Battle for The Bear



The Bear

HERE is a scrap you wonder why Islington Council has got itself into. Arsenal fans are beating a path to its environment department over the council’s insistence that a small tribute plaque to a fan who died in a car crash two years ago is removed.

Dainton Connell, or The Bear as he was better know, of course wasn’t any old fan. A man with a legendary reputation, I first heard his name when I was in my early teens, hearing stories of his fierce loyalty to Arsenal and his scrapes on the terraces at Highbury. The tales about his past aren’t all pretty but legions of football fans respected and loved him. And as a bouncer for the Pet Shop Boys, he had a circle of celebrity friends who said he had mellowed with marriage and fatherhood. Ian Wright, Frank Bruno and Matt Lucas were all at his funeral.

I got a bit of stick from some quarters for writing about his life in the Islington Tribune when he died suddenly in a car crash in Moscow, these were people who accused me of celebrating the life of a hooligan. What I was actually doing was writing about a man that literally thousands of people knew and cared about.

Two years later, his name is back in the paper again this month. The plaque in his name, laid on a roundabout next to the Emirates Stadium after he died, must be removed says the council. The Bear’s relatives say this demand is a changearound from what the council said when they put it there. A petition has been launched in attempt to get the council to change it’s mind back again and hundreds have signed.

What’s curious about it all – and it’s a point that has been made by several of The Bear’s friends – is that the plaque is no eyesore, it’s not intrusive. It’s flat against the ground like a small flagstone. If you are not standing right by it, you can’t even see it. So, you wonder what kind of conservationist is so bloody minded about roundabouts to insist that it must be removed. This is hardly green belt land – there’s a hulking new glass and steel coliseum of a new stadium a few steps away.

It’s Arsenal and Spurs tomorrow, the north London derby. As usual, The Bear’s friends and relatives will gather at this special spot for them: The Bear’s Roundabout. They won’t give that little island up easily.



The plaque.



Derren Brown and the public interest test


Derren Brown with his friend Rebecca Hossack, a councillor in Camden

UNSURPRISINGLY, Derren Brown, the fantastically slick showman who makes good TV programmes, is too smart for me. Well, the Freedom of Information team at the Science Museum are.

The museum over in Kensington is subject to the same Freedom of Information rules as other bodies which accept public money, so I whooshed in a FOI request to their info team to see what people at the museum were saying about Brown’s recent stunt/trick/illusion (what are the things he does officially called?) staged there. The one which involved getting a woman from the museum to draw a symbol on a painter’s easel, hiding it under some wrapping in the museum and then convincing everybody watching his show The Events to draw the same shape. It turned out to be concentric circles, just like the ones that shone out of the woman’s eyes, the ones we were repeatedly asked to stare into during the show.

I’m sure it wasn’t as simple as that. So, how did he do it? The FoI answer came back yesterday and shed no light on it. In fact I was told that the release of any details of his arrangements with the museum (clues, to you and me) would ‘in no way benefit the public interest’. That’s me told. And fair enough. If you knew how Brown did his amazing feats, it would ruin his act – and his act is far too entertaining, far too enjoyable for that. I’d rather gasp in amazement at the telly than find out that a paper trail of emails at the museum reveals a humdrum explanation for it all. Whatever stunt/trick/illusion he comes up with, he always captures the imagination.

The full text of the Science Museum’s response:

Dear Mr Osley,

Thank you for your recent Freedom of Information enquiry regarding the filming of a television programme at the Science Museum. I can confirm that this was a standard commercial agreement between the museum and the production company and that all correspondence and related documentation, both internal and external, related to the practicalities of using the Museum’s premises as a location. The Science Museum had no direct input nor exercised any editorial or other controls, other than that standard in such agreements, over the format or content of the programme. Accordingly, we have concluded that the release of this correspondence would in no way benefit the public or be to their interest.

I can also confirm that, other than your own enquiry, the museum has received no feedback from the public relating to this particular programme. I hope this information is of some use to you and I wish you all the best with your research.

Documentation Centre,
Science Museum,
London, SW7 2DD

Easyjet: ‘We’re not sponsoring new Spurs stadium’


Emirates Lite?

ANOTHER post about something that happened on Twitter – but a funny one. There was me bantering on about whether Tottenham Hotspur’s new ground might be sponsored by budget airline Easyjet and – what happens? – the customer care team at Team Stelios tweet right back to tell me: Not likely, we sponsor Luton Town! If only people at airport check-ins were that efficient.

I guess it was a tired joke: Arsenal sold their naming rights for a new stadium to a high class airline in Fly Emirates, so the joke goes that Spurs, being less successful, anaemic neighbours, would sign up to something a little bit more cheapo.

Ok, it’s a very tired joke. But, it’s smart to see Easyjet combing the Twitter feeds to officially put the record straight. Tottenham this week released some more artists impressions for their new ground and have asked Haringey Council for permission to get started on it. It’s got floodlights and everything. And on the stadium roof in these drawings are the simply words ‘Naming Rights’, left as a blatant come on to would-be sponsors. Just count Easyjet out, as their tweeting team told me today: ‘Don’t think it will be us, as we sponsor Luton Town. Have a good day.’ I’m sure they will be better off with the Hatters.

How much?

Council leader Keith Moffitt and Giles Coren

Coren goes shopping with council leader Keith Moffitt

GILES Coren was so chuffed with the amount of money Camden Council paid him to launch the Love Camden brochure – a sort of council guide to local businesses to give them a plug during the recession – he tweeted his delight through Twitter. Perhaps in an effort to retain some form of street cred from what was essentially a dry corporate gig by his standards, he tempered the boast by reminding everyone of all the money he has shovelled into the Town Hall through parking fine over the years.

A reminder of how Camden Council often used to get a terse, irritated mention in his columns for The Times, the bit about parking fines was, I guess, a kind of justification for accepting the  financial rewards for the cheesy photo shoot he had agreed to. Look at the pictures, they are cheesy.

Coren’s exact words on Twitter that afternoon: ‘Off to film a promo for Camden Council in Kentish Town. Quite well paid – should just cover the parking fines I’ve paid them over the years.

The council nor Coren would tell my colleagues how much ‘quite well paid’ actually meant when the CNJ covered the launch of the brochure last month, a bit of a flop of an event by all accounts. The need for celebrities at all and a party at the Wellcome Institute was never really explained either.

Nobody wants to be down on any attempt to make life easier for Camden’s struggling businesses but Love Camden has hardly been raved about. The brochure missed out many parts of the borough which could have done with the a little boost in the unsteady climate just as much the parts that did make the cut. Kentish Town: In. Queen’s Crescent: Out. Marchmont Street: In. Highgate Village: Out. 

There were also confusing messages from the politicians promoting it about whether it was meant for the residents who had them shoved through their door (in which case they probably knew where their local butchers were) or for tourists (in which case why were they delivered to every home in Camden at cost to the council of about 50p a copy?).

Worst still, You Tube videos made by the council for the same Love Camden campaign have hardly been watched, it’s difficult to see how they justify the time and resources spent making them. And banners hanging from lampposts in places like Kentish Town are ridiculed locally. People I’ve spoken to say they feel patronised.

So, fair play to Penny Abraham, the long serving Labour councillor, who on Monday night will ask just how much all of this has cut into the council’s ‘Recession Fund’, money it put aside to help businesses during the downturn. A scan of the agenda shows she has put down a question to the full council meeting asking how much the Love Your High Street campaign has cost and specifically: How much did Giles Coren cost for the launch?

It’s a valid question about the use of public money – but don’t hold your breath. Experience tells us that come Monday night an answer will have been drafted telling us that the information cannot be disclosed. Expect a lame reason, something along these lines… releasing the amount of money paid to Mr Coren would affect the council’s ability to negotiate with celebrities in the future. Or some other deflective nonsense. A truly open council with nothing to hide would just give Penny a straight answer.

Spotted: Frazz


Doing the horoscopes

HEY, who’s that in the Islington Gazette’s ‘People’s Panel’ column? It looks like Frazz.. you know from the Junior Gazette. The one in Press Gang, the ITV drama about kids running a newspaper all by themselves. The perfect inspiration for anybody wanting to be a reporter, they don’t make children’s programmes like it any more.

Sure enough, check the name tag. Vox-popped in Islington, it’s the legendary Mmoloki Chrystie who played Frazer ‘Frazz’ Davis in Press Gang alongside Dexter Fletcher and Julia Sawalha, and appeared in Grange Hill as well. No mention of his previous life in some of the best kids TV shows ever made here, you find him here talking some common sense about parenting. Described as a 40 year-old film education project worker, I think he’s quite modest about it all.


Ticklist: 1. Create Youth Council

PUT the teenagers in committee room three, give them some pop. Maybe some crisps. Let them chat a bit about grown up things and – wahey – we can tick the box to say we’ve got a Youth Council.

Is that what the politicians and Camden Council staff who two years ago helped set up the first kids parliament at the Town Hall thought? Who knows? It would be very sad if it was. If Camden’s Youth Council was not much more than a tick-boxing exercise, something simply to mark as an achievement come election time.

A new British Youth Council report, covered here in the CNJ this week by Charlotte Chambers, effectively says that teenagers who gave up their own time to get involved, to do something positive were effectively left to their own devices. This, even though they had a £100,000 kitty of council cash to spend.

Maybe the people who came up with the whole idea didn’t like what they had created once they got off the ground, a forum where teenagers largely free from partisan poolitics decided what the borough needed most. Maybe the youths who got themselves elected were more astute than the council ever expected them to be, proving more than able to protest and argue like their adult counterparts.

Whatever truth lies behind the last two years of Youth Council politics, when a new one is created in December surely people at the Town Hall who have been round the block a few times could do well to offer more hearty support. Otherwise, the project for all its worthy aims could prove “toothless”, as its former leader, again.

Arthur: The hardest working man in Camden. And Islington.

The famous Pomegranate mock-up..

The famous Pomegranate mock-up from the CNJ..

INTERESTING chat with Lib Dem councillor Arthur Graves today about his plans for life after the council elections. The CNJ revealed a few weeks ago about how he will not seek re-election in the Belsize ward.

Some of his rivals will say there’s no big surprise in that as he seems to be spending more time meddling in Islington politics than fixing problems for residents in Camden. He’s popped up a few times in the Islington Tribune newspaper and appears on local Lib Dem websites sharing forthright views about problems with Archway tube and other nuisances. No wonder the whispers at the Town Hall have been swirling with the question: Has he been distracted from his own constituents?

The subject of the Lib Dem workload in Belsize is ultimately a sensitive topic. One Lib Dem councillor, Chris Basson, stepped down suffering from depression, while another party ward member Alexis Rowell doubles up as the eco-champion with a brief as big as the world. In a ward which will be closely fought between the Lib Dems and the Tories at the next elections, the Conservatives would love to be able to say that their rivals have not being paying close attention to the needs of Belsize residents.

Art has a superbly dry sense of humour and will always be remembered for telling council officials to speed up with their work with the immortal line:  ‘If this is a complicated issue then I am a pomegranate‘. He dealt with my questions over the phone confidently, insisting that despite all the predictions he had not been selected as a candidate in Islington. Yet. He added that nobody was missing out because he was ‘one of the hardest working councillors in Camden’ still ploughing through the casework. The proof of that, he said, was his keenness to recently take on more licensing committee work. Fine. Ok. Fair enough.

Then, a few hours later, off the back of that old leaky Town Hall email lorry fell this message, one that Arthur had circulated last month in which he did not seem so enthusiastic about the extra tasks that licensing panels might bring. In fact, reading this message, his council colleagues might have been forgiven for thinking there was an only-call-me-in-an-emergency tone to it.

From: Graves, Arthur (Councillor)
Sent: Tue 22/09/2009 15:56
To: (Council officer, councillors)
Subject: RE: attendance at Licensing Ctte on 23rd Sept 09

I’ve already indicated that I will not be able to attend any of the full committee meetings. I have made myself available as an emergency member for panel’s that find themselves becoming inquorate but that is it. It might be prudent to make this point clear to the committee as a whole so they are not under the impression that there is now an extra member to make up the numbers and thus an opportunity for the full members to miss meetings.




Exclusive: Meet me outside Bazalgette Tube Station?



Bazelgette, the original

Bazalgette, the original

SOME folk reckon Archway station should be rebranded simply as ‘Whittington’ after Dick W, London’s fabled first Mayor. After all it was on Highgate Hill, near the station, where he is said to have heard the Bow bells urging him to turn again and the rest, of course, is all panto.

It’s a warm tale and Archway station could do with a glam new look. Maybe there could be more Dick Whittington cat statues around there or something, maybe some sort of crazy paving effect to make us all think Junction Road is somehow laced with gold – rather than chewing gum glob. The name change campaign from a local resident inspired me to fire in a quick Freedom of Information Request to see what other applications had been made to TfL to change names of station in the last five years.

It came back today. The table is below: on the left you see the name of the station subject to a request for a change of name, on the right the actual suggestion. You will see that the Wellcome Trust in Euston seem to have at some stage wanted to push its way onto the Tube map by adding its name to Euston Square underground station. Similarly, somebody pushing the Westfield shopping centre across town wanted hold of Shepherd’s Bush Empire tube. Don’t hold your breath though, TfL told me that it costs too much to change all the signs and maps across the network for minor changes to be implemented. It’s not an unreasonable argument.

The most of imaginative but sadly most-unlikely-to-ever-happen suggestion was made for Embankment station. Somebody – the names of the suggesters are not revealed in the papers sent to me today – wanted it to be given the name ‘Bazalgette’. Was this an attempt to honour Peter Bazalgette, the media company director who sold Big Brother to the UK and who once described by The Independent as ‘the most influential man in television’? Unlikely. More worthy of the honour is Bazalgette’s great-great-grandfather, Sir Joseph, who helped create London’s first sewer system down by the river in the 19th century.

Tottenham Court Road                                     St Giles Circus

Euston Square                       Euston Square (Wellcome Trust)

Charing Cross                                               Trafalgar Square

Embankment                                              Bazalgette Station

Archway                                                               Whittington

Edgware Road                                        Edgware Road Market

Aldgate East                                                           Brick Lane

Surrey Quays                                                      Surrey Docks

Shepherds Bush Station                                             Westfield

Arsenal                                                             Gillespie Road

Downing Street TV

Louise Casey: Star of Downing Street website

Louise Casey: Star of Downing Street website

LOUISE Casey – the feisty government adviser known as the ‘neighbourhood crime czar/csar/tsar’ – was part of the secret government convoy to Camden last week. I say secret because it was kept strictly hush hush from the local papers.

In fact, nobody would have known that the Prime Minister and Home Secretary had danced through the Kiln Place estate in Gospel Oak together last week if it hadn’t been for a bit of digging by my colleagues and the CNJ’s front page reveal on Thursday.

We know that Casey was there as well because Downing Street – rather than speak to newspapers with thousands of readers in the neighbourhood – posted on its website a You-Tube style video of the visit. I bet none of you have watched it but if you want to see where the communications budget is being splurged, you can have a peep here. Pretty extravagant.

It’s interesting but ultimately numbing to see that Casey roars into action and does most of the speaking on the film even though the woman she is standing next to at the start of the video – Jackie Draper, a tenants leader on the estate – has far more interesting things to say. Ms Draper is a grandmother who stood up to the bullies plaguing her estate despite being threatened with knives and being set on fire, a worry story of intimidation on her own doorstep which I’m sure she would have been willing to share if she had been allowed to get a word in edgeways.

So, while Casey blusters away about how she wants tougher Asbos and Wild West wanted-style leaflets of offenders posted through people’s letterboxes – for a moment, you think she is about to advocate the return of rotten veg and the village stocks for anybody seen on a BMX – Downing Street’s camcorder guys either deliberately ignored or did not bother to ask what’s really been going on at Kiln Place. That’s kind of what happens if you breeze in and out like that.

Fast forward six days and Casey woke up this morning to find herself on the front of The Times and the headline ‘Crime czar blames Brown for growth of yob culture’. The PM must have been spluttering over his porridge oats to see that one. ‘How could you, Louise?’, he must have thought. ‘What about the good times? What about Kiln Place?’

UPDATED: Here’s Louise Casey grabbing centre stage on Downing Street TV. As I post it up, it’s been on YouTube for nearly a week and had a whopping 275 views..

A world without Frank’s beard..

Frank minus whiskers

Frank minus whiskers

FRANK Dobson wrote an interesting review here for this week’s CNJ of Ros Bayley’s work on the history of the Lissenden Gardens estate, which sometimes gets located as being in Kentish Town, sometimes Gospel Oak and sometimes Highgate. For those who don’t know it, it’s a gorgeous red brick estate next to Parliament Hill fields.

Frank’s review had a few bits I’ve heard before. Anybody who has ever heard him speak him at the Commons or public meetings about the importance of council housing will be familiar with his recollection of the celebrations that erupted when the council took control of the estate and the bottles of champagne which stacked up in baths full of ice. His point is that at one time Camden Council bought council homes rather than sold them.

Even if you have heard some of Frank’s homespun tales before, there is another reason to catch his review. The picture. Look at it. I know it was a while ago but  look at it, he looks completely different. Who’d have thought there was ever a world without Dobson’s whiskers? It’s like trying to imagine a world without apples. Like trying to dream up some kind of altogether different universe where chips are good for you, the 29 bus isn’t scary to ride and Spurs have a team good enough to win the league. Too bizarre to think about, but there’s the proof of a clean shaven Dobson in black and white.

These days, Frank won’t be seen without a beard and them the rules. So when Lord Gould advised him he’d win more votes running for London Mayor if he shaved it off back in 2000, he got short shrift.

Dobson simply told him to:  ‘Get stuffed’. Too right.