September 19

Ten thoughts about the Scottish independence referendum result

Ten thoughts about the Scottish independence referendum result:

1) I’m glad we’re still a United Kingdom.

2) The real victor is democracy – up to 90% of people voting – WOW! Usual election turnout rates in the UK are a disgrace.

3) It is outrageous that Scottish MPs can vote on laws which only affect England - and this must change.

4) The disgraceful situation where Scottish students and those from France, Germany and the rest of the UK get free university tuition fees but English, Welsh and Northern Irish student have to PAY THOUSANDS is a disgusting state of affairs and must be changed. Ditto free prescriptions in Scotland but not in England.

5) Alistair Darling – proof that quiet and good mannered people can triumph over noisy clichéd rhetoric.

6) Most Scots voted with their heads rather than their hearts.

7) As I’ve said for a long time, history will be kinder on Gordon Brown – a essentially decent man – than it will on Blair. And wow, what a speech.

8) I never want to hear the phrase “devo max” ever again. (I’d also be quite pleased to not see Alex Salmond or Nicola Sturgeon on TV for a good while…)

9) I haven’t been to Scotland for a while – it’s about time I went there again.

10) Above all, we are better together.

Category: Uncategorized
September 12

Donald Sinden: “I thought my knighthood letter was a wind-up!”

Sad to hear today of the passing of Sir Donald Sinden, an actor of great range and depth. His career encompassed films like The Cruel Sea, extensive stage work, TV comedy like Never The Twain.

I interviewed him first as a young reporter when he appeared at the Chichester Festival Theatre. An imposing and seemingly rather grand figure, he was nevertheless, utterly charming and not remotely stuffy. I last spoke to him 12 years ago when he appeared in the BBC drama Judge John Deed. He was his usual jolly and ebullient self. Here’s the piece:

Veteran actor Sir Donald Sinden‘s interest in Britain’s legal system goes way beyond simply playing a judge in the BBC One drama series Judge John Deed.

In fact he likes nothing better than whiling away a few hours in a court room watching a gritty real-life case and reckons a seat in the public gallery at a good court case can be the best free ticket in town for entertainment value.

“I’m enormously interested in the law,” says Donald. “I go to watch cases quite frequently and find them absolutely fascinating. I’ve been dozens of times over the years.

“I was on a tour abroad recently and I went to see cases in Sydney and Melbourne because I like to see how different countries operate their legal systems.”

Donald recently took his 22-year-old grandson Hal to see a case. “I thought it was time he was introduced to the seamier side of London life,” he laughs. “So I took him off to The Old Bailey.

“A friend of mine is a judge there so I telephoned him and he said he had a very boring case on but he said he’d which court had a interesting one going on!

“So when we arrived we were told to go to court sixteen which had a rather juicy murder case being heard of a young man who had [allegedly] kicked his drug dealer to death.

“During the afternoon there was a break and the defence counsel saw me and came rushing over and said: ‘You gave me such a shock when you walked in earlier.’

“I said: ‘Why?’ and he said: ‘Well this morning the prosecution counsel opened the case with a real histrionic display as he described the murder scene and all the blood and brains splattered on the floor.

“‘So when I rose I accused him of behaving like Donald Sinden - and I thought you’d heard about this!’ He’d meant that the other barrister had presented his case in a very theatrical fashion. I thought it was very funny!”

Donald‘s character in Judge John Deed is an appeal court judge Sir Joseph  Channing, John Deed’s ex-father in law, and a man very different to Deed, who has a reputation as a progressive and an independent thinker.

“Sir Joseph is a rather right-wing, blustering and very much of the old school,” says Donald. “That makes him poles apart from John Deed both politically and in their attitude towards the law.

“And socially Sir Joseph is quite upper class whereas John Deed is a working class boy made good and every time they meet they try to get along but very quickly rub each other up the wrong way.”

Donald has a soft spot for Sir Joseph. “He’s not a nasty man,” he says. “He’s a product of his generation and all his life he has worked studiously for the good of the legal system.

“He’s honest and straightforward and none of his cases have ever been overturned. It’s just that whereas John Deed would put someone on probation, Sir Joseph would sentence them to hard labour if he could!”

Donald‘s 60-year career has encompassed a wide variety of work including films like wartime classic The Cruel Sea and The Day of the Jackal to comedies like Doctor In The House and TV sitcoms like Never The Twain.

He was knighted in 1997 – but didn’t believe it at first. “It was lovely,” he says. “It was a complete shock and when I received the letter from Downing Street I thought it was a wind-up!  “You have to reply saying whether you will accept the honour. I was worried it might get lost in the post so I delivered it by hand to Number 10. The policeman recognised me and let me in the gate.

“As I approached it that famous Number 10 door opened and an arm came out and took the letter. I never did find out if the arm was attached to the door or a person!”

Donald, who has been married to his wife Diana for more than fifty years, was 79 last month but has no plans to retire. “Actors don’t retire,” he laughs.  “I’m still enjoying it and doing work like Judge John Deed is a joy.”  

August 4

A hero in the family #WorldWarOne


My Grandad – and in the trenches (front, second from left)

When the call came to fight for King and Country, Claude Clark didn’t hesitate. As soon as he could, he followed in his elder brother Charles’ footsteps and travelled from his terraced home in Portsmouth to Winchester, home of the Hampshire Regiment and signed up.

It was Tuesday 18th January 1916, ten days after Allied evacuation of Helles marked the end of the disastrous Gallipoli campaign and eleven days before compulsory conscription was introduced in Britain.

Claude was just eighteen years and a month old and a slight figure at just 5 foot five inches tall. Until that moment, he had been working as a joiner’s apprentice. Now he was 46198: Clark, Claude Clement, Private – and the latest teenage recruit into the British army.

The reality of what lay ahead was all too real. He was then asked to sign Army Form W.3664 – better known as a recruit’s Will. It was a functional piece of paper, just a little larger than a modern day post-it note. Under “Final disposal and to whom sent” he wrote simply “To Mum”.

A poignant note – and one which has particular resonance for me. For 18-year-old Claude Clark, Private 46198 of the Hampshire Regiment, was my Grandfather.

My Grandad died before I reached my teens and I never talked to him about his wartime service. Of course, I wish I had, but realistically it’s unlikely he would have wanted to talk to a child about the horrors he had faced.


A sketch entitled “The artist at war – what a beautiful sunset!”

Like most men who survived the degradation and nightmare of the trenches, he would have wanted to put it all behind him and move on with life. It’s certain that his military service stayed with him mentally, as it did physically – and I remember him being terribly wheezy, a result of him being gassed in the trenches.

Piecing together exactly what he did during the war isn’t easy. Like those of so many millions of his comrades, my Grandfather’s wartime service record fell victim to a bombing raid on the National Archives during the Second World War.

What was saved from the ensuing blaze are literally fire-damaged fragments. We know from some remaining paperwork that he moved around quite a lot. He joined the Hampshire Regiment before switching to the 446 Field Company, Royal Engineers (and his rank was swapped from private to sapper) and then to the 12th Yorks (Pioneers). He earned 2 shilling and sixpence a day.
What we do know was that he was gassed, although we don’t know when or where. We also know that he was demobilised on February 10 1919, two months after Armistice Day.

To our knowledge Claude didn’t keep a diary so we don’t have a detailed record of his war. But recently we’ve found something arguably better. He was a keen amateur artist, something he loved throughout his life, and took a drawing book to the trenches.
Found in a box of family papers, my Grandfather’s battered old book and loose pages of drawings give an extraordinary insight into his war. There’s an almost mocking cartoon of an effete-looking officer “the sub”, a drawing of a wounded comrade labelled “a blighty”, a self-portait of “the artist at war – what a beautiful sunset” and many, many more.

There are sketches of an airman’s grave, a dogfight, refugees, an old lady, a dugout – a real range both of subjects and, one imagines, of the artist’s mood, from serious and dour to humorous.

(I’ll be writing more about the sketches soon).

After the war my Grandad returned to his home town in Portsmouth. On 6th July 1940, four days before the beginning of The Battle of Britain during the Second World War he married my Grandmother Margaret Fogden at St Stephen’s Church, North Mundham in Sussex.

Claude's pictures1-001

Images from my Grandad’s World War One sketchbook

He was, for the time, quite an old groom at 43. He and my Grandmother went on to have four children: a son, Barry – my Dad – and three daughters, Averil, Rosemary and Gill.

During the Second World War Claude put his skills as an artist to good use and worked as a camouflage painter helping to hide important military sites in the south of England ahead of D-Day. After the Second World War he founded a sign and printing firm Clark’s Sign Work’s Limited in Portsmouth and his love of art meant he also had an art shop on the site, a stones’ throw from Portsmouth College of Art.


Happier days… my Grandad on holiday with my Dad and his sisters Averil and Rosemary.

He became Secretary of the Hampshire Art Society and much of his time was spent painting and drawing. He loved the south coast and spent many happy holidays in Swanage in Dorset.

Born in 1897, he was already in his seventies by the time I was born, but we spent most Saturday afternoons (and every Christmas Day) at my grandparent’s home in Fareham. I have some prized sketches that he did for me one Saturday. They are just little cartoons, but are special to me. As we left to head home he gave us pocket money, a ten pence coin, pressed firmly into our hands.

My Grandad died on January 4th 1981, aged 83.

Like many of us who have never been called upon to defend our country and our freedom, I have often wondered how I would have reacted. I’d like to think I’d have done the right thing like my Grandad did: risk the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good.

Claude Clark 3

My Grandad as I remember him

So many people gave so much for our country in the First World War and subsequent conflicts. My Grandad did the right thing. I am proud of him: my Grandad – my hero.








Category: History