Wednesday, November 30, 2011


For lively-minded people, the mid-teens are a dazzling voyage of discovery, a time when one starts seriously to explore identity, personality, friendship, sexuality, romance, psychology, politics, intellect, culture, self-expression and all the richness of existence and the world. Something that impacted forcibly on that period of my own life was the early work of Ken Russell.

Embraced and nurtured by the BBC at a time when the Corporation was fearlessly expanding and could train and encourage individual talent, Russell made a string of short documentaries of all kinds, including one on the young Salford playwright Shelagh Delaney (whose death preceded his own by only a few days), that was shown again on BBC4 just last year.

The young master considers his editing options

Then he was invited to join the Monitor team. This arts strand was the fiefdom of Huw Wheldon, a dynamic and deceptively avuncular Welshman with the public service ethic gushing through his veins. Wheldon was a fine editor, gathering about him programme-makers of exceptional ability and panache – John Boorman, John Berger, John Schlesinger, Humphrey Burton, Melvyn Bragg, David Jones – and he went on to be a canny managing director of television when the BBC led the world in innovative programming.

For Wheldon, Russell made a variety of programmes on a variety of arts and artists – Marie Rambert, Peter Blake, Le Douanier Rousseau – but it was his series of films about composers that marked him out and caught my own rapt attention. After more conventional portraits of Kurt Weill and Gordon Jacob, Russell persuaded the deeply dubious Wheldon to let him make a partly dramatised study of Edward Elgar. Wheldon would only agree to enactments without dialogue or identified actors. He, Wheldon, would speak the narration, which the two men wrote together.

Like all real artists, Russell rose gamely to the constraints. His film was elegiac but troubled, finding memorable images both to complement the music and to evoke the events of Elgar’s life and the struggles of his personality. The result was a triumph, kick-starting renewed interest in the music that has obtained ever since.

Sir (as he then wasn't) Huw Wheldon

And Wheldon, knowing a good thing when he saw it, accepted one composer portrait after another, each less constrained either in form or in content than the last. Prokofiev, Bartok and Debussy saw out Monitor’s run. By now, Russell had bankability for BBC managers and his ambitious and visually sumptuous portrait of the larger-than-life dancer Isadora Duncan was given a free-standing slot. It exercised the press for days and made a temporary star of the eccentric actress Vivian Pickles who took the lead. Karel Reisz later made a feature film of the same story starring Vanessa Redgrave but, though it offered Eastmancolor instead of the BBC’s black and white, the Russell is superior in every way, including cinematography (I’ll take Dick Bush and Brian Tufano in monochrome over Larry Pizer in colour any day).

Russell's image of the boy Elgar

After Isadora Duncan, the Biggest Dancer in the World, the offers of features came flooding in. Russell, who appreciated the autonomy granted by the BBC and knew well enough that cinema was much less flexible, played the studios off against the Corporation shrewdly over a few years. For the new BBC1 arts strand, Omnibus, he made five films. The penultimate was the finest thing he ever did. Song of Summer was a rapturous portrait of the blind and ailing composer Frederick Delius and his increasing dependence on the young composer Eric Fenby, for whom the word amanuensis seems practically to have been coined. Fenby was alive then – in 1968 – and he co-wrote the film with Russell.

Nowhere before or since did Russell so tenderly and instinctively tap into the mystery and agony of creation. The relationship delineated by Max Adrian as Delius and the former dancer Christopher Gable as Fenby is enthralling from beginning to end and much of the underpinning is provided by the radiant performance of Maureen Pryor as the devoted Jelka Delius. Just when you begin to get a sense that the filming may have fallen in love with its own rarefied atmosphere, Russell introduces a glorious passage of irreverent energy when David Collings as Percy Grainger invades the scene, racing up and down to throw and catch a cricket ball from either side of Delius’ house. Like everything in the piece, it is perfectly judged.

Oliver Reed in The Debussy Film

But Russell’s judgment was fitful. His next film was his most notorious: Dance of the Seven Veils, a riotous skit on the life of Richard Strauss and his supposed sympathy for the Nazi Party. It was so scattergun in its method and so inordinate in its traducing of Strauss’s reputation that there were questions in the House and the Strauss estate injuncted against it. I watched its transmission while coming down from an acid trip, in retrospect the ideal conditions. It seems unlikely that I will ever have the chance to see it straight.

By this time, Russell was an Oscar-nominated features director – for Women in Love – and, though his instincts about the lowering effect of the movie industry were on the button, he perhaps thought he could parlay a protected career. For a few years he did indeed get to make much of what he wanted, having started with a mix of idiosyncratic gossamer (French Dressing and a charming Lamorisse-inspired short called Amelia and the Angel) and hack work (Billion Dollar Brain).

Vivian Pickles (centre) as Isadora Duncan

Women in Love, a very confident and rather persuasive dramatisation (written by Larry The Normal Heart Kramer) of the Lawrence novel, gave Russell the clout to negotiate a continuation of his fantasy biographies of composers. He got to celebrate (and simultaneously mock) Tchaikovsky (The Music Lovers), Mahler and Liszt (Lisztomania) but clearly the audience for classical musicians was limited, especially as the movie-going demographic was growing ever younger. Nevertheless, for most of the 1970s, he managed to come across as a genuine auteur whose work could only be his – indeed, for a year or two, he, David Lean and Alfred Hitchcock were the only British directors whose names appeared above the title on posters.

It couldn’t last. The British movie industry was too fitful. Hollywood had firmly cast British directors as easily bullied but good with scripts and actors, and Russell fitted no part of that cliché. History was against him. With the exceptions of Boorman and Ken Loach, none of the directors who learned their trade in British television in the 1950s and ‘60s – Schlesinger, Philip Saville, Alan Bridges, Michael Apted, Alan Clarke, Claude Whatham, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, Alan Cooke, Roy Battersby, Mike Newell, Roland Joffé – got to make movies that were a patch on their television work.

Gable as Fenby, Adrian as Delius

Moreover, Russell was too wilful and irascible to look for ways to accommodate himself to front office and box office considerations. He couldn’t fashion a consistent and reliable methodology. Nor did he have the nous to show the executives a reassuring script. Russell’s screenplays were proverbially around forty pages long, a mere jumping-off point for what was in his head.

And he had no feel for the dynamics of performance. He veered between pliable people with whom he was familiar and stars handed to him. Though he worked with some fine players – Glenda Jackson often, Kathleen Turner, Alan Bates, William Hurt, Vanessa Redgrave, Natasha and Joely Richardson – he was more likely to cast limited or one-note actors – Oliver Reed often, Judith Paris often, Robert Powell, Richard Chamberlain, Ann-Margret, Vladek Sheybal, Theresa Russell (no relation), Andrew Faulds, Lindsay Kemp, Georgina Hale, Michael Gothard, Murray Melvin and – in the lead in Savage Messiah – Scott Antony who, to the evident disappointment of some, thereafter sank without trace. Another ineffectual regular was the away-with-the-fairies Hetty Baynes, at least during her period as Mrs Russell in the 1990s. I always imagined that her real name was Betty Haynes.

One of many striking compositions from Song of Summer

Russell also employed rather more than his share of non-actors to busk their way through: Roger Daltrey, Rudolf Nureyev, Twiggy, young Gable (to whose puppyish charms none could object), Christopher Logue, Michelle Phillips, Eleanor Fazan, Clive Goodwin, Caroline Coon, Ringo Starr, himself …

Russell clearly had a wonderful and instinctive rapport with music-makers, (though Sandy Wilson, who wept over the wild inflation of his modest pastiche of a musical, The Boy Friend, would not agree). He would have certainly subscribed to Walter Pater’s famous dictum that “all art aspires to the condition of music”. His own gift was for visualising. Much of his work is ravishing or at least eye-popping to look at. The source of this was his own immersion from an early age in cinema. Russell’s visual style harks back three generations, to that of Griffith, Eisenstein, DeMille and Von Stroheim. No director’s work resounds through his more than that of Fritz Lang, from whom Russell must have gained his penchant for symmetrical framing and expressionist camera angles.

Unlike the run of British directors, Russell was a born creator of film images. Most of those British reliables upon whom Hollywood leans are superb at reading scripts – other people’s scripts – and coaxing actors into bringing those scripts to life. But they are largely interchangeable, their work is not distinctive. Russell’s cinema is, for the most part, as unmistakeable as that of Michael Powell or Nicolas Roeg or Peter Greenaway or Mike Leigh or Danny Boyle or Christopher Nolan. And like most of them he often teetered on the tightrope. After Altered States, his hallucinogenic misfire of 1980, it became harder and harder for Russell to get his projects off the ground and although that has been true of every maverick movie-maker, including many greater than Russell – Powell, Orson Welles, von Stroheim, Stanley Kubrick. Roeg, Terry Gilliam – it is no less frustrating for someone full of notions.

The old monstre sacré

Mavericks tend to alienate critics and Russell was far from an exception. Indeed, so many commentators found his work vulgar, overblown, reckless with sources and shameless that a reputation as a monstre sacré became impossible to shake. Yet many serious and properly gifted people were happy to work with him, especially behind the scenes: Melvyn Bragg (who commissioned many of his last pieces for The South Bank Show), Peter Maxwell Davies, Derek Jarman, John Corigliano, Ferde Grofé, Douglas Slocombe, André Previn, Georges Delerue, David Watkin, Tony Walton …

Like many monomaniacs – and just about any movie director worth his salt is undoubtedly a monomaniac – Ken Russell was often his own worst enemy. He was certainly not the first, and he won’t be the last, whose pre-big-screen work is superior (often simply because less compromised) than his movies. And that applies to actors, writers and composers as well as to jobbing directors and auteurs like Russell. His BBC work certainly will pass the test of time, provided it remains available to see (some of it presently is not). And he added greatly to the excitement and stimulation of the age, not just for this highly receptive teenager.

Monday, November 28, 2011

BOOM at the TOP

The report of the High Pay Commission, delivered the other day, has put nourishing flesh on the bones of what many of us had perceived long ago: that Gordon Gekko’s 1980’s mantra “greed is good” has been superseded throughout the upper echelons of the money-manipulating industries by the conviction that greed is the sole motivation for any deal, move, argument, or even thought.

Two years ago, the Financial Services Authority was reporting that nearly 3,000 UK-based bankers were receiving seven-figure salaries, let alone the top-ups contrived through share options and bonuses. But since the Con-Dem coalition came to power, the highest-paid ten percent have enjoyed further pay rises of an average two percent – a handy £100,000 if your “basic” salary is £5m. By contrast, low-paid workers have seen their incomes fall because inflation is running at five percent and average pay rises are at 0.4 percent, the lowest in recorded British history. As we know, the low-paid take a greater hit proportionately from inflation because most of their outgoings are on essential goods and services where inflation is highest.

These pay figures were released by the Office for National Statistics, a body that succeeds in irritating the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles on pretty much a daily basis. Expect the ONS to go the way of the Audit Commission and any other public body whose findings tend to embarrass the government.

Bob Diamond, the cat who got the cream

Using his now routine argument that two wrongs do indeed make a right, David Cameron refuses to take any stick for the recent growth of wage differentials on his watch because the wages gap did not noticeably narrow under Labour. But for most of the thirteen years of Labour government, everyone’s income rose. Since Margaret Thatcher arrived in Downing Street, the average wage has risen by 300 percent. Over the same period, though, high-earners have done rather better. The salary – the basic salary, mind – of Diamond Bob, the boss of Barclays, is 3,000 percent higher (yes, ten times as much as the average) than that of his predecessor thirty years ago. No wonder his default facial expression is a self-satisfied smirk.

The HPC says that CEO’s are generally paid up to a hundred times the average salary of their workforce. Its chair Deborah Hargreaves wrote in The Guardian: “Our year-long enquiry has led us to believe that excessive top pay levels are not only corroding trust in business but also damaging society and the economy as a whole”.

Whatever George Osborne’s Autumn Statement brings on Tuesday, it will certainly not unleash any moves against the remunerations gobbled up by business executives, bankers, financial speculators and all the other unproductive detritus of triumphalist capitalism. The coalition (largely through the neutered mouthpiece of Vince Cable, the Business Secretary) periodically make vague tut-tutting noises about the confetti falling on the money-laundering sector, but they do nothing about it because their friends and bankrollers live there. Cameron remarked once again the other day that he wants to “tackle the welfare dependency culture” but you won’t catch him threatening “the bonus dependency culture”.

There are three canards that are routinely trotted out in supposed justification for the grossly inflated “packages” negotiated by managerial types in the money markets. The first is that you can only get the best people by paying them top dollar. The second is that you have to reward “success”. The third is that if you don’t pay these shysters what they reckon they are worth, they will flounce off somewhere where they are appreciated. Angela Knight, chief executive of the British Bankers’ Association (and – would you credit it? – a former Tory minister) trots out these lines several times a day, but nobody outside the City of London and the Tory party has credited a word she’s said since she joined the BBA three years ago,

None of these propositions survives a few seconds of what I can only call common sense. Take the claim that there is an organic link between the “best” people and the highest salaries. This only persuades if you equate greed with ability. Curiously, no one – and certainly no government minister – links these two factors in any sphere but finance and business. Other professionals are assured that their work is vocational and this is its own reward. The BBC, for instance, is told not to offer so-called “competitive” rates to famous presenters and performers because the “privilege” of working for the Corporation makes up the loss.

No doubt Barclays will reckon that they would have been unable to entice Bob Diamond across the Atlantic for any less pay per meeting than the average teacher makes in a whole lifetime. On the other hand, Diamond was on the Barclays payroll for fifteen years before becoming CEO. And I know dozens of Americans who have spent pretty much all their adult lives in Britain for a fraction of Diamond’s chips. So living in London must have its attractions too and might be considered a bonus-sized “perk”.

Deborah Hargreaves, gunning for the overpaid

But why do banks and other employers in the financial services imagine that expecting an astronomical salary is an indication of ability, let alone desirability? Surely these companies favour managers and other senior staff who evince more faithfulness to the company and appreciation of working conditions than that shown by the average premier league footballer to his club. If the city is packed with chancers looking for a higher-paying berth, it must be a stiflingly self-interested environment. And while you’re advancing the argument that these speculators are making money for their employers, you’d better be sure that they’re not siphoning away rather more than you think they are, which is what those motivated primarily by money are rather apt to do.

At his party’s conference, Ed Miliband made the telling point that only Cameron could believe that you persuade the rich to work harder by paying them more and the poor to work harder by cutting their benefits. Except of course that it isn’t only Cameron who believes it. Large swathes of the electorate have let themselves be taught to say that “benefit cheats” are a scourge on society while tax cheats are being smart and thwarting officials who are as repellent as traffic wardens. This perception is very much further developed in the US where Tea Party-supporters have swallowed the carefully crafted case that the mega-rich – like the Koch brothers who actually fund the Tea Party – are unjustly taxed by a wickedly spendthrift administration, even as unemployment rates break records and hundreds of thousands default on their mortgages.

Then there is the notion that rewards recognise success. I put the word in quotes before because it doesn’t like to be interrogated. Deborah Hargreaves confirms what we all knew: “Our research has shown little connection between pay and performance”. Well, of course it hasn’t. Barclays knew that they were gambling on Diamond Bob when they appointed him. But they also knew that they would be out of pocket if the gamble didn’t pay off. If Barclays fall short of their projected profit margins this year, what are they going to do? Dock Bob’s pay? I don’t think so.

That useless article “Sir” Fred Goodwin trousered a phenomenal golden farewell and pension deal when he left the Royal Bank of Scotland, even though he was about as big an asset as Typhoid Mary to the bank itself – which, you recall, had to go cap in hand for a government bail-out. I could never understand why Gordon Brown’s financial support to RBS was not reduced precisely by the amount of Fred the Shred’s pay-off (a “notional fund” of £16m releasing upwards of £70,000 per year to a man stepping down at 50), so that the space-fillers at the bank took the hit rather than you and me.

Angela Knight-of-the-Living-Dead

The plain fact of it is that there is absolutely no connection between executive pay, bonuses or share options and the vagaries of the market or the share price or the annual accounts. None whatever. There is every connection between the size of the cojones displayed by the executive and the gullibility of the remuneration committees that determine who gets what. Hargreaves of the HPC says that “pay is too often set by a closed shop of individuals on remuneration committees with little regard to the conditions among the rest of the workforce, and the packages have become so complex that even shareholders struggle to understand how much they are worth”.

The phrase “closed shop” is resonant. Those inside the magic salary circle jealously guard the secrets of how they manage it. Not only does this bestow a useful mystique that encourages aspiring arbitrageurs to earn their spurs and perpetuate the elaborate scams practised therein, it also helps to baffle the taxman.

The government is rather keen on closing “failing” schools and hospitals and on public servants who can be characterised as “not delivering” or as otherwise surplus to requirements being “let go”. It would be instructive to know how far these stances have been expressed to those banks that received support from the Exchequer.

And finally, there is the untested claim that banks and other financial services will haemorrhage staff if they are denied their accustomed level of goodies; indeed that those companies themselves will have to consider quitting the City of London and relocating if ministers dare to propose any limits on their corporate greed. To which the proper answer is an immediate “goodbye”. By all means, seek more hospitable circumstances in Bogotá or Damascus or Pyongyang. And if you have no scruples about operating well inside the black of a really massive wage gap, go and speculate in Mogadishu or Dhaka or Tarawa.

But just think about it for a moment: the present economic instability is global. What’s more, the disenchantment with overpaid speculators is also global, spearheaded by the Occupy movement that is now active in approaching 3,000 cities from San Francisco to Seoul. How could traders be sure of landing a secure position in a foreign land? How could companies be sure that they won’t relocate into an environment that would grow rapidly uncomfortable?

"You talkin' to me?" Fred the Shred practises mean

The threat to leave is a myth, of course. It’s just a bargaining counter, both for individuals parlaying a raise and for companies who want the coalition to have a ready argument against further regulation. Because don’t run away with the idea that there is any sort of desire in the Tory part of the coalition to ameliorate the socially divisive effects of the recession. Many backbenchers and some ministers favour the scrapping of the minimum wage, the cutting of taxes for high earners “to stimulate the economy” (ha-ha) and decoupling from European human rights legislation.

Just because it’s been keeping its cards close since the election, the ideological wing of the Tories hasn’t gone away. Indeed, the evidence is that it grew at the last election. “Back to the Middle Ages” is its unexpressed cry. These fundamentalists dream of a time when the great majority of the population return to serfdom or homelessness while the favoured few live in fortified communities and move around in reinforced privacy, believing themselves inured against the climate change in which they anyway don’t believe, against contact with strangers, against the natural world, against the reach of government or the law and – most important but perhaps least dependable from their own point of view – against the sound of the tumbrils.

Oh, and anyway … is the financial sector such a towering asset that we need to hug it to our bosom and throw sweeties at it? After all, the public sector earns the British economy half a billion a day – that, at any rate, is the amount that Francis Maude claims will be lost by Wednesday’s mass walkout. Does anybody know whether the City pulls in as much as half a billion a day?

Tuesday, November 08, 2011


“England has saved herself by her exertions,” William Pitt the Younger once declared, “and will, as I trust, save Europe by her example”. As William Hague is something of an expert on Pitt, it surprises me that the Foreign Secretary has evidently yet to point out this superior remark to his leader. That David Cameron sees himself as saviour of Britain by exertion and Europe by example is surely the least part of his self-image.

As a political issue, the management of Europe is never as straightforward as it is deemed to be by those, each as passionate as the other, who espouse or decry the Union. The calamitous G20 summit in Cannes – planned as a great pre-election showcase for Nicolas Sarkozy who is far from assured of winning a second term – left the French president impatient, frustrated and (perhaps worst of all, given his electorate) graceless.

Sarkozy: harrumph

Much (but not all) of the source of Sarkozy’s malheur was the so-called Greek tragedy, wherein the charming and urbane prime minister, George Papandreou, eventually decided (wisely, you might think) to hand on the reins of a bolting crisis for that part of the euro that was once called the drachma.

Ever-genial Papandreou

Meanwhile, the basso buffo of contemporary Europe, Silvio Berlusconi, has said he will go, but (at the time of writing) clings to the wreckage of the Italian economy, having spent the past few years fiddling (evidently with under-age prostitutes) while the Via XX Settembre HQ of the Ministry of Economy and Finance burned.

Berlusconi: the latest official photograph

A week or two earlier, Cameron suffered the humiliation – I don’t think the term is too strong – of a rebuff from very nearly 80 of his own backbenchers over the offer of a referendum on Europe to the British electorate. Cameron, his coalition allies and the Labour opposition are against such a referendum precisely because they all fear that the electorate would vote to opt out of the European Union. It sticks in many a craw, not just those of little Englanders, that Cameron was passionately advocating a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty just two years ago when leader of the opposition.

The Ministry of Economy and Finance in Rome

Referendums on European Union issues have proved treacherous. The new European Constitution, signed into being in Rome in 2004, had to be abandoned once it had been repudiated by Dutch and French voters. The ratification of the Lisbon Treaty was delayed for a year because of an initial rejection of it at a referendum in the Republic of Ireland. And it was Papandreou’s unexpected proposal of a referendum on Europe’s package of measures to tackle the Greek deficit that threw his fellow Eurozone leaders into panic and brought his own premiership to an end. As Israel’s allies could not disguise when the Palestinians elected Hamas, democracy is fine (even in its Greek cradle) so long as it produces the result you want.

On Europe as on so many issues, Cameron is an opportunist rather than an ideologue – what Harold Wilson called a pragmatist. While this is seen by some as a usefully light-footed approach to the “art of the possible” nature of government, the PM does find himself surrounded by ministers and backbenchers who, when push comes to shove, have no intention of trimming on the matter of Europe.

Cameron: I see no Euro-rebellion

Just as the name of Calais would, she averred, be found inscribed upon the heart of Queen Mary, so the names of Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg might well be found slashed onto the pericardium of the Conservative Party … if, that is, the party actually ran to a heart. Most Tory Prime Ministers since the War – Churchill, Macmillan, Heath, Major, Cameron – have been rather more communitaire than large sections of their party and have found this dichotomy to be a running sore, never healed.

The only Tory PM close to anti-European Union backbench opinion was Margaret “no, no, no” Thatcher who summarised her view in the notorious Bruges speech of 1988: “To try to suppress nationhood and concentrate power at the centre of a European conglomerate would be highly damaging and would jeopardise the objectives we seek to achieve”. Her speechwriter (Sir Ronald Millar?) will have chosen the word “conglomerate” to allow his boss to express her scorn. A mere four years later, non-smoker Thatcher was hired at a reputed million dollars a year as “international political consultant” to tobacco giant Philip Morris which, with its beverage-to-processed cheeses portfolio, is nothing if not a conglomerate. But irony is the abiding humour under which European affairs are conducted.

This bizarre image is allegedly of a pre-Eurosceptic Thatcher

Anti-Union sentiment is widely encountered across the member nations. A primary engine of that sentiment is undoubtedly an admixture of xenophobia and racism. If nationalist parties throughout the world have one instinct in common, it is suspicion of and hence hatred for their nation’s equivalent of Johnny Foreigner. This is clearly true of English nationalist parties of varying degree of disreputability. Interestingly, it seems very much less true of Scotland where, although contempt for the English often runs white hot, attitudes to continental Europe are considerably more benign. This may well be a product of the “auld alliance” with France that has held sway in varying degrees for upwards of seven centuries.

Suspicion and hatred can readily be traced back to ignorance. As one who feels perfectly comfortable in the company of any race or nationality, I generally account myself a citizen of the world rather than of England, Britain, the UK or Europe. (Conduct, class and creed are altogether a different consideration). But an instinctive scepticism about Europe, if deplorable, is entirely comprehensible. Such multi-national comfort is perhaps relatively rare.

My own instincts favour continuing to be a part of the European Union. Those instincts suggest that withdrawal would prove a disaster for Britain’s trading position and for those hard-won rights and entitlements that are underwritten by European law. The menaces being made by the Tory half of the coalition against the European Court of Human Rights, for instance, make me even surer that I want us to stay in the Union.

The anti-Europeans have never, to my knowledge, made any coherent economic case for the UK’s departure from Europe, probably because there is no such case. Relying on horror stories about bureaucratic foibles reported in the Daily Mail is not a credible substitute. The most honourable living anti-European, Tony Benn, has (it seems to me) moderated his opposition in recent years or at least found other, more compelling campaigns.

But the anti-Europeans are not alone in failing to make a case that resonates intellectually. I have waited some fifty years to hear an argument that I can fillet and reproduce on behalf of the case for a European role for Britain. I have still to hear it. It is as though the pro-Europeans believe that, to coin a phrase, mere “common sense” makes the case for being in Europe.

The ever-pensive Roy Jenkins

Perhaps it is a prejudice about the supremely pro-European British politician of the modern era, Roy Jenkins, that leaves me feeling that communitaire means in its essence no more than the favouring of Dante and Schiller over Norman Mailer and Jacqueline Suzann, Velasquez and Van Gogh over Andrew Wyeth and Roy Lichtenstein, Dvorak and Sibelius over Edward MacDowell and Nico Muhly, Gewürztraminer and Pont-l’Évêque over Jack Daniels and Chicken McNuggets (you see how brutal are the terms of battle). The suspicion remains that the pull of the Old World commands a sentimental clout that “civilised” people cannot resist. Robert Hughes’ unbeatable description of the “cultural epiphany” that Europe represented for 19th-century Americans catches it exactly: “six weeks of vomiting at sea, and then – Chartres”.

Jenkins’ well-attested penchant for claret was, I assume, not the sole motor for his rise to the Presidency of the European Commission, a role he played from 1977 to 1981. During his tenure, the articles that led to the creation of the Eurozone were put in place. But also during his time in Brussels, Jenkins began to float an alternative to both the Labour Party (his ancestral home) and the Liberals, with whom he had not previously been known to flirt. His Dimbleby Lecture of 1979, entitled (disingenuously, one might think) ‘Home Thoughts from Abroad’, laid down the ground on which was built the new Social Democrat Party, subsequently set up with three other refugees from Labour: David Owen, Shirley Williams and William Rodgers. The most significant mission to unite the so-called Gang of Four was a commitment to the European ideal.

The Gang of Four: Rodgers, Owen, Jenkins, Williams

The SDP survived as a separate political entity only for seven years before merging with the Liberal Party (which is why that party is now known as the Liberal Democrats). It would be hard to argue that anything of the SDP’s much-vaunted “breaking the mould” still may be detected in Nick Clegg’s Lib Dems. Doubtless the Liberals would function as the Euroconscience of the present coalition government even if the SDP blip had never come about.

Meanwhile, those of us who sense – I cannot in conscience put it stronger – that Europe is where the UK ought to be still await Clegg, Cameron or some other European advocate making a case that we can understand and carry triumphantly against the xenophobes, Little Englanders and sceptics. It’s not a big ask.