Francis Beckett


Former Labour education Secretary Estelle Morris, often a voice of reason, got it completely wrong last night on Front Row, when she was sniffy about the new political play, Little Platoons.  We've forgotten what radical political theatre is supposed to be like, and Steve Waters' play  Little Platoons has arrived at the Bush Theatre to remind us.

Just back from Egypt, after ten days touring the monuments left by the ancient Egyptians, stunned by the engineering marvels that these people who lived 3,000 years before Christ could build. Vast underground tombs, with several huge rooms, carved into granite mountains, every inch of their walls decorated with careful, intricate, technically perfect pictures carved into the granite walls; the graves packed with marvellous furniture and ornaments made from precious metals; bodies preserved forever by processes which required detailed knowledge of biology.

And none of it designed to benefit a single human being. They made their tombs, they hid them skilfully, and they buried their kings and priests in them. No one was ever supposed to see them. All these wonders were designed only for the Gods and the dead. It was a religion for the dead, not the living.

I've turned away broadcasters wanting to interview me about David Chaytor tonight, and I wouldn't be writing this if I weren't flying out of the country  tomorrow for two weeks, so that no one will be able to ask me any follow-up questions.

I like David Chaytor. I did not recognise the old, ill, white-haired, haunted man whose gaunt, terrified face stared out of tonight's papers.  I have happy memories of a tall, erect, dapper, kind and occasionally rather amusing man, and of an intelligent and able politician, who knew, understood and cared about the environment and education; a politician of some integrity, held back by his independence of mind - if he'd been more willing to toe the Blair line, he'd have been in government.

Surely the founder of Wikileaks is a prototype American hero; just the sort of person Americans like to think they are.

He’s the enemy of big government, wants government held to account for what it does, wants to hand knowledge and power back to the people; he’s a rugged individualist and a remarkable entrepreneur, and brave.  He seems to embody what are supposed to be American virtues.  Yet all those rugged individualists in the USA want to put him in the electric chair.

Today I'm sending copies of my Baby Boomers book to two old friends, both of whom I heard on Radio 4 this morning saying things about today's student demonstrations which I'd never have heard from them when we were all young.

Former New Statesman editor Peter Wilby defended tuition fees, and Ivor Gaber, Professor of Journalism at City University, who once occupied Warwick University and discovered the appalling truth about what corporate influence can do to a university, now feels obliged to defend it.

It turns out that Richard Stokoe, the £90,000 a year head of communications for London Fire Brigade, thinks the Fire Birgades Union's proposed Bonfire Night strike was a good idea.

All the musicals that make their promoters millions ARE inconsequential rubbish, because the West End is so risk-averse. Why do something good when Cats will still pack them in?

But at the tiny Jermyn Street Theatre near Piccadilly Circus there's a musical, whose tunes are just as catchy, whose dialogue is as much fun, whose girls are as pretty but twice as interesting, whose plot zips along as fast as any blockbuster, and whose dialogue is wittier; and yet which manages to be intelligent, and to say something interesting. And which has a twist at the end which suddenly turns it into something far bleaker and blacker and makes you think, yet still has you leaving the theatre with a song in your heart.

I'm talking about All I Want for Christmas by Katy Darby and Luke Bateman, and I urge you to get along to see it. You haven't got long. Unlike the rubbish, it won't be there forever.

The student occupation at University College London - to which I delivered my daughter's sleeping bag last night - didn't look like fun.  That's because, unlike the occupation I was part of in 1968, it wasn't fun.  It was serious, and undertaken from a sense of duty.

Torture is getting a makeover.  Goegre Bush claimed (without evidence) that it had prevented terrorist attacks on Britain, and suddenly respectable commentators are hustling us back to the Middle Ages as fas as they can. 

Watching the student march against fees of up to £9,000 ought to have made a politically active member of the baby boomer generation ashamed of our legacy.  “Grandad stood up for peace and love – will you stand up for education?” said one of the placards, but it was unnecessarily kind. Grandad didn't stand up for anything - that was Grandad's problem.