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August 02 2012

Bradley Wiggins on his Olympic throne – a reminder of Britain's true history | Jonathan Jones

This picture hints at something that was missing from Danny Boyle's Olympic opening ceremony: empire

The 2012 Olympics began with a vision of British history. Danny Boyle's romantic panorama started in a pastoral land of shepherds, then showed it torn apart by the rising chimney stacks of the industrial revolution. But out of this pandemonium rose the suffragettes, marching for the vote, and the wonder that is the National Health Service.

Five days into the Games, and Bradley Wiggins was pictured here on a golden throne in front of Hampton Court Palace. Wiggins sprawls on his throne for photographers after winning his gold medal in the cycling time trial. He paid this royal palace the ultimate insult of apparently not knowing where he actually was – "wherever we are", he told interviewers. This picture might be seen as a sequel to Boyle's imaginary revolution. The people have occupied the palaces! Comrade Wiggins sits on the tsar's throne!

And yet, the red bricks of the mighty building behind King Bradley tell another story. As Olympic events take place at evocative locations across southern England, there is some consolation for Tory critics who suspected Boyle's extravaganza might – just might – be a little leftwing in its none-too-hidden messages. While Boyle celebrated a people's history of Britain, Olympic locations like Hampton Court, not to mention the Eton rowing lake, offer a toffs' history after all. As Wiggins celebrates his medal in this picture, the warm ochre facade of Henry VIII's palace bears quietly formidable witness to who really built Britain.

Boyle's vision of Albion imagined a Britain where folk shared the common land before the rise of those "dark Satanic mills". But Hampton Court is a monument to the powerful state built by the Tudors centuries before the first factories appeared. This grand house, originally built for Cardinal Wolsey, became one of a constellation of royal palaces along the Thames. Here Henry received his advisers. Here, according to folklore, walk the ghosts of his executed wives.

Hampton Court is as much a wonder as Wiggins is – and it tells a story of Britain just as spectacular as the one Danny Boyle crafted. The ancient wall behind the triumphant cyclist has terracotta portraits of the caesars embedded into it. Within the palace itself are Mantegna's paintings of power and glory, The Triumphs of Caesar. Why all the caesars? In Mantegna's paintings – bought for Britain by Charles I – defeated prisoners are brought to Rome as slaves while their goods are booty. It is an image of imperial triumph. And here's the real absence in Boyle's vision of Britain: we had the biggest empire in world history.

Britain's wealth did not start with the steam engine. It started with empire. The British empire was imagined in Tudor times, as Hampton Court's caesars show. When Henry VIII was desperate to divorce his wife and the Pope said no, Henry's scholars "proved" Britain had always been an empire since ancient times. A dangerous idea was born. By the end of the Tudor age tentative colonists were braving the wilds of north America. Plantations in Virginia prospered in the 1600s on the back of slavery. Britain's slave empire was driven by an appetite for sugar not only among the rich but among the innocent ordinary white people so celebrated by Boyle, too.

The strong, centralised monarchical government so long established in Britain enabled it to rule a global empire without any pressure on its internal social fabric. Essentially, the British are not Boyle's nation of protest but a docile people who celebrated their royals while the French and later Russians were executing theirs, and who enjoyed the wealth of empire with few questions or scruples.

Maybe this picture holds within it not a Tory so much as a pessimist's history of Britain. Are we really a nation of rebels and visionaries? Or are we lost in Hampton Court's Maze, our present and future bamboozled by a royal and imperial heritage? © 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

June 29 2012

Stone Roses reunion concerts to be boycotted by photographers

Dozens of photographers will boycott Stone Roses reunion gigs in Manchester in dispute over copyright, according to NUJ

Dozens of photographers will boycott the Stone Roses reunion concerts in Manchester this weekend in a dispute over copyright, according to the National Union of Journalists.

The NUJ and several other representative bodies said they backed a boycott of the three days of gigs, which start on Friday, because of "unacceptable restrictions" on photographers.

However, a spokesman for the Stone Roses denied there was a general protest and that about 30 photographers would be attending as planned.

The NUJ said the Stone Roses management wanted to restrict editorial use of photographs taken at the event after their initial publication. The British Photographic Council, the Royal Photographic Society, Master Photographers Association and the British Institution of Professional Photography have all backed the action, according to the NUJ.

John Toner, a freelance organiser at the NUJ, said: "Too many musical artists now wish to grab rights from photographers. Having said that, people are surprised that the Stone Roses have chosen to go down this route.

"We fully understand why a band would wish to retain merchandising rights, and the photographers would be happy to concede this. Equally, a photographer must have the right to license editorial use of images without obtaining the band's permission for each use. The band's intransigence on this point has led to the organisation of a boycott."

The NUJ said it had attempted to settle the dispute with the Stone Roses, but so far the band had not changed their position.

However, Murray Chalmers, spokesman for the Stone Roses, told MediaGuardian it was "not true" that there was a general boycott and that there was a "full list" of photographers attending the Heaton Park concerts.

"There is no row with photographers," he said. "This is not a general problem and we have a full quota of photographers [planning to attend]."

He added that about 30 photographers were due to attend: "There's no issue. If someone is personally boycotting then that's up to them."

Ian Tilton, a rock photographer who helped organise the boycott, said the initial contract offered by the Stone Roses meant that pictures could only be used in the publication they were commissioned by. He said that the band, for a flat £1 fee, would then own all the rights to use the pictures on their own merchandise in future.

• To contact the MediaGuardian news desk email or phone 020 3353 3857. For all other inquiries please call the main Guardian switchboard on 020 3353 2000. If you are writing a comment for publication, please mark clearly "for publication".

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May 28 2012

Jacob Zuma penis painting removed by South African newspaper

Controversial image showing genitals of South African president taken off City Press website after escalating row with ANC

A South African newspaper has removed a controversial image of Jacob Zuma from its website, after coming under pressure from the African National Congress (ANC), explaining: "The atmosphere is like a tinderbox."

The weekly City Press was subjected to a call by the governing ANC for a reader and advertiser boycott after refusing to remove a photo of a painting that depicts the South African president with exposed genitals.

The boycott appeared to backfire on Sunday, with the paper selling out at many newsagents, but its editor took the picture down on Monday "out of care and fear".

The satirical painting, The Spear, has provoked one of South Africa's most polarising political debates in recent years, with the ANC and others construing it as reopening the wounds of racial apartheid, while others have defended artist Brett Murray's right to free expression.

"That we are now a symbol of a nation's anger and rage is never the role of media in society," Ferial Haffajee, the editor of City Press, wrote on Monday.

"We take down the image in the spirit of peacemaking – it is an olive branch. But the debate must not end here and we should all turn this into a learning moment, in the interest of all our freedoms.

"Of course, the image is coming down from fear too. I'd be silly not to admit that. The atmosphere is like a tinderbox: City Press copies went up in flames on Saturday; I don't want any more newspapers burnt in anger."

One of her reporters had been banned from covering a trade union meeting, Haffajee added, while vendors of the paper were most at risk.

"For any editor to respond to a threat to take down an article of journalism without putting up a fight is an unprincipled thing to do, so we've fought as much as we could. It doesn't serve City Press or South Africa to dig in our heels and put our fingers in our ears."

The ANC welcomed the move but still demanded an apology. Jackson Mthembu, the party's national spokesperson, said: "We appreciate what has been done. We appreciate that at least Ferial is saying she can now understand the pain.

"All that we are saying to her, is can she apologise for the pain. Please apologise to the people of South Africa. This pain has been so deep seated."

He added: "We will then call off the boycott."

Earlier Haffajee did issue an apology in an open letter to Zuma's daughter Duduzile. "I understand that what is a work of satire to me is a portrait of pain to you," it read. "I understand the impact on your little brothers and sisters, who may face teasing at school.

"Playground cruelty leaves deep scars. And if they and your dad saw the work in our pages and it caused harm, then I apologise from the bottom of my heart."

City Press's U-turn was condemned by South Africa's main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, with a warning: "We must never give in to bullies."

Mmusi Maimane, its national spokesperson, said: "Whatever one may think of the painting, no political figure – no matter how powerful or influential – has the right to tell any newspaper what it is allowed to publish or not; similarly no one should be able to tell an artist what he or she is allowed to paint."

He added: "It is unfortunate that president Zuma and the ANC chose to intimidate the City Press into taking down the painting from its website, and it is equally unfortunate that the City Press has caved in to this pressure after a valiant attempt to fight for what is right.

"This kind of self-censorship will stop our democracy in its tracks. We will never forget how the apartheid government bullied its critics in the media, many of them into submission. Those who stood firm against the bullies carried the torch of media freedom in those dark days. We must keep that flame alive."

City Press's initial stance had an unlikely defender in Julius Malema, the expelled president of the ANC's youth wing. In a column for the paper on Sunday, Malema said he intended to buy two copies, explaining: "Banning newspapers simply because we disagree with them, and boycotting them on the basis of believing that our conception of truth is absolute, poses a real threat to our democracy."

The intervention of Malema, who has fallen out bitterly with Zuma, fuelled theories that The Spear has been a gift for Zuma's base to manipulate public anger and mobilise support before he faces ANC factions in an election contest in December.

The ANC and its allies are organising a protest march on Johannesburg's Goodman Gallery on Tuesday/today, where the painting hung until it was vandalised by two protesters and removed. Although it is now widely visible on the web, including on a page of Wikipedia, the ANC will continue its legal action to have the painting and images of it banned. A court case has been postponed indefinitely. © 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

April 27 2012

These magazine covers are graphic examples that sex can sell feminism | Jonathan Jones

Does Newsweek and Foreign Policy's double act of covers objectify women or simply draw attention to good journalism?

Can you judge a magazine by its cover? Or to put it another way, should you judge a society by the images it circulates, or by the laws it enacts and the customs it lives by?

These two covers of current American magazines might mistakenly be seen as an indictment of the hypocrisy and shallowness of western secular society. While Foreign Policy promotes a feature on women in the Middle East with a photograph of a model with her naked body painted to look as if she's covered up according to Islamic principles, the cover of Newsweek uses another naked model, this time wearing a black silk blindfold, to sell an article on what it claims is a vogue for submission fantasies among America's women. The pictures make an entertaining double act as they seem to play off one another in so many ways – one of which is the contrast between recreational submission and actual submission.

Katie Roiphe's piece in Newsweek, to which which the blindfolded nude draws our eyes, is inspired by the bestselling e-novel Fifty Shades of Grey to argue that American women, while enjoying more economic and social power than ever before, are currently fascinated by a "watered-down, skinny-vanilla-latte version of sadomasochism". I would say the cover of Newsweek is actually a subtle illustration of this thesis. It pastiches that contrived "skinny-vanilla-latte" image of sadomasochism. It is closer to a Valentine's card than it is to the X Portfolio. The relationship between image and word in the case of Foreign Policy is a lot more challenging.

Mona Eltahawy's article, which the image of a nude cover-up promotes, argues that the battleground of modern feminism should be the middle east and that women are the true victims of oppression in the region, both before and after the Arab spring. She accuses Arab societies of institutional misogyny. Her article is full of horrifying examples. In Saudi Arabia, she points out, women are perpetual minors who are forbidden to drive and will acquire only very limited voting rights, finally, in 2015. When a school in Mecca caught fire in 2002 "morality police" caused the deaths of 15 girls by forbidding them to escape because they were not wearing headscarves or cloaks. Meanwhile 55% of women in Yemen are illiterate.

Clearly, Eltahawy has said goodbye to a broad swath of relativist, liberal opinion in this article, by rejecting the intellectual respectability of the idea that Islamic practices on gender should be respected and understood as different. The cover of Foreign Policy might be seen as a final parting shot, except of course the writer probably had no control over how her work was illustrated. Does the picture offer ammunition to critics of her piece who can point to its "orientalism" and its graphic evidence of the forces that oppress women in the free western world she apparently so admires? After all, when Naomi Wolf said she felt free wearing the hijab, it was presumably images such as these she felt liberated from.

I would argue the contrary. Some might say that western society's endless representation of women as sexual commodities – as typified by these pictures – is a pretty good argument for religious "modesty". But in reality they reveal a genuinely free society in which women speak powerfully. Both draw attention to incisive pieces of journalism about women, by women. Sex sells, but it can sell feminism, too.

Follow Comment is free on Twitter @commentisfree © 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

March 08 2012

Read all about it: how Gilbert & George stole the headlines

Urbane artistic pair pilfered 3,712 newspaper bills from outside London shops to create works now on show at White Cube galleries

If you are a London newsagent and have noticed an impeccably dressed but slightly shifty gentleman in his 60s regularly buying chewing gum in recent years, you may have been the victim of a "crime".

He was, in fact, a distraction to prevent you from seeing another impeccably dressed gentleman outside, removing the local newspaper bill from its metal rack.

"We realised we had to steal them," said Gilbert. "We had a drawer full of chewing gum at one stage," said George.

The men responsible for the systematic theft of 3,712 newspaper bills in east and north London are, of course, the artists Gilbert & George – and on Thursday they revealed the results in an exhibition across all three White Cube galleries in London.

The 292 bills that made it into London Pictures form Gilbert & George's largest series of works.

The artists have grouped the bills together by subject – yobs, for example, with LASER YOBS ENDANGERED COPTER PILOT and RABBIT IS SET ALIGHT BY YOBS – and laid them out in groups on a background which features them as ghostly observers.

They assumed that getting the bills would be easy. "We thought it would be very simple, we'd ask the shopkeeper to keep last week's poster," said George.

"But it was: 'What do you want that for guv?'. 'What's your game?' and 'Where are you from anyway?' They were very suspicious and very aggressive – they would never let you have one."

"Not one," interjects Gilbert.

They were caught in the act only once when an "overenthusiastic" policeman came up to George as he was putting a bill in his pocket. He pretended to be a teacher making a display of the posters at his school to try to curb antisocial behaviour and relieve pressure on police. "He replied: 'Oh sir, if only more people were like you.' "

The project has taken up all their time. "We've lived it, we've breathed it, we've sexed it, we've thought it … everything," said George. "More than any other pictures, they went all the way through us."

He said appropriating the bills allowed them to tackle subjects they otherwise may not have tackled: "I wouldn't like to start thinking about how you draw or paint a group of yobs – it would seem very patronising or awkward."

Gilbert & George have been hoarding the bills at their studios in Fournier Street, east London, where they have lived and worked for 40 years. They are something of an institution and there are people who will hang around the street in the hope of spotting the two on their regular walks.

They have won the Turner prize (1986), represented Britain at the Venice Biennale (2005) and had a retrospective at Tate Modern (2007). Throughout, they have never been shy of offending sensibilities: the Naked Shit Pictures from the mid-1990s, for example, which featured the artists naked alongside giant turds.

Four years ago, they entered into a civil partnership which they said was primarily to do with protecting the other's interest if one of them were to die.

Most of the bills in the new show are from Gilbert & George's normal hunting ground around Spitalfields and Liverpool Street, in east London, but some betray a wider journey – N7 GAS TERROR AS COPPER THIEVES STRIKE, for example, which features the postcode for Holloway. "We went to north London for dinner," said George.

The bills are a reflection of a society that we are all complicit in, the artists said.

"It is quite extraordinary that you have this slogan, this poster every single day and everybody just moves on. The next day it's another one. This is life standing still," said Gilbert.

The works are full of "death plunges", "terror" and "murder" but they also have a positive side.

"Yes there's a lot of misery, shame and unhappiness but this is also a celebration in a way because there are many countries where you can't have posters like this. It's a sign of an amazing freedom," said George.

The pictures will be on display at the White Cubes in Bermondsey, Hoxton and Mason's Yard, in central London, until 12 May – it costs nothing to get in and see them, but anything between £50,000 and £250,000 to buy one. © 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

December 14 2011

Beauty and the beast: Frozen Planet does not deserve a tabloid mauling

The press has attacked the BBC documentary over its use of zoo footage. But the Beeb has shown us the beauty in the world in a way that puts the ugly side of tabloid journalism to shame

It seems like only yesterday that I was calling for positive images of journalists. But nothing has ever made me as angry with the press as recent attacks on the BBC documentary Frozen Planet.

I can see the horror of the hacking scandal and the revelations it is unleashing at the Leveson inquiry, of course. But I love to see beauty revealed in the world, and that is what Frozen Planet achieved. I find some newspapers' attempts to undermine this televisual masterpiece and its narrator David Attenborough more repulsive than I can say.

To recap: Frozen Planet showed television audiences this autumn a world that 99% of us will never visit. It sent cameras to the volcano Erebus that belches heat into the Antarctic ice, and under the frozen crust of the Arctic seas. It was rightly adored and acclaimed.

Then a completely standard and legitimate technique, openly explained on the BBC website, of filming in zoos, or the studio, images that cannot conceivably be recorded in the wild, was "discovered" (but it wasn't secret) and "exposed" (but it wasn't wrong). Now tabloid papers are full of self-righteous fury against the Beeb and its most legendary broadcaster.

No one who has admired these programmes can take the accusations seriously. They won't damage the programme in the long term, any more than similar claims damaged its predecessor The Blue Planet. The sheer abundance of rare and unprecedented images in these programmes dwarfs the supposed flaws their critics fixate on.

For me it raises a horrible question. Is newspaper journalism a destructive enterprise?

The BBC at its best is a creative force; it adds to people's lives. Some papers' urge to besmirch one of its greatest achievements begs the question – what do such newspapers add to anyone's life? Where is the beauty in their pages? Frozen Planet opens windows in the imagination. The tabloid attacks reveal that some sections of the British press are the enemies of imagination, education, beauty and – yes – truth. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

November 21 2011

Guardian wins people's choice award for excellence in disability journalism

Judges praise 'thoughtful, entertaining, rigorous and enlightened' coverage of Guardian series on disability and the arts

The Guardian's "outstanding" coverage of disability issues was recognised on Sunday night when it picked up the first ever People's Choice award for journalistic excellence.

The publicly-nominated Ability Media International award, created by the charity Leonard Cheshire Disability, recognises "creatively excellent work that has either been produced by disabled people or promotes a greater understanding of disability issues".

The judges praised the Guardian for its "thoughtful, entertaining, rigorous and enlightened" coverage of issues facing disabled people in a series of pieces about disability and the arts.

The award was presented at a star-studded ceremony at London Studios, attended by UK media and arts luminaries including Downton Abbey actor Dame Maggie Smith, childrens TV pioneer Anna Home and filmmaker Mike Leigh.

Jane Jutsum, Leonard Cheshire Disability Innovative Projects director and co-organiser of the AMI awards, said: "The Guardian has an impressive record in its coverage of disability issues. Its features and news coverage are thoughtful, entertaining, rigorous and enlightened and demonstrate the inclusion and journalistic responsibility not always apparent in our national press."

The Guardian's editor-in-chief, Alan Rusbridger, said: "Diversity is a central part of what we are trying to do at the Guardian. I hope we are at the forefront of allowing a range of voices in, getting other points of view and raising issues of vital importance to people who previously weren't heard. That is why it makes me very proud to receive this AMI Award."

Ability Media is an initiative by Leonard Cheshire Disability aimed at giving disabled and disadvantaged people access to all forms of digital media training, providing a springboard into the industry. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

July 25 2011

Chris Dickie obituary

His beautifully produced and brilliantly edited Ag magazine reflected his painstaking pursuit of perfection in photography

Chris Dickie, who has died of cancer aged 59, was the editor of the British Journal of Photography (BJP), a position he held three times from 1987 to 2003. He nurtured the careers of many photographers and writers, and his books on photographic publishing, some of them under his own imprint, Picture-Box Media, are now standard texts for students.

His greatest achievement was the beautifully produced Ag, a quarterly fine-art photography journal. He conceived, edited, wrote, published and designed Ag in response to the perceived need for a more serious publication about a subject increasingly trivialised in the populist magazines on which Chris had cut his editorial teeth. Beginning life as Silverprint magazine in the spring of 1991, Ag quickly found its own character, and reflected, in the high quality of its printing, his view that fidelity of reproduction to the original image is sacrosanct. Within his means, he was quietly, doggedly painstaking in pursuit of such perfection.

Over the years he became a touchstone of photographic knowledge, contacts and laconic wisdom, which he dispensed with patrician authority over lunchtime beers at favoured Fleet Street and Soho pubs. His detailed knowledge of the history of photography, and especially of its publishing, is irreplaceable. Without his scholarship and advice to plunder, the work of others will become that much more arduous.

He was born in Carlisle but spent his childhood in Newcastle, where he attended the Royal grammar school. A county-standard rugby hooker, he gave up sport to pursue his interests in science and photography. He went to Bedford College, University of London, in 1970 to read zoology. Despite the fact that his family moved to Harpenden, Hertfordshire, he always considered Newcastle his home town, reflected in his lifelong devotion to the Magpies.

After university he worked at Parents magazine and a succession of photography titles. He was absorbed in equal measure by the technicalities and aesthetics of photography; he wrote extensively on both. This was reflected in all his editorial policies, especially at the BJP and in Ag. Forensic investigations of new gadgets and machinery, often involving bewildering detail, found their place alongside stimulating comment by leading critics. It was an unusual and occasionally uncomfortable mix but, he maintained, a necessary one.

Tied down by editing the work of others, he usually fitted in his own books on "holidays" to the remoter places that were his passion. Among his last projects were landscapes in the Outer Hebrides and in his beloved Lake District, an area of which he had an encyclopedic knowledge.

Perhaps his greatest asset, and a considerable rarity, was the ability to be editorially objective, irrespective of firmly held personal opinions. This allowed him to publish work in all styles as well as a diverse range of often unfashionable critical opinion. As an editor he used a light, precise touch, which immediately improved the writer's voice and authority: he preferred simplicity to verbosity and fair criticism to entertaining prejudice. Unusually for an art magazine, Ag was actually readable.

Chris was a popular lecturer, speaker and media commentator. It was typical of his modesty that his promotion of others was to the detriment of his own career as a photographer. He had hoped retirement would enable greater freedom to pursue that area.

He judged many competitions and was an honorary fellow of the British Institute of Professional Photography. He loved music and played the guitar; when young, he did the rounds of London's folk clubs, both as spectator and performer.

He is survived by his wife, Pauline, whom he married in 1976, twin daughters, Helen and Sarah, and a son, Simon.

• Christopher Gordon Dickie, photographer, editor and publisher, born 26 September 1951, died 8 June 2011 © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

May 25 2011

Steve Bell: 'You must discover the character behind the face'

Thirty years ago, political cartoonist Steve Bell drew his first If… strip; ever since, he's been a much-loved Guardian regular. He looks back on his career

In pictures: Steve Bell at the Cartoon Museum; Politicians including John Prescott, Edwina Currie and Nick Clegg on being drawn by Bell

Hitting 60 gives you plenty of food for thought. Having a retrospective exhibition at the same time gives further cause for astonishment. How did I ever manage to draw that small, without glasses or artificial aids? How did I manage without scanning and email? Well, everything went by train. How did I manage with four young children snapping at my heels? I used to work at night, when they were all tucked up. My oldest son, born the year I started working for the Guardian, is now 30 with ankle-biters of his own. He's grown – but have I?

There is no defined career path to becoming a cartoonist. I came to it almost in reverse. I have loved cartoons, drawing and having a laugh, but the notion of doing it for a living didn't take root until very late. I had studied art, but I found the idea of being an artist risible. (Monsieur L'Artiste was one of the first characters I ever drew at university.) So I started out as a teacher, but the stress was unbelievable. I knew things had gone too far when being off to have my wisdom teeth taken out felt like a relief. What I craved was a job where I could shut myself in a room and talk to myself, sometimes very loudly and in a variety of accents.

With my girlfriend Heather's encouragement, I handed in my notice and followed my friend from university, Kipper Williams, into the daunting world of freelance cartooning. I had no portfolio and no contacts, other than those Kipper gave me, and no plan, other than the fantasies engendered by my infinite sense of entitlement. It was the second best decision in my life. The best was to marry Heather, which I did that same year, in 1977.

While I was teaching, I had been drawing strip cartoons and illustrations, unpaid, for Birmingham Broadside, the city's answer to Time Out. I had introduced a character called Maxwell the Mutant: having been exposed to deadly radiation, in the grand old comic book tradition, Maxwell would mutate into someone unexpected every time he drank a pint of mild. Since 1977 was a Jubilee year, he naturally mutated into the Queen. His deadly adversary was Neville Worthyboss, a thinly veiled and rather inadequate caricature of the then Tory leader of Birmingham city council, Neville Bosworth. Despite my ambition and self-belief, I knew I needed to work on my caricatures. I never realised they would become a life's work.

Through dogged persistence (I still cherish my rejection letter from the Beano), I found work writing and drawing children's comics. My first professional effort in print, for IPC's Whoopee comic, was Dick Doobie the Back to Front Man; he sank without trace after a few months in 1978. But I was learning – and I had been paid.

At a leftwing publication called the Leveller, I introduced a strip about a really obnoxious supreme being, Lord God Almighty. But I wanted to draw comics about politics. I tried Time Out repeatedly, which in those days had a leftwing slant, but there was nothing going. Then I went to the magazine's offices for about the fifth time in 1979, immediately after the election of Margaret Thatcher, and saw the news editor, Duncan Campbell. He said they were looking for a comic strip to tackle the new Tory government. Would I like to submit a rough idea? I rushed home, grunted, strained and produced a pencilled rough of an allegorical strip where the animals were the people and the farm management were the government. They wanted one every fortnight; naturally, it became known as Maggie's Farm.

This was a huge break, but my Maggie needed work. I'm not someone who has an easy, natural talent for quick caricature, as Gerald Scarfe and Martin Rowson do. I take my time. It isn't simply a question of getting the likeness: you have to discover the character behind the face. My early Thatchers are no more than press photos rendered into line drawings, but then the woman herself was not yet a fully formed personality. The Iron Lady with Churchill's Trousers was an image that she consciously worked on, along with the darkening of her hair and the lowering and slowing of her voice. For a long time, though, I couldn't identify what it was about her that really got to me. What her government was doing was very, very nasty, but there was something else as well.

I came to realise, while drawing her over the first year of her government, that she was deranged, but in a very controlled way, and this was expressed in her eyeballs. Her utter self-belief, her total conviction of her own rightness, went way beyond arrogance. She was mad. Perhaps I subconsciously empathised with her for this. Even so, I hated her more than any other living being. Within a couple of years, she had managed to triple unemployment, slash services and lay waste to vast tracts of British industry.

When I saw Thatcher for the first time, in October 1980, at the Conservative conference in Brighton, I was horrified and intrigued. The crowd was terrifying; the whole occasion felt like a gathering of the undead. This was where she unveiled the deathless phrases: "You turn. If you want to. The Lady's. Not. For turning." The delivery was leaden. It was like a bad stand-up comedian addressing a particularly slow audience. Tory audiences are well turned-out, shiny and simple-minded, and in all the years I have been studying them, nothing whatever has changed.

The Guardian had informed me, in 1978, that they wouldn't be using my work in the foreseeable future. But in 1981, we had a newborn son and a mortgage in the offing. So in desperation I sent off more stuff. It paid off. In November 1981, the first If… strip appeared. Within six months, the ludicrous Falklands war had broken out, and since all imagery emanating from the Task Force sailing south was so rigidly controlled by the Ministry of Defence, the kind of surreal graphic speculation that only a cartoon strip can provide came into its own.

Nine years later, I was still hard at it when Thatcher fell from grace. It was great fun to draw a visual commentary on the fall as it happened. Her neck had thickened, her shoulders broadened, her quiff solidified. The eyeballs were wilder than ever: one hooded, one roaming free. Thanks to the wonders of fax, I was now able to draw a cartoon for publication the following day without having to go into the office (I had moved to Brighton). I produced my first big comment-page job on the day of Geoffrey Howe's devastating resignation speech, then another on the day Thatcher quit.

It was a horrendous amount of work, but it was addictive. With the arrival of John Major, and the outbreak of the Gulf war, I was sucked into doing two, three, then four large cartoons for the comment page a week, as well as the daily strip. I was so delighted at not to have to draw Thatcher any more that caricaturing Major came quickly and easily, as light relief. The logic was simple. He was one more useless Tory, only he was super-useless. He became Superuselessman, wearing not sleek red briefs over a bright blue body stocking, but Y-fronts over a grey suit. Major's slow death went on for far too long: by 1997, I was overjoyed to be drawing the blazing underpants sinking into the Thames, never to be seen again – except when they reappeared on Edwina Currie's head in 2002.

Tony Blair took longer to capture. It wasn't until stalking him at the Labour conference in Blackpool in 1994 that I noticed he had a little mad eye of his very own: politically and visually, he was channelling Thatcher. What Blair did was the appearance of conviction; what Gordon Brown did was the appearance of substance. Ten years of Blair gave way to the quick-quick-slow death of Brown. It was like drawing a crumbling cliff face, or the north end of a southbound cow.

At David Cameron's first conference as Tory leader, in Bournemouth in 2006, there was a sudden outbreak of pale blue skies, puffy clouds and trees waving in the breeze. The massed simpletons were still there, seething in the blue shadows, but they looked increasingly baffled. Then Cameron himself came on stage and burbled sweet nothings about the NHS. They didn't believe a word of it and Cameron didn't either, but he was channelling Blair. He had all the hand movements, the stiff, deliberate podium body language, and he could do sincerity almost as well as the master. But he's smoother and doesn't appear to possess any hair follicles. It turns out he is made of translucent pink rubber.

Saddest of all is Nick Clegg, a rather poor clone of Cameron, who in turn is a tribute act to Blair, who is himself channelling Thatcher. And who was she channelling? Her father, Alderman Roberts, the grocer of Grantham town? Winston Churchill? Adolf Hitler? Beelzebub? Who can say?

Am I getting cynical in my old age? I don't think so. I have a strong feeling that I was born cynical and that, somewhere within me, a dewy-eyed idealist has always been struggling to get out. I have been lurking under the podium, drawing politicians so closely for so long, that I have almost come to like them. I don't think they are any more venal and corrupt than we are. They talk bollocks because we talk bollocks – and because it's their job. Yet sometimes they say something that pushes a button and lights up the room. It is a rare skill and it doesn't happen often. Mostly, it is a slow slog through cliche and soundbite, followed by a slaughtering at the polls. What is worse is that many of them actually enjoy being done over satirically, since it shows that at least one person is paying them attention.

These men and women are professional idealists and I take my hat off to them. Then I kick them up the arse. Because it's not what they say or what they are, or even what they say they are, that gets my goat: it's the things they actually do to us in our name.

Bell Epoque: 30 Years of Steve Bell is at the Cartoon Museum, 35 Little Russell Street, London WC1, until 24 July © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

April 16 2011

Rare Robert Capa print in auction of news photography treasures

Images by Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson and others are in a collection owned by the veteran Life magazine photo editor John G. Morris

A rare photograph by celebrated war photographer Robert Capa is to be sold at auction as part of one of the greatest private collections of historic news images – a treasure trove from the heyday of photojournalism.

The Capa photograph of a Gypsy wedding in Slovakia in 1947 could be the rarest surviving image by the Magnum agency photographer, who was killed covering the conflict in Indochina in 1954. The photo survives only as a single print, with the negative thought to have been lost in the 1950s, and is expected to fetch up to £9,000 in Paris on 30 April.

The collection of photographs from the 1930s to the 1970s was amassed over 70 years by the veteran magazine photo editor John G. Morris, a colleague and close friend of many of the 20th century's greatest newspaper and magazine photographers. The collection includes photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson, David Seymour, Dorothea Lange, George Rodger, Eugene Smith, Willy Ronis, René Burri, Otto Hagel and Hansel Mieth, Marc Riboud, Lisa Larsen, Alfred Eisenstaedt and Philip Jones Griffiths.

Morris, now aged 94, was the London picture editor of Life magazine during the second world war. At its peak, Life regularly sold millions of copies a week. It was the primary showcase for the world's leading documentary photographers, with socially concerned picture-based stories focused on ordinary life.

Capa had already been hailed as the world's greatest war photographer for his Spanish civil war images, including the famous "falling soldier" shot, when Morris worked with him on the story that led to the most famous series of photographs of all time – the surviving "magnificent 11" shots of US troops landing on Omaha Beach in Normandy on D-Day. The sale includes a rare early print of one of those 11 shots.

Also included in the auction, entitled The Photo Diary of John G. Morris, are several hitherto unseen photographs taken by Morris in France soon after D-Day, while he was working with his staff photographers on the frontline. Of great interest to photo-historians is a rare shot of Capa at work, photographing German prisoners being rounded up in Normandy. No other shot of Capa at work in a war zone is known to exist.

Other rarities include informal photographs of the Kennedy clan in the 1950s taken by US photographer Toni Frissell.

After Life magazine, Morris was the first executive editor of the celebrated Magnum photo agency. He went on to run the photo desks of the Washington Post and the New York Times.

Speaking from his home in Paris, where he has lived since the early 1980s, Morris said: "My hope is that this auction will change the outlook on photojournalism in the money markets. I know that's a strange thing to say, but photography auctions in the past have consisted primarily of aesthetically beautiful prints which did not necessarily have much to do with telling the truth about life through the daily newspapers and in magazines.

"Art photographs have been attracting enormous prices at auctions, but in the coming auction many of the prints have been used by newspapers and magazines, many of them with marks on, crop marks, publication marks, etc. It remains to be seen how these kind of photographs will go at auction."

US-based Getty Images, the world's largest commercial picture library, is understood to be taking a close interest in the John Morris collection. Getty already owns the Hulton Picture Library, the archive of the British weekly news magazine Picture Post.

In recent years, art photography has become a target market for dealers and investors. In 2006 a 1904 photograph of a moonlit pond by Edward Steichen sold for just under $3m (£1.8m) at Sotheby's in New York. In 2008 Edward Weston's Nude (1925) fetched $1.6m at the same auction house. Last November Richard Avedon's 1955 shot, Dovima with Elephants, sold for $1.2m in Paris.

"As far as I know, this is the first photojournalism collection to come on to the art market," said Morris. "So in setting minimum prices for the pictures, and estimates, it's been a sort of ballpark thing. We don't know what will sell and what won't." Prices for pictures in the Morris collection start at £18, with the Capa shot of the Gypsy wedding an estimated €8,000-€10,000.

"My personal favourite is the Capa shot of the Gypsies," said Morris. "That picture seems to touch people… I love it. Capa's humanity was special; he had a feeling for people, an instant rapport with almost anybody. I remember in Normandy in the war, we arrived in a Jeep one afternoon at Mont St Michel with Ernest Hemingway and the Time journalist Bill Walton. We took a walk up the street and Capa just stopped and joined a game of cribbage that some fishermen were playing, and next there would be a girl, and he joked 'Where's your boyfriend?' He just charmed the entire place in one walk.

"Henri [Cartier-Bresson] I respected for totally different reasons. He scarcely ever talked to the people he was photographing. He was a passionate person, but his passion emerged in curious ways. He would get angry, pull out a penknife and threaten you. He had a temper."

Hollywood is set to bring to the big screen the story of Capa's love affair with fellow photographer Gerda Taro during the Spanish civil war. Provisionally entitled Waiting for Robert Capa, the film will be directed by Michael Mann and features Tamara Drewe star Gemma Arterton as Taro and The Social Network's Andrew Garfield as Capa.

"I have mixed feelings about selling the pictures," admitted Morris. "But on the other hand, at my age, what the hell am I going to do with them? I'm not going to be around for ever."

The Photo Diary of John G. Morris, Drouot Montaigne auction house, Paris, 30 April © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

January 30 2011

The norms of Norman Rockwell | Peter Preston

The artist Norman Rockwell gave pre-war Americans what they wanted: cheerful escapism. But times have changed

There are two things you notice about the array of Saturday Evening Post front covers by Norman Rockwell laid out in south London's Dulwich Picture Gallery. One is that Rockwell was a wonderfully skilled artist not at all devalued by having to churn away to magazine deadlines. The other thing is that, 323 times over, he was so damned cheerful.

If there's a war, then "Willie Gillis" – aka Robert Buck – became a mythically quizzical hero, clutching food parcels, snoozing on leave or sending the same picture of himself to irate pretty girls. If there's a crucial election – Dewey versus Truman, say – then Ma and Pa argue histrionically while a baby and a dog get on with life as usual. If it's Christmas after the Wall Street crash, then a plump, Pickwickian stagecoach driver is thinking of roast goose and a "merrie" time.

This is a confected world of Capra-esque American stereotypes wearing dungarees and broad grins, and Charles Dickens characters serving up old English history. It is funny and safe and homely in an honestly dishonest way. It has almost nothing to do with the occasional strands of reality that ran on inside pages. But did Rockwell, who knew all about domestic miseries and national threats, want to keep turning out such roseate stuff? Not exactly: his editor demanded it. And that editor – pushing circulation way over 3m, making the Saturday Evening Post the most famous and profitable magazine of the 20s and 30s — knew what he was doing. No gloom please, we're Americans.

What killed off the Post in the 60s? Nothing sinister; just mass-market TV. You couldn't watch television and read short stories by would be F Scott Fitzgeralds at the same time. So millions of ordinary Joes, used to paying very little for their fix – five cents a throw when the second world war began – flaked away, along with the advertising.

Perhaps, you could say, the grim reaper on the newsstand delivered nemesis in the end. But it wasn't that the Post force-fed benignity. On the contrary, the punters in hard times demanded more, more, more.

So how and why did everything change? When did Rockwell, let alone Frank Capra, fall out of fashion – replaced by Fox News, Glenn Beck and a constant diet of dismal headlines? When did we decide that bad news was good and good news barely worth reading?

The mistake is to blame the media, force-feeding despair day after day. The truth, shown after George Horace Lorimer was hired as editor of a feebly struggling Saturday Evening Post in 1899, and for his next 36 years in the chair, was the reverse. Lorimer discovered that Joe Public, a million times over, wanted cosy escapism. He wanted to read about the kind of world he wished he lived in.

Perhaps, on occasion, that's still true. Barack Obama's speech after the Arizona shootings was a pure Last Post for alleged American values. But most of the time the steel-tipped boot is on the other foot. When UK growth in the third quarter of 2010 exceeds expectation, it flies to page 97. When it grinds into reverse, three months later, the glum news bounds up front. When the NHS gets its reforming orders, doctors rail against the pace of change. When our votes mean coalition, we seemingly ache for it to fall apart.

I'm not talking the rights and wrongs of policy: just predilections and state of mind. ("The day Britain lost its soul," in the UK's most ebulliently selling newspaper, the Mail, turns out to be the day we embraced the metric system 40 years ago.) Feel good? No, we want to feel bad. If Lorimer were starting again today, he'd call his magazine the Saturday Evening Dirge and park Norman Rockwell down Misery Street. That's the bleak, but equally confected, way of our world. Buddy, can you spare a smile? © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

December 23 2010

Good as news

We can see design thinking at work in web phenomena such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, but the predicament of printed news remains an unsolved problem

In the 1850s, a New York publisher announced that newspapers were dead: he had seen a telegraph in action. In fact, the immediacy of the telegraph made people much hungrier for news from hundreds of miles away, and proved a major catalyst in the growth of newspapers.

The telegraph story is told by Arthur Sulzberger Jr, the publisher of the New York Times, in a new book called Designing Media. His interlocutor is Bill Moggridge, the man who designed the first laptop in 1980, went on to found IDEO, the largest design firm in the world, and is currently the director of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York. Sulzberger is one of 37 people that Moggridge interviews in the book, from editors and TV producers to the founders of Wikipedia, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. It's a veritable Who's Who of the people who have revolutionised media in the last decade.

Reading the interviews (excerpts of which you can also download and watch on video), I had one question at the front of my mind: what, exactly, is the relationship between design and the media revolution we are experiencing? Or, to put it another way, why is this book – which contains many fascinating insights into the way media work, some of them design-related but most of them not – entitled Designing Media? I didn't find the explanation in the book, so I called up Moggridge to ask him. His answer was simple: because media is a form of design. In fact, he argued, everything is a form of design.

To be honest, I suspected he would say that. Most people may still think that "design" refers to manufactured objects – chairs, telephones and cars – but designers have become far more expansive in their worldview. They now design customer experience and services, from internet banking systems to patient flow in a hospital. Businesses are rapidly latching on to the notion of "design thinking" – the idea that the creative problem-solving used by designers can be applied outside of traditional design – as a means of becoming more effective. Moggridge himself is a paragon of the designer dissolving the boundaries of his discipline. He is the godfather of interaction design, which started out as the design of electronic interfaces but now refers to the design of any form of user experience, from navigating a BlackBerry to paying at a checkout.

From there, it takes no great leap of imagination to understand media as design. After all, many of the new media moguls are software designers. Indeed, Chad Hurley, the founder of YouTube, started out as a graphic designer (probably the only graphic designer in history to become a billionaire). I buy the argument that design thought processes can be applied to almost anything – whether that means we call those things "design" is a semantic discussion we'll save for another time. But I find it easier to understand the argument in relation to new media rather than traditional media. It doesn't seem far fetched at all to describe social networking platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, and user-generated content sites such as Wikipedia and YouTube as forms of design.

Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales actually describes what he does as "community design". It sounds like a form of social engineering, but what he means by the phrase is that Wikipedia is not just an anarchic piece of crowd-sourcing: it's a carefully designed eco-system. If people are going to work on an encyclopedia for free, you have to create the conditions in which they're willing to do so, by giving them recognition and not profiting from their labour. It was important to Wales to make Wikipedia an open system, and so it was designed around the principle that most people are honest and well-intentioned, rather than making it a closed shop to exclude the few bad apples who want to write false or slanderous entries – in truth, he tried the closed system first with Nupedia and it failed. Yet, while it's true that anyone can write or edit an entry on Wikipedia, everything there is carefully monitored. It's often described as "democratic", but Wales himself thinks of it more as a monarchy, with the writers overseen by moderators who are in turn overseen by the king – King Jimbo, as he's known. So the design aspect isn't just how the website looks, it's how users create the content.

Immediately you can see how different design rules suggest different ideologies. Like Wales, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg is also fixated on the idea of openness. He fervently believes that designing a platform for people to share personal information helps make the world a more open place. And he found that making things human – "just seeing someone's face" – works best. It could have all looked like email, with its Spartan text-only interface that betrays its origins in the military. But it doesn't. It's designed to make people feel more present, and engaged with a community rather than an individual. Moggridge is right to suggest that the secret to Zuckerberg's success – you may have seen him on the cover of Time this month – lies in having designed a social network where there is no layer of technology getting in people's way.

However, here's the question. We all know that the media are in a turbulent state of flux, but in what way does reading the situation as "design" help? Is it just semantics, down to the fact that the word "design" is just so malleable? Paola Antonelli, senior design curator at New York's Museum of Modern Art, doesn't think so. She recently predicted in the Economist that in the near future designers would be involved in everything from science to politics. She sees design as the uber-profession, with a skill-set that transcends all boundaries. "For a simple reason: one of design's most fundamental tasks is to help people deal with change," she says.

The design world is in confident mood, but for these predictions to come true the rest of the world needs to buy into the argument. If I was Arthur Sulzberger Jr, I'd be thinking about how designers could get me out of a massive dilemma that was costing my company hundreds of millions of dollars a year. There's only one reason why newspapers haven't yet gone the way of the telegraph and that's because they still make about 20 times more advertising revenue than websites. If you were to grant Sulzberger just one wish, I have no doubt that he would reply: I wish someone would design a way for us to make as much advertising revenue from the website as we used to make from the newspaper. Banner ads? Forget it. The fact that you can't give over most of a webpage to an ad the way you could a printed page is simply because we've all been conditioned by the early days of the web when everything was free. There's a design challenge that everyone's trying to crack. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

August 31 2010

Corinne Day: raw genius

Corinne Day's photographs of a young Kate Moss caused a huge outcry – then became the defining fashion images of the 90s

So familiar, so utterly redolent of their time have they become, that it is hard to recall just how alien, shocking and strange Corinne Day's photos for the June 1993 issue of Vogue seemed at first. Edgier magazines (i-D, the Face, Dazed and Confused) had already documented the aesthetic that was sensationally labelled "heroin chic". But when the mighty Vogue published Day's pictures of a vacant-faced Moss clad in low-slung tan tights, posed next to a radiator which resembled her build, a hurricane of disapproval was unleashed.

Day died last Friday, 27 August, aged 48, from brain cancer. She will be remembered for her close association with Moss at the beginning of the model's career, and in particular for two specific photo stories: the Vogue shoot and, three years before that, a cover story for the Face featuring Moss's puckish, 15-year-old features grinning beneath a feathered headdress. The coverline read: "The 3rd Summer of Love". Inside, the magazine showed Moss in black-and-white: half-naked, larking about on the beach, giggling. Looking at them now, they seem as quaint and antique as Victorian postcards.

But it was that Vogue underwear shoot (the word lingerie seems too rarefied for the vests and pants she was shot in) that defined Day. The immediate reaction was ferocious. Susie Orbach, author of Fat is a Feminist Issue, described the photographs as "just this side of porn". Marcelle D'Argy Smith, then editor of Cosmopolitan, said: "The pictures are hideous and tragic. I believe they can only appeal to the paedophile market." The New York Times succinctly described Moss's look as "very young and very dead". Four years later, there was still fallout. Day's shoot was widely referenced when no less an authority than the president of the United States, Bill Clinton, opined that "fashion photos in the last few years have made heroin addiction seem glamorous and sexy and cool".

Then as now, Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman, who commissioned the shoot, finds it hard to comprehend the extremity of the reaction. "I remember being on holiday at the time," she said yesterday, "and I couldn't understand what the fuss was about. I thought they were lovely pictures, and we certainly weren't trying to do anything sensationalist. I felt that if you looked in the changing rooms in high-street stores, or if you looked in young girls' bedrooms, that's what you saw. Kate looked like the most beautiful version of girls at school.

"It seemed strange to object to this kind of thing rather than the usual kind of photos with all the makeup, the padded bras, all the artifice. But I think it was really about the context. People felt betrayed by Vogue – it was supposed to be a beacon of old-fashioned glamour and this was so downbeat." In 1993, the magazine was hungover from the glitz and glitter of the 1980s. With the Day shoot, they finally nailed their colours to the mast. The shoot reflected the fact that things had changed, to say the least.

With hindsight, the power of Day's pictures is that they seem to echo a moment in British cultural history, one that goes beyond the emergence of grunge as a fashion trend, and might also call to mind the grubbier shores of Britpop, the youthful antics of artists such as Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas, and the publication of novels such as Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting.

As artefacts in the history of feminism, I am less certain of their status. Day's own great success was in self-creation: she left school with a single O-level, started out as a bank clerk, then worked for free on the Face before establishing herself as a photographer who made, says Shulman, "ordinariness remarkable" and whose pictures were "better and better the less ornate they were". In 1993, and today, there were few women photographers working on Vogue, and when I worked there briefly from 1995-6, the prevailing if unedifying dynamic was of female editors soothing the vast egos of male snappers.

At the time, Moss was called a "superwaif" and waifish is how she appears in the Vogue pictures: a woman-child in the long tradition of Dickens's Dora Spenlow and Berg's Lulu. The Spice Girls were launched in 1994, and the waif was replaced in popular culture by a noisier, and longer-lasting, model of young womanhood – the spuriously liberated ladette. It is hard to discern which was worse: the cure or the disease. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

May 05 2010

Roy Greenslade: Bizarre coincidence of name shared by journalist and BNP member

How about this for a bizarre coincidence? The reporter who wrote the infamous, uncritical piece about a British National Party meeting in the Brentwood Gazette (see here and here and here) shares a surname with a BNP member.

But Natalie Hoodless says there are no familial links whatsoever between her and John Hoodless, the man originally chosen by the BNP as a general election candidate in Darlington.

Hoodless, though selected as the BNP's prospective parliamentary candidate, was replaced after an acrimonious falling out with the party. A local man, he stood for UKIP in the 2005 election but, according to a BNP website, later "saw the light" by joining the BNP.

Hoodless is not a common name, but when I phoned to ask Natalie Hoodless if she was related to John Hoodless, she said: "I'm related to A John Hoodless".

Is he the BNP candidate in Darlington. "No, he's a carpenter". But are they one and the same? "No. I didn't know there was a John Hoodless there [in Darlington]."

Fair enough. But it also emerges that Ms Hoodless has a track record of writing sympathetically about both the BNP and UKIP. (BNP examples here and here; UKIP example here).

Then again, the stories would have gone through the normal subbing process so we must presume that the Gazette was happy enough about their laudatory tone.

NB: The offending article about the BNP by Ms Hoodless was taken down from the Gazette's website after my calls to the paper last week. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Shame on those who defamed the NUM's Peter Heathfield | Peter Lazenby

The death of former miners' leader Peter Heathfield reminds us of a disgraceful episode in the media's history

With the death of the former miners' leader Peter Heathfield the labour and trade union movement has lost one of its most courageous leaders.

For those who knew him, the loss will be a source of both sadness and anger.

The anger will be directed at sections of the media who conducted a reckless, irresponsible, politically motivated, groundless and downright venomous campaign against Heathfield, and against Arthur Scargill, as leaders of the National Union of Mineworkers. They were wrongly accused of misappropriating union funds for their personal use.

The campaign's effects remained with Heathfield for the rest of his life.

He was elected national secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers in 1984, just weeks before the start of the miners' strike against pit closures. He joined Scargill and Mick McGahey, president and vice-president of the NUM, to make up the triumvirate at the head of the union during that bitter dispute.

In 1990 the Daily Mirror launched a campaign of denigration against Scargill and Heathfield. The accusations of dishonesty were ludicrous, yet they were taken up almost unquestioningly by wide sections of the media. The Cook Report sailed into battle with its own "revelations".

The allegations were eventually and inevitably disproved. Years later the editor of the Mirror at that time, Roy Greenslade, apologised, through the columns of the Guardian.

In Heathfield's case the damage was already done. Anyone who knew him could see the hurt he felt, the mental stress. He aged visibly, before his time.

The last time I saw Peter was in March last year at the annual lecture delivered in memory of David Jones and Joe Green, two Yorkshire miners who were killed on the picket line during the 1984-85 strike. David's father was one of the speakers.

Peter was greeted by friends and comrades he had worked with for decades, and though he smiled and shook hands, he seemed to have little memory of them. I felt he was going through the motions. He was frail, feeble, dependent on loved ones to support him.

Peter Heathfield had been a formidable speaker, a disciplined activist, yet someone who always had time for a laugh, a joke and a pint.

I doubt if those behind the campaign against him knew or cared about the effect their actions were having on a man who put enormous value on integrity.

Shame on them. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

February 12 2010

World Press Photo Awards 2010

Winning entries from the world's largest and most prestigious annual press photography contest

November 06 2009

100 years of great press photographs

Get a sneak preview of ten of the greatest pictures from the last 100 years in our new collectable series

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