarz

EndTimes? Crises and Turmoil at The New York Times, 1999-2009
500pp. Excelsior Editions
Paperback £14.64

 

The late Christopher Hitchens once offered the opinion, in a piece for The Guardian, that journalism has a low reputation because it has a bad press.

This celebration of mischief has never caught on in the United States. American newspapers are, on the whole, both less lively and more reliable than their British counterparts. When The New York Times – nicknamed the Grey Lady – became embroiled in a series of scandals, it was seen not merely as an embarrassment but as an existential threat.

Despite the gloomy title of his book, however, Daniel Schwarz has not come to read the last rites over an institution which he believes publishes “the worst newspaper in the world except for all the others”.

The Cornell University professor considered calling the book ‘Obit: The New York Times as a Newspaper’ but is now confident that the printed Times has a future. For how long – who knows? The newspaper industry has replaced Hollywood as the place where ‘nobody knows anything’ is a management mantra.

In microscopic detail, Schwarz relates how during the alternately autocratic and indulgent editorship of Howell Raines from 2001-03, the New York Times became ensnared in a scandal surrounding fabricated articles about serial killings written by a reporter called Jayson Blair and published reports by another star journalist, Judith Miller, which hyped the Bush administration’s claims that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction as the rush to war in Iraq gathered place.

Raines was deposed in a staff coup but Miller stayed on to embarrass his successor, Bill Keller, when she was jailed after refusing to reveal her sources for what she knew about the outing by the Bush administration of Valeria Plame as a CIA agent. Miller was regarded by liberals as a cheerleader for the invasion of Iraq and they were unenthusiastic about defending her First Amendment Rights. Keller kept his reporters in the dark about Miller’s sources, wasting their time and talent.

Schwarz admits he is no journalist, but like any good reporter he has been diligent in his ground work. He conducted 45 interviews, including every living executive editor of the newspaper along with a good number of section editors and senior staff writers. The result, which took seven years to write, is stronger on the economic causes and consequences of the Times’ tribulations than the personality clashes which also contributed to its troubles. Readers hoping for the stuff of soap opera must look elsewhere – this isn’t Ugly Betty.

The economic rot set in, according to Schwarz, around 2005, when operating profits and the company’s stock price plunged and investors took fright. He does not hide his disdain for the smoke and mirrors that too often surround media economics, and lambasts a number of Times journalists for their rose-tinted reporting of the paper’s dire straits. This feels a little unfair. No doubt the reporters were sent in to bat for their senior executives who really did seem to have their head stuck in the sand. Schwarz believes that media reporters ought to “occupy a place like the public editor, that is, a place insulated from the editorial supervision and hierarchy of The Times”. In an interview available on You Tube, the author admits that the journalists he met had a tendency to think that he was an academic on release from an ivory tower. You can occasionally see why they would form that view.

But he is surely correct when he writes that the publisher of the Times, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Junior,“flagrantly misread” the economic situation and behaved as if “he were trying to convince himself that the gathering storm clouds didn’t exist”.

Schwarz writes: “At times, he seems to believe the Times as a Sulzberger property has a divine right to survive.”

If he is acute in his description of the disease, Schwarz seems to me to be on less sure ground in his prescription of a cure. The professor believes there is a highbrow and a lowbrow, hard news and soft news, and never the twain shall meet. He clearly has no truck with fancy-pants postmodern suggestions that an article on, say, Tom Ford, could rub well-tailored shoulders with an analysis of the conflict between the Egyptian military and the Muslim Brotherhood.

He writes: “I think The Times could sell a reduced paper edition – without the fluff I have called Timeslite and Timestrash – with a focus on opinions, investigatory journalism, cultural coverage, and analytical foreign news.”

You can hear the stampede of readers, investors and advertisers toward the exit.

Schwarz is culpable of his own Pollyanna moments. He states that the “competition among reporters and editors for external recognition in terms of prizes fosters the search for truth”.

On the contrary, it was in part lust for such baubles which led previous executive editors at the paper to allow too much licence to wayward journalists.

In essence, Schwarz has written a lament for a passing world, one where, it seems to him, standards were higher, motives were nobler and newsmen (for they were, mostly, male) more honourable.

We are all tabloid readers now.


 

This review was first published in The Times Literary Supplement on April 4, 2014