Friday, June 29, 2012


Rare pictures of Thames floods in 1947 (top left), St Paul's Cathedral in 1921 (right) and Blackpool Tower in 1920 (below left)  

  Old photographs of famous English landmarks have been made available on the Internet for the first time thanks to a major conservation project. 
  Striking and evocative, they chart a dramatic period of British history - from the end of the World War One to the year of the Queen's Coronation.

  More than 15,000 pictures - many so old and fragile that they were close to becoming beyond repair - have been uploaded on to the Britain from Above website, which has just launched.
  It is the first batch of some 95,000 images, taken between 1919 and 1953, that are due to be put online in the next two years, showing the changing face of modern Britain.

The pictures come from one of the earliest and most significant collections of aerial photography.
Many shots were said to have been taken during the early days of aviation by former war pilots flying at very low altitudes.

Monday, June 25, 2012


  "I like London boys," Katy Perry tells me with a wink. Then she adds: "Except one."
   The I Kissed A Girl singer is now over the breakup of her short-lived marriage to British bad boy Russell Brand and is back to her bubbly, party-loving self.
    But it took transcendental meditation, prayers and the knowledge of a lesson well learned to help her recovery.
    The lesson? "I still have a fairy tale but I don't need a Prince Charming to have a happy ending," she tells me. "I can make a happy ending myself."

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Ben Walker as Abraham Lincoln
  It seems that a lot of what we learned in history class wasn't the full story. Who knew, for instance that Abraham Lincoln conducted a secret campaign against the blood sucking undead? At least, that's the premise of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, a movie being released this weekend about America's sixteenth president and his mission to destroy vampires.
  And  it's not the first Hollywood recasting of historical figures. Earlier this year The Raven, starring John Cusack and the lovely British actress Alice Eve, offered the supposition that Edgar Allen Poe not only wrote chilling horror stories, but also matched wits with serial killers. 
  And later this year, we’ll see F.D.R: American Badass in which Franklin Roosevelt hunts werewolves, and there’s even talk of a pending movie in which sailor John Paul Jones battles sea monsters.
 What's next? Davy Crockett Battling Bigfoot? Or General Custer: Zombie Killer? The possibilities are endless.  

Monday, June 18, 2012


   As Sherlock Homes, Benedict Cumberbatch is a wizard at deduction. But when it comes to chatting up girls, TV’s super sleuth admits that he hasn’t a clue.

    “I’ve always found it difficult chatting girls up,” he tells me when we meet in a West Hollywood office.  “I’m not confident in social situations just going up to someone and saying ‘hi’ or just cold calling in a bar but now it’s even more difficult because they don’t know the real me----they just know me as a fictional person I play or they know me from interviews.”

   Nowadays with the quirky Sherlock entering its third season and 35-year-old bachelor Benedict making a name for himself in movies such as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and War Horse, there are plenty of girls who love his distinctively unusual looks and want to know him better.

   “It’s interesting and it’s something I’m processing,” he says. “It’s new to me and I’m sure I’ll get used to it and find a way of dealing with it but at the moment it’s quite odd.”

    Unattached after splitting with girlfriend Anna Jones following a ten year relationship with Olivia Poulet, he is amused at the attention his looks are attracting, particularly in America, where he has been filming Star Trek 2.

   “Do I like being thought of as attractive?” he muses. “I don’t know anyone on earth who doesn’t but I do find it quite funny. I mean, I look in a mirror and I see all the faults I’ve lived with for 35 years and yet people go kind of nuts for certain things about me. It’s not me being humble---I just think it’s very weird and odd.”

Friday, June 15, 2012


   It could be coincidence but the noisy England band, which was barred from the England-France European Championship game, was allowed back into the stadium for England-Sweden----and played England to victory in a five goal thriller.  
   After driving 2,800 miles to Donetsk for Monday's Group D opener with France and being granted admittance to the stadium the Pukka Pies-sponsored band, which plays at every England game, was stunned when security staff confiscated their instruments.

 Although they were handed back after the 1-1 draw, the band left for Kiev with no guarantee they would have any more luck at  the game with Sweden.
 However, following representations by the Football Association, Uefa allowed the band into the game...and the noise they made compensated for the Swedish fans outnumbering the 5,000 England supporters by four to one and helped England to a vital 3-2 win. 
  "We were gutted to have driven 2,800 miles only to have our instruments confiscated," said bandsman John Hemmington."So we were delighted to have the chance to create the best possible atmosphere for England fans in Kiev."
    Best possible long as you're not sitting next to them.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


 The Olympic Stadium will be transformed into the "British countryside" for the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Games on 27 July, director Danny Boyle has revealed.
Model of setA cast of 10,000 volunteers will help recreate country scenes, against a backdrop featuring farmyard animals and landmarks like Glastonbury Tor.
The opening scene of the £27m ceremony will be called "Green and Pleasant", said Boyle, who added that the show would create "a picture of ourselves as a nation."

 The set will feature meadows, fields and rivers, with families taking picnics, people playing sports on the village green and farmers tilling the soil.
 Real farmyard animals will be grazing in the "countryside", with a menagerie of 30 sheep, 12 horses, three cows, two goats, 10 chickens, 10 ducks, nine geese and three sheepdogs.
 One billion people worldwide are expected to watch the opening ceremony.
with Danny Boyle
 Boyle, best known for directing Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire and Trainspotting, said the show was inspired by The Tempest and would be about a land recovering from its industrial legacy.
The world's largest "harmonically-tuned" bell, weighing 23 tonnes and measuring 2m tall x 3m wide, will ring inside the Stadium to start the Shakespeare-inspired spectacle, featuring 900 children from the six Games host boroughs.
"That's how communities notified each other that something important was going to happen...after the war the bells were rung in London to announce the peace and we will begin our Games with a symbol of peace." Among the other features will be two mosh-pits - one representing the Glastonbury festival and another the Last Night of the Proms - filled with members of the public.
Tickets for these positions are yet to be allocated, with organisers still to decide how to distribute them.
The set will feature real grass, an oak tree and "clouds" suspended from wires above the stadium - one of which will produce rain, provided the British weather does not provide its own on the night.
Meanwhile, the home nations will be represented by Maypoles topped with a thistle, a leek, a rose and flax.

Monday, June 11, 2012


  England supporters soak up the atmosphere-- and the beer--- in Donetsk where England got off to a creditable start in the European Championships with a 1-1 draw against highly-fancied France.
   As skipper Steven Gerrard said afterwards: "We caused them as many problems as they caused us so we're satisfied with the performance.
  The result means England are still to win an opening game at the European Championships in eight attempts, while France are still yet to win a European Championships game which hasn't included Zinedine Zidane or Michel Platini. 
   England next play Sweden in Kiev on Friday and Ukraine on the following Tuesday.  

Sunday, June 10, 2012


  Heard about a new pub just opened in Ventura and as I was spending the weekend down the road in Oxnard and I'm always on the lookout for a new pub I thought I'd give it a try.
 At first look the aptly-named Barrelhouse 101 seems like a beer drinker's paradise. Boasting 101different draft beers because it is not far from the 101 freeway (clever, huh?) it has plenty of stools at the bar, a friendly bar staff and hordes of thirsty customers.  But---and it's a big but---anyone wanting one of the diverse selection of beers has to take their chances on what comes out of the tap.
   From what I saw it was mostly froth. The staff struggled gamely to fill customers' glasses with beer but more often than not they ended up with pints of froth and not much else.
   Wine, though, was a different matter. Barrelhouse 101 stocks very little wine but what they have they are particularly generous with. There is only one chardonnay costing $6 for a huge glass which holds what looks to be about one-third of a bottle...and it is full.
   I'll be back at Barrelhouse next time I'm in Ventura. But I'll give the frothy beer a miss and stick to wine. 

Saturday, June 9, 2012


Never before has such a frenzy of interest surrounded Dull and Boring.
Boring, a town of 15,000 in Oregon, has voted in favour of "pairing" with Dull, a small Scottish village in Perthshire. In a version of events suggestive of a whimsical British feature film, the arrangement had been suggested to Boring Community Planning Council by the Dull Women's Book Club.
The connection has succeeded in generating acres of publicity for the twin settlements.
Both hope their link-up will attract tourists eager to be photographed alongside signs displaying legends such as "Dull, in association with Boring".

Friday, June 8, 2012


  Poland and Greece got Euro 2012 got underway on Friday to a controversial start amid occasional racial chants, some poor refereeing, two sendings-off and questions over how French-born Ludovic Obraniak, who plays for Bordeaux and doesn't speak Polish, can be one of the stars of the Poland team.
French: Ludovic Obraniak
Midfielder Obraniak  laid on Poland's goal but the 1-1 result makes Poland not worth a bet even at current odds of 40-1 to win the tournament, despite the fact both teams ended up with ten men.

  Before the game there was a broadcasters' debate about which player's name ESPN's British commentators Ian Darke and Steve McManaman would find most difficult to pronounce----Greek defender Papastathopoulous or Poland's midfielder Blaszczykowski. 

  The problem was eased when Papastathopoulous was unluckily sent off before half-time and Blaszcykowski  didn't see much of the ball. Or if he did, Darke and McManaman ignored him.  

Thursday, June 7, 2012


 What's a trip to Edinburgh without a visit to the castle, particularly if it's closed to the public for a private banquet? It was there I caught up with an old friend and journalist Peter Steele who has a flat adjoining the castle, overlooking the whole city.  
  In our pre-Fleet Street days Peter and I used to freelance together at the London High Court, covering civil and divorce cases for the national newspapers. He went on to found a string of successful news agencies in Scotland which he has now sold and is spending more time in Spain. 
   The castle tour and banquet (for once there was no haggis on the menu) was the culmination of a journalists' Scottish trip organised by the Walt Disney Co. for Pixar's animated movie Brave.
    Awash as I am with Disney-supplied Glencadam single malt, I wish the movie every success. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012


 While the Queen was preparing for her day on the Thames in the 1,000 boat Jubilee flotilla I was among a group of journalists invited to dinner on board HMS Royal Yacht Britannia, now permanently moored at the Edinburgh port of Leith.

On deck
  Comfortable rather than luxurious, the Britannia was one of the Queen's favourite get-away-from-it-all retreats and it is easy to see why. Her bedroom was small, with only a tiny single bed and no room for visitors ---there was only one stateroom with a double bed----and her sun lounge opening onto a private deck was dominated  by a well-stocked drinks cabinet.  "There  were always drinks everywhere on board," one of the former retainers, now a Britannia guide, told me.     
the Grand Salon
  The candlelit banquet, with a main course of sea bass, was lengthy and leisurely with platoons of waitresses refilling wine glasses through the evening.
  It must have been good to be Queen on the high seas. 

Saturday, June 2, 2012


Canary Wharf party
 Have packed plenty of variety into a whirlwind trip to the UK coinciding with only the second royal Diamond Jubilee in British history. 
 For me one of the highlights was meeting up with a lot of old friends at the farewell party for Richard Wallace and Tina Weaver, who were abruptly sacked as editors of the Daily and Sunday Mirrors respectively in a cost-cutting move. Drink flowed freely during what was a bittersweet evening at Smollensky's in Canary Wharf but both are excellent journalists who will soon find other jobs.
Charlize:Kill him or fuck him?
  At Claridge's I talked with Charlize Theron whom I had last seen ten days previously at Arundel Castle. This time the always-amusing actress had an interesting take on her character's relationship with the intergalactic robot played by Michael Fassbender in Prometheus. "I didn't know whether to kill him or fuck him," she mused.   
  If you want to know what she decided you'll have to see the movie. 
  Unfortunately Charlize didn't make it to the post-premiere party at trendy Aqua in Regent Street, but director Ridley Scott and fellow stars Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender and Guy Pearce were there for the late night bash.
On the Thames
  A quick trip down the Thames to Greenwich checking out the vessels preparing for the 1,000 boat Jubilee parade and then it was off to Edinburgh for a screening of Pixar's latest animated movie Brave and an evening of "traditional Scottish celebrations" which included demonstrations of archery, sword fighting and falconry followed by a banquet, the addressing of the haggis, a Robert Burns poetry recital, Scottish dancing, Scottish songs.......these Scots like to drag things out.


  It's always a pleasure seeing Nicole Kidman, whom I first met 21 years ago on Batman Forever. A lot of water under the bridge si...