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April 02 2012

Nares Craig obituary

My father, Nares Craig, has died aged 94. An architect by training, he worked as a senior civil servant for the Building Research Station (now the Building Research Establishment) for nearly 30 years. During his time there he developed the low-cost Brecast building system, which was used widely in earthquake and hurricane-prone regions. The majority of his work was directed at improving conditions and alleviating housing shortages in poorer communities throughout the developing world. This meant a lot of travel, and Nares was proudest of his time in Chile, where he got to know Salvador Allende only weeks before the president was toppled by the Pinochet coup.

Cameron Nares Craig was born in the week of the Russian Revolution. He was educated at Charterhouse, Surrey, and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he became one of the "night climbers" of Cambridge during the 1930s. A strong believer in peace and disarmament, Nares became a conscientious objector when the second world war broke out, though by this time he was also a dedicated communist and, along with many of his peer group, he joined up in 1941 after the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union.

After a spell in the ranks, he served as a captain in the Royal Engineers and, while commanding tanks in Europe, won awards for bravery and redesigning the Bailey mobile bridge, which the army used to great effect to cross the Rhine.

During the war, Nares met Thora, a nurse and firebrand trade unionist who had recently returned from the International Brigades in Spain. They married in 1946. Thora was the love of his life and his political soulmate; their relationship lasted for more than 50 years, until her death in 1999.

In his youth, Nares knew figures such as Virginia Woolf, Clough Williams-Ellis and HG Wells. Later in life, he met and befriended many remarkable socialists, communists and revolutionaries, including Paul Robeson, Melina Mercouri and Cheddi Jagan.

Politics and family were the constants of his life. Nares is survived by his son Jonathan and myself, eight grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. His elder daughter, Tina, died two years ago. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

May 05 2010

Who received EU farm subsidies last year? Whitehall won't say | David Hencke

In refusing to release information about who receives subsidies until after the election, civil servants are exceeding their brief

Over the bank holiday weekend senior civil servants running the country took an extraordinary decision to ban the public from seeing information because they thought it was so controversial that it would disrupt election campaigning.

They decided to protect candidates from being asked questions on the issue and thought it best the public be left in ignorance about the facts.

What was this issue? Not some horrendous economic figure, some real facts on immigration. No, it was decision not to reveal which farmers and agribusinesses scooped up some £3bn from the taxpayer from EU farm subsidies last year.

On Friday statistics were published simultaneously in the other 26 EU countries revealing who had been paid what – it is part of a victory by European journalists to force countries under freedom of information acts to release all this previously secret information.

But in London – against an EU directive – the information was banned. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs website says: "Due to the general election campaign, this website will not be updated with the 2009 figures until after the election."

A letter from a Defra official to Jack Thurston, head of, which campaigns for transparency for EU payments, says why: "This decision reflects the need to maintain, and be seen to maintain, the impartiality of the UK civil service, given the potential risk that CAP payment information relating to any individuals involved in the election might be used as part of election campaigning."

Yet ministries continue to publish information on hospital admissions and roads, just to name two. And in post-devolution Scotland they have taken the opposite decision. They published their figures over the weekend – revealing that 19,000 farmers and agribusinesses shared nearly £600m of public money and the world has not fallen apart north of the border.

So who does this protect? Initial research by reveals that possibly up to 70 of the 650 Tory candidates standing at the election could be receiving some sort of subsidy. Up to half a dozen Ukip candidates – who campaign against the EU – could be receiving EU cash as well as a smattering of Liberal Democrat candidates. On the Tory side they have discovered that the declared postcode for receipt of EU subsidies is often the same one as used by a local Conservative Association, suggesting that leading officials of the local parties are also receiving subsidies. These are all taken from the previous year's subsidy figures.

Yet we won't know, thanks to Whitehall, until after the election – even though the EU has made it clear in an article in the EU Observer today that it is disappointed with Britain and intends to write to the new government pointing out it is not in line with the EU directive.

Frankly, disappointment is too weak a word. It is scandal that unelected officials should decide what information should be made public and when. The decision is also partisan in that it appears to protect opposition party candidates more than Labour candidates from scrutiny – particularly in the case of the Conservatives.

Sir Gus O'Donnell, the cabinet secretary, should reverse this now. Otherwise it bodes very badly if we are in hung parliament territory when Whitehall will be effectively running the country while politicians sort out a new government. If officials are going to select what information the public should know and what should be kept secret, they are exceeding their brief. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

December 15 2009

James Gillray cartoons discovered

• Rare volume by caricaturist found inside bin liner
• Art seized as pornography now donated to V&A

A rare volume of explicit Gillray cartoons, which sexually lampooned 18th-century establishment figures and were seized by a Victorian vice squad, has been handed to the Victoria & Albert museum after lying undiscovered in Home Office archives for more than a century.

The edition of the "Suppressed Plates", sold under the counter when published in the 1840s due to what the V&A called their "scurrilous" and "offensive" content for the period, was found bound in a bin liner and wedged between a cabinet and a desk as staff at the criminal law policy unit of the Ministry of Justice moved offices.

The folio of 40 caricatures will join an album acquired by the V&A in 1869 of 500 less controversial etchings by James Gillray, considered Britain's greatest genius of political caricature, who died, unmarried and insane, in 1815.

Gillray, whose scathing satires of royalty, leading politicians and the French elite terrified his targets, was so politically influential that William Pitt the Younger attempted to buy him off with a £200-a-year pension. The Prince Regent, later George IV, tried to buy as many copies as possible to take them out of circulation.

Gillray was at his most productive between 1780 and 1810. His original plates, with their themes of venality, gluttony and sexual rapaciousness, were acquired in 1840 by the publisher Henry Bohn, who reissued the caricatures, both as single sheets and in large bound volumes.

However, the Suppressed Plates were not openly published and were only sold secretly to trusted customers.

Today few intact editions remain, the rest having been broken up and sold as single sheets. It is believed the album was later seized as pornographic material.

The etchings include Fashionable Contrasts; – or – The Duchess's Little Shoe Yielding to the Magnitude of the Duke's Foot, a ribald commentary on the physical differences between Prince Frederick, the second son of George III, and his uncomely and unpopular bride, Princess Frederica.

"The Duke of York was a very big man, with a reputation for being sexually rapacious," said Stephen Calloway, curator of prints at the V&A.

"The two shoes, one huge pair facing down, one tiny pair facing up, is an iconic image. And it has become artistic shorthand for sex ever since."

Another is called Ci-Devant Occupations; – or – Madame Talian and the Empress Josephine Dancing Naked Before Barras in the Winter of 1797 – a Fact. It shows the two women dancing in front of the French revolutionary Paul Barras, already intimate with Josephine, while an infatuated, midget Napoleon Bonaparte looks on.

"The idea was that French politicians and the ruling elite in Paris were so corrupt that their politicians would engage with naked ladies," explained Calloway.

He said Gillray's often scatological and explicit works, with his distinctive voluptuous women and spindly men, would have outraged the Victorians.

The volume was discovered by David Pearson, a senior policy adviser in pornography at the criminal law policy unit. He said: "I didn't know the artist's name, but I knew I knew the work and that they were important." Now nicknamed Indiana Jones within the unit, he researched the drawings on the web before the Ministry of Justice approached the V&A. "I could hardly sneak it out of the office unnoticed. It's quite a large volume," he said.

"We do find the odd thing lying around here and there. We sent some old obscene books seized years and years ago up to Cambridge University recently. Of course, they weren't anything like obscene by today's standards."

Handing over the Suppressed Plates to the V&A, Bridget Prentice, the justice minister, said: "This is the right place for it to be. I couldn't really see the prints hanging on a ministerial office wall."

Admitting, almost wistfully, that she had never herself been caricatured during her political career, Prentice said she was a fan of clever political cartoons, citing the Guardian's Steve Bell as one of her favourites. "But they have to be careful not to overstep to the point of cruelty. Even politicians have feelings," she said.

"Looking at Gillray's work, you can see the influence still today."

Gillray produced more than 600 satirical plates, with his favourite targets being George III, the Prince Regent, the Whig statesman Charles James Fox and his arch-rival, Pitt the Younger.

The most famous of his works is The Plumb-Pudding in Danger, showing the globe as a pudding from which Pitt and Napoleon carve off slices.

A brief history of British cartoonists

William Hogarth (1697-1764)

Painter and pictorial satirist whose work, which included comic strip-like series of pictures about what he called "modern moral subjects", poked fun at contemporary politics and inspired the description "Hogarthian" to sum up amoral urban decadence.

George Cruikshank (1792-1878)

Renowned for social caricatures of English life. He gained notoriety for political prints, including The Massacre of Peterloo, or Britons Strike Home, and reputedly received £100 from George IV not to depict him in any "immoral situation". His illustrations for Charles Dickens's books reached an international audience.

David Low (1891-1963)

Born in New Zealand, Low made his name in the 1930s and 40s with his Colonel Blimp character satirising the British establishment. His depictions of Hitler and Mussolini led to his work being banned in Italy and Germany.

Victor Weisz (Vicky) (1913-1966)

German-born Vicky became one of Britain's leading leftwing cartoonists, ridiculing Harold Macmillan as "Supermac", a spoof on the Superman comic, and producing memorable cartoons of Anthony Eden in his homburg hat.

Steve Bell (1951-)

Award-winning Guardian cartoonist best known for the If … strip, which has run since 1981, and for rendering John Major as a pair of grey underpants. Bell cites Gillray as one of his greatest influences. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2009 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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