Dame Margaret Lloyd George and Nancy Astor on Election Eve 14th November 1919

Dame Margaret Lloyd George and Nancy Astor on Election Eve 14th November 1919
Dame-Margaret-Lloyd-George-ne-Owen (2)
Dame Margaret Lloyd George                                         © National Portrait Gallery, London.  Creative Commons Licence

One hundred years ago, on 14th November 1919, on the eve of election day in Plymouth, Dame Margaret Lloyd George, wife of the Liberal Prime Minister David Lloyd George, came down to the West Country to support the Tory candidate Nancy Astor.  At the time the country was run by a Tory/Liberal Coalition Government, and the opposing Independent Liberal candidate Isaac Foot (father of Michael Foot) was not a Lloyd George/Coalition Liberal. But for Mrs Lloyd George (she preferred Mrs to Dame Margaret) this was not primarily about coalition politics – it was rare for her to campaign for a Coalition Unionist – but this was support for a woman running for Parliament – who would, as it turned out, become the first woman to take her seat in the House of Commons.

This was just the occasion for Mrs Lloyd George to address the crowds, to enthuse the women, to support her husband’s Coalition and furthermore support her fellow Temperance campaigner.  [Read more about this momentous times at the University of Reading’s Astor100 website and the plans for a commemorative statute to Lady Astor in Plymouth]

The Rev. J.T. RhysScreenshot (4011)

This Rather Long Blog draws on an unpublished copy of the speech Mrs Lloyd George gave that afternoon at the Guildhall, as well as previously unpublished correspondence with the Astor family.  The speech draft is written out in the hand of Mrs Lloyd George’s Private Secretary, the Rev. J.T. Rhys, my grandfather, a man very often mistaken for the Prime Minister.

It is a classic Margaret Lloyd George speech: the arguments simply put and well-structured, and would undoubtedly have been embellished as she would warm to her audience, in this case the women of Plymouth.  Press reports tell us the meetings were packed to overflowing – “Thousands of people were unable to find accommodation”.


img149 (2)
The J.T. Rhys Collection

She begins with the reminder that that women have won the right to vote, the more passive word “obtain” being crossed out.  In other speeches she would make the point that women had earned the right to vote, not just been granted the right.  She emphasises that the next task is to exercise that right and then gain direct representation in parliament by electing a woman.  In reality the women’s turnout was good, but it was important that the hard-won vote was not squandered.  It would not have been forgotten that in the recent 1918 election, 16 of the 17 women candidates failed to be elected, the exception being Sinn Féin’s Countess Markiewicz, née Gore-Booth.


I am very delighted to see so large a gathering at this meeting.  For very many years women worked hard to obtain win the right to vote at Parliamentary Elections.  Your presence here this afternoon shows you appreciate the responsibility & mean to show yourselves worthy of the franchise.  This is altogether satisfactory and very hopeful for the future of the country.  We are here to support the candidature of my old & valued friend Lady Astor.  I am going to ask you to do all that lies in your power to return her at the head of the poll on Saturday. 

She goes on to stress why it was important for everyone that there were more women in the House of Commons, a theme she would pursue on many other occasions  – as one might say, it was not just about equal representation but better representation.  Or as Nancy Astor put it in her maiden speech in the Commons: “you must remember that women have got a vote now and we mean to use it, and use it wisely, not for the benefit of any section of society, but for the benefit of the whole”.


Mrs Lloyd George continued:

I ask this for two reasons. I think Parliament will be far more serviceable to the country if there are a few women among the members. As you all know the trend of modern legislation deals very much with our the life of the home.  We have now laws to deal with Housing, with Health, with the education & development of children.  We shall probably have still more laws that will affect our home life still more closely.  That being so it is of the utmost importance that women, who have most of the care of the home, should have a direct voice in shaping the laws.  Men I know will do their best, but their best is not nearly so good as woman’s best.

What a great punch line there! Lady Astor’s opponents were conscious that they had to be seen as competent in these matters of bringing up children: Isaac Foot quipped at the first joint hustings with Lady Astor that he had an advantage over lady in that he had seven children and she only six, only to be rebuffed by her typically sharp riposte “I haven’t finished yet”, whereupon “the audience rocked with laughter”.


The home loving, Liberal Welshwoman then goes on to praise Lady Astor, American, rich, Tory, and to scorn her critics.

My second reason is this.  Of all the women in the land I do not know anyone who can represent us so worthily and so usefully as Lady Astor.  I think the ideal woman for Parliament must be a wife, a mother and a politician.  Lady Astor has the three essential qualifications. 


You remember how the first band of brave fellows who went to fight for us in France were described as a “contemptible little army”.  I am rather surprised to find some papers that have professed to believe in woman’s suffrage, & woman’s representation are trying to pour contempt on Lady Astor’s candidature. 

Though she may be a little unconventional in her electioneering methods, I assure you from my own intimate knowledge of her that she is a woman of strong conviction.  In season and out of season she has toiled to help all sorts & conditions of men & women.  She will be listened to with respect in Parliament because of her great reputation as a social worker. 


img155 (2)I think there cannot be a greater compliment paid to her than the very trivial objections that are urged against her.  She is charged with being an “American”.  Well that is neither her blame nor her shame.  Besides Americans and ourselves are one race. 

Others charge her with being “rich”.  Well, I don’t know many people who would object to being rich.  Most people, I know, are making very big efforts to grow richer.


Others say she is a Tory.  Well if she is, then all I can say is that I wish all were such Tories as she is. 

Great knockabout stump speech material, rounded off by skilfully avoiding comment on the other candidates whilst reminding women that this was a critical fight for their own future.

Tomorrow you will be asked to give your vote.  There are three candidates.  I am not going to say a word against or about the others.  One may be good, the other may be better.  I know Lady Astor is the best of all. 

I therefore appeal to you very earnestly to vote for her return & to work for her return.  Give her such a majority that will encourage other women of her position and experience to champion our cause & to fight our battles. 

In other words, this is not only a vote for Lady Astor today, but a vote for more women in Parliament in the future, to ensure that Nancy Astor would not be always a “pelican in the wilderness” as Mrs Lloyd George phrased it in a speech a year or so later.


poster 1
Source: Reading University Archives: Astor MS 1066/1/532

The leaflets distributed around Plymouth of course made no secret of the Coalition between the Tory Lady Astor and the Liberal Lloyd George, as this flier from the collection at the University of Reading Astor archive shows.


Lady Astor discovered the convention that Cabinet ministers did not canvass at bye-elections, when ministers politely declined her invitations to come down and help.  It was one reason of course why Mrs Lloyd George was so active at the hustings around the country, especially at bye-elections, at this time so critical in testing the mood for or against the shaky Coalition. Her comments would also have, undoubtedly, been supplemented by a robust defence of the record of her husband’s Coalition government. The Exeter and Plymouth Gazette of 15th November 1919 reported:  “Mrs. Lloyd George said her husband and herself had been taunted because they supported Lady Astor against a member of their own Party.  But this was not time for Party strife, it was time for unity. She based her appeal for support to the Coalition candidate one simple fact, and that was the record of the present Government. There was not a single measure by this Government which was not in keeping with Liberal principles. She invited critics to point to any other Government that had passed so many reforms in short a time”.


typed letter 1
Source: Reading University Archives: Astor MS 1066/1/530

Lloyd George, in his letter of support to Lady Astor, published in the press, also stressed the importance of having a woman’s view in the House of Commons on a number of issues:


Now that women have been enfranchised I think it important that there should be a certain number of women in Parliament in order to represent the woman’s point of view.  There are a good many questions in regard to housing, child welfare, food, drink, and prices in which it would be an immense advantage both to the nation and to the House of Commons to have a woman’ s view presented by a woman“.

Bonar Law letter
Source: Reading University Archives: Astor MS 1066/1/530

This Long Blog would get too long if we addressed the question here of whether women’s views on other issues might be equally important, but Tory Leader Bonar Law’s letter to Lord Astor (the outgoing MP) also makes a good read:


11 Downing Street, 6th November 1919

My Dear Astor,

The butler told me you were here and I hurried over lunch and expected to find you.

I am sorry that it is not possible for me to go to Plymouth for there is a rule, which I think has only once been broken, that Cabinet Ministers should not take part in by-elections.  If we were once to begin there would be no end to it.  Judging from the papers I should have thought that Lady Astor was having almost a walk over and the reports I hear leave no doubt as to the result.  I am sure she will get the votes of all the men – the women are more doubtful.     A. Bonar Law


Bonar Law’s doubt over which way the women’s vote may well reflect a mix of uncertainty – women had only been recently enfranchised and thus there was less experience of their voting preferences – as well as the recognition that the women of Plymouth were not necessarily bound to vote for the Lady of the manor.  Here again Mrs Lloyd George was a powerful weapon, popular with the working people, and as we have seen in Plymouth confronting head on and amusingly the issue that Lady Astor was American, Tory and rich.


lady A to MLG p1
The J.T. Rhys Collection

Shortly after the election, and before the result was known, Lady Astor wrote a letter of thanks to Mrs Lloyd George, thanking her for coming with her to Plymouth with the homely phrase “The West Country folk were so glad to have you”.


The letter was written on mourning notepaper in deference to the recent death of Lord Astor, which triggered his son’s elevation to the House of Lords and in consequence forced the bye-election.



Lady A to MLG p2Nancy Astor also reflected on the pleasure of being at home at Cliveden, “riding with the children and having a real 2 days holiday before I begin again”, and saying “I still feel that I would rather have another baby than go to the HofC!!”.  A typical Nancy Astor quip, or perhaps reflecting on the size of the task ahead of her.



Once elected, the first woman MP was of course in strong demand, not just to champion every woman’s cause but to bring in their vote for the Coalition.  On 8th December 1919, a week after the result was announced, Lord Astor wrote to Mrs Lloyd George:


Lord A p1
                            The J.T.Rhys Collection

“My wife would really like to go to Spen Valley or anywhere else to help you but I hope you won’t press her.  The election was a tremendous strain upon her.  She has been inundated with hundreds of letters of congratulation but every woman with a grievance looks upon her as her M.P. and every Woman’s association has bombarded her.”  






Lord A p2 and 3In the event both Mrs Lloyd George and Nancy Astor went to Yorkshire’s Spen Valley ahead of the bye-election of 20th December, caused by the death of the Coalition Liberal MP.  The widening split in Liberal ranks over Lloyd George’s Coalition government meant two Liberal candidates standing, which saw the seat going to Labour – perhaps the point where Labour started to be taken seriously as a major threat to the major parties.


For Nancy Astor, after the Coalition had collapsed in 1922, when the “1922 Committee” of Tory backbenchers pulled the rug, the Liberals still did not contest her seat until 1929.  In 1927, when the Liberals decided to oppose her at the next election, she received strong support from my grandfather, albeit no longer Mrs Lloyd George’s Private Secretary, but a major Temperance campaigner (and also would be the Agent of the Liberal Candidate for South Hackney in 1929) , in a long letter to The Times.  He argued that the Liberals had no chance of winning the seat anyway and that opposing such a champion of temperance reform would postpone the Liberal Party’s return to power “to the Greek Kalends” (i.e. for ever).  Nancy Astor wrote back to her fellow Temperance supporter.

Lady A to JTR
The J.T. Rhys Collection


Cliveden April 27th 1927

Dear Mr Rhys:

“It was very nice of you to write as you did to “The Times”.  You can’t think what an encouragement it is to feel that we have the support of people such as you.  To me to fight the Drink Traffic has never been a sacrifice, but it has cost my husband anything in the way of a political career he might have had in his party.  I don’t want a political career, but he, having been in politics all his life, and loving administrative posts, has naturally felt that he would have liked some responsible work, but I do rejoice that he is unselfish enough to go for the bigger things. 

I am really distressed about the Liberals at Plymouth. Never in my life have I wanted to fight the Liberals on any question (except perhaps the Navy before the war).   It will very awkward at Plymouth if they do come out, and I can’t help hoping that they won’t”. 


In 1929 the Liberals did contest her seat, and her majority dropped from over 5000 to a very close 211 votes over Labour, with the Liberals a very distant third.  She held the seat until 1945 when she stepped down, the seat then going to Labour with over 50% of the vote in a three way contest.  Plymouth Sutton returned to the Astor family, and the Conservatives, in 1951 when Jackie Astor won at his second attempt, in a straight fight with Labour, the Liberals not running, unlike in 1950 when he had come close to unseating Lucy Middleton, Nancy Astor’s successor as MP.


a problem for women
Source: University of Reading Archives. Astor MS 1066/1/532

One cause brought Lady Astor, Mrs Lloyd George and Rev. J.T. Rhys together across party lines: Temperance.  Thus in the published version of Lady Astor’s maiden speech in the House of Commons, it was Margaret Lloyd George who led the forewords, where she concluded:


“It was fitting that the first speech ever delivered in the British Parliament by a woman, should be on the subject of Temperance, and it was fortunate that that speech should have been delivered by Lady Astor.  It was in the first instance an appeal to Parliament, but indirectly an appeal to the Nation.  It is being published for that purpose.  I commend Lady Astor’s appeal and arguments very earnestly to all those who love their country, and especially to Women, on whose hearts the burdens of intemperance lies so heavily”.  Margaret Lloyd George

Margaret Lloyd George was a wise woman who repeatedly turned down calls for her to run for Parliament herself.  In March of the year that Lady Astor entered the national stage Mrs Lloyd George was elected onto the Criccieth Urban District Council where she served until her death in 1941.  She was the first female Justice of the Peace in Caernarvonshire, and was president of the Women’s Liberal Federation of North and South Wales.  She always said she could support her husband as well outside parliament as inside.

Margaret Lloyd George and Nancy Astor continued to support their common causes together, and if you had been at Mrs Lloyd George’s Brynawelon home high on the hill above Criccieth in August of the next year, 1920, as she presided over a fête raising money for the local Heroes’ Memorial, you would not have been surprised by, and would undoubtedly have enjoyed, the sight of Lady Astor auctioneering sheep and pigs for charity.

Richard Rhys O’Brien, grandson of the Rev. J.T. Rhys

I am currently engaged in writing an appreciation of the speeches of Mrs Lloyd George, based upon my grandfather’s archive, as well as a project focused on the business, feminist, and publishing network of Margaret, Lady Rhondda www.thedinnerpuzzle.com.


I am very grateful for the support of the team at the Astor100 project at the University of Reading, notably Dr Jacqui Turner and Melanie Khuddro for their help in researching their wonderful Astor archive.

I am also most grateful to the Astor family for allowing me to use and share copies of the correspondence between the Astors, Mrs Lloyd George and the Rev. J.T. Rhys.

And I owe many thanks to the Lloyd George family for allowing me to make available to the public the J.T.Rhys Collection of speeches and correspondence of Mrs Lloyd George.  Copies of thirty speeches of Mrs Lloyd George are now available in the archives at the National Library of Wales, in the new Rev. J.T. Rhys (Margaret Lloyd George) Papers collection.





Women in War and Peace 1919

Women in War and Peace 1919

One hundred years ago, on Monday 30th June 1919, the day after Prime Minister David Lloyd George returned to London having signed the Versailles Treaty, the Liverpool Courier carried the article below from his wife Dame Margaret Lloyd George, its message being reported widely in the Press. On the Saturday she had presided over the massive London women’s Victory Loan demonstration in Trafalgar Square, supported by Mrs Pankhurst and others. Ahead were the Peace Day celebrations due for 19th July. Dame Margaret is greatly under-appreciated, not only for tirelessly canvassing support for Liberalism, for her husband and for his Coalition government but also for the gentle, subtle and energetic ways in which she promoted her own causes. Perhaps most consistently she was a champion for opportunities for women in a man’s world. The article is written in her familiar style, with the simple opening: ‘Women have at least two substantial reasons for rejoicing in the establishment of peace on earth’.

‘War is absolutely alien to woman’s nature and does violence to everything that she cherishes in life.  Woman’s thoughts are thoughts of peace, and to her war is an unspeakable torture, an indescribable agony.  Woman is so constituted that peace is essential to her wellbeing and the return of peace she therefore hails with joy unfeigned.

‘She can rejoice, too, because she has contributed so magnificently by her endeavours and by her endurance to the great victory which has made peace possible.  Though she loves peace and loathes war, yet she laboured with unexampled devotion to end the war.  Without women’s help we might have seen the end of the war but we could not have seen the war end in victory for us – victory which crowns the efforts of our valiant men on land, on sea, and in the air.  That the enemy has been hoist with his own petard is due in no small degree to woman’s help.  In every sphere the women of Britain have undertaken work uncongenial, arduous and often very perilous.  If every woman in Britain had received due “recognition” at the hands of the state the Honours List would be almost as long as the Directory’. 

‘Nor must we forget the women whose part in the tragic struggle was to suffer in silence, and today are longing for “the touch of the vanished hand” and for “the sound of the voice that is still”.  “They also serve who stand and wait”.  They have mourned; they have never murmured.  Throughout the whole of the long dark night (and how dark the night we have passed through we do not even yet realise) there was one star that shone brightly, clearly, constantly.  The spirit of the people never failed us, not even flickered.  It was a phenomenon without parallel in the history of this land, and unexcelled in any other land at any time’. 

‘If we can for the purpose of peace retain that spirit of unity, the Peace day will mark not only the end of the war, but the end of one and the beginning of another era in the history of Britain, an era brighter and better than Britain has ever known in her long history; and the inauguration of that era will be the richest compensation for all the sacrifices of the war.  We have an unexampled opportunity and responsibility’. 

Dame Margaret does not waste words. She writes straight to the point. She does not pull any punches. There is a total absence of sentimentality. You could not hope for a clearer tribute to the contribution of women during that dreadful war.

Sadly that “war to end all wars” did nothing of the sort and the peace that was signed was flawed, the allies arguing between squeezing Germany “till the pips squeaked” to granting less crippling terms. The World War Two settlement was more successful, learning from the past. May we never underestimate how, since 1945, the degree to which most Europeans have enjoyed peace in their time.

Dame Margaret’s typed copy of this article now makes part of the J.T. Rhys Collection, a new archive available at the National Library of Wales. The Rev. J.T. Rhys, my grandfather, was Dame Margaret’s Private Secretary from 1917 to 1922, whilst she was at No. 10 Downing Street. Her photograph is by Elliot and Fry, copyright National Portrait Gallery.

Drop the O’, You Don’t Want Enquiries – a Story of Irish Migration

Drop the O’, You Don’t Want Enquiries – a Story of Irish Migration

In 1844, just before the Great Famine hit Ireland, my Irish forebears left for London.  All I ever really knew was that, on arrival, the 5 year old Cathy, my great grandmother, asked “Is that the same moon as we have in Ireland?”… a story that was passed down over the years.  Since then I have discovered just what it took to make a new life in London.  This latest album is an 11 song cycle retelling their story.  If they hadn’t made it, there wouldn’t be a me.  Each track starts with a short narrative before the song takes hold.

Moving In

The first 3 songs set the stage:  Drop the O’ reminds us that the Irish weren’t popular, even though they virtually built Victorian London – so to help integration the O’Briens became Bryans and the O’Neilles, Neals.  As the song says, it isn’t easy being green especially when you’re Irish.  In Wherever the Moon Is (my favourite song on the album) Cathy asks her father the big question and like many children’s difficult but simple questions, each answer begs another, as her father seeks to reassure Cathy.  The image here is a contemporary painting of the very street they lived in, Lincoln’s Court, later to be replaced by the Peabody Buildings.   And in Rookery Rock we are reminded that their new home was the worst area of Dickensian London, close to the St Giles Rookery, often called Little Dublin or a variation thereof.  And I tell the story of their near-neighbour Ellen Donovan who lost her life trying to save children in the overcrowded firetrap where they lived, Lincoln Court.  Ellen is commemorated in a plaque in Postman’s Park, Little Britain, near St Paul’s Cathedral, which honours the people’s heroes of the time.

Settling In

The next three songs see my great grandparents, Cathy O’Neill and Charles O’Brien meeting, marrying, and starting a family – opening with the saddest song, Cathy Met Charlie. My father told me his father was one of four children, along with his two sisters and a brother.  Actually there were twelve, but eight died either within a week of birth or didn’t make it beyond five years old.  The font where they were christened is still there and is in the video.  But Charlie got himself a job as a street seller of fruit and vegetables – they did live close to Covent Garden after all – as I sing in The Costermonger’s Song. And the next song celebrates the work of the Irish labourer (Cathy’s father, a linen weaver in Ireland, may have been one of them) as they built Victorian London, in Building Boomers.

Was It Worth It?

But it clearly was really tough.  I was stunned when I found in a book the drawings of the firegrates of the very houses my family lived in: the old Georgian houses, No’s 6 and 7 Wild Court, grand in their day – and the only houses in the terrace for which any detail was recorded.  These houses were very crowded, and were demolished in the early 1880s.  The street, Wild Court, is still there, running West off Kingsway, Holborn.  Just as amazing was discovering that this Georgian terrace was recorded for posterity by an artist, complete with costermongers’ carts, before it was demolished – see painting above.  It made me think what Charlie and Cathy may have thought, looking at those firegrates, as they tried to Make It Worth It.

New Job, Two Weddings and a New Home

But make it they did.  Step One, in Hold the Front Page, was for Charlie and Cathy’s son Charlie, my grandfather, to get work in Fleet Street, as a compositor at the Pall Mall Gazette (now part of the Evening Standard).  Step Two, in At the Double, was to marry Londoners, which they did in a double marriage when Charlie and his sister Ellen O’Brien married the sister and brother Louisa and Tom Banan … a family from Sussex and possibly from Huguenot weaver families.  And Step Three, to get a better home, in the new Victorian garden city of Noel Park in Wood Green, where my father was born and where the ageing Cathy reflects on their lives in Come Into the Garden.

A Story For All Our Times

And I wrap it all up in Old Times, Modern Times, just a reminder that this is not an old story, it is a story of every age.  Listen out for little Cathy having the final word as the credits fade………….

Hotel May Theresa: The Answer to Two Great Unanswered Questions of My Life

Hotel May Theresa: The Answer to Two Great Unanswered Questions of My Life

Great Unanswered Question 1: how will Brexit turnout?

Great Unanswered Question 2: What is the Eagles song Hotel California all about?

I’ve cracked the code:  Just read these lyrics, to the tune if you remember it……….. the bold words are all that I have had to change for it all to make sense!! I’ve posted someone else’s Youtube version of the original with original lyrics at the end. Enjoy!!  Welcome to the Hotel May Theresa!!

On a dark Dover highway, hands running through my hair

Warm smell of fajitas, coming from God knows where

Up ahead in the distance, I saw a red tail light

The lorries lined up, nowhere to go

I had to stop for the night


There she stood in the doorway

Heard the Division bell

And I was thinking to myself

‘This isn’t heaven, looks like Hell’

Then she lit up a candle, promised she knew the way

There were voices down the corridor

I thought I heard them say


Welcome to the Hotel May Theresa

Keep a straight face (keep a straight face)

I know it’s a waste

Doom and gloom at the Hotel May Theresa

Any time of year (any time of year) nothing to fear


Her mind you know it’s not twisted, won’t drive a Mercedes Benz

She got a lot of pretty, pretty boys, that she calls friends

How they dance in the Commons, Brexiters don’t sweat

Some dance the Remainer, some dance to forget


So I called up the Juncker

“Please listen this time”

He said “we haven’t heard that one before at least since half past nine”

And still those voices are calling from far away

Wake you up in the middle of the night

Just to hear them say


Welcome to the Hotel May Theresa

Keep a straight face (keep a straight face)

I know it’s a waste

Livin’ it up at the Hotel May Theresa

How the time flies (how the time flies), no more alibis


Mirrors on the ceiling,

Mogg champagne on ice

And she said, ‘we are all just prisoners here, of our own device”

And in Disaster’s chambers,

They gathered for the feast

Underneath the Speaker’s eyes,

But they just can’t kill the beast


Last thing I remember, I was

Running for the door

I had to find the passage back to the place I was before

‘Relax’ said the Euroman,

‘We are programmed to receive.

You can check out any time you like,

But you can never leave!’


with full acknowledgment to The Eagles and Hotel California

Now you know what the song was about!!  I did warn you before the referendum – see my blog of 7th June 2016, Check out time? Think again. Vote Remain, complete with The Eagles’s great punchline.  I stand by every word I wrote then.

Richard Rhys O’Brien


Women’s Boat Race 1927 Eye witness report

Women’s Boat Race 1927 Eye witness report

On March 15th 1927, 91 years ago, the first women’s boat race between Oxford and Cambridge took place on the Isis at Oxford.  It was Boats for Women as well as Votes for Women.  Margaret Teify Rhys, my aunt, known as Tiffy, coxed the Cambridge eight and in a forthright interview in March 1989 recalled the controversies and the highs and the lows of that time. On this first occasion Cambridge was represented by the the Newnham College boat, before other women’s colleges had begun rowing.  The interview by Alana Martin was broadcast on BBC Woman’s Hour to mark the first time that both men’s boats were coxed by a woman.

You won’t be surprised eyebrows were raised at the idea of women taking part at all.  You may have heard about the mismanagement and mix up over the rules.  They tried to keep it quiet, racing at 1.15 hoping that everyone would be at lunch.  I hope you will be entertained.

Richard Rhys O’Brien

The meaning of life: banish the audition blues

The meaning of life: banish the audition blues

This blog introduces the video of Audition blues, the second song on my first album, I know a little place.  Whilst it is inevitable that songs are influenced by the writer’s own life, I owe it my parents, family and teachers to confess that the first verse of my song is untrue – everyone encouraged me to keep asking questions, to understand what life may be about – even if there can be no definitive answer.  I don’t remember ever being just told “because”.  I was told, never be afraid to ask.

The circle of life

Curiously, the first image I chose for the song happened to be a photo I took of the first carving in the circle of life series from the Toshogo shrine in Nikko, Japan of the mother and her child – the mother looking to the future and the child looking with trust and perhaps for answers.  The next appropriate image for me is one of those wonderful open tree-lined roads in France, followed quite naturally by Le Penseur from the Musée Rodin in Paris, concluding with the almost endless beach at Le Touquet-Paris-Plage.


What now, what’s next?

The song, illustrated by some pilgrims in India streaming along the road in their bright yellow saris, alludes to the idea that life can be one audition after another, and to the idea of an afterlife “if we pass the audition, what’s the next part we play?”. Do we get a second chance? – “if we turn out a failure, can we re-audition someday?”  I will never know if the man in his red shirt whom I photographed high in a tree knew what he was doing or somehow had just taken a wrong turning!


Do we write for our audience or ourselves?

Then a little dig at the X Factor culture “when they see what they want will they know it” – in this video I went back to Shinto shrine in Nikko for the three monkeys who capture for me the idea of going before a judging panel. This 17th century wooden carving is the origin of the “hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil” proverb, the monkeys being Kikazaru, Iwazaru and Mizasru. How important is the verdict of the judging panel?  Do we write for our audience or for ourselves?  Selfishly I write first for my own pleasure – whilst there is great satisfaction if I get the bonus of others liking my work too! I am very happy that a friend told me he plays it a lot because of the meaning it holds for him.

Kikazaru, Iwazaru and Mizaru, Hear no evil, Speak no evil, See no evil

Go with the flow

The images then indulge in a little poetic or visual licence, as the “river with rapids” and the “canyon with multiple bends” are accompanied by the peace and tranquility of the wonderful backwaters of Kerala in India and the elegant, graceful and dramatic Chinese fishing nets of Cochin (reported to be disappearing). As I wrote the song I confess that the image in my mind was of the (once mighty?) Colorado River running through the Grand Canyon to the Pacific Ocean – but I haven’t got good photos of that!


And the reason for living is…..?

So if you want to know the reason for living, well up to a point you will have to work it out for yourself. For me it lies in other people who I love and whose company I enjoy.  It lies in the wonderful colours and sights of the world.  It lies in the ups and downs of life and in the thrill of the chase often made greater by the effort it takes to succeed.  And it lies, most definitely, in words, pictures and music.  Write no evil, draw no evil and sing no evil?

You can’t sit out the dance

You can’t sit out the dance

For this little homily song on our journey through life, I have chosen a few pictures from my own travels.  This song niggles at me whenever I’d rather hide away from the world, trying to “sit out the dance”.  Perhaps subconsciously we write about the challenges we know from experience are hard to meet.  Having spent much of my working life helping people deal with the future, it’s always been worth remembering that whatever the future, or present, you have to work with it.  That way you also have a chance of shaping it! It’s not the first song I’ve written that has made me think I should practice what I preach!

Decisions, decisions

So we start with an obvious train-track image setting out clearly the long journey ahead: but I just love the chap standing bang in the middle of the tracks as if he is wondering what to do next – well, he is on the phone to someone trying to find out perhaps.  Of course the alternative could be to take the road on the left….



Some like to know where they’re heading

Some rather just leave it to chance

But however you tackle the future

You know you can’t sit out the dance

Rich or poor, you still have to play the game

Whoever you are, you still have to play the game you are in.



It may be a ball, with champagne on ice

It may be a barn dance, with the straw and the mice

Whatever your fancy, whatever your home

You can’t sit out the dance

Life keeps you jumping

I love this photo of the boys playing cricket on the endless beach of Chennai, India.  Wherever the ball goes or is coming from you have to play the game.  Though sometimes when you are young you are directed where to go, like these Japanese schoolchildren.


Life keeps you jumping, rest when you can

Between boredom and surprises, between dry toast and jam

Keep smiling and look forward, celebrate and applaud

All those who keep dancing, sweet lady, sweet lord

The dance of life follows many rhythms

 You can be on your toes, you can wallow in the mud, but you are still in the dance.


You may like the polka and wear little red shoes

Or something much slower, dance to the blues

Whatever you do, dance!



Move with your partner, sway with the band

Take your place for the dance

Thank you for reading and listening!  Enjoy the dance!

Ok, life’s a puzzle….

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The Art of the song

The Art of the song

This is the first of a series of blogs I will be doing in the coming months to introduce brand new videos for I know a little place, the first of my three albums.  Songs conjure up images in the mind of writer and of listener.  Here I have curated my own selection of wonderful images that have surprised me with their appropriateness for the lyrics. For me both lyrics and these artworks are depicting similar sentiments – even though I may being seeing something different in the Art from that intended by their great creators.  I hope you enjoy listening to this first song, Take it as it comes,  in the company of the talent of fourteen great European artists stretching across five centuries.

“All this will be ashes….”

My opening line “There will come a time when all this will be ashes” is more doom laden than I ever meant. To the rescue, Jacques Tissot’s 1868 depiction of Paris society in Le Cercle de la Rue Royale, sums up the idea that however smart we think we are, we won’t go on for ever.  Then Lawrence Alma–Tadema’s 1887 Women of Amphissa couldn’t be a better vision of passion spent. Next, Henri Gustave Jossot‘s 1894 series Artistes et Bourgeois satirises intellectual pretensions, as one asks “And your next book?” and the other replies “Oh, becoming simply Shakespearian!”  We are finally rescued from our musing as Brandenburgian Jacob Phillip Hackert’s fireworks explode Rome’s Castel Sant’ Angelo and allow us to celebrate, as they still do today.

Our transient life, with Tissot, Alma-Tadema, Jossot, and Hackert

“But until that time, keep an open mind….”

But we still search for knowledge. In La Tache Noire (or The Black Stain) Albert Bettannier, a French teacher tells his charges of the terrible loss of Alsace-Lorraine to Prussia in 1871. Then Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s depiction, of the trance-like spiritual transfiguration of Beatrix Portinari at the moment of her death, uncannily matches my words “when you see beyond” – though I wasn’t thinking of death particularly, but perhaps more the moment of insight, as in Joseph Wright of Derby’s “The Alchymist, In Search of the Philosopher’s Stone, Discovers Phosphorus, and prays for the successful Conclusion of his operation, as was the custom of the Ancient Chymical Astrologers”. At this point Gabriel von Max’s book-reading simian is just the ticket to keep our feet on the ground – “but until that time, keep an open mind”.

Our search for knowledge, with Bettannier, Rossetti, Wright and von Max

“When time passes slowly….”

Verse three starts with the woman in the window  spinning yarn,  a good task to accompany reflection – by another artist from the Franco-German borderland of Alsace, René-Paul Schützenberger.  British painter John William Waterhouse’s moody young man in red depicts the Roman Emperor Nero reflecting on matricide. In the next frame there is more family trouble: I saw this stunning painting by Évariste Vital Luminais last summer in the Musée des Beaux Arts in Quimper, Brittany –  King Gradlon on the white horse is trying to save his daughter from drowning, not knowing she has become an evil woman – her death at least calms the seas.  The final artwork, The Travelling Companions, by the wonderfully named Augustus Leopold Egg, now in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, allows us to relax with our favourite book on our train journey through life, or even fall asleep to the dulcet sounds of my harmonica – whatever, “take it as it comes”!

The short and the long of it, with Schutzenberger, Waterhouse, Luminais and Egg

“Breathe the air around you………….”

After the musical interlude we can drift reflectively through the successive images of my own shadow in the Dordogne sun, of another Rossetti beauty struggling to raise a smile in the sun, of Shakespeare’s Shrew Katherina, (by Edward Robert Hughes), thinking what to do when she is not being given food. Finally, staying in thespian company at table, we spy on Mr and Mrs David Garrick enjoying tea in the open air at “Garrick’s Villa” by the Thames at Hampton, by Johann Zoffany.  “Breathe the air around you, take it as it comes”.


Reflect with me, Rossetti, Hughes and Zoffany

“All the contrasts…..”

For our final verse we flip from the bright noisy utopian colours of Wenzel Hablik, to the drizzle of Julius von Ehren‘s German city, the brightness of Henri Biva’s lily pond in the summer sun, to the complex 16th century Nicholas Hilliard miniature of a handsome man, possibly the Earl of Essex, leaning upon a tree amongst roses.

The contrasts of life, with Hablik, von Ehren, Biva and Hilliard

And relax with the coda: “take it as it comes”

The song finally closes as Charles Bargue‘s black dog and a white parrot play their own game of chess, the liveried footman paying no heed, as Etienne-Prosper Berne-Bellecour’s Normandy shepherdess calmly “takes it as it comes” in the fading light, and as Johann Tischbein’s Goethe reflects on the Roman campagna.

Take it as it comes with Bargue, Bellecour and Tischbein

Art enhances music

For myself, this song now has many new dimensions in breadth and depth.  If you had asked me to write a song to fit the paintings I’d never have got there – albeit just a hypothesis as I doubt if these nineteen images would ever have appeared together.  It’s been like curating my own art exhibition around a theme, with help from the internet, Wikipedia etc, giving us access to all these public domain images from around the world. I’ve learnt more about art and have gained new insights on my own songs!

Take it as it comes!

Mad about Models: Building Blog 5 Twin Towers to Single Arch

Mad about Models: Building Blog 5 Twin Towers to Single Arch

This fifth and final blog on selected iconic buildings of London modelled by Timothy Richards is of the now departed Wembley Twin Towers.  The model in its larger size shown here was presented to various dignitaries at the ceremonial events at the time of their demolition in 2003 – a noble souvenir of what had once been noble.  Smaller bookend versions are still available.

Resurrection unlikely

Unlike the buildings in my previous blogs, the Twin Towers are very unlikely to be resurrected, not least because very little remains of them. Nor did they find a new use which might have prevented demolition. However you could say that as with Temple Bar and Euston Arch, the idea of a highly visible construction lives on in the new Wembley Stadium Arch. I suspect more Londoners have seen the arch, albeit at a distance, than the towers – unless you were a football fan.

A White Arch for Wembley

A new icon?

Of course the Arch may not become such an iconic building as the old Twin Towers, but usually that is for history to tell us. The world changes and certainly the Wembley area, like elsewhere, has seen its fair share of change over the years.

In the right light……

It looks good in the sunshine and with great lighting!

The tower that never was

In one sense the new Stadium Arch brings to Wembley what the Towers’ predecessor, Watkin’s Tower or Folly, tried to do.  This was the partly-built tower on the style of the Eiffel Tower, never finished and demolished in 1907, almost a century ago.  If completed like in Paris this would have been a landmark for miles. We might note that Eiffel’s masterpiece was not only completed (in 1889) but withstood plans for early demolition and still stands 127 years later. The Eiffel Tower was of course a pioneering construction, which is not something you could claim for Watkin’s Tower nor the Wembley Arch.

Went missing 110 years ago

Demolition blues

Compared to Temple Bar (200 years in Fleet Street, 125 years in a rural park, restored at the age of 330) and Euston Arch (125 years in place, 34 years underwater, another two decades so far in storage), the Twin Towers were mere 75 year old youngsters. Interestingly, like the Eiffel Tower, the 1923 Wembley Stadium, built specifically for the Empire Games, was slated for demolition in 1925, but was saved from this early demise. The stadium made it into the second Millennium, but though the plan to demolish the towers was first met with considerable opposition,  they finally succumbed to progress. The concrete icons eventually became mere rubble, just as the Euston Arch was used to plug a hole in an East London river. Plans to preserve some parts of the Towers for display have apparently been ground into dust.

A video set to music records the demolition, and much was made of the fact that it was a German digger that began the demolition. 1966 anyone?

A pile of rubble becomes a playground

What I do know, from researching this blog, is that every time I leave London on the A40 Western Avenue, not long after I have passed the Hoover Building of the previous Building Blog No 4 ,  I pass the main graveyard of the old Stadium, the rubble helping to build the Northala Fields mounds. Bet you didn’t know that either. The Twin Towers moniker hasn’t died totally, labelling some of the new tall buildings steadily surrounding the stadium.

The Mounds of Northala

So thanks for the memory

The Twin Towers moniker hasn’t died totally, labelling some of the new tall buildings steadily surrounding the stadium. Likewise there is now a bar and restaurant, with a strong Irish and sporting theme, called Watkin’s Folly, and a Watkin Road. Perhaps the strongest memories will live on in the minds of the many thousands who enjoyed their football, watched the Empire and Olympics Games or listened to their favourite rock group under the watch of the twin towers of Wembley. And the models hold up my old books nicely.

That’s all folks, for now

That’s it for now for my five part series of blogs on a few models of iconic past and present London buildings, or more fully, buildings, towers and arches. Buildings that have been demolished, moved, relocated, resurrected, changed to survive or just plain disappeared off the face of the Earth … or have the Twin Towers just gone underground?  There’s more to our buildings than meets the eye.  And do take a look at all the other wonderful models that Timothy Richards has on offer!

The Five Building Blogs

  1. Temple Bar and the end of geography
  2. Euston Arch, a hub of controversy
  3. Floral Hall, Orchids to Oysters to Opera
  4. From Hoover to Tesco
  5. Wembley: Twin Towers to Single Arch