Camden News
Publications by New Journal Enterprises
  Home Archive Competition Jobs Tickets Accommodation Dating Contact us
Camden New Journal - One Week with JOHN GULLIVER
Published: 17January 2008
Picasso's painting
Picasso's painting
Picasso’s science and art in perfect harmony

I THOUGHT Banksy started it all, but this week I discovered ­Picasso also liked to turn a wall into a canvas.
Professor John Desmond Bernal, one of our most distinguished scientists of the last ­century with a chair at Birkbeck College, and in his spare time a peacenik and personal friend of the great Spanish artist, was one of the few to receive such an honour.
Bernal’s Picasso-
painted wall, the product of an impromptu party at his home in the wake of an aborted World Peace Congress in 1950, narrowly escaped the wrecking ball when his flat in Torrington Square, Bloomsbury, was demolished.
Now Bernal’s Picasso makes a welcome return to Camden at the Wellcome Collection in Euston after many years on loan to the ICA.
It was bought by Wellcome for £250,000.
The bit of wall, now on a wall of its own, shows the heads of a man and a woman festooned with laurel wreaths and wings.
It was originally ­presented by Bernal to the ICA in 1969.
It’s only slight, yet the harmony it demonstrates between scientist and artist is one Bernal would have admired.
Bernal was a man of many parts – while lecturing at Cambridge in the 1930s he joined the Communist Party and during the war helped to select the best beaches for the D-Day landings.
He set up home in ­different parts of the borough, and after his death his wife Eileen lived out her days in the tower block Buckleberry on the Regent’s Park estate.

The mysterious case of the press vs. Colonel B

HE sounds like a Cluedo ­character, and briefly found fame in a 1970s court case.
I was reminded of the mysterious Colonel B while scanning the legal arguments offered by Gavin Millar QC this week at the Old Bailey, regarding an application for part of the murder trial of the man accused of killing Hampstead recluse Allan Chappelow be heard in secret.
Millar – brother of columnist Fiona and campaigner for state education – cited the case of the Attorney General versus The Leveller magazine in the late 1970s in his bid to get the trial heard in public.
Millar quoted the ruling by Lord Diplock that “the measure adopted to achieve the ends of justice should involve the least possible derogation from the principle of open justice”.
And as I read these lines, the saga of The Leveller came ­rushing back.
The story goes like this: The Leveller was a small, independent left-wing magazine run from Drummond Street in Euston in the 1970s. It was written and edited by a collective of journalists, including Tim Gopsill, now a senior figure at the National Union of Journalists who edits the union’s in-house magazine, The Journalist.
The Leveller faced the world with the same courage and chutzpah displayed by the ­original Levellers in our civil war in the 17th century.
They were linked to a squatters’ movement that had taken over empty Georgian houses in nearby Tolmers Square.
When I rang Tim for the ­story of the Leveller trial, he couldn’t help first reminiscing about the old days, and how the squatters lit and heated their homes with electricity pinched from the mains.
But back to the trial.
In 1979 The Leveller was accused of contempt of court by publishing the identity of Colonel B – an unnamed ­witness in a case that involved British intelligence.
A magistrate in Tottenham had said the identity of Col B must not be revealed, although it came out that B was Col Hugh Johnstone – an officer in the Signals Intelligence unit – when four Labour MPs in the Commons named him, citing parliamentary privilege.
Tim recalls the editorial ­discussion that preceded ­publishing the witness’s true identity.
“It was a very easy decision to name Colonel B,” he says with a chuckle. “The whole issue was about the state hiding things they did not want us to know about. We could not wait to do it. It was reported in all the papers the following day. It meant the name was in the public domain. Then the Attorney General said if you name him again you will be in contempt.”
This scared off the national press – but not the gang from Drummond Street.
Tim said: “The papers refused to but it was ridiculous – it was in the public domain.
“We did – and were still ­prosecuted.”
They lost but appealed – an appeal they promptly won.
“When it got to the House of Lords on appeal we found out the magistrates had not even made the order not to reveal the name correctly,” Tim adds.

A poet who captures both the churning stomach and trembling fingers of age

I WAS saddened to learn of the death of James Shallcross over Christmas, aged 90.
Although, regrettably, I never met him, he was a regular writer to our letters pages over the years, often complaining about lack of attention to his estate in Maiden Lane as well as the sad death of good local shops.
His son Ben revealed that his father was a fanatical scribe who liked nothing more than passing his retirement penning short stories and poetry.
I reprint his poem, Pleasure Trip, not only because it deals with the inevitable health scares we face as we grow older, but also because it demonstrates his eloquent understanding of his own body’s gradual slowing down.

Pleasure Trip

Thinking of places unseen,
words unspoken, then
the letter-box rattle
and the hospital note:
Churning stomach and trembling
fingers - but one word registers:

Out of the house, feet feeling
every pavement crack; tread
triumphantly through the rubbish,
crunch the empty Coke cans –
hook them up and punch them
down again; kick half a brick –
laugh at the pain.

Down the canal steps,
raise clouds of dust;
look lovingly at the stinking water
then up the next bridge steps.
Cross the road, take grateful gulps
of diesel-laden air.

Feel every beautiful working muscle,
take a punch at a wall and
delightedly suck the bloody knuckle.
Suddenly shout, ALIVE !” –
“ Nut - case” growls a passerby-by
but feet beat to a joyful chant:
“ BENIGN . . . . . . . . .BENIGN !”.

Laying bare the story of the ambassador’s affair

WIVES of ambassadors are not in the habit of belly dancing for me or anyone else, but Nadira Murray, wife of the besmirched former envoy to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, is an exception.
Mrs Murray, who met the outspoken diplomat while working as a dancer in a strip club, leaves little to the imagination in both her story and her costume at her one-woman show, The British Ambassador’s Belly Dancer, now ­playing at the Arcola Theatre in Dalston.
When their relationship was revealed in 2004, Nadira suffered the flak of the English media, labelled a “bimbo” and a “stick-insect”.
But on the opening night, tabloid accusations of her stupidity proved ill-founded. No one, but no one, is spared her disarming candour, prompting Mr Murray to write in The New Statesman last week: “Nadira is searingly honest, and I don’t always look well in this new light. But the play addresses bigger issues than my vanity, and should be a tremendous theatrical experience.”

Comment on this article.
(You must supply your full name and email address for your comment to be published)






Theatre Music
Arts & Events Attractions