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September 11, 2007

Semi-Secret Heroes: Lincoln Allison picks six of the best - Barbara Jefford, Tommy James, Mick Channon, Michael Hardman, Francisco Franco, Alistair Horne

Posted by Lincoln Allison

Lincoln Allison - Emeritus Reader in Politics at the University of Warwick - recently picked the six people whose celebrity he most resents: T-Shirt Heads: Lincoln Allison picks six of the worst - John Lennon, George Best, Ernesto "Che" Guevara, Salman Rushdie, John Osborne, Princess Diana. Now he selects the six figures from his lifetime he would most like to see celebrated more.

Having recently nominated my six most resented T-shirt heads and feeling in danger of being a whinger I now attempt the more cheerful task of nominating six people from my lifetime whom I would like to see celebrated more:

1. Barbara Jefford
Sometime during the 1950s, when I was a small boy, my parents took me to my first professional theatre, which was a production of Macbeth in Manchester. Lady Macbeth was played by Barbara Jefford: I thought she was beautiful and scary and I always remembered her name, even though I didn't register the names of anyone else in the cast. I've never enjoyed a production of the so-called Scottish Play as much since. A few weeks ago, more than fifty years on, I was working in Cambridge and walked across the street from King's College to the Cambridge Arts Theatre to see Peter Hall's production of Pygmalion. There was Ms Jefford, playing Professor Higgins' mother. Superb again: what a trouper! I think she was probably 25 when I first saw her and she is 77 now.

Barbara Jefford is regarded as one of the greatest living speakers of verse and (more demonstrably) as the contemporary actress who has played the largest range of "classical" roles. Unlike some of her contemporaries she has not been made a Dame (though she was awarded an OBE at the very young age of 35) and she has made relatively little impact on television or in film. She has greatness without celebrity.

2. Tommy James
I have a love-hate relationship with popular music, but it isn't one of those complicated love-hate things. I hate moaning, pretentious, pseudo-philosophical stuff so go away Lennon, Dylan, Cohen, Simon and Garfunkel et al. I love melody and I love the sort of music you can throb to in the semi-darkness, especially when the nice girl with the big bazookas comes and throbs next to you.

Tommy James (and the Shondells) produced the greatest throbbing record of all time, Mony, Mony (1967). It can still get sexuagenerians leaping out of chairs, temporarily transcending their arthritis. It is the epitome of great popular music and the making of it is an absolute legend. It was written on drugs (amphetamines) and is about sex. The backing singers were supposedly taken off the streets and told they were going to a party and the insistent drumbeat is a first effort by a recording engineer, "spliced" 48 times. The title is inspired by a neon sign: MONY meaning Mutual of New York. The first verse says:

Here she comes now singin' mony mony,
Shoot me up baby say mony mony,
Yeah she looks good and I feel alright now,
I said don't stop now, come on mony, come on mony,
I said yeah, yeah, yeah
Tommy James (born Dayton, Ohio 1947) is still going and has sold over 100 million records globally. Experimental evidence has shown that some corpses twitch when Mony Mony is played loudly enough.

3. Mick Channon
Fans of opposing football teams feared the footballer Mick Channon. He wasn't by any means the most skilled player of my generation, but he was one of the fastest and the most relentless and always looked (disconcertingly) as if he enjoyed the game. Your specific fear was that he would nick the ball off a tired defender in the last five minutes and score the winner. He was also loyal to a degree which simply wouldn't be conceivable now. When Southampton were relegated he stayed with them at considerable risk to his England selection and was rewarded when he played in the team that won the FA Cup as a second division side: they beat Manchester United in the 1976 final. In fact the most remarkable feature of Channon's 20-year career as a professional footballer is that his only two major trophy wins were the only trophies in the history of those clubs (the other being the League Cup with Norwich City in 1985).

But it wasn't this or his record (185) goals for Southampton or his membership of the elite group of players who have scored more than 20 goals for England which makes him the greatest sportsman of my generation. It is his success in both the world's biggest sports (defined financially). In 1990 Channon became a racehorse trainer and he has trained hundreds of winners, including wins in Division 1 races in five countries. The son of a cavalryman, always fascinated by horses, he reputedly left the celebrations of the 1976 Cup final win to watch a foal being born. That's the kind of sportsman worth deferring to.

4. Michael Hardman (and Graham Lees, Bill Mellor, Jim Makin)
Hardman is currently public relations manager for the Society of Independent Brewers. But he is to be celebrated for what he and his Lancastrian mates originally did in Dunquin, County Kerry in 1971 which was to set up an organised campaign for the "revitalisation" of brewing. Two years later it became CAMRA - the Campaign for Real Ale.

Markets are fine, but they need cultural leadership and CAMRA is the original and exemplar of the sort of organisation which offers that leadership. Hardman et al. are to be congratulated for what they have done for beer and the perception of beer. So when you walk across the moors on a frosty morning and reward yourself with a pint of Somebody or Other's Old Wallop which succeeds in warming you and refreshing you at the same time, remember that it might not have been there without Hardman and his mates.

5. Francisco Franco
I don't suppose that any of the other people on this list want to appear alongside El Caudillo, but under the rules of free speech they don't have a choice. Credit must be given where it's due. The only time I have specifically attempted to redress the balance of any of my sons' education is to explain to the one doing Spanish that there might just be a case for General Franco. That case should be made by visiting modern Spain, one of the best places on the planet, and also visiting some former Communist countries by way of comparison. And by reading about how completely appalling was the Spanish republic even as described by its friends (like Orwell). There was no nice or "democratic" way of getting from the utter degeneracy of Spain in 1936 to the Spain of today.

My celebration of Franco must remain cool and detached. I can't warm to him and I wouldn't have agreed with him on many things: philosophically, I have more in common with the Barcelona Anarchists. But it is consequences which matter in politics and the Generalissimo is to be complimented on his consequences. Perhaps his supreme achievement is to have resisted the pressure that Hitler put on him to join in the war in a "conversation" lasting six and a half hours in Irun in 1940. Hitler didn't last another five years; Franco died in his bed thirty five years later, still in power and able to nominate his successor. Hitler called him a "jackal" and the sheer cunning and survival capacity override any concern with his ideas - which seemed to have changed from "Falangist" to clerical conservative to authoritarian leader (though non-totalitarian) on the march to capitalist development and constitutional monarchy.

6. Alistair Horne
Horne, born in 1925, was in the Guards and the RAF in his youth; he was aide to Field-Marshall Montgomery and personal assistant to Harold Macmillan as well as being a foreign correspondent for the Daily Telegraph. But it is his books which I think are to be admired and especially the quartet on France at war. In the historical order, rather than the order of writing, these are The Fall of Paris (about the Franco-Prussian war and its aftermath), The Price of Glory (Verdun, 1916), To Lose a Battle (the fall of France in 1940) and A Savage War of Peace (Algeria). As a combination of scholarship, fine writing and political understanding I think they have not been equalled and they make particularly important reading for those of us born after the war and not involved in any serious hostilities.

Horne is hardly a nonentity: a few weeks ago he was invited to the White House to share his geo-political wisdom with the President. Better late than never, perhaps? But I am prepared to bet that 99% of the population don't know who he is.

On reflection most of my list probably never really sought fame and celebrity, being content to be good at what they do. And to some extent they are representative figures - Horne of the kind of knowledge and global understanding which was, until recently, an essential feature of our political elite, James of the kind of rock 'n roller that gets people moving of an evening all over the world, Channon of honest sportsmen and so on.

Lincoln Allison retired from an academic career in 2004 to become a freelance writer and broadcaster. He remains Emeritus Reader in Politics at the University of Warwick and Visiting Professor in sport and leisure at the University of Brighton.

To read Lincoln Allison's list of his six most over-celebrated celebrities, see: T-Shirt Heads: Lincoln Allison picks six of the worst - John Lennon, George Best, Ernesto "Che" Guevara, Salman Rushdie, John Osborne, Princess Diana.


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I read Aliistair Horne's 'The Price of Glory' when I was fifteen and I have never forgotten the searing power of that book.

Posted by: Peter Coady at September 11, 2007 05:43 PM
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