Arts & Entertainment - Reviews

From violent village sports to missing bird species - the story of the Ridgeway as it runs from Berkshire to Wiltshire

Towards Uffington - by Anna Dillon Towards Uffington - by Anna Dillon The Middle Ridgeway and its Environment by Eric Jones and Patrick Dillon  (Wessex Books, 2016)

To mark the publication of this book, landscape paintings of the area by Anna Dillon (Patrick Dillon's daughter) - some of which illustrate this book - are being exhibited in the Chandler Room of the White Horse Bookshop in Marlborough High Street for the rest of September.

This book gives a lively view of the middle section of the great Ridgeway - "the oldest public highway in Britain".  It is the part that runs from Streatley in Berkshire westwards to Avebury in Wiltshire. The book makes the most of the area's historical and ecological records and some of its literary associations.

The authors have written an enthusiastic study of this ancient pathway - observing its landscapes, investigating its natural and cultural history and the development of its agriculture.

Along the way they have unearthed some fascinating stories and insights.  It as well to remember, as we worry over planning issues, that in the good old days of 1930 there was a Berkshire Regional Joint Town Planning Committee - even in those days they wrapped themselves up in words. 

A report written for the committee judged: "The downland area of Berkshire is a tract of country as unique and full of interest as the most absorbing parts of Wiltshire."  One up to the Wiltshire end of the Middle Ridgeway.

The book charts the changes in the fairs that dotted rural towns and villages.  Stanford-in-the-Vale's 'Veast' had as its 'dramatic centrepiece' a single-stick match - a bloody form of contest that perhaps has much less violent echoes today in the clashing of sticks wielded by Morris dancers.

Upham View - Anna Dillon  Upham View - Anna Dillon Another contest enjoyed at fairs - at least by the onlookers - was 'shin-kicking'.  This 'game' was 'even rougher than single-stick': "Shin-kicking meant putting one's hands on the opponent's shoulders and kicking away with one's work boots, while he replied in kind."  Both these fairground sports - along with various forms of animal baiting - were ended by the Victorian era's guardians of all things regarding health, safety and ethics.

When you see a pair of hares performing their rituals in the fields or on the downs, you can, with the help of this book, think back to the incredible popularity of the coursing hares with dogs and shooting hares that nearly led to their extinction in the area. 

In 1904 on the part of the Marlborough Downs' Meux Estate that lay north of the A4 a game bag was recorded that included 525 hares.

Coursing became something of a rural industry drawing enthusiasts and ne'er-do-wells from far and wide. In the Vale of the White Horse one landowner was so cross when the coursing fraternity decide to move away from his land, that he ordered the hare population to be killed off: "...a most dreadful warfare was lately waged in Ashdown Park, where in the course of a few days Lord Craven killed no less than sixteen hundred hares."

The quarrel did not last and coursing returned to the area and, as the authors write, "...hares began to be preserved again at Ashdown - preservation meaning kept alive to be courses."

The landscape paintings that illustrate this book by Anna Dillon are a refreshing reminder that the landscapes survive - remarkably intact - to be painted in a modernist and very appealing style.

Silbury - Anna DillonSilbury - Anna DillonThey give a fresh and vibrant view of the downs through which the Middle Ridgeway pass and remind us vividly of some of the landscape's major landmarks.

Many of Ms Dillon's paintings have distinct echoes or traces of geological maps and their colourful strata - giving us a suggestion of what lies beneath and helps form the landscape we see.

The book itself is full of strange facts and vanished times: the 'currier' was the man who added colour to finished leather - now he is relegated to a convenient word for crossword compilers. Lambourn once had a racecourse - it closed in 1803.  But the Lambourn Downs' dominance as a training centre for racehorses was slow to develop.  At one time horses had to be walked to the GWR station at Uffington - "until a branch line from Newbury reached up the valley of the River Lambourn in 1898."

The authors have a revealing chapter on the area's bird life - referencing among their sources 'a small book' published in 1869 and titled simply Birds of Marlborough.  It was by Everard im Thurn published when he was still a 'schoolboy' at Marlborough College: "...a remarkable compilation of local sightings and bird lore for one so young."

Birds, it seems, have long been subject to the changes in farming that in some parts of the country still afflict wildlife today.  In 1866 a rough-legged buzzard was trapped at West Overton.  Possible sightings of a golden eagle or two and the loss of the wryneck and the dwindling sightings of lone dotterel as they pass through the area, are mentioned.

The only problem with the book is that it concentrates rather on the Vale of the White Horse and does find as much of interest along the Wiltshire length of the Middle Ridgeway.

Discussing the area's bird life, the authors mention the decline in tree sparrows on the downs. But they do not mention the Marlborough Downs Nature Improvement Area and its post government grant successor 'The Marlborough Downs: A space for nature'.

Thirty-five farms working together over 25,000 acres of the Marlborough Downs along the Ridgeway have made and still are making a huge difference to the ecology - and, incidentally, they have been working hard and successfully to bring many more tree sparrows to the Downs.

However, do not let anyone put you off this book.  It is a mine of fascinating information and accessible history - with brilliant illustrations in the form of Anna Dillon's paintings.

[The paintings used in this review remain the copyright of the artist.]


Rabley Summer Exhibition: seventeen artists showing talents nurtured at the Rabley Drawing Centre

Amanda Ralfe: 'Wiltshire landscape'Amanda Ralfe: 'Wiltshire landscape'Rabley Drawing Centre is renowned for high quality exhibitions throughout the year, but I wonder how many people are aware of the thriving workshop sessions which are going on in the surrounding studios.

This year's summer exhibition of fine art prints features 17 artists, some like Arran Miles, Penny Furbisher and Suzy Miles have been working with Rabley since the early days in 2004, while others are new or occasional participants. It is an excellent show where every piece is visually strong and all are showing great skill and technique.

If you are not familiar with the variety of printmaking techniques this is an excellent show to visit.  You won't find any explanations, but look at the work where it is clear to see the diversity of the discipline.

Compare the etched and inked lines of Beetroot by Serena Nickson to the block colour in the relief prints of Penny Furbisher or the delicacy of the chine colle used by Alison Grant against the bravado of a Jean Stibbon monotype. These verbal descriptions don't do justice to the contrasts which every artist in this exhibition is able to show within each piece of work.

Two of the artists have been selected for this year's Royal Academy summer exhibition. Amy Jane Blackwell is an accomplished printmaker who works as a technician to some of the UK's top artists. At Rabley she shows two small pictures, curious and compelling to look at and much more than they might at first appear.

Suzy Miles' 'Burning Bush' captures the vibrant colour of the willow tree in her garden, seeming so ridiculously flamboyant, you know she has been looking at and absorbing its reality.

Susie Whimster: 'Song of the Rain, Series 1'Susie Whimster: 'Song of the Rain, Series 1'The detailed work of Amanda Cornish uses photopolymer gravure where photography and printing collide - in this case to create a stark close up of natural forms like dark recently discovered black and white stills from a lost folio.

Two monoprints by Susie Whimster are light and full of air and atmosphere. These beguiling pieces appear to drop off the gallery wall in their weightless quality.

Rabley Drawing Centre is much more than just a gallery where you visit to stare at the wall.  Director Meryl Ainslie has created a friendly community where anyone can go and work with her excellent collection of tutors - however inexperienced an artist you might be.

The beauty of this exhibition is that it shows in the right atmosphere high quality work can be achieved. It is on for a short time but I recommend you go and look, marvel at the work and even buy something.

The exhibition is open from Thursday, June 30 to Sunday, July 3 from 110.00am to

Rabley Drawing Centre, Rabley Barn, Mildenhall, Marlborough, SN8 2LW (01672 511999.)  Further details on the Centre's website.

And there are more examples of the works in the Exhibition here.



MantonFest rocks as fans defy elements and surfeit of food, beer and wine, and enjoy a great day out

“What shall we play now?” The question posed by John Steel, drummer with the Animals and Friends and the surviving member from the band’s inception in 1957, as they came back on to the stage at MantonFest for the encore.

Of course, it was the one number that they hadn’t played, the number that fans had been shouting out for the previous hour and a half:  ‘The House of The Rising Sun’, The Animals greatest worldwide hit from 1964.  Maybe ‘We've Gotta Get Out of This Place’ as encore would have been more appropriate, but the rocking crowd who had stayed and survived the showers, excesses offered by the Ramsbury Breweries beer tent and numerous excellent food outlets (“I need another Hog Roast” exclaimed Pete at about ten o’clock. “I’ve only had three so far, I’m not hungry, but I need another…..”) were in no mood to let the band go without that number, and they weren’t disappointed.

The Animals and Friends closed MantonFest 2016, a great line-up mixing big names - Dr Feelgood’s set was electric, sparking the crowd’s energy level of excitement with their mix of ‘Down by The Jetty’, ‘Roxette’, ’She Does It Right’ and other hard-driving classics - to the many excellent local bands on the bill such as Straight Six, regulars for several years and now playing their swansong performance, Barrelhouse, The Banned (even topping their last year’s stunning debut performance), The Clive Collective, Empty Gestures, Ukey D’Ukes, Smiley’s People, Skedaddle and The Harry Miller Band - a great new act who kicked off proceedings at the other end of the day.

A laid-back and relaxing mix of a music festival with a stream of accomplished sets and a family day out, with whole families from babes in arms to great grandparents setting up their own picnics wth gazebos, chairs etc all in a field that acted as a natural auditorium with everyone, everywhere being able to see and hear what was going on.  Swindon PA Hire provided the sounds and lights, and unusually for a local festival the quality of the sound system meant that everyone could enjoy all the performances.

“A great day” exclaimed Roger Grant, chairman of the organising Committee, “All the profits will go to ‘The Brighter Futures’ radiotherapy appeal at the GWH, not sure yet how much as we haven’t had a chance to count it all but it’s a good amount”.  And he promised to let us know how much when he had.

And next year? “The only promise we can make is that it will be at least as good as this year” said Roger, adding that “it’s a wonderful way to create a great fun day out for the while family whilst raising money for a fantastic charity”

Top that - not even The Animals and Friends, Dr Feelgood or any of MantonFest’s 2016 line-up could come close!

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Review: St Katharine's School Art Week

Milo at the 'Shedstallation', which was decorated with the names of pupilsMilo at the 'Shedstallation', which was decorated with the names of pupilsMilo (9) reports from Art Week at St Katharine’s School

All this week I have just been doing my favourite subject, art, at St Katharine's primary school.

First I made a prayer flag. The Nepalese use elements of the earth on the cloth, and people hang them up high in the Himalayas. My element was fire.

We started on a draft sheet then went on to the real thing. I made a bright multi-coloured sun. We next spray painted our names on the school shed. I asked if mine could be right at the top, and I spray painted the 'M' in my name.

Shortly after, I went back in the class and everyone was drawing a dragonfly. We drew the dragonfly step-by-step in our sketch books. When I was almost finished Mrs Arnold, our teacher, told us to stop.

I was really proud with my dragonfly. We started a frog but shortly after the first stage I had to go to singing lessons; when I returned everyone had nearly finished.

On Tuesday, Penny's mum (Penny is a classmate) came in and showed us a colourwheel and how to draw fruit with a good background colour. Afterwards we made our clay tiles inspired by pictures of a pond, taken by Mrs Arnold.

On Wednesday we drew two other step-by-step sketches. The first was a bird - I think - a black bird. The second, a king fisher - I was very proud with both of them.

On Thursday I could paint watercolours on our kingfisher, dragonfly or frog; I nearly finished my dragonfly. We also weaved sticks with wool. I made a frame but most of the time I had to help everyone on my table. Luckily I finished but I was exhausted!

On Friday we drafted a Greek pot. We were meant to charcoal it on orange sugar paper, but I never got to that bit. Then we looked around our school pop-up art gallery with all the children's work created in St. Katharine's that week.

So all in all, a very busy week.

I've probably forgotten a lot of art I enjoyed. Just goes to show how busy I've been.

Origami fishOrigami fishPlaster cast leavesPlaster cast leavesPond life sculpturesPond life sculptures


Review: Ashley Fripp brings brilliance - and some devilry - to his St Peter's Church recital

Ashley FrippAshley FrippThe penultimate recital of the Fourth Series of ‘Brilliant Young Musicians in Saint Peter’s Church’ saw a welcome return visit by Ashley Fripp. He first played in Saint Peter’s church in September 2012 - in the first series of these recitals.  

Ashley studied at the Purcell School and has recently graduated with distinction from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama where he was awarded the Premium Prix and the Lord Mayor’s Prize.  He has played in most of the great concert halls in Europe as well as the Carnegie Hall in New York, and, as a ‘rising star’, he has received many awards, as well as winning third prize in the Leeds International Piano Competition.

A very enthusiastic and appreciative audience was proud to welcome him back to Saint Peter’s.

His recital opened with JS Bach’s Second English Suite in A Minor.  The suites of dances are known as ‘English’ possibly because they were commissioned by an English patron, but that is not certain. English dances, they certainly are not.  

An amazingly precocious prelude introduces the dances which begin with a stately and courtly allemande, courante, and a sarabande before finishing with three much more bucolic peasant dances, two bourees (a dance from the Auvergne) and a gigue, which possibly did originate in Britain.

Ashley’s mastery of the Bach counterpoint was magnificent while in the first of the bourees he highlighted the hints of a bagpipe and then captured the whirling energy of the gigue.

Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit was in complete contrast. These three dark and mysterious works were inspired by poems written in the 1820’s by Aloysius Bertrand. ‘Gaspard’ is a sinister figure, the name being derived from the Persian  meaning  ‘ treasurer’, or ‘keeper’ of dark things. May be Gaspard is the Devil himself. They are ‘Gothick’ tales very much in the style of Mary Shelley.

Ondine is the beautiful water sprite who leads the captivated to the dark and cold waters of the lake. The seductress is portrayed in shimmering chords and rippling arpeggios.  Le Gibet, the most macabre of the three poems, portrays a gallows silhouetted against a flaming sunset, the cadaver helplessly  swinging in the evening breeze. The mournful tolling bell from the city nearby, a single monotonously repeated B flat, helps create the ghastly image described in the poem.  

The third piece, Scarbo, describes the night-time mischief of a goblin, who appears, then disappears, scratches the wall, leapfrogs round the room before finally disappearing. Perhaps it is the malignant Scarbo who is the Devil himself.    

Ravel brilliantly portrays the macabre horror of these three pieces. Not only were they brilliantly played, but Ashley read each of the poems before playing the appropriate piece. What a difference that made to the audience’s understanding of the work.      

The second half of the concert was given over to works by Franz Liszt. Ashley began with Les jeux d’eau a la Villa d’Este.  On his visit to Italy Liszt had seen the glittering fountains in the garden of the Villa d’Este at Tivoli, and this work dramatically evokes both the sound and sight of these fountains.  Technically very challenging, Ashley’s mastery of the glittering arpeggios and shimmering chords captured the light reflecting off the cascading water on a summer’s day.

This was followed by the Sonata in B Minor. Completed in 1853 it remains a tour de force for any pianist.  Although it is written in sonata form, the movements do relate one to the other, so it seems to be one continuous movement.  It is full of darkness and light...good and evil.

The work begins with a foreboding descending scale, and the movement is punctuated  by a repeating phrase which sounds like a satirical laugh, perhaps the Devil himself. All the darkness is dispelled in a glorious theme, like an expansive burst of sunshine which Ashley played with sheer joy.

The second movement has a gentle and reflective chorale-like theme of blissful eloquence played with such lyrical delicacy. The final movement, an allegro, begins with a furious fugue based on the laughter theme, to which all the previous themes return in a virtuosic and manic recapitulation which had Ashley bouncing up and down on his stool.

Finally the work dissolves into a gentle benediction, the diabolical laughter theme growling away, subdued by the forces of good. What a conclusion:  the descending scale fading to a single staccato note, and then silence.  

The playing was superb, showing not only a technical mastery of Liszt’s demanding work, but also a mature understanding of the conflicting themes of darkness and light. It was indeed some of the finest playing we have heard in this church. Ashley amazed us all with his formidable memory and his seemingly effortless technique.  Please come again.


Records tumble as Open Studios comes of age

David Dudley and Open Studios chairman Lisi AshbridgeDavid Dudley and Open Studios chairman Lisi AshbridgeIt has been a year of tumbling records for 2016’s Marlborough Open Studios, a preview of which opened to the public this morning (Friday).

The scheme, now in its 21st year, has finally reached the milestone of exhibiting 80 artists, while the geographical boundaries of ‘Marlborough’ have been stretched to encompass Rowde (west of Devizes), Radley Bottom (east of Hungerford), Hodson (north of Chiseldon) and Tedworth House, south of Tidworth.

And eager collectors are already snapping up art. Even before the preview show at Marlborough College’s Mount House Gallery – where price tags range from £40 to £5,000 – had opened to the public, 18 pieces were sold at a VIP evening hosted by lead sponsor David Dudley.

Sioban Coppinger and mayor Margaret Rose with Spring in Step, a shoe of ash leaves in cast bronzeSioban Coppinger and mayor Margaret Rose with Spring in Step, a shoe of ash leaves in cast bronzeHis company designs its own jewellery and sources distinctive pieces from across the UK and Europe.

Art, he told his guests, is all around us “and we are lucky to have so many artists of great national acclaim” in the Marlborough area.

Among the guests at last night’s VIP launch was mayor Margaret Rose who, with her late husband Bernard, ran an art gallery in Ramsbury. She snapped up a painting of an owl by Burbage-based wildlife artist Debbie Blount.

Simone Dawood with Hackpen Rape. Her abstract landscapes are inspired by dog walks along the RidgewaySimone Dawood with Hackpen Rape. Her abstract landscapes are inspired by dog walks along the RidgewayAnother purchased piece was an intricate textile sculpture by royal milliner and first-time exhibitor Jane Corbett, who will be showing with photographer Deborah Husk at Alton Priors.

Open Studios chairman Lisi Ashbridge was at pains to point out the extensive range of art on offer: from massive sculptures by blacksmith Melissa Cole, whose forge and studio is on the A4 midway between Marlborough and Froxfield, to intricate pieces of jewellery by first-timer Theresa Hing, from East Garston across the Berkshire border, and a miniature representation of the houses on The Green at Aldbourne, made in driftwood by Baydon artist Kareen Jackson.

Practitioners in oils, watercolours, pencil, ink and charcoal, join sculptors, glass workers, wood turners, photographers, ceramicists and calligraphers in throwing open their doors across 42 locations.

Jenny Arthy is teaching art to wounded soldiers at Help for Heroes HQ Tedworth House as part of their therapy. Fittingly, one of her drawings features a knight on horseback fighting a dragonJenny Arthy is teaching art to wounded soldiers at Help for Heroes HQ Tedworth House as part of their therapy. Fittingly, one of her drawings features a knight on horseback fighting a dragonEvery year the Open Studios committee grants a bursary to an emerging artist, and this year the bursary has been awarded to wounded soldiers Martin Wade and Richey Burnett, who are following a City & Guilds course in painting at Tedworth House - HQ of the charity Help for Heroes - under the tutelage of Jenny Arthy.

The Open Studios preview show runs from 10am until 5pm on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, and from 10am until 3pm on Tuesday.

The Open Studios art trail is held over the first four weekends in July. For details, log on to



St John's students excel in brilliant production of We Will Rock You


Front L to R: Rhys Rowlands (Brit), Emma Doyle (Meat), Will Sexton (Galileo) & Rosie Amos (Scaramouche) - with dancersFront L to R: Rhys Rowlands (Brit), Emma Doyle (Meat), Will Sexton (Galileo) & Rosie Amos (Scaramouche) - with dancersWow!  They filled the stage with dancers, they filled the Theatre on the Hill with music and they filled its seats with very enthusiastic audiences. 

This was a highly ambitious production by St John's Academy of the school version of the very adult musical We Will Rock You - and it came off with great aplomb and a display of some truly amazing local talents.

Based on the music of Queen, it tells of a time in the future when the biggest of the big multinational technology corporations has taken over the world (renamed here as iPlanet) and for some weird reason has outlawed the making of music - leaving the young to rely on boring old Radio Ga Ga (cue, of course, for another memorable Queen song.)

Enter Galileo Figaro - or Gazza for short - who has in his head a sort of archaeologist's collection of shards of pop music and broken bits of lyrics from times past.  And who refuses to conform.  

He is played by Will Sexton, who left St John's last year and is spending a year gaining stage experience before going to drama school.  For this production he doubled as Acting Director. 

He has a wonderful voice, which made the most of both the quieter and the more raucous Queen numbers. And he had great fun with the odd words and phrases from all those barely remembered pop lyrics.

All the rest of the cast - and the 34-strong dance troupe and the nine-strong chorus - are current St John's students.  And the director and producer of this triumph was Max Moore, the school's Director of Performance - who had a third role as pianist and conductor of the twelve-strong live band.

Galileo and Scaramouche Galileo and Scaramouche Galileo gets arrested by the music police led by Khashoggi (Sam Austen in black leather - not Armani but M&S - and shades) under orders from Killer Queen (played on the night I watched by Chrissy Lightowler - a part shared with Tamlin Morgan.)

Arrested with Galileo is another cultural and dress-code refusnik who he names Scaramouche - another name of impeccable Queen ancestry.  She was played by Rosie Amos.

This is a part that calls for careful and clever acting and great singing.  Well, Ms Amos has great stage presence, confident movement and a grand voice - and she gave her character a depth I am pretty certain was not foreseen when the musical was written.  She made the story work - especially her on-off-on-again love affair with Gazza.  

Rosie Amos as ScaramoucheRosie Amos as ScaramoucheGalileo persuades Scaramouche to join the underground Bohemians' movement which is trying to revive the live music they long for.   This was the school version, but innuendos and double entendres and some spicy language flew about - all quite in character - and gave Scaramouche some of the evening's best lines.

I did like the way our magazines were seen from the future as 'websites made of paper'.  And I loved the repartee about dreams and when love dies:  When your partner wakes up and tells you about your dream of a rabbit in a bowler hat cooking an omelette for you.

Ellen Trevaskiss as PopEllen Trevaskiss as PopOne highpoint was the Seven Seas of Rhye pub with its bar full of youngsters who have had their brains emptied by the authorities and with barmaid Pop who had escaped, but was nonetheless pretty dippy and hippy. 

Pop gave Ellen Trevaskiss a wonderful chance to entertain us and to sing with fine gusto.

There were several other highpoints:  Killer Queen, living up to her name and laying waste a large number of young girls to Another One Bites the Dust.  The tender duet sung by Will Sexton and Rosie Amos - with those telling lines "There's no place for us, there's no chance for us...Who wants to live for ever."  There were also standout performances by Rhys Rowlands as Brit (that's Brit as, apparently, in Britney Spears) and Emma Doyle as Meat.

If anyone ever tells you again that the Theatre on the Hill has too small a stage and no proper wings, just run this production past them.  The set design included a well-used raised walkway at the back of the stage.  And called for wheel-on scenery of some complexity.  

But more than that, the stage was filled from time to time with 24 dancers - sometimes GaGa Girls and sometimes not!  (I think it was 24 but it was quite hard to count them as they moved so quickly between groupings and movements)  The dancing was of a very high calibre.  

You try athletic movements with that many fit young girls on a stage that size - with no one getting poked in the eye!  They were brilliant and kept in perfect sync.

The boy dancers were that bit younger and showed their skills with some frenzied break dancing.  The direction made the most of the theatre's space with actors tumbling off the stage and exiting through the audience.

The music was excellent and chorus sang clearly with some great Queen harmonies.  Max More directed a humdinger of an evening even at one point adding a shouted intervention from his piano - much to the delight of students in the audience.

The Saturday sell-out performance was the last night of a run that was probably short enough for those with exams coming up, but too short for all those of the cast who were obviously enjoying the whole live stage experience so much.

Now the run is over I do not need to give readers a spoiler alert:  after the curtain call, after the applause had finally died away and the stage had emptied, an offstage voice (Galileo, I think) suddenly said "We've left something out" - and back they came for the most amazing, spine tingling  performance of Bohemian Rhapsody. Wow!

They filled the stage with dancers, lights and music [Photos by Max More] [Click on images to enlarge them] They filled the stage with dancers, lights and music [Photos by Max More] [Click on images to enlarge them]



Gerald Seymour: the thriller writer who just loves story-telling


Gerald Seymour 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.



Orchestra celebrates first decade in style

Marlborough Concert OrchestraMarlborough Concert OrchestraMarlborough Concert Orchestra celebrated its 10th anniversary on Saturday with a packed concert at St Mary’s Church.

The audience were treated to a wide range of music from the orchestra’s repertoire, including Rossini’s Overture from Il signor Bruschino, Beethoven’s Symphony No 2 in D Major, Tchaikovsky’s Marche Slave, Delibes’ Le roi s’amuse 6 airs de danse, Tahiti Trot (Tea for Two) by Shostakovich, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Overture on Three Russian Themes Op 28.

During the interval, concertgoers were treated to Russian cocktails and William Tell cake on the lawn, while the performers gathered for their annual photocall.

The orchestra’s next major concert is on Saturday, December 3 at St Mary’s Church with a programme including Brahms’ Double Concerto in A minor, Op. 102 with Irene Enzlin and Mathieu van Bellen, along with Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Rachmaninov’s Vocalise for Orchestra, and Weber’s Invitation to the Dance.

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Mayor Noel Barrett Morton and other guests enjoy a garden partyMayor Noel Barrett Morton and other guests enjoy a garden party



REVIEW: The school at Lockeridge - from icy cold winters to the arrival of the first BBC computer

A Village Education - The History of the School at Lockeridge by Ruth Lamdin (2015)


The building looks much the same as it did in the 1870s - though it has been expanded and, of course, modernised.  But what goes on inside Lockeridge School and the lives of its pupils has changed dramatically.

This is Ruth Lamdin's second history of a local school.  Her first told the story of the now defunct East Kennett school.  This book travels two miles from East Kennett to follow Lockeridge's village school as it developed over 120 years - up to the point the two schools were joined in a federation.

One of the advantages of the coming of universal education is that it allows us to take a close look at social history at a truly local level.  The history of earlier schools in the Parish of Overton cum Fyfield is now largely lost.

Ruth Lamdin, who lives locally, records: "In 1858, thirty infants were taught by an old woman in a cottage kitchen in Overton."  Twenty years later and the state was involving itself in their education.

She has mined the school log books kept so carefully by the head teachers at the school in Lockeridge and now held by the Wiltshire and Swindon Archives in Chippenham.  They record the arrival of a supply of "Pens, Ink, Paper, Pencils, Chalk and Penholders" in 1883 to this entry in 1983: "Today I collected the school's BBC computer from County Hall."

The Forster Education Act of 1870 made it possible for children aged from five to thirteen to be taught in 'elementary' schools - compulsory schooling to the age of ten became law in 1880.

From the decision to build a school in the village to its opening took just over four years.  That certainly beats the long and tortuous gestation period for Marlborough's new primary school!

In 1870, the impetus to start the school came from the government's decision to make a grant of £208 towards the £1,008 tender price for the building.  Another impetus was the Agricultural Children Act (1873) which ruled that children between eight and ten could only work on the land if they had received a set number of hours schooling.

Despite this law, there was in the school's early years friction between the need to educate and local farmers' need to employ young, cheap and agile labour.

The curriculum, Mrs Lamdin makes clear, originally concentrated on the Three-Rs with a strong element of religious instruction.  The introduction of a wider range of subjects - from carpentry to embroidery - was both gradual and erratic.

However from one entry in in the archived reports it looks as though one of the roles for PE - or 'drill' - was to keep the pupils warm in winter:  "January 1891 - Weather is so bitter that children are grouped in the middle of the room and do drill between every lesson to keep warm."

The first heating at the school - a Tortoise Slow Combustion Stove - was installed in 1899.  It is good too to be reminded that rural Lockeridge only got electricity in 1947 and mains water in the 1960s.  School meals began in 1943 - when family life was badly affected by husbands' absence in the services and wives were working in the fields.

A photo from the book: the playground in the 1940s - when hoops were made of woodA photo from the book: the playground in the 1940s - when hoops were made of woodRuth Lamdin takes the history in easy to follow themed sections.  So under 'Health' we learn of early efforts to improve the health and wellbeing of pupils through interventions at school - from dentistry, to measuring their weight to, in 1941, the start of a programme of immunisation against diptheria.

One of the most interesting aspects of this story is the role of women on the school's staff. The first head teacher, Miss Elizabeth Axton (from Salisbury Training College and on £50 a year) began with 43 children and was assisted by a 'monitor' - Eva Wallis. But eighteen months after the opening with pupil numbers rising, Miss Axton wrote "...the Managers consider it desirable to have a Master."

There was no other female head of the school until Mrs Goode appeared in 1940 - when men were in short supply.  When she retired in 1948 the Managers again wanted a headmaster.  But from 1881 to 1983 all but two of the assistant teachers were female.

Ruth Lamdin wonders why men were preferred.  At East Kennett most head teachers up to the last quarter of the twentieth century were women: "However, judging by the annual reports at Lockeridge, the men do not seem to have had noticeably more success than the women in raising standards."

The author gives life to the smiling - often grinning - faces that look out at us from the group photos - official and unofficial - that illustrate her book. It is a book that tells us an important part of the history of the local area.

Both books can be bought from the author: 

the Lockeridge history is £6 and the East Kennett history is £5 - or £10 for both - plus postage and packing.  

She can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 01672 861550.


Ruby Squares: Marlborough area embroiderers' mark their 40th anniversary with an exhibition

[Click on image to enlarge it][Click on image to enlarge it]Centre stage - literally - at the Marlborough and District Branch of the Embroiderers' Guild exhibition at the Kennet Valley Hall in Lockeridge, are the embroidered squares members were asked to make to mark the branch's fortieth birthday.  

Preparing for the Ruby Birthday last autumn, Chairman Yvonne Miles challenged members to create ten inch squares using ruby red with a splash of another colour.  The results are stunning as a mass exhibit - and intriguing as you look more carefully at the individual squares.

In some ways this extensive exhibition charts embroidery's progression from complex stitching towards what they now call 'textile art' - using many different techniques and materials. Although this still uses many basic embroidery methods and stitches - it can provide a freer and more liberating creative inspiration.

Indeed there is some talk of trying to persuade the central Embroiderers' Guild organisation to change its name to reflect this wider use of new and different techniques and the growing appeal of 'textile art'.

On permanent display in the Kennet Valley Hall is the Guild's 'Upper Kennet Valley Embroidery' - the Hall is where the branch holds its monthly meetings.   For this exhibition another major work has been loaned by the Friends of Savernake Hospital.  In 1981 Marlborough area embroiderers created a striking display depicting great and influential women - details pictured below.  

Coco ChanelCoco Chanel Barbara HepworthBarbara Hepworth Amy Johnson Amy Johnson

The hanging was created by a group of ladies under the guidance of a tutor, Kay Norris, who taught at Chippenham College.  But further than that little is known about the hanging - and branch members are keen to find out more.  If anyone has any information about the origins of this hanging they are asked to contact the Branch.

Thirty-five years later the choice of women and the techniques used give us a fascinating glance back in time.  It certainly begs the question who would the members choose for a repeat performance next year and what would a new display look like?

Detail of Nichola Vesey Williams' 'New York, New York'Detail of Nichola Vesey Williams' 'New York, New York'The branch has a Young Embroiderers Group with members between six and eighteen years. 

Their 'Tree of Hands' in the exhibition [detail at left] is really eye-catching and shows a strongly imaginative use of materials.

One wonders how 'embroidery' and 'textile art' will have developed by the time the branch celebrates its fiftieth anniversary.

The exhibition is open today (Sunday, April 24) and on Monday till 4.30pm.  Full details here.


JS Bach, Beethoven and Chopin at St Peter's Church: was this the best recital of the current series?

Kausikan RajeshkumarKausikan RajeshkumarThe April recital in the ‘Brilliant Young Pianists at Saint Peter’s Church’ series was given by Kausikan Rajeshkumar, who was born in London in 1990.   Kausikan was offered scholarships at both the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal College of Music, but chose to read music at Cambridge graduating with a first class honours degree.  

He was one of the piano finalists in the BBC Young Musician of the Year competitions in 2006 and 2008, before winning the International Franz Liszt Prize for Young Pianists in 2009.  Among his many engagements in Great Britain and elsewhere in Europe, he performed in the Royal College of Music ‘s ‘Rising Stars’ series at the Cadogan Hall.  

He began his Marlborough recital with JS Bach’s Prelude and Fugue No.18 which was published in the first volume of his ‘Well-Tempered Clavier’.   Written in a minor key, the work is sombre and reflective.

Brilliantly crafted, the first movement is a rising thematic figure passed from one hand to another, and played with such clarity as to clearly expose the structure of the movement. The stately fugue that followed was played with feeling and delicacy - the notes flowing seamlessly from Kausikan’s hands.

This was followed by a late Beethoven Sonata: No.30 in E Major. What a contrast in tonality. The bright major key creating a dramatically different mood from the Bach. The first movement is lyrical and flowing, creating a sense of tenderness which is suddenly shattered by the demotic opening chords of the powerful prestissimo.
The last movement begins with a wonderful plangent melody, surely one of the finest that Beethoven wrote. 

This then heralds a series of variations of increasing complexity, one of which is so rich in counterpoint as to be reminiscent of JS Bach. Finally calm is restored and the initial melody returns, lovingly and gently played, Kausikan’s whole body enfolded in the music. This was a performance of great intensity and passion.

The second half of the concert was largely devoted to Robert Schumann’s Fantasiestucke (Fantasy Pieces.) These were inspired by a series of novellas written by the German author Hoffman and were dedicated to a young Scottish pianist.  The eight miniatures are very varied, some are reflective and elegiac, others more agitated and passionate.

The wind can be heard gently rustling in the trees in ‘In der Nacht’ while ‘Traumes Wirren’ is a joyous and effervescent riot of notes. ‘Ende von Lied’ begins in great solemnity and then appropriately, dies away to nothing.  Kuasikan played these with grace and sensitivity, highlighting the contrast in mood, but always retaining the emotional intensity which these pieces demand.

Two pieces of Chopin completed the programme.  The Etude Opus 10 No. 8 is a showy piece, requiring great skill from the pianist.  This was fireworks from beginning to end - Kausikan’s hands racing up and down the keyboard in an endless cascade of notes. It was played with consummate skill and confidence.

The Polonaise-Fantasie Opus 61 is quite different. Said to be one of the finest of Chopin’s works, it is a profound and very complex piece, gentle and nostalgic for the most part with a lovely lyrical and calm middle section. The contrast between the fiery outbursts and the reflective and serene moments was beautifully articulated.  

It was a lovely concert with a rich variety of musical styles, and there were many who thought that this was the best they had heard in the series. Kausikan played with musicality, passion and confidence demonstrating a deep understanding of each composer’s intentions.  We wish him well in his career.


Review: Brilliant Young Musicians at St Peter's Church - cellist and pianist make a perfect duo

Chris Graves and Alison RhindChris Graves and Alison RhindThe latest in this popular Brilliant Young Musicians series of concerts was given to a very large audience at St Peter's Church on Sunday  (February 21) by Chris Graves (cello) and Alison Rhind (piano).

Alison is a respected ‘collaborative’ pianist working mainly on a repertoire of piano with strings.  Having first worked at the Yehudi Menuhin School, she is now coach for the String Department at the Royal College of Music - a post she combines with her freelance recital work. 

Chris Graves studied at the Royal College and is developing a successful career both as a soloist and as a chamber musician - he plays with the Castalian String Quartet.  

The concert opened with Beethoven’s Sonata in D Major written between 1812 and 1817.  It is the last of a series of sonatas for piano and cello - a combination of instruments then its infancy. The first movement opens with a series of fanfare-like arpeggios, a motif that is repeated by both piano and cello at regular intervals, separated by a plangent melodic line.

Both instrumentalists played with bravura and there was very obvious dialogue between the two instruments.  

This was followed by a gentle adagio developed first by the cello and then taken up by the piano. There is a melancholic darkness to the movement created by the piano's steady rich chords. The playing exploited very sensitively the elegiac properties, especially the change of mood in the middle of the work.  

The sonata concludes with a fine fugue - the first time that Beethoven had included a full fugue as a final movement.   This opens with a tantalising rising scale, repeated by the piano, before the two hurtle away in a dazzling conversation, the fugue subject batted from one player to the other. Wonderful stuff and played with great zest.  

The first half was completed with Robert Schumann’s Fantasiestucke. Three lovely pieces originally scored for clarinet and piano, but ideally suited to the cello.  They are warm and rich elegiac pieces; ‘songs without words’ indeed. Here is an outpouring of beauty with long flowing waves rolling from the cello, supported by rippling piano accompaniment. They were played with grace and all the ‘soul’ expected from German Romantic music.

The second half of the concert was devoted to one work, Brahms’ Sonata in E Minor. Begun in 1862 it was the first of Brahms’ duo sonatas. The long first movement begins with a profound theme on the cello around which the piano weaves a glorious halo of sound.

This was real collaboration, neither part dominant, but engaged in a continuous dialogue throughout.  

The second movement is a graceful minuet, with a trio forming the central section. Here, unexpectedly, we hear Brahms exploring the vocabulary of his classical predecessors.

The final movement is another allegro. The opening bars for the piano are a quotation from JS Bach’s Art of Fugue, a theme which is richly developed by both instruments at regular intervals.  This is a complex and difficult movement for both performers and played here with great confidence.

This was a very rewarding evening. The pieces were well selected and showed off the virtuosity of each of these competent instrumentalists, but also their ability to perform empathetically as a duo.

The next recital in this series of recital features pianist Kausikan Rajeshkumar - on Sunday 10 April 2016 - full details here.  The recitals ar sponsored by Hiscox Insurance and raise funds for the Marlborough Brandt Group and the St Peter's Church Trust.


Wiltshire Museum’s new exhibition raises lots of laughs - and some serious thoughts


Jane Williams with her Leasingstede Museum security badge (Photo: Wiltshire Museum)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 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 ShieldThe 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...And every museum needs its hoard of ancient coins...



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