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Thursday, July 12, 2007

There stands the enemy

By Ian Skidmore
I saw I was down on the diary to cover the Miners’ Gala on Hexthorpe Fields in Doncaster and to interview the guest of honour, Mr Aneurin Bevan.
I found him in the cocktail bar of the Danum, where in the future I was to sleep in a bath, to beat a UP man in interviewing Charlie Chaplin.
I knew it was the Great Socialist because of his Savile Row suit, the shirt from Thos Pink, the Lobb boots and the Trumper’s haircut. A fragrance by Floris lay heavy on the air.
He was knee deep in aldermen and I hovered uneasily at the edge until he summoned me to come forward and be identified.
“The Yorkshire Evening News? I am honoured. Come into the body of the chapel and tell me what I might buy you to drink.”
I said could I have a half of bitter and he said, “A HALF OF BITTER?” in that squeaky voice he had. “A HALF? OF BITTER BEER? You cannot dip the pen of eloquence in the watery ink of bitter beer... A large Scotch for my literary friend!”
In those days I had Scotch only at Hogmanay and I had never been anybody’s literary anything.
The minutes flew by in the sort of quiet content I expect you get by the yard in heaven. When the time came he put his arm round my shoulders and we walked together to the Fields. Hexthorpe? Elysian.
The miners parted like the Dead Sea and we strode through their ranks. As he climbed on to the dray from which he was to address them he was careful to plant me just where he could see me. He said I gave him confidence. I wasn't surprised. I assumed that's how it was with bosom friends.
The miners had been drinking Barnsley bitter since dawn and it was a hot day. The sun on their heads sent the bitter a-thump and you could see it lifting their scalps. They were looking for someone to tear apart and Bevan gave them someone.
“The enemy,” he explained to them, “is not the capitalist in his Rolls-Royce and his Savile Row suit…” (I thought: there is only one bugger here in a Savile Row suit, but the thought seemed unworthy and I banished it.)
“No,” he said in a triumphal squeak. “The enemy is not the National Coal Board in their swanky marble offices. No… THERE STANDS THE ENEMY!”
And he pointed at me.
“The prostituted press of our country - that is the enemy,” he said.
They would have torn me apart there and then but they were transfixed by his eloquence. My notebook was all wet and soggy and I didn't know if it was rain or tears.
As I shuffled off the field a pariah, I felt an arm round my shoulders. It was him.
“Mr Bevan,” I said, “I will probably get the sack for saying it, but I think you are a right bastard.”
“Oh,don't be like that,” he squeaked. “We both got a job to do. Come and have a drink.”

1 comment:

Colin Randall said...

Ian on Nye Bevan reminds me of a visit by Arthur Scargill to South Wales during the 1984 miners' strike. It was a cavernous sports centre and the press area was a very prominent, raised structure surrounded on all sides by strikers and their families and supporters. In the middle of his typically fiery speech, Arthur turned and pointed at the assembled hacks, film cews etc. Deriding the stream of NUJ donations to the strike welfare fund, he raised his voice to a virtual shriek and exclaimed: "Don't send us your shekels. Stop spreading your lies."
If he'd added the single word "Attack", we'd all have been dead.