Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Robin Barr stands down as chairman of Irn Bru . . . and takes the secret recipe with him

Coca-Cola, it is said, once sent out an edict to its senior sales team to find out why Scotland was the only country in Europe in which it was not king of the fizzy drinks. The bemused executives did not have to look far: the answer lay in a peculiar, orange- coloured beverage to which the Scots were addicted.

Not whisky, no, but Scotland's other national drink, as Irn Bru was known for years. AG Barr, makers of the exceedingly sweet pop - vile tasting to those not weaned on it, but beloved by those who were - announced profits up nearly 10 per cent to £23.4million last January, on a turn-over of £169.7million.

Robin Barr, one of only two people who know the secret recipe for Irn Bru, stepped down yesterday after 31 years as chairman. Mr Barr, 71, whose great-grandfather concocted the drink 108 years ago, is passing the job to someone outside the family, a first for the company.

The secret recipe - which some suspect is sugar, sugar and more sugar - will remain in the family, with Mr Barr passing the formula to his daughter Julie, the company secretary.

Mr Barr, who will continue as a non-executive director, said yesterday that his company had managed to withstand the attack from Coca-Cola “thus far ... and there is no reason to suppose we can't continue. The secret of selling a brand or maintaining a brand is of course consistency. You can't do it by spending a lot of money this year and having a holiday next year: it's got to be a continuous long-term process and to a degree that's what makes it easier if it's a family business.”

Known simply as “ginger” in the West of Scotland, Irn Bru has many things going for it, not least that it is famed as a hangover cure in a nation with an alcohol problem. It also appeals to the legendary Scottish sweet tooth, although Barr does not like to be reminded of its responsibilities to country's abysmal dental health or obesity statistics.

Fundamental to Irn Bru's success has been its adverts, which chime with Scotland's dark sense of humour, from the slogan “Made in Scotland, from girders” to the posters of a toothless old lady saying: “Give us your Irn Bru or I'll snog you.”

There has been controversy about their lack of taste. Three years ago, Strathclyde Police complained about one advert, which they felt glamorised violence, but the accusation was dismissed by the Advertising Standards Authority. The most recent campaign is a spoof of High School Musical, set at the fictional Auchendookit Senior High.

Ed Brooke, from the Leith Agency, which runs the campaign, told The Times: “I think Irn Bru ads have been famously down to earth and a little bit cheeky. They refuse to take them- selves too seriously and I think it's this mixture of honest irreverence that sets them apart from other ads.

“Sometimes the creation of these ads takes a degree of bravery and conviction from those involved in the process and Barr's have always been exceptional judges and supporters of a good idea even if the [ads] are sometimes a little risque.Irn Bru is a fabric brand in Scotland - drunk by a wide range of Scots so we have to be mindful that anything we produce has pretty broad appeal.”

During his years in charge Mr Barr diversified the interests of the company, most recently adding the fruit juice range Rubicon to its portfolio. His successor is Ronnie Hanna, 66, a chartered accountant who has served on the company's board for five years.

The Cumberbauld-based business is praised by City analysts for its steady performance. Nicola Mallard, from Investec, said: “AG Barr has proved to be a consistent deliverer, outperforming the soft drink category even in a tough climate."

Always fizzing with ideas

— AG Barr was formed in 1875 when Robert Barr embarked on a new direction for the family cork-cutting business with the sale of aerated waters and in 1901, the company began making “Iron Brew”. Within a generation the Barr family had another factory in the East End of Glasgow and were competing with hundreds of soft drinks factories.

— During the early 20th century, a time of poor sanitation, drinking water and diet, many people living in industrial cities regarded soft drinks as good for them - a guaranteed way to give them a dose of energy through the sugar content.

— AG Barr was always innovative in its marketing. In the Thirties it dreamt up the cartoon strip Adventures of Ba-Bru and Sandy, which was inspired by Rudyard Kipling's book Sabu the Elephant Boy. The strip, which appeared in Scottish newspapers, introduced generations of Scots to Iron Brew and became the longest running advertising cartoon in history, lasting until the early Seventies.

— The company also engaged many sporting heroes of the day to endorse the brand, including Benny Lynch, the world flyweight Champion in 1935.

— In 1947 the drink was renamed Irn Bru after concerns over new food labelling regulations - it did contain iron but its was not brewed.

— Under Robin Barr, the great-grandson of the company's founder, AG Barr diversified. In addition to Irn Bru it produces Tizer, Strathmore and Orangina and most recently the fruit juice range Rubicon. Last January AG Barr announced that its profits were up by nearly 10 per cent to £23.4million on a turnover of £169.7million.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The magnificent Mallard

The fastest ever steam locomotive (120 mph)

In original blue LNER livery. The many "helicopter" shots suggest to me that a lot of the video is mocked up -- but it still looks good

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Forget the Ashes. This is how to play cricket

It's been a traumatic time for our summer sport. But a convivial reunion reminded me what the game is really about

Giles Coren

I know it will be hard for those of you hooked on modern sport - brutal, hysterical, venal modern sport - to understand what I am about to tell you, but I would nonetheless like to try and explain, on this sunny Spring Bank Holiday, why it doesn't matter in the least whether England win the Ashes or not.

For while England were sitting around in glorious sunshine at Headingley on Thursday, playing no cricket at all because, scandal of scandals, the new drainage system wasn't working properly and it was a bit soft underfoot, I was in London, playing in another, quieter cricket match, and having a bit of an epiphany.

The match was at the Westminster School cricket ground in Vincent Square, SW1, probably the prettiest sports field in London. At stake was the Jim Cogan Cup, which was being contested for the first time in honour of my former cricket master, deputy headmaster and English teacher, who died in 2007. Contesting it were the school 1st XI and an old boys' team, rather older than is right and decent for the playing of sport, being made up mostly of the legendary 1st XI that went unbeaten for three seasons between 1985 and 1987.

Very few of us had played more than half a dozen games in the twenty-odd years since then, and so, stiff and bruised at my laptop the morning after, I would like first of all to ask if you have any idea - as you lament simultaneously the abject non-competitiveness of the West Indies and the likelihood of our imminent annihilation by Australia - how difficult cricket is? Have you any idea how small the wicket is? Or how far away it looks when you are trotting in to bowl a ball at it? How tricky it is to work out, as your arm comes over in an arc from arse to earhole, exactly when to let go of the ball?

* Hayden cooking up a promising future

I am no mug at cricket. I once, at 11, had trials with Middlesex - a boast I have used to strike fear into opposition hearts on many occasions. Although the great county did not, on that occasion, choose to avail itself of my services. And, when you think about it, there is no reason why the “I once had trials” boast - which one hears from all sorts of men about all sorts of sports - should be any more impressive than a grown man with no driving licence saying: “I once had a driving test.”

On top of that, I played twice with a young Saurav Ganguly, later captain of India, but only because my local club was a man short and I lived round the corner. Ganguly fielded at silly mid-off to my nervous left-arm loopers, and after he had twice been struck on the shins by cover drives, and once brained by a misdirected full toss straight from my hand, I was removed from the attack for fear that one more loose one from me might kill the young superstar and bring upon the small North London club the wrath of the world's largest democracy.

Another time, I played against a team that contained Sachin Tendulkar, the greatest Test batsman still playing the game. But we batted first, it rained, I never even got padded up, and we all went home about three o'clock.

I began on Thursday by bowling two decent straight balls. Everyone was saying, “Nice one, Giley, the old magic's still there!” and I got so excited that I hurled the next one straight into my own knee.

The one after that bounced three times, the fifth went back behind me in the direction of Pimlico, and then the sixth was, for some reason, bang on target again, and so surprised the excellent young batsman that he played down the wrong line and it flew off his knee and went straight to slip, where it was held by a chap of ours who once had trials with almost everybody.

Not absolutely certain that the poor fellow had nicked it, I appealed anyway, very loudly and rudely, and up went the finger, at which surprising and excellent news I set off on a lap of honour, screaming and shouting and tearing at my shirt like Monty Panesar fleeing a swarm of hornets. So, as well as being rubbish, I had now cheated and then celebrated ill-won success in a vulgar and over-demonstrative manner. Everything I abhor about the modern game. So I calmed down after that.

But we did not win. While the schoolboys, grasping the essence of the limited-overs game, put most of their men on the boundary, we played throughout with four slips and two gullies, not because the ball was moving, or even pitching, or because there was any chance of its being caught, but because most of us had not seen each other in years, and wanted to catch up. And so, while we chatted about who had got married, divorced, had kids, moved away, died or become bankers, the boys rattled up a total that we proved unable to surpass.

Partly, it was the fault of injury. Our star batsman twisted his ankle standing on the ball while chasing it to the boundary (a gentleman does not slide) and was unable to bat (though he tried), and another split the webbing between two fingers while dropping a catch and was severely hampered.

Partly, also, it was a failure to grasp the rules of the modern game. In my third over, making a correction based on the previous ball having rolled to the batsman along the ground, I sent one so high that on its way down it had time to mate with a passing duck before landing smack on the batsman's stumps. Only after my celebrations at a third wicket had died down (there was also a long hop pulled to the mid-wicket boundary and caught by a snoozing barrister in a moth-eaten club cap) did I notice that the square-leg umpire had called a no ball, on account of the ball having passed higher than the batsman's waist.

Quite how my little dobbers could be deemed life-threatening to a chap wearing more armour than a Roman centurion, I don't know. But rules is rules.

And games is games. It was as perfect a game of cricket as any of us could remember. We all played to the very middle of our abilities. We hit the odd six back over the bowler's head. We pulled the odd muscle and ate the odd scone. We caught a bit of sun. And Jim Cogan's widow, Jenny, gave the cup to the boys and everyone clapped. They won't take it round London, drunk, in an open-topped bus, but I'm sure they'll appreciate it.

For world cricket, it's been a depressing year. The Stanford debacle, IPL money luring teams away from Test matches, the sad attitude of the West Indies' captain, Chris Gayle, and now the tragic finale to poor old Chris Lewis's career, jailed for smuggling drugs.

Sure, we are excited about the Ashes (Times Sport's own countdown stands today at 46 days), but I hope the players can relax and look forward to it without too much stress. It's the game we look forward to, not the result. The game is everything.

The Jim Cogan Cup was contested to help to promote the Jim Cogan Memorial Fund, which supports Alive and Kicking, using football to educate children in Africa about HIV/Aids, malaria and TB ( and the Good Earth Trust (

Friday, May 22, 2009

One's antique clothes show: How Prince Charles has always been king of wardrobe recycling

Worn in: Prince Charles visits a pioneering low energy eco-home in Watford this week wearing his 40-year -old Lobb shoes

Worn in: Prince Charles visits a pioneering low energy eco-home in Watford this week wearing his 40-year -old Lobb shoes

Prince Charles was photographed this week wearing a pair of shoes that were quite clearly older than his children.

Older than his classic Aston Martin, probably. But far from being embarrassing to the detail obsessed Prince, the decrepit age of the fogeyish, wilfully unfashionable lace-ups and their cracked hardiness will have tickled him something rotten.

This is a man who actually prefers his footwear scuffed, but imbued with a deep patina of age and experience about the uppers.

Charles practically invented eccentric, 'stealth-wealth' dressing. The David Beckhams of this world might be slaves to fashion, splurging their money on designer-label kit, showy accessories and overpriced, faddish tat.

But even before the credit crunch kicked in, Charles was flying the flag for good quality, beautifully handcrafted 'investment pieces'.

Clothes that never went out of fashion because they were never in fashion. Clothes that are over and above fashion - and which he is thus happy to wear for decades on end, repairing them as and when necessary.

His suits are unmodishly double-breasted. His dinner jacket is cut like a slouchy cardigan. His ties are almost comically narrow and tightly knotted. His morning suit is a slightly gauche, grey-on-grey, called a 'pick and pick' fabric; the lapels of his waistcoat are accessorised with dandy-ish, white 'slips' or 'demis', which attach to the inside of the garment with buttons.

'Charles loves his details,' his friend Nicky Haslam once told me. 'He loves a ticket pocket (a second pocket just above one of the normal outside pockets) and a tab collar (with buttons) that can be fastened in the event of a hurricane.'

It is this educated, elegantly curmudgeonly approach to his wardrobe that finds Charles topping sartorial surveys - in March, Esquire magazine in the U.S. voted him World's Best Dressed Man, beating off competition from the likes of President Obama.

'The brilliant thing about Prince Charles is the way he never follows any trends, but still manages to look so stylish,' says Jeremy Hackett, of the men's outfitters Hackett.

'He wore double-breasted suits when everyone else had switched to single. It was a brave, if unconscious move, but one that paid off because now he's made that double-breasted style his own.'

'Charles is the ultimate town-and-country man,' says Dylan Jones, editor of British magazine GQ.

'He looks effortlessly stylish whether he's deerstalking in the Scottish Highlands or attending a black-tie dinner in London.

'Look at his ties. Charles was doing a skinny neck-tie for years before Pete Doherty caught on. Oh, and no one puts their hands in their jacket pockets with quite the same casual insouciance as our future King does.' 

Prince Charles shoes

And few men like to shop with quite the same narcissistic vigour as Charles, either.

Take those old shoes he wore to walk around Hereford Cathedral this week. They cost around £2,500 and were made for him by Lobb of St James's - not, as many sartorial commentators have noted, by John Lobb, Bootmaker of Jermyn Street.

There is a subtle, but crucial difference. John Lobb, Bootmaker is a Paris based, Hermes-owned footwear brand that has branches all over the place. They charge a mere £400 per pair.

Lobb, on the other hand, is a bespoke-only operation in the quiet end of St James's.

This outfitter has made footwear for Aristotle Onassis, Roald Dahl, Cole Porter, Lord Olivier, Harold Macmillan and Ted Heath.

To make a pair of shoes is a lovingly laborious process involving a hand-made wooden last, eight pieces of leather and expert stitching techniques. You don't throw a pair of Lobb shoes out because they get old.

You keep them, cherish them, have them mended, feed them with finest saddle soap and then get buried in them.

Charles clearly loves wearing clothes with provenance, with a bit of a story to tell. 

When Donatella Versace fingered his dinner suit lapel at a 2001 party at Waddesdon Manor - the magnificent stately home in Buckinghamshire once owned by the Rothschilds - and joked that she hoped it was a Versace design, Charles was delighted to inform the Italian fashion doyenne that it was actually made for him by Savile Row's Anderson & Sheppard and was at least 20 years old.

A confidante of Charles once told me that one of his tweed coats belonged to George VI. Crikey! The royal moth balls must be Chernobyl-strength.

But when Charles is not rummaging around Buckingham Palace's dressing up box, searching for more regal vintage gear to recycle for himself, where does he shop for new stuff?

The list of Royal Warrants includes Asprey as the royal jewellers; the Savile Row tailor Gieves & Hawkes; Austin Reed and Burberry for casual clothes; outdoor gear from Barbour; the Scotch House for knitwear, and Loakes for (more) shoes.

But Charles, being something of sartorial maverick, likes to cut his own dash. . . 



James Lock & Co., St James’ St, London

Handily located next door to Lobb the shoemaker stands Lock’s - a hatter of such celebrated pedigree, they say, that a postcard addressed simply to ‘The best hatter in the world, London’, was once delivered to its door without delay.

Prince Charles

Prince Charles

Timeless topper: Prince Charles wears his James Lock & Co hat in 1972 and again 36 years later

The Prince simply wouldn’t dream of purchasing a fedora or a trilby from anywhere else. Established more than 300 years ago to serve the court of St James’s, Lock’s has supplied many a famous hat-wearer, including Oscar Wilde, whose final bill was settled posthumously - 100 years after his death.

The shop, which had supplied him with an opera hat, a bowler and a wide brimmed, velvet-finished fedora, had written off the debt. But a cheque for three pounds and six shillings, and an anonymous accompanying letter, were left on the doorstep in 2000.


Kinloch Anderson Ltd, Leith, Edinburgh

Charle's kilts cost - wait for it - £725 each and are made of Edward Stuart tartan. The kilts are traditionally fashioned to the selvedge (edge of the roll) of the cloth, which gives them a more substantial finish. 

Prince Charles and Diana

Prince Charles

Tartan fan: The prince's kilt transcends the decades

The Scots manufacturer, which has been in the business since 1868, is proudly profligate in the process, stating that there is ‘no economy of cloth usage’ when it comes to cutting a new kilt.

Each uses eight yards of fabric and takes ten weeks to make.


Anderson & Sheppard, Old Burlington Street, London

You don’t go to Anderson & Sheppard for a bargain. Entry level for bespoke suit here is just shy of £3,000. A three-piece dinner suit costs almost £4,300. Even a standard pair of trousers comes in around a grand.

No wonder Charles wears his suits until they are coming apart at the seams (he is also likely to favour Gieves and Hawkes for suits and coats).

Prince Charles arriving at Zurich airport in his return to Switzerland

Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall attending a Sunday church service at Sandringham House

Sticking with his style: Wearing a long, double breasted coat in 1988 and again in 2006

The Anderson & Sheppard house style is beautifully minimal - with fewer seams than other suits and a natural curve on the lapel.

Anderson & Sheppard are said to have a different trouser tailor at your service depending on which side Sir dresses.

Iconic designer Tom Ford and Mikhail Gorbachev are customers.

Aged 16, fashion designer Alexander McQueen served an apprenticeship here and, while helping make suits for Prince Charles, would secretly scrawl obscene messages on the inside of the linings.


Welsh & Jeffries, 20 Savile Row, London

Charles gets his military clobber from old-school tailor Welsh & Jeffries. Their approach to some of their newer neighbours on ‘the Row’ is combative.

Prince Charles

Prince Charles

Trooping the colour: Charles dons his military wear in 1993 and 2008

‘They call us the fuddy-duddies,’ says W&J’s Francis Morris. But you can see why fuddy-duddy Charles likes it here, can’t you?

Oddly enough, the second most famous person to have his gear made by W&J is that stalwart of understatement - Mr David Beckham.


Turnbull & Asser, Jermyn Street, London

The famous Jermyn Street chemiserie has had a steady flow of royal and celebrity traffic ever since it opened back in 1885.

As well as making Charles shirts, T&A also kitted out Churchill with his famous boiler suits and made women’s shirts for Princess Diana.

Prince Charles shirts and ties

Prince Charles shirts and ties

Seen it before: The Prince wears the same shirt in 2002 and 2008

The Sultan of Oman once ordered 240 shirts in 20 minutes. You can buy very decent Turnbull & Asser shirts off the peg - and in myriad colours, checks and candy stripes, for less than £100.

Charles, however, gets his made bespoke out of sea island cotton or poplin, with French cuffs, deep spread, narrow collars and pearl buttons.

When the future King had his polo accident in 1990, T&A’s cutter, Mr Cuss, made Charles a selection of special, one-armed shirts with matching slings in the same material.



Drunk trader David Redmond banned after series of bad decisions

IN HINDSIGHT, perhaps it would have been better for David Redmond to have gone home instead of going back to work after a boozy lunch lasting three-and-a-half hours last February.

Upon his return the 28-year-old commodities trader at Morgan Stanley conducted a $US10 million ($12.9 million) frenzy of alcohol-inspired trades.

Mr Redmond left his office at 1.14pm and did not return until 4.41pm, apparently brimming with false confidence, the British Financial Services Authority said yesterday.

"It appears (his drinking session) affected his behaviour on his return to the office, although he was not visibly drunk," the FSA found.

Mr Redmond began placing large bets with the bank's money on the future cost of freight, The Australian reports.

He seems to have "panicked when he realised at some point after 5.04pm" that he was trading under the influence of alcohol and tried to dig himself out of trouble with a barrage of new trades, spending 1 1/2 hours making an average of one trade every 7.5 seconds.

The FSA analysed the key strokes needed to place the orders showed that it was deliberate and not simply an accident such as leaning on the keyboard, The Guardian reports.

He went home with this tangle of new positions still outstanding, woke up the next morning with a hangover, and realised he might have ended his career by drastically exceeding the trading and credit limits permitted by the bank.

The FSA was not impressed he went to work and secretly traded out of the positions without informing his superiors, This Is Money reports.

"Redmond continued to get his priorities seriously wrong when he focused on trading out of the position rather than telling his managers," the FSA said, .

"Traders must not seek to conceal their positions rather than telling their managers."

Mr Redmond was eventually sacked by Morgan Stanley.

Yesterday he was banned from trading for two years by the FSA. It is the first time the regulator has suggested alcohol might have led to serious misjudgment on a trading floor.

The FSA's director of enforcement, Margaret Cole, told The Daily Mail: "Redmond's conduct showed a lack of honesty and integrity that falls short of the standards the FSA expects of approved persons."

Despite this further humiliation, Mr Redmond has one consolation. After all the trades he had made were unwound, he had made his former employer a profit.,27753,25520832-5012426,00.html

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Australian business at work

The conclusion of this story coincides with my experience of Australian business inefficiency -- JR

UNLESS you live with someone who has a serious food allergy it is really hard to fully comprehend how difficult it can be for all involved. I can't just shop for whatever food I want - everything has to be checked. Almost every product you buy now has the get-out-clause ''may contain traces of nuts''. Even packets of peanuts - I kid you not.

Traces are not usually a problem in Michael's case but we do have to scan all the ingredients to make sure there are no actual nuts listed. But even then that's no guarantee as he's reacted to a number of foods where no nuts are listed.

Every time you order food you have to ask the same question, ''Does it contain nuts?'', and quite often you're greeted with a blank face, a ''I'm not sure'' or a shrug of the shoulders.

Every time we eat out Michael has to start by saying: ''I have an allergy to nuts so please advise me if I order anything that I shouldn't.''

Probably the worst example was Michael's 40th birthday meal.

I had booked a table at a very nice restaurant in the city and, as a surprise, I wanted to order him a cake.

I spoke with the restaurant who were very helpful and advised me to just clearly indicate on an order form that no nuts must be included. I did as advised: ''Please NO NUTS at all.''

I sent the form back to the restaurant and soon afterwards received a phone call.

''Because we buy in our cakes from a caterer we cannot guarantee that it won't be made on equipment where nuts may have been used,'' they said.

I advised that that was fine as traces of nuts were not usually a problem, just as long as no actual nuts were used on - or in - the cake. They assured me that would be fine.

We had several other conversations as the meal approached and again I was reassured no nuts would be used.

We had a lovely meal - as always Michael began the evening by advising the waiter of his allergy and the waiter duly helped him steer clear of ordering anything that could possibly contain nuts.

And then came the surprise cake - beautifully decorated - 'Happy 40th Birthday Michael' written on the top, and it even had sparklers!

Photos were taken and then a voice said: ''Erm - aren't they nuts?'' All around the edge of the cake was decorated with a sprinkling of crushed nuts.

The waiter was called over, the manager fetched - the apologies long and gushing. The outcome was that we got the whole meal for free - which Michael says as far as he's concerned as a Yorkshireman - was great.

But sadly, Michael didn't get to have his cake and eat it.,23739,25506257-23272,00.html

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Winston Churchill - A Good Friend of Jews and Zionism?

Churchill and the Jews, by Michael J. Cohen, London & Portland: Frank Cass, 1985, second revised edition, 2003, 421 pp.

Churchill and the Jews: A Lifelong Friendship, by Martin Gilbert, New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2007, 359 pp.

Churchill's Promised Land, by Alan Makovsky, New Haven & London: New Republic Books/Yale University Press, 2007, 341 pp.

Reviewed by Daniel Mandel

In the second half of 2007, within a few weeks of each other, two books appeared on the subject of Winston Churchill and his relations with Jews and Zionism. The first, by Bipartisan Policy Center scholar Alan Makovsky, Churchill's Promised Land: Zionism and Statecraft, is primarily concerned with Churchill's views on and connection with Zionism as these evolved. However, in examining this motif in Churchill's career, the author encompasses virtually the whole of Churchill's experience and interaction with Jews from his earliest days. The second, by Churchill's official biographer Sir Martin Gilbert, Churchill and the Jews: A Lifelong Friendship, takes as its field Churchill's connection to all things Jewish over the course of his long life. Therefore, for all intents and purposes, the two books are congruent. To this must be added Bar-Ilan University historian Michael J. Cohen's Churchill and the Jews, first published in 1985 but reissued in a revised edition in 2003. Thus, readers are now presented with an embarrassment of riches: Churchill's relationship to the Jewish people had not been the subject of a book-length study since Oskar K. Rabinowicz's 1956 volume, Winston Churchill on Jewish Problems - A Half-Century Survey, produced in Churchill's lifetime, long before a vast trove of official and personal papers could be scrutinized by its author.[1]

Cohen set out his goal clearly in the introduction to the first edition of his work. Citing Rabinowicz's conclusion that "Sir Winston is one of the giants of our time...he ranks among the greatest friends the Jewish people have had" (Rabinowicz, 16), Cohen states that "[i]t will be the purpose of this study to examine, amplify and if necessary, revise this categorical assertion" (Cohen, xvii). Indeed, Cohen's book is self-consciously revisionist and presents a far harsher judgment on Churchill's relationship to Jews and fidelity to the Zionist cause than either Makovsky's or Gilbert's. This makes examining all three works all the more important in coming to the heart of the matter, especially since there has been a tendency to review the Makovsky and Gilbert tomes without consideration of Cohen's recently-reissued work.[2]

Cohen and Makovsky take a predominantly analytical approach, documenting Churchill's words and deeds, measuring the correspondence between them, and drawing conclusions according to their own lights. Gilbert, in contrast, is largely descriptive and the least historiographic of the three: he has surveyed numerous published sources but rarely cites or discusses their judgments. Rather, he presents a narrative based on a wealth of information gleaned from official and personal papers in order to construct a detailed picture of Churchill in his relations with Jews and Zionism.

All three authors provide abundant evidence of Churchill's uncontested devotion to furthering the course of Western civilization, with the British Empire and its Commonwealth held by him to be the most enduring and efficacious agent of its progress. In contrast to most of his upper-class contemporaries, who often eschewed social contact with Jews, Churchill grew up widely acquainted with them. His father, Lord Randolph Churchill, exceptionally for an aristocrat, maintained close friendships with various Jewish figures. Coupled with his voracious reading, this led Churchill to arrive at an early appreciation of the extraordinary role of Jews in history, particularly as a progenitor and agent of Western civilization, a conviction that imbued his attitude toward Zionism in the present. This, rather than Jewish historical and religious attachment to the land of Israel, which Churchill also came to value, was the prime mover in Churchill's Zionist sympathies. Thus far, the three authors are more or less in general agreement. The divergences of interpretation emerge in how they assess the fidelity, force, and consistency with which Churchill acted on these convictions.

Such an assessment is no simple or conveniently compact task. Churchill entered Parliament in 1900 at the age of twenty-five as the Conservative member for Oldham. In a career encompassing two shifts of party (crossing the floor to join the Liberals in 1904, then returning to the Conservatives in 1924), and four changes of seat (moving to Manchester North West, Dundee, Epping, and finally Woodford) plus a short stint of active service on the Western front in the First World War, he sat for over six decades in the British House of Commons. Of this period, he served, in two non-consecutive terms (an aggregate of eight and half years), as British prime minister, and some twenty further years in ministerial portfolios, occupying such important posts as secretary of state for war, first lord of the admiralty, secretary of state for air, secretary of state for the colonies, and chancellor of the exchequer. As such, Churchill's political involvement with Jews and Zionism was enormously variegated and long, and the list of headings under which this involvement can be assessed no less so. Considerations of space permit examination of only an outline of these, with detailed discussion reserved for several of the key issues on which the most contentious judgments have been pronounced.

Parliament, 1900-1936
In 1904, early in his parliamentary career, Churchill, already a Liberal and positioned to run in the upcoming elections for the seat of Manchester North West with its appreciable Jewish immigrant population, attacked the Conservative government of Arthur James, Lord Balfour, for its Aliens Bill. The bill aimed at severely curtailing the immigration into Britain of Jews from Eastern Europe, which brought 150,000 Jews to Britain between 1881 and 1914, thereby more than quadrupling the country's Jewish population. Cohen and Makovsky record Churchill's fight against the bill but also note his opportunistic attack on the government at one point for seeking mollifying amendments in order to placate its "wealthy Jewish supporters" (Cohen, 22; Makovsky, 49-51). Cohen is alone in pointing out that Churchill also claimed, inaccurately, that his proposed amendments to the bill had been adopted, when some key provisions remained unaltered. Gilbert, in contrast, does not refer to Churchill's opportunistic attack on the government alleging an effort to placate wealthy Jews, but notes, which Cohen and Makovsky do not, that Churchill himself was accused of opposing the legislation at the behest of Lord Rothschild (Gilbert, 7-10).

Some further evidence is produced showing that at times Churchill was willing to pander to anti-Semitic sentiment in others. Cohen (at length) and Makovsky (more briefly) refer to Churchill's opportunistic attack in 1914 on a Jewish MP, Sir Marcus Samuel, during the debate on Churchill's plan, as first lord of the admiralty, to purchase a controlling share in the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC). Samuel, a widely unpopular figure and lightning rod for anti-Semitic sentiment, was British director of APOC's rival Royal Dutch-Shell (Cohen, 41-9; Makovsky, 66-7).

Some weak evidence is presented to show that Churchill occasionally tolerated anti-Semitic sentiment: Cohen alone cites a negative description of New York Jews by Churchill's wife Clementine in a 1931 letter to Churchill to which there is no recorded reply. Conversely, Cohen omits strong contrary evidence. One example was the occasion (recounted by Makovsky) in 1906 when Churchill did reprove his own mother for describing Count de Bendern as a "bastard Jew," to which he replied that her remarks betrayed "a prejudice of v[er]y strong character" (Makovsky, 48). Also, (as recounted by Gilbert) he criticized her in the following year for considering publishing an offensive, anti-Semitic anecdote in her memoirs (Gilbert, 6).

Churchill was not a member of the War Cabinet that in 1917 approved the Balfour Declaration, lending British support to the up-building of a Jewish National Home in Palestine. He took a general, sympathetic interest in the Jewish National Home policy, but it was only as colonial secretary (1921-2) that his support, previously counter-balanced by his unwillingness in the post-war era for Britain to assume Middle Eastern mandates of doubtful strategic value and high political complication, became pronounced. A 1921 visit to Palestine as part of a Middle East tour in which he attempted to solidify the post-war political architecture of the region buoyed him in affirming more strongly than before the sympathies to which he had often, but noncommittally, given voice. Inspecting the agricultural, technological, and urban successes of the Zionist enterprise persuaded him of its value to Jews, the country, and civilization as a whole. Correspondingly, Arab intransigence and hostility to Zionism alienated him still further from Arabs than his earlier experiences in his youthful military career had already done. Churchill resisted Arab pressures to scale back Jewish immigration, but accepted the advice of T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia, one of his closest advisers at this time) to excise Transjordan from the Palestine mandate and create an emirate under Abdullah, son of Sharif Husayn of Mecca. Cohen notes that Transjordan, though included in the mandate, was not part of the territory allotted to the Jewish National Home (Cohen, 98).

Nonetheless, all three authors observe that Churchill, concerned to maintain British strength and influence where it mattered most - in India and other major imperial possessions, as well as in Europe - remained less than keen on dissipating scarce resources on British commitments assumed in Palestine and Iraq, and would at times have gladly relinquished both. This was a position that increasingly came to characterize his approach in the 1920s, especially in 1924 upon becoming chancellor of the exchequer. Makovsky notes that Churchill "impatiently transferred" Transjordan to Arab rule for the sake of peace and economics (Makovsky, 137). Gilbert, alternatively, puts the best construction on it, arguing that the arrangements under which this occurred secured the otherwise waning British commitment to Zionism and set the groundwork for the lengthy period of Jewish immigration that would one day enable a Jewish state (Gilbert, 84-5). There is truth in all this, providing the limitation imposed by these arrangements on Zionism's absolute possible development - no state throughout Palestine, British-controlled levels of immigration, and the ways these were to drastically affect Zionist fortunes in the years ahead - is recognized.

After 1929, Churchill found himself both in the opposition and outside the shadow cabinet in what have often been dubbed his "Wilderness Years." In that position, he could do little but decry the anti-Semitic furies that were then emerging in Germany. The return of the Conservatives to power in 1935 under Stanley Baldwin saw Churchill remain outside the Cabinet and unable to influence policy.

Peel Partition Plan, 1937
It is instructive to study the divergence of interpretation and variety of sources that the three authors provide in assessing Churchill's reaction to the first official proposal for the creation of a Jewish state, the 1937 Peel Royal Commission Report. The Commission recommended establishing a Jewish state encompassing less than 20 percent of western Palestine, consisting chiefly of the coastal plain and the Galilee, with the remainder to have formed an Arab state, except for Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, and their environs, along with a passage to the sea, which were to remain under British control.

Churchill, still out of government, opposed partition even before the report was issued. At a small dinner with Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann and Zionist supporters at the home of the Liberal leader Archibald Sinclair (4 June 1937), he told Weizmann that under a policy of partition, a Jewish state would not actually materialize, owing to British pusillanimity when facing Arab threats and violence. Therefore he favored, for all its imperfections, the continuance of British rule until Britain was in a stronger international position, at which time it might discharge its Balfour obligations to the Jews. He reiterated these arguments in a meeting with Zionist leader David Ben-Gurion (5 June). Recognizing also that partition might be adopted with Zionist support, Churchill pressed the colonial secretary, William Ormsby-Gore (14 June), to ensure that, in such an event, the Negev be incorporated into the proposed Jewish state.

A week after the issue of the report (4 July), Churchill reaffirmed to Weizmann (14 July) his view that the Jewish state should consist of all of western Palestine. Churchill also met with the Revisionist Zionist leader Vladimir Jabotinsky (16 July), who urged opposition to partition on the grounds that a truncated state would be afflicted by Jewish demographic weakness within, vulnerability to conquest from without, and an inability to absorb the mass of Jewish refugees. Churchill himself used similar arguments in his speech in the Commons opposing partition (21 July) and in an article in the Evening Standard (23 July), in which he affirmed the need for continued, but for the moment more gradual, Jewish immigration to Palestine. He also lobbied against the adoption of partition, collaborating with Lloyd George to have the Peel Report referred to the League of Nations.

At a dinner with the Zionist supporter Lord Melchett (28 July), Churchill told him that Britain lacked the power to stand up to both the Arabs and Italians in the Mediterranean, and that partition would simply drive the Arabs into Axis arms. Mindful of Arab anti-British agitation, he also called for the arrest of the mufti of Jerusalem. In an article in the Jewish Chronicle (3 September), Churchill sympathized with Jewish "reluctant willingness to accept a very truncated state," but argued for a larger Jewish state than that currently under consideration, while expressing skepticism that mere statehood would serve in the circumstances as a prophylactic against deep peril to Zionist hopes.

In short, the mainspring of Churchill's opposition to partition was that he doubted that, in 1937, a viable Jewish state could be brought into being and feared that it would most likely be overwhelmed even if it were. When coupled with the certain pro-Axis reaction that partition would generate from the Arabs, he doubted whether any gains could be accrued by partition to justify the undoubted risks and costs. Thus, his reservations were pro-Zionist in character and accorded with his larger strategic assessment.

Yet Cohen, alone among the three authors, depicts matters very differently. In his version, Churchill's opposition appears less as a function of pro-Zionist concern than as a product of Baldwin/Chamberlain-like appeasement. He confounds Churchill's genuine concern to win a viable Jewish state for Zionism with the Chamberlain policy of discarding commitments to Zionism because both can be depicted as a response to Arab threats. Yet, far from surrendering, Churchill wanted to preserve British protection of the National Home until such time as Britain was in a position to discharge fully its debts to Zionism. Cohen does not rehearse Churchill's motivating concern that a truncated state produced by partition would end in the destruction of Zionism; nor does he refer to Jabotinsky's views - which can scarcely be dismissed as a piece of infidelity to Zionism - and their influence on Churchill's subsequent actions. Cohen also puts the least generous construction on Churchill's strategic utterances to Melchett, while neglecting to mention Churchill's idea in the same conversation that the mufti should be arrested. Similarly, he cites the strategic concerns Churchill expressed in his Jewish Chronicle piece, but not the passages in which he sympathized with Jewish eagerness for even truncated statehood, or his call for better borders in the event of Jewish statehood. Neither does he mention Churchill's words to Ben-Gurion nor the arguments he used in his speech to the Commons (in fact, Cohen erroneously states that Churchill did not participate in the debate; Cohen, 175). This causes the evidence that Cohen does present on the subject to show Churchill in a poor light. Cohen thus concludes that "[b]asically, Churchill shared the Chamberlain government's views that, notwithstanding the ever-worsening plight of European Jewry, the Zionists must not make demands in Palestine that would jeopardize Britain's position in the Arab world" (Cohen, 177).

In contrast, Makovsky points out at the outset that the Peel proposal amounted to "a very mixed bag" for Zionism that warranted the cautious reservations to which Churchill gave expression (Makovsky, 158). He reminds his readers that other gentile supporters of Zionism, like Colonel Josiah Wedgwood, were similarly perturbed by the surrender and scuttle they believed to lie at the heart of the plan for an immediate, truncated Jewish state. Makovsky also includes the evidence emanating from Churchill's conversation with Melchett and Ben-Gurion, his contribution to the Commons debate, his Jewish Chronicle piece, as well as items of correspondence to show that Churchill's concern revolved around the dubious viability of Jewish statehood within the proposed Peel borders and the lack of security from conflict mere statehood would purchase Zionism. He omits, but his argument would have been strengthened for including, the record of Jabotinsky's intervention on the subject with Churchill.

Gilbert devotes more space to the subject (eleven pages) than either Cohen or Makovsky (six pages and five pages, respectively) and reaches conclusions similar to Makovsky. He cites all the arguments presented against partition on various occasions by Churchill, omitting only his words to Ben-Gurion. His is the only account to consider in full Jabotinsky's interventions, personal and epistolary, with Churchill, and to trace the influence of Jabotinsky's views on Churchill's own position. The evidence presented in combination by the authors shows Churchill not to have deserted Zionists at this moment but, on the contrary, to have worked for the consolidation of Zionism and avoidance of tempting but dangerous plans for a truncated state.

British Curtailment of Jewish Immigration to Palestine, 1939-1945
The British restrictions on Jewish immigration into Palestine, commenced by Neville Chamberlain's government pursuant to a White Paper in May 1939 and not rescinded by Churchill's subsequent administration, pose one of the most potent objections to the view that Churchill stood by Jews and Zionism in their darkest hour.

Here, indeed, there is firmer ground for some of the strictures that have been made by Cohen and others. All three authors note that Churchill himself had called, in a speech in the Commons (24 November 1938), for some restrictions on Jewish immigration to Palestine. Gilbert, the most admiring of his subject of the three, describes Churchill's proposal as "a blow to the Zionists" (Gilbert, 153). Churchill had recommended a ten-year plan, wherein Jewish immigration would be fixed at a "certain figure" of about 30,000-35,000 per annum, designed to maintain the existing Arab-Jewish demographic balance in Palestine at the ratio of about two to one. Churchill proposed this as an offer of assurance to Arabs that they would not be submerged; failing their acceptance, no upper limit on Jewish immigration was to be imposed.

In short Churchill, seeking to reconcile British strategic and Zionist interests, sought to ease pressure on Zionism and Britain by a calculated act of limited appeasement, aimed at quelling Arab animosity on the eve of a looming world war. In this way, Britain might maintain charge of Palestine and thus stewardship of Zionism and preserve its prospect of statehood.

The Chamberlain government rejected this proposed policy and instead promulgated a White Paper (19 May 1939) which planned not only to curtail Jewish entry to Palestine much more drastically in the present, but also to foreclose on its continuation in five years unless Arabs consented (the denial of which could be taken as a given), and to create a majority Arab state in ten, thus aborting all prospects of Jewish statehood. Speedy imposition of severe land purchase restrictions solely upon Jews would ensure little expansion and development of the existing Jewish minority.

Cohen is correct to note that Churchill, himself no stranger to proposals for limiting Jewish immigration in response to political circumstances, did not criticize the White Paper on this ground (Cohen, 183), notwithstanding the greatly divergent respective proposed restrictions. The White Paper permitted a maximum Jewish immigration of only a further seventy-five thousand Jews over the next five years; in other words, less than half the 150,000-175,000 for the same period contemplated by Churchill. It was the Arab veto on immigration and the foreclosing on Jewish statehood that invoked Churchill's ire and which he attacked in a rousing speech in the Commons (23 May 1939).

While at no time would Churchill, after becoming prime minister in May 1940, concede to the White Paper the force of fixed policy, Cohen asks why he neither abrogated nor amended it, nor dismissed officials who opposed him (Cohen, 185). In a similar vein, Makovsky notes that "while [Churchill] argued against adherence to the White Paper in the Chamberlain government, he never threatened to resign over it, and as prime minister he never tried to overturn it. Even if he was inclined, he knew he was isolated within the government on this issue" (Makovsky, 184). Cohen concedes the extenuating circumstances of isolation: "the most cursory research in the British documents will expose an almost neurotic fear common to most officials, that Churchill was about to wreck British interests in the Arab world by his support of the Zionists" (Cohen, 185).

The question that therefore arises is, what did Churchill do to counter the ubiquitous opposition, sometimes amounting to sabotage, that he encountered in seeking to mitigate the strictures on Jewish immigration contained in the White Paper and in aiding Jews fleeing Nazism more generally? All three authors provide abundant examples of Churchill's disgust and frequent clashes with British officials, whom he often held to be anti-Semites using dubious strategic and spurious anti-Zionist arguments to dignify their hostility and indifference to Jewry (Cohen, 194-203, 242-51; Makovsky, 173-6; Gilbert, 163-85, 188-91). Beyond these generalities, however, their presentations differ, sometimes widely.

The facts include the following. When, late in 1939, the Foreign Office proposed instructing Lord Lothian, the British ambassador in Washington, to reiterate the White Paper policy in all its particulars, Churchill fought the idea in a memorandum to the War Cabinet (25 December 1939). He sought to have the White Paper rendered merely the caretaker, not fixed policy; to oppose any Arab right of veto over Jewish immigration after 1944; and to insist that no policy be adopted that might prejudice the final form a post-war settlement might take. In 1939, still out of government, he did not fight, let alone win, any battle over the restrictions on Jewish land purchases. Conversely, once within the War Cabinet he attempted to do so the following year, but failed.

Churchill frequently intervened to ease the escape of Jewish refugees from Europe and to allow those reaching Palestine to stay. As first lord of the admiralty (1939-40), Churchill instructed Royal Navy vessels not to intercept ships suspected of bringing illegal Jewish immigrants to Palestine when he discovered that notice of this practice had been withheld from him by subordinate officials. When, in November 1940, the British commander in the Middle East, General Archibald Wavell, sought to have deported from Palestine a group of Jewish refugees who had reached the country aboard the Patria, Churchill intervened to prevent it and they were permitted to stay, despite the objections of officials.

When the Palestine government approved a policy of deporting Jewish illegal immigrants to Mauritius, Churchill retrospectively approved it only on the proviso that their treatment would be humane and that they not be sent back to Europe. Lord Lloyd, the colonial secretary, deliberately left him unaware of the fact that the policy precluded any future return of the deportees to Palestine.

In February 1942 Churchill argued successfully in the War Cabinet, in the face of opposition from the new colonial secretary, Lord Moyne, to release from internment approximately eight hundred Jewish refugees from the Darien II who had reached Palestine (Makovsky, 187). The same year, the Colonial Office proposed that five thousand Bulgarian Jewish children be allowed into Palestine. Churchill was enthusiastic, the War Cabinet approved, but the move was blocked by German pressure applied on Bulgaria.

Despite these efforts, in March 1942 the War Cabinet insisted, over Churchill's wishes, that British policy continue to aim at discouraging all illegal Jewish immigration into Palestine. Churchill recorded his absolute opposition to any cessation of Jewish immigration after March 1944 and also urged his colleagues (and later President Roosevelt) to consider Eritrea and Tripolitania as temporary Jewish refuges. He also devised a policy that bypassed the Cabinet's decision to discourage illegal Jewish immigration by permitting all Jews who might arrive in Palestine to stay there, which was contrary to the White Paper. This paid off most substantially in early 1944, when the colonial secretary, Oliver Stanley, acceded to a plan to allow Jewish refugees who had succeeded in arriving in Istanbul from Romania and Bessarabia to proceed by rail to Palestine on British passports. More than six thousand were able to do so.

In April 1943 Churchill leaned heavily on the Spanish ambassador to have the Franco regime reopen its border to Jewish refugees fleeing the Reich, something which occurred within a few days. The following July, he vigorously opposed in the War Cabinet plans for British naval searches of ships to find illegal Jewish immigrants. He also advocated that continued Jewish immigration be permitted beyond the White Paper's March 1944 cut-off up to the full limit of the seventy-five thousand quota. The War Cabinet approved Churchill's proposals.

Against this record of persistent, often lone, activism within the government that he headed, the results of these sometimes hard-won battles that Churchill waged were relatively meager. The stratagems for circumventing the White Paper restrictions did not see its seventy-five thousand quota filled even by the war's end, in large part because the Nazis succeeded in sealing off avenues of escape. The three authors deliver divergent judgments on this record, again often based on different pieces of evidence.

Cohen, the most critical, makes much of the fact that in 1939, Churchill did not fight the White Paper restrictions on Jewish immigration and land purchase. Conversely, Cohen and Gilbert note Churchill's unsuccessful effort to do so in the War Cabinet in 1940 (Cohen, 200; Gilbert, 168-9). Even Cohen's account of the Patria episode includes no evidence or argument indicating that Churchill did less than might have been expected of him (Cohen, 279-86). Indeed, he notes the hostility of bureaucracy and military officialdom to Churchill's efforts, like Lloyd's deception that misled him regarding the Mauritius deportations (Cohen, 281; Makovsky, 187; Gilbert, 188-9).

Cohen omits mention of Churchill's successful fight in the War Cabinet to free from internment the eight hundred Jewish refugees from the Darien II (Makovsky, 187, 191; Gilbert, 188-9). Makovsky and Gilbert discuss Churchill's stratagems for eluding draconian aspects of the White Paper, including his prevailing over Foreign Office objections on obtaining passage of Bulgarian Jewish children to Palestine, but Cohen does not (Makovsky, 188; Gilbert, 193-4). Similarly, Makovsky and Gilbert note, whereas Cohen does not, Churchill's success in bringing six thousand Romanian Jews to Palestine and his immediate action to end the Royal Navy searches of ships for illegal Jewish immigrants (Makovsky, 186; Gilbert, 168, 206-7). Gilbert alone mentions Churchill's successful intervention with the Spanish ambassador (Gilbert, 197).

In short, during the war, Churchill sought many avenues to provide refuge for Jews fleeing the Nazis, including in Palestine, and in the teeth of great opposition from virtually all of his officials. Indeed, such was the perception of Churchill's solicitude for Jews among them that, on at least two occasions, callous members of his own inner staff withheld from him Jewish requests out of fear that he would respond positively to them.[3]

Request for Bombing the Railways to Auschwitz, 1944
Another potent matter of controversy regards Churchill's part in the failure of the Allies to respond to Jewish requests to bomb both Auschwitz and the railway lines leading to it when detailed news of the unprecedented rate of extermination (twelve thousand people per day) at the death camp reached Allied governments in July 1944.

Upon receipt of the news from Weizmann via Eden on 7 July, Churchill immediately authorized Eden to "[g]et anything out of the Air Force you can, and invoke me if necessary." (As it happens, the deportations of Hungarian Jews, the last great Jewry to be sacrificed, were halted three days later, though the Allied powers had no knowledge of this for several days afterwards, for which reason the question of Allied response remains pertinent. Moreover, Jews from other localities continued to be deported to Auschwitz, as the Zionists pointed out when renewing their request for bombing in mid-August.) Eden himself, no friend of the Jews, favored bombing Auschwitz and immediately took up the matter with Sinclair, now the minister for air. Sinclair responded (15 July) that concentrated bombing of that kind lay beyond the range and capacity of the Royal Air Force bombers. He suggested that the U.S. Air Force might be better positioned to carry out the raids, difficult and costly as these would likely prove to be, unaware that the idea had already been rejected in Washington. Sinclair also suggested a smaller operation involving an airdrop of arms to Auschwitz inmates. Eden was unimpressed ("he wasn't asked his opinion of this, he was asked to act") but, happy to deflect clamor that Zionists directed at him, advised Weizmann to take it up with Sinclair, "an ardent Zionist," after which Eden pursued the matter no further. The question is what Churchill, having given authority for immediate action, did next.

By this time, Churchill was abroad and does not appear to have been informed of the decision. Meanwhile, the Foreign Office and Air Ministry temporized, the one lacking interest, the other opposed but not able of its own volition to drop consideration of the proposal, since Churchill and Eden had requested it. The issue was allowed to die, indicating that Churchill failed to pursue it further.

Cohen is therefore on firm ground in arguing that beyond Churchill's initial and prompt authorization for military action to bomb Auschwitz and the railway lines leading to it, he failed to follow up and insist upon action, or at least discover why no action had taken place. Instead, Cohen shows that Churchill was largely preoccupied with the provision of substantial Allied air support operations to the besieged Polish Home Army in Warsaw, which ironically involved many flights of similar range, some over the general area of Auschwitz itself (Cohen, 294-305). Makovsky, who devotes surprisingly little attention to this matter, essentially agrees but enters a caveat: "there is no record that Churchill...followed up on the matter internally or ever discussed it or any similar idea with Stalin or Roosevelt. There were other, easier means of helping the Jews beyond disrupting the Nazi death machine, as important as that goal should have been" (Makovsky, 182), and he goes on to deal with these issues, mostly connected in one way or another with Churchill's efforts to circumvent the strictures of the White Paper.

The greatest curiosity here is Gilbert's account, which is considerably less detailed than his treatment of the subject elsewhere (though not as terse as Makovsky's discussion). Gilbert writes that "Churchill's emphatic instruction did not need to be carried out" as the news of the halt to the Hungarian Jewish deportations was received three days later (Gilbert, 212). This ignores the continuation of deportations to Auschwitz from other localities and also the inter-departmental vacillation that led to operational inertia. This in turn means that Gilbert - repeating his omission in volume seven of the official Churchill biography - does not discuss Churchill's failure to impose his will, prod his officials, or get to the bottom of what was happening.[4]

During much of the war period, Churchill was also fighting hostility and inertia within the British military establishment to create a Jewish fighting force to fight under its own Zionist flag against the Nazis. He finally succeeded, on a smaller scale than he had hoped, to set up the Jewish Brigade in 1944, after several attempts to create a larger Jewish force had been thwarted. He was to swing the War Cabinet behind the idea of partition (with a larger Jewish state than that contemplated by the Peel Royal Commission) in 1944, but postponed consideration of the plan amidst the revulsion, both personal and of his colleagues, when a Zionist splinter group assassinated his friend Moyne, then serving as British minister of state in Cairo. All three authors note that Churchill resisted proposals for punitive reprisals against Palestinian Jews and suspending Jewish immigration (Cohen, 258; Makovsky, 217; Gilbert, 226-7). Gilbert also notes that he refused the appointment of either of two anti-Zionist figures (Lords Selbourne and Winterton) put forward to replace Moyne, though he does not mention that the eventual appointee, Sir Edward Grigg, was also opposed to Jewish statehood (Gilbert, 229). The War Cabinet never returned to the partition plan.

The last months of Churchill's premiership were also occupied with an abortive effort to create a Jewish state within a larger Arab federation by enlisting, through among other things financial inducements, the support of Saudi King Saud. Churchill's devotion to his decades-long policy of Zionist gradualism had given way under the impact of the Holocaust to the need to set up a Jewish state without delay at the war's end, but his effort foundered on Saud's refusal and Churchill was soon swept from office.

In July 1945, a landslide in the general elections that followed the German surrender removed Churchill's Conservatives from the government benches. In Opposition, Churchill largely (though not wholly) withdrew from Zionist activism, a remoteness put down in part and with varying emphases by all three authors to guilty feelings for having failed the Zionists and achieved less than he had always intended. It was only in 1948 that Churchill returned to the fray to excoriate the Labour government of Clement Attlee, and particularly Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, for the "sulky boycott" of newborn Israel and refusal to accord it prompt recognition. His own embrace of Israel, when he returned to office (1951-5), was sincere but devoid of remarkable incident. To the end of his life he remained on good terms with veteran Jewish and Zionist figures he had known and worked with throughout the years.

As often happens in considering great figures of recent history, the scholarship made possible by the opening of personal and official papers tends to detract at least somewhat from the received version. Churchill has been no exception. His military miscalculations, lapses of judgment, patterns of inconsistency, and asperities of personality have all emerged, and it was perhaps inevitable that something similar should have occurred with regard to the record of his relationship with Jews and Zionism. However, those who admire Churchill can take some comfort from the light shed cumulatively by these three books. The relatively scanty results of Churchill's efforts on behalf of Jews fleeing Nazism in their darkest hour often stemmed from factors and forces beyond his control. Conversely, his efforts were exceptional, sincere, persistent, usually forceful, and occasionally successful. More generally, he left a long record of activism for Jewish causes and was rarely deterred from these, even when he found himself in a distinct minority. When overruled by his own Cabinet, he often sought ways around the problem to help Jews and Zionism. The personal and official papers consulted in these studies confirm the picture of a man who rejected anti-Semitism in public and private, something that can be said of very few of his colleagues. He may therefore still be called, as Rabinowicz described him more than half a century ago, "one of the giants of our time...among the greatest friends the Jewish people have had." If his record on this subject nonetheless looks more qualified than it did to an earlier generation, the fault still lies largely elsewhere - with the innumerable other statesmen and officials who wished Jews and Zionism ill, who failed the Jews far more frequently, more comprehensively, and with fewer, if any, qualms of conscience.

Shadowy Bilderberg group meet in Greece — and here’s their address

This is the talk shop that conspiracy theorists go cross-eyed over

Don’t tell anyone, don’t breathe a word, but the world’s most powerful men are meeting secretly again to save the planet from economic catastrophe. Oh, and their address, should you want to send them your opinions, is: c/o Nafsika Astir Palace Hotel, Apollonos Avenue 40, 16671 Vouliagmeni, Greece.

Bed space is a bit tight there for the next two days while the Bilderberg illuminati hold their private conclave in the five-star Greek hotel. Every year since 1954 a club of about 130 senior or up-and-coming politicians gather at the fireside of a secluded hotel with top bankers and a sprinkling of royalty to discuss burning issues, to trade confidences and just stay abreast of the I-know-something-you-don’t-know circuit. No lists of participants are disclosed, no press conferences are held; spill the beans and you’re out of the magic circle.

For those of us standing outside the locked gates all that is left is to hope that they will sleep well, avoid jet ski injury and solve our problems for us. For the Bilderbergers it is a little like that recent MI5 recruitment ad: “See all your best work go unnoticed!”

Each country delegates two people to the steering committee that is the intellectual hub of Bilderberg. In the past Kenneth Clarke, the Shadow Business Secretary, and Martin Taylor, formerly head of Barclays Bank, have had their hand on the British tiller.

This year the club is going to talk about depression. “According to the pre-meeting booklet sent out to attendees, Bilderberg is looking at two options,” says the Bilderberg-watcher Daniel Estulin — “either a prolonged, agonising depression that dooms the world to decades of stagnation, decline and poverty — or an intense but shorter depression that paves the way for a new sustainable economic world order, with less sovereignty but more efficiency.”

Since Bilderberg does not officially exist, it cannot deny anything and is therefore manna from heaven for the conspiracy theorist. Eurosceptics are convinced that the future development of the European Union was plotted here — EU commissioners have always been welcomed into the coven, with Peter “We are intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich” Mandelson a particular favourite. Margaret Thatcher, it is said, was a shy debutante at a Bilderberg meeting in 1975.

Jim Tucker, veteran stalker of the Bilderberg club meetings, claims that Mrs Thatcher was ordered “to dismantle British sovereignty, but she said, ‘no way’, so they had her sacked”. Left-wing conspiracy theorists believe that Bilderbergers form a capitalist nucleus, and there is a germ of truth in this. The meetings were started in the Netherlands, in the Hotel de Bilderberg, near Arnhem, by the Polish exile Joseph Retinger. He was worried about growing anti-Americanism and the advance of Communism in Western Europe. Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands agreed to sponsor the idea, the head of the Central Intelligence Agency, Walter Bedell Smith, threw his weight behind it and so did the White House.

The Bilderberg consensus is that national problems are best solved by an internationally oriented elite, that a global network of decision-makers should have a common language and that the boundaries are fluid between the monied and the political classes.

And so there has been a natural bias towards inviting conservatives and market liberals. The only socialists invited are those who “understand money”.

Ed Balls has taken part and the most indiscreet Bilderberger of all time was Denis Healey, the former Labour Chancellor and fierce Atlanticist.

“To say we were striving for a one-world government is exaggerated, but not wholly unfair,” Lord Healey told the author Jon Ronson for his book Them: Adventures with Extremists. “Those of us in Bilderberg felt we couldn’t go on for ever fighting one another for nothing. So we felt that a single community throughout the world would be a good thing.”

Another way of viewing the club is that of Metropolitan Seraphim, the bishop of Piraeus, who said that the Bilderbergers represented a “criminal cabal of world Zionism and its efforts to set up a cruel world dictatorship under the headship of Lucifer”. This line is quite common on the blogosphere, where the club’s secrecy is taken as evidence of evil intentions.

Whether Lucifer will be down there on the sun-loungers remains to be seen. But what we have been able to establish from a World Bank spokesman, Alexis O’Brien, is that the organisation’s president, Robert Zoellick, will be in Athens on unspecified business on May 14. And that US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s public schedule is mysteriously empty for the next two days. Jo Ackermann, head of Deutsche Bank, will be travelling “somewhere in Europe”. Jean-Claude Trichet, head of the European Central Bank, will not be around until the end of the week.

You get the drift. Something is going on. If only somebody would let us in on the secret.

How Gibraltar can sway UK poll results

The Rock of Gibraltar lies at the tip of Spain and overlooks the north of Africa. It is baked by the Mediterranean sun, but on 4 June it will become a town in the south-west of England, much like Falmouth or Swindon. The approximately 18,000 voters of Gibraltar will help to choose who represents South West England in the European Parliament.

Gibraltarians vote with far greater enthusiasm than their UK counterparts. The first time they got to vote in the 2004 Euro-elections, the turnout was nearly double the UK average, at 60%. Taxi drivers Wilfred Lima and Lea Manasco are true Gibraltarians - their parents and grandparents all lived on the Rock. They explain why they like to vote. "Of course voting is very popular here", says Mr Manasco. "We had to fight for it but there we are, we've got it. It's important for us, of course."

Gibraltarians only recently won the right to vote for MEPs, after gaining victory at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The British Government first opposed the move, but then decided to graft Gibraltar onto a part of the UK with similar military and naval traditions. They chose the south-west.

Mr Lima says: "Don't forget that we joined Europe in 1973, together with the Kingdom of Britain. Spain joined in 1986, so we have a right to vote now. We had to fight for the right to vote but we've got it."

The constituency is officially now South West England and Gibraltar, but the Rock's electorate makes up a tiny part of the total, around 1%. Tiny it may be, but it is important to the Chief Minister Peter Caruana. He says that having fought so hard for the vote, people are now keen to exercise that right: "Very often you know, what you get without a struggle you take for granted and what you have to struggle to get, you value it more. "So we had to go all the way to the European Court of Human Rights to get this, so it's right that we should go to the trouble of exercising it."

In a 2002 referendum 99% of the people of Gibraltar voted to oppose proposals for joint sovereignty with neighbours Spain. The vote was not officially recognised by Spain or the UK, but neither could ignore this deafening demand for the status quo.

The chief minister believes Spain's longstanding claim to Gibraltar has made its people much more likely to express themselves democratically. "Gibraltar is a small place, people are very politically switched on, very politically informed, and politics permeates all aspects of life here," he explained. "In Gibraltar we have a very high turnout tradition, and that will rub off on the European elections as well."

With its red telephone boxes and helmeted bobbies (policemen), Gibraltar looks and feels British, right down to the wafts of curry drifting down Main Street. But when it comes to voting they certainly do things differently. To help the infirm and elderly on polling days, a mobile ballot box tours the Rock, accompanied by police officers who ensure fair play. Around each of Gibraltar's 12 polling stations is painted a red line. This marks a boundary over which candidates and canvassers may not step except to vote themselves. Transgressors face arrest.

The returning officer for the South West Paul Morris enjoys witnessing such enthusiasm for democracy. He says it is the only place where he has seen queues of voters. "I've been in the elections game for 36 years", he says. "I've never yet been in a polling station anywhere in the UK, France or indeed America, where people actually queue to vote, it's an incredible concept. It's marvellous to see people taking democracy so seriously."

As Gibraltarians prepare to vote again, there is talk in some newspapers of getting an MEP all of their own. That remains an unlikely prospect in a place with such a small electorate. For now, the voters of the Rock enjoy the simple pleasure of just taking part.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Visit the land that creeps out even its own tourism minister

Bulgaria, Romania, Chechnya, Kazahkstan? No: Britain

Holiday in charming Britain, urges its Tourism Minister:
Tourism minister Barbara Follett backed a campaign today to encourage people to holiday in Britain.

But for gawd’s sake watch out for the locals:
Tourism minister Barbara Follett claimed more than £25,000 for security patrols outside her London home because she did not feel safe there… The Telegraph says Mrs Follett demanded extra protection at her ‘second home’, a four-storey property in Soho, because she had been mugged and followed by a stalker.

Just why Follett needs the taxpayers to fork out for all that security is another mystery, not least because it’s not as if her husband Ken (above, with Barbara), the best-selling thriller writer, is short of several tens of millions of dollars, in the New Labour way.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The murky, mysterious world of the Queen’s Privy Council

The Privy Council is one of the most obscure and murky corners of the British constitution — yet its powers are far from antiquated or redundant.

They can range from commuting the death penalty on prisoners in the Caribbean to dispossessing the Chagos Islanders of their homes.

Her Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council is a body of advisers to the monarch, whose members are chiefly senior politicians who were members of the Commons or Lords, including bishops and hereditary peers. Like a gentlemen’s club or secret society, its (life) members swear allegiance to the Queen and to “assist and defend . . . against all Foreign Princes”. Their task is to advise the sovereign on the exercise of the Royal Prerogative, her personal powers, and to carry them out on her behalf.

Alongside archaic and seemingly quaint powers they can still uphold or quash a death sentence; grant royal charters; or appoint the chairman of the BBC. But the Privy Council also has its own court, the Judicial Committee, which acts as the final court of appeal for many former colonies and UK overseas territories. These are mainly in the Caribbean but also include appeals from the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, Admiralty appeals from the Cinque Ports and disciplinary appeals involving doctors and dentists as well as some appeals from ecclesiastical courts. Since 1998 it can rule on constitutional appeals arising over devolved powers to Scotland and Wales.

Who sits in this powerful court that has its origins in medieval times, and which under Henry VII became the infamous Court of Star Chamber, left — described by one historian as a “whipping, nose-slitting, ear-cropping court; a court with a grim, unseemly humour of its own”?

They are the same 12 law lords who make up Britain’s highest court, namely the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords.

At present they sit in a little-known court off Downing Street, but this autumn will sit in a court in the new supreme court building in Parliament Square. They handle about 55 to 65 Commonwealth and devolution appeals a year, appeals that are nominally to the Queen as head of state.

In recent years their overseas jurisdiction has declined as successive countries have cut off the Privy Council as a court of final appeal: Canada, India, Sri Lanka, African nations, Malaysia, Singapore and most recently Hong Kong and New Zealand have all withdrawn.

Queenslander Karen Jacobsen tells the world where to go

THE "Queensland accent" can't be so offensive if millions of drivers around the world take their directions daily from a girl from Mackay.

New York-based voiceover artist Karen Jacobsen, whose patient but firm vocal tones have been made famous by Garmin global satellite navigation units, has spoken up in defence of our provincial twang.

Miss Universe Australia president Deborah Miller recently riled Queenslanders by suggesting Townsville beauty queen Rachael Finch had to "refine her accent" before hitting the world stage.

"Having to lose your Queensland accent? I've come across that myself when I was starting out, when I moved further south ... and I was a bit offended, I have to say," Ms Jacobsen said.

"I think there's something charming about having a regional accent and maybe we can embrace those differences a bit instead of considering it to be negative. As long as you can be understood."

Ms Jacobsen is also a singer who has shared a New York club stage with Norah Jones and supported Cyndi Lauper on a stadium tour of the US.

But being for ever known as "the GPS girl" is fine with her.

"I am so thrilled that I get to tell people where to go and what to do all over the world and I'm not even there," Ms Jacobsen said.,23739,25439328-3102,00.html

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Glyndebourne: preserving the festival's identity

Glyndebourne opera festival is celebrating its 75th birthday with innovations – but the old idyll persists

Watch Glyndebourne - Giulio Cesare on Plushmusic

Glyndebourne is about to hit its 75th birthday with a spring in its step. When the season opens later this month, there will be a new restaurant designed by architecture's oldest enfant terrible, Nigel Coates. A scheme has been introduced to woo the under-thirties by allotting them cheaper tickets.

There's been a clean-out of the notorious 20-year waiting list for admission to the club which sustains the enterprise, and 4,000 of those in the queue have just been fast-tracked into "associate membership".

A head of commercial development has recently been appointed, charged with "pushing the brand", and they're ahead of the game in exploring the potential of new HD technology and web broadcasting. The organisation is also busy reducing its carbon consumption, and plans for a 230ft wind turbine were approved last year – much to the rage of some of its neighbours.

But the old idyll persists – it's still one of the defining images of an English summer, a deeply serious opera festival framed by a faintly dotty country-house fête champêtre, inaugurated by John Christie in 1934 and now executively chaired by his grandson Gus.

A lavish new photographic book, Glyndebourne: A Visual History, with a sharply candid text by Gus's father George records the on- and off-stage glamour of the place, which author Jeanette Winterson has nobly defended from the puritanical sneers of Lefties and opera-loathers: "If life is about heightened moments, and living well when we can," she wrote, "then Glyndebourne is an essential part of life."

Somehow it all has to be paid for. Glyndebourne receives no public subsidy for the festival, and it has to make a profit in order to flourish. Recent successful seasons have allowed the build-up of some reserves, but the box office must hit around 95 per cent of capacity in order to fulfil the budget.

So far, however, the crunch is being faced with equanimity. Corporate sponsorship has been in decline for a decade, so the further inevitable drop this year is not significant, and there has been a simultaneous compensatory rise in donations from individuals (who are giving around £2 million this year).

A gala concert in June had to moderate its ambitions in order to sell out, but with the help of a big advertising campaign, box office for the festival is already running at 90 per cent, ahead of last year. Everyone knows that next year is likely to be the really tough one, but there are no signs of any tendency to make easy or lazy compromises on matters of quality.

David Pickard has been general director of Glyndebourne since 2001. To him falls the delicate task of assembling a menu which both sustains Glyndebourne's reputation at the operatic forefront (in the business, its overall standards are rated among the highest in the world) and satisfies a demanding clientele who feel that they pay good money to hear nice tunes and see pretty costumes and who baulk at horrible modern music.
This year Pickard has ruffled a few feathers by leaving out Mozart, whose operas have been Glyndebourne's bread, butter and jam since the Thirties.

Pickard is unapologetic, pointing out that there will be two Mozart productions in 2010 – a new staging of Don Giovanni (originally scheduled to be directed by Sam Mendes this summer and postponed for reasons of availability: sadly, Mendes has now dropped out of the project altogether) and a revival of Nicholas Hytner's elegant version of Così fan tutte. "We don't want to feel that Mozart must be included simply because he always has been," says Pickard. "There ought to be good artistic reasons for his every appearance."

The other signal he wants to give out is a long-term commitment to explore the Baroque repertory. This year, there will be a new production of Purcell's The Fairy Queen, conducted by William Christie, and another revival of David McVicar's hugely successful camped-up version of Handel's Giulio Cesare, starring Danielle de Niese as Cleopatra.

Mademoiselle de Niese's performance in this role so entranced Gus Christie when the production was new in 2005 that he is now engaged to marry her – one of many romances conjured by Glyndebourne's seductive ambience.

Further ahead, Pickard promises more Handel, and perhaps a crack at the tough nut of Rameau as well. Beyond the Baroque, two major additions to the repertory will be Britten's Billy Budd, directed by Michael Grandage, and Wagner's Die Meistersinger, directed by David McVicar.

Russian opera, a speciality of Glyndebourne's music director Vladimir Jurowski, will also feature strongly, including a revival of The Rake's Progress in David Hockney's immortal designs. Phobics of horrible modern music will be relieved to hear that no new operas are currently commissioned.

Glyndebourne works hard. "We play 120 performances a year," says Pickard, "which is more than most major Italian opera houses." Apart from the summer season, there's also a national tour every autumn, which this year moves from Glyndebourne itself to Stoke-on-Trent, Milton Keynes, Woking, Plymouth and Norwich.

This is an expensive operation: despite some Arts Council subsidy and audiences averaging 85 per cent of capacity, it loses the organisation some £200,000 per year. But commitment to the tour, says Pickard is "absolute", and lower ticket prices give many people who can't get to the festival access to Glyndebourne productions. Musical standards are high, with an emphasis on giving younger performers their head – the tour's recent music directors have included such distinguished conductors as Ivor Bolton, Louis Langrée, Edward Gardner and Robin Ticciati at the beginning of their careers, and singers such as Roberto Alagna, Gerald Finley and Emma Bell have all made important debuts here.

This year's tour, which also includes the new production of Falstaff and a revival of Jenu˚fa, will see chorus member Gillian Ramm take the leading role of Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte for the first time. Such internal promotion is happily typical of Glyndebourne, which prefers to grow its own organically rather than buy in over-priced imported goods.

Innovation, in other words, comes out of tradition – or, as Pickard succinctly puts it, "Continuity is what we value most."

Glyndebourne Festival's 2009 season runs from May 21 to August 30. Returns at short notice are often available for sold-out performances (01273 813813 or www.glyndebourne com )

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Britain's Mini masterpiece!


I don't share Hanlon's view that the Mini was the best car ever made. I think that of my Toyota Echo. But, like him, I loved my mini when I had it -- JR

Cramped, leaky and ear-splittingly noisy, it's an unlikely icon. But as the Mini turns 50, one devoted owner salutes the best car ever made...

Machines are not meant to be loved. Who ever swooned for a Boeing 737 on their charter flight to Malaga, or fell for the 5.45 from Waterloo to Surbiton?

But some machines transcend practicality: Concorde, for example, or the great steam locomotives of the 1930s. And then there's the Mini - 50 years old this week and, to my mind, not only a machine worthy of devotion, but a work of creative and engineering genius.

I have driven faster cars, more comfortable cars, certainly more expensive cars.

I once spent a day with a 252mph Bugatti Veyron - a fabulous car which costs £1million - yet I cannot honestly say I had more fun in it than in the £300 battered but beloved Mini Mayfair which my wife and I owned in the early Nineties and which could be driven at full throttle almost anywhere on public roads.

Perhaps I was biased, having learned to drive in another Mini - a bright yellow one belonging to my instructor, with a slightly iffy clutch that was the legacy of British Leyland's unique attitude to quality control at the time.

It wasn't the only car I'd ever driven as a learner. I used to practise in my mum's Ford Escort - a far more powerful car. But even as a learner, it was clear that nothing parked more neatly, turned more swiftly or was easier to back around a corner than the Mini.

The story of the Mini, told in two new books celebrating the car's half-century, is quite extraordinary. It was born in the 1950s, a difficult age when Britain was battling post-war debt and reconstruction costs and, thanks to the Suez Crisis, the rising price of oil.

Back then the upper classes drove (or were driven in) Daimlers, Rolls-Royces and Bentleys. The middle classes had their Rileys, Rovers and Austins and Wolseleys - comfortable but often oldfashioned, unadventurous cars.


Poorer people simply didn't drive at all, or if they did were forced to squeeze into impecunious oddities such as the lethal 'bubble cars' which were briefly fashionable. But in Germany, Volkswagen's Beetle was proving a hit and threatening to take over the world. Britain needed an answer.

That came thanks to one of the country's great engineering geniuses, Alex Issigonis. Of Bavarian-Greek extraction, Issigonis, who had already designed the brilliant Morris Minor, was ordered by the head of the British Motor Corporation, Leonard Lord, to come up with something better than 'these bloody awful bubble cars - we need a proper miniature car'.

The 'Mini' had to be small - fitting in a box 10ft x 4ft x 4ft. Most important, there had to be four seats and the passenger compartment had to occupy 80per cent of the car's volume.

It had to be cheap, light and use as much existing machinery (including one of BMC's engines) as possible, to save costs. Issigonis sketched a design for a little boxy car - literally, on the back of an envelope. He fulfilled the design brief first by making the Mini front-wheel-drive (unlike most other cars at the time) which liberated space.

Then he swivelled the engine around sideways, giving a few more precious inches, and stuck the gearbox in the sump. To save more space (and weight) his friend, Alex Moulton, designed a simple and highly effective rubber suspension system, meaning that the Mini had no need for heavy and bulky springs.

Inside, the Mini was beautifully spartan. The doors had no padding, and because the windows slid open, rather than being wound up and down, there was no need for a bulky mechanism. No door handle inside, either - just a piece of string!

On the dashboard there was no question of glossy walnut or intricate dials - merely one big speedometer and a shelf. Thin seats, and plenty of glass to give excellent visibility.

From an engineering point of view, the Mini was actually quite a complex vehicle, but Issigonis tried to keep it as simple as possible, even having the welding seams on the outside to make construction easier.

No one really knew what to make of the Mini when it was released in May 1959. Costing £500 including tax (about £5,500 in today's money) the Mini was cheap - and it was good.

Motoring writers praised its go-kart handling and sheer turn of speed - a well-driven Mini could easily outrun a Jag on a twisty road and the Mini (officially called the Austin Seven before its nickname took over) made the Beetle look like a lumbering dinosaur.

In fact, the engine had to be detuned because BMC feared that it was simply too fast.

But people were suspicious and initially the Mini didn't sell. Its name, its smallness and its cheapness actually seemed to be counting against it.


This may have been the age of austerity, but people didn't like to be reminded of the fact. It was only some years after its launch that the Mini finally took off, when it was embraced by drivers from a social spectrum very different from its intended market.

Issigonis was thinking along the right lines in October 1959 when, in an inspired bit of marketing, he took the Queen for a ride in his new baby around Windsor Great Park. Her Majesty drove the Mini and was impressed. And if a Mini was good enough for the Queen, it was good enough for anyone.

Before long, the Mini was bring driven by celebrities and pop stars, as well as royalty. Twiggy had one. So did fellow model Jean Shrimpton and film star Peter Sellers. Tory Cabinet Minister John Profumo bought one, as did Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon. The Mini became (like the Beetle) a truly classless car.

What was so impressive was that the Mini was not originally made to be cute or fashionable (like so many of today's ghastly retro-pastiche cars). It looked the way it did because that was how it needed to look. Form followed function, in the best engineering tradition.

It wasn't perfect, of course. There was little room for safety equipment. Have a bad crash in a Mini and it was probably going to hurt.

And it was not always a comfortable ride - particularly for passengers. I remember a 100-mile drive across Ireland in the back of one. My knees complained for weeks afterwards.

Then there was that tiny boot - big enough only for a couple of overnight bags. Worse was a design flaw which meant that driving through a puddle inevitably meant a wet distributor and consequent misfire. (The solution? Get a rubber washing-up glove, snip the tips off the fingers and fit them around the electric leads.)


Minis rusted, leaked and were noisy (there was no sound insulation), but they were still wonderful.

Several variants were made, from the souped-up rally-winning Coopers (a good original one from the 1960s is worth £20,000 or more today) to the rather dire snub-nosed Clubmans and odd Riley- and Wolseley-badged versions that looked like someone had put a limo in the tumble drier and shrunk it.

When the Mini was finally killed off, in 2000, nearly 5.5million had been sold. And it has never been bettered, or replaced. Rights to the name were retained by BMW when it sold Rover, but BMW's new 'MINI', a much larger car, is like the old one in name only, not in spirit.

Today's 'small' cars are behemoths in comparison - overpowered machines full of luxuries no one truly needs.

How astonishing to consider that back in the 1950s, when the world was broke and everyone worried about the future price of petrol, Britain had the engineering talent to come up with a solution.

We still have the talent but, sadly, no longer an indigenous car industry that might capitalise on our new age of austerity and uncertainty.

As for my own beloved Mini, changing circumstances necessitated a (reluctant) sale. I miss it still. But like tens of thousands of other Mini owners, it's no idle boast to say that for a few joyful years, I once owned the best car ever made.