Gerald Seymour The White Horse Bookshop brought the internationally respected thriller writer Gerald Seymour to Marlborough Town Hall on Wednesday (January 27) for a well-attended "Evening with..." session.
Interviewed by the bookshop's manager Angus Maclennan, Seymour was in an impish mood: "Thank you all for coming out on a January night - I too didn't think there was anything on television this evening!"
When we got into the story of his journalism with ITN and his books, one thing became obvious: Gerald Seymour simply loves story telling. Whether it's a passing tale about the way he works or one of his complex thrillers, it 's a story - and he tells them all so well.
Seymour described how he joined ITN aged 21 - apparently on the strength of his way with a googly - at £875 a year. In at the deep end - he reported on The Great Train Robbery and The Profumo Affair: both stories meriting a very definite article with capital 'T'.
He told us how he got one of ITN's great scoops of the 1970s. During the long running Nixon-Watergate scandal, none of the main characters would talk much, and certainly not to British television.
Somewhere in the ITN film archives there is a clip of Gerald Seymour walking, hand outstretched, across John Ehrlichman's front lawn. Ehrlichman was Nixon's counsel and chief assistant. The shot is followed by the exclusive interview with this man right at the heart of the Watergate web.
Working at ITN at the time, I promise I have never seen so many dropped jaws - not to mention the alarm expressed by the resident Washington correspondent - when this interview arrived at ITN headquarters. A scoop got by a reporter who was just passing through Washington on his way back from another story - in Hawaii.
Gerald Seymour gave us a hint as to how he got this key member of the Nixon circle to talk. He found out that Ehrlichman had been with American bomber squadrons based in Britain during World War 2 - and Seymour told him how grateful the British people were for his service.
Gerald Seymour's professional writing career has lasted longer than his time at ITN - all thirty-two books and six film versions worth. This session celebrated the publication of his new book No Mortal Thing and the 40th anniversary of the publication of his first book, Harry's Game - set in the Northern Ireland troubles he had been reporting for ITN.
When it was published, Northern Ireland was not considered 'good box office'. The man who bought the film rights asked the head of EMI for some advice on what to do next, he got the reply "See a psychiatrist." To which Seymour commented: "I thought it covered relatively new ground."
Angus Maclennan asked Seymour why he never takes side in his books, but lets readers make up their own minds on characters' moral failings. Gerald Seymour replied with the well known quip: "If you've got a message go to the Western Union."
But he added: "Life is complicated - things are very rarely black and white. It's the shades of grey I try to explore."
He did cite two issues on which he lost his objectivity and became 'partisan' - "I rarely take sides, but...".
One was over the Italian Mafia, which he learnt a lot about when he was based in Rome for ITN: "They are not very nice at all - very horrid people. Yes - I am partisan with them."
The other arose while he was researching a book involving the current Russian secret service. He was introduced to a recent Russian defector and spent an hour learning about the FSB which had taken on the mantle of the KGB. Days later he saw the man's face in the newspapers, dying in his hospital bed: Alexander Litvinenko.
"What they did to him was disgusting - utterly ghastly." And only Porton Down's last minute identification of the polonium unmasked the killers: "They must be so angry they didn't get away with it. I'm not usually partisan - he was a charming man and I liked him."
Describing the kind of people who fire his imagination, Gerald Seymour pictured the person who gets up in the morning, puts his socks on as usual, but by the end of the day has become someone totally new and different - whether hero or villain.
Gerald Seymour, it is clear, gets up in the morning, puts his socks on as usual and starts on his next book - beginning with meticulous research: "I am a journalist - still."
Signed copies of the new book are still available at the White Horse Bookshop.
Jane Williams with her Leasingstede Museum security badge (Photo: Wiltshire Museum)The sound of laughter is not heard too often in the exhibition rooms at Wiltshire Museum in Devizes. But artist Jane Williams' Fibs and Fibulae exhibition at the museum is certainly changing that.
This is a touring exhibition from the Leasingstede Museum - which is a small village museum with its chairman (Lady Alphyn), treasurer, secretary and a long-serving gallery attendant. Or is it?
Try the labels on some of the exhibits: Mould Foxer (Veritas Brand), Runner Blade, Settle Scorer (with replaced blade), Root Master and the Seventeen Counter.
The latter has a label: "A curious measuring device, not only with 17 slots which expose sections of the sliding rod, but with coloured chain links in groups of 17."
Could the Seventeen Counter, perhaps, predate the 10-base or decimal and the 12-base (as in twelve pennies to the shilling) systems of counting?
Do a bit of Googling and you will find that 'leasing' is Old English for 'lying', and 'stede' meant 'place' - so this museum is in the 'Place of Deception'. And it's all a deception - it's an art installation that aims to entertain and raise a few pertinent questions. Like all good spoofs it has a more serious message.
Marlborough News Online asked Jane Williams why she dreamt up the Leasingstede Museum: "There was a double reason really. You go to a museum and you see stuff that's incredibly valuable and rare...yet it doesn't look so - it looks very ordinary and mundane. I was intrigued by that."
"It looks worthless - so why not put something of no value in the cases yet treat it as though it is priceless?"
"I also wanted to draw attention to the importance of little, backwater museums - many of these are closing due to lack of visitors and funding. So while affectionately sending them up, I'm saying 'Please support them'."
The Beaker I did not quite believe Jane when she said that 'initially there was no humour in it'. Take the 2,000 year-old 'Beaker' - surely a piece de resistance in any museum?
"Most unusually", says its label, "it was found intact and has not required restoration." Humph! The label continues explaining that the square hole at the top would have made it difficult to drink out of "...but there's a hole for a straw."
I won't spoil the fun by describing more exhibits. Though it is tempting to tell the secret of the 'Tribasket'. And it is said that one visitor believed the story about the lion that ate a hole in the Dandelion Shield.
Reactions in the visitors' book after the first week give a good idea of the exhibition's success: "Ha Ha - well done!", "Love it" "This is fun", "I'm hooked - totally believable" , "A convincing spoof - it took me ages to realise the fact, as it is so imaginative..." And yes, I really laughed out loud.
The Dandelion ShieldThat there is a more serious side to the exhibition - a questioning of what exhibits mean once they are behind glass - becomes clear from this reaction: "Cause for thought (from an ex-curator.)"
A truly wonderful installation by artist Jane Williams who made all the artefacts on display. And hats off to the Wiltshire Museum for supporting this gentle dig at its own world of museum displays.
The exhibition is at the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes until 10 April. On some days you may find Jane Williams at the Museum - acting out her role as Leasingstede Museum's Gallery Attendant.
But she will certainly be at the Museum on Saturday, 12 March for a special Young Wiltshire Archaeology and Natural History Society event: "What's in MY Museum". Jane will be encouraging people to think about what they would put in their own museum. All that and model making too. 10.15am to 12.15pm - booking essential - tickets £4.
And every museum needs its hoard of ancient coins...
Marlborough and Around Through Time by Stanley C Jenkins and Angela Long (Amberley Publishing, 2015) £14.99
Here's a very new book - a slim volume ideal for the Christmas stocking. But an ideal stocking filler for which member of the family?
Published this month - along with nine other new titles - it comes in Amberley Publishing's vast series of illustrated books about British towns and locations. The series has around 400 titles and between them they have sold half a million copies. And they are about to start an Irish series too.
The Amberley formula is to compare and contrast old photographs (mainly in this case old and atmospheric postcards) with new photographs and a dash of explanatory text that always includes a few good tales.
In Marlborough and Around Through Time the new photographs were taken this August and September - when Marlborough in Bloom was in full colour. They capture, in passing, the weeks when the Bollywood Indian restaurant became, briefly, the Jyoti - a time before The Crown's Inn sign changed into the much more arresting Piano Lounge sign - and just another day when Dormy House was damaged by an HGV truck.
Many of the old photographs are really interesting - some are dated from 'around 1912'. One of Kingsbury Street includes the inn sign of The Bell and Shoulder - though it was surely known as The Bell and Shoulder of Mutton, which, unless I am mistaken, closed in 1919.
Its landlord at the time of the photograph was Frederick Pile. Was he the same Frederick Pile who is listed (discovered after a bit of Googling) as a five-year-old 'Scholar' living in Preshute in 1871? Answers on a postcard - please.
The one trouble with this formula is that 'before' and 'after' pictures often look very alike. Perhaps that's part of the point: evidence of successful conservation decisions keeping town and country from modern blight.
The 'Around' part of this book is fairly large - one third of the book's pages are devoted to Avebury. And it's a take on Avebury that will fascinate tourists - concentrating on Third Age Avebury with several pages featuring the visit in 1993 by Tibetan Lama Gangchen and 'Avebury Henge - the role of the Druid.'
Indeed the book is dedicated to 'Tim Sebastion Woodman (1948-2007), Arch-Druid of Wiltshire, asnd Donna Brooke (1965-2015), Arch-Druidess of the Glastonbury Order of Druids.'
There is a very sad 2015 photograph of what used to be Charles Perry's hotel in Avebury. It looks as though it is deteriorating very quickly - and may soon become a 'before' photograph.
There is a good section on the College and another on Marlborough's connection to and severance from the rail network. And there are two surprising pages on Yatesbury at war.
But there is nothing in this book on one of the main features of the area: Savernake Forest which has a history all of its own. And from a marketing point of view, a couple of pages on Wolf Hall and why it's no longer there would have been good.
So whose stocking will it best fit into? A grandparent or perhaps an aunt visiting from Australia. Actually, it should find its way into stockings belonging to anyone who is interested in Marlborough and its past.
The Choi-Fox DuoOn a cold November night these two young musicians provided us with a feast of lovely music: Harry Nowakowski-Fox (piano) and Judith Choi-Castro (violin) - who perform and record as the Choi-Fox Duo.
The first half of this recital in the was devoted entirely to piano works played by Harry. He began with JS Bach’s Partita No2 in C Minor, very well known to the St Peter's Church audience. The work begins with an opening sinfonia, which has three very different sections. We were treated to a very formal almost solemn grave section, which gives way to a lovely gentle andante before finishing with a two-part fugue in which Harry showed a thorough mastery of Bach’s familiar counterpart.
Then follow a series of dance movements, all very varied in speed and in mood. However it is in the last two movements, the rondeaux and finally the capriccio, where all the excitement lies. Technically demanding, Harry sailed through these movements at a cracking tempo, the notes just pouring from his finger tips.
The Chopin Barcarolle in F Sharp Major which followed is a very different piece. A barcarolle is based on the rhythm and mood of the ‘barcarola’, a song sung by Venetian gondoliers, and a source of inspiration to many nineteenth century composers. This one is lovely.
Harry articulated the rippling arpeggios which were reminiscent of sunlight on the waters of the Grand Canal, and poured much expression into the main theme, which is unmistakably Italian in its form.
The great Piano Sonata no 21 in C major, the ‘Waldstein’, was a complete contrast. Here is one of Beethoven’s finest piano works. Two thunderous outer movements are separated by a short and reflective adagio. Harry played with huge confidence, mastering the bravado that this work demands, but, at the same time, highlighting the moments of quiet contemplation found therein.
The second half saw Harry back at the piano to accompany Judith in two well-established works for piano and violin duo. The first of these was Beethoven’s wonderful Violin Sonata in F Major which, thanks to its sunny and joyous character has been known as the ‘Spring’ sonata.
Its ‘uncomplicated’ light-heartedness makes a good contrast with the powerful Waldstein which had preceded it. You can’t help but smile from the first moment of this work. Judith gave us a very personal rendering, highlighting the sometimes very intimate ‘conversation’ between the violin and the piano. This was joy both to watch and to hear.
The concert finished with a violin sonata in F Major written in 1838 by a young and buoyant Mendelssohn. It is more complex than the Beethoven, and requires more attention from both the performer and the listener. There are serene moments where the elegant melodies are reminiscent of the Songs Without Words. These were played with great eloquence. However, it is the ‘dash for the finish’, the assai vivace, with its long and breathless passages of joyous fast notes passed from one instrument to the other that was memorable.
Played with youthful bravado, this was a worthy end to the concert. Perhaps, though, Saint Peter’s church is not an ideal acoustic for the violin and there were times when the balance between the two instruments was not good, and the quiet intimacy of the instrument was drowned out by the piano. Nevertheless this concert was recognised by many as one of the very best in these recent series of recitals by young musicians.