Monthly Archives: January 2017

‘Lie back and enjoy it’: Greville Janner’s guide to rape


When Greville Janner died from complications of Alzheimer’s disease in December 2015, it marked the end of proceedings against him for child sex offences – though not of efforts to determine the truth of the allegations. The inquiries now under way are proving every bit as labyrinthine and controversial.

However they proceed – and without speculating on matters of guilt or innocence – we can say with certainty that the Labour peer held some fairly unpalatable views on sexual violence and consent.

We know this because he set them out himself, in an article published under a pseudonym shortly before he first entered Parliament. Writing as a barrister, he offered guidance on how women could avoid a sex attack.

Janner sums up his advice with a hackneyed rape gag:

If the worst comes to the worst, you could take the advice of the ancient Chinese philosopher, Confucius: “If you are going to get raped, you might as well lie back and enjoy it!”

Certainly, if you resist with sufficient force, you may end up dead.

The advice is part of a double-page spread headlined “How not to get knifed, burgled, cheated or blackmailed”, which appeared on February 7, 1970 in the Mirror Magazine – the colour supplement that came tucked inside each Wednesday’s Daily Mirror.

Daily Mirror

Added colour: The short-lived Mirror Magazine (Pic: Daily Mirror)

It contains sections on how the reader could avoid misfortunes such as being “coshed, bottled, knifed or kneed”, “wrongfully charged with shoplifting” or “cheated by the repair man”. But the starkest advice deals with “How not to get murdered or raped”.

This begins with the observation that “The girl who manages not to get raped greatly reduces her chances of being murdered”. It goes on:

Women should realise that men are a thoroughly excitable lot. And when excited, they are liable to lose control. Girls who play sex games are usually quite capable of stopping within sight of the winning post. But men are often utterly incapable of self-control, once they’re on the home straight.

So the first rule if you seriously want to avoid being raped is to keep your companion in a reasonable frame of mind.

Unfortunately, murder and rape are often intertwined. The woman resists. The man loses his self-control. The women dies.

Rule one, then, is to avoid provocation. As the old riddle goes: “What’s the difference between a crook and a virgin?” “Once a crook, always a crook…”

It’s an unsettling piece, which would be howled out as a creepy example of victim-blaming if published today. So does it matter that instead, we’re dealing with a curio from more than 45 years ago? I’m sure many would argue that yes, it does make a difference. Whenever material like this comes to light, there’s a chorus of Those Were Different Times, You Have To See It In Context and Anyway That Stuff Was Just Locker-Room Humour.

Or perhaps robing-room humour. The notion that women are responsible for provoking sexual assault is more persistent than herpes in the murkier corners of the judiciary. Worse instances can be found a lot more recently than 1970, and delivered in open court rather than pseudonymously in the press.

Possibly the most notorious example came 20 years later. Summing up in an Old Bailey rape trial, Judge Raymond Dean told “the gentlemen of the jury” that “when a woman says no she doesn’t always mean it. Men can’t turn their emotions on and off like a tap, like some women can.”

Those remarks were widely condemned, and supplied the name and impetus for the original No Means No campaign; but there’s no shortage of similar cases that could be cited, before and since.

Today, it would be extremely difficult to find out whether Janner’s article prompted any kind of response at all. All that can be said is that his Confucius quip has a long history of causing offence – sometimes with career-ending consequences.

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It may seem odd that the feature hasn’t resurfaced before, given the controversies of the peer’s final years. But the short-lived Mirror Magazine is very difficult to track down in archives, and I’m told that not even the British Library has a full run. More importantly, the article was attributed not to Janner but to “barrister Ewan Mitchell”.

This was the pen name under which he wrote a vast amount of material in the Sixties and Seventies, including a long-running consumer column in the Daily Mail and many layperson’s legal manuals and how-to guides such as The Retailer’s Lawyer, All You Need to Know About the Law and Coping with Crime.

There is nothing sinister in his use of an assumed byline. At the time, barristers were totally prohibited by the Bar Council from mentioning their profession in published articles. This was viewed as soliciting business, and a grave breach of etiquette. Quintin Hogg, a future Lord Chancellor, was once disciplined simply for telling a reporter he was returning to private practice.

Indeed, Daily Mail diarist Nigel Dempster would stitch Janner himself up in 1976, running a snippet about how the MP had included the sacred “QC” postnominals on the promotional ballpoint pens that he gave out at his Westminster office – and mischievously alerting the Bar Council to the transgression by approaching them for comment.

Four months after the Mirror Magazine article, Janner was returned as a Member of Parliament in the 1970 General Election. He was selected by his constituency party upon the sudden withdrawal of his father, Sir Barnett Janner – something that supposedly saved Labour a bob or two on reprinting “Vote Janner” posters. The next year, he was appointed QC, a courtesy then extended to most barristers entering the Commons.

Somewhat cheekily, he used one of his “Ewan Mitchell” articles in 1972 to highlight a Private Member’s Bill about car parks, which was being introduced in Parliament by a certain “Mr Greville Janner, MP for Leicester North West”.

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Few of Janner’s constituents would have known of his parallel career as a prolific journalist and author, or been able to link him with the attitudes expressed in Mitchell’s writings. Whether many of them would have cared is one for the social historians.

Mirror Magazine

Feminine appeal: A pre-launch ad for the Mirror Magazine (Pic: Daily Mirror)

From a media-history point of view, however, it’s interesting that the article was carried in the Mirror Magazine. Launched in October 1969 as the first colour supplement of a tabloid newspaper, it was specifically intended to appeal to women – or at the least, it was pushed to potential advertisers on that basis.

The way it interpreted that brief is often bizarre. The Magazine contains a very male, Fleet Street take on what women’s-interest features ought to look like, from supercilious motoring articles (“Every woman likes to imagine herself at the wheel of an open roadster – men like women in sports cars”) to fashion pages with gratuitous full-colour frontal nudity, a full six months before Stephanie Rahn became the first proto-Page Three Girl in the Sun.

It’s a strange publication that is worth studying on several grounds, and one that I intend to revisit in more detail on this blog.

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Back to Janner. One further section of the feature warrants a quick mention. Sandwiched between “How not to get burgled” and “How not to have your car stolen” is a remarkable section on “How not to get taken for a ride by a prostitute”. And it’s that wacky old Chinese guy again:

Easy, said the experienced tart. Confucius, he say: ‘Fun first, pay later’.”

As a throwaway attempt to leaven the article with humour, it clanks like scrap iron. But it’s difficult to ignore a nagging sense that it is a clue to where its author’s sympathies – and prejudices – truly lie.

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Sometimes the bastards are right


Spare a thought for the galley slaves at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. They’re now tasked with rooting through more than 140,000 public responses to the Leveson consultation, a prospect that must fill them with unbridled glee.

The evidence they collate will help ministers decide whether to implement the infamous Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act, and whether the second part of the Leveson Inquiry should go ahead – unless, as some cynics suggest, the Government has made up its mind already.

My own response is in there somewhere, waiting to be sifted into the pile of noes (to Section 40, at least). It will be in the distinguished company of some of the worst people in the British press, and indeed in public life. They include apologists for the most egregious abuses of media power: phone hacking and the illegal tapping of personal data; the relentless bullying of public figures; the delivering of “monsterings” to people who can’t answer back; vile invasions of privacy.

A quick scour for others who have publicly come out against Section 40 delivers a list that includes Kelvin MacKenzie, Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Littlejohn and the folk at Guido Fawkes. These are people who’d be about as welcome in many houses as a rabid bat at Midnight Mass.

The thing is, they’re right.

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Section 40 means the state registration of newspapers. It’s that simple: register your newspaper with a state-approved regulator – and crucially, observe its diktats about how you conduct your journalism – or face the prospect of getting put out of business by ruinous legal costs, whenever someone decided to sue.

The law’s supporters make the point that signing up would be voluntary. In fact, it would be voluntary only in the sense of Don Corleone’s offer that couldn’t be refused. I’m reminded of a tale from when my father did his National Service, and met conscripts from remote fishing communities in Scotland. They told him that attendance at their kirk was in no way compulsory. But if you weren’t seen there, your groceries would stop being delivered, your nets wouldn’t get mended and you wouldn’t be able to buy any petrol.

Over the past weeks, debate about Section 40 has descended into a dirty war of ad hominem attacks, with such spectacles as the tabloids slagging off Max Mosley and the press-reform mediocracy slating anyone who opposes Section 40 as either acting in bad faith or being in the pocket of the media moguls.

Forget all that. Forget about Impress, IPSO, Hacked Off, Mosley, Cathcart and Dacre. The composition and funding of the regulator is irrelevant. What matters is this: once newspapers have surrendered to the notion of having a body telling them how they should do their job, backed by the force of law, we do not have a fully independent press.

(Incidentally, a question for anyone arguing that we’ve never had one because of existing laws relating to defamation, malicious falsehood, privacy and contempt of court. Do you think adding to all that with state-backed kangaroo courts applicable only to the press would make it more or less free?)

Ah, but what about libel reform, or providing low-cost arbitration to those who have been wronged in print? Great – bring it on. It’s much needed. And that being so, why should it be confined to those outlets that are designated “relevant publishers” under Sir Brian’s proposals?

Suppose the press reformers’ dream scenario came to pass, and all the national papers joined a recognised regulator and resolved to accept its edicts. Then, if you thought you had been libelled by the Sun or the Daily Mail, you would have the option of a supposedly fair and inexpensive remedy. But if you were defamed by a politician, a banker, a think tank, a lone blogger (even one who was, say, the CEO of a multinational company) or a common-or-garden troll on Twitter, this door would be closed to you.

In fact, the apparently trivial part of the proposals that determines who would fall under their jurisdiction – sorting the “relevant” sheep from the presumably “irrelevant” goats – is key to why the whole thing is so wrong. Section 40 would play merry hell with an important principle governing the media that has been built up over many centuries.

It’s that journalists are treated no differently from any other citizens. They have no extra privileges, but neither should they have any additional statutory responsibilities, or potentially be subject to further penalties.

Many lay people, with considerably more honesty than Hacked Off and their associates, might shrug at all this and say: “Yeah, it is state regulation. Why the hell not? After what the tabloids have done, that’s exactly what we need. Why shouldn’t newspapers be regulated like any other industry – like barristers, or gas fitters?”

Journalism is different, because anyone can do it. You don’t have to be CORGI-registered or sit your Bar exams. In the eyes of the law, publication is the same thing whether it’s to a million people in a red-top tabloid, to a hundred parishioners in a church magazine, or to a score of passers-by on a lavatory wall. This is how it should be.

Today, with social media and online publication putting a potential audience of just about everyone within reach of just about anyone, the barriers to entry have never been lower. The folly of Section 40 is clear. Hacked Off and their allies are not only on the wrong side; they’re still fighting the last war.

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So how do we get the press to behave itself? That’s one for another time. But for God’s sake, not like this. However much the bastards might agree.

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Shazaam, the Buggles and a big black crow


A delightfully batty story broke over Christmas. In the New Statesman, Amelia Tait wrote about how hundreds of online commentators are convinced they’ve seen a Nineties movie called Shazaam, starring the American comedian Sinbad as a hapless genie. But unless you believe in the “Mandela Effect” – and don’t look it up until you’re equipped for a long sortie down the rabbit-hole – there is simply no evidence that the film has ever existed.

The article got a lot of traction on social media, and has been taken up by Slate, Vox and Snopes, among others. And it’s a story that hit my resonant frequency, because I’ve lately been dealing with my very own Shazaam.

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In the early Eighties I was fascinated by a Japanese-language version of Video Killed the Radio Star, which for some reason was on heavy rotation at Swansea Sound, the local independent radio station.

This definitely wasn’t a delusion caused by too many thumps to the head playing British Bulldogs or a surfeit of McCowan’s Wham bars. Thirty-five years on, the bloody thing was still lodged in my head. I could clearly recall the stilted, ill-fitting lyrics of the chorus (“Dee-ta-mah-kee a-ta-gracoh-boh-nah”). The clincher was that my friend Justin – who now operates the excellent When Is Bins blog – remembered the track, too.

One problem: it didn’t and doesn’t exist. Having raked through every nook of the internet, neither of us could find a scrap of evidence for any such recording. There have been several Japanese cover versions of the Buggles’ song, but none of them matched what we remembered.

A couple of weeks ago, he cracked it. It wasn’t Japanese (although I’ll still swear that the announcer said it was). It was French. And as soon as that misconception was cleared up, YouTube delivered in spades.

The artist was a certain Ringo, a major star in the francophonie who sometimes performed under his full stage name of Ringo Willy Cat. (His wife, also part of the French pop aristocracy, went under her own mononym: Sheila. In 1980, she sold five million copies of the disco smash Spacer as part of Sheila & B. Devotion.)

In Ringo’s hands, Video Killed the Radio Star had become Qui est ce Grand Corbeau Noir (“Who’s this black raven?”). The phonetic babble I remembered from the chorus was actually “Dites-moi qui est ce grand corbeau noir”. As with many French cover versions, the lyrics bear scant resemblance to the original ones.

Fair enough. But why was it on Swansea Sound all the time? Again, I’m indebted to Justin for an answer. Until 1988, British radio stations were limited in the amount of mainstream recorded music they could play each week by the “needle time” agreement with the Musicians’ Union and Phonographic Performance Ltd.

In the case of BBC Radio, the shortfall could be made up by such things as house orchestras, Peel Sessions and material from its own internal record label, Radioplay. Cash-strapped Independent Local Radio stations – restricted to just nine hours of records a day – had to rely on more rough and ready solutions, such as making their jingles longer, ratcheting up the chat quotient, and using imported foreign recordings that were outside the MU/PPL agreement. Merci bien, Monsieur Willy Cat.

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Busting that particular Shazaam, and at least proving there was a kernel of truth inside the error, should be a satisfying feeling. But it isn’t – rather the opposite, in fact. And it’s not the only time over the past month that the internet has taken a hammer to what I’d thought were cast-iron memories.

Two more examples. The first involves another tune, James Galway’s theme to the Eighties children’s TV series Brendon Chase. Hearing it hotwires a nostalgia centre in my brain, because I connect it with the clunky old Sony Trinitron set at our family home in Gwent Gardens on which I watched it each week. I could still plot out the whole of that living room on squared paper. Yet according to IMDB, the series was first broadcast on New Year’s Eve, 1980 – long after we’d moved out and left the set behind. I never saw it on that telly.

The second is a more recent scene: I’m at my first job in journalism, at a London press agency, and talking about something I’ve found on a new website called the Huffington Post. Our editor, the late Jonathan Ashby, says: “You know what that is, don’t you?” and tells me that it’s the plaything of an American politico, Arianna Huffington.

I can readily conjure up his voice, unmistakeable to anyone who worked for him. But Wikipedia tells me that whoever was speaking to me, it wasn’t him – and it was at least five years later. The Huffington Post started up in May 2005. I left the agency in early 2000, and saw Ashby only once more after that, at a party that summer in Islington (an occasion memorable in retrospect for the appearance of his latest recruit, a young reporter named Amy Winehouse).

Those memories and many like them are so vivid that I would happily have stood up in a court and affirmed every small detail. This was what happened. Yes, I’m sure. I remember it. You know, I’m often impressing friends with my memory of schoolteachers, the Eighties, old adverts and crap like that. And then prosecuting counsel would pounce. But the song wasn’t Japanese, was it? You didn’t see that programme when you said, did you? You never had that conversation with your editor, did you? How can we believe anything you’ve told us?

Having an all-powerful debunking engine at everyone’s fingertips is enough to drive anyone paranoid, and journalists doubly so. You end up half-wondering whether you’d exist if there were no online record. Benjamin Franklin quipped that he didn’t get up until he’d checked the obituaries in the morning paper for his own name. Today, it’s quicker to use Google. And who reads newspapers any more?

Shazaam may not be real, but we’re never going to get that genie back into the bottle. And yet, for all the resources of the internet – some 1,131 million web pages at the moment, apparently – there is one question to which I still can’t find an answer. Who the hell was that black raven?

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