Changing politics; Lions in London’s Trafalgar Square; the death of a king; music on a desert island and new rules for drivers

On Sunday 25th January 1981 David Owen, William Rodgers, Shirley Williams and Roy Jenkins stated publically that they were to set up a council for Social Democracy. These were four senior Labour Party ‘moderates’, and were quickly dubbed the ‘Gang of Four’. At this time David Owen and William ‘Bill’ Rodgers were sitting Labour MPs. Roy Jenkins had been a senior member of the Labour Party but became dis-enchanted with the plans and left Parliament in 1977 to serve as President of the European Commission. Shirley Williams had been a Labour Party Cabinet Minister but lost her seat in the 1979 general election.
The four claimed to have left the Labour Party as a result of policy changes enacted at the Wembley Party conference that month – a conference that had committed the party to unilateral nuclear disarmament and a complete withdrawal from the European Economic Community. The four were also of the opinion that the Labour Party had become too left-wing and, allegedly, had been infiltrated at constituency party level by what they described as ‘Trotskyist factions’ whose views and behaviour they considered, were at odds with the Parliamentary Labour Party and Labour voters.
The Social Democratic Party (SDP) was formally founded two months later on 26th March 1981 and existed until 1988 when it merged with the Liberal Party to form a unified party known initially as the ‘Social and Liberal Democrats’ before taking the present title of ‘Liberal Democrats’.

While we are on matters of politics; the following collection of ‘descriptive’ comments were published by ‘The Independent’ newspaper on Saturday 25th January 1992:
Paddy Ashdown ‘Well, why am I in this job if I didn’t want to be Prime Minister? What do you think I am doing here, playing ping-pong?
David Bookbinder, the Labour leader of Derbyshire county council, said of the Derbyshire South Conservative MP: ‘One cannot help but feel that Mrs [Edwina] Currie needs love and attention rather than pity and ridicule.’
John Major: ‘A politician who did not make mistakes has not been invented. And a politician who told you what they were would be very unwise.’
I wonder if these last two comments were harking back to the 1984 affair between the two.

Saturday 26th January 1867 – The Manchester Courier & Lancashire General Advertiser of this day told its readers that: Sir Edwin Landseer’s long-expected lions have at last been completed. One of them was yesterday morning placed on its pedestal at the base of Nelson’s Column and another will arrive this morning. A hoarding is being erected for their temporary protection, and they will not be uncovered until all are in place. The lions have been cast in a special foundry erected for the purpose at Baron Marochetti’s studio, where Sir Edwin did the modelling; they will be formidable rivals to the distinguished animal [a Lion] on the top of Northumberland House’. [The house was demolished in 1874]
Saturday 26th January 1991 – one last bit of politicians: David Tripper, the Environment Minster of the day, on publishing a code of practice to curb litter-louts: ‘I believe we are well on the way to securing a litter-free environment’. That was 24 years ago – have you noticed the level of success?

Monday 27th January 1936 Virginia Woolf writes in her diary on this day, the day before the burial of King George V: ‘And I forgot to say, we saw the coffin and the Princes come from King’s Cross; the coffin with its elongated yellow leopards, the crown glittering and one pale blue stone luminous, a bunch of red and white lilies; after that the three undertakers in black coats with astrakhan collars: ‘Our King’, as the woman next me called him, who looks blotched and as if chipped by a stone mason; only his rather set wistful despair marked him from any shopkeeper – not an ingratiating face; bloated, roughened, as if by exposure to drink, life, grief, and as red as a fisherboy’s. Then it was over. And I shall not try to see more. But the whole world will be afoot at dawn tomorrow’.
[I assume the ‘Our King’ referred to Edward.]

Tuesday 28th January 1936 – Chips Channon’s diary tells us what Virginia Woolf didn’t want to see: ‘From the windows of St James’s we watched the crowds battling with the police. Honor [his wife] secured a front place while Eric Duncannon and I went out on the roof. It was a long wait in the cold, but at last the procession came with detachments of many different regiments, and all the three Services represented. As it passed, unendingly, a silence fell on the vast crowds, who still struggled, noiselessly, to get a better view. A feeling of awe came over us as we knew that the gun carriage was approaching and at last, drawn by Marines at an easy pace, it did. The monarch of the world lay in that small coffin, draped with the Union Jack, and immediately behind walked his son. As he passed, the new King looked up, no doubt seeking Mrs Simpson at the window, and he caught my eye. I bowed, as if to the gun carriage. He has a curious way of darting a look at one in an intense, ardent and rather alarming way. Behind him were his brothers and the Princes, and the Kings, and amongst them Paul [Prince Paul of Yugoslavia – a personal friend of Chips] next to the Prince of Piedmont. Paul looked well, but shuffled in his long coat and ugly uniform. Fritzi of Prussia looked very handsome in a white uniform, and the King of Rumania, as ever, looked ridiculous. There were also the Kings of Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Bulgaria and a score of other Royalties. Slowly the gun carriage went up St James’s Street, watched by ten thousand wet eyes. Then the Queen’s coach came, magnificent with its red trappings. The Queen sat at the window, all in black, with her sister-in-law, the Queen of Norway. She looked incredibly magnificent and composed and held a handkerchief. The carriage was driven very close to the kerb, so that people on the left side of the street could easily see her. The procession took well over an hour to pass.

It was on Wednesday 29th January 1942 that ‘Desert Island Disks’ was first broadcast. It is said that, late one evening in 1941, freelance broadcaster Roy Plomley was at his home and already in his pyjamas when an idea came to him. He sat down and wrote immediately to the BBC. That letter reached the in-tray of Leslie Perowne, the BBC’s Head of Popular Record Programmes. The pitch was successful and a broadcasting institution was born. The first ‘Desert Island Discs’ programme was recorded in the BBC’s bomb-damaged Maida Vale studio on 27th January 1942 and aired on the Forces Network at 8pm two days later. It was introduced to the listening public as “a programme in which a well-known person is asked the question, ‘if you were to be cast away alone on a desert island, which eight gramophone records would you choose to have with you, assuming of course, that you had a gramophone and an inexhaustible supply of needles’”.
The first castaway was the popular comedian, actor and musician, Vic Oliver. His first chosen piece of music was Chopin’s Étude No.12 in C minor played by pianist Alfred Cortot. [I can find no details of the other seven selections]
During the war years every show was scripted, and Plomley and his guest would read their ‘conversations’. In the present day version the ‘castaway’ can take a book and a luxury item as well as their records. In the beginning, though, the castaway was on their own with just the gramophone, their records and the needles! The programme came off the air in 1946 but returned in 1951 – and runs to this day.
More than 3,000 episodes have been recorded to date, though the number of castaways is slightly smaller as some individuals have been cast away more than once! There have also been a few instances when two have been cast away together.

On Sunday 30th January 1983 British car drivers were officially ordered to ‘belt up’. A new law had come into force at midnight requiring that drivers and front seat passengers must wear seatbelts. The Department of Transport said that 30,000 people a year were being killed or seriously injured in road accidents and it hoped the compulsory wearing of front seatbelts would save 1,000 lives each year. Evidence suggested that six out of 10 drivers then currently ignored the advice to belt up in the front. However, the Police were urged to take a softly softly approach to start with. Drivers would eventually be fined £50 for not wearing their seatbelts while driving.
The row over making front seatbelts compulsory had been going on for 15 years – there had been 11 previous, failed, attempts to make it law. Critics had accused the government of operating a nanny state and some drivers had complained their personal freedom was being infringed and that they found seatbelts uncomfortable.
Junior Transport Minister Linda Chalker said: “Nobody likes being told to do something when they haven’t seen for themselves the sense of it. You can remain in control of a vehicle when you don’t get knocked out. If you are held in your seat by a belt you have more chance of stopping your vehicle careering into another vehicle containing other people.” She dismissed claims that some people would suffer worse injuries through belting up, saying the evidence suggested that ‘only a tiny proportion of front seat passengers would suffer worse injuries if they were restrained by seat belts’. There were some exceptions to the new law though. Taxi drivers would be exempt because of the possible threat to their safety from dangerous passengers! Drivers of electric delivery vehicles, such as milk floats, would also be exempt.

Thursday 31st January 1867: The London Standard of Friday 1st February 1867 reports on the unveiling of the Lions around Nelson’s Column the previous day:-
At mid-day on this day Sir Edwin Landseer and a few friends arrived at Trafalgar Square and gave the signal for removing the canvas coverings from four objects of much expectation and solicitude. Not a cheer was heard, not a speech was made; the whole affair was as business-like as apathy could make it. The uncovering was the signal for the small boys to climb up the mouldings of the base and test the materials with their nails. The bronze stood the test very well.
Then came the mature criticisms of the bystanders, who had never thought, perhaps, much about lions up until this day:-
‘A plumber and glazier confidently remarked that ‘he had never seen a lion’s forearm without muscle before’. Sir Edwin, who was standing hard by, might have explained why the noble brute’s forearms lie so calm. They simply have nothing to do. Then an elderly lady complained that ‘the brute has no claws’. The reason given to the plumber might have silenced the old lady but she was told that ‘the lion is in a state of repose, and hence his claws are put away’. Sir Edwin should know the British public as well as he knows a lion, if he would achieve a downright vulgar popularity. However, let us do justice to the popular taste. A sturdy mechanic, leaning upon a post, expressed himself in a way that we endorse with pleasure. He said that ‘the lions were grand, and that they had lineaments like a miniature’ – possibly he meant that they ‘had a breadth combined with minutia.
‘If we cast about for terms to express our own opinions we should hardly find better words to express the true character of Sir Edwin Landseer’s lions now put up in Trafalgar Square than:
‘We believe his lions to be worthy of the place and the purpose for which they were designed.’

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